Tag Archives: homeschool


I suppose many typically-developing teenagers question why they need to learn certain things in school, or why they need to take a certain class. And you can usually reason with them along the lines of “You need to graduate from high school so that you can go to college. Or if you don’t go to college, you still need to graduate from high school so you can at least get an entry-level job somewhere. And in order to graduate from high school, you need to take some classes that you don’t like.” And they won’t like this reasoning, but they will eventually see the logic.

The autistic teen? Not so much. “You don’t think like I do.” This is what Nigel tells me after I have tried the above-mentioned reasoning tactic. He really does not see the merit in graduating from high school. “I want to live how I want to live. Why can’t we live like our cavemen ancestors? That was when survival was more needed than mathematics.” And he is serious.

This is what I deal with when I try to teach him algebra and essay writing. And I point out to him that at least now he can learn these mandatory things at home where it’s quiet and he is not distracted and harassed by other students. I also gently mention that I’ve made some major adjustments to be able to do this for him. But that’s a concept he can’t grasp. Even though once in a while he’ll take out the trash without complaining and then (!) he actually puts a new bag in the trashcan without being reminded (!) or he scoops some ice cream in a bowl for himself and then – on his own – scoops some in a bowl for me (!), even though he does these things once in a great while, he is still pervasively influenced by the aut, the self. Selfism. It’s not that he only thinks about himself or only cares about himself. It’s not egocentric or narcissistic. It’s that he cannot understand someone else’s viewpoint. He can’t possibly realize that, as a single parent, I go through a lot to be able to homeschool him. He can’t understand why education is necessary, beyond what he already knows. He is governed by the self. “You don’t think like I do” also means “I’m only able to think how I think.”

Mind you, this is just a mom still trying to figure it out. I think I know enough, and then months later I have another epiphany and I realize that I have so much more to learn. I know now that I will spend the rest of my days trying to understand my son’s autism. Trying to think like he does. Many parents say that having an autistic child will make you see the world differently. My son is fourteen and every day I am still realizing just how true – how profoundly true – that is.

Homeschool Review

Now that it’s summer, our first term of homeschooling is over, and I thought I’d write about how it went. Overall, it was wonderful, and so good to know that Nigel was actually learning something instead of being sent to watch a video in the library as he had at the middle school. Considering the fact that I had to pull him out at the beginning of December and wasn’t able to start homeschooling him until mid-February, he learned a lot. We went quickly through all the science and social science subjects but didn’t get as far as I would have hoped in math and language arts. Next year that is what we will focus on.

I learned a lot about my son’s learning style and how to teach him. He has a semi-photographic memory which helps immensely in fact-memorizing subjects like science and social science, so that’s why we breezed through those. Language arts is challenging because it is difficult for him to organize his mind enough to write an essay, which is what we will spend much of our time on next year. And then there’s math. Nigel, I discovered, is a kinesthetic learner. He learns by doing things, physically taking things apart and putting them back together, climbing, mowing, cooking, sewing, even typing. So I had to figure out a way to teach math kinesthetically.

I realized as we went along that if anyone had tried to teach him division in the past, they did not succeed. I had to start from the beginning. And what I did was this: I got a bag of raw almonds and pulled out 12 of them. Then I said, “Nigel, how many groups of 3 are in 12?” And he looked at the almonds on the kitchen table and he started separating them into groups of 3, and then I saw the light bulb go on in his head. He got it! There was a hint of a smile on his face as he quickly finished separating and then said, “Four!” And then I showed him how that translated on paper with the long division sign, because when we first started going over it, he acted like he had never seen it before. My boy must have just felt so lost at school.

The other thing I did in teaching math which helped tremendously was to write out a list of steps for working with fractions, like changing improper fractions into mixed numbers, which I had written about previously. I was smacking my forehead because I didn’t figure this out until near the end of the school year, but at least I did figure it out, and I will certainly be implementing the “written list of steps” technique next year.

The last two days of homeschool, I had Nigel take a CD-Rom test, State Standards Middle School Edition. The tests were great, but I experienced some aggravating compatibility issues. The tech support guy I spoke to for over half an hour was not sure if it was a Vista issue or my dual-core processor. After uninstalling and reinstalling both Quicktime and the test program, it still takes about fifteen minutes to load the program, but once we get the test up and running, the test itself works fine. It’s easy for Nigel to navigate, and at the end it shows his scores in different categories of each subject so that we know which skills he needs to work on next year and in which areas he’s doing well. I’m very satisfied with how homeschooling went for the past four months, and I’m looking forward to next year. I think we’ll both really hit our stride.

Paragraph Practice

As part of our homeschool program, I am trying, ambitiously, to teach Nigel how to write essays, since he will need this skill to achieve any success in his future academic career. It is proving to be difficult, needless to say. In his mind, an essay is a pasted-together document of sections of text written about a subject (usually found on Wikipedia). He cuts and pastes a paragraph at a time, until he has cut and pasted six paragraphs, clicks save, and triumphantly announces that he is finished with his essay.

After I explained to him the concept of plagiarism, and he got mad because his easy essay-writing method had been thwarted, I decided that we should back up a bit and focus first on paragraph writing. I had him watch an educational video about horses and had him write a one-paragraph summary. I had told him that the paragraph needed to have 5-7 sentences, but he claimed that if he combined two sentences that they should still count as two sentences. So his paragraph consisted of two compound sentences and one concluding sentence. Below is his paragraph, written in his own words, titled “The Horse.”

The first horse came to be 5.5 million years ago, but had 3 toes on each hind leg and 4 toes on each front leg. As time passed, the forests turned into grasslands and the horse lost all but one toe on each leg and those turned into hooves. The reason why a horse wins the Kentucky Derby is because it is just following it’s gut instinct.

Aside from that apostrophe, the paragraph is grammatically correct. But what impresses me the most is the complex idea that he takes as a given: a horse’s “gut instinct.” What is a horse’s gut instinct? Running? Feeling its hooves hit the ground? Trying to find its toes? I like the fact that his writing makes me contemplate different ideas. It also gives me a little insight as to how his mind works, and that is something I value and enjoy.

Thoughts on Homeschooling

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

I did some online research and found (per consensus) that, in the United States, approximately 3% of students (Kindergarten through 12th grade) are homeschooled. That is certainly a less-traveled road.

But it’s also certainly one that, as Robert Frost’s immortal poem deems, has made “all the difference.” I ran into a friend today while walking to the library with Nigel, and she asked how the homeschooling’s been going. I told her that it’s the best decision I ever made.

I often get asked what type of program I’m doing, so I thought I’d describe that a bit. When I was initially researching homeschooling techniques, I discovered that there are as many different ways to homeschool as there are families who do it. The programs vary from highly structured to something called unschooling and everything in between. I decided on a structured schedule with a flexible curriculum. On any given day, Nigel and I work with the following sources: his public school-assigned math book, workbooks from Clas E. Professor, articles on Wikipedia, Kids Discover Magazine, National Geographic books and magazines, CD-Rom programs, educational videos and books checked out from our local library as well as the middle school library, and books from our own collection. We have more than enough material to work with, and aside from what I’ve spent on the books and CD-Roms we already had that we’ve accumulated over the years, this year I spent $20 on a Kids Discover subscription and $40 on workbooks. That’s it! That’s our homeschool budget! Of course there’s the reduced income to consider when figuring the real cost of homeschooling, but it’s worth it. Definitely.

The other thing I did in preparing to homeschool was to go to our state’s department of education website and inform myself about our state’s requirements for homeschooling. I also thoroughly read and noted their detailed list of grade level standards, i.e. what each student is expected to know by the end of benchmark years (3rd, 5th, and 8th grades). My goal is to follow the list of grade level standards because Nigel has expressed a desire to transition back to public school in 9th or 10th grade so that he can attend our local high school. I would certainly love for him to be able to do that, so in designing his curriculum I try to keep up with whatever the state says his peers are supposed to be doing academically. That resource was extremely helpful in figuring out what to teach him. (For anyone interested, here is the webpage with Oregon’s grade level standards for every academic subject.)

It was a bit of work designing my own homeschool program, and some financial sacrifice, but every day I see the benefits. Every day I’m glad I took this road.

Our Homeschool Story

Every family has different reasons why they choose to homeschool. Many do it for moral/ethical/religious reasons. Some do it simply because they love to spend as much time as possible with their children and want to be responsible for their education as well. Some do it out of necessity for the child. Our family’s homeschool story, of course, falls into that last category.

About seven years ago, I attended a special needs parenting workshop on IEP preparedness and advocacy guidelines. The moderator went around the room prompting all the participants to introduce themselves and mention their child’s educational status. I vividly remember a woman seated by herself who explained in a tired but accepting voice that due to mainstreaming problems, she would need to homeschool her twelve-year-old son who had Tourette Syndrome. At the time, I thought I could interpret the exhaustion on her face, the frustration, the resignation. I thought, because I was a single parent with an autistic six-year-old, that I knew how she felt. I remember at that moment being thankful because Nigel showed such great potential that I wouldn’t need to consider homeschooling in the future. On some level, I didn’t even want to consider it because I thought it was something I wouldn’t be able to do. But now when I remember that woman’s face and her voice, I comprehend on a deeper level what she conveyed at the meeting that night, seven years ago.

This is what I need to do for my son. I don’t know how yet, but I will do it. I will make it work.

I know this now because this is how I felt five months ago. Six months ago, as the school year was about to begin, Nigel asked me several times if I would homeschool him. At the time I had not even considered it an option, mostly because, as a single parent, I had to work. How could I homeschool him? I couldn’t be the stay-at-home parent: I was the only parent!

I will write in future posts about all the bullying and social problems Nigel experienced that made me decide to find a way to homeschool him. Within weeks of school starting, his already fragile status in a low-support mainstreaming situation had deteriorated to the point where I had begun to seriously think about homeschooling him. I started researching homeschooling websites in general and looked at our state’s requirements for specific information. But I had no idea how to swing it financially.

Opportunity knocks. I had been working at my job as account manager for an order fulfillment company for almost ten years. My boss walked up to my desk a few weeks after I decided I would need to homeschool my son, and she said that one of our clients, a music label, was looking for someone to handle the royalty calculations for their 45 artists. It was tedious accounting work, but it could be done from home, and did I know anyone who might be interested? My spine tingled; I hadn’t told her yet that I needed to find a way to homeschool Nigel.

I took the job. And after several weeks of hiring and training my replacement at the office, I begain homeschooling my son. I am so glad he asked me to do this. It is a dream come true for both of us.