On Monday I covered elementary students. Tuesday I tackled teenagers. Today I’m talking about the most complex group of kids; those labeled “special needs”. Regardless of your child’s physical, intellectual, or mental disabilities, he will be lumped into the ambiguous “special needs” category. Even though the actual needs of these kids will vary wildly, I’m going to try to outline some general guidelines to assist those of you considering homeschooling your special needs child, regardless of their diagnosis.
New visitors should know I have five kids, two with physical disabilities and one of those also has learning disabilities. After homeschooling my SN sons for a few years (along with my older kids), I placed them both in the public school system for three years. Next year, I will be homeschooling them both again along with two of my older children (one is a graduate). So I have experience in and out of the school district, but only in regards to the diagnosis’ of my sons.
I do not think that homeschooling is always better for special needs kids, so this post is not to be construed that way. I recognize that, especially for large families with multiple kids, and possibly multiple special needs kids, it can be extremely difficult to dedicate the necessary time to providing your SN child with the education and therapy they require to thrive. If you want to try homeschooling- go for it! But if you are burnt out, your family is struggling, and your SN child is regressing because you’re stretched too thin, it’s okay to put them in school. Don’t beat yourself up about it.
This post is for parents with young SN children who’ve never been in school and who are considering homeschooling, as well as those who have older SN kids who’ve been in a school but who’s parents think that homeschooling may be a better fit.
The information you need to make a plan.
The upside to having a child that’s been in school is you probably have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan you can reference. You’re familiar with the accommodations your child needed in school, and the therapies, routines, and materials they used with her.
If your child has not been in school, you have her diagnosis, and your own observations to start with. If you suspect your child has a diagnosis, like ADHD, autism, etc. but she has not been formally diagnosed, you can proceed with homeschooling her using methods that are designed for children with that diagnosis, however if you ever decide to enroll your child in school, or even religious education, or other activities, you may run into difficulties getting appropriate accommodations without an official diagnosis. Depending on your state, you may be entitled to free testing through the school district. You are within your rights to ask for testing and not enroll. You can also check with your insurance provider to see what testing is covered. As I’ve mentioned in my other posts, this is where it helps to make connections in your local homeschooling community, or to search for special needs homeschooling groups online where you can ask questions from other parents with first hand experience in your state.
Motivations and mission.
If you are pulling your child out of a school district make sure that it’s because you’re 100 percent on board with homeschooling and not because the district is not providing what it’s required to by law. If you’d prefer to keep your SN child in school, but are frustrated with the accommodations being offered (or not being offered) make sure you explore fighting for your child’s rights within the school before committing to homeschooling. I bring this up because ideally, parents should want to homeschool. It shouldn’t be a decision your family feels it’s being forced into. Ultimately you may feel you have no other choice, but make sure you’re not giving up too soon.
If you’re on board with homeschooling your SN child, you need to go through the same step of creating a mission statement. But when it comes to selecting curriculum you will need to keep your child’s unique abilities in mind alongside your family’s goals. You can still select materials that fall in line with a classical, or Montessori, or traditional philosophy, but you may need to alter the pace at which they are introduced, or complete them orally vs handwritten, or allow your child items to fidget with or chew on while they work. The modifications are endless.
Many of the large Catholic curriculum providers (Seton, Mother of Divine Grace, etc.) offer special support for SN parents. They will work with you to alter their programs to suit your child’s needs. I’m sure many other curriculum providers will do the same if you ask. There are few curriculums I’m aware of designed especially for kids with special needs: one is Simply Classical through Memoria Press and the other is So Happy to Learn.
In my own experience, I’ve found that there are many DIY modifications on Pinterest for kids with physically disabilities. I’ve also found that there are many apps that can help kids use their phone or tablet to complete worksheets, use dictation for composition, or communicate. I have used Snap Type quite a bit with my sons. Whatever your child’s specific need, there’s probably an app for it.
Figure out what curriculum you’re interested in and then see where the modifications need to be made. I’ve also had luck reaching out to other parents whose children have the same diagnosis as my sons and asking to be connected with fellow homeschoolers. These parents will be a great resource in learning about curriculum options and modifications. In general, head into your year with a plan but be prepared to start slow and make adjustments as needed, especially if this is your child’s first time completing schoolwork. Be willing to add or drop modifications as needed and slow down, speed up, or drop course work.
A daily routine is just as important, if not more so, for SN children. In addition to school work, make sure you schedule yourself downtime, and remember when during the day, or week, your child’s therapies will fit in. Most therapy offered in school is designed to help a child thrive in a school setting. By homeschooling, you will have the option to schedule therapies that can focus on other areas that need work, not just how to to function in a classroom. Find out how much therapy insurance will allow for your child.
Respite is important.
Homeschooling your SN child means you will not get the respite that comes from having them in school six or more hours a day. If you’re committed to homeschooling, figure out how you can get help during the week. Are there other moms you can ask, or family members? What about hiring help? Does your child qualify for nursing or having a personal care aide? If you have other children, it can be tricky to balance the needs of you SN child and everyone else. Making sure you get respite is crucial to the long term success of your homeschool.
Your child can study anything.
Lastly, don’t sell your child short. If you believe it’s important for children to learn a second language, study Shakespeare, and take regular nature hikes don’t hesitate to incorporate those things into your SN child’s education. Yes, some kids will need more practical and life skills incorporated into their education, but it doesn’t need to come at the expense of other subjects. The creator of the Simply Classical program has a great book by the same name that addresses this issue that I highly recommend.
Two more posts to go this week! Come back tomorrow to learn How to Homeschool During Difficult Circumstances, and on Friday I’ll answer the Seven Most Common Homeschooling Questions I hear from readers.