What Choosing to Homeschool Can Mean for Your Child with Special Needs
Disclaimer: Throughout this series, we will be using the term “Special Needs” because that is the term that most people who are searching the Internet will use to find information. We fully understand that using any term to categorize children may result in generalizations that may not apply to every child, stigmas associated with that term, and the possibility of overlooking the many beautiful positive traits that exist when we look at the whole child. We celebrate the differences that make us unique individuals and learners, and we write everything in this series with the hopes of benefiting all children and their families.
You may be considering homeschooling and be worried about your own lack of experience teaching students with special needs, or you may be homeschooling because you feel that more traditional schooling methods have failed your child with special needs, and you are fairly certain that you can do—or are doing—a better job. Either way, homeschooling a child with any kind of learning differences can be challenging. However, the key is that you are dedicated because you love your child, and the lucky part is that you are not the first parent of a child with special needs to have walked this path.
There are many homeschoolers who are willing to share their experiences, and there are many resources available to you both online and in other formats. You can access information from organizations and find books and websites and support groups that can help you. Before you begin, let’s consider the pros and cons of homeschooling special needs as well as some beginning tips for how to set up your special education homeschool to ensure the most success for you and your child.
|Benefits of Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs||Challenges of Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs||Tips for an Effective Special Education Homeschool|
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Benefits of Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs
As the parent, you are uniquely positioned to provide some advantages for your child with special needs that may not be available in a traditional school. You also have a special relationship with your child that can help your child trust the decisions you make, knowing that you are trying to do the best you can. Because of this relationship and the advantages of flexibility and control that come with homeschooling, there are many advantages to homeschooling a child with special needs. Here are some of them:
- Flexibility with Scheduling: Flexibility is one of the most important reasons that homeschoolers choose to homeschool in the first place. For children with special needs, flexibility can be even more important. For example, you can design a schedule that allows your child to work during the times of the day that are most successful. You can embed breaks when needed and adjust schedules around appointments and other obligations. Most importantly, you can reschedule instruction when your child is having a particularly difficult day or subject.
- Control of the Learning Environment: You know your child’s preferences and how to set up an environment that promotes your child’s success. Does your child work better with bright lights or dim lights? Is your child easily distracted visually or auditorily? Can you support organizational difficulties by creating a space where everything is labeled or color coded (or whatever other system will work for your child)?
- Ability to Individualize Instruction and Target Strengths: Knowing your child best, you can transfer that knowledge into individualized instruction geared toward maximizing your child’s potential. As a homeschooler, you can choose a curriculum that includes the ways your child learns best. You can add electives and activities that focus on your child’s strengths, and you can build enjoyment and confidence in the academic skills and concepts that come easily so that your child can handle those times when learning is more difficult.
- Control of the Pacing of Instruction: Being the teacher now, you can adjust the pacing of lessons to your child’s levels of understanding. You can move more quickly through material that is considered review or is more easily grasped and then spend time on more difficult concepts and skills. The pace can be set by your child rather than the average in the classroom or some mandatory schedule. You can also ease into changes that may have otherwise occurred suddenly. Time can be a great gift for students with learning differences.
- Control over Medications: Rather than relying on a school nurse, you are able to administer any medications and know what your child is receiving and when. You then have the information you need to discuss results and dosages with doctors to make medical decisions in the future.
- Ability to Facilitate Social Situations: As a homeschooler, you can ensure that your child with special needs is not another victim of bullying. You can celebrate differences within and outside of the family and support the development of social skills. You can also encourage positive social interactions through family events and activities, friend groups, and homeschooling support networks.
- Flexibility to Reduce or Eliminate Restrictions: Your home, your yard, your neighborhood, and even your world can be your classroom. You can also reduce typical school restrictions like sitting still, no talking or fidgeting, or asking to go to the bathroom. If you want, your child can take a needed break to run around the yard, sit on an exercise ball to do lessons, or read aloud when taking a quiz. You decide!
- Potential to Lower Anxiety Levels: When you homeschool, you can reduce your child’s anxiety about academics, the worry that came from being compared to peers or from uncomfortable social situations, or stress related to test taking. As the parent, you can reduce your own anxiety that stemmed from interactions with schools or worry about your child’s academic progress, behaviors, or social skills. School is taking place in the safest and most loving place–the home–and this can reduce anxiety for everyone!
Challenges of Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs
Along with those benefits, there are—of course—some challenges associated with homeschooling special needs. Traditional schools often have professionals with specific training on how to help children with special needs. In some states, certification to teach special education requires college and an advanced degree. Unless you have a teaching background, particularly in special education, you may begin this journey—or even continue this journey—with some anxiety and a lack of confidence. Once you realize the information that is available and the value of your knowledge about your child’s learning, the challenges become smaller—a particular subject or task, a behavior, or a skill. You learn how to adjust instruction and target your child’s difficulties using the strengths you know your child has.
They say, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Often in traditional schools, a team exists to provide services for students in Special Education. As a homeschooler, rather than feel alone, you need to put together your own team. Depending on your state’s homeschool Special Education laws, you may have the right to access professionals from your local school district. You may also want to include doctors, therapists, and educational consultants or homeschool tutoring services from the community or online. As a homeschooler, you also can network with other homeschoolers through special needs homeschooling support groups, and you can choose to make connections to those who can share experiences with you.
Tips for an Effective Special Education Homeschool
What is a special education homeschool? What does it look like on a daily basis? Well, there is no one perfect special education homeschool, and many different setups and situations can lead to success. Each child learns differently, and each family has its own dynamic. The goals of each homeschool are unique, and the resources available vary. However, there are some important steps to follow, particularly if your child needs a bit more support to succeed. To get you started, here are some tips for setting up a homeschool that will best meet the strengths and challenges of your child:
- Know the Law and Your Rights: Before you begin homeschooling your child with special needs, you want to be sure that you know both the homeschooling laws in your state, in general, and specifically the homeschool Special Education rights that are unique to your state.
- Use Your Network: Reach out to local, state, or national special needs homeschooling support groups. Find homeschoolers who are willing to share information, resources, and their own experiences. You may even be able to share financial resources and/or instruction or participate in virtual or in-person social events.
- Research Curriculum: Explore a variety of curriculums, including curriculum designed for children with special needs, and choose the best one for your child’s learning profile, interests, and preferences. You may choose an all-in-one boxed or online curriculum, or you may be more comfortable taking pieces from a number of different curriculums. As a homeschooler, you have the choice!
- Design a Schedule that Supports Your Child’s Learning: Consider your child’s best work. What time of day does that happen? How long can your child effectively work at one time (i.e., without a break)? Which subjects are more difficult and which ones are enjoyed the most? If your child is older, involve your child in the planning and discuss the schedule as you try it.
- Create an Effective Learning Environment: Think about your child’s strengths and challenges, as well as preferences. For example, if your child struggles with attention, be sure to minimize visual, auditory, and other distractions. If your child struggles with organization, be sure that all materials and supplies are easy to find and available. Your “classroom” may not look anything like a traditional classroom, but that may be the point. You know your child best!
- Change Your Instruction When It Is Not Working: One of the key benefits to homeschooling is your control over how you provide instruction. Homeschooling allows you the flexibility to adapt your homeschool for your homeschooler. If your child is struggling with particular content, try it another way!
Resources for Homeschooling Special Needs
Let’s start you off with some additional resources specifically related to homeschooling a child with special needs. Check out these websites for information on support, legal assistance, curriculum, strategies, and more:
Beyond the Brick Walls: Homeschooling Students with Special Needs
Read this article to learn about the history and laws, characteristics of families, and issues families encounter. Discover why parents choose to homeschool their children with special needs and explore the research that is available. Find suggestions for how to best homeschool your child with special needs.
Bringing Up Betty
Parents share their unique experiences in this podcast on raising, and at times homeschooling, children with special needs.
Homeschooling Statistics: Learning Abled Kids’ Poll Data Results
Sandra Cook’s research focuses on homeschooling children with specific learning disabilities, and this website captures the homeschooling statistics from her study of parents who homeschool. She has found that 61% of the responding parents were homeschooling because their children who were enrolled in public school were not making adequate progress. You may find this piece interesting!
Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner $
by Kathy Kuhl
“Whether you already homeschool, are considering it, or just want to help your child after school, Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner helps you teach your child at home. Kathy Kuhl homeschooled her struggling learner for 4th-12th grades. After he graduated, she interviewed 64 homeschoolers with children with different learning problems, including autism, learning disabilities, AD/HD, and other conditions. She distills their wisdom while conveying her own experience and insights.”
How-To Homeschool Your Learning Abled Kid: 75 Questions Answered: For Parents of Children with Learning Disabilities or Twice Exceptional Abilities $
by Sandra K. Cook
“Whether you are homeschooling autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, dyslexia or any other learning disability, you will learn: how to get started homeschooling, how to choose the right curriculum to meet your child’s special education needs, about proven programs and methods for homeschooling special needs, where to find special education resources for teaching your child, and what to teach your child in order to meet his special education needs. There are surprising benefits to homeschooling children with special needs too. Whether you’re homeschooling a child with autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, or any other special education need, there’s a good chance your child will make more educational progress through homeschooling.”
Kathy Kuhl offers lots of resources on her website for homeschoolers with children with special needs. Check out her blog for topics of interest to families. She is also available as a coach for parents.
This podcast created and hosted by Pediatric Occupational Therapist Allison Carter discusses information regarding child development, sensory processing, and other topics related to special needs.
The Motivation Breakthrough: 6 Secrets to Turning On the Tuned-Out Child $
“The Motivation Breakthrough explores proven techniques and strategies—based on six possible motivational styles—that will revolutionize the way teachers and parents inspire kids with learning disabilities to succeed and achieve. Backed by decades of experience in the classroom, educator and acclaimed author Rick Lavoie explodes common myths and gives specific advice for motivating children with learning disabilities. He outlines parents’ and teachers’ roles, suggesting ways in which they can work together to encourage any child to reach his or her potential. Finally, he reveals what we can learn from some of the most powerful motivators in the world: advertisers. With empathy and understanding, Lavoie offers parents and teachers the key to unlocking enthusiasm and responsiveness, proving any child can be motivated to learn.”
The National Academy for Child Development (NACD) Homeschool Programs
NACD is an international organization of parents and professionals dedicated to helping children and adults reach their full potential. The organization helps homeschoolers meet state requirements and can design a specific plan for each child based on a neurodevelopmental assessment. The plan includes suggested materials and pacing, and continued support is provided. Even if you are not interested in purchasing NACD services or products, you may find valuable information in the articles section.
SPED Homeschool offers specialized homeschool resources to help you homeschool your child with special needs.
Teaching a Child with Special Needs at Home and at School: Strategies and Tools that Really Work! $
By Judith B. Munday
“Have you been searching for help as you try to teach a struggling learner? This is the book you have been looking for! Judi Munday draws from what she has learned in 30 years of teaching exceptional students and shares that practical knowledge with you in Teaching a Child with Special Needs at Home and at School: Strategies and Tools that Really Work! This is a highly readable and helpful guide for anyone who teaches a child with learning disabilities or high-functioning autism or Asperger’s. Judi has packed it full of easy-to-use instructional strategies and advice about “”what works” – for both parents who homeschool and for teachers who work with students with special needs.”
Congratulations on the amazing journey you have decided to take with your child. You are offering your child the best hours of each day, and you are providing a safe and caring learning environment. As a homeschool teacher, you will need patience, motivation, and determination–and, most of all, love. You have made the choice to homeschool your child with special needs, and you want to ensure that your child can reach maximum potential. Homeschooling is about individual progress, confidence building, and safety while working to avoid pressure, anxiety, bullying, and comparison to peers. Embrace the advantages, work through the challenges, and celebrate the accomplishments. Enjoy this journey, and your child will enjoy it, too!
Do you know of other resources for homeschooling special needs that have helped your family? Please share with others in the comments below….