Home Schooling Your Special Needs Child
Many special needs children are homeschooled. There are many advantages to this approach: it offers you a lot of flexibility in setting up a learning environment conducive to your child's style, and it allows you the freedom to adapt lessons and curriculum to fit your child's specific needs. However, there are certainly a number of challenges as well. Here are a few considerations to take into account when homeschooling your special needs child:
Make Sure You Stay Informed
There is absolutely no need for you to figure it all out yourself. There are a wealth of resources online to help you learn everything you need to know for a successful school year.
One thing to find out is whether your child needs assistive technology. The answer to this question will vary greatly depending on the nature of your child's disability. For some students, prepackaged curriculum may work perfectly for their learning style, while others may need to have the lessons adapted, or have a device to help translate the information presented. Many students use computerized talkers to help them communicate, others need special software to help them write correctly, still others need very personalized interventions designed specifically for them. Talk to your child's physician and therapists to see what they recommend, and see what state-sponsored services are available to you. Also, don't be shy about taking advantage of free-trial periods on assistive technology, to make sure you find the right match for your child.
Many parents are anxious because they don't know how to start, what they need to prepare, and how to go about teaching certain subjects in a way which their child will be receptive to. If you are feeling this way, remember: there have been many others before you who have already gone through this, and many of them have written helpful books, articles, and guides to help you. Make sure you do plenty of research ahead of time. Read scholarly articles and blog posts about homeschooling as it relates to your child's specific disability. Talk to your child's educational therapists, speech pathologists, and anyone else who might be working with your child. Before you know it, you'll have a mountain of information and resources, and you'll be able to choose what works best for you and your family.
Research Your Child's Disability
"Special needs" is, of course, a very broad term. In order to best serve your child, you need to be well informed about the specifics of your child's condition. Autism, for instance, will require a very different approach than, say, mild intellectual disability.
It's your responsibility to learn about your child's particular diagnosis. What are the biological factors? How do those factors manifest psychologically and behaviorally? What practices have shown to be effective in teaching children with this diagnosis? What resources will be necessary to carry out those practices? Remember, you're not the first person who has attempted to do this, and there's a wealth of helpful information available online, at your local library, and through talking to the trained professionals who work with your child.
Connect With Others Like You
Online forums are a great way to stay connected with other families who are homeschooling a special needs child. Having a forum to ask questions and receive helpful advice can be an absolute lifesaver, and can also be a valuable source of emotional support as well. A quick online search will reveal a list of forums specifically devoted to families who are homeschooling special needs children.
You may also want to find a local support group that meets face-to-face in your community. These groups offer a priceless opportunity to make friends, learn about what other families are doing and how it's working for them, and to trade, share, buy, or sell useful curriculum. If you can't find a local support group that fits your style, start your own. Chances are, there are more families out there like you who will eagerly join up.
The laws concerning homeschooling special needs children vary in each state, and it's your responsibility to know those laws and teach in compliance with them. The resources listed above are a great place to start: the online forums and support groups that you joined will be able to point you in the right direction, and the professionals you work with will undoubtedly be helpful as well.
If your child is receiving any state-sponsored services, he'll need to have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). This is a plan outlining specific educational goals for the upcoming year, and is very useful in measuring and documenting your child's progress. This website is an excellent resource for learning more about IEPs and their requirements: http://www.ldonline.org/indepth/iep/iep_guidance.html.
Take Care of Yourself
Homeschooling a special needs child is a demanding and stressful task at times. Often, devoted parents work and worry themselves into a frenzy and experience the classic symptoms of burnout: fatigue, illness, anxiety, stress, etc. Don't let this happen to you. Although burnout is usually the result of good intentions, you're not helping your child by working yourself sick.
To avoid burnout, make healthy eating and rest high priorities in your life. You may also consider such activities as yoga and meditation, which are proven to relieve stress and tension in the body as well as the mind. Make sure, also, that you take time for yourself and your spouse. Go on dates together, get out of the house, have some fun. Don't feel guilty about it, either; it's a very healthy thing to do, which will ultimately benefit your child and his education.
It may all seem overwhelming, but there's no need to worry too much. Just take things one step at a time, seek out help when you need, and trust yourself. You can do it!