Remember when it was called Christmas Vacation? It amuses me that even what we call our seasonal time off must conform to political correctness. But that’s okay. I actually prefer the name change, especially since I’ve been teaching this year, and I realize how essential a break really is.
One of the most common internet searches that points people to this website is “homeschooling autistic teenager.” I know this not just because my blog software tells me, but because I’ve typed that search myself. And I still do. I keep hoping that someone out there will have figured out the ins and outs of homeschooling autistic teens. And if they already have, I haven’t yet discovered their words of wisdom.
Winter Break gives me a chance to do a lot of things in addition to taking a break from teaching. I catch up on other work, like the work I do that actually generates some income (can’t let that slide!), I clean the house a bit, I try to visit with friends and family members who may be wondering if I’ve dropped off the face of the earth, and I make plans for the next school term. I have been homeschooling my autistic teenager for nearly a year now, and this is what I’ve learned.
- Homeschooled autistic teens function best with a written schedule. We went without a written schedule for one term, and we won’t be doing that again. Not having a written schedule opens the door for numerous motivation and focusing issues.
- Verbal autistic teens will debate with you the merit of any subject that they are not interested in learning. In fact, they will debate the necessity of formal education in general. They will demand to live how they want to live. This does not just happen occasionally. It happens every day. Yes – every single day without fail. You know that saying about the patience of a saint? It ain’t me. So I have learned to leave the room for a moment to get my bearings and remember that even though he is verbal, it doesn’t mean that I can reason with him. It doesn’t mean that even if we’ve already discussed the importance of education three days in a row that he won’t ask the same question tomorrow.
- Autistic teens are individuals and have their own particular learning styles. My son is a visual-kinesthetic learner. I have taught him division by taking a pile of almonds and grouping it into sets of three to show how a number goes into another number. For years while he was mainstreamed he never understood this concept because math is not typically taught that way. I have also taught him how to multiply fractions by writing out the steps for him to visually refer to.
- Autistic teens may need “crutches” to help with some concepts. I have used question marks in place of letter variables when teaching algebra to my son. After he learned how to solve the equations, he no longer needed to substitute the question marks in place of the letters.
- What works one week may not work the next. Not only do you have to “think outside the box,” you have to reinvent the proverbial wheel on a regular basis. Inspired moments like teaching division with almonds won’t always produce the same “a-ha!” results when applied to other concepts. The almonds, however, do come in handy if you get hungry.
- Homeschooling an autistic teen will stretch you – your mind, in coming up with innovative ways to reach someone who thinks differently and often simply does not want to learn; your patience, in dealing with the daily debates and the frustration of going over the same concept for weeks; and of course, your heart. Nothing else I’ve ever done is more of a labor of love than this.
So take Winter Break, Spring Break, and Summer Break. In fact, take Friday Break also. Keep up your strength and safeguard your sanity. Take whatever breaks you can, when you can. Take Christmas Vacation, Halloween Rest, Easter Time-Out. Relax, regroup, rediscover. And then restart.