Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Understanding autism

4.4 Home education

Some parents choose to home-educate their children. They may have tried mainstream and/or special school options, and found both to be unsuitable for their child. Their child may have had bad experiences or failed to progress, or parents may be using interventions such as Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA), which cannot be readily implemented in school. Receiving formal education at home is often a lot less stressful and anxiety-provoking for the child because it is a familiar environment, and the day can be structured to suit their routines and interests. However, it can be more stressful and exhausting for parent(s), and is financially costly if paid employment has to be given up. Parents may also find it hard to obtain the necessary teaching materials and they may lack sufficient information about what the child should be learning. Parents undertaking homeschooling are not obliged to follow the National Curriculum, and this may benefit the child in the short to medium term, but difficulties may arise if the child ever wants or needs to take formal qualifications such as GCSEs and A-levels. Despite his regrettable experience of bullying, Alex is positive about his formal mainstream education, which has equipped him for university studies. Home education may be the best choice for some children, but it is not an easy option or one that all parents could manage.

In this video clip Arabella, mother of Iris Grace, explains why she took the decision to educate Iris at home:

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Transcript

ILONA:
You decided to educate Iris Grace at home. What led you to that decision, and what are the pros and cons of home education?
ARABELLA:
So my original intention was Iris to be educated in a school, and I worked for many years to try and make that happen. It wasn't like I was this parent that thought, "Oh, home education, that's my dream" at all. In fact, we're positioned in the village right on the main road that has a bus to the local schools--

[LAUGHTER]

--so I thought that was good news when we bought the property. But Iris didn't get on well at all at preschool. It turned into a very sort of distressing time in both of our lives. She started self-harming and all of the progress that had built up over those months just disappeared really quickly.
One thing with children who are on the spectrum, when things are going wrong, they can go very wrong and really fast if they're in an environment that they can't handle. It's actually quite shocking how quickly things fall apart and how they break down sort of in front of your eyes. It's really sad. They can't eat. They can't focus. They can't concentrate. They start doing things like self-harming behaviours.
So after about three weeks of seeing that, I had to take her out. And then it was a case of me kind of regrouping and saying, OK, what do I do now? And we looked at other options for schools, but there just didn't seem to be anything that was appropriate. And I realised that, to give her what she needed at that time, it needed to be at home.
We did the whole home ed thing, and it's hard most days. I mean it is hard. It's not like I can say to you it's a dream. It's a lot of hard work and preparation because you're a teacher, you're a mother, you're a therapist-- also a photographer and everything. So it takes up a lot of energy, but what you get back is amazing, and that gives you the energy to carry on the next day and the next day.
And you're a lot more free, and you can move with the child's interests. And if you've prepared something-- say, on an elephant theme, and Iris suddenly decides that she wants to be into the orchestra, I can go with that. I don't have any other children to worry about. When you're working one to one, you can just go with the child's interests.
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Activity 3 Home education

Allow about 5 minutes

Besides the potential drawbacks of home education just outlined, can you think of another important developmental opportunity that home-educated children are likely to miss out on?

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Discussion

All home-educated children, whether autistic or not, may lack opportunities for interacting and learning to socialise with other children, an important part of their learning and progression towards adulthood. However, it is possible to join a network of other home-educating parents and participate in organised outings or joint learning sessions. Some parents have even set up groups in their own homes to facilitate their child’s interactions. In this video clip Arabella talks about the Little Explorers Activity Club that she runs from home, bringing Iris Grace together with other autistic children for informal learning activities:

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ARABELLA:
It means that you create an environment both sort of outside and the human environment with us that promotes learning. And it's learning how movement affects the brain and how we can help these kids.
And like last week we had a German working student with us. And she was teaching the children all sorts of concepts that you would think would be too difficult to get across to a child in the spectrum, like about gravity and speed and how to work out speed and all these things. And she even taught them through ways that is so imaginative and it's fun for them. There was no sitting down at the table, no paperwork, no sort of worksheets, nothing like that. It was all outside doing experiments and working with each individual child's passions. So the speed one was all on the Hot Wheels, with these little cars. And they made sort of tracks down through the meadow with that and working out speed that they went and the acceleration and all sorts of things like that.
So it's been really inspirational to see how you can teach.
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