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What Parents Need to Know About Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs: A Look at the Pros and Cons

By Jean Campbell

For 35 years of my career, I worked with children with special needs. So, when Jackie Nunes wrote me and asked if I would accept an article about homeschooling a child with special needs I readily accepted. Jackie is a former pediatric nurse and now a full-time home school educator. She is one of the founding members of wondermoms.org  

photo of Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs

What Parents Need to Know About Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs: A Look at the Pros and Cons

The single best thing about homeschooling my child with special needs has been the high fives. When you have a child with disabilities, you have to throw the typical milestone timetables out the window. Very few skills – walking, talking, potty training, learning letters – come on schedule. Things that are easy for most children take much more perseverance and hard work for our kids.  However, few feelings can match the surge of pride when they finally master a new skill. In our house, we celebrate every victory, large or small, with a round of high fives.

Homeschooling wasn’t an easy decision for my family. It was a financial sacrifice. Then there were all the worries about whether I had the knowledge, resources, and temperament to do it well. There were a lot of pros and cons to consider. At the end of the day, we knew it was the right decision for us.

If you’re thinking about taking the homeschooling plunge, it’s important to weigh both the benefits and disadvantages. Here are some of the things we learned along the way.

Advantages of Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs  

The benefits of homeschooling are about flexibility, and being able to teach in a way that’s best for your child.

  • Learn at your child’s speed: With homeschooling, you set the pace. You can go as quickly or as slowly as your child needs. If your child has strengths in a particular area, you can move through it faster. At the same time, if your child has trouble with something, take your time and try different ways to make it click. If your child is obsessed with trains or dinosaurs, try connecting it to that. If music or movement helps, go for it.
  • You control the learning environment: Kids with special needs are often either sensory seekers or sensory avoiders. When setting up your home school environment, you can tailor it to your child’s needs and preferences. Make your classroom soothing and quiet, or incorporate bright colors, an indoor swing, and a miniature trampoline. Create a space that works for both of you.
  • Social interaction is monitored: While it takes a bit more effort to schedule get-togethers, parents who home school can keep a much closer eye on their child’s social experiences. Homeschooling reduces the risk of your child getting bullied.
  • Learn around a schedule: Homeschooling may also be beneficial if your child has many different doctor or therapy appointments on their schedule. Parents who home school are able to fit lessons in between appointments or move schooling to another part of the day. If your child is having a hard time with something, you can take breaks to prevent frustration.
  • School is less overwhelming: Children who are home schooled don’t have to deal with the everyday stresses of traditional school. They can focus much more on their learning. Public schools bring a plethora of sounds, sights, and smells. Pair those with having to deal with throngs of fellow students and anyone would start to get stressed. Being able to better control your child’s learning environment helps your child learn without distractions.
  • Kids learn constantly: With all of their quirks and differences, kids with special needs can be especially tricky to “figure out.” Teachers are heroes, but they are often overworked and underpaid with a room full of kids to educate. A teacher may not have time to find just the right way to introduce a concept so he understands. This is one area where parents have a huge advantage. Parents know how their children learn best. They often find “teachable moments” outside of the regular school day to connect schoolwork to life.

Disadvantages of Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs

You  will find that in addition to the advantages of homeschooling a child with special needs, there are some drawbacks. Here are some to consider:

  • Not enough structure: The biggest advantage of homeschooling can also be one of the biggest drawbacks: flexibility. Many kids thrive on routines, and that can be especially true for children with special needs. It’s hard to recreate the rhythms of a traditional school routine when you teach at home. Some kids find it hard to distinguish between learning time and play time. To provide some structure to your days, write a loose schedule and keep it hung up where your child can see it. It’s also a good idea to dedicate one room in your home to school only. Once your child is in that room, no matter the time of day, she knows that it’s time to learn.
  • No nurse: Being home schooled means your child won’t have a nurse to go to if they get hurt or aren’t feeling well. Because of this, many parents, who home school, elect to learn basic first aid skills. They become CPR certified before starting to teach their kids at home.
  • Less socialization: Children who are home schooled often don’t socialize with kids their age as much as they would in a traditional schooling environment. To combat this, parents often network with the homeschooling community in their city to meet other homeschoolers and their kids.
  • Finding outside professionals: Public school districts usually employ various counselors and therapists to see children who have diagnosed learning difficulties. Depending on where you live, your child may loose access to these professionals if you withdraw from the school system. Parents need to research what their rights ar,e and other ways to get assistance for their child.
  • Access to art and sports facilities: Public schools usually have accessible facilities including gymnasiums, art rooms, music rooms, science labs, auditoriums, media centers, and sports fields. Those are hard to replicate at home. However, you can sign your child up for after-school activities. He can join a youth sports league, or participate in Special Olympics program. You can keep a well-stocked craft cupboard at home.

Is Homeschooling Right for Your Child?

homeschooling your special needs child

As with anything, homeschooling has both benefits and drawbacks. When you have all the information about the pros and cons, you will be able to make the best decision for your family.

Before homeschooling, the hours my daughter spent in school were largely a mystery. Besides the odd note from the teacher, I had almost no insight into how she spent her days. I worried about everything. How much attention was she getting?  Was she was eating her lunch? Was anyone bullying her?

Homeschooling isn’t easy and it may not be right for everyone. But I don’t wonder about my daughter’s days anymore. Now I know. And it’s pretty awesome.

Pocket

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