Autism Homeschool Resource Guide

We start our homeschool year in September here at St. Nektarios Academy (our school name), but a lot of people have asked me what we use and how we use it. This is a brief overview of some of the most helpful tools we use in our homeschool, with affilate links to Amazon where they are available.

Curricula

Our curriculum is not typical. We teach in a project/interest-based pattern, with a few core focuses. Much of what we teach is by means of the white boards in our kitchen rather than from books, but here are some of the books or series we use:

  1. Social Thinking books. In our house, covering academic areas is not very difficult. We spend a lot of time focusing on building skills that will help our autistic children self-regulate and function to their highest ability. Social thinking is a big deal for our elementary aged children. The link is for the set we’re using this year, but the {Social Thinking website}  has resources for other ages as well. (In the link, ignore the silly overpriced “used” option and choose the $66 bundle from Social Thinking under “new.”)
  2. Handwriting Without Tears This series starts with making shapes and has easy to follow workbooks through all grades. One of my children has moderate dysgraphia, and we have worked on the lower level books with him repeatedly, with great progress. Another worked through one book and has perfectly neat handwriting.
  3. Explode the Code This phonics program is fun and adaptable. We’ve gone through it all the way with one of our children, and we’re going back through to highlight missed or forgotten skills.
  4. YouTube videos explaining topics of interest, especially the Crash Course Kids and Crash Course series. We like to look up National Geographic and NASA series, as well as several channels put on by science teachers and parents (like TheDadLab and SmarterEveryDay). I don’t let the children go on YouTube unsupervised EVER, even with our safe browsing settings and white list and strong “clean” firewall settings, because it’s vulnerable to occasional perverse images showing up in playlists. But as long as you are paying attention, YouTube is awesome. Video modeling is one of the {Evidence-based practices }that we know works for children with autism, and a lot of times it’s easier for my kids to learn from a video on repeat than from me in person. (I even video myself sometimes so they’ll find the video “me” predictable enough to learn.)
  5. The Orthodox Study Bible and the Orthodox Children’s Bible Reader. My husband reads a chapter each night to the older children before their bedtime stories. We also read The Beginner’s Bible to the preschoolers. Our homeschool is registered as a religious school in our state, and we put our years of advanced theological study into our teachings with the children. (Note: We like science and do not see it as conflicting with our faith. If you have an objection to standard science, you might want to screen the Crash Course science resources differently than we might.)
  6. Handwriting composition books: The older children have to write a certain number of pages of story each week. I like these notebooks because they have the line guides as well as a space above for illustrations, which my older children love to provide.
  7. Creative Writing For Kids has great tips on prompts that make it easy for kids to respond.

Manipulables

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This is by far the most significant part of our teaching methods. We use them in therapy, for teaching our dyslexic son, and for just about every other type of learning.

  1. Hape Alphabet Puzzles: Many of you have messaged me about these blocks. We have 5 or 6 sets, both upper and lower case. We also have a couple of sets of numbers from their number puzzle and number set. These three-dimensional wooden letter blocks help my son with dyslexia understand letters spatially. We build on his strength of spatial understanding to start to see words as shapes. We also use them in therapy for my youngest son, who loves to spell. Note: Make sure to buy the Hape brand, because the letters and numbers from the puzzles are made to stand up on their own.
  2. Alphabet magnets. We use them for spelling practice and to redirect my autistic children’s impulse to line things up into a functional, phonetic purpose. Why these? They have a completely magnetic back and have proved more durable than other brands. The Mudpuppy magnets come in other patterns as well, but I have linked to the least expensive version, which also has slightly larger letters.
  3. Learning Resources Magnetic Money  Sometimes I write on the whiteboards with this money alongside, and sometimes we pile it up on the kitchen table. It’s harder to lose than the fiddly pretend coins and paper, and I can put it up high or away easier.
  4. Mathlink Counting Cubes We have a few sets of these for counting sets, working on apraxia, scooping, and pretend/creative play. These don’t vacuum up easily, and they’re easy to store.
  5. Plastic puzzle pieces. We have some motor planning challenges, and these help overcome them. The kids like to design tools out of the pieces, and gain strength and pattern recognition when they use them. Also, the kids like to make cool looking swords and crowns with them sometimes.
  6. Wooden blocks. We have plain blocks (great for polishing), HABA and Hape blocks, and some classic alphabet blocks. I recommend that you spend a little extra for HABA blocks and products in general if you are running a special needs homeschool, because they replace parts that are damaged. That’s a big deal when you have kids who don’t have especially great motor planning.
  7. Duplo and Lego bricks and sets. I love the educational Duplo sets, such as the multi-cultural people and the emotions set. We use Duplo and Lego for teaching math, and Duplo bricks feature heavily in a lot of our religious education (Duplo church, set building for Bible stories).

Sensory and Craft Supplies

We go through so many of these things!

  1. Mad Mattr (or kinetic sand): This is a stiffer, easier to clean up version of kinetic sand. We use it to sculpt and scoop and play cook. It’s a bit pricey, so you might use your teacher discount/coupons to pick some up at a local craft store if it’s available there.
  2. Glitter glue, the large Elmer’s bottles. Squeezing out pretty glue helps our kids with motor planning and apraxia issues.
  3. Drawing paper and construction paper and white copy paper. We make lists, write out words for matching with blocks, glue and tape and cut and draw. I pick up large packets of paper a few times a year for our crew. The rule is that the kids are allowed to display a drawing, but another one has to come down when they do. I also photograph their work sometimes for record-keeping, then recycle or trash all the scribbled and used paper once every couple of days. An autism house does not have time for giant piles of discarded paper!
  4. Kid paint. We use the Crayola brand because the little jars are so easy to store, but we also buy zinc oxide and corn starch in bulk to make our own indoor/outdoor paint from time to time. If you make your own paint, add a few drops of dish soap to make it washable.
  5. Crayons. We have the fancy beeswax blocks and sticks, but mostly we go through dozens of Crayola 24 pack crayons. I like to pick up 50¢ boxes at back-to-school sales this time of year at my local stores.
  6. Handy ScoopersThese are great for our children with motor planning challenges and apraxia.
  7. Beeswax polish: This smells nice, is non-toxic, and provides a useful task for my children who don’t like busy work therapies. The kids can rub this polish into their wooden blocks or into our kitchen spoons. We build on their interest and the actions to expand their functional and emotional language and to help them develop life skills.
  8. Gluten free play dough: My hands break out if I even touch wheat or soy, so we go to great lengths for play doughs. I’ve heard great things about {this recipe}, though I haven’t had a chance to make it. We also like the{ Aroma Dough sets}, though they are expensive.
  9. Gluten free sidewalk chalk: If you have a gluten sensitive child who eats non-foods, you need {this chalk from Colorations}. Besides plain white chalk, it’s the only kind that doesn’t include wheat.
  10. Gluten free dough tools: If you find Playdoh sets on sale, buy them and donate the wheat-filled Playdoh to your OT to use with kids who aren’t gluten sensitive. The advantage to Playdoh sets is that they’re available and often on sale at your local discount store. I also buy rollers, play dough face pieces, and alphabet dough cutters from Discount school supply or {from Amazon}. If you aren’t gluten sensitive, be aware that LOTS of people on the autism spectrum are, so you might want to accommodate that need in playdates.

Macro-Life Helps

  1. Continuing Education for Mom (The Head Teacher in our homeschool): I have attended some training conferences and read the books and websites recommended by my children’s therapists. This year, I’m hoping to add more training, support groups, and a graduate certificate in autism studies. Get a great overview and directory of autism best practices HERE.
  2. PBS Kids shows. Daniel Tiger, Sesame Street, SuperWhy, how we love thee! These educational shows teach self-regulation skills and provide skills modeling. We also like several of the others, but not, if I’m honest, Cailou, who is persona non grata for his whining and boringness. (Your mileage may vary.)
  3. Indoor hammock. We have an indoor hammock and a rocking chair in the largest bedroom so the children can self-soothe. An indoor swing might serve a similar purpose if your house is proportioned well for one.
  4. HABA play tent: This is a great away space for our littles who need to have a sensory soothing time. The aqua color helps, but best of all, HABA will replace the tent poles if your kids break them. My littles loved the first set of tent poles to death, but the tent was in great shape. I filled out their online form, and I had a new, free set of poles in about 6 weeks. Meanwhile, four other, not-HABA tents have been worn to shreds. Quality shows.
  5. Outdoor sensory playground with sandbox, slide, water play, and giant tractor tires for therapeutic play/following directions.
  6. Simple organizational systems that are easy to fix and hard to break. We have labeled rolling carts for shoes and a family closet. It’s much more efficient to toss shoes into a bin or to sort and put away clothes right by the laundry machines! The kids can help easier, and when they can’t, the adults save time.
  7. Amazon Subscribe & Save and Pantry for bulk orders of gluten free foods. Not all families with autism have to go gluten free, but it happens that a few of us have wheat allergy and gluten intolerance. We also rely on Amazon Prime for buying books and streaming music and some shows. (I watch Fixer Upper on Amazon video while I do the laundry.)
  8. In-home Library. My kids are rough on books (eating due to sensory issues, tearing on accident due to motor planning issues), so we buy a lot of books to use at home. We have lots of books for the sake of the rhythm of the words, but even more for the beauty of pictures and story together. Just because language is a challenge, does not mean our kids do not crave it. Picture books help.
  9. White boards in the kitchen. We can teach with drawings, place magnetic shapes and money and letters for examples, and keep track of our wishes and to-do lists, besides the convenient math problem solving space. We buy the large ones on sale at back-to-school time and afix them to the walls and backs of doors.
  10. In-home therapy. I can’t tell you how invaluable our therapists are to helping the three children in therapy function and thrive. We have an SLP and an OT over twice a week to work with our middle three children. This is the biggest homeschool cost, with our insurance co-pays in the thousands of dollars, but it is also the largest value per dollar. With so many children on the autism spectrum and their accompanying sensory needs, carting the children to therapy would be extremely difficult.

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