Hello everyone! I was inspired to finally write my first blog post to share our Waldorf homeschooling journey with everyone. Hopefully it will inspire and encourage those of you with an autistic or gifted child who may feel a little uncertain or insecure about whether you are "doing it right" or what the "ends results" might be once your children reach adulthood. Our homeschooling journey may not be like anyone elses out there, but I have learned over the years to not try to hide our story, which I used to do, but I am hoping by telling it again I might reach out to those of you that can benefit. So here goes...
I have two daughters whom I started homeschooling 12 years ago when my oldest was 5. Both of my girls are twice exceptional, meaning that they are both profoundly gifted and also have Asperger's, or high functioning autism. When my oldest was little, she was extremely precocious, more than any other child I have ever known. She was totally obsessed with insects and would look for them voraciously...nonstop. Transitioning from location to location, such as from the house to the car, or from the car to the store, was extremely dangerous. The second I would open her door she would excitedly tear out of the car looking for bugs, or chasing a butterfly, not looking for cars at all, ever. If we went into a store, if I did not have a death grip on her hand, she would bolt off into the store to explore anything and everything, like pulling rat traps out from underneath the shelving or going into the back warehouse to see what the workmen were doing. I cannot express just how terrifying that period of time was in our lives. My husband and I struggled to figure out why she was speaking in full sentences by 12 months, why we discovered one might that she had taught herself to read by 3, yet painfully struggled to really communicate with anyone around her.
After many attempts with different types of schools (Montessori, 3 weeks at a public school, school for the gifted) we finally decided to homeschool her using the Waldorf approach. I was definitely drawn in my the esoteric qualities of the materials, and the gentle, creative and harmonic nature of the curriculum really seemed to do wonders with my twice exceptional, choleric child. We started out using the Waldorf Without Walls books and whatever information I could find online (this was around 2002 so I did not really know where to look to find curriculum yet.)
After about two years we ended up moving to Colorado, and our circle of homeschooling friends was no longer available. The new, very small mountain town we lived in in Colorado luckily had a beautiful Waldorf school, so we decided to enroll her. The school was absolutely beautiful with strawbale, lazured walls and an amazing community. After my daughter started going there during her first grade year, it became vividly apparent that she was struggling. She had very little body-space awareness and although she was extremely verbal her communication was more like a monologue about butterflies than an actual conversation. She had an amazing ability, and still does, to read others intentions perfectly, and when the other children or the teachers had intentions that did not match their actions it would cause her to become very frustrated. The children did not understand any of this (I don't know many 6 years olds that would...or grown-ups for that matter), and ended up bullying my daughter. The bullying started out as general taunting, but by the end of it all it turned into violence and we were told that the playground was no longer safe for her. As a result, they had her sit inside during recess every day. After 2-3 years of this, and many attempts to work it out with the school, we decided to homeschool our daughter again around age 8. I wanted it to work out for my daughter so badly, but the right place for her was at home.
Back at home, I wanted to create a space for both of my girls that I felt really captured the essence of a Waldorf classroom, especially after leaving such a beautiful school. Natural wood toys, playsilks, lambswool rugs, baskets with nature findings, seasonal tables...we did it all. I worked hard piecing together curriculum, and finally settled on Live Education and Christopherus, which were more purely Waldorf than others. I hosted Waldorf-inspired craft days weekly at my home making wool felted toys, kite paper stars, beeswax salve, etc. I invested in all of the traditional materials, which was so well worth it, like real main lesson books, a chalkboard with Mercurius chalk, all of the Lyra pencils and Stockmar crayons you could want, wooden recorders, wooden watercolor boards...it was magical and so worth it.
As time passed I began to see that my daughters were craving more mental stimulation, especially during the pre-teen years, so I ended up supplementing their Waldorf materials with a few additional books..always trying to encourage a natural and artistic use of them. By the time by oldest was 13 she wanted to take college courses, so she signed up to take an entrance test at our local community college...and got in! She is now 17 and a sophomore at a university (taking all of her courses through distance learning) working towards a Bachelors Degree in Artificial Intelligence.
After saying all of this, I want to really express that the biggest successes with Waldorf homeschooling were not actually academic, but emotional. I truly believe that using this approach with our daughters acted in a highly therapeutic way, and both encouraged their spiritual/intuitive gifts as well as supporting them with their extreme sensory issues. Although our oldest is a completely independent college student now, she still wants to take part in all of the Waldorfy activities, celebrations and routines I still do with her younger sister, which really speaks to how much this type of curriculum deeply affected her heart.
I don't know how anyone will feel about my post, but hopefully someone out there will benefit knowing how beneficial using Waldorf can be for gifted children and children with autism.