What Are The Qualifications For Homeschooling A Child With Special Needs?

“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.

What Are The Qualifications For Homeschooling A Child With Special Needs?

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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:

101 Reasons To Consider Homeschooling Your Child With Special Needs

Homeschooling A Child With ADHD: An Honest Look

The Pros and Cons Of Homeschooling A Child with Special Needs

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  1. Thank you for posting this! We have 2 kids, one in public school and one we have been homeschooling. The homeschooling one is 5 and has sensory problems, seizures, multiple severe food allergies and we knew it was best to home-school her. She is very smart but that the pubic school would not be a good fit. We know what she needs and how to work the day so we can get everything accomplished. I am so glad that there is someone else who has been in this type of situation.

    1. Thank you so much, Jessica. I am so glad you are finding the solution that works best for your family. I think you said it well – “We know how to work the day.” Sometimes I think that is one of the greatest benefits for our kids.

  2. Ok… this might sound ugly to some who have a specialized teaching degree….. some of us Mom’s a better qualified to teach our own “exceptional” children better than a perdon with a Doctorate …. heck I’ve even taught some of the specialist a thing or two…pediatrician also. I’m in the same boat moving forward…my little guy is the top in his class and while it has taken the rest of the class to learn 25 sight words…he’s not given any new ones or challenged. Partly because he doesn’t fit the “whole package” of gifted with sensory and behavior. You have to have a “perfect” child for that in Public school. Don’t mean to offend but yep I have 5 in Public School with the 5th being ASD… and looking at pulling him out. I also used to work with SPED kids in Public school developing programs for them. I also am a twin but my twin is a man with Down Syndrome… love following you!! Sometimes those readers might not have an”exceptional” person in their life…so it’s hard to understand decisions we make.

    1. Thank you for sharing your experience. I appreciate your kind words and your being here!
      I will say that I know some educators who are amazing and go out of their way for kids just like mine everyday. As a parent, we just have to make the decision that is best for our own and it sounds like you are doing just that!

  3. Thank you so much for writing this refreshingly honest blog! You are spreading a lot of hope and positive energy by sharing your story. Please do not doubt that what you are doing is the right thing. After all, what could be more productive than helping your children survive AND thrive despite some of the very difficult challenges your children are facing. Now, in regard to those questions you have received by some of those who may doubt your choice to homeschool, I suspect that these critics may be concerned about outcomes. Well, there really have not been any well-designed, robust long-term outcome studies proving that traditional schooling produces superior outcomes compared to schooling provided by caring mothers (or fathers or any other caring person) whose biggest goal in life is to see her children succeed and achieve happiness and peace in life. Training alone does not guarantee superior outcomes. In fact, how do we know that the often severe stress that children with autism or sensory disorders may experience in the traditional school system is not causing or amplifying anxiety disorders? It has been well-described that chronic stress and the associated chronically increased levels of stress hormones, like cortisol and norepinephrine, may cause structural changes in the brain. For example, dendritic connections may become reduced in the prefrontal cortex (the prefrontal cortex is important in mood and impulse regulation) and may increase in the amygdala (the amygdala plays a significant role in the “fight or flight” response to stress). Even the size of certain brain structures may change with chronic exposure to severe stress. In my opinion, it may suggest some degree of lack of theory of mind and even empathy to think that some children with autism or a sensory processing disorder would not experience significant stress every single day in the traditional school system. We really do not know that traditional schooling and daily exposure to that type of stress actually helps children learn to tolerate these situations better in the future. Maybe, some children will just learn to dislike school, lose self-esteem, and become anxious and depressed. Now, some children will benefit from traditional schooling, but some clearly do not. Until scientific evidence shows that traditional schooling is truly beneficial in terms of outcomes with respect to all children, I do not think anybody should look down on a mother’s instinct. If traditional schooling felt wrong for your child, it probably was. If your child seems happy and seems to progress, then I would just keep plugging ahead. Help your children succeed, help them make wonderful childhood memories rather than memories they wish they could forget. When a child has to cry every day in school, something is wrong. If they are learning and if they seem happy and they are smiling and laughing rather than crying and acting out every day, then you are doing the right thing. Never look back! Wishing you all the best!

  4. Thank you so much for your wisdom and encouragement, Janet. I really appreciate it.

  5. 6 more school days until I get to keep my newly-placed-with-us-for-adoption 5yo daughter home full time along with the other 11 children in our family. We’ll be under serious scrutiny by the Children’s Division to see if she can “catch up” emotionally, socially, and cognitively to her age group peers. I don’t homeschool to “catch up” to anyone, rather I homeschool to help the children become themselves fully at whatever age/stage they are, so I’m terribly nervous about having the state looking over my shoulder at everything we’re doing. I’ve already been told she’ll be given tests/evaluations every 6 months to see if what we’re doing at home is working. I’d never have asked for this, except that our girl has such a hard time going to school each day, and I love her, and I want to help her feel safe, happy, and loved in our home.

    I’m bookmarking this post for encouragement in the days to come. 🙂

    1. Erica Sanchez says:

      Oh, Anne, how difficult! We adopted our number 9 who has Downs. She just aged out of the Early Start program with our local school district. The services we received through them were very good and we are so grateful, but we we declined to stay for the next level which would mean her going to school. After her big IEP meeting last week, we realized that for the first time in three years, we were free of any oversight – no teachers, social workers, lawyers, agencies, county offices! An amazing feeling. We’ve entered our 16th year of homeschooling and I always knew we would homeschool her as well. Kimberly at Pondered in My Heart has homeschooled her gal with Downs.

      Shawna, your post is excellent. I also loved your interview with Pam Barnhill at Ed Snapshots! Such good stuff! You are a loving, clear voice for schooling our special needs kids at home. What you are doing is and will be a blessing to so many. Thank you! I think we homeschool in the same state. 🙂

      1. Oh Anne, that must be so daunting. Please, please, please – let me encourage you. You are doing a wonderful work with your new daughter – in school or not. I am praying right this minute for your heart, as you make the transition to having her home, and dealing with all of the oversight. I am rooting for you!!!

        And Erica – wow. Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. You seriously made my entire day! Are you California???

        1. Erica Sanchez says:

          Yes, San Diego.

  6. Good for you, sticking to your guns. I think special needs students benefit even more from homeschooling, because only you know your child best and have the patience and determination to help him learn.

  7. Gillian Percy says:

    I just wanted to add, I also am a Special Education Teacher. By no means does that make me the “expert” on any child. It just means I know a lot about some of the law and procedures to doing IEP’s etc— which are not necessarily what helps your child– but is simply a legal document that allows us to help him/ her and hopefully gets us extra funding to pay for extra services, assistive devices, personnel, etc. I have a lot of generalized training on how to help a wide variety of problems children may have learning in school. I may not necessarily have the exact training your child needs with their specific set of problems. Sometimes there is a huge disconnect between what would actually be best for your child and what the school financially, legally and personnel wise are actually able to provide. Sometimes no matter how much I work with classroom teachers, they may not “get” how to help your child. If your child is thriving in a homeschool environment– don’t let anyone “guilt” you into putting them back into the system. Just keeping looking for all the progress— across ALL the domains: academic, social, emotional and behavioural- as along as your child is still moving forward, then you are achieving success.

  8. Thank you for this post. I have been asked these same questions in regards to our son who has a rare chromosome disorder. I also wish they could see how far he has come! Even though I can see it, the questions always give that moment of doubt. Thank you for your encouraging words!

    1. You are so very welcome, Mandy. I am grateful for your words!

  9. Thank you for sharing. I want to share a struggle with you that I don’t hear about often in the homeschooling world. I hear a lot about special needs kids with high IQs, gifted learners with various needs. I have 6 children, 4 adopted. 2 of my adopted children have a low IQ, just a few points above Cognitively Impaired. All 4 of them have various diagnoses, including PTSD, dyslexia, discalcula, dysgraphia, vision issues (eyes not working together or tracking properly) and more. We can’t say that “we are making progress” as the reason we should keep homeschooling. We have devoted an inordinate amount of time, money, and resources to various interventions over the last 5 years, only to hear of another intervention that “might” help if we would be willing to invest in it. I don’t think my children would be making progress in a school setting either, and I am starting to come to the conclusion their progress and their “success” will not look like a typical student. Honestly, I am grieving this loss and really discouraged. I haven’t found many people in my in-person community or on the online world who have much input into these types of situations. If you know of any on the web, please point me in that direction.

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