Barefoot in Suburbia

Homeschooling & Special Needs, Inspired by the Montessori Way

Homeschooling & Autism August 24, 2011

I’m so excited to finally be able to get this post out.  The primary reason we have decided to homeschool is because Jedi & Monkey both have significant special needs.  Jedi has autism and sensory processing disorder, and Monkey has other special needs that will likely be reassessed as being somewhere on the autism spectrum in the next couple weeks.  However, when we started our homeschooling journey, we made the mistake of setting up the room like we would for any typical child–tables & chairs, assignments that I knew were going on but that Jedi had no way to know what was coming up, lots of things that required handwriting, etc.  Needless to say, Jedi was having a very difficult time concentrating and being able to make it through an entire school day without becoming overstimulated.  So, with the help of Jedi’s occupational therapist and primary psychologist, we’ve come up some accommodations to hopefully help to make things a bit easier for Jedi.

One of the things we did right was make sure that every piece of curriculum was as hands on as possible.  Jedi is neither an auditory learner nor a learner who can comprehend just from reading.  However, if he can create something with his hands, or manipulate objects in a meaningful way during the lesson, he can usually remember and process the lesson.  Some of our curriculum choices are:

Math: Rightstart, level C

Spelling: All About Spelling

Science: REAL Science Odyssey (Life, Earth, & Chemistry)

History: History Odyssey & Hands on History

Geography: Expedition Earth

Art: Artistic Pursuits

Handwriting: We use Handwriting Without Tears.  We also use the book “730 Journal Prompts” for daily journaling, and the book “Veggie Soup: I’m a Writer and Didn’t Even Know It” for random handwriting.

Typing: Typing Instructor for Kids

For Monkey, we also stray slightly from Montessori for things she has more difficulty in.  Right now, for letters, we are using Confession of a Homeschooler’s “Letter of the Week”, and also using a workbook that has a different mini-book for each letter of the alphabet.

Because both of the kids need a lot of gross motor sensory input, we have transformed our entire finished basement into a 1000 sq ft learning space–a quarter of it is our main classroom, with another quarter being the office (with the computer).  The other half is split between a small art room, and a large indoor gymnastics area with a balance beam, mini trampoline, thick mats, and  a gymnastics bar.  Not only does it help get some gross motor “wiggle breaks” in, but gymnastics has been a form of therapy for Monkey since she was 11 months old.  It is her out, and when things aren’t going well for her, all it takes is some time on the mats to turn things around.  We also use FitDeck exercise cards randomly throughout the day to give the kids a brief wiggle break.  Frequent breaks for exercise often help to calm, focus, and ground the kids.

One of the things I've frequently posted about was Jedi's extreme difficulty with handwriting and spelling. One of the things that helps a lot with that is allowing Jedi to type all assignments that are more than a couple sentences in length. It makes it much easier for him to concentrate on the actual subject matter. It also makes it much easier for him to correct his spelling. With his auditory processing issues, he hears words differently than most people, and as such, phonetic spelling is extremely difficult for him. Without a way of even knowing what sounds are in the word, looking things up in the dictionary is impossible. But, when typing into a word processor, the program will notice misspelled words and give options for correct spellings--Jedi can, with 100% accuracy, pick out the correct word that he intended. We are currently working on fixing my old laptop for Jedi to use, but in the meantime, Jedi is doing his typing lessons and typing work on the family desktop computer.


We also noticed that Jedi always had to have something in his hands, especially during verbal lessons, or he just couldn't concentrate. So now, on the corner of his work table is a basket of various fidgets that he can keep in his hands. We made sure that each fidget had a different texture and size so that he can choose exactly what he needs at the time. We've also put pencil grips on all of his pencils to increase the sensory input he receives while writing.


We've noticed that Jedi has a *lot* of trouble sitting at chairs. His core muscle weakness makes it very difficult for him to maintain the upright position for long periods of time (if you've noticed, he's almost always holding his head while writing). I've noticed that instead of concentrating on the lesson, he's concentrating on his posture. So, we bought a huge beanbag, and filled it up 3/4 of the way with the foam beads. Not filling it up all the way makes him sink into it some, which gives him more sensory input. The beanbag can be used for any seated work he chooses, with the exception of art (since he should be seated at a table for painting, clay work, scissors, etc.)


Jedi also has the choice to use the indoor swing for working as well. We have the Rainy Day Indoor Playground. It has a sling swing, net swing, platform swing, and rope ladder. Jedi is allowed to use the net swing or platform swing for seated work (again, not the art stuff. LOL!)


We have started using a Workbox System as well. This helps Jedi know exactly what is coming up so that he does not have to spend energy and time worrying about how much left he has to do, or what subjects he will be doing for the day. For a normal day, we have 12 workboxes. For a half day (due to therapies), he has 6 workboxes.


One of the other things we’re working on is getting Ipod Touches for both Jedi & Monkey.  This should help a lot with social, behavior, emotional regulation, and academic subjects that they might be having more difficulty in.  Hopefully soon, we’ll have the money saved up for them and I can post my review of some autism-friendly apps. 🙂

For those of you homeschooling special needs kids, what things have you personally found helpful in your homeschooling journey?  As we know, it’s often different than the experience of homeschooling typical kids–not only are your work days often interrupted by daily therapy sessions, but there are often accommodations that need to be made to help learning be effective.


One Response to “Homeschooling & Autism”

  1. Monica Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this post. My boys do not have autism (as far as I know), so I can’t share my own experiences with homeschooling with special needs (and my boys are younger). But, I found it so interesting (and inspiring!) how you have been able to think through your school environment and make it work for your family. I was also struck how lucky your children are to have such thoughtful, caring parents.

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