3. Children with autism very often deal with sensory issues which can impair their ability to function in every day situations. That is to say, many times these kids can't function normally at school or in public because a of a sensory problem--something related to touching, tasting, hearing, seeing or smelling is bothering them in such a way that they cannot relax and be "normal". When we talk about sensory issues, we are not talking about preferences, such as "I prefer not to sit by the trash can at lunch because it smells." We are talking about real problems in which their senses are working either in overdrive or not at all (under reactivity).
A for instance would be like with my son. He has vestibular issues (issues with feeling off balance), and he can't bear to sit at a table where his feet are dangling. If he does, he tends to fall out of the chair or feel off balance. For the longest time he chose to stand (and sometimes still does) for his seat work because of this issue. And all that time I had no clue he was getting something from standing during school time.
There is a fairly simple resolution to sensory issues. It goes something like this: A: find out what is bothering them, which admittedly is not an easy task many times and B: change the situation so that this is no longer an issue. This process cannot be done everywhere. But at home, in many cases, sensory problems can be overcome with accomodations.
Little Bean has lots of sensory issues, one of the biggest that would be difficult for him in school is noise. He really can't tolerate lots of background noise. To him, I think it must sound like the teachers in Charlie Brown: muah, muah, muah, muah....when we take him to church, they'll have music playing in his classroom, the kids'll sing along, some of them will laugh or chat with each other, teachers will welcome new kids, the air conditioning will click on and off, shoes will clack on the floor, people will cough, sneeze or clear their throat, and all the while he's supposed to be understanding what the teacher is saying about the day's lesson. He never does. When we check on him during service, he looks like a little zombie sitting there all alone while people rush by him. And we ask him, "what did you learn?" to which he responds, "I don't know, it was too noisy." Now, at our old church, there were just a few kids, and the classes were much more low key, he did better there, not perfect, but better. The more noise, the more unbearable it is for some of these kids.
So at home, you can accommodate. For one thing, it's just naturally quieter at home because there are less people. And what noise you hear is pretty predictable. But you can do more. You can use noise-cancelling headphones, or an ipod and ear buds. You can work while the other kids are out or napping. You can have him work in different parts of the house. There are tons of options that could help that really can only be done in an in-home educational setting.
What about visual problems? Little Bean is much the same way with visual problems. We used to take him to Awanas, and they had a game time in the gym. Imagine the sound of a gym. So the sound issues are already present. Now add in 30 plus kids running around like crazy people in a game of dodgeball. For Bean, it is too much to keep up with. The bright florescent lights, the whistles blowing, kids cheering, squeaky feet, people running this way and that and balls flying everywhere. He ends up standing on the fringe looking into space. We finally ended up asking the leaders there if they had someone to come alongside him in a 1:1 fashion and basically coach him on what exactly he should do and when. That helped a lot! But it can't fully eliminate what he is going through. Why put him in that scenario 6 hours a day, 180 days a year? At home he can enjoy a clutter free (most of the time, haha!) environment and as little or as much visual stimulation as he needs.
Last one I want to talk about is issues of touch. Smell and taste can certainly be issues at school, but touch is a huge one. Little Bean doesn't care for being touched. No, that's not a strong enough word. Let me put it this way, sometimes, when I touch him, by his reaction you would think I had a tazer gun in my hand. He can really flip out over certain touches. Think about your time in elementary school. Think about the circle time rug. Lots of poking, unintentional knee brushing, duck, duck, goose style head tapping, and back pushing you're-in-my-spot touching. Ugh...recipe for disaster for some of these kids. Most likely the autistic child will be the one getting in trouble for their "over the top" response to what seems like normal touching to most. At home, we can avoid this issue because there aren't as many people around, and those who are around know how to politely ask if they can touch him.
Life isn't about avoidance. Maybe people will say it's better for these kids to just suck it up and go to school and get over it. To that I say, think about your most irrational fear or greatest dislike, whether it's elevators or tornadoes or cockroaches that you fear or eating spinach or going to the dentist that you hate. Suck it up! How 'bout I stick you in a room full of cockroaches and say, "learn!" go ahead, "learn!". Will you? How about I sit you at the table every day for 6 hours and say eat this spinach, and by golly, learn while you do it! Not just today, but 180 days out of the year. Could you do it? Somehow I don't think so.
Sensory issues are like that for some of these kids. Home is where you can accommodate. Home is the ideal place for these littles. It really is.
You might think from reading this series that I am against regular school for kids with special needs. That's not the case at all. The fact is, homeschooling a child on the spectrum is hard. So hard. There are very few days that go by that I don't think to myself, "Maybe he'd be better off in school", just because he is so challenging. But every time I think those thoughts, I go back to all the reasons why I feel home is better for him, and I convince myself again. In fact, my next series is going to be on the challenges I face homeschooling Little Bean and how that affects the dynamics of our family.
You might also think from reading this series that I think home is the only place for these special kids. That's not true either. Not every parent or household is able to homeschool their children for a variety of reasons. Not every parent is a good candidate for homeschooling even if they are able to do so. Not every family wants to. We all have different priorities and ways of viewing things, especially when it comes to educating our kids. I can respect that, and I don't think home is the only place for these kids. At this point, I do think it's the best place for my kids though, and I think it's a great place for a whole lot of other kids on the autism spectrum.