Homeschooling a Struggling Learner
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What is Asperger’s syndrome? Recent data suggests that 1 in 150 children have an autism spectrum disorder, such as Asperger’s. Learn more about this common developmental challenge, this week on Home School Heartbeat, with HSLDA President Mike Smith and Dianne Craft.
Mike Smith: Today, Dianne Craft joins me. Dianne, welcome to the program!
Dianne Craft: Thank you, I’m happy to be here!
Mike: Dianne, one struggle that we are seeing in increasing numbers in both the general population and the homeschooling community is Asperger’s syndrome. Would you explain for our listeners what this is, and how parents would know if their child is struggling with it?
Dianne: Children with Asperger’s syndrome often display some common characteristics. Four of the most common are:
1) The strong need for routine. New settings and noises in particular bother this child.
2) Narrowed interest. This child often wants to talk about only one subject to others, even if other are not interested in that topic.
3) One of the most painful characteristics is this child’s difficulty reading social cues. In a group he’s a loner, or acts inappropriately. This child has great difficulty making friends.
4) An overactive imagination. This child is often in his own world, fascinated by his own thoughts.
Mike: Dianne, thanks for that helpful information today! We’ll talk more next time. And until then, I’m Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: Dianne Craft joins me again today. Dianne, on our last program, you described what Asperger’s syndrome is. Parents whose child struggles with Asperger’s may wonder—is homeschooling a feasible option? What would you tell them?
Dianne Craft: Well, many parents find that the very best educational setting for these wonderful children is at home. Since these children are often very curious, even gifted learners, at home they’re free to explore the topics of interest to them. Also, peer relationships aren’t their strength; they’re not distracted from the learning by the constant need to interact with their peers. Their siblings and parents become their friends. They learn appropriate social interaction in the home setting. And since many of these children suffer with sensory processing problems, it’s better for them to be educated in a setting free from the unsettling atmosphere of a crowded school room. At home, you can give your child a set schedule for the day, so he knows what to expect, which will give him a good level of comfort. It’s also the best setting in which to pinpoint dietary issues that may be contributing to your child’s behavior.
Mike: Dianne, that’s great news for parents of an Asperger’s child. Thanks for sharing with our listeners! And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: Dianne Craft is with us this week to discuss homeschooling a child with Asperger’s syndrome. Dianne, you explained last time why homeschooling can actually provide a much better learning environment. What kind of curriculum best serves a child with these particular challenges?
Dianne Craft: Well, parents who have successfully homeschooled their children with Asperger’s syndrome have found various educational approaches that work. Many parents find that computer-based instruction can be a good teaching method. One characteristic of children with Asperger’s syndrome is they tend to like structure and predictability. They’re also easily self-taught, in many cases. For that reason, parents have found that computer-based instruction works well for these children, if they’re working close to grade level.
But some parents have found that unit studies work best for their child. Doing a unit study involves studying a topic in depth. Since this is exactly what children with Asperger’s syndrome tend to want to do, it fits in very easily with their learning style. Unit studies often work well for kids who are resistant to learning about anything but their “special topic.” Parents start with the topic of interest, and then branch out into other topics.
Mike: Dianne, thank you very much for sharing your experience. I’m sure it will be helpful to many families. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: My guest again today is Dianne Craft. Dianne, what kinds of helps can parents look for to build social or relational skills in their Asperger’s-affected child?
Dianne Craft: This is the number one issue that concerns parents of a child with Asperger’s syndrome: “How will my child get along in the world? Will he be a loner all his life?”
Parents can help their children learn to appropriately respond to various social situations by using some of the well-made DVDs that are available. In these daily lessons, the parent and child watch a DVD of a scene where children are interacting. Then the parent turns off the DVD and discusses with the child various appropriate responses. These DVDs are designed to cover the different kinds of social demands that a child faces daily that are so puzzling for the child with Asperger’s syndrome.
Some helpful websites for these DVDs are ModelMeKids.com and SocialSkillBuilder.com. For more resources, read the article, “Homeschooling your Child with Asperger’s Syndrome” at hslda.org/strugglinglearner.
Mike: Dianne, thanks for sharing your perspective on Asperger’s with our listeners today. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.
Mike Smith: Dianne, parents of children impacted by Asperger’s have to pour a lot of love and dedication into that homeschooling endeavor. That has got to take a lot of support. How can friends and family encourage a family dealing with this challenge?
Dianne Craft: Well, because of their difficulty with social skills, these children with Asperger’s syndrome often suffer from loneliness and ostracism.
Supportive parents can greatly relieve the stress that these families are facing by teaching their own children about Asperger’s characteristics. They can teach their children to, number one, overlook the quirky behaviors that these children may exhibit. And teach them to draw that teenager into the youth group activities with conversation or partnering. And teach them to defend the child when someone is teasing them, and just be a friend to this struggling child or teenager.
Leaders of youth groups can make sure that there are no surprises for the child with Asperger’s syndrome during the service. Keep the parents informed, so they can prepare their child for new situations. Nothing warms a parent’s heart more than to see their child befriended by another child in a group and made to feel comfortable.
Mike: Dianne, I believe this program will be a great encouragement to many families! Thanks for joining us this week to shed some light on homeschooling a child with Asperger’s. Until next time, I’m Mike Smith.