I have a friend who has been homeschooling her 14-year-old autistic son since he was eight years old. She is an amazing teacher and has dedicated her fulltime schedule to educating her son and working with other learning challenged children. At the end of this article, you’ll find her excellent “10 Lessons from Experience.”
In these days of budget cuts and political battles, public schools often have a tough time meeting the specialized needs of children with learning differences. More and more parents of children with special educational needs are turning to homeschooling as a viable alternative to a public-school setting.
If you’re a parent with a special needs child, you know how difficult it is for the school system to create a curriculum adaptation or a suitable learning environment for your child’s particular learning needs. You’ve probably also asked yourself if it’s even feasible to homeschool your special needs child.
The good news is that homeschooling special needs students is legal in all fifty states. And there is no requirement for an advanced degree in special education to homeschool your child. Many curriculum options available today provide excellent solutions for teaching opportunities in this specialized education area.
CHOOSING A SUITABLE CURRICULUM
When searching for an appropriate special needs curriculum that will work in a homeschool situation, it’s important to keep in mind a few basic qualifiers:
- Choose a program focused on reading, writing and math that builds on the skills your student already has rather than automatically starting from a “square one” level.
- Be sure the program allows you to identify and place your child at a learning level that will allow for independent progress. Especially in the areas of math and language studies.
- It’s important that the learning program you select encourages your student to participate in an active learning process that includes independent exploration and discovery.
- The course path you choose should focus squarely on allowing your child to proceed at their own individualized learning pace.
- Most important – choose a curriculum that is designed to balance learning with fun!
Special needs children are often working from a base of short attention spans, difficulty with context processing tasks and other learning disabilities. To address these broad requirements, you should be looking for a curriculum product that includes:
- Interactive media lessons,
- readily usable writing tools, and, ideally,
- text-to-speech learning capability.
ADVANTAGES OF SPECIAL NEEDS HOMESCHOOLING
The website kidsconnect.com includes a great section talking about the pros and cons of homeschooling for special needs children. Here’s a summary of their best thoughts for the “pro” side of your considerations:
- Scheduling flexibility makes it easy to work around your child’s outside appointments.
- Your teaching style can be flexible and adaptable. You can adjust your style to the needs of a customized curriculum.
- The one-to-one attention you can provide your child cannot be matched in any other school setting.
- Homeschooling can create a relatively stress-free educational atmosphere. Many special needs students have difficulty working in groups of people where social interaction is a necessity.
- No one understands your special needs child quite like you do.
- Unless you’re a certified special needs teacher, you will not have immediate access to trained support.
- As the parent/teacher, you will be working in an atmosphere that is more flexible and less structured than what would be available in a brick-and-mortar school atmosphere. “If you can’t provide a consistent day-to-day routine for your child’s education, you could end up hindering their progress.”
- The high level of responsibility inherent in taking over the education of a special needs child can be very stressful for the parent/teacher. This extreme responsibility should not be taken lightly when considering whether to homeschool your child.
(SOURCE: The Pros and Cons of Homeschooling For Children With Special Needs (kidskonnect.com)).
10 LESSONS FROM EXPERIENCE
In the first paragraph of this article, I promised to list my friend’s excellent “10 Lessons from Experience.” Here they are:
- When you begin homeschooling, do lots of outings. Got to the zoo. Take field trips. Bring educational topics together in interesting and fun ways. Relate learning to real world experiences.
- Help your child learn how to learn – help them gain confidence by giving them independent work they’re capable of doing.
- Tie learning topics to other things your child is interested in – use “cross purpose” learning.
- Don’t teach directly. If you want your special needs child to learn how to take notes, model note taking on a white board or chalkboard. And remember – it’s not just watching. Model, and then ask your child to mimic what you’re doing. You should provide the base line performance of the task, then let the child have the option to make it work for him or her. Your child will learn by watching.
- Especially with autistic children, be careful of the “gamification” learning model. Your child’s anxiety and stress levels may be increased by creating a win/lose or timed learning situation.
- Pay attention to your child’s Occupational Therapy (OT) professional. Notice situations where your child could use additional help and ask the OT expert to help you.
- Feel free to provide helpful criticism of your child’s work – but only if there’s some kind of learning attached to the criticism. Always point out areas where they did a really good job and then offer something like: “Here’s what we can work on for the next time,” or “Oh, good, you remembered to do….”
- Give your special needs child a say in their own education. Allow them to prioritize the order in which they would like to learn things. Give them as much choice as possible.
- Don’t talk about your child’s special needs as a “disability.” Just treat it as a different character trait – “Some people do some things better than others,” etc. Ask your child to tell you how you can help them.
- When “going over” your child’s work, don’t use a red pencil. Never ‘X’ anything out. Mark the paper “Let’s take another look at this” whenever possible. Allow the child to correct their own work. Your role is to give assistance and point them in the right direction.
ONE MORE HELPFUL TIP
For access to eight great curriculum products, visit https://globalstudentnetwork.com/. GSN has qualified educators available to help you choose the curriculum best suited to address your student’s special education needs.