An Unexpected Path: Homeschooling a Child with Autism

The very beginning of my homeschooling experience was probably a bit different than that of most families.  In order to explain, let me introduce you to my daughter, Hannah.  My husband Scott and I had been married for 4 years when our first child, Hannah, was born.  She was, of course, perfect in every way!    However, at the age of 15 months, after receiving her 12-month vaccines, she began having problems.  She had a very serious reaction to the vaccines, and she just never returned to “normal” afterward.  She began to lose language and eye contact.  She also began acting as if she no longer understood what we were saying to her.  She stopped following directions, stopped playing and using her imagination, and stopped exhibiting normal eye contact.

We took Hannah to every pediatrician and specialist in the area (and out of the area) and heard the same thing from all of them.  “She’s your first child.  You’re too worried.   She’s just a late bloomer!  Just wait 6 months to bring her back for another checkup.  She’ll be just fine.”  What they didn’t understand was that Hannah had actually regressed.  (I had tried to communicate this to them, but they dismissed the information and chose to believe that I was a first-time mom and that I was wrong about her having regressed. They decided she was just a late bloomer and that I was anxious because her development was slower than that of other children.) She had not simply been slow to develop language and play skills and eye contact.  She had developed them and then lost them.  I could tell at that point that the medical community was not going to be the answer to finding help for Hannah.  It was going to be up to me, with God’s direction, to figure out how to help her.

By the time Hannah was about 2 years old, I knew that she had autism.  Again, the doctors would not diagnose her because of her young age.  My husband and I knew, though, that she was indeed autistic, so we began seeking direction for her care.  The Lord led us to a wonderful woman who taught several of us (my mother-in-law, a teenager whom we paid to work with Hannah, a volunteer from our church, Hannah’s speech therapist, and myself) how to work with Hannah in a way that she could actually learn.  Looking back all these years later, I can see what a life-changing occurrence that was!  That was actually the very beginning of our lifestyle of homeschooling.  At the time, we were just trying to hold our lives together and do whatever we could do to help our daughter.  We had no idea about the journey we were embarking upon.

I began overseeing a strict therapy schedule for Hannah which included planning Hannah’s work with the other “therapists” mentioned above and working with Hannah myself.  We tried to keep her actively working with one or the other of us for 35 to 40 hours each week.  What a schedule for a 2-year-old! But it was necessary since she was no longer able to play and entertain herself for even a few minutes at a time. If she wasn’t working with someone one-on-one, she was simply doing nothing.

Hannah stopped regressing and began to show signs of improvement as we worked with her week after week.  We began with teaching her very simple things like how to sit quietly in a chair for a few minutes at a time in order to be able to pay attention and learn.  We taught her to imitate simple movements and to follow one-step commands.  In other words, we taught her all of the things that most other young children learn on their own.  It took hours and hours of work for Hannah to learn to do the simplest things that children usually “pick up on” quite naturally and easily.  It was extremely hard work on Hannah’s part and on the part of those of us who worked with her.

I learned through these experiences with Hannah (who will be 20 years old in a few months!) that I really can do anything through Christ who strengthens me.  The journey was difficult and complicated then, and it continues to be so today.  Hannah has made lots of progress over the years, but she still has autism.  She is non-verbal, has trouble learning certain things–especially anything that is abstract, has very poor motor skills, and has very extreme sensitivities to certain tastes and sounds.  She is also a beautiful, wonderful, loving young lady.

Homeschooling a child with autism, or any child for that matter, is a difficult yet very rewarding experience!  I hope that you can read about our experiences and be encouraged in your own homeschooling journey.
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