Educating a Child on the Autism Spectrum

If you are the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you have probably already had your fair share of educational struggles. An online curriculum for children with autism may be part of the educational answer for children on the autism spectrum. Online learning for children with autism is often a big part of the answer.

Time4Learning is an online interactive curriculum used at home for homeschooling, afterschool reinforcement, or summer study. Time4Learning is student-paced and the levels of the subjects can be set independently. The web-based format allows children with ASD to have stress-free, productive study time. Time4Learning is automated so over-worked parents can relax knowing their child is getting a quality educational experience without constant hands-on involvement.

Many families with children on the autism spectrum have found Time4Learning to be a great contribution to their children’s education. This page discusses our observations on educational issues for children with ASD and presents a specific story of how Time4Learning helped one family.

Social and Educational Challenges

If you are the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), you have probably had your fair share of educational struggles. In terms of education, children with autism don’t learn the way other children learn – just by observing and imitating what they see. Not only do children with autism need to learn their “Three R’s”, but they need to be taught all of the social skills that other children seem to pick up naturally by being around other people – how close to stand to someone, how to engage in conversation, how to play with a friend. Many parents don’t know where to start, and most feel overwhelmed at one time or another.

One mother said, “My emotions ran from guilt to defeat to exhaustion. I couldn’t stand answering his same questions over and over, or watching him ignore his room full of toys, preferring to peel the paint off of his dresser or the wall. I couldn’t stand to watch him get rejected by other children over and over. There were times when I wished I could just send him away to an autism boarding school. I hated autism, but felt guilty for even thinking it.”

Autism and School – A Tough Mix

As tiring as it can be for a parent, it is much harder for the child. Autism and school don’t always mix well. A typical day in school for children with autism is like pulling double duty – not only do they need to learn academic subjects, but they also need to adapt to the classroom environment – the sounds, smells, or lights of the classroom, the interaction with other students, adjusting to changes in the daily routine, and more. It can be exhausting.

Many parents and teachers of children with ASD need a highly structured education plan that is individualized to suit each child. Homeschooling your child with autism often works wonders as parents can control the environment to allow the child the opportunity to enjoy a reduced sensory load.

Children with autism are often visual learners. They often have poor fine motor skills and writing is often a chore. A computer based curriculum may suit many children on the autism spectrum.

Time4Learning offers a unique approach for children with autism. It is a self-paced curriculum with a strong visual component that integrates a variety of other learning styles. It mixes visual with auditory/verbal and kinesthetic modes of teaching. The computer is impersonal so children on the autism spectrum can learn without the added distraction of constant interpersonal relations. Also, for children whose struggle with writing impedes the learning process, a computer based learning system can give children with autism the opportunity to show what they know without being bogged down by manipulating a pencil.

The Best Educational Approaches to Autism

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a developmental disability that affects social interaction, communication, and creative or imaginative play. Signs of it emerge in early childhood, often before age three.

Children with autism do not follow typical patterns of development and symptoms can range from mild social impairment to very severe, affecting a child’s ability to perform or understand even the most basic communication skills. For each child, the symptoms fall along a spectrum, and no two children with autism are alike.

Children with autism benefit from a regular daily schedule. They often need extra time to switch to a new subject or activity. Many learn best with a visual schedule and with visual instruction. ASD children often struggle with auditory processing problems, as well as other sensory processing sensitivities. Many exhibit odd behavior that opens a door to social ostracism and bullying. Unfortunately, autism and bullying often go hand in hand.

One Family’s Educational Challenges

While each family is different, here is the educational experience of one mother of a child on the autism spectrum. To discuss this or share your experiences, please join our parents forum and go to the special needs section (you don’t have to join Time4Learning to participate).

I began homeschooling my son when he was in second grade. I knew something was wrong when he was a toddler because he didn’t develop language the way his older sisters had. Although he was active, he was strangely silent. Eventually, he began to repeat simple words that we said, but he didn’t use them on his own. Like I had done with his sisters, I enrolled him in a local preschool playgroup a few mornings a week. Within a few months, he got kicked out for biting. I found another school, thinking that he had to have social interaction with other kids, and the same thing happened. He was asked to leave. I knew something was wrong with him developmentally. I did some reading and quickly suspected autism. When we had him evaluated, professionals confirmed my suspicions. My son had ASD. I kept him home and worked with him, but didn’t really know what I was doing. How could I teach my son to read when he couldn’t process the things I was saying or couldn’t understand a simple storybook?

Traditional Public Schools and Autism

Although my son was labeled as “high functioning” I became convinced that he needed special help that I couldn’t provide. I enrolled him in a public school that had ESE support. They gave him an IEP for children with autism and a kind teacher. At the same time, we started the gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet. We read at home and we played math games. He suddenly began to do well academically. He started to read, do math, and converse with other children, but he was still aggressive and angry during the school day. Because he sounded and acted strange, he also began to get teased and eventually bullied. His sweet teacher was also increasingly angry with his behavior, which she blamed on him and our family.

At the end of kindergarten, they were ready to promote my son to first grade. Intuitively, I knew he wasn’t ready. He was so unhappy in that school that I felt we needed to change schools. We did a second year of kindergarten and first grade at a small private school, but ended up back at public school when they told us they couldn’t handle him.

The public school principal promised us the moon and stars and all the autism support we would need. We never got it. He was physically harmed, constantly teased, and his schedule was switched so often that it was confusing for him. Within the first quarter of the school year, my son was miserable. One night, as I was tucking him in, he looked up at me and said, “Mommy I hate school. I want to die.” That was it. I pulled him the next day and began homeschooling.

Help With Our Autism Education Plan

Although I had been reading about homeschooling for a number of years, and knew many of the methods, I had no idea what to do with my son. We needed help with our education plan. I considered unschooling, but knew that would be a disaster for a child who needed a set schedule just to get him through the day. The eventual abstract nature of classical learning would have been difficult for my concrete little boy. There were a number of good boxed programs out there, but at that point, just looking at a workbook or worksheet made my son shut down.

When I found Time4Learning, I knew it was the missing link we needed. It was comprehensive and orderly, and suited the way he thought. It was interactive, which he adored. It provided a visual picture list of the lessons he had completed and the ones he still had to complete. It was entertaining and mixed the visual input with the auditory in a way that helped my son integrate the two. This was very important. It was also an advantage for him to be able to see the lesson multiple times if needed.

Another benefit of Time4Learning is that my son was able to work ahead in areas of strength, and take his time with areas of struggle without feeling “stupid” like he did in school. Until he started Time4Learning, we didn’t know he had any academic strengths at all!

As he was quite computer savvy, he enjoyed and benefitted from navigating the site by himself, and by choosing which lessons he wanted to do first each day. The time at the Playground after his lessons were finished was a reward that he looked forward to every day.

This child, who cried and fell apart when he was asked to do any “school”, was eager to sit down at the computer and do his Time4Learning lessons. These lessons complemented the other activities we did perfectly, and I began to feel like I was giving my child an education, not forcing him to do something that was impossible.

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