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Advice

Choosing to Homeschool a Special Needs Child


Guest Post 2021

When Rudy, who has Down syndrome, was born, we were already well into our homeschooling journey. Our oldest was nine, so we were into our fifth year, yet for some reason that surprised me, many people thought we’d send Rudy “out” for special services and special preschool . . . and eventually public school. Why? Partly, they explained, because even though they thought we were doing great with our “typical” children, surely Rudy would need the benefit of “experts,” surely I knew that his needs were far beyond my expertise and I would want him to have every advantage! Hmmm. . . This seems to be a widespread idea, so I will address it, as well as adding my own thoughts so you can make your own decision. Also, if you know someone who has a special needs child, you can gain understanding and find a way to be supportive.

First of all, I think most people have an idea that the only way to get early intervention therapies is through an early education program specialising in “special education.”  That is not true. We started with these therapies when Rudy was just three months old! Every child is assessed, and specialised therapy is given based on their particular needs. This program is from birth to three; after this there are other avenues to get additional therapies if needed. Rudy’s therapists did not see a need for continued therapy after he turned three, but that is an individual thing, as all children with Down syndrome do not develop at the same rate.

One day, after an hour of intense physical therapy working on Rudy’s core and balance to work toward him being able to sit up, the noise level in our house began to steadily grow with laughter, shrieks, excitement, and the thudding of feet! As I went to inspect, I saw Rudy on a large blanket being pulled around the “circle,” which was just the path that the doorways from the kitchen to the dining room to the living room made. They had made the blanket into a little sled for Rudy, and the corners that they were pulling him by made a sort of back support. But as they pulled and turned, it allowed Rudy to use his core, sort of like holding a mini “crunch” on a roller coaster! He was giggling, belly laughing, and squealing with delight! The older kids were having a blast, and Rudy was practising much needed muscles and balance that would lead him to sitting up!

So, what did I take away from all of this? Rudy, at home, with siblings to play with, was naturally working on the same things that he was getting from the “experts”! That was a huge realisation for me, and after that, I could relax a lot more. And while I am an advocate for early intervention therapies, I now realise that kids with special needs gain much more from a home setting, with siblings of varying ages to play with than they could ever get from a specialised program, spending the day with other students their age – “typical” or special needs. This is a very freeing idea for a Mum living under the pressure of giving her special needs child every advantage they can to smooth the way for them in their life ahead!

Not too many years ago, children born with Down syndrome were taken away from their families at birth and institutionalised. Now, as almost all babies with Down syndrome go home with their families and are cared for and nurtured by those who love them, the average IQ for people with Down syndrome has risen significantly. Why? The home is the best place for children. All children. Why then is it strange that if a family is led to the homeschooling movement, they shouldn’t hesitate to keep their special needs child at home also? Or, even if this is their only child at home? I would not say that homeschooling is the only way for families with special needs kids, or even kids with Down syndrome. Every family is different, with different goals, desires, gifts and callings. However, if the family feels drawn to homeschooling, there is no reason having a child with special needs, like Down syndrome, should keep them from it.

you are not qualified

I do not have a degree in special education! How do I teach my son with special needs?  Some of the same reasoning can be applied to this criticism to all of your children if you do not have a teaching degree. You love this child with all your heart, and that is all the “expertise” you will need! You want the best for him/her more so than any professional ever could, and that will more than make up for lack of training! You can gain knowledge from the internet, from friends with experience, from books, and on and on. We parents tend to be quite motivated to learn when it comes to our little ones! The biggest advantage a special needs program has is its one-on-one teacher/student ratio. YOU have that. Little secret, the one-on-one attention is most likely to be given by an aid- with no degree – only under the supervision of a teacher! You, on the other hand, can seek out as much one-on-one time for your child as you need to! You know your child better than anyone else. You are more motivated to provide the best learning environment and experience for your child that you can, more so than anyone else. And you are more motivated to provide every opportunity for your child to succeed than anyone else. Period.

You may not be an expert in Special Education, but you are an expert when it comes to your child. You know what motivates them, you know their likes, dislikes, and you know when they are at their limit. You know them like no one else, and this will help you teach them like no one else. On top of all of this, you have the advantage of the “teachable moment.”  Unlike a formal school setting, you can see an opportunity for a concept to sink in with your child any time of the day or night! You are almost constantly present and available to “teach,” or what I like to call – facilitate learning. When they are interested, or a moment presents itself that makes a learning moment more possible than in “school time,” you don’t have to wait until class time. This is HUGE for special needs kids, especially in areas where book learning is hard for them. And some concepts are almost impossible for them to learn without hands-on experience.

Our finding is that with the literature, teaching aids, and other resources now available, any parent who desires to help their child learn can find that help and eventually do a much better job with that child than any school could do.

legal considerations

Now, here is a really scary factor for all parents. No one is more scrutinised for homeschooling than parents of special needs children. But, like any fear, with reason beside you, and taking the proper precautions, there is no need to let it hold you back from the best you can give your child. Homeschooling has become ALMOST mainstream. When we first started homeschooling in 1998, most people knew what it was, but we still got a lot of blank stares and looks from people when they found out we homeschooled. Today, the response is usually something like, “that’s great, or “I know so-and-so who homeschools their kids and those kids are wonderful,” or “I admire you, I wish I had the patience to do that!” or the most awkward, “my kid wants me to homeschool them, but I >>>(some reason)”! With this widespread acceptance, we can worry a little less. Still, people do view special needs a little differently.

time and other considerations

I will not lie; teaching your special needs child will take time. It will take patience, lots of it. Not that you will spend hours and hours drilling facts into their little heads. On the contrary, most people find that short lessons are the most effective. However, consistency is key. I find Rudy responds well to short lessons consistently, as do most kids, but it’s extremely important in his case. A learning lifestyle is important for him. It takes care, planning, and insight into what makes him tick. Most of my actual time for his education is in planning and digging up resources that will help him.

It also takes patience. There are times you will want to pull your hair out. I’m just being honest here! Consider yourself forewarned. But that moment when they “get it,” when you see that idea spread across their face, and dawn in their little mind! There is nothing better. Your heart will sing, joy will bubble up and overflow. That is a satisfaction worth everything. To be there in that moment is priceless.

socialisation

We have all seen it, the “special” kid who is taken advantage of because he will do anything to make people laugh! He is taught rude phrases, bad words, and even talked into doing wrong things just to be included.  Rudy, I know, is highly motivated by people’s laughter.  If someone laughs at anything he says or does, that action or phrase will be repeated again and again! Several years ago, he scared me when I was coming out of the bathroom. He got a Huge reaction! To this day, he “scares” anyone he wants to connect with!

Yes, I will shelter him and protect him from people who would teach him that wrong things are funny. With no hesitation. “But he will have to go into the world sometime, you can’t shelter him forever!” Maybe. But I will put off that time as long as I can. As he grows and is exposed to good behaviour and ideas, he will grow.  And when he is exposed to less than desirable behaviour, that wisdom will be instilled into him. Who says “protecting” our kids is bad anyway? No one would look down on me for “protecting” my child from burning herself on a hot stove, or harming herself on a steep cliff if they didn’t have the wisdom to know they would be hurt – no matter their age. So, why is it different for social or moral situations?

to homeschool or not

This is a family decision that depends on the particular family, their goals, their lifestyle, their commitment, and their values. It really does not depend on their child’s special needs. Is homeschooling my children with Down syndrome different than homeschooling my “typical” children? Sure. But so is raising them. If I won’t defer raising them to “experts,” why would I need to defer educating them to “experts”?

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