You can homeschool your special needs child!
You know your child the best. A homeschooling environment can be controlled and designed with your child’s special needs in mind. And, in most cases, you can still get access to all the services your child may need. It may even be easier to accommodate those appointments without sacrificing their education too, by homeschooling!
Homeschooling a special needs child is often not supported by the doctors, specialists, and therapist we work with. Many parents can feel pressured to put their child in school. With claims of “qualified professionals” and “easier access to services” it’s easy to understand. But homeschooling can be one of the best ways you can support your child and ensure they get the best education they can.
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How does special needs homeschooling work?
It works much the way “regular” homeschooling works. As the teaching parent, I decide on appropriate educational goals for my children, then find the materials and tools to meet those goals. Just because the goals for my special needs child are customized for her needs, her strengths and weaknesses, doesn’t mean that my process is any different.
There aren’t a lot of homeschool materials specifically for special needs, but there are a few. Memoria Press has a complete all-in-one special needs curriculum. And there are a few subject-specific special needs curriculum out there too, like Barton Reading.
And many special needs homeschooling parents will use homeschooling resources meant for typically developing children as well. We’ll just use it at the grade level our child is working at, rather than the one their age-peers are at. For example, my 10-year-old will be doing a Grade 2 math program this year, rather than the Grade 5 programs her age-peers are at.
How is homeschooling a special needs child different than typical homeschooling?
Homeschooling a special needs child can be different in some ways than homeschooling typical children. With special needs children, you aren’t as focused on the methods of homeschooling the way you might be with typical children. And you may be much more eclectic, since the focus is more on what works for that child, rather than what works for the family as a whole.
With typical children, direct teaching may be minimal, with parents often acting as facilitators or directors, rather than lecturers and teachers. Kids can often take off with their learning, especially once they learn to read.
Special needs children often need that one on one support, far beyond independent reading age. It could be as simple as prompting and redirection, or they may need hand holding (literally, with hand-over-hand help to write!). Depending on the child’s needs, they may need your full attention for longer. That can make the whole process of homeschooling (such as planning or researching) become more involved and take more time.
Special Needs Supports for Homeschooling
The beauty of homeschooling is that because you’re homeschooling, your child can get that one-on-one attention they need to learn. They can get the extra time they need to process, and the environment best suited to their needs, and the tools they need to help them focus. It’s easier to access those kinds of supports at home than in many special education programs.
My daughter with ADHD has many challenges related to focus and concentration. Because we’re home, she can move around as needed, she can fidget with small toys, and she can take breaks frequently. I’ve seen her do her reading assignments, lying upside down on our couch! But there are no restrictions on her restlessness, so she can devote her full attention to her school work, rather than trying to contain her body as well as pay attention to her education.
We also use sensory tools and equipment to help with therapy and learning. I have lap weights (inexpensive ankle weights that stretch out flat), tension bands (that wrap around chair legs), and noise canceling headphones. We have a small trampoline, a large exercise ball and a tension rod for a doorway to pull up on. Some families have swings in their home, or put rock climbing holds on a hallway wall. And there are stress balls, calming rods or lights, and many other sensory tools that are relatively cheap to purchase these days. We can even use aromatherapy without disturbing someone who is chemically sensitive.
Managing and Accessing Services
While it depends on where you live, many homeschoolers can still access school-based services in their area. The process may be different for each jurisdiction, and you may have to jump through a few hoops in order to get those services, but that’s really not that much different than if they were in school.
But most of us weren’t using school-based services to begin with. We were using private services, and pulling our children out of school in order to go to therapy sessions. Homeschooling makes accessing those private services easier. It also makes accommodating multiple doctors’ appointments easier too.
If your therapist or medical professional isn’t supportive, or at least neutral, about you homeschooling, you may consider getting a new service provider. But there are many therapists and doctors who not only support but encourage homeschooling. If you can find that support, that’s great. They can help you set up daily programs that can become part of your homeschool. Then you can do therapy daily with your child, counting it as part of their education!
Even if you can’t get your child’s therapist or doctor to help you with daily therapeutic activities, there are plenty of resources out there. From speech articulation exercises, to sign language videos, to OT alternatives with household items, you can find an alternative to just about any therapy out there. And then you can adapt them to your home and child.
Homeschooling a special needs child isn’t that hard.
Yes, it’s challenging, but so is parenting a special needs child. You’ve already spent years working with them, teaching them the basics of life skills. Consider homeschooling just an extension of your parenting! Teaching a child to read is no different (and probably easier) than teaching a child to brush their hair.
You can teach your special needs child at home. They’ll get the benefits of personalized instruction, one on one attention, and the freedom to relate to the world the way they are most comfortable with. And you won’t need to miss out on class time to accommodate a doctor’s appointment.
Be creative with your teaching and support for your child. It doesn’t have to look like school. And learn to speak the language of “special education!” It’ll help keep the big monkeys off your back, and out of your homeschool.
Special needs homeschooling is possible, and could even be better than public school.
More about Sarah
Sarah is a single homeschooling mom of 6, from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Her daughters range in age from 1 to 14, including one with ADHD, one with intellectual disability, one who is gifted, and one with cardiocentesis. She has been homeschooling for 11 years now, with many more to go. She blogs at Raising Royalty. You can find her on Facebook and Pinterest.
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