Should you homeschool through the holidays with a child with autism? Certainly the holidays pose a interesting blend of problems when it comes to autism or special needs. The sensory needs of your child with autism will make even the most mundane tasks seem excruciating. Imagine how overwhelming it must be to concentrate on academics when there are loud noises, twinkling lights and presents under the tree!
Once upon a time, there was a mom who took two years off from academics. She was so concerned that her child was already behind academically so no further time could be lost. Time off for holidays was just not feasible in her mind. There was work to do after all. That holiday season she tortured her child with lessons that ended up being redone come January anyway. It was a complete and utter failure. If you looked up worst Christmas ever in the dictionary, I'm sure her picture would be there.
You probably guessed by now that the mom in the above story was me. That Christmas season was beyond horrid. It was so bad that my New Year's Resolution was to figure out what went wrong as well to right the ship of our homeschool. I was lamenting my woes to Logan's RDI therapist who pointed out what I already knew deep in my gut. We had tried to do too much. Thanksgiving followed by my birthday then his birthday then Christmas had set him up for failure from the beginning. What she said next revolutionized my thinking, “Just because it isn't formal teaching doesn't mean he isn't learning.”
Many years later, we have developed a system that works surprisingly well. Part of the joy of year round homeschooling means that formal academics can take a break for the 6 week period from Thanksgiving to New Years. Make no mistake that learning is still happening. It's just a more relaxed with holiday overtones type of learning but it is learning nonetheless.
Children with autism will continue to need structure as well as routine. You can't just throw homeschool out the window and hope to survive the season unscathed. What you can do is to take a more relaxed approach to learning so as to not overwhelm their already maxed out sensory systems. Cooking, reading and watching movies can all be part of their day during homeschool time. Other than this change, try to stick to their schedules as much as possible. A child with autism simply can not navigate too much change and stimuli at the same time. Holiday specific learning will help them transition back to their regularly scheduled academics come the new year as well.
Resources To Help Accentuate Learning In the Holidays
Christmas Around The World
We lucked out living near Walt Disney World for so many years. Their countries around Epcot do a Christmas Around The World that can not be beat complete with their country's version of Santa and traditions, For my highly visual kids, these visits made geography and literature come alive.
Don't live near WDW? We have also done Christmas Around The World by Katie Horner. It doesn't need to be fancy. Pick a country your child is interested in then read some books, bake some food native to the region and learn some Christmas traditions. The point is to have fun.
Learning About Advent
Want to spend some time focusing on the true meaning of the season while learning as well. An advent study would be perfect. A Gentle Advent is a low key approach that has them learning Scripture, handicrafts and hymns. You spend time in the kitchen as well as crafting all while learning about the Advent season. It's a very low key approach that is perfect if you have a very busy season ahead. It gives you down time which your child will need while also giving you and him structure which he will crave.
Holiday Specific Events
Hymn studies, plays, or art classes are also fun to do this time of year. Madison is always in Nutcracker due to her ballet studies. It has become tradition to read the book, see the ballet then do some craft that pertains to it. This year we are looking forward to doing the You Are An Artist series on it.
Holidays can bring chaos and destruction to your home if you don't plan ahead. Your child with autism wants a successful holiday season as much as you do. By preplanning as well as relaxing your standards you can help your child remain regulated and have fun. Those memories will be worth their weight in gold the rest of the year.
Penny blogs over at Our Crazy Adventures In Autismland. Based on her own personal experiences with autism, she educates autism families on how to navigate their world from diagnosis to adulthood. She offers real life advice and ideas through her blog by providing homeschool printables, at home therapy techniques, ebooks and DIY posts. You can also follow her adventures on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or in her group, Life In Autismland.