by Lisa Blackstone
I must preface this piece to let you know that I am not an expert (even with a degree and 12 years teaching children with special needs in the public school setting). I am only an expert on my own children, with and without a diagnosis or label. I am THE expert in their needs. I know them better than any professional. I am passionate about having their needs met in the best manner available. No professional can match the commitment that I have to my children.
I want my children to be the best that they can be. Homeschooling is an option for thoughtful consideration, but NOT necessarily the best option for all families. The family unit as a whole must be considered when making a decision of such magnitude.
Benefits of Homeschooling
The benefits for the home-educated child with special needs are numerous:
1. They receive the one-on-one teaching that will enable them to grow in academic and functional skills. This cannot be matched in the public school setting.
2. The program is designed for them by the person who knows their needs intimately. You can create a balanced program that does not sacrifice academic skills for life skills or vice versa.
3. Your child can learn at his own pace to allow his needs to be met properly. Concepts can be taught with the repetition necessary for mastery using a wide variety of materials, ensuring success appropriate to the child’s needs and developmental age.
4. Your children can make mistakes where it is safe to do so: in their own home.
5. Children who are schooled at home are not limited to socializing with only their peers. They can and tend to socialize with children and adults of all ages for a wide variety of experiences.
6. Character development and behavior issues can be dealt with by providing an environment where limits and consequences are consistently enforced.
7. The health benefits can be tremendous. Children exposed to therapy in group settings and in the public school system are constantly exposed to every viral/bacterial illness present in the community. Homeschooled children with special needs can avoid many of these common illnesses, which are always present, until they are older and better able to tolerate them. There is plenty of time in our children’s lives to build immunity. Though primarily a nuisance to typically developing children without special needs, these common bacterial/viral illnesses are a major concern for our children with special needs. These frequent infections are not conducive to a productive learning environment. Even minor illnesses affect our children’s ability to learn and process information. I decided to homeschool my son after he would go to school for a week and then be hospitalized for three weeks every month for almost a year because of common illnesses.
8. Schooling at home provides structure even through numerous appointments and long hospital stays. There are no doctor’s notes that have to be obtained, and no fights trying to get your school district to provide adequate homebound or hospital instruction.
9. No IEP meetings!!! No hurdles to try to get your child’s needs met. I remember trying to get my son a communication device at five years old, but the school district wouldn’t work with me until he had mastered yes and no cards. Through private therapies, he was able to get a communication device and he loves it; he would have never mastered yes and no cards before having a communication device. We also constantly had issues with getting homebound education when he was too sick to go to school. We were offered 30 minutes every month because of the lack of teachers to provide homebound education. I found that removing the frustration of dealing with a broken system really helped in our case.
1. Find out what the procedures are for homeschooling in your area. You can Google (i.e. “Homeschooling in South Carolina”) and quickly find links to what you need to know. I joined what we call a third party option. I pay a small fee and agree to the terms and get a certificate that shows I am homeschooling my child.
2. Research homeschooling co-ops in your area. Many offer classes for things you may feel uncertain about teaching (especially in the middle and high school areas). Many do field trips together and share or sell curricula that they don’t need any more.
3. Take your time in deciding what you need to school at home. Do you need a curriculum? You have to cover the basics, but you can be creative about it. I look online for free lesson plans in what I want to teach and don’t spend much on curricula for my son. For my daughter I use a variety of curricula and design a program. You can also find all-inclusive packages that have homeschooling manuals and tell you what to teach. These are usually expensive, but helpful if you feel you need some guidance. There are also online programs that you can utilize.
4. Document, document, document. I can’t stress this enough. I even created an Individualized Home School Education Plan. Once again, Google “IEP” to get an idea of what is included in these. Then make your own template. It can be as simple or complex as you want it to be. At least set up goals for the year and write them down.
5. Find out what a typical child would be able to do or know. My 12-year-old son functions at preschool level, so I know how far behind he is and I can set up goals that are challenging but not impossible. I remember being thrilled when my son at eight years old was able to stack four blocks. This is a preschool child’s typical development, but it took him years to master and that’s okay. It is also a good idea to go to your state’s department of education website and find out what they expect an average child to know and what topics to cover in a year.
6. Keep a portfolio of your child’s accomplishments. I don’t use a lot of worksheets, but I do take tons of pictures and short videos because what we do is hands on. At the end of the year, I use a free online program and combine the pictures and video clips into a short montage. I keep this as documentation of what my child accomplished. To save on clutter, I only keep the worksheets or art related things that show mastery of a skill. I use a pizza box (I asked for a clean one), which holds even big projects.
7. Decide how you are going to grade your child. My daughter with severe ADHD is graded on the same scale that our local school district uses. My son with severe Intellectual Disabilities is graded on his goals with words such as Progressing (P), Slowly Progressing (SP), Mastered (M).
8. You don’t have to homeschool all of your children. Decide what the best option for each child is. Similarly, you don’t have to homeschool forever. My oldest daughter with severe ADHD is now in 11th grade and she prefers schooling at home. My son is almost 13 and he started going to a public segregated school the last half of last year. Since his immune system was a lot stronger and he was getting into transition age (transition develops what kind of job skills he might have), we thought public school could really benefit him.