A Woman Giving A Book To Her Child

The idea of school doesn’t sit the same with parents of children with autism. I’ve had the blessing of experiencing this from all the angles.

First vantage point – my child was nonverbal and I had no idea what happened during his school day. He couldn’t come home and tell me, so if anything happened that hurt him spiritually or physically, I’d never know. 

This was scary beyond belief, and we had the worst things happen. He got on the wrong bus and ended up at the wrong school..with NO verbal skills. He was illegally restrained by a paraprofessional, and I had no idea until the principal contacted me.

Second vantage point – my child is now fully verbal and mainstreamed, but he wants to talk about air conditioner units pretty much all the time. Will he get made fun of? Will he make friends? Will he get bullied?

So, homeschooling vs public schooling: which one is better?

Public school vs homeschooled children

The idea of public school or private school for school-age children with autism is scary, regardless of the IEP, or the special needs classrooms. You can’t control the environment, and some public school teacher are not trained in behaviorally-based practices. However, homeschool seems scary too. Will my child get proper exposure to socialization?

It puts parents in an impossible situation. Do I send my child off and trust public school education with my precious child, or do I try to homeschool my child and prevent him from socialization opportunities? 

This begs the question.. Is home school better than public school or even private schools for autism? 

I’ve asked myself this question and sat across the table from many parents of my clients asking the same thing. The answer isn’t easy, and it’s the same answer I find myself assigning to many questions: It comes down to what works best for you.

What you need to consider

Here are some things that I would consider if you’re asking yourself if you’d rather homeschool, use public schooling, or look into schools for autism (or schools that specialize in autism services).

  • Consider the area you live in.

    Some school districts are saturated with very well-constructed programs that combine schooling and ABA therapy, or autism services. Some have public schools that have really well built intervention teams and classroom that specialize in autism. Some do not, and subpar services are not always better than no services.

  • Think about your sense of balance.

    This might come off the wrong way, but it’s one of the parts of being a parent of a child with autism that people probably won’t tell you. Think about whether or not becoming homeschooling parents would be the best thing for YOU. I know, we would do anything for our children. I did – I quit my job to drive my son to 5 therapies and centered my whole career around ABA just for him. It’s incredible what we would do for our children, and that’s applicable to child’s education as well.

    Homeschooling would mean that you not only have to be on top of therapies, implementing the therapies at home and the parent role, but you also have to teach your child and find the resources for that. The parent-taught education system can be the best decision, or it could add undue stress onto your plate. It depends on your comfortability with it, and you’re not a bad parent either way you go.

    I have a teaching license. I did not want to teach my child. I have a BCBA certification. I do not want to provide my child with ABA. I’d rather be a mom and let my credentials knowledge guide how I parent. No one knows your child like you do, so this could make you the best teacher ever. As long as you are able to be realistic about the demand. You’ll also need to adapt any given curriculum for your child, unless you’re able to find an autism-focused homeschool curriculum, and you need to know everything about your responsibilities and the legalities of homeschool special education.

  • Be able to critically evaluate a school program.

    You will feel way better about your child going to public or private schools if you’re able to know what you be able to expect from a school program. I have assisted many clients with this, and created a checklist that helps you rate school programs when you tour.

    When you know what questions to ask, you are able to decide if a school program will be right for your child. The hardest part of making the decision to enroll is that you don’t know what you don’t know. So ask private or public school teachers about everything: from extracurricular activities, how they evaluate children, how are the other kids, etc.

  • You are the expert.

    No one’s opinion really matters but yours. Whatever you decide, you will get the very well meaning opinions of everyone around you. These opinions are created from a long history of their own experiences. Some of their experience applies to you, some does not. Even this blog has been written from my perspective as a professional and fellow parent. No one else was blessed to be chosen as the parent of your child. You were. And that means you have to make the decisions that best suit your child and your family, given the resources available to you. 

Pros and cons of homeschool vs. public school education

Parents of kiddos with autism have a lot of factors to consider when choosing the right school. Some parents opt for private schools, while others choose public schools. Some parents prefer home education. There are pros and cons to both choices

Pros of public and private schools for kiddos with autism

  1. Socialization opportunities
    One of the biggest concerns for parents of autistic children is whether or not their child will be able to socialize effectively. The classical education of public and private schools provides an ideal opportunity for children with autism to interact with their peers on a regular basis, unlike homeschooled students.
  2. Inclusion in extracurricular activities
    Autism should not prevent children from participating in extracurricular activities, and a local school typically offers a variety of inclusive options. From sports teams to drama clubs, there are plenty of ways for children with autism to get involved.
  3. Access to resources
    Public schools have access to a variety of resources that can be beneficial for children with autism, including occupational therapy, speech therapy, and behavioral support.
  4. Curriculum
    Public schools are required to provide an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each child with autism. This plan outlines the specific accommodations and services that your child will receive.

Cons of public and private schools for kiddos with autism

  1. PEER pressure
    At a public or private school, kiddos with autism may feel pressure to conform to social norms. This can be particularly challenging for those who struggle with social skills or who have difficulty communicating.
  2. Lack of individualized attention
    In a large public school setting, it can be difficult for teachers to give each student the individualized attention they need in order to succeed.
  3. Inflexible schedules
    For many kids with autism, inflexible schedules can be a major problem. The structured nature of most public and private schools can be difficult to navigate for kids who struggle with change or transitions.
  4. Lack of understanding and accommodations
    Unfortunately, many teachers and school staff members are not trained in how to best support students with autism, which can make the school environment feel unwelcoming and unaccommodating.

Pros of homeschool for autism

  1. Individualized attention
    In a traditional classroom setting, teachers have to juggle the needs of multiple students at once. But homeschool parents can tailor the curriculum and teaching methods to their specific needs. That means they’ll get the one-on-one attention they need to thrive.
  2. A calm environment
    Many kids with autism struggle in noisy, chaotic environments. Homeschooling provides a more relaxed setting where your child can learn at their own pace without feeling overwhelmed.
  3. Flexible hours
    Kids with autism often benefit from having a flexible schedule. That’s one of the great things about homeschooling – you can adjust the school day to fit your child’s needs and energy levels, unlike their public school counterparts.
  4. You’ll have more control over your child’s socialization opportunities
    Socialization is an important part of development, but it can be difficult for children with autism to find opportunities that are right for them. For homeschool children, you can choose social activities that are appropriate for your child and that will help them develop the social skills they need in a safe and supportive environment.

Cons of homeschool for autism

  1. Unpredictability
    Autism is all about routine and predictability. Homeschooling can be chaotic and unpredictable, which can be really tough for kids with ASD.
  2. Lack of structure
    Again, routine is important for kids with autism. A structured homeschool day can be helpful, but it’s often hard to stick to a schedule when you’re also trying to keep up with housework, errands, and other obligations.
  3. You have to be super patient
    All the time. Like, all day, every day. It’s exhausting.
  4. Parent burnout
    Let’s face it- parenting is hard enough without having to also be a teacher! Homeschooling can be incredibly rewarding but it is also a lot of work. For parents of kiddos with ASD who already have their hands full supporting their child’s needs, adding homeschooling into the mix can be too much to handle.

Public school vs. homeschool: Final thoughts

In the end, I don’t believe there is a “which is better” decision that has to be made when it comes to homeschooling vs public schooling. It’s about ensuring that your child experiences balance – much like anything else. Let’s take lifestyle, for example  If you want to go vegan, great. Just make sure you eat sources of protein. If you want to go keto, great. Just make sure that you eat enough vegetables to get your fiber and the antioxidants your body needs. It’s about what works best for you and your family. 

If you decide to pursue an autistic homeschool curriculum, like some homeschooling families, you will need to get creative about opportunities for your child to socialize. This is unbelievably important, because it allows your child to generalize skills. If your child can only demonstrate skills with family and in the controlled environment of the home, then they don’t actually have that skill. It’s heavily controlled by the home environment. For homeschool students, there has to be opportunities for your child to apply skills in other environments with other people. 

Likewise, if you decide your kiddos should become public school students, you will need to ensure that your child has access to individualized education. You will need to be familiar with your child’s IEP and be prepared to advocate for your child. You also will need to make sure that you are ready to communicate with the public school peers, teachers, and the intervention team to ensure that you are very familiar with what your child’s day-to-day looks like. Our Intensive Intervention to Independence course outlines how to do this. 

I loved the combination my son had. He went to school in the morning. He was in a half day autism classroom in public school. He came home and his afternoon was his 1:1 therapies (ABA, OT, Speech, Feeding therapy, PT).

Being in the public school system taught him how to navigate his way through a group setting. Even as a completely nonverbal child, he learned all the little skills that you need to be out in the world. He learned to wait for his turn. He learned how to follow the line of his peers to where he needed to go. He learned how to sit in a group. These are skills that he absolutely needed, even if he learned nothing else. If he missed his letters, shapes and numbers, no big deal. I knew he’d be getting individual instruction in ABA. 

That was the combination that worked well for my child. Your child may need individualized instruction to be successful in school. Your child might need to work at a different pace than the public school will allow. You might live in a school district that doesn’t have adequate services for your child.

So, if you were wondering “which is better: homeschool vs public school?” Now you know that you need to make the decision that works for your family.