Homeschooling a special needs child is not for the faint of heart but it is doable. To make a good decision, it helps to clarify some things in your mind. If it was strictly a question of education, the answer would be easy. In homeschool, your child has one-on-one instruction in every class with complete flexibility in how fast or slow you cover material. You can focus on the things that are important to you and your child’s future. It is a truly individualized education.
The problem is that homeschool does not happen in a vacuum. You may have other people in your life that need you like a spouse, other children, older parents or others who depend on you. You may have a job, a house that’s gotten out of control, volunteer work or any number of things that divide your attention. Or you may be living in survival mode where adding one more thing to your plate will be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. (If you are in survival mode, it’s probably best to take care of yourself first, even if you decide that homeschool is best for your child.)
Below are some things to consider if you want to homeschool your special needs child. I’ve tried to give you some of my experiences to help you see the possibilities. These are questions that most homeschoolers grapple with to get their schools up and running. You don’t have to answer yes to every one of these to build a great educational experience for your child.
Related to your child:
- Can your child play independently for short periods of time so you can get things done or work?
When you do a short block of school work with your child, you can often give them something to do independently or let them play so you can spend a block of time doing things you need to get done. You can do this throughout the day.
- Can your child do any classwork independently?
You might be surprised at how much your child can do once you start teaching. You can also gather self-correcting toys and activities to keep them occupied.
- Does your child go to sleep early or sleep late in the morning?
This is when you can find time to do other things like work or relax.
Related to education:
- Do you think your child will receive a better education at home?
My observation has been that for kids in contained classrooms, my local schools only get the kids to about a fourth grade level. When you homeschool, you don’t have to slow down for a whole class. You can move further and faster with your child.
- Will your child receive a better educational experience at home?
School can be very stressful for our children. There are communication issues, social issues, sensory issues and the stress of the academic work. When stress levels are reduced, more learning takes place.
- Does your child have medical, sensory or dietary issues that affect the school day?
Managing a special diet at school can be almost impossible, especially if the school staff is not super careful. Medication and therapy schedules can be tricky, too.
- Do you feel your child will accept you as teacher?
In most cases, the answer is yes but you will need to set boundaries as you take on the teacher role.
- Can you make a provision for your child’s therapy?
Most schools do not provide Related Services such as therapy to homeschoolers once a child reaches public school age. Before that age, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that schools find at risk kids and provide services. You may have to work through a private therapist or by learning how to do therapy home programs.
- Are there sports leagues or Special Olympics programs in your area to provide some social interaction with peers?
For some reason, people seem to be really worried about homeschool and socialization. Academic institutions are anomalies in society where peers are grouped together for extended periods of time throughout the day. That is not the case in most other parts of society. Once you are out of school, you interact with all age groups regularly. Socialization happens no matter where your child spends the day. When at home, make the most of it by training in manners and etiquette.
- Do you believe you can be a good teacher?
My guess is that you have been teaching your child for years. You’ve sat in on therapy sessions and done therapy homework. You’ve labored over teaching life skills that developed oh-so-slowly. That part of teaching is established. The other skills can be learned as you go.
Related to your home life:
- Is your spouse in agreement about homeschooling?
If not, work toward agreement, or at least acceptance. You will need the support to get through the school year.
- Will your spouse be contributing anything to the educational process or providing respite for you at other times so you get a break?
When you homeschool, you have your child 24/7. If your child is at a difficult stage, it can be really rough. Getting a few hours a week for a break should be part of your homeschool schedule. If you are a single parent, try to find a way to schedule some respite. One way is to go out after your child is asleep (assuming he sleeps well). That way, the sitter has less responsibility and might give you more options on who will sit for you.
- Are you willing to spend some time planning your homeschool each week?
Weekends are great for this. If you tend to have busy weekends, you can shorten the school day on Friday to do planning. At first, the planning part will go slow. Once you learn how to pace the lessons for your child, planning becomes much easier.
- Do you have other children that need care during the day?
This will cut into your school time or may create interruptions. Some special needs children have a hard time regaining focus when there are lots of interruptions. Learning to balance all the needs of the day can be tricky.
Related to your work:
- Does your work require availability during specific hours?
If so, can someone tend to your child during that time if a problem arises or do you have the flexibility to do that yourself?
- Does your work require intense concentration for long periods?
Can you do those tasks while your child is asleep?
- Is your spouse willing that you work at night sometimes for things you can’t get done during the day?
If evening is usually when you spend time with your spouse, is he willing to give up some of that time?
- Can you and your spouse adjust your work schedules to make it easier to manage your homeschool?
You may find that without all the classroom management required in a public school, your teaching time for academics is only a few hours a day and the rest is therapy or life skills that can be done outside of “seat time.” Sometimes, just shifting your schedules a little bit can create a window of time to do homeschool.
- Have you thought about doing school outside of regular school hours?
You could do therapy and life skills during the evenings and then do academic subjects on the weekend. You can also work a schedule like colleges where you only do certain subjects on certain days. If you are in a state where they require a certain number of hours, this may not work for you.
- Do you have other children who can help during the day?
Some days I would have my four older children take 15-minute turns caring for their sister. If I need more time I might stretch it to 30 minutes each. For some of the boys, I found it helped if I directed what they did during the time such as play a particular game, do a puzzle or watch a particular TV show.
How Do I Make the Decision?
It is not an easy decision to make. If your child requires a lot of care, the respite you get while your child is at school may be what you need. There is no shame in delegating education to the school. If that comes with much-needed respite, that might be the right answer for you and your child.
If you feel the schools are not doing a stellar job for your child but you decide to keep her in school, you can always do what is called after schooling. You can get the best arrangement for your child possible through the IEP process, then teach whatever you didn’t get there on your own. You can use weekends and summers to fill in around what the school does
Ultimately, you will know you’ve made the right decision when you see how your child responds to his circumstances. If your child is progressing academically, it’s a win. Is your child acquiring life skills that will give maximum independence in adulthood? You are on the right track. Is the school arrangement building your relationship with your child or pushing you further apart? Relational closeness should occur with either choice. These three things are the markers of educational success.