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New Member - Questions for an Autistic 13 yr old

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

This is my inaugural post, so hello to all the veteran members!


I think my wife and I have had it. Our son, Aaron, will be 14 by the end of the month. He was diagnosed as autistic at age 3. He is high-functioning, and I would say that, compared to his "typical" peers he is roughly average in mental abilities, maybe smarter. Like any kid, he struggles with some things, and excels at others. After 10 years of therapies, dietary adjustments and medications, I think that he is about as "cured" as he will ever be. Meaning... hey, he is quirky, and people will just have to learn to deal with that, as he will have to learn to adjust to others. He also has a physical growth delay that the doctors just haven't been able to come up with a satisfactory explanation for. He is at least 6" shorter than the average boy his age, and in fact still has many of his baby teeth. His latest growth rates indicate he may be catching up, but who knows? He is an only child, and has no cousins.


He is in 8th grade, and will pass it. He is in public school, and has a full-time aide who is there to keep him focused and find ways to help him (or the school) adapt when he has trouble "accessing the curriculum" as the teachers phrase it. There are behavioral problems here and there, where he will refuse to work, or insult his aide. At night, we (all three of us) are ruled by his homework requirements. At this point, he really hates school, and consequently, learning in general. Hates reading, hates math, etc. I believe the public school system has crushed it out of him, which angers me terribly. I am angry at the schools, and angry at myself for allowing them to do this to him. My wife is fortunately starting to believe I may be right.


I am very interested in unschooling, but I am worried that his desire to learn won't just recover all by itself. I have fears that if I just take him out of public school and allow him to find his own path that he will just play Sonic the Hedgehog/Pokemon video games all day, which is his tendency.I want him to be free and re-discover learning on his own if possible, but not if it means he will end up as a couch potato. I am researching homeschooling, online learning and unschooling currently. I wonder if the best solution might be a strategic combination of all three.


I would love any advice or comments from those who may have had similar experiences with a son or daughter, and maybe come out on the other side. Actually, any helpful advice at all is welcomed! Thank you.




Oops - meant for this to appear on the Unschooling board. Not sure how it ended up here, or how to move it.

Edited by mikethe3dguy - 2/4/12 at 7:34pm
post #2 of 9

First, welcome.

Second, leave this here, you may get some help here. Then copy your original post and paste it into the unschooling side.


Third, our story is different than yours. We're starting out homeschooling so don't have to "deschool." You may want to read about deschooling. Essentially giving your son time to rediscover the world. 


We are on the unschooling spectrum. We are not radical unschoolers, though we are certainly into honoring our children's wants and needs. We limit the amount of video time. Our son is required to clear the table after dinner. We don't call it a chore, we refer to it as his responsibility to help the family. And I usually help by putting the food away.


I do a lot of "strewing." I find stuff that I think our kids would be interested in and then present it to them in ways I think would entice them. So, when I got the animated history of The Wright Brothers, our son insisted he didn't want to watch it. (Even though he is all about airplanes and flying.) Fine. No problem. Daddy and I are going to watch it and you can play. Needless to say, he sat in the middle and watched it with us. Oh, and he loved it. He's absolutely against the idea of learning to read. I think he's overwhelmed by it. He's learned all his letter sounds from doing www.starfall.com. And he wants nothing more to do with reading. That's fine, he's only 6. Finland doesn't even start formal education until age 7. Except I think he would love to read. So I bought "Happy Phonics." Tonight I asked if he wanted to play a game with me where you see if you can get the smoke to come out the chimney of the house. Bottom line is we were sounding out words. Often he had me start. I acted as if I was struggling, then he figured it out. He wanted to play more games. I've learned to stop while he's having fun or he will dislike whatever he gets burned out on.


There are at least three kids in our main homeschooling group that are on the autism spectrum. I'm not sure if their folks unschool or use a curriculum. They all seem to be doing fine. 


Something I have is the Living is Learning Guides by Nancy Plent. http://www.fun-books.com/books/living_is_learning_guides.htm The description from the website is: These guides are put together by Nancy Plent, founder of the Unschoolers Network in New Jersey and a long-time homeschooler. She reviewed the scope and sequence charts and curriculum guides of dozens of schools in various states, then combined the highest standards of elements from each to create these guides. Why purchase these curriculum guides? 1) They may help you to fulfill your state's legal requirement to provide an educational plan 2) They allow you to see some of the highest standards for schools at various grade levels, just in case you are curious about what the schools expect or are anxious about what you are doing 3) They provide record-keeping space that can help organize a portfolio.

Besides providing a checklist under each subject, Nancy offers suggestions on how to translate real-life experience into curricula goals. She also lists resources from a variety of companies. Each guide covers two or more grade levels. The first four are in comb binding, while the high school guide is in a 3-ring binder.


I like that the guides let me know what some school districts consider appropriate for kids to be learning. It doesn't mean that I'm going to make my kid learn those things. On the other hand, if I see something that would be useful for my kids to learn, I can present it to them. Like counting by two and five. I can make that into a game. Without the guides I wouldn't have even considered playing that with them.

post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thank you so much for your valuable response. The approach you describe is pretty much what I imagined doing. Your description of strewing is something my wife and I have already done several times with Aaron, usually successfully. I have heard of deschooling but didn't know anything about it. Looks like there's some very good information on it on sandradodd.com.


I have been brainstorming some ways to get him interested in learning and creating. I suggested to him that we all co-write a multi-chapter story involving his favorite fictional characters. He would choose the characters and create the plot, then we would all take turns writing chapters, for maybe a six or nine chapter story. So for example I would write chapter 1, he would do #2 and Mom would do #3, etc. He really liked that idea. All sorts of ways to run with that, expand on it and even turn it into some sort of multimedia experience.


It's fortunate that I accidentally posted here instead of unschoolers, but I will do as you suggest and re-post it there too.



post #4 of 9

Glad I could help.


I'm currently reading this book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0983151008/ref=oh_o05_s00_i00_details


She looks at how some rather successful homeschoolers were raised. Folks like Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Agatha Christie, etc. Essentially the parents helped the kids get the basics: reading, writing, very basic math, then they got out of the way. Not that they left their kids alone, but rather that they let the kids drive. So far the story of what Stephen Spielberg's mother did is my favorite. Please, oh please, let me be like her. (I'm not saying what she did. You'll have to read the book. LOL)


BTW, someone I know works with autistic kids. He says he's watched quite a bit of footage of Bill Gates and thinks he has Asperger's. I just googled that. Guess lots of people think so. http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/spotlighthealth/2003-04-15-schneider_x.htm

post #5 of 9

Just wanted to add. On the Legendary Learners book I linked above. It is probably one of the best homeschooling/unschooling books I have read. 

post #6 of 9

My son is 13 (will be 14 in May) and is on the spectrum, in that he's diagnosed as Asperger's.  We've homeschooled from the start.


What we have found, over the years of experimenting with lots of different approaches, is that he does do best with an externally-imposed schedule and instructions, rather than completely self-led unschooling.  This is actually pretty standard with kids on the spectrum and with ADHD.  Their self-regulation just isn't well developed, not for lack of teaching - it's part of their disability in the first place.  


So we've worked out a decent blend of structured routine, and his own choice.  Our latest take on this is that his day is divided into 'blocks' -- a block will usually be 45 to 90 minutes, with an hour being the most common.  Basically, there are "school blocks", "free time blocks" and what I call "project blocks"... these are basically free play as well, but with a restricted set of options.  Things like: reading, playing outside, working on some stop-motion animation, working on a puzzle, recording some music, play with Lego, doing something crafty, etc.  Basically, it's all things he loves to do and WANTS to do -- but if he's left on his own choice completely, he will spend 24/7 playing Minecraft and forget to do anything else.  Then he gets grumpy that he hasn't done these other things he enjoys.  So the so-called 'free time' block really turns into a 'Minecraft' block, and the 'project block' is 'any other kind of free time other than computer games' block.


This has been working well for us because it recognizes his love for Minecraft while keeping it in balance.  He doesn't have to finish ALL his work before he can play, it's spread out during the day.  We *used* to do it all before he could play, but for various reasons we're finding this works better.  


I also structure the assignments that he's doing in the 'school blocks'.  eg, this block he is to do his algebra and his physics lessons, and the assignments for those are on a printout we do through homeschoolskedtrack.com.  But while the assignments are doled out by me rather than completely self-regulated, the courses are designed around him.  For history we're doing WWII because that's what he was interested in.  The 'core' stuff is stuff he HAS to do -- math, french, some kind of science, music -- but we've decided which curricula to use based on his needs and likes, etc etc.  For science this year he was really keen to do physics.  Outside of the core courses, though, it's much more up to him to decide what to do.


But we have found that following a curriculum is healthier for him than just strewing stuff.  He does still engage in some of that sort of thing, of course, but he does best when most of his day is externally regulated for him.  He's calmer and more secure.  Left to his own, he's aimless and lost and anxious.  As he gets older, he's gradually taking over more responsibility for himself.


Anyway, all kids are different of course, but I wanted to chime in with the info that for *most* kids on the spectrum, unschooling ends up not being the best choice.  Believe me, I wanted to unschool, we tried it, but he was unhealthy, cranky, etc etc.  It's not even about 'getting enough academic work'; it was psychologically not good for him.  If it turns out the same for your son, don't feel like you're betraying unschooling or anything like that.  ;)  

post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks Heather. We really appreciate hearing your perspective. We are really on the fence about how much structure to include, but doing a lot of reading and podcast-listening to try and sort things out. We have always believed Aaron needed structure, and I doubt we will be doing radical unschooling, but certainly something that allows him to rediscover a love of learning.



post #8 of 9

My son is also high functioning ASD.  I can really relate to your "as cured as he is going to get"After a huge amount of initial improvement with diet, supplements, etc.... I am not sure there is much more to do.  We decided to home school before we really understood what we were dealing with because I just knew he was a square peg that would be hammered into a round hole. (I was a public school- special education teacher)  I saw so many wonderful things in him that I knew would be overshadowed by his language processing issues. I knew from experience that he would be treated as a behavioral problem when he is by nature a pleaser.  It would just have been terrible.


I met him where he was academically until 4-5th grade really.  He was doing some academics really well and early.  Others like writing have only begun with prompting in 4-5 grade.  One of the reasons I find homeschooling to be a great option for kids like this is that there are so much more EFFICIENT and INTERESTING ways of teaching this stuff that will not require them to put so much effort into being someone who they are not.  That effort at the same time implies that there is something wrong with who they are.  He was able to wait until he was able to write a sentence comfortably on his own at 9 before I started having him do it as part of his school.  Which at almost 11 is still almost never. He does not feel that he is a terrible writer because we instead put a LOT on energy into things that he excels at like playing the violin and reading.  And I am allowed.  With no fighting and no meetings.  If I ever look up and think he needs to be doing more writing, we can spend extra time on it the next morning.  In the mean time, he does a lot of dictation, narrations, and copy work.  When things start to click for him, he will have all the tools he needs to write.  I really believe that.


I wish you best of luck.  I know my son would NOT do some things I think are important without expectations, help, and rewards.  Although I think a lot of unschooling, it wasn't a fit for him.  He would read the same 3-4 books 600 times, play minecraft, and bug me about other video games until my head exploded.  And because there are some areas where his processing issues make progress harder, I don't see him pursuing those on his own.  But I am sure there are people out there that have a different experience.  If you decide to give it a go and not unschool, message me if you would like to discuss curriculums.  We have had to try a lot of different kinds before we found a good match.  What works for us  might not work for you but I can at least share my experiences and you can see if anything sounds familiar.


Good luck!


post #9 of 9

Heather, that was  a REALLY helpful post... thank you very much.  Our sons should hang out:)

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