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Anyone unschooling a Non-verbal autistic teen ?????

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 



So my middle son is 15yr old and basically non-verbal. He was dx with autism at 3 1/2 and was in special school programs ever since. I unschooled him once in 2009/2010, but the problem was that i felt unsure if he was benefiting so i sent him back to public school (although i really don't like that either for many reasons). I have decided to pull him from school again as of today and would like to unschool again, but problem is he will just sit staring at his nook, usually youtube videos of other people playing video games or of clips of disney movies. As much as i think unschool can be so beneficial for most kids..well idk about a child like my son. Anyone have a child that's basically non-verbal and will just stare at a tv or computer screen if not instructed otherwise? Also anyone have any ideas for games, activities, etc..



post #2 of 14

My husband is Aspie, so not autistic. He's a computer programmer. 


Is your son willing to learn anything about programming or design or anything like that? At this stage in history if I had a child who was willing to dive headfirst into producing content on a computer (regardless of whether I like the content or not) I would personally let them just do it all day. I know a lot of people who have made very good careers out of starting out that way.


However if it is all passive medium then I probably would personally struggle with that because it doesn't fit into my hierarchy of values. Let's be clear about my hypocrisy here. :) 


I'm not in your position though. It sounds like it would be emotionally challenging to figure out what to do. No matter what you do someone (most people, probably) will tell you are wrong. No matter what you do. :( Parents of special needs kids are often in that boat.


Do you feel like your son is growing and learning and changing--even if it isn't exactly on the same schedule or path as other people? He may be doing the right thing for him. I have no way of judging. You are the only one who really knows your kid enough to know if he truly is growing. More than likely other people don't stare at him enough. :)


Is he willing to go out and do stuff with you? My approach to unschooling is that I have a very active life with a lot of stuff going on and my kids come along for the ride and learn the stuff I know. I really don't think I have a clear picture of how other peoples lives look (not in a judgmental way) so I don't know how much sitting in front of youtube is the norm. 


My kids get ~15 hours of screen time a week. We occasionally skip days and occasionally have marathons. It mostly averages to two hours a day. But my kids are hecka little (2 and 4) and I assume this will change dramatically as they get older. By the time they are teenagers I hope to heck I don't know or care exactly how many hours they are on a computer. :P :)


Which is to say: no advice but I'll give you encouragement to keep plugging along making decisions that feel right to you. :)

post #3 of 14

It sounds like the best thing you can do is become more informed about autism so you can better understand and communicate with your son. The public school's support programs widely teach us that we are somehow inferior to neurotypicals and the more supports we have in school it seems the lower functioning we end up being as adults. We don't start developing the idea that we can or should better or care for ourselves until we're in an environment where people aren't trying to teach us to be something we're not. Also, if there's any kind of autistic community in your area, I highly recommend getting him involved. We have our own subculture, much like the blind community does, and being surrounded by people that understand us and aren't trying to change us all the time can be downright life altering for someone with autism. A neurotypical family member can love and support us, but they can never truly understand us. 


I highly suggest discussing this over at the message boards at www.wrongplanet.net  There are quite a few non-verbal or minimally verbal individuals over there, some of which are absolutely brilliant at explaining their perspective in written form. I've found folks there almost entirely supportive of homeschooling - since school is often a horrific torture for most people on the spectrum. You'll find that most websites or programs for autistic people will say they're for Asperger's....they very rarely mean it. They just get more press and funding that way. When they say they're an "Asperger's" support group or website, they almost always mean any level of autism - and you'll usually find people from all along the spectrum. My daughter and I are diagnosed with classic autism, my son with Asperger's, and I have yet to find any program or group that allowed just my son.


A point of interest. Asperger's is a form of Autism. There is sometimes confusion because it has it's own name. It's just the higher functioning end of the scale, and there's a long standing bias to diagnose younger males with Asperger's, diagnose younger females with High Functioning Autism, and deny high functioning adults all together. Old diagnosis still stand, but the diagnostic criteria were updated officially as of Jan, 2013. The new criteria do not give special names to different positions on the spectrum anymore, and they allow for the differences in presentation between men, women, old, and young. There are no longer Low Functioning, High Functioning, Asperger's, etc. It is all officially "Autism Spectrum Disorder". They did this to help the general public to better understand. 


Please feel free to PM me, as well. It absolutely breaks my heart whenever I encounter someone with autism that isn't understood and can't communicate with those closest. I'm not non-verbal, but was when I was younger. I'm able to force myself past it anymore. If I can help you gain insight into how your son experiences reality, I'm happy to help.

post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the replies! I will check out the wrong planet website and will see about if there is any autism groups around us. We have only lived in FL a few years, but finding special needs resources has been very slow. I think if i could just teach him to communicate typing/writing since speech is very difficult for him. He has had over 10 years of speech therapy. Sometimes he knows exactly what he wants or what someone wants of him and other times he seems very confused.

Anyone had any luck with certain programs electronically or otherwise in alternative communication? 

post #5 of 14

I'm sorry to say I have little experience with programs or therapies. I wasn't diagnosed until I was in my twenties, and my family and pediatrician as a kid were of the opinion that I didn't speak because I was so stubborn. *eyeroll* I am absurdly intelligent and their logic was that someone with my brains is capable of anything anyone else is, and better, so any time I struggled with anything it wasn't actually struggling but refusing to do it right. It was because I was stubborn, lazy, and had a bad attitude, you know?


My own kids are verbal, but I worked for years as the special needs director for an after school program. Verbal communication is clearly a foreign concept for my daughter, but she's skilled at it when she has the energy to deal with it....and of course I think and experience the world in the same way as my kids so they don't really need outside support. I can imagine it's as confusing and frustrating for an NT to raise a child on the spectrum as it would be for me to try to raise an NT child. 

post #6 of 14

That would be a good wrong planet question. I get the impression that there aren't that many people on MDC who can answer for you.

post #7 of 14
Hugs to you... It is hard to know where to ask that bc MCC doesn't tend to know too too much about ASD, and anywhere else doesn't seem to "get" unschooling. I struggle with this also. My kids are on the spectrum, but verbal and doing many biomedical treatments (as am I).

I can address (to a very limited extent!) your concerns about the media perseveration-type behavior. With the unschooling piece, I tend to think at we all will gravitate toward activities and "energies", if you will, that are beneficial for us, or at least resonate with some need that we have. TV has been huge for me throughout my life, and is something that my groovy, hippie friends surely do not understand! LOL. I am trying to remind myself, as well, that my kids won't get the understanding in school that they get from me (although, as you know, it is all-consumingly exhausting, at times.

Do you have any way of knowing what your DS prefers?

A few more thoughts about TV, YouTube, etc... We can never know what benefits our children get from any input like that. Watching other people play a video game would probably sound weird to most people I know, but I can imagine enjoying analyzing the people playing the games. Being mystified by their expressions and reactions. My children and I really like to talk about what can be the motivations of the people on TV sometimes -- a topic that always interests us much more than the show itself. And who knows what your DS's inner dialogue might be.

Blessings to you,
post #8 of 14
One more thought... I am on a yahoo group called mb12valtrex. It is a group of parents using biomedical interventions for ASD. I was *shocked* by the number of homeschoolers and unschoolers and generally "open" people are in this particular autism community. ASD parents are very special.
post #9 of 14

velveeta, your comments about video games reminded me of something I see brought up often by others on the spectrum. Specifically about the Sims. I haven't played it myself, as I find it more work than fun to try to process that kind of 3d interface...but I'm always hearing about how helpful others on the spectrum have found it. I'm actually considering buying a copy myself, even. It breaks down NT behavioral expectations and communication methods in such clear, logical, and measurable ways that it makes sense of things we sometimes spend our whole lifetimes trying to understand. Taking showers was one example. All kids have to be taught about hygiene, but since we are rarely taught in a way we understand, we can have trouble understanding the purpose...just like when an NT child isn't taught that hygiene is important (think lower income, or very rural households). All we really need is to be taught the way we learn, you know? Well the Sims has a little hygiene bar that goes down with time, or faster if you exercise or do dirty work. And brushing your teeth and bathing and such all add to your hygiene meter. Plus, if you ignore it for long enough, your character becomes surrounded by a visible cloud and little flies, and people tell you verbally why they are avoiding you. I've heard that aspect of the game described in detail, but apparently there are similarly concrete functions for social interactions and a great deal of the human experience, as NTs experience it. I've heard at least one person say that after years of special therapies, that the reason they were finally able to live independently was The Sims. It certainly isn't going to work for everyone like that, but I can see how it would be of great help to someone that is drawn to video games in the first place.

post #10 of 14

My son is not autistic, but he does have anxiety (including social anxiety) and sensory processing disorder, and he pretty much does what your son does, except that he uses a computer and has made his own computer game and worked on games others he's met online have done. If your son is nonverbal, does this mean that he is also unable to type in words? Have you tried various assistance devices to help him be able to communicate?

post #11 of 14

I have no idea what programs are available for Nook or Android devices, but we have found that getting an iPad has helped my son learn a lot! He is considered high functioning/ aspergers because he speaks well with a big vocabulary. There are many apps for communication from basic flashcards that speak a word when touched to very advanced type-to-speak programs.
Basically, if it is an option or if there any available for the Nook, I would recommend finding autism, communication, & educational apps.

post #12 of 14

I just remembered that there was a panel discussion (I think they called it a circle chat) about unschooling kids on the spectrum at the Life is Good Unschooling Conference, I think it was in 2011  (we didn't go last year because it is too chaotic for my kids and my dh, all of whom fit somewhere on the spectrum). One of the moms (and they were all moms) was Lyla Wolfenstein. Aha, I found it in the yahoo group, it was called Moving Past the Diagnosis Miriam Mason, Sierra Ansley & Lyla Wolfenstein

post #13 of 14
Originally Posted by Pookietooth View Post

I just remembered that there was a panel discussion (I think they called it a circle chat) about unschooling kids on the spectrum at the Life is Good Unschooling Conference, I think it was in 2011  (we didn't go last year because it is too chaotic for my kids and my dh, all of whom fit somewhere on the spectrum). One of the moms (and they were all moms) was Lyla Wolfenstein. Aha, I found it in the yahoo group, it was called Moving Past the Diagnosis Miriam Mason, Sierra Ansley & Lyla Wolfenstein

Couldn't find this...do you have a link? 


OP - I am unschooling two who are on the spectrum. PDD-NOS. They are very verbal, but struggle with social and problem solving skills. I personally cannot abide the passive viewing. If I allowed it, it would totally dominate our lives. Plus I have found thru years of trial and error that it triggers irritability and detachment from what is really going on around them. When we are screen-free for any length of time, its as if they are literally waking up, coming out of a fog. Temple Grandin commented at a speech I attended that with kids so visual, TV and video games are like drugs. She called it i-crack, LOL. With all I have read, heard, and seen with my own eyes, I have become pretty anti-screen for kids on the spectrum. I know its not a popular position in the adult-ASD community (like wrong planet), and I have had doctors flat out tell me to "get your kids addicted to some kind of screen. Its the only way you'll get any peace." Peace, yes, but at a price. A price I am no longer willing to pay. 


Art has helped us tremendously, and my kids are turning to art more and more as a way to de-stress sans screens. Its also a great way for them to express emotions and ideas without words. We are also focusing on basic living skills. They are included in shopping, household chores, meal prep etc. So much learning goes on in just the basics. I like the PP who says she just lives her life and the kids come along and learn with her.


ASD kids do needs structure so sometimes we have to do unschooling with a twist. My kids choose there own educational pursuits, but we do follow a schedule for wake times, hygiene, chores, meals, etc. They would completely flounder without it. 


I do have goals for my kids, but they are simple. With my 11 year old DS, who was tormented by school and all the expectations, my goal is to allow him to discover that life isn't torture, that there is joy to be found, and its ok to follow a different path. Success has many different forms! Had he remained in school with all that pressure, I have no doubt he would have ended up profoundly depressed as a teen. Once I totally took that pressure off, he blossomed. It took several months to happen, but it did.


Also just wanted to mention that having my son home has also helped me to better evaluate his health needs and he is responding well to a GFCF diet. Two years ago he couldn't tolerate it but he was in school and struggling with being different, not having the classmates b-day cake etc. Home full-time I was able to implement it and he is doing amazing and is much calmer, more talkative, and more curious, asking questions, etc. A year ago I would have poo-pooed someone telling me to try a diet, but right now I am a big fan. 

post #14 of 14

The name of the chat was "After the Diagnosis" and it's on the Life is Good 2011 Conference schedule, which is here:


Here is an essay written by Miriam:


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