On Homeschooling and The Spectrum

(Don't do it.)

The Issue

Homeschooling, is a popular alternative to public school systems, particularly when problems and conflict arises with the school system. In the case of autism spectrum, problems arise with:
  1. The school's teaching environment;
  2. The school's administration, including obtaining IEP help ("IEP" - Individual Education Plan, the US term for defining special needs; most countries have similar programmes);
  3. Social interactions at school.

("The Spectrum" generally means the autism Spectrum, including Asperger's syndrome, HFA, PDD and Kanner's autism. Many of us are comfortable with the generic reference of "autistic".)

Unfortunately, those of us who have best succeeded have had substantial educational support from our families. The process and our nature is such that we have the intellectual ability to excel in the manner of Bill Gates, Temple Grandin, Albert Einstein, but in almost all cases, this outcome was coincidental with substantial family support in the education process.

The difference is between a life of public support vs. finding a niche in the workplace. More on higher education below.

While it is possible to develop superior skills without education, it is difficult to attain credibility without the credentials. For autistics, often the credentials are what speak for the person's skill set.

Why Homeschooling Doesn't Work

The primary reason to homeschool is to provide an education which is not offered by the school. That is not the case with students on The Spectrum; especially those considered "high functioning". Taking the particular issues:
Book Learning -
The amount of "book learning" afforded in the classroom may be limited, but that is typically not a limiting factor for students on The Spectrum. If a student on The Spectrum is not finding the lessons sufficient for the student's skill level, that student will likely explore further outside of the classroom.

Aspies generally get at least the education of their NT peers, and will pick up additional knowledge on their own.

You'll see this "in real life" as well, where the student will be able to demonstrate advanced knowledge in some fields.

The significant aspect of this is that in the workplace, the person will benefit from a combination of paper credentials and actual knowledge. In the case of people on The Spectrum, the paper credentials are far more important. The student will develop actual knowledge in any case, and so there would be no real academic advantage to homeschooling.

Difficulties with the School System -
Negotiating "special needs" accommodations can sometimes be frustrating if your local school system is not very progressive regarding educational programs. It may be necessary to invest some funds in legal support. That can turn out to be more economical in the long run, especially if the parent can combine the legal challenges with a non-confrontational approach on a personal level. (The same applies to bullying and fair treatment issues.)

If a lawyer's support is used, it is often effective not to personally threaten to sue. That's what lawyers are for. If a reasonable request is not accommodated (and compliance with the law is an issue), simply follow up the refusal with a letter from the lawyer. Let the lawyer do the coercion. No matter how "above the law" the administration believes they are, they really don't want to be dragged into the legal process.

If you believe something is not in compliance with the law, one response is, "I understand. I'll confirm this with my attorney, but if the refusal is legal, I unfortunately will have no choice in the matter." That way, you're objecting, not presently agreeing to what you intend to follow through if your lawyer also disagrees with their position. i.e., opposition without personal confrontation.

Be aware of the law in this regard. In the US, this is covered by the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (P.L. 94-142, US). (This law is now referred to as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act because it makes a nice acronym - "IDEA".) One thing to understand about the law is that the first part of the acronym IEP is Individual. The IEP must be individualized to the student's needs.

It is not unusual for AS students to prepare and negotiate their own IEPs. If the student shows an interest or skill in doing so, encourage this because the student probably has a better idea concerning their own needs. If the school administration insists on parental involvement, you may or may not have to be present, but insist on following the student's wishes in either case.

other Public Law 94-142 links from the Ritilin is Child Abuse site.

Social Interactions -
The one part of education that's needed is training in social interaction. One does not get training in social interaction in a homeschool situation.

If there are problems with social situations, it is possible to request and sometimes receive accommodations. The situation is a lot better than it was in the past because Asperger's syndrome and other high functioning conditions are well-known. In addition, instances of bullying and other abuse generating news events has heightened awareness in the school systems.

In addition, many elementary schools have instituted programs which forbid exclusion and non-physical bullying.

Social interaction is an essential part of education for someone on The Spectrum.

If social interaction at school is an issue, it's far better to take the issue up with the school than to withdraw the student.

In the case of students on The Spectrum, homeschooling offers advantages where advantages are not needed and takes away the essential social interaction experience.

Socialization vs. "Social Development"

These are similar concepts. To distinguish, consider "socialization" to be part of "social development". The social experience of family may be sufficient for most social development, and it can be supplemented with non-school activities. That is because "social development" includes a plethora of factors, such as manners, morality, religious dogma and cooperation.

Socialization is one of those factors. Because of the complexity of socialization, it is important that this be learned. It is difficult to learn this outside of a social environment such as a school.

Education & Credentials - The Economics

As mentioned above, those of us who have best succeeded have had substantial educational support from our families including economic support. Among NTs the difference is approximately 80% disparity in income. For us, it's more like the difference between subsistence living on disability and excelling.
Put more bluntly, without credentials, we generally come across as lacking intellectual capacity. We are at least somewhat awkward socially, and this is interpreted as mentally incompetent. With education, social awkwardness is regarded as eccentricity. If enhancing pre-university education makes economic support for university more difficult, it is generally more productive to opt for college or university.

... and Sometimes Things Work Out Within the School System

Here's a note from a parent concerning their daughter's school experience:

Date: Thu, 14 Apr 2005
Subject: [AS-and-Proud-of-it] can't buy a friend

My heart really goes out to all of you who have to watch your children snubbed socially when you know how much it hurts and how much you love that wonderful kid.  My wife and I have been going through it for 12 years now with our daughter and all I can say is as painful as the process is don't give up.

We forced her into sports when she was in second grade because she was so tall and clumsy and dissacociated and I still remember the looks we got as to why are those parents are putting that poor little retarded girl out there to make a spectacle of herself.  What they couldn't know is that poor little retarded child runs a 95% high honor roll average and thinks a 98 is a bad grade.

We stuck it out and so did my daughter.  She's 11 now and still can't buy a friend but she's bright, does great in school and socializes well within our family.  She's also well-coordinated--not perfect--but her splinter skills are good-- and unless you know her history, she's pretty normal, not that we care because her happiness is what matters.

Today I am so proud of her I could burst.  I hope you can take some heart from this.


But How to Make Homeschooling Work

There are people who have reported success in homeschooling children on The Spectrum.

The same issues raised supra regarding socialization can be addressed within a homeschooling system. If these socialization issues are recognized, it is very likely that they will be addressed in a superior manner. As one correspondent suggested, most homeschooled students are not in isolation. Most homeschooling programmes include extensive travel, sometimes internationally. Some suggestions:

  • Enrollment in activities involving group settings, e.g., classes
  • Participating in civic or religious groups
  • Partial involvement with the public or private school system, if these systems are cooperative
    In this regard, most jurisdictions request public school review of homeschooling programs, often with pre-approval. Consider including into the form a statement, "We request that the School permit ___ to participate in ____.": The request may be refused, but won't be considered unless asked. This also gives the person reviewing the homeschooling compliance to raise the issue of cooperation without personally opposing the school administration.
  • Engagement with other homeschooled kids
  • Short term programs with private schools or similar institutions
  • Volunteer work
  • Short term programs at schools which specialize in teaching autistics

Advocating for the Student in the Public School System

The advantages of in-school education include the fact that one of the key needs for us is knowing how to socially adapt to living in an NT (Neurological Typical) environment. (Not to learn to be an NT, although in many instances to "pretend to be an NT" but on the student's terms.) This is difficult to achieve in a homeschooling environment. Also consider that for whatever the school system's foibles, they are the experts in special needs education. Between ADD, major learning disabilities, and physical disabilities, the public schools should be equipped to handle an autistic student. As with any special education programme, it helps to let them know someone is watching over their shoulder, but they definitely have the capability.

Public schools are generally better equipped than private schools to handle most special needs educational programmes. The reason is they're required by law to do so, and funded through IDEA (or the equivalent in non-US jurisdictions) and as a result of IDEA mandates.

A specialty private school program would be an exception, but these are exceedingly rare and are likely to deprive the student of education regarding socialization. If anything, the public school system in combination with an IEP and in combination with an advocate (the parent) is likely to provide a good educational programme.

Then the parent can spend homeschooling efforts on things such as handholding on homework, or in after-school tutoring programmes. Oh... and saving money for university tuition.

This is linked to pages on relationships and autistics, and relates to the ability of autistics to establish intimate relationships.

to index page

On The Spectrum, In the Workplace.

back to Relationships index

First posted 5-Apr-03. Last revised 12-Jun-10.

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