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Homeschooling can provide your child with a more tailored educational experience. But this doesn’t mean it’s not extremely challenging. You have the responsibility to provide a full and enriching curriculum without the resources of the school system. Not to mention you have to prepare for your child’s ongoing social growth and mental wellbeing in what can be an isolating environment.
This may well be exacerbated when you’re homeschooling a neurodivergent teenager. Teaching from home can certainly make for a more supportive educational experience for your student. Especially when your local school system may not be equipped to provide it. Indeed, your choices may well be instrumental in providing your teenager with the full opportunities they deserve. Yet, it would be unwise to pretend students living with autism don’t also experience an extra layer of challenges schooling at home.
These difficulties are not insurmountable. But it’s worth taking a look at a few areas you can make the best possible experience for your teenager.
One of the hallmarks of homeschooling is it tends to be a more open and loose way of learning. While this isn’t a bad thing, it can certainly present a challenge for teenagers on the spectrum. If they struggle with executive functioning or unexpected stimuli, a lack of clarity on their program can be overwhelming. Indeed, insistence on sameness is a common trait for those on the spectrum. Among your most effective tools here is to create a stable, relatively predictable structure for your teenager’s learning.
This doesn’t mean your timetable needs to be the same week to week. After all, your neurodivergent teenager is as prone to boredom in education as their peers. It’s more a case of giving them a practical overview of what to expect in advance. This could be spending a few minutes Monday morning talking about what you intend to achieve for the week. This helps them to see there is a structure to their learning and keeps them actively involved in the process.
Remember, this structure needs to also include room for some agility. Your teenage student may be facing some intense challenges on a particular day. Alongside building in time to take breaks, have backup options for lessons. This might involve planning mobile tools so you can take the lesson outside if your teenager is having difficulty with the indoor learning space. It might be swapping out a module for another that better suits your teenager’s current needs.
Consider the Environment
Each parent takes their own approach to arranging the right homeschooling environment. Some are content with just allowing their students to utilize the desk in their bedroom. Others try to recreate the traditional classroom environment. You are also likely to have a preference for your homeschool environment. But you should also take into account what elements meet your teenager’s neurodivergent needs.
This starts with sensory considerations. Teenagers on the spectrum vary considerably in this regard. However, you should at least make the learning area separate from their bedroom. This ensures they have a safe space to decompress when things get a little too much. In the specific learning space, be sure to make design choices that don’t harm your teenager’s unique sensory processing. Review what colors, textures, and smells may cause them discomfort. Be wary of decorations and lighting provoking distracting stimming behavior. It’s worth remembering softer neutral colors on the walls can present a more calming and comfortable atmosphere. This also tends to be more conducive to learning.
Your considerations for the schooling environment shouldn’t just be limited to the home classroom. Socialization is an important part of learning and development. It’s certainly beneficial for your teenager to engage with other students to help them gain a sense of acceptance and build relationships. This can understandably be stressful for a teenager on the spectrum. Part of your role is to review some environments that can be used to learn with their peers while also accounting for their sensory challenges. Create options and work with other parents to make these practical.
Homeschooling a teenager on the spectrum shouldn’t just be about mitigating challenges. Your teenager is a developing and complex human being. As they get older, the idea of an education approach being dictated to them is likely to become a source of frustration. As such, one of the most important things you can do when homeschooling is to keep an open dialogue.
This should include regularly checking in about your teenager’s mental wellbeing. Don’t monitor how their behavior appears to be, actually ask them about it. Alongside the stresses and frustrations of their autistic experience, this can be a time of mental health challenges. There are aspects of teenage life today that can result in problematic feelings and behaviors. These can sneak up over time and result in depression, anxiety, and more intense worrying. Talking to your teenager about their mental health creates a habit of being open and asking for help when they need it. This approach creates channels to work through these hurdles together. You also have chances to prevent any aspects that can exacerbate the challenging aspects of their spectrum condition.
Aside from their mental health, it’s important to regularly talk about what their learning goals are. As the teenage years progress, you should be focused on your student’s ambitions, needs, and interests. Work together on plans for how they can achieve these. Most importantly show them how to obtain the resources to navigate their ambitions alongside their neurodivergent traits. Don’t make them feel anything is outside of their reach. But certainly reinforce that success requires work, planning, and collaboration.
Homeschooling can be an excellent approach to providing a tailored education for teens on the spectrum. To get the most out of the experience, you should make efforts to build an appropriate structure around their learning. Create the most appropriate educational environments. Perhaps most importantly, a commitment to meaningful communication both addresses challenges and empowers your teenager to take control of their learning, wellbeing, and life beyond school.