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.
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
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
The more heightened and dysregulated the
emotions, the more difficulty the student will have filtering out sensory
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
Agitated, anxious, or irritable
Poor tolerance for frustration
Impulsive, with poor self-control
Repetitive, uses self-stimulation
Tunes out or withdraws
Has tantrums and meltdowns (beyond the toddler
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
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.
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
Know his strengths, weaknesses, dislikes, and
Create a list of supports and best teaching
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
Organize Nervous System – Incorporate physical activity daily; consult with a doctor about a sensory diet, supplements, and medication (if needed).
Reduce Sensory Overload – Develop sensory accommodations to prevent overwhelm; establish a plan for calming meltdowns.
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.
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.
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.
Stretching 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.
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!
Asked to do something Homework assignment Community event
Hitting self or others Screaming Hiding
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.
Cognitive Delayed processing Multi-step direction difficulty Short attention span Trouble transitioning Difficulty with uncertainty
Sensory Sensitive to touch / noise / smell Overwhelmed by crowds Difficulty processing oral directions
Request 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!