Socialization, Homeschool and the Child with Autism
By: Lisa Jo Rudy
July 26, 2010
This fall, we begin our fourth year of homeschooling our now-fourteen-year-old son with high functioning autism. Homeschooling has been a good choice for us, at least as a temporary measure (we are debating the pros and cons of high school!), but one of the tougher aspects has been combating the prevalent myth that homeschooling means zero socialization.
Every time we explain that we homeschool, we hear from at least one concerned parent or teacher -
"But how can he learn to socialize if he's all alone?"
"Public school is such a great place to learn to make friends!"
"Don't you worry that he won't develop social skills?
In fact, however, Tom's public school experience was far more isolating than homeschool. Here's why.
In public school, Tom was in an "autism only" class with nine boys, none of whom could act as role models and all of whom lived in other school districts (he was in a county-based program, not a local district program). In homeschool, Tom can take homeschool-oriented classes or get involved with a wide range of activities with local, typical peers.
In public school, Tom's therapies were often scheduled to conflict with social and/or important but non-academic experiences such as music, art, gym and recess. In homeschool, we can schedule around inclusive, non-academic experiences. Even better, we can carefully select the inclusive, non-academic experiences so that our son can meet kids with similar talents and passions and learn to work in a group (through band, homeschool gym and collaborative projects).
In public school, the educational emphasis was on building "typical" learning and social skills so that our son could learn through verbal presentations and express himself through speaking and writing. In homeschool, while we work on those skills, we can also allow and encourage our son to learn and express himself through observation of the natural world, through drawing, music, construction and more. What this means is that Tom can show off his achievements in a setting where he gains genuine respect (on the stage, at a "geography fair," etc.).
At public school, kids like our son are often strangers to the typical students, popping in and out of specific classes "as they are able." Worse, they are often the targets of bullying. Recess and gym, when at least some typical kids are able to socialize freely, are the most difficult times of all for our kids. When things aren't working well, it can take months to make a change. In homeschool, we can pick and choose the settings where Tom interacts with typical peers - so that he has a reasonable shot at connecting in a positive way. If things aren't working well, we can make a change on a dime.
In public school, kids learn to interact with kids their own age - and with authority figures. The expectations change constantly, as peers age and demands increase. In homeschool, our son learns to interact with community members of all ages. As a result, he gains skills -- at the library, the grocery store, the local theater, the local conservatory, the birding club, the museums -- which will last him a lifetime.
There's a lot more to be said about the pros of homeschooling - and the reasons why homeschooling can actually improve social skills. As I've mentioned, we may make a change at some point in the future... or we may not. In some public settings, and for some kids, public school really is an ideal choice. But for any readers who are considering homeschool for their child with autism - and for those concerned that homeschool = isolation - it's important to set the record straight!