Homeschooling a Special Needs Child, So Many Questions

I joined in a wonderful Twitter chat this morning hosted by TheCoffeeKlatch and jenhsmomsp2 of www.speacialneedshomeschooling.com. The topic of the morning was why homeschooling is so popular among homeschooling families.

There were some great questions asked and many heartfelt truthful answers from the participants. I would like to go back through some of the questions here and share with you, my readers, our take on homeschooling as a special needs family.

First, I want to give you a brief refresher of our special needs child, Baby Bear, age 8.

  • At the age of 15mo he began to violently bang his head until he would bruise and bleed and throw hour long uncontrollable fits of rage showing the first signs of sensory issues: Doctor handed us a pamphlet on discipline.
  • 4 years old psychiatrist at University in Gainesville finally agreed to evaluate him after his violence was being focused on his 2 year old sister and speech was still lacking for better words, so we made the 2 hour drive: Diagnosis of ODD (oppositional defiance disorder) given and family therapy suggested
  • 6 years old, still unable to recite his address, the abc’s or a simple nursery rhyme yet gifted advanced in other areas while still have fits of rage provoked by certain events we visit the doctors again: Doctor advises based on preliminary evaluation that Baby Bear shows signs of high functioning Autism with ADHD tendencies and sensory issues, but also informs us that he recently lost 2 patients after receiving official diagnosis due to the insurance dropping them.
  • 7 years old, we take a trip to the psychologist for Baby Bears annual home school portfolio review, as the local evaluators would not do it. : Doctor is unable to evaluate him based on Baby Bear completely shutting down during the visit and believes that a neurological evaluation is in order due to the febrile seizures Baby Bear suffered as a toddler during initial signs.

So that is where we are. We have not taken Baby Bear in for a neurological evaluation yet due many factors, but hope to have it done before the summer. Now on to the questions.

Why has homeschooling become so popular in respect to special needs children?

I believe it is because more parents are realizing that are able to teach to their children’s specific needs easier. If their child thrives on visuals, they can provide that. If they require absolute silence when reading, at home you can make it possible. If the child is fascinated with astronomy, you can work with that and use it to teach them across all of the subjects while holding their interest.

Does a parent need to be a certified teacher to home school?

That all depends on the state in which you live in. Some states such as California require a parent to hold a teacher certification before they can educate their child at home while other states have no requirements at all. I would have to encourage any parent thinking about educating their special needs child at home to take the time to familiarize themselves with many different teaching strategies through reading great books and evaluating the process in which a variety of different curriculums use to teach content. The more familiar you are with the teaching process the easier it is to recognize when a particular method is not working for your child and which direction you should go in to provide them with the instruction they need.

How does homeschooling foster differentiated education and multiple intelligence theories?

For those who like to pick and choose their curriculum (eclectic,) unschoolers and for other home education teaching styles, making the choice to educate your child at home means the whole process is differentiated education. The process is a little bit more difficult for those that choose to purchase a cookie cutter curriculum package however.

A great example of differentiated instruction in the home school environment is choosing to implement a unit study on dinosaurs with a 5, 8 and 12 year old at the same time. You are able to cover the same topic with all three children, working the letter “D” and simple handwriting in along with a clay model of a dinosaur for the 5 year old, while the 8 year old may be expected to write a short narrative about what he has learned along with an experiment with prints and then the 12 year old is providing you with a full report on the Triassic Period while carefully studying fossils. Children are receiving an education at their level while all working together.

The same applies to multiple intelligence theories. Once a parent is able to identify their child’s intelligence, they can put the information to use to help to teach the child. Additionally they can be sure to expose their child to learning environments best suited for other intelligences to help develop their abilities in those areas.

Is it difficult for parents to be the parent, teacher and friend to a child?

There are days that it is difficult to help your child differentiate between you being “mom” and you as the “teacher” all they while keeping the confidence in them to know that you are their friend. But then again, parents face the same difficulty of balancing out friendship and parenting responsibilities without throwing the teacher aspect in the mix.

I believe the key (no matter how hard it is for our family to do) is to keep to a set schedule so that kids become familiar with when it is time to “learn” and when you are back on “mom” or “dad” mode.

Do special needs children still qualify for services from the state/public school system if they are enrolled in a home school program?

It depends on the state in which you live and what how you have enrolled as a home school family. For example, this year we are homeschoolers but we are official enrolled with our state’s education system with a private school called an “umbrella school.”

Through this method, we are no longer able to take advantage of services provided by the school system, for special needs or extracurricular activities. However, instead of submitting my child to a yearly evaluation and portfolio review or standardized test each year, I now only have to report our attendance for 180 days of the year (we do more.)

I was willing to give up the services to take away the yearly evaluation that just did not work with our son.

Is homeschooling primarily done from book and lesson or is online the most widely used format now?

I believe all formats are still equally used. There are some families that find their child thrives when they use primarily online content (our son did for three years) and those that need a more concrete curriculum with lots of repetition and busy work for their child to learn. Personally, we use both methods equally in our home.

Ok, so if unschooling is allowing the child to learn from their world and not from books, how are they able to keep up and compete?

The point is not to keep up or to compete; unschooling allows the children to blossom and excel at their own pace, seeking out information that interest them. We are not unschoolers, but we are not traditional schoolers by any means either. I have been able to nurture my son’s love of physics by following his interest, which puts him far above other 8 year olds in the science department, but he falls behind on other topics. I tend to ignore the suggested grade level at most times though, because I know that when he is ready to fully understand a concept he will.

Are children able to work at different grade levels for different core subjects?

Of course! Here is where our Baby Bear (2nd) is currently at

Reading: Mid-K

Phonics: 3rd

Vocabulary: 5th

Spelling: Mid-K

Number Skills: 2nd

Fractions: 3rd

Measurement: 1st

Science: 3rd

Social Studies: 3rd

Art and Music: we have no grade level; we just do what his little heart desires : )

The biggest concern most have about homeschooling is the social aspect. What activities do your kids do to keep them engaged?

The social aspect for me is one of the reasons why I chose to home school. My son could not cope in an environment of 20+ other kids.  With the noise being harder for him than learning to properly interact with the other students.

Now he gets to socialize at his pace by playing soccer, taking field trips to locations with other homeschoolers and more importantly in my book, by spending more time with people of varying ages. Learning to interact with adults has significantly improved his socialization skills more than spending 8 hours each day with children his own age.

Can you recommend some good online programs for homeschooling?

For those looking for a traditional curriculum structure I would go to K12.com.

For children who thrive on visuals and interaction to learn I love time4learning.com.

I hope you enjoyed my question and answer session today. Feel free to join and share your response to the questions as well and even ask a new one!

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