Mother and Son, Both on the Autism Spectrum, Successfully Homeschool

A boy with round glasses does schoolwork and holds a book

Are you ever curious about other BookShark families? We can assure you that, after interacting with so many customers at conventions and online, every family is unique! While there is another family like yours in some ways, there is no other family exactly like yours!

BookShark families span the gamut of family size, makeup, and approach to homeschooling. Of course, the one thing they all have in common is a passion for their kids. They invest deeply in and advocate fiercely for the academic and emotional well-being of their children.

One example is Kelsey, mom to Emmett, living in North Carolina. You may know Kelsey from Instagram where she posts under the handle @_little_mama_purple. We recently interviewed Kelsey to learn more about her homeschool experience. She will inspire you to overcome your own challenges and grasp all the benefits homeschooling offers!

Meet Emmett

BookShark: Let's start with Emmett, because he's such an adorable little fellow on Instagram. Tell me a little bit about him.

Kelsey: He loves books, puzzles, and his tablet. I always bribe him with his tablet. If he's having a bad morning, and doesn't want to do school, I ask, "Well, don't you want to earn tablet time?"

BookShark: So that's his motivator? Smart!

Kelsey: Yes. Emmett is six. He will be seven in September (2019). He has autism, global apraxia, and generalized epilepsy. He started wearing glasses at age four.

BookShark: What is apraxia?

Kelsey: It means that he has trouble talking and visually doing things¹. Sometimes he'll write a word out, but he'll leave a letter off. But in his head, he thinks he wrote that letter.

BookShark: Tell me about your choice to homeschool.

Kelsey: When it was time to enroll Emmett in kindergarten, we did an IEP with the school. They told me that he would get less therapies than he does now using our insurance. So, I decided to homeschool from that point.

BookShark: Did you have Emmett enrolled with services at age 3 because of his special needs?

Kelsey: No! I didn't know there was special education available when he was little. I didn't know there was early intervention, until he was almost too old to be in it. Nobody told me. They just handed me his diagnosis and said, "Here you go. He needs OT, speech therapy, and ABA². Go find it. Good luck." 

BookShark: Golly. That's tough.

Kelsey: Yes.

BookShark: When you went to the school to find out about enrolling him, you discovered the lack of support for his special needs. That’s when you decided you wanted to go the private insurance, homeschool route, right?

Kelsey: Correct.

BookShark: Okay, and do you feel good about your decision to homeschool?

Kelsey: Yes, I do because Emmett loves to read. He's currently learning to read using Reading Eggs, along with BookShark, and he just loves it. I mean, he brings me books every day. He asks, "Read to me."

BookShark: But do you think that would be different if he weren't being homeschooled?

Kelsey: I'm pretty sure that he wouldn't be learning to read at all. He has some behavioral problems, like if he doesn't get his way he can become aggressive towards others. I'm assuming that the school would put him in a classroom setting where might be disciplined to a point that would negatively impact his learning.

But because we homeschool, if he's having a bad day, we take a break, we go do something else, and then we come back and it gets done. Even the best teachers in the world, they can't love Emmett like I do. And the teachers have way too many children in the classroom, in my opinion.

BookShark: So are you planning on continuing to homeschool him?

Kelsey: Yes, I am. We already applied for a homeschool grant this year, and if we get it, we'll be able to continue with BookShark curriculum.

Every Kid Should Be Homeschooled at Least Once

BookShark: Did you have any previous experience with homeschooling before you started homeschooling Emmett?

Kelsey: Yes, I was homeschooled from seventh grade until high school.

BookShark: So, you already had that in the back of your mind—that that could be a good experience?

Kelsey: Yes.

BookShark: Do you think there are parents whose kids would benefit from homeschooling but they don't know about homeschooling?

Kelsey: Yes. I totally believe that. I totally believe every kid should be homeschooled at least once. Homeschooling makes you closer to your parents; you do more with your parents. You have a different relationship than if your parents send you away to school, you come home, you do homework, and then they put you to bed. You don't really get to spend a lot of time with them.

BookShark: So I guess what you're saying there, is as a mom, you would find one of the big benefits of homeschooling is the time you get to spend with Emmett?

Kelsey: Yes, definitely.

BookShark: What are some of the other benefits for you?

Kelsey: We get to go to the park when we feel like it. We get to go shopping when we feel like it; we don't have to go when the store is totally super crowded. I mean, we can just get up and say, "Okay, let's homeschool at two o'clock this afternoon, and let's just go do some running around, and get some stuff done."

Homeschooling Has Made Him a Reader

BookShark: What kind of strides has Emmett made in these two years of homeschooling?

Kelsey: He loves math. He's a wiz at it. In language arts, he's learning to write his name. He can now sign birthday cards himself. I found out that he loves dogs and horses. We just finished reading the book No Children, No Pets [in BookShark Level K]. He absolutely loves that book. I even had to put the book down one day when it was 70 degree weather outside. I told him, "No, we're not going to read another chapter. Let’s go play outside for a while.”

BookShark: Now, you said Emmett has trouble speaking, but he can speak, right?

Kelsey: Yes. He speaks at like a three year old level, but he has a communication device that he uses.

BookShark: So, when he reads, does he just read silently?

Kelsey: No, he reads out loud, but he reads it phonetically.

BookShark: You also do a lot of reading out loud to him, I assume?

Kelsey: Yes. Yes, I do. All the time.

BookShark: Great. Well, when you decided to homeschool, I'm curious if you had any fears or concerns before you started?

Kelsey: Just teaching him to read has been my fear, but after my friend showed me Reading Eggs, it's been real easy. And he loves the phonics books—Fun Tales—that are part of BookShark.

BookShark: I’m glad you found something that works well! Everybody uses BookShark in their own way, and it's not bad or wrong, by any means, to supplement with extras if needed. So what parts of BookShark do you use? Do you use the full package?

Kelsey: We use everything but the science worksheets.

BookShark: Okay, but you read the science books?

Kelsey: Yes, we read all the science books. He loves them. He's loving the Usborne Encyclopedia with the QR links [in BookShark Science K]. He loves to watch a video after I read what’s on the page.

He absolutely loves all the books with BookShark.

BookShark: That's super. So, what would you say BookShark, specifically, has done for your homeschool experience with Emmett?

Kelsey: Exposed us to books I would've never bought.

BookShark: Yeah, why not?

Kelsey: I'm one of those people that judges a book by its cover. I think, "I don't really want to read that. It looks too hard to read." Or, "The cover doesn't look inviting." But with BookShark, I'm like, "Well, it's scheduled. Let's read it and see." And then I end up liking it!

BookShark: That's excellent. Yeah, you're right. A lot of people say that, that they go to the library and they're just not sure what's a good book and what's not. These books are already chosen for you!

Homeschooling as a Mom with Autism

Mother and Son, Both on the Autism Spectrum, Successfully HomeschoolBookShark: So, I'm curious. You yourself have autism, and you're very open about that. Your YouTube channel and your Instagram profile both say that you have autism. So, when did you discover that you have autism?

Kelsey: When I was 3. Emmett was doing something that reminded me of myself as a kid, and my friend said, "Well, go get tested. They can say yes or no. A diagnosis does not change who you are." So, I got tested, and they told me I was level one³.

BookShark: When you learned that, did a lot of things just suddenly make sense for you?

Kelsey: Yes, definitely. I understood better how my brain works. I understood why I had meltdowns as a kid.

BookShark: So, Emmett has autism, too. Do you think that your having autism makes you a better homeschool parent, or does it provide extra challenges, or maybe it's both? I'd love to hear your perspective on that.

Kelsey: I think it's challenging, because sometimes my own autism makes me want to just get things done. But he's having a meltdown and doesn't want to do something.

But I'm learning to just go at his own pace, and whatever I'm feeling, just bury it deep, because it's more about what he needs, not what I need. I’m getting more understanding of Emmett as I get older, but sometimes my own sensory needs take over. In those times, I just walk away for a while.

BookShark: That's what moms do.

Kelsey: Yes, they do.

Anybody Can Use BookShark

BookShark: Do you think any family could use BookShark regardless of what kind of special need the family experiences?

Kelsey: Yeah, everybody could use BookShark. I think learning through literature is way better than doing a dusty old textbook.

BookShark: Do you think BookShark is especially good for kids with autism?

Kelsey: Yes, because it changes. You're not doing the same thing. When you do the same thing over and over again, they'll get bored really easily.

BookShark: Oh, really? I thought autistic kids liked that pattern and repetition?

Kelsey: They do when it comes to a schedule. They want to know that math is coming up next and science after that. But they don't want their science to be boring—the same every day. It it gets boring, they're going to have a meltdown because they just don't want to do it.

BookShark: I see. So, what do you do when the meltdowns happen? I know you say you just kind of step away. Is that your main strategy—take a break?

Kelsey: Yeah, take a break. For example, in level K, there are the writing sheets where they practice writing words and then sentences. Emmett has meltdowns about writing, so we just slowly do them throughout the year. If he has a meltdown, we take a couple days off. Then we pick it back up, and I see if he's ready.

BookShark: That's really good advice for a lot of homeschool parents. When you go slowly, this means you get “behind," so to speak, on the sheets, right? Does that bother you? How do you deal with that feeling of "being behind"?

Kelsey: It bothered me at first, but now it doesn't bother me at all. I know we'll get to them when we get to them. Even if I pick them up two years later, we'll still get to them when we get to them.

From “You Can’t Homeschool!” to “You Can’t Put Him in Public School!”

BookShark: When I think about your story, Kelsey, I’m struck by the number of challenges you face. You have autism, and your son has complex special needs. You're a single mom, too. Some people might look at a situation like that and think, "Well, she can't homeschool." What do you say to that?

Kelsey: Yeah, my friends thought that I couldn't homeschool. My friends wanted me to get a job and put him in public school. But now they've changed their tune to "You can't put him in public school! You need to homeschool him!”

Actually, I am somebody else's inspiration to homeschool! I have a friend—she has a YouTube channel where she talks about life with her daughter with autism who is about the same age as Emmett. She follows me on Instagram and says, "Every time I go on your Instagram account, I'm always writing down things I need to try with my daughter."

She is talking about homeschooling her daughter next year because of what she’s seen me do with Emmett.

BookShark: That's great, Kelsey. I love that you are encouraging other people to homeschool and showing people that while it's challenging, it can be done! I'm just so happy that you are able to educate Emmett at home where he can be safe and loved, and he can grow at his own pace.

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¹ Recognizing and treating speech apraxia in children with autism

² ABA is Applied Behavioral Analysis. This system of autism treatment teaches desired behaviors through a system of rewards and consequences. Read more here.

³ There are three severity levels for autism spectrum disorder, one to three. Read more here.