Homeschooling a Child with Asperger’s? 3 Important Tips

By the time I learned that my younger daughter has Asperger’s, I was already homeschooling two children with ADHD. Can you imagine? Now, to add to my mayhem, I would be homeschooling a child with Asperger’s, too. Thankfully, with her only age 6, I could stay a bit ahead of issues that may arise.

Like most Aspies, she walked and talked at normal ages, so we didn’t see any differences until a few more years passed. And, with two older, very active siblings (and a younger, very needy baby brother), I didn’t notice those differences right away. Another confounding factor is that she is a girl. Asperger’s looks a bit different in girls. In fact, many girls with Asperger’s never receive a diagnosis. But, once she got a diagnosis, everything made sense.

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Do you suspect your daughter may have Asperger’s? These resources can help you better understand girls with Asperger’s.

Learning about homeschooling a child with Asperger’s

I read a lot of books. I mean A LOT. But, the books all talked about teaching Aspies in a classroom setting. They did not talk about homeschooling a child with Asperger’s. I even went to a weekend seminar about creating work boxes and file folder task cards for children on the spectrum. I left there feeling overwhelmed. To use the system they described would require huge amounts of work and my daughter’s cooperation. I asked them about implementing it with a cognitively normal child. They shrugged and acknowledged what I already knew. A child without cognitive challenges probably would refuse to cooperate.

Social skills and Asperger’s

I saw this pattern repeat itself when we took her to a therapist to work on social skills because she had no friends (and wouldn’t until she was age 10). She didn’t seem to know how to make friends. But, after only about 5 sessions, she resisted the therapist’s contrived social interactions. When I asked my daughter about it, she said it was “dumb” and “weird.” So, I stopped taking her. But, all those books said that she needed a social skills group! Then it occurred to me. I already had a little social skills group in my own home.

The problem was that the other members of the “group” had social challenges of their own due to their ADHD. (And, these challenges often mimic those faced by Aspies). But, at least those interactions were constant and natural. I also took her to homeschool co-ops, field trips, and other social environments, not to mention the fact that she insisted on going with me everywhere I went. She even ran down the street, chasing the car, whenever I left the house without her.

Homeschooling a child with Asperger's whose hands are covered in rainbow paint

The first big tip about homeschooling a child with Asperger’s

So, I took her with me whenever possible. She went to the grocery store, the bank, the post office, restaurants and cafes, the library, theater, museums, and more. That means that she learned what to say and do in the context of that social situation. Masters at imitation, many Aspies learn this way. No need for life skills training or a social skills group. As part of a family of four children, she also learned sarcasm and idioms, phone etiquette, argumentative logic, and tons of other social skills that she has been able to take outside the house and use to develop meaningful friendships with other girls her age.

My daughter is now fifteen and nearly indistinguishable from non-Aspies. We were so worried about friends and now, she has more friends than I can count. She can be a bit blunt, but not in a mean way. I didn’t need to worry about it after all. All I needed to do was provide opportunity, interact with her, and let her go at her own pace. So my first bit of advice is:

Don’t worry about “socialization” just because of an Asperger’s diagnosis. Take a deep breath and then take your child where the people are! The situations themselves will teach.

The only aspect of socialization that still challenges us is expressing emotion. She doesn’t verbalize or express her own emotions very well and she can be hard to read. I am working on how to help her with this.

The impact of sensory issues on homeschooling a child with Asperger’s

While social skills impact learning in an indirect way, sensory issues can have a more profound effect. Noises, smells, lighting, temperature, proprioception issues, and more can all impact concentration and learning. Add in issues with transitions (which relate to sensory overload), and well, every day activities easily become nightmares. I have dealt with sensory issues in three of my four children, including my diagnosed Aspie.

My Aspie daughter experienced issues with feeling hot all the time, and refused to wear boots and a coat, even in winter. She complained about the seams in socks and for the first nine years of her life, would only wear Land’s End dresses, no pants. She took a long time to learn to swing, swim, and ride a bike (proprioceptive issues) and she hated being upside down. On the other hand, every time we went to the pet store, she found her way to the dog toys and rubbed her face against all the furry ones! She begged to stick her hands in the goopy meatloaf “dough” and liked covering her hands with finger paint or glue. Once she figured out how to make her own slime, all my mini containers went missing as she made recipe after recipe of it.

Sensory issues and learning

One of the great things about homeschooling is our ability to accommodate for sensory issues much more easily than a school can. However, sensory issues pose challenges.

Lighting, temperature, and smells can be controlled fairly easily. Food textures triggering gagging? We can offer something crunchy or chewy. But what about noises and visual triggers? What about when proprioceptive issues affect cutting, handwriting, and sitting in a chair? And, while we can control the number of times we transition between activities inside our homes, we lose that control once we leave.

Thank goodness these issues generally improve as children grow! And, they are better able to verbalize their discomfort and frustration. But, we still have to pay attention. What may seem to be disobedience or defiance may, in fact, boil down to a sensory issue. Do issues arise over similar activities each day? Only on days when something unexpected happens or plans change? What about when people come over or it’s a field trip day? Play detective. It matters.

Sensory issues can affect every aspect of a child’s life, including learning. Don’t assume disobedience or rebellion.

I figured it out with my daughter and then, I had to learn this all over again with my youngest son. Every time we went into a crowded theater or noisy museum, he bolted or thrashed on the floor, screaming. At first, I thought he was just asserting his will and I scolded him, forcing him to stay with us. After all, I couldn’t leave the other three children! But, after repeated incidents, I figured out that the echoey sounds drove him crazy. I didn’t want to stop taking him places, so instead, I chose to take him to smaller museums and outdoor environments. We also went out less.

I learned that he has other sensory issues as well. Between his issues and his sister’s issues, I had to rethink my priorities and how I approached homeschooling in order to accommodate their needs. Check out these resources to help you navigate sensory processing issues. It can make the difference between success and failure.

Literal thinking affects reading and math when homeschooling a child with Asperger’s

When we think of kids on the autism spectrum, we often think of obsessive interests. (Children with ADHD have a bit of this, too. Example: ability to hyper-focus on passions.)We can use these to our advantage and in some ways, it can make homeschooling a bit easier. But, what sometimes gets overlooked is the fact that their literal thinking tendencies make reading and math instruction a bit more difficult.

I saw this for the first time when I took my daughter to a live play and she struggled with me, screaming because she couldn’t rush the stage when the show ended. The bright costumes dazzled her and she thought the mermaids and glittery fish were real.

I saw it again at home. One day, I heard terrified screams from the basement. My little girl sat on top of a table, tears streaming down her cheeks while her siblings looked on, puzzled. I asked about what happened. They said that there is boiling lava all over the floor and we have to leap from table to table to stay safe. My little daughter believed that there really was lava down there.

It frustrated me that she didn’t engage in more imaginary play herself, but thank goodness for her siblings who included her in their pretend games. She loved to create scenes, down to the minute details, but her siblings invented the storylines to go with them.

Teach using concrete, visual, experiential learning for math and language arts. Abstract learning is hard.

Reading literature

My daughter didn’t have trouble learning to read. She became fluent around the same time as her peers. Comprehension is a different story, though. Whenever I gave her a “school” book to read on her own, she struggled to remember what she read. So, if I wanted her to learn something, I read the text aloud and she remembered better. Turns out that, as a young girl, she couldn’t process two things at once. And, for a long time, she preferred realistic stories and struggled with fantasy and science fiction type stories, even movies. Childhood classic favorites of her siblings, such as Bedknobs and Broomsticks and Mary Poppins, didn’t make sense to her and she disliked them.

Now, as a teen, she only reads sci-fi/fantasy, buys fan shirts and bags, and attends author events. One thing I know about this genre of fiction is that it is plot-driven instead of character-driven. Aspies generally experience difficulty inferring and interpreting emotion in stories (and in life) so perhaps that’s why she prefers these plot-driven books.

This may not pose a problem for young Aspies, but high school literature requires teens to understand motives and emotions of characters. Think of Wuthering Heights, Crime and Punishment, and other classics. Teenage Aspies might need an alternative reading list or a discussion group to help them understand the subtler aspects of plot and characterization. They may also benefit from direct instruction using the text.

Abstract math? Umm, no.

Aspies also can have difficulty with abstract math. My daughter often memorized math formulas or computation strategies but didn’t understand how it related to real life problem-solving. It was better for her to use alternative teaching methods, as mentioned here.

And the opposite happened, too. She learned how to use the measuring cups, calculate future dates using the calendar, and figure out distances (among many other things), but didn’t know how to write out these calculations in a math sentence. Faced with this conundrum, I decided it was more important that she be able to use math in every day situations, whether she could fill out worksheets or not. I used a lot of unconventional methods of teaching her math.

Try the ideas on my math resources page with your Aspie and see if they help your child understand math better.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. LM Preston

    Very insightful article. Observing our children and learning what challenges they have and helping them mitigate them is a great big step in the right direction.

  2. Andrea

    Wonderful piece! We are homeschooling a gifted ADHD child and so much of this made sense to me. Thank you so much!!

  3. Marie

    I have a 8yo son who I was diagnosed with ADHD, ODD and anxiety. Three comprehensive evaluations from developmental behavioral pediatrician ruled out ASD because my son has no problem learning languages (languages are his forte actually) and he does not have a ritualistic behaviors. However, reading this blog really confirms my suspicion on Asperger’s because he does have all the sensory issues mentions here and struggles a lot with abstract stories. He takes other people jokes so literally and gets upset and cries. He cannot move on with negative emotions from the past.
    Thank you for sharing your personal experience. This really helps me to rethink about home schooling because I was so scared of my son not getting enough social interactions when he struggles so much at school due to behavioral problems.

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