By Meghan Vivo
Children with Asperger’s are highly misunderstood – a fact that makes it difficult for them to get their needs met in public school.
Many teachers and school officials lack adequate education about the disorder and do not know how to respond to typical Asperger’s behaviors. Those who are willing to invest in their Asperger’s students may not be able to because of large class sizes and the disparate needs of their students. Parents have also found it challenging, if not impossible, to get needed services, such as occupational therapy and sensory integration therapy, at a public school.
As a result, young Aspies are faced with repeated academic and social failures and physical and emotional abuse by peers, which, in turn, can lead to the following:
- Low self-esteem
- Getting expelled from school due to misunderstandings
- Being isolated or withdrawn, or coming home crying
- Refusing to go to school
- Giving up on academic success or hopes to attend college
Typical observations from parents might include, “My child started refusing to get out of bed in the morning, and I knew it was because there were bullies at school,” or, “My teen kept coming home angry, but he would never tell me what was wrong,” says Molly Shriver-Blake, MSW, the program manager at a school for children with Asperger’s.
Frustrated, upset and wanting better for their child, many parents of kids with Asperger’s do their own research about their child’s unique needs and decide to home school. But is home school the best answer?
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Home School
In some cases, home school may be an effective option. At home, parents can protect their child and create a self-paced learning environment, notes Shriver-Blake. Specifically, parents can monitor their child’s peer influences, teach to their child’s specific learning needs, create their own academic curriculum and reduce the number of transitions their child must experience on a day-to-day basis.
But many families find that the responsibility of educating a child with Asperger’s is more complex than they anticipated. Children with Asperger’s who are home schooled are sometimes unrealistically sheltered from real-world events and issues, says Shriver-Blake. And because their days are filled primarily with parent-child interactions, home-schooled teens may lack independence.
Parents who home school are often overwhelmed with the all-consuming nature of being both parent and teacher, and need time to be individual
The social aspect of home school is another challenge, says Shriver-Blake. “Learning about social norms and expectations, making friends, and practicing social skills are critical for children with Asperger’s,” she says. “In some cases, home school decreases the child’s desire to become involved socially because their parents have become their world.”
Despite these difficulties, home school can be beneficial for teens with Asperger’s. For parents willing and able to take on the challenge, Shriver-Blake offers the following recommendations:
- Get your child involved in supervised peer groups outside of the family to build social skills.
- Hire tutors to vary the teaching styles your child is exposed to.
- Get other adults involved to fulfill different roles, such as tutor, teacher or counselor.
- Take breaks for yourself.
- Follow an open curriculum.
- Teach extracurricular topics.
- Use experiential education tools.
- Get outside and exercise.
- Take precautions to ensure you don’t shelter your child.
Alternative Schools for Children with Asperger’s
Even with the best of intentions and adequate planning, home schooling does not work for many families, says Shriver-Blake. “As the saying goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Sometimes the stress of so few people doing so many jobs makes home schooling an unworkable option,” she says.
For these families, an appealing alternative to home schooling is special needs boarding schools or specialized programs for teens with Asperger’s. Schools like Southeast Journeys in North Carolina (part of the renowned Talisman Programs for children and teens with special needs) create a positive peer culture in which each student’s strengths and unique learning styles are appreciated. The experienced staff works to mend self-esteem issues intensified by negative experiences in traditional schools or with peers, and helps students develop the skills they need as they move toward independence.
“Some of our students who have been home schooled have expressed how much they appreciate their time here,” says Shriver-Blake. “They report feeling more comfortable with peers and academics – things they had shut themselves off from previously.”
You know your child better than anyone else, and only you can know how to best meet their needs. If public school isn’t living up to your expectations, consider the alternatives. For some, the best learning environment may be home school. For others, specialized schools for children with Asperger’s are best equipped to help their child develop personally, academically and socially.