Yes You Can! Homeschool your Special Needs Child or Struggling Learner

maddy school For some the thought of homeschooling your special needs child or child struggling to learn seems like climbing a mountain. Even before you may have sought guidance in understanding your child’s needs or therapy to help work through challenges; the reality is you were there for your child from the beginning, you learned their cues, their sensory needs, and coping skills.

My daughter’s Occupational Therapist who was very instrumental in helping her in her sensory needs explained to us that she gleaned so much knowledge from a child’s parents about their cues, she would often say parental insight was vital to the success of the therapy she provided. In addition she felt building trust with a child was also extremely important.  As parents we have built that trust with our child from day 1, we have learned to navigate their behavior and continue to learn.

One of the biggest questions parents of special needs children are concerned about is Socialization, especially parents of children on the Autism spectrum, as social skills can often be a challenge for them. But the answer is very much the same for all children, homeschooling actually increases the opportunity for socialization in real life settings. My special needs daughter for example did not have a lot of interaction around babies, toddlers and preschoolers at school. Autism has given her an amazing gift to be accepting of all no matter what their age.

However, learning to be aware and careful around little ones was a genuine struggle for her, she was not able to learn those skills at school. At age 7 she had a little sister of her own and that helped, we also happened to notice when we transitioned to homeschooling it gave her even more interaction with her little sister and plenty of opportunity to learn social skills and the tools she needed to develop awareness of how to interact with little ones. Homeschooled children generally overall have more opportunity to learn with a wide variety of age ranges, not just groups of children their own age, which happens to be a much more true to life preparation for adulthood.

There are also many sources of curriculum and resources to help further encourage social and life skills, these skills don’t always come as natural in the development of a special needs child but with the right tools can easily be taught at home. Here are a few of the many resources to help get you started.

  • Teachers Pay Teachers (Large open marketplace for educators to buy, sell, and share their original resources. Many free and low cost lessons on a variety of subjects & skills)  *Disclosure- some items on this marketplace are correlated to Common Core, many aren’t, so use your discretion as you browse lesson plans

While it is an option to obtain some therapies in public schools for speech and sometimes occupational therapy, many parents don’t feel comfortable with the strings attached to maintaining an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). Therapies provided to families through the local schools are refused to families that do not sign up for an IEP, because an IEP provides Federal funding. Federal funding is given in exchange for the data of your child’s progress annually submitted to the US Department of Education.

Common Core standards are now also beginning to creep their way into special education and children with IEP’s curriculum, even the curriculum used for therapy. Many homeschool organizations also happen to recommend private sources of therapy instead of public school sources if possible, as it is often more in the family’s best interest.

The good news is there are therapies you can provide your child with at home! Pinterest is a huge source of help for both therapists and parents to find ideas and resources. Here is an affordable speech therapy at home with two levels to chose from, one is more pronunciation based and the other is more developmentally based. NATHHAN: Speech Therapy

Occupational Therapy Tips & Ideas:

  • Therapeutic Sensory ideas: Shaving cream, water beads, hand paints, sensory balls & toys,  trampoline, swinging , visiting a local park with swings, merry go round, sand tray or box, exercise ball, swimming is very beneficial. These are just handful of the items you can use to help meet the sensory needs of a child learning to over come sensitives and/or craving sensory input. My daughter happens have have both sensitivities and sensory needs.
  • Sensory breaks in between lessons: it really helps to break things up. Work on a lesson or two depending on your child’s stamina and allow for a break to help facilitate sensory input that is calming and in return helps a child feel more relaxed, when a child is more relaxed they are more apt to positively digest the material they are trying to learn. These help a child remain positive and not burn out.
  • Learning environment: some children with special needs have auditory and visual sensory sensitivities, so finding a quiet corner of the house can be helpful, a room set apart, a homework divider, or noise reducing ear muffs is also a tool that can sometimes be helpful in drowning outside noise. There are many ways you can work with your child and learn in an environment that best accommodates them. Never underestimate all that can be learned in the midst of play. Play is a skill that some children with special needs don’t automatically develop & have to learn the mechanics of, it is a powerful skill that encourages cognitive connections in the brain.

Finding your child’s learning style, strengths & interests is also very helpful. Many children on the Autism specturm are very visual, hands on, & multi-sensory learners. Some children with special needs will have very specific interests such as an animal, mine craft, a hobby, ect. You can utilize those interests and incorporate them as a motivator in a wide variety of subjects. My daughter loves elephants, so we have been working on an Elephant lapbook which incorporates math, reading, writing, literature & science. It’s visually appealing and very interactive. For those new to lapbooking here is an introduction into lapbooking The Homeschool Mom: Lapbooking and a great video tutorial from Confessions of a Homeschooler: Lapbooking

Here are some great curriculum resources to also check out

I hope this encourages you that you can indeed homeschool children with learning challenges and special needs. Many children can learn so many valuable social skills and life skills in their community & home environment, that can’t easily be recreated in public school. We are still fairly new to our journey into homeschooling with our Autistic daughter that is 10 and her little sister that appears to be a developmentally average preschooler; but one of the biggest pieces of advice I could give is remembering children with special needs will be on a variety of levels depending on the subject, some subjects they will be very gifted in and thrive and others they may be a bit behind in. They key is to recognize concepts and progress on individual skills and subjects. No child on the Autistic spectrum will be the same, No child with Dyslexia or ADHD will be the same, just like all children in general are not a “one size fits all”. Learning is not a race and every moment, milestone and ounce of progress is one step closer to mastering skills!

April 2nd is Austism Awareness Day and this will launch the first of Wyoming Freedom in Education’s articles on Special Needs Homeschooling.  I would like to give families of special needs & struggling learners hope, insight, and tools to encourage and empower you in the education of your child at home, they can indeed thrive! You were their first teacher and never underestimate the insight you have as their parents.

Find out more about Homeschooling in Wyoming here.