Creating an IEP for the Homeschool Special Needs Student

Parents of special needs children have a difficult row to hoe…one fraught with worry, sleepless nights, and a seemingly never-ending list of doctor and therapy appointments.  Some hope that public schools will help address their child’s needs.  Some avoid the school system and go for the tailored education approach.  There is no right or wrong path to take…only the one that is right for your family.

If the special needs student attends traditional school, they will be given an IEP – an individualized education plan.  This is a legal document that defines what a student needs according to his or her diagnosis.  It outlines a special education program that provides tailored instruction and support services, such as speech or occupational therapy.

Within the homeschool, an IEP can also be a valuable tool.  By sitting down and taking stock of the student’s needs – really taking stock and writing it down – you can evaluate where you’re at, where you want to be, and design a plan for how to get from point A to point B.

Crafting the Individualized Education Plan

When crafting the IEP, consider the following:

  • What are your student’s biggest struggles?  Include academics, motor skills, and life skills.
  • What is your student’s preferred mode of learning?  Visual, audio, kinesthetic?  How can you tailor lessons to that learning mode?
  • Realistically, where is your student today?  Where would you like your student to reach?  (Be realistic.)  Which ONE goal would make the biggest difference in your student’s performance, either in the classroom or in daily life?

The first thing you’ll want to do is take an honest look at where your student is performing.  It doesn’t matter how many grade levels behind that may be, just record the level of current performance in each subject.  This will give you a realistic picture of where you are.

Second, list any support services that you will need, such as speech, physical, or occupational therapy.  This plan is appropriate for students with mild to moderate special needs, as students will severe special needs most likely have been working with a provider since shortly after birth.  Also address any life skills you’d like to see addressed.

Create academic goals for your student.  Make them realistic, or you’ll be setting both you and your student up for frustration.  For example, if he is six grades behind in reading level, aim for growth of two grades per year.  You might be surprised and find that you have a ‘jumper’ – a late bloomer who ‘jumps’ six grade levels in one year!  Write down your goals, and include strategies for how you will meet them.

Create life skills and support services goals for your student.  Write them down, addressing strategies for how you will meet each.  For example, ‘Speech Therapy, 30 minutes three times a week’.  Some of these skills and goals may seem basic, but when you’ve identified the need and written it down as a goal, you’re more likely to address it!

At the end of the school year, reassess your student to see which strategies worked.  Given the informal nature of homeschooling, feel free to continually reassess and alter therapy / strategies as needed.  This is one of the perks of the individual attention you can offer at homeschool.

Some homeschooling families are fortunate enough to have speech and occupational therapy services offered through the school.  For these families, they have created an IEP with the public school as part of the process for obtaining these services.  Oklahoma is not a state, however, that provides educational support services to homeschoolers. 

Once you have determined your student’s needs, see if your medical insurance (including state insurance) will cover any of the services.  If they will, your family doctor can refer you to a provider.  If they will not, you can begin working with your child at home until the situation changes.  Check out Speech Therapy for Homeschool and Occupational Therapy in Homeschool for free / frugal therapy ideas.

Download the FREE templates for creating an IEP in your homeschool.

Teaching the Special Needs Child

For some parents, having a special needs child is the impetus to homeschool.  For others, it’s a nerve-wracking concern.  Wherever you fall on the spectrum, homeschooling a special needs child is an adventure!

With the advent of No Child Left Behind, special needs children both gained and lost in the classroom.  There is more advocacy and information, and accommodations are understood and generally more accepted, but there is still much temptation to box students in.  Many families are choosing to homeschool because their special needs children’s needs are not being met in the traditional classroom.

It can be very overwhelming to homeschool a special needs child, especially at first.  You not only have to plan the academics, but also the therapy and interventions that are required for your child.  In some states, the school system will still help with these needs, but Oklahoma is not one of those states.  We parents are required to find therapists and cover that cost on our own.  It is one of the prices we pay for a lack of legislation and state-mandated testing for homeschoolers.

Getting a Diagnosis & IEP (Individualized Education Plan)

  • If your child has been in the school system, then he probably has an IEP.  Know that it will expire and you cannot get a new one once he’s been pulled to homeschool.  Don’t fret over it; just know it.  Keep a copy of the IEP paperwork to take to therapists and doctors when seeking assistance.  Your therapist will probably do a therapy-specific evaluation, so be sure to keep that paperwork, too.  Start a file…
  • If you are starting from a homeschool environment, your first stop will be the family doctor, who will refer you to one or more therapists.  They will do initial evaluations, which you will want to keep on file.
  • All of this paperwork is your ‘leg to stand on’ should there be any questions about your child’s performance in the future (not likely, but possible).  They are helpful in building your case once you reach the upper grades — as your child may need testing accommodations.  You are eligible to file for accommodations on tests such as ACT and SAT.

You are the Expert

  • No one understands your child like you do.  You know his likes, dislikes, what bothers him, and what works best.  Working with therapists, you can use his strengths and weaknesses to tailor a program specifically toward his needs.
  • For example, our son loves airplanes and aviation, so we have used many aviation-oriented games for therapy.  Because he’s interested in the topic, he puts forth more effort into mastering those difficult tasks.

Providing Tailored Instruction

  • As parents, you have already spent years teaching your child and learning in which ways he learns best.  Equipped with this knowledge, you are prepared to become an individual classroom teacher as well!  Knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses will help you to tailor the lesson plan to his needs.
  • For example, if he has dysgraphia, allow him to orally discuss topics, or teach keyboarding at a younger age.  If he has trouble with multiple instructions, provide short, individual directions.

Moving at a New Pace

  • If your child grasps a concept immediately, feel free to move forward.  By the same token, if he’s having trouble understanding something, take as much time as you need.  For subjects like math and language arts, a failure to build a strong foundation leads to crumbling academics later on.  In a traditional school setting, there is only so much time for each concept, but in the homeschool, you have the freedom and flexibility to take as much time as necessary!
  • Don’t look at it as your child being six months behind in math.  Look at the fact that you are putting in the time to cement a solid foundation.  Some children are ‘jumpers,’ meaning they don’t show any academic growth at all for a long time, but then ‘jump’ two or three grade levels over a short period of time.  Given a strong foundation, things will eventually click into place!  Without that foundation, however, you’re merely building an academic house of cards.  Move at your child’s pace…

You are Not Alone

  • Support for special needs homeschool families comes in many places!  Here at Homeschool House, every single one of our leaders has at least one, if not more, special needs children.  Feel free to ask us questions, and we’ll do our best to point you in a helpful direction.
  • There are special needs-specific homeschool conventions, Facebook groups, and even local playgroups (look toward your cities, Tulsa and OKC) for these families.  
  • Most curricula offer ways to tailor toward special needs learners.  You may have to call the curriculum publisher directly, but they’re usually amenable to discussing how it can be adapted.  The Book Shack can also help you with locating curriculum to fit your child’s learning style.


c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.