Three Out-of-the-Ordinary Homeschool Goals for Your Child with Special Educational Needs

Today’s post comes from Sharon Czerwien, who loves homeschooling her two children, one with Sensory Processing Disorder. Sharon is the author of the children’s book, “Bumps Are Okay for KIDS and Other Biblical Lessons Learned from Monster Trucks!” She blogs at

Does the following conversation sound familiar to you:

-Child: “I hate school! I don’t want to do school today!”

-Parent: “Well, at least you don’t have to be in school for 7 hours every day. You should be glad that I let you have so many breaks and give you the opportunity to bring your favorite things to the school area…”

I have had these conversations with one of my children (on several occasions!), and I have not always said the above part in the most patient of ways. I am a work in progress.

One of my children has Sensory Processing Disorder. School can be hard, frustrating, angering, and discouraging for this elementary-aged child.

The Understood Team writes that Sensory Processing problems involve:

“…Trouble managing information that comes in through the senses. These issues, sometimes called sensory processing disorder or sensory integration disorder, can have a big impact on learning and on everyday life.” [1]

No matter if your child struggles with this sensory need or with any special need that directly affects all-things life and school, I hope you can find encouragement from the Understood Team. Online, this team makes it their mission to guide those who think and learn in ways other than “the norm.”

Encouragement for Special Need Families

If you have a child who has special educational needs, please take hold of the following:

YOU are the best person to help guide your child through his or her different adversities. Whether in educational hurdles or life challenges, you know your child best. You are your child’s greatest cheerleader and support system. YOU are just what your child needs!

Home Educational Goals for Special Need Families

When it comes to homeschooling goals for special needs families, here are some “goal traps” that may creep up unexpectedly. By “goal traps” I mean homeschool goals that may accidentally be given too high of a priority for a child with special needs.

  1. That your child stays at grade-level in each subject
  2. That your child goes through the same amount of material each year as your other child
  3. That your child needs to learn basic math facts or phonics principles in the “correct year”
  4. That you as the parent must cover everything on your child’s daily school checklist

Hopefully, removing these “goal traps” will open you up for these “out-of-the-ordinary” homeschool goals.

*Here are three “out-of-the-ordinary” homeschool goals to think through:

  1. For your child to not hate learning—as much as possible!

I know—you have the right to say, “Wait! At the beginning, you said that your child hates school. Why is your own homeschooling goal not being met?”

My child would honestly tell you how much he hates school. That is why I included the phrase, “as much as possible.”

Hard school will be hard for your child. Your child’s special needs will be hard, and understandably, you cannot remove all hardships from your child. However, throwing out the above “goal traps” will immensely help your child not to hate school more than necessary.

It is okay if your child is not on “reading level” or cannot start learning multiplication facts during the same year as other age peers. You know your child best, and a slower pace may be necessary AND be just what your child needs to have personal educational success in your child’s right educational timing.

In my case, I need to not overly push my sensory child beyond what my kiddo is capable of in that moment, resulting in needlessly causing my child to hate school even more. I must give priority to my child’s sensory needs before any educational goals can be met.

  • For your child to learn to persevere!

I view it as more important that your child have experience and practice in what true perseverance looks like than to learn division rules in the “right” year.

Your precious kiddo has more opportunities to stretch in this area of perseverance than many other children. Look for any (even small!) examples of your child having a persevering attitude and highlight these in a special way.

You can keep track of perseverance moments in a special-to-you way and review these with your child often. Encourage your child that he or she is doing great at doing hard things!

Perseverance examples do not have to only happen in school. Your child may show perseverance in a big way outside of school time. These can be highlighted, too! (In the picture, you can see how we document perseverance moments through our “perseverance notebook” filled with example pictures.) [Insert Picture]

  • For your child to learn to self-regulate!

Having your child be the top speller is not nearly as important as he or she learning to deal properly with frustrations.

I like the book, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. The main character in the story learns about the importance of breaks when her anger gets too strong. With this book as a springboard, you and your child could work through ideas to help when your child feels the anger boiling inside.

The Takeaway

Home education is a beautiful way to work with your special needs child at the right pace, to take the right breaks, and to reach more than just the traditional school goals.

I cheer you on! There is nothing more exciting than seeing your special child succeed. Plus, “success” may look different but be just as extraordinary!

What Comes Next? Life Skills with Special Needs Homeschoolers

For some parents, having a special needs child is the impetus to homeschool. Many families are choosing to homeschool because their special needs children’s needs are not being met in the traditional classroom. For others, it’s just one more challenge they aren’t sure how to face. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, homeschooling a special needs child is an adventure!

Homeschooling allows the flexibility for students to go at their own pace.  You get the set the schedule.  You can change the curriculum if it isn’t working.  You can have one long work period, or several shorter work periods spaced out with transitional times.  With family-style schooling, older special needs students can school alongside younger siblings, at the same level, without them feeling as though they’re “behind.”

It can daunting to think about what post-graduation brings for the special needs student, but s/he is in a great position as a homeschooler!  In the upper grades years, homeschooling allows students the time to explore passions and career interests.  Take some time to examine your special needs student’s strengths, combining those and their interests to find a career exploration starting point.

Background Information & Resources

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) covers thirteen specific disabilities, but its implementation varies widely from state to state when it comes to assisting homeschool families.  Learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, health disabilities, impairments (speech, visual, hearing, orthopedic, and emotional), intellectual disabilities, and traumatic brain injuries are all addressed by the act.  Check with your state department of education, and HSLDA, to see what your state will and won’t do for homeschooling students.  

A federal agency, the Rehabilitation Services Administration provides vocational rehabilitation and other services to individuals with disabilities to maximize their employment and independence after the high school years.  Each state has their own local agency to help work one-on-one with families.

SPED Homeschool and HSLDA are good general resources for any homeschooling family with special needs students.  These resources are primarily for the younger student, but are a good place to start.

Getting Started with SPED Homeschooling

Addressing Specific Needs

Life Skills for SPED Teens

Special Needs-Friendly Curriculum

The Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) Student

SPD kid

With Sensory Processing Disorder, normal daily demands in a classroom are stressful. Homeschooling provides an alternative for your child that allows him or her to grow with accommodations and love…

With SPD, normal daily demands in a regular classroom become stressful.

  • Bright lights can cause headaches
  • Humming lights are distracting
  • Hearing other kids breathing is annoying
  • People may be talking or laughing too loudly
  • The teacher’s words may be too fast or confusing
  • The sound of the school bell is scary
  • Smells may seem overwhelming
  • The seat may feel too hard
  • The clothes being worn may irritate the skin
  • The kid in the next seat may be too close for comfort
  • It is difficult to listen to the teacher and write at the same time

SPD students may be labeled as ‘picky’ or ‘finicky,’ and their issues may be ignored.   This response can lead to an emotional roller coaster.

  • It can be difficult for the student to label emotions (they end up called ‘fear’)
  • It may be difficult to identify the source of the problem
  • Once identified, it can be difficult to share those emotions, and they are often dismissed
  • This can lead to a cyclic reaction, as the struggles are then internalized, leading to more difficulty with regulating emotions
  • The more heightened and dysregulated the emotions, the more difficulty the student will have filtering out sensory input. 
  • Do you see the cycle?? 

Is your child highly sensitive?  How many of these statements apply to your child?

  • Over-sensitive or under-sensitive to noise, touch, smell, etc
  • Easily distracted
  • Agitated, anxious, or irritable
  • Poor tolerance for frustration
  • Impulsive, with poor self-control
  • Obsessive-compulsive
  • Repetitive, uses self-stimulation
  • Oppositional-defiant
  • Tunes out or withdraws
  • Has tantrums and meltdowns (beyond the toddler years)
  • Rigid / inflexible thinking
  • Need to maintain control in situations
  • Need for routine, sameness, and predictability

Examples of self-stimulatory behavior include rocking, hand-flapping, vocalizing, or jumping. These behaviors are an attempt to self-regulate the arousal level and screen out unwanted stimulation when over-aroused.  They can also be used to maintain alertness when under-aroused.  These self-stimulating behaviors are often used early on, until the child learns other ways of regulating arousal.

It can be helpful to learn your child’s specific nervous system quirks.

  • What calms him?
  • What alerts him?
  • What are his sensitivities?
  • What overwhelms him?
  • What are his sensory preferences?
  • What interaction style is he drawn to (or does he avoid)?
  • What learning style works best for him?
  • What helps him feel safe and accepted?

The SPD child may not have any issues during the school day, but while keeping it together, he is accumulating stress neuro-chemicals throughout the day.  The teacher doesn’t see the problem, but it is the parent who experiences the meltdowns after the child gets home to a ‘safe’ environment.  These ‘after-effects’ show up as meltdowns and shutdowns.

Meltdown Shutdown
Stress chemicals reach boiling point
Coping skills collapse
Child acts out to escape or avoid situation and reduce anxiety
Hitting, kicking, pushing, throwing, slamming, biting self or others, and head banging all provide proprioceptive stimulation which releases stress chemicals
Occurs when chemicals build quickly
Stimulation becomes too overwhelming, and nervous system shuts down
Child may be lethargic, limp, unresponsive, and staring or closing eyes
Occurs when chemicals increase gradually

Many people see the child as oppositional and purposefully acting out, but in true meltdowns, the child loses all self-control.  He is not being oppositional; his stress chemicals have reached a boiling point and overtaken him.  Trying to counsel, scold, or reason during a meltdown is ineffective.  Reasoning skills are neurologically unavailable at this point, and the child is often remorseful after calming.  Punishment only works if the child has some degree of control over his behavior.

It is helpful to touch base with all teachers, support staff, and even relatives, to help them understand.  To help your child develop a learning profile

  • Define comfort zones (what is calming)
  • Know which interaction style is most comforting (what makes him feel safe)
  • Define sensory sensitivities and develop accommodations
  • Know his strengths, weaknesses, dislikes, and tolerance levels
  • Create a list of supports and best teaching strategies
  • Know which triggers are the most overwhelming and how to quickly soothe these

Learning to help your child with sensory disorders falls into four categories

  1. Organize Nervous System – Incorporate physical activity daily; consult with a doctor about a sensory diet, supplements, and medication (if needed).
  2. Reduce Sensory Overload – Develop sensory accommodations to prevent overwhelm; establish a plan for calming meltdowns.
  3. Reduce Confusion – Develop a routine, with visual strategies for transitions.  Slow down the day, particularly during transitional times, and continually review with the child.  Take changes slowly.
  4. Establish Boundaries – Set clear boundaries for both the child and interactions with others.  Set expectations and work with child on self-advocation (once older) and using accommodations.  Respect his comfort zones.

Teaching Tools

There are many different strategies for helping the SPD child learn to cope with daily stressors.  It is best to choose one too and work at instilling it before moving on to the next.  Select an easy-to-incorporate one first, to help build self-confidence, before tackling more difficult ones.  Over time, these can become a part of the daily routine.

Proprioceptive Activities Vestibular Activities
Wall pushups
Squeeze ball
Run, jump, skip
Lift, carry, push/pull heavy object
Vacuum or sweep
Play leap frog or tug-of-war
Hit, kick, bounce, throw ball
Calm, crawl, scoot, pull up
Roll / knead dough or clay
Wrestle, rough house, pillow fight
Weighted vest, lap pad, or blanket
Jump on trampoline
Swing on swing set or hammock
Run, skip, ride bike
Spin, rotate, swivel chair
Sit & Spin
Play on scooter or wagon
Rock back and forth on rocking chair
Hopscotch, tag, chase
Swingset – slide, seesaw, trapeze
Rock back and forth on therapy ball


Help the child learn to fight perfectionism.  All children, regardless of sensitivity, can benefit from learning to ‘fail to succeed,’ meaning to learn from failure.  Teach the child to focus on effort and attitude, rather than performance.  Explain that ‘good enough’ is still good.  (You can demonstrate this by baking cookies that are purposefully less than perfect, and then having a tasting party!  Are they perfect?  No.  Are they good enough?  Yes.)  Make a game of making mistakes each day.  (Obviously, not life-threatening ones.)  Model how to own the mistake and learn from it.  Play games where there are ‘snags,’ such as Chutes & Ladders.

Relaxation Training

Integrated Learning Strategies has several breathing exercises for teaching children to self-soothe. Check them out at this page.

Attention & Focus

  • You may have to remind him to refocus several times a day, but try to do so without anger or frustration.
  • Break large tasks into smaller bits, and recognize the completion of these smaller tasks.
  • Use charts to help keep them focused on the tasks at hand.

So how does this play out in the real-world?   You can break the cycle of the ABCs of SPD!

Antecedent Behavior Consequence
Asked to do something
Homework assignment
Community event
Hitting self or others
Escape / avoid task at hand

For each of the three antecedents, we’ve outlined possible cognitive or sensory deficits that lead to the behaviors and provided alternative procedures for approaching them.

For example, when asked to complete a task, the child may not understand multiple steps of instruction. By breaking the task into smaller chunks and allowing time to process the request, the child can feel successful.

Deficits Procedures
Delayed processing
Multi-step direction difficulty
Short attention span
Trouble transitioning
Difficulty with uncertainty  

Sensitive to touch / noise / smell Overwhelmed by crowds
Difficulty processing oral directions
Use short phrases and visual cues (c)
Give time to process directions (c)
Break task into smaller chunks (c)
Use cues before transitioning (c)  

Homework assignment
Break homework into small chunks (c)
Do one thing at a time, with breaks (c)  

Community event
Use headphones or ear plugs to block noise (s)
Avoid crowded times (s) Prepare by previewing what will happen (c)

If you have a child with Sensory Processing Disorder, then you already know that normal daily demands can be a bit of a minefield. You’ve probably already developed several strategies, perhaps unwittingly, to help him cope. Homeschooling provides an educational path for your child that allows him or her to grow with accommodations and love. You’ve got this, mama!