Our 2E/ASD Therapeutic Homeschooling Journey

This is a story, an explanation, a little bit of how-to on shaping homeschool to fit a unique learner. But really all children are unique. So this isn’t my story, so much as it’s Johnny’s.


At 21 months, Johnny’s parents were desperately packing to sell their house and move. So they plopped him in front of the TV (an unexplored realm!) and turned on “Signing Time.” One episode in particular made him do uppy-arms and squeal at the screen. So they played that one on repeat for him. And suddenly, their non-speaking one year old was signing. And not just signing, spelling. Whole sentences fell from his fingertips, one letter at a time.


“W-A-N-T  A-P-P-L-E” 


“G-O  P-A-R-K”


“N-O  B-A-T-H”


And these naive little first-time parents delighted in their clever boy.


Watching “Signing Time” on Daddy’s phone


After his second birthday, came speech therapy. Then the neuro evaluation. Then the autism diagnosis (level 2-2, if that means anything to you). The OT. The PT. The verbal behavior therapy.


And these more experienced first-time parents continued to delight in their clever boy!


So here’s my first piece of advice:


He is the same child today as yesterday


To butcher a famous special-needs parenting analogy. Parenting any child is like being dropped in a new country. Receiving a diagnosis changes nothing about your child. Not a single thing. It just hands you a roadmap, so you finally know which country you’re in.


The diagnosis gives you the lay of the land, the major roadways, and points of interest. But it’s not a substitute for traveling the country on foot. It’s the beginning of your long, slow, and intimate journey together.


Evaluations are your itinerary


Continuing our travel metaphor (why not?). A diagnosis is as large as an entire country. You won’t explore it all overnight. Evaluations and assessments are the great big blinking red “You Are Here” pushpin on your map. It’s the most important tool in our homeschool.


You wouldn’t dream of planning a trip without knowing whether you’re in Athens, Greece or Athens, Alabama. Just the same, the assessments breakdown skills and tendencies so you know exactly where your child is.


Johnny’s ABLLS-R has been the single most important evaluation for guiding our instruction. It tests language and critical thinking skills up to the first-grade level in children with autism and other developmental delays. This test is an absolute gem, breaking down skills into 544 separate, sequential subskills.


A reading evaluation from a curriculum provider spits back 3-4 skills: decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and a vague “comprehension”. ABLLS-R isolates 15 individual skills that comprise reading.


If there’s a missing skill at the bottom of the column, your child cannot reach the top of the column. It’s that simple.


Targeting incremental skills produces huge gains


An example: I’m consulting my teaching notes from 18 months ago for this. At the time, Johnny was 5.5 years old.


Me: Johnny, can you read a house?”


“Can you pull water?” 


“Are these (blue) shorts red?”


“What is a food you eat for breakfast?” 


Johnny: “Yes. Yes. Yes. Plate.”


Memorizing the labels of things is comparatively easy. Being able to understand a question so you can then give a correct answer is quite hard. But without seeing the different skills, you might not understand how a child can speak in small sentences (labeling) without being able to answer small questions (intraverbals). 


Labeling and intraverbals aren’t even in the same column on the ABLLS. They are different categories entirely. 


So we started at the bottom of the intraverbal column with explicitly teaching function, feature, and class.


Checking in with the example above. You can see that Johnny had not developed these skills. Function: books have the function of being read, houses do not. Feature: the shorts are red, and therefore cannot also be blue. Class: plates are used with food, but are not food.


Let’s compare this to the last thing Johnny said as he ran through the room where I’m typing. He recently turned 7 years old.


Johnny: “Hey Mommy, can I take my helicopter toy outside? Because the wind will blow and carry it even higher. Maybe it will go over the tree! That would be so cool.”

Me: “Yeah, just as long as it doesn’t get stuck in the tree.”


Johnny: “Yeah, but if it gets stuck, then Daddy can throw a football and knock it down. Like when your shoe got stuck last year.”


(Don’t ask, I can’t tell you what my shoe was doing up there)


Therapy materials beat whole curriculum every time

Autism is a developmental disorder. That means his development is out of the typical order. E.g. spelling before speaking. I’ve yet to find a curriculum that can be done start-to-finish for kids with autism, since they’re all developing in their own unique order.


Only last year did we add a mainstream language arts and math program to fill in odd gaps (What’s a comma? What’s metric?), but at least 50% of the time he blazes through the lesson since it’s something he already knows.


Most of our time working together is spent using therapy materials to directly address those ABLLS skills mentioned above. (We also do OT/PT/Sensory skills, but those are harder to describe in print).


Curriculum also places huge demands on children’s expressive language right from the start. Look at the sample pages of any kindergarten curriculum. Every sentence begins with “Ask the child.. Discuss… Tell a story together…” 


Impaired communication is a core deficit of autism. It’s cruel and pointless to force children to do something completely beyond their current skill set. At best, you’re teaching them to sit quietly. At worst, you’re souring them on schoolwork and destroying your relationship to boot.

Expectations are the enemy

Expectations are a contract the other person never agreed to enter.


You say “Since you can do X, you HAVE to do Y.” But that’s not how life works. Now it’s the neurotypical parent living in a fantasy world. And coming back to earth hurts.


Many times, the expectation comes from ignorance. Not knowing how much higher one skill is than the child’s current functioning level. Making unreasonable contracts and expecting your child to fulfill them.


I am his mother first


His safe place. His nurturer and encourager. I am his biggest fan. He is my favorite person. And anything that interrupts that role has no place in my home.


Stretching is always a little uncomfortable. It’s part of the growth mindset we’re helping Johnny develop. But help should never hurt. If I’m pushing either of us too fast, it’s vital to pull back to center. 


Incremental gains come from incremental work. Consistency is better than cramming. Mastering myself has often produced better results than trying to cram more into his brain anyway.


For more practical, step-by-step advice on starting your own therapeutic homeschool, follow along for the next blog post in this series.

Devoted, Not Consumed: Motherhood & The Life Of The Mind

Like most of you, all this extra (enforced) time at home has been both a blessing and a trial. Is this our new normal? Do we even want the old normal?

I’ve hit a wall about what to do with my blog here. Feeling like I have nothing to say.

I lost sight of what my purpose here is.

It’s not to tell my story. It’s to tell your story. The story of thousands like us. The story of the good student, the bookworm, the daydreamer, suddenly and happily thrust into the incarnate, all-consuming work of motherhood.

Your Story

You love motherhood. But miss some of the things you had before. Your intellectual pursuits. Reading simply for pleasure.

The thrill of all the disparate threads of a mystery coalescing into one.

Understanding a complex character motivation, and suddenly the fascicle foil transforms into a deep, image-bearer just like you.

Or the slow and cozy ease of resting in a well-worn novel, like going to a family reunion without the pinched cheeks and watery potato salad.

Gosh, don’t you just long for those moments?

But there seems to never be enough time, enough quiet, or simply enough YOU leftover at the end of a long day and night parenting.

What’s even worse than this loss, is the guilt you feel for mourning it. Your longing for these transcendent moments feels like a betrayal.

Isn’t motherhood enough?

Shouldn’t it be?


You love motherhood. It's your vocation. But you miss the intellectual life you had before. Reading, journaling, contemplating, discussing books with others. What's worse, you feel guilty for missing these things...


Motherhood is not a vocation for dabblers. With a special-needs son, I can see the path of intensive motherhood stretching into the shining distance. Possibly until the moment of my death. But even parents of typical children know the season of mothering moment-to-moment won’t end in the blink of an eye.

Your commitment to motherhood must be absolute.

But you needn’t be consumed by it.

That’s the heart of my corner of the internet. The purpose for my blog & attendant social media.

To celebrate the milestones & ordinary days of Catholic home life, without sacrificing the life of the mind. To support you in the endlessly spinning task of giving all to these little people, and filling back up again. And to see you. To make you feel seen. Because you are a devoted mother, yet you are not consumed.

You aren’t a fragmentary creature, split between BP and AP (before parenthood & after). You are the same girl who daydreamed and scribbled in margins. The girl who created life in her mind now shephards little souls through life. That was training you for today. And the true student knows that learning never ends.

You are an integrated, beautiful whole. With all aspects enhancing and embracing one another.

So we’ll get into the practical. I’ll recommend a book I like. I’ll show you how I make margins for reading, and hold space for contemplation. But that comes second. First, you have to give yourself grace.

Lean into the desires of your inmost heart. Forget all the shoulds and shouldn’ts of so-called “perfect” motherhood. And allow yourself to dream again.

7 Things That Won’t Make You A Good Catholic Mom

As Catholic mothers, we have the same vocation. But God calls us to live out this vocation in diverse ways! Although Tolstoy claimed happy families are all alike, we know holy families are all different. Allow me to highlight 7 different ways Catholic moms can go against the current “super-Catholic” grain and still find sanctity.

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Motherhood in Light of the Fatherhood of God

A blogger I deeply admire recently wrote about why we call God Father, not mother. (Hint: Because He asked us to!) It’s a great post. Be sure to read it! It’s full of meaty quotes from the catechism. As I read it, I considered why people would want to call God mother.

Those who do so are sincerely questing after God. We all make this mistake occasionally. By making God more like us, we hope to bring Him nearer.

But we are made in His image. We cannot remake Him in our own. Then we are just a series of mirrors reflecting and refracting endlessly on. We do not gain a fruitful creation; only mere illusion.

None of this is necessary! God being Father does not invalidate or diminish my vocation as a mother. After all, He is the author of human motherhood. Trust in Him to imbue your state with everything that is necessary!

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Self-Care or Self-Indulgence?

There’s always going to be one more thing on the to-do list. But you can’t pour from an empty cup! That’s why self-care is unquestionably necessary. I’m not making an argument against self-care. Rather, against the terrible amount of bad advice out there.

So often the big suggestions for self-care are something frivolous like “Use a bath bomb or go for a walk.”

It can also be just an excuse for all sorts of self-indulgent behavior, like copious amounts of wine and chocolate.

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Motherhood: Job or Career #WorthRevisit

When I wrote this a year ago, I was writing it for myself too. Personally, I was unsure of my attitude towards motherhood. Every day felt like drowning in a sea of mundane, repetitive responsibilities. The diapers, dishes, laundry, and random messes felt like they ran my whole day. I was more maid than wife or mother.

I did a little reading and journaling on the vocation of motherhood. Here’s the attitude-adjustment that followed.
WorthRevisit is hosted by Reconciled to You

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The Sanctity of Autism {Autism Acceptance Month}

I haven’t written directly about my son before, out of respect for his privacy. This Autism Acceptance Month,  I want to share something that has weighed heavily on my heart. For the sake of readability, I’ll be calling my 3-year-old “Johnny”.


When my son was first diagnosed with autism last year, every step of the process focused on his weaknesses. Not only his raw nerves that make the world too loud and too bright. But every sparkling facet of his deep personality was pathologized.

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5 Facebook Groups for Christian Moms


If you’re still using Facebook as a giant time suck (hello, pictures of old college roommate’s cat) then you’re missing out. Private groups on Facebook are the 21st century way to fellowship with vast amounts of moms, who are only a click away! Build up the body of Christ online.

H/T to Lis Luwia of Catholic Mommy Blogs for first compiling The Ultimate Guide to Catholic Facebook Groups, with over 30 groups listed. Check it out!

The first two groups are Catholic communities I’ve enjoyed for some time. The final three groups are non denominational meetings of sisters.

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