Autism and Education: A Reality Check – Part 3

So after yesterday’s blog about the rather bleak prospect of the educational systems in both the USA and UK to give your child with high-functioning autism the best possible chances in life, you might be a bit confused or even depressed. You might be thinking…yes, but I KNOW with the right help that my child can function as an adult. Maybe never be ‘normal’ but who is ‘normal’ anyway…and isn’t that highly over-rated?

That is where home education and specifically a form called ‘unschooling’ comes into the picture. A lot of schools in both the USA and UK make a big deal about the ‘Individual Education Plan.’ Honestly, every child, not just the special needs one, deserve that. But even for our special kids, an IEP as they are called…are anything but individualized. Why? Because of things called National Curriculums and standardized tests. Schools MUST, are forced, to teach to these…and not to the needs of your child. Even if the two do not mix. Guess which wins out…every time? That’s right the system…again.

The only way that any child, but especially a special needs child, can have a truly ‘individual education plan’ is home education. Only when the parent assumes full responsibility for the provision of their son or daughter’s education can that child’s needs come before the needs of the state.

Nonetheless, assuming that kind of responsibility for your child’s future can seem daunting. ‘I am no teacher. I don’t know how to educate my child. What about all his special needs? How will we afford it? How will I manage caring for my child 24/7…three-hundred-sixty-five days a year?’ Honestly, some of these are valid points and should be considered carefully. But others are myths. Today I will try to straighten out the two.

Homeschooling is legal in all fifty US states, but laws vary from state to state about what that means. The best source of information on this is Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA at They give you a simple, easy to understand guide for each state by clicking on the map. Another thing to remember is that the political tide in the USA for the past twenty years has turned in favour of homeschooling with more and more state repelling restrictive laws. Heck, the Ivy League colleges like Harvard and Yale actively recruit homeschooled applicants. And not a year goes by without homeschooled children winning or placing high in the finals of national spelling bees and science and math contests. In most cases, if you are out with your child and someone says, ‘why aren’t you in school?’ If you reply, ‘he is homeschooled,’ the person’s eyes will grow wide and their head will nod, ‘Oh, really, I have heard about that. I could never do it myself, but I sure admire you.’

The picture is not so bright in the UK where home education is more a dirty little secret. Something you do not share with people unless you have to. And where you are constantly on the defensive from the barrage of questions that are sure to follow, ‘Is that even legal? What about exams? What about socialization? How will she ever get a job?’ Personally, being a transplanted American, I make it my personal war to battle those myths (more on that tomorrow). I long for the day that like their American cousins Oxford and Cambridge throw open their doors and embrace our children. But I am realistic enough to know that ain’t happening tomorrow. And honestly, it took over twenty years (more like thirty or forty) and lots of campaigning in America to get to this point too. It is just that sometimes I feel like I am the only one throwing open the curtains to my glass house and saying…look what we can do.

On the other hand, UK law is fairly friendly to home educators. It does not require you to register, but if your child has been attending school you must notify them of your intent in writing, called de-registration. And although most Local Education Authorities (LEAs) will ask for home visits or reports, you are not ‘required’ by law to give them…but as the guidance says it is ‘sensible’ to provide them something. What that something is…you get to decide. In fact, the list of what you do not have to do is much longer than the one of what you must do. Here see for yourself:

Parents are required to provide an efficient, full-time education suitable to the age, ability and aptitude of the child. There is currently no legal definition of “full-time”. Children normally attend school for between 22 and 25 hours a week for 38 weeks of the year, but this measurement of “contact time” is not relevant to elective home education where there is often almost continuous one-to-one contact and education may take place outside normal “school hours”. The type of educational activity can be varied and flexible. Home educating parents are not required to:

  • teach the National Curriculum
  • provide a broad and balanced education
  • have a timetable
  • have premises equipped to any particular standard
  • set hours during which education will take place
  • have any specific qualifications
  • make detailed plans in advance
  • observe school hours, days or terms
  • give formal lessons
  • mark work done by their child
  • formally assess progress or set development objectives
  • reproduce school type peer group socialisation
  • match school-based, age-specific standards

(Section 3.13 of the Department of Education’s 2007 guidelines to local authorities on home education)

PanKwake cooking pancakes
PanKwake cooking pancakes

So after all that long list of the things you do NOT have to do, it boils down simply to…suitable to age, ability, aptitude and special needs. Those are magical words if like PanKwake your child is high-functioning autistic. That means that you are free to teach your child to his or her own developmental stage…not age, not someone’s random expectations, not what equally random ‘standards.’ YOUR child’s age, ability, aptitude and special needs. A truly Individual Education Plan.

Now that we know where we stand legally, tomorrow we will begin to debunk some myths…like socialization, testing and needing to be a teacher to educate your child. Then we will look at unschooling and why it may be the best option to address the anxiety that is hallmark of our autistic children. I will then share a day in our home education adventure with you so you can see for yourself why I believe that this approach offers PanKwake the absolute BEST chance of a happy and productive future. I hope you will join me for the rest of this series.


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