By Mary Winfield

You have heard about Temple Grandin, right? If not, study up! She is amazing. During a time where children with autism were institutionalized, her mother refused to give up on her even when doctors told her Temple would never speak or function independently.

Because of her mother’s persistence, Temple now has her Ph.D in Animal Sciences and works world-wide doing autism advocacy. If you want to learn more about her life, HBO did an excellent movie (it is also free to watch on Amazon Prime). She has written several books, but the one I read most recently is called The Loving Push with Debra Moore as her co-author.

This entire book is dedicated to helping parents help their children with high functioning autism learn to become independent and successful adults. There is so much good information in this book, I highly encourage parents of teens or pre-teens to read it. It discusses dealing with depression in teens with autism and dealing with video game addictions. It also talks about preparing teenagers to drive. It follows several different families with their experiences and lessons.

The part of the book that I want to focus on in this article is preparing teenagers for their post high school lives. In, The Loving Push, they interviewed a college professor who had worked with many different students on the spectrum, and he gave 4 areas where he sees the most struggle when students come to his college: household and personal care, using independent organizational aids, asking for help, and keeping a stable mood.

Household and Personal Care
The professor reference in the book The Loving Push said that most of these teens do fine with household chores and personal care when they are at home because their parent reminds them. Their parent will tell them it is time to shower, but then doesn’t teach them how often they need to shower or teach them to look for signs of dirty/sweaty skin, greasy hair, or body odor as indicators that they need to shower. Teaching them how often to shower (and giving them examples of when to shower more frequently ex: if you are involved in sports or physical exercise) will help them be able to duplicate it on their own. 

The same goes for household chores. They may not notice when something needs to be done, but explaining things to look for or even telling them how often chores are typically done will give them concrete guidelines to follow on their own.

Independent Organizational Aids
Sometimes we try to teach too many things at once. Stepping back and thinking about a lesson’s goal and focusing on the goal instead of trying to group multiple skills will help a child learn quicker. Sometimes we may just need to focus on making a list of things to do and how to decide what to do next.

Talk about deadlines and consequences for not meeting deadlines. The ability to prioritize oftentimes is more important than what is actually on the list. Learning to prioritize and complete tasks is something parents often do for children with autism in setting schedules and routines. Helping them to master this skill for themselves is a necessary skill if they are going to be successful on their own. We can do this by having them help us create their homeschool curriculum and plan out the day and week. Talk with them about making a goal and then setting up steps to reach that goal. These are life skills that will follow them forever.

Asking for Help
The college professor they interviewed also said he saw so many students who could have done the assignments if they had asked for a little help, but they didn’t think to reach out and ask. Instead, they would try to accomplish the task on their own, and when they hit a roadblock, their conclusion reached was they just couldn’t do it. They opted to leave the assignment undone because asking for help wasn’t something they were used to doing.

Parents of autistic children often offer our help their child when he/she is struggling instead of teaching the process of asking for help. Another way to work on this skill is to enlist the help of a mentor for your child. This person becomes someone they learn to reach out to for help and guidance that isn’t constantly around them. This will further help them to practice the skill of asking for help instead of giving up on something.

Stable Mood
Having a positive mindset and reacting proportionately to situations can sometimes be a struggle for our children. One tip discussed in the book is to help them know how to duplicate good behavior and a positive mindset by giving specific and positive feedback. Temple says saying things like, “You are so kind” won’t hold very much meaning for teens on the spectrum. Saying, “Helping me with the dishes was so kind. It made me feel happy and proud of you” instead will help them to know what constitutes being kind, how it makes someone else feel, and incentive to repeat the behavior.

Furthermore, helping a child with autism remember that one failure or setback isn’t permanent and doesn’t mean they can’t be successful in the future is important. Reminding them of past successes when they suffer a setback and talking about solutions to their current problem will help them learn to persist through a struggle. If they struggle in one area, showing them their whole life is not a failure by reminding them of the areas they accel is also important. Be sure to show them strengths and weaknesses in other people as well.

“The Loving Push”
The title of the book explains to us how we need to approach preparing teenagers to be adults. Our kids are more likely to just want to stay in their routines and scripts instead of venturing out and trying new things. That means that we have to be the ones who give them a push out of their comfort zone and make them try new things. Giving them these pushes in a loving way so they know they have a safe place with lots of support will help give them the confidence to try new things in the future and transition into adulthood successfully.


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By Peggy Ployhar


Two years ago, my 16-year-old son with Dyslexia approached me and said that he didn’t want to do school anymore. We had had this conversation many times before, but this time he made it very clear to me he did not intend to ever attend college or any school which would require him to have college prep classes on his transcript. He was done with studying things he didn’t want to learn.

A New Approach

After realizing where this same conversation had taken us in the past, and how many times I had not handled it well, I decided this time I would hear him out and then take the situation to God for His direction. After much prayer and taking time to listen to what God was doing through this struggle, I was led to the following revelations:

Revelation #1 – Maxed Out
The first realization God led me to was that I had pushed this young man to the end of where I was capable of leading him and teaching him for his future purposes. God had this situation under control more than I did and I needed to let go and trust that wherever this next phase would take my son, it would be okay.

Revelation #2 – Not My Future
The second thing God impressed upon me was that He didn’t need my plans to interfere with the plans that He was working out in my son’s heart and mind. The fact that I knew what my son’s gifts were and would love for others to see how gifted and talented he was in those areas, didn’t mean I had any right to try to push him into situations that he didn’t feel led to enter.

Revelation #3 – God’s Permanent Child, My Temporary Assignment
The final reminder God revealed to me was that although I love my son greatly, He loves Him even more. As parents, we are given the privilege of shepherding our children, but we should never think that they are our possessions. It was my assignment to do what I had been able to do, and trust God would work out all His purposes for the bigger plans He had for my son’s life.


After taking all these new revelations, as well as many conditions and issues we needed to work through together, I met with my son, so we could determine our next step. First, I was careful to explain to him that my willingness to change direction wasn’t me giving up on him. Next, we discussed what legal obligations needed to be followed to ensure he was meeting the required state homeschooling laws. Third, I made it clear that he would need to pay me back for the cost of the expensive writing curriculum he had chosen not to use. Finally, I gave him a deadline for developing his class list in which he needed to note how all the required subjects in our state were going to be met through the classes he chose.

Renewed Enthusiasm
In the weeks following our conversation while the curriculum went out the window and my son took control of his own learning; his spirits began lifting. And although he still didn’t get up at the crack of dawn, he wasn’t hibernating in his room to avoid the class work I had for him. He started working on projects, learning new skills, and creating collaborative projects with friends. He wrote and produced podcasts, learned video editing and movie recoloring. He started writing for the joy of it and developing stories. And, he figured out ways to help me grade him on his progress. He once again was enjoying learning and life.

An Unfolding Plan
I had no idea where this unconventional plan would take my son once he graduated, but I continued to trust God did. After graduation, this past spring, my son decided to take a gap year at home while he looked for work and other opportunities he could pursue to develop skills in his areas of interest.

So far, this year, he has taught himself how to play guitar and mentored his younger sister as she works on writing a graphic novel. He’s also continuing to write and work through the logistics to direct and film some short movies he has already written scripts for. But, the most profound way God has made it very clear to me that I was helping this young man follow His will is that my son has been a critical member of the SPED Homeschool team through the work he has been able to do as our nonprofit’s Social Media Specialist and Video Production Manager. Had I pushed back on this derailment two years ago, my son would not have developed the skills he needed to do these jobs but which God had already planned to come about.


How About Your Child?

Maybe in reading this article, or even before, you have come to the realization that your teen has hit the end of the road on your high school plan. Maybe he/she has become lethargic about school or is pressing back on you so much that you just don’t feel like you have the energy to fight anymore. My advice for you is to take the issue to the Lord in prayer. My approach may be the one you should take, but then again it may not. I know from experience it would have been the wrong path if I had chosen to take this approach with my oldest son, because even though he had been adamant about not wanting to attend college, that’s where God eventually led him…and thankfully he had taken all the college prep classes he needed while being homeschooled.

I want to encourage you also to talk through your homeschooling struggles with a friend or mentor who can be your sounding board of truth and wisdom. If you don’t have a person like that in your life, I would invite you to start a conversation with someone you know as well as join your regional SPED Strong Tribe or the SPED Homeschool Facebook Support Group, where you can be part of a community who understands your struggles and desires to come alongside you and help you navigate the road ahead in homeschooling your student with special educational needs.

God bless!



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By Peggy Ployhar


My series on childhood depression continues as we explore the warning lights of helplessness and hopelessness and contrast them with the guiding light of eternal hope. If you would like to reference any of the past articles in this series, you will find links at the bottom.


Warning “H” – Helplessness and Hopelessness


Helplessness can lead to both physical and mental paralysis.  A child feels out of control when in a state of helplessness, and therefore stops moving forward.  In his book Overcoming Depression, Neil Anderson says “Because [individuals] have no control over certain events, they start to believe they are inadequate, incompetent, and powerless.”


Children can develop helplessness either through a major traumatic event or through a series of smaller events leading toward a downward spiral.  Whatever the cause, the process of helping a child move upwards is the same.


For a child who is ready to give up, it is best for a parent to first break up their child’s tasks into smaller and more manageable steps.  Once the steps are determined, then a parent should give lots of encouragement and support as the child works through the process of making those small upward strides.  Celebrating every victory and navigating the balance between pushing too hard and not pushing enough, will eventually help your child start a forward momentum.


Hopelessness is basically taking helplessness one step further and proclaiming that life is not worth the effort because change is impossible.  When a child hits this point, an internal shutdown begins.  Children who have sunk this low into their depression often verbalize their hopelessness by saying things like:  Why try”; “It’s no use”; or “I wish I was dead.”


Hopelessness is a changeable state, though the child cannot see that.  A hopeless child does not struggle against what is real.  Instead, this child struggles against a false construct which seems real. In this state, a parent can’t argue a child out of being hopeless.  Instead, it is better to come alongside the child and walk towards incremental change, as described above in the helplessness section, reassuring your child that what life holds around the corner is magnificent and worth the walk.



Guiding “H” – Hope


In his book, Overcoming Depression, Neil Anderson states “Research has revealed a link between brain chemistry and hope.  When hope is restored, depression leaves.”  He also goes on to state “…hope in God is the anchor for our soul and the answer for our depression.”


Finding A Pathway of Hope
But, how can a parent help their child find hope in God, when a child is in a state of helplessness or hopelessness?  The answer dates back to the Old Testament, and a command God often gave the Israelites to keep from taking similar downward spirals.  It’s called placing spiritual markers, which in their times were often altars, pillars, or stones of remembrance.


Each time God did something significant in their history, they were to place a marker to remember God’s provision.  Later, when they saw these markers, they were to recall how God did something great in their midst.  And, when their children asked about them, they were to tell the story to their children about God’s great provision.  This way they would never forget, and they would understand that God did not change and would continue to fight those battles in the future.


Putting Down Spiritual Markers for Your Child
Helping children see God’s past provision creates a bridge to the His future (and hopeful) plan for their lives.  By using a timeline, or actual physical objects as spiritual markers, a parent can help a child mark these events.  As a child starts to see God’s hand of provision in their own life, an understanding begins to develop about the personal reality of God at work and a greater purpose in pushing ahead.


The Silver Living of Hope Restored


Hopeless but not Abandoned
To hide my social anxiety over not knowing how to naturally relate to people, I felt the need to constantly maintain a false persona.  But, the pressure of hiding behind my “every is fine” mask, while inside being torn apart by my inability to relate and connect with others, was an incredible burden to bear.  Even though I clearly remember how I had determined to end my life, and why it made so much sense to me, I also remember how much I still wanted to live.  It is hard to explain how death makes sense to someone who is depressed, but in the midst of hopelessness it often seems like the perfect route to escape the inertia they experience.


As I started the long process of setting up spiritual markers in my own life, there were places I couldn’t fill in for a long time because I had blocked them from my mind.  Over time, I uncovered the good with the bad.  But, through it all, I came to realize God had been with me every step of the way and He never gave up on me…even when I told Him out loud that I didn’t want Him in my life anymore.


Giver of Hope
At first, I was only able to walk through those markers with God.  But, as I started to share my journey with other women, when speaking at women’s events, retreats and conferences, God started to show me how my spiritual markers were not just intended for my own healing, but also to help others find God’s healing in their lives.


Too often we try to make sense of what God is doing by focusing on ourselves, and our loved ones, and not on Him and what He is doing to show us He is working in our midst.  When I was finally able to see God’s hand on every situation in my life, I was no longer paralyzed by helplessness or hopelessness.  I came to realize I didn’t have to be powerful, competent, or even adequate.  Instead, God had all that covered in my life, just as He has it covered in your child’s life.


Links to All the Blogs in this Series

Looking Into the Face of Childhood Depression

The “L” Factors of Childhood Depression

The “I” Factors of Childhood Depression

The “G” Factors of Childhood Depression

The “H” Factors of Childhood Depression
The “T” Factors of Childhood Depression 
The “S” Factors of Childhood Depression




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