Whether your toddler has received an autism diagnosis, or you suspect your young one is on the spectrum, there’s a host of activities you can use at home to keep your child both active and engaged. Homeschooling your autistic toddler may seem complex, but you don’t have to feel overwhelmed as you begin your journey.
Like most children, many autistic toddlers love screen time, and they would be quite content watching videos on a tablet or television for hours on end. Unfortunately, this type of stimuli does little to engage their mind. By taking a bit of time to plan and prepare, you can give your child fun activities that help their young minds grow. Over time, this investment will help your autistic child focus and learn.
We consulted with several experts, and here are some tips they gave us for homeschooling with autistic toddlers.
Engage in Visual Learning
Statistics show that most people learn more effectively when they both hear and see a concept. This is especially true for children who are on the spectrum. Visual learning supports such as first-then boards and choice boards are often used by occupational therapists to help children learn important concepts around the home. There are also apps available for tablets that can serve similar functions. Autism Speaks, the nationally recognized autism advocacy group, has several resources available to assist in this area.
Socialize Your Child
Simple trips to locations like the playground or the zoo can cause great anxiety in both autistic toddlers and their caregivers alike. Because of this, many guardians end up neglecting to give their children opportunities to learn and grow outside the home. Instead of giving in to the temptation of sheltering your child, participate in real-world socialization programs that allow inclusion between autistic and neurotypical children. Check with your town, county, or local school district for homeschool-friendly programs for children on the spectrum. Also, many non-profits such as zoos, museums, and YMCAs offer fun programs specifically tailored to help autistic children learn to cope in public settings.
Utilize Sensory Calming Devices
We all have times where we feel overstimulated, but many autistic toddlers deal with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) on a daily basis. SPD causes difficulty in processing environmental stimuli that neurotypical people often take for granted. To help your autistic toddler in a homeschool setting, utilize sensory calming devices. These tools are typically quite simple in nature but can be quite soothing to an overstimulated child. For instance, a sensory calming sea lamp with soothing sounds can help calm a child, especially before bedtime. Fidget spinners, weighted blankets, and body socks can also be helpful in certain sensory situations.
Take a Break
When homeschooling your autistic toddler, it’s recommended you stick to a regular schedule. Most children (especially those on the spectrum) thrive when they have a schedule to keep them on task. However, make sure that you build frequent breaks into your homeschool schedule as well. Breaks can help an overstimulated child relax before continuing the task at hand. They can also assist in transitioning from one activity to another. Learning to transition from task to task is an important life skill to help your child prepare for school, so using them while they are a toddler is a wise choice.
Locate Local Resources
There’s no reason for the caregivers of autistic children to feel isolated. There are a plethora of resources available to parents and caregivers to aid in homeschooling their child. If you’re unsure of where to look first, talk to your child’s pediatrician. They may be able to provide you with a list of resources available to you such as Early Intervention, Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, government programs, and local non-profits. Most caregivers are often surprised that there are so many resources available to the guardians of autistic toddlers. Take advantage of these resources to help your child…and yourself.
As you begin your homeschool journey with your child, feeling overwhelmed is normal. However, don’t allow this emotion to hinder you from providing your child with the care and resources they need to grow and flourish. You can provide your toddler a fun and fulfilling homeschool education. Trust your instincts, follow the guidance of trusted medical professionals, and you’ll be surprised at the exciting results that are possible!
Note: If you have concerns that your child has autism spectrum disorder, please consult a professional such as a psychologist at Thriveworks who can provide psychological testing or your child’s pediatrician. They will be able to give you a specific diagnosis, and if applicable, provide you with the medical, physical, and educational resources that you need over the long term.
About the Author
Erik Hervas is passionate about education as well as practical solutions to make everyday life better for those battling autism, predominantly families and those in educational spaces. He founded Bright Autism, an online shop for parents, teachers, and those who interact regularly with autistic children with products that help with overall health, sensory development, and toys for a variety of ages. Additionally, the site provides useful resources for individuals looking for insights on autism and how to manage it constructively.