Kids on the Spectrum can can some amazing strengths, and some great weaknesses in academics.
It’s no secret that many are gifted in areas involving technology. I read somewhere that it’s estimated that around 75% of all tech industry jobs at companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple are held by individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Don’t let the abundance of geeks fool you though; there are plenty of other areas where these kids tend to excel!
Do we focus on their strengths, or their weaknessess?
I say: YES. Focus on both. Capitalize on the strongest areas. Often these are an area they feel very passionate –or obsessive–about.
The musician may spend hours a day working on a composition, or practicing her instrument. The techie may learn to build computer games or run data through a spreadsheet. The scientist may happily turn your kitchen into a lab, complete with unknown things growing in the refrigerator. But there is another side to ther puzzle piece is. Their weaknesses are often things that can hinder them in every area.
The question then becomes how to best meet the needs.
You know your child best. If you’re homeschooling, there is a definite reason that you chose to take this on, and I’m sure that his weak areas are part of it. Time to prioritize. My top priority with my son is his ability to communicate.
Autism being communication disorder, it is not unusual for kids to struggle with one (or many) aspects of communication. Speaking, writing, reading fluency, reading comprehension, thinking skills and organization of thoughts to words are all areas that may be affected.
I’m linking some resources below. Where possible, I am using affiliate links. These give me a little commission if you purchase, but do NOT cost you anything extra. Several links below are to deals from the Homeschool Buyer’s co-op, which I earn “Smartpoints” on, rather than a commission. You won’t find better prices on those products any where else, because the Co-op negotiates the best deals for homeschoolers!
Writing Process Organization
He is able to verbally express himself most of the time. The deficit is in the area of writing. It’s as if there’s a block in his brain that will not allow him to express the thoughts which he can TELL me without a problem, on paper. Using a keyboard is helpful, but not a complete fix. He still has to make those thoughts come out through his hands, and that’s a problem. I have found a couple of tools which are helpful (or will be as soon as I can save up enough money to get them!)
D1’s favorite school tool for the computer is a program called Inspiration, a writing and organization program, which gives kids the ability to lay out their thoughts in mind maps or diagrams, and convert those to outlines and from there, into the paragraphs of an essay or report. The included templates allow them to easily lay out a 5 paragraph essay, a scientific data report, and any number of other projects, visually. Inspiration is for about 4th grade up through adults. They have a version for younger students called Kidspiration which is geared more for 1st-4th graders.
A necessary program we have yet to get is speech-to-text software called Dragon Naturally Speaking. I think this would open up his ability to get his school work done, because it eliminates the writing barrier. It’s on my To-Buy list. We have tried a couple of freebie programs that try to do what Dragon does, but they don’t accurately transcribe his words. (The best free program I’ve found is actually the voice input feature on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 4. That doesn’t help him write school reports in Inspiration though!)
Processing: Thinking and Reading
These last two areas are key because everything else hinges on them. I confess I am not the best when it comes to building up thinking skills. I need hand-holding, because I don’t exactly understand what I’m supposed to do here—and he needs it! Enter technology. It’s always technology, right? We have used a few different ways of strengthening thinking skills, with good success. Brainware Safari is a neat program that leads kids on a safari through easy up to progressively complex thinking exercises. It makes them use both sides of their brains as well as hand/eye coordination. Even better: it’s fun!
Lumosity is an online thinking skills program which we’ve used for iPad but not on PC, yet. I just signed up for a PC account to try it out. They have a family plan for monthly subscription cost, but I think (?) that a single account is free so if your child has her own email address, you could just go that route. That’s what I plan on doing.
We haven’t yet tried out any programs for reading comprehension, but I know this is another area of need, not just for D1 but also D2. The program we are seriously considering (for my 7th & 9th graders) is MindPlay Virtual Reading Coach, which uses a real reading coach who interacts with your student as he works. It covers all aspects of language arts, based on diagnostic assessments, and only works on areas of need for each individual child. It is kind of pricey but $200 gives the student access to all grade levels K-12 for a full year. Students can progress through several levels of skills because they only work on targeted areas and move on when they achieve them. Sounds perfect for us.