If you have decided to homeschool your special-needs child, I can tell you from personal experience, it is a decision you will not likely regret. Some make this decision long before the child reaches the compulsory school-age, which is definitely the best option. Others make the decision based on their experiences with the public-school system. It’s true that all children need specialized academic plans, as no two children are exactly the same. That is ten times as true for the special-needs child!
If you’ve never considered homeschooling your special needs child, then I encourage you to continue reading. You may come to find some points you never before pondered. If you already are or are planning to homeschool in this way, I hope that you will still find encouragement from this post. It’s one of the worthiest undertakings of which you will ever pursue.
Various “Special Needs” Diagnoses
There are several medical diagnoses that can constitute the need for special education services. Here are a few of them:
- Intellectual Disability/Mental Retardation - this is the diagnosis given to any child with an IQ that is less than 70.
- Bipolar Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)
- Social Coping Inability
- Asperger’s Syndrome
- PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified)
- Traumatic or Acquired Brain Injury
- Hearing, Speech, or Visual Impairment
- Orthopedic Impairment
- Specific Learning Disabilities (which break down into oral and written expression, learning, reading, math, and listening comprehension)
- Other Health Impairments (OHI) - these can include ADD (attention deficit disorder), ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), sensory dysfunction, asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, leukemia, and food allergies.
This is by no means an extensive list, yet from this list alone, you can see how it would be almost, if not entirely impossible, for teachers in the public-school setting to cater adequately to the individualized needs of each student. The impossibility would be compounded for those classes in which there were multiple children with various and different disabilities. Even with aides and tutors in every class (which simply doesn’t happen), very few schools are equipped to deal with the monumental - and rising - number of child disabilities.
On the other hand, some of these “disabilities” might not really be “disabilities” at all. What is being called mental retardation, for example, may just be a child that is learning slowly, or in some other way as defined by their standardized testing methods. Unfortunately, to be labeled “retarded” is not something you can shed like a jacket in warm weather. It sticks with a child their entire lives and these children often only live up to what is expected of them.
ADD and ADHD have been hotly debated for many, many years. Some believe it has become a way of medicating children into submission that are not accustomed to going with the flow like they are supposed to do. Maybe they think outside the proverbial box, and maybe they have come up with a better way to do things. Both of these as well as many other forms of self-expression are highly frowned upon by government schools and shut down at every turn.
Other disorders, such as anxiety and depression, can actually be caused by the public-school setting. Even if they do legitimately exist prior to mass-schooling, it’s not likely the traditional classroom will yield any positive results other than another life-long title.
The Benefit of Truly KNOWING Your Child
If you have a special needs child, you will know more about their needs than any other human on earth. Yes, there are those who “go to school” for such things, but I believe that actual real-world experience offers more insight than a textbook or internship ever will. How do I know? Because I have two sons, both with autism, and both polar opposites of one another.
The older autistic son was born prematurely and had multiple physical abnormalities right from the start. His Autism Spectrum Disorder included OCD, Tourette’s, Dyslexia, Central Auditory Processing Disorder, and more. He is quiet, reserved, and has tics, even now at age 28. However, he holds down two part-time jobs, lives in a group home, and is very happy.
The younger autistic son was born two weeks late and hit every milestone until the age of about 18 months, at which time he completely stopped talking. After that, he acquired sensory dysfunction, OCD, self-injurious behaviors, and did not utter another word until after he turned four years of age. He is now 24 and very high-functioning. Most don’t know he has a “disability” unless they are close enough to see the social impairment he has. He can’t count money, has a hard time understanding facial expressions and tone of voice, and he has tried and failed with five employment opportunities.
I was able to cater to each one of their needs through homeschooling in ways that public school failed dramatically. Being able to meet each of them exactly where they were, and making sure they were learning at a rate that wasn’t too fast or slow, helped them both to improve by leaps and bounds. In just six months of homeschooling, one of them improved five grade levels, as I began to help him utilize learning tools such as graph paper for math, boldly lined paper for spelling and writing, and large blocks of time for subjects that seemed less tangible to him.
The Benefit of REAL One-on-One Academic Instruction
All children receiving a special education have what is known as an “IEP” (Individualized Education Plan). These documents are supposed to outline the very specific tools that will be used by the teachers to achieve academic success for your child. They can include a variety of “helps” that are meant to assist your child in getting the best education possible, in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).
The bad news is that for an entire special-needs classroom, there is usually only one special education teacher, and sometimes no more than one aide. Since not all schools even have a special education department, these classes can be overcrowded as well, making matters even worse. Often, these disabled children are left too long without support, act out because they don’t know what else to do, and are then labeled with yet another “problematic behavioral issue” which can put them into yet another government school category.
Being able to offer real one-on-one academic instruction to your special-needs child, no matter what their diagnosis, can bring out the very best in them. For instance, you can immediately catch mistakes that might otherwise go unnoticed in public-school. This is a major step for special-needs children. Once they learn something the wrong way, it’s much harder not only to teach them the right way but also to get them to understand why the way they learned it is wrong. Some cognitive delays can cause children to think a certain way, but they cannot tell you, frustrating both of you.
The Benefit of Flexibility
Some disabilities mean that a child can only attend to certain subjects for certain amounts of time. Homeschooling that child means you have the freedom to start and stop when you know the benefit will be the greatest. For instance, sensory dysfunction can create physical pain for a child or adult that struggles with it. It can be caused by light, sound, or even colors, and unless the child is both verbal and able to explain what’s going on (which isn’t likely), you may never know exactly what they’re feeling. This often manifests in crying or outright temper tantrums if they are pushed because they have no way of explaining what they are experiencing.
This is just one example, but the fact is, knowing when to take breaks, stop a lesson, or just switch gears can be extremely important for the disabled child. Having the flexibility to do just that is priceless.
Flexibility is also important for working around medical and therapy appointments, as these constitute a lot of time in the lives of special needs families. In public school, much of this time is simply lost, but with homeschooling, you can even take advantage of this time as a learning experience, which works out great for both you and your child.
The Benefit of a Safer Environment
If your child is medically fragile, has special equipment for their medical condition, or has extreme and life-threatening allergies, there is no safer environment than your own home. Some medical equipment can become compromised in crowded locations, making the classroom more a hazard than a help. That same classroom can be steeped with bacteria and germs that will jeopardize your child’s immune system and make things worse for them. Again, in the home, you can take all the precautions necessary and make sure they are never infringed upon.
We certainly can’t forget the safety a homeschool education provides by keeping your children safe from bullies. No student is as prone to being bullied by their peers as those who are mentally or physically disabled. It’s hard to believe we’ve come to that, but it happens every single day. Add to this the fact that moral compasses are also steering further and further away from what we, as Christian parents deem safe, and it starts to make even more sense to homeschool.
The Benefit of Supervised Social Interactions
One of the greatest criticisms against homeschooling is a lack of opportunity for socialization. The truth is, homeschooling actually creates better socialization opportunities, for a variety of reasons. First and most importantly, there are no bullies to tell your child things they should never hear, disabled or not. Secondly, they have more time to create truly worthwhile and longer-lasting friendships than many children might in a public-school setting.
There’s also the fact that homeschooled children get to meet and interact with people of all different age groups, from newborn to elderly and everyone in between. Understanding these important social and societal roles can play a huge part in how your child thinks of themselves as well. If a child thinks they are only appreciated and understood by same-age peers, then peer-pressure will have a greater hold on them. Children who feel valuable to differently aged people have a greater grasp on themselves throughout childhood and moving into adulthood.
The Benefit of Preparing Meals at Home
Nothing beats a home-cooked meal no matter who you are, but for children with medical issues or severe allergies, it can mean the difference between health or illness… or worse. Nutritional meals are very important, but it’s entirely possible for your child to refuse to eat a school breakfast or lunch. Worse still, you may never know it if they don’t.
Some children require specific menus and others must refrain completely from any form of peanuts, for example. When you have complete control over what is prepared and served to your child, you can have complete peace of mind knowing they’re getting what they need, what they like, and what keeps them safest. And nothing can replace that.
Connecting with other homeschoolers, especially those with experience homeschooling their special needs child, is very important for every homeschooling family. When you attend a Great Homeschool Convention, you’ll find those kinds of connections and maybe even make a few new friends in the process. If you’re new to homeschooling, this can be the perfect way to learn more from the homeschoolers who are far more seasoned than you.
You’ll also pick up tons of excellent and crucial information from the various speakers you’ll get to hear, the workshops you can attend, and the many curriculum and resource vendors available for your convenience.
Our seven regional conventions are located across the United States, with at least one of them near you. We do understand some families travel farther than others do, and we want to make the experience as positive as possible. We offer hotel discounts, military discounts, and active clergy members are admitted for free.
To find a Great Homeschool Convention location near you, CLICK HERE.
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And remember, Great Homeschool Conventions are: Equipping… Encouraging… FUN!