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.

WELCOME TO HOLLAND

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.

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