Creating a calm homeschool environment focused on your special needs child is very different from the effort required to establish a basic homeschool classroom. Teaching students with learning, behavioral, mental health, medical, or intellectual disabilities requires attention to a level of detail far beyond anything that might be created for a basic K-12 homeschool experience. Important factors to consider might include:
- Does your classroom set-up provide the right kind of environment for your special needs child?
- If there will be more than one special needs child in the classroom, how will your child be affected?
- What is the appropriate way to handle disruptions in a special needs homeschool classroom?
- Do you have training in teaching special needs kids and, if not, will you hire a trained teacher?
- How will you keep your special need(s) children engaged in the education process?
The tough part of creating a positive homeschool environment for your special needs child is that you, as the parent/teacher, will be responsible for the careful selection of appropriate curriculum to address that child’s unique circumstances. Because there is no specific curriculum you will be required to use, you have the option of employing elements from a variety of curriculums and choosing from workbooks and materials specifically suited to your child’s learning style. Neither state nor federal laws require the use of any particular curriculum, so a parent is free to customize an educational approach and choose what their child responds to and enjoys and select whichever materials most effectively help their student learn.
A general rule of thumb for providing educational options for your homeschooled special needs child is that a multi-media approach is usually a good choice. Children with short attention spans respond well to frequent changes in the style of information delivery, so students with dyslexia, ADHD or other learning disabilities tend to do well in an atmosphere that offers audiovisuals, a range of learner-friendly software options and text-to-speech opportunities.
The good news is that, in many states, special needs children who are homeschooled are eligible to receive some services, such as speech therapy, from their local school district. However, some states provide no services for homeschooled special needs students. In states where homeschools are identified as private schools, students are eligible for a minimal amount of special funds from the public school budget – but the decision related to how the funds will be expended is left totally to the discretion of each school district.
According to the U.S. Department of Education website (www.ed.gov), “The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation. IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children and youth with disabilities. Infants and toddlers with disabilities (birth-2) and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth (ages 3-21) receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.”
Unfortunately, there is no across-the-board law or requirement stating which services must be provided for homeschooled special needs children in all fifty states. For example, Arkansas education law states in Section 6-15-507 of the Arkansas Code, that “children identified under IDEA as having disabilities are eligible for services to the same extent as private school students.” Indiana considers homeschools to be the same as private schools, so special needs children have access to the same special services as do public school students, while North Caroline statutes (Section 115C-563), define home schools as “non-public,” so the state has “no duty under federal law to provide special education and related services to homeschool students.”
Finally, according to Section 612 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), local school districts are required to provide funding for a certain level of services to students not registered in public schools. This does not mean that every school district will provide these services to every homeschooled special needs child. School districts provide such services on their own terms and those terms sometimes include a high “red tape factor” and might require your child to have a “documented disability,” which includes providing documentation from an independent evaluator, or your child may be required to present an Individualized Service Plan (ISP) created by the public school or an Individual Education Plan (IEP) that was created for your child when they were registered in a public school.
The overall message is: take the time to research and know the homeschooling laws for special needs students in your state. Once you have chosen the needs-appropriate curriculum for your child and have established a calm homeschool environment suitable for your child’s special learning requirements, contact your local school district to discover exactly which additional services are available to supplement the homeschool classroom experience.