“What Are The Qualifications For Homeschooling A Child With Special Needs?” It’s a question I am asked all the time.
“Aren’t you worried that you are keeping him from really getting the help he needs?”
“You don’t want your son to miss out on the professional help the school system provides.”
“How can you possibly think that you are more qualified than someone who has been trained to help with autism and dyslexia?”
All three of these comments came from concerned readers, in three separate emails, over the course of the last three weeks.
All three caused me a little bit of anxiety. A little bit of fear. And then a whole lot of I just wish they could see how good this has been for my boys, how much progress they’ve made, how much this adds to their life.
We have been homeschooling now for almost nine years. We began before we had a single diagnosis for either child, largely because school was a very difficult place for my oldest son. After two years in public school classrooms, it was clear that although he was in the top 1% of second graders in the school district and had perfect grades, my son was miserable every single day. Because he was so advanced academically, he was also not learning anything new at all.
It took seeing him painfully try to fit in, hearing kids tease him about his 6th grade reading level, having meltdowns every morning over having to put on shoes/get out the door, his teacher telling me that she didn’t need my input, the constant threat of bells ringing, crowded cafeterias, PE on the prickly grass – it took all of this to cause me to take a step back and say, maybe this isn’t working.
Homeschooling A Child With Special Needs
The sensory issues my son deals with everyday, are alone enough to make schooling at home a good choice for him. He could hear other student’s pencils writing on papers in classrooms, the whir of the air conditioner, the ticking of the clock. He could smell the sickly, sweet lunch boxes in the corner after lunch, the grass on the bottom of someone’s shoe, the markers used on the dry erase board. My son’s memories of school mostly revolve around the sensory overload he experienced every single day.
A year after we began homeschooling, he was diagnosed with high functioning autism and generalized anxiety disorder. A year later, we learned his brother is profoundly dyslexic.
In both instances, I was asked if, now that we had the diagnoses, I would be putting the boys back in school.
My answer was a very resolved, “No.”
One of the reasons I am so passionate about writing about homeschooling, is because I think there is a serious misconception that homeschooling not a viable option when your child has special needs. Moreover, there is also a perception that a child with special needs is missing out on valuable therapies and resources, when they are not a part of the school system.
And the question I am most often asked in relationship to homeschooling with special needs is this –
What Are The Qualifications For Homeschooling A Child With Special Needs?
Am I even qualified to homeschool my child given his differences and special needs?
My answer is, in short, “Yes.”
So what are the qualifications for homeschooling a child with special needs? Here is my perspective.
1. Training and Education
I do have some training. I actually went to school to be a special education teacher back in the day. I did my student teaching in special education classrooms. I studied book upon book about individualized learning plans, IEP’s, education law, and classroom management. As a result, I know a little more than some about what my children could expect in a special needs classroom. I also know that for my two guys, there is no way that would be an option. Both of my children have genius level IQ’s, but also have serious education deficits. This asychrony (also called ‘twice exceptional’) makes classroom placement difficult. For example, at home, my dyslexic nine-year old is reading at a 1st to 2nd grade level, but is completing 7th grade level science and history. This would be impossible to replicate in a school environment. (Please note: In my state, no special training or education level is required at all to homeschool any child, including those with special needs. Some states do require a little more oversight, but all allow parents to choose to homeschool their children, no matter what the diagnosis. I have some education and training, but it is not necessary or required.)
2. Therapists and Outside Resources
My children do have access to therapists and use outside resources (boy do they). My youngest saw an educational therapist for a year to help lay the groundwork for reading. In addition, I met with her once a month and she taught me the methods she used with him, so that I could replicate them at home. The same is true for occupational therapy and social skills therapies for my oldest. We are by no means doing this alone, and have plenty of experts helping to speak into my children’s overall development.
3. Mom as the Expert
Every single mom I know with unique little ones like mine is an expert. I say this with complete confidence. We read more books, learn more online, ask more questions and try to piece together answers for our children beyond what the school system can provide. Children with special needs, whether in school or not, rely on their parents to be their most passionate advocates. This is true in IEP meetings, doctors’ appointments, therapists offices and parent teacher conferences, without fail. It is also true in homeschooling. I know my boys better than anyone else on the planet. I know what works and what doesn’t work when my oldest did not sleep and was anxious all night long. I know how difficult the last set of sight words were for my youngest, and can take the time to research the best way to help him proceed. I have the time and the passion that would be unrealistic to expect from anyone else.
4. Homeschooling isn’t Always the Best Choice
I don’t think this is the right choice for every family, but I do think it is the right choice for mine. I care deeply about my children’s education. I have put a lot of thought into this. What I have found is that homeschooling is the best way to give them what they need to be successful in life. This is true academically, as well as socially. We have a supportive and loving community of friends who also homeschool. My children benefit from the opportunity to make friends in their own time and at their own pace, as much as they benefit from progressing academically at their own pace. Homeschooling actually gives them a social experience that makes sense for their needs.
Do you meet the qualifications For Homeschooling A Child With Special Needs?
Special education itself in America, began as a way to individualize learning for the children that needed it most. I think there are wonderful ways to do that within the school system. And I think there are wonderful ways to achieve the same objective at home.
The longer we do this, the more progress I see, and the more I learn that I am perfectly qualified to homeschool my children with special needs.
I am so grateful I have the opportunity to do so.
For more information and encouragement:
Homeschooling A Child With ADHD: An Honest Look
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.