I homeschool because my oldest child has autism. I didn’t plan to homeschool at first. I honestly knew almost nothing about homeschooling when my daughter, Hannah, was born almost 23 years ago. But I knew that she would never be ready for school at age 5 unless I helped prepare her ahead of time. I had no idea that what I was actually doing was beginning our journey as a homeschooling family.
When my daughter was two years old and was diagnosed with autism, I began searching for a way to help her learn the best way she could. There weren’t many resources available back then. And because my daughter was (and still is) completely non-verbal, it was even harder to figure out how to teach her. There just weren’t any resources available since autism wasn’t very common at that time.
Homeschooling a Child with Autism
I finally decided to start working with my daughter at home. I worked with her for as many hours as possible every week. It was the only thing that seemed to help her. She was learning to do all of the things that other children learn on their own just by watching the people in their lives—like imitation, playing with toys, asking for things non-verbally instead of throwing a fit, waiting when I couldn’t do something for her or give her something immediately, and so on. All of these things were hard for her, and they had to be practiced repeatedly before she caught on. I even taught her to wait her turn and to sit quietly in her seat for at least a few minutes at a time—all in preparation for the day when she would go to school and would need these skills.
The day came when it was time for Hannah to start school. I arranged for her to go to school half days since I was afraid full days would be too much for her. She was to attend a class for children with autism and other special needs. Her teacher was very knowledgeable and set high standards for her. Hannah did well in school, but she did begin to pick up on the negative behaviors of some of the other students in her class. I dealt with it as best I could and figured I had no choice but to learn to handle it because, after all, she was required to attend school.
Hannah remained in that teacher’s room for several years. She went to school in the mornings, and I taught her in the afternoons. Hannah was making very slow but steady progress. After a while, though, I began to notice that everything new that Hannah learned was something I had taught her at home. And I also noticed that her baby brother, who was just 19 months younger than her, was beginning to pick up on so much of what I was teaching her at home! That was when, for the first time, I began to wonder if it would be possible to teach her at home and not send her to school any more.
One day I learned that Hannah’s school teacher was moving away. I was worried about what would happen to Hannah and whether her new teacher would realize that she was very capable of learning even though she was non-verbal. Once she entered the new teacher’s class, I knew it was going to be a challenging year. Her teacher was very nice, but she had no idea how smart Hannah was or what she could learn. She assumed that Hannah wasn’t able to learn because she wasn’t able to talk and demonstrate her abilities in the same ways other students could. That was when I knew I had to bring Hannah home for good.
The day I called the school to tell them that Hannah wouldn’t be back was a huge turning point! It was such a hard phone call to make! But once I made the call, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I knew right away that I’d made the right decision.
As I began to spend more time each day teaching Hannah at home, I became even more certain that I’d done the right thing. It was tiring, but her behavior was getting better and better, and she was continuing to make her slow-but-steady progress. And again, I noticed her brother learning more and more as what I was teaching her became more advanced. It was at that point that I realized what I was actually doing was homeschooling! And it was working!
It seemed very natural at that point to continue homeschooling Hannah and to begin homeschooling her brother when he reached school age.
It’s been many years since I made that decision, and I can absolutely say it was a wonderful decision for our family. Hannah and her brother have both graduated from our homeschool, and I’m now homeschooling only my youngest child who’s in 9th grade this year.
It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know the journey I was beginning all those years ago because it would have seemed overwhelming. But since my plan was to get her ready for school, that seemed like a more manageable goal. But I can honestly tell you all these years later that it was the best decision I ever made as the parent of a severely autistic child. If I had to make the decision again, I would definitely do it!
If you’re struggling with the decision of whether or not to homeschool your severely autistic child, I suggest that you try it for one school year. You may just find, like I did, that it’s the best decision you ever made for your child!
Wendy Hilton lives in the South with her husband, Scott, and 3 children. She is a Christian, homeschooling, work-from-home mom. She is involved in her local church, is co-owner of Hip Homeschool Moms and Homeschool Road Trips, and she teaches Training for Warriors classes at her local gym. She and Scott were high school sweethearts and have been married for 27 years. Her oldest child, Hannah, is now age 22. She has autism, and Wendy began homeschooling her at age 2. Her son, Noah, is now age 21 and is the second homeschool graduate in the family. Her youngest child, Mary Grace, age 15, is the remaining homeschool student. Wendy loves reading, eating gluten-free, and working out.
This article is part of the I Homeschool Because . . . series. Click here to read other articles in this series, download the free eBook, You Can Do It, Too: 25 homeschool families share their stories, and enter a giveaway from Kiwi Crate valued at more than $200.