Homeschooling autism
Jennifer Rainey

Homeschooling my autistic son – a mom’s journey

When people find out that I homeschool my 15-year-old autistic** son, I often get asked “why?” or “how did you decide to do that?” or hear comments like, “I could never do what you do”.  The truth is, I used to have that same attitude.  In fact, if you had asked me even six months before I began homeschooling if it was something that I would ever consider, I am sure I would have answered with an emphatic “no way!”.  So how did I get from that place to being a homeschooling mom for almost 11 years now?  Let me explain!

First diagnosis

When my son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 18 months, I was completely overwhelmed.  I had known the diagnosis was coming, especially since I was the one who first started expressing concern about his development, but yet on some level I think I still expected the doctor to say that I had been worrying about nothing.  When the doctor instead confirmed my suspicions, I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me.  When I think back to that moment now and try to pinpoint the specific feeling I had, I would say it was an overwhelming sense of fear…fear for my son’s future, fear that I wouldn’t be the mom that he needed, fear that we would never have the same bond that other parents and children have, and on and on and on…

Early Intervention vs. Gut Intuition

As a result of that overwhelming sense of fear, I immediately jumped into action mode.  I quickly started following up on all of the recommendations I received from my son’s doctor and other professionals.  I enrolled him in an early intervention class, and he started receiving speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.  At that point in our journey, I still wholeheartedly believed that the answers to my son’s future laid in the hands of the experts, so I dutifully followed their advice and did whatever they told me was best, even if it meant ignoring that little voice that sometimes popped into my head to say “this doesn’t feel right”.

Slow progress

After several years of following the advice of professionals to the letter, I had still not seen the results I was hoping for and I was growing discouraged.  Yes, my son was making some progress, but it was painfully slow and he was still unable to speak or communicate much of anything to us.  At the same time, I started noticing that there was one other child in particular in my son’s class who seemed to be suddenly making rapid progress, so I reached outside of my comfort zone and struck up a conversation with his mother to find out what was working for them.  She told me they had made changes to their son’s diet and started some vitamin and mineral supplements. She also told me about an upcoming conference in our area where I could learn more about this approach, so I signed up for the conference to see what it was all about.  Little did I know that this conference was about to change the course of my son’s life and mine forever, and it would have nothing to do with the reason I went in the first place.

A ray of hope – the SonRise program

One of the presenters at this conference was Raun Kaufman from the Autism Treatment Center of America, and he was there to talk about The Son-Rise Program.  To make a long story short, I was absolutely riveted by everything that Mr. Kaufman had to say, and for the first time in a long time, felt like I had a new sense of hope for my son’s future.  I finally felt like I had an approach to helping my son that made sense to me on every level, and it was the beginning of learning to trust that inner voice instead of assuming other people knew better than I did what my son needed.

New perspectives – early idea of homeschooling

Fast forward a few months…I had recently attended the Son-Rise Start Up training in Sheffield, MA and came home with an entirely new perspective on my son’s autism and my role as his mom.  I stopped seeing autism as the enemy and began to embrace the ways in which it made my son unique.  I stopped trying to “fix” him and force him into my world and began to prioritize joining him in his world and building our relationship above all else. I had a new attitude, and I was trying some new techniques with my son at home. However, my son was still enrolled in an autism specific preschool classroom at this point.  While I was beginning to mull over the idea of homeschooling, there was still a part of me that was having a hard time completely trusting myself to truly take the reins. Then came a moment that I will forever consider to be one of the greatest “blessing in disguise” moments of my life.

Homeschooling autism – a start

It was Halloween and I had come to my son’s school, along with his little brother who was then about 18 months old, to join in the class party.  In addition to the classroom festivities, the children were going to be going trick-or-treating to different classrooms around the building.  One of the teachers in my son’s class could see that I had my hands full with my toddler, so she jumped in to help my older son put on his costume.  As I watched him resisting the costume and the teacher continuing to insist that he wear it, I heard that little voice whispering in my head again that this just didn’t feel right.  By the time we got to the actual trick-or-treating, I watched my son having a meltdown in the hallway while the classroom aide continued to lead him down the hallway against his will. Now that voice in my head was screaming and I knew it was time to take a leap of faith and listen to it.

Taking the homeschooling plunge

That evening, I was prepared to have a long conversation with my husband about all of the reasons I thought we should pull our son out of school and homeschool him using the techniques of the Son-Rise program.  As it turned out, the conversation was much more brief than I had anticipated because, while I had been struggling to trust my own instincts, my husband had no such reservations about following my mother’s intuition.  The next day, I informed my son’s school that I would be pulling him out at the end of the following week and I used his remaining time in preschool to begin making preparations to start our Son-Rise program.  Shortly after he left preschool, I began training volunteers to come into our home to work with my son using the Son-Rise program, and in a matter of a few months he was spending between 25-30 hours per week in his Son-Rise playroom while continuing to attend speech and occupational therapy with private therapists.

An overwhelming start

I will admit, there were moments in those early days that I questioned whether or not I had made the right choice.  Because my decision to homeschool happened relatively quickly, I wasn’t as prepared as perhaps I should have been for all of the various challenges that come along with it, and I was a bit overwhelmed.  But then, slowly but surely, I started to see my son emerging from his shell and connecting with those around him on a whole new level.  As I watched my son starting to flourish, my own self-confidence in my ability to guide his education began to grow as well.

Homeschooling – a journey I never looked back

My son was 5 years old when we started our homeschooling journey together and, as I write this, he is just a few months from his 16th birthday.  Our homeschool program has gone through many changes during this time, and it no longer looks like it did when we first began.  There are still rough days sometimes, and even the good days can sometimes be exhausting, but as I look back on the ways that my son and I have both grown and the relationship that we have developed over the past 11 years, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t change a thing.

Author’s note on identify-first language:

I use the term “autistic” instead of “person with autism” because my son has expressed that this is his preference.  To any readers who find the use of identity first language offensive, please know that it is being used here with the utmost love and respect for my son and with the desire to honor the way in which he chooses to identify himself. – Jennifer Rainey


Related homeschooling resources:

Take a quick quiz to find out if homeschooling is for you?

Take an introductory course on homeschooling and see if it is the right fit for your family

An article on homeschooling


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