Many parents choosing to instruct their children at home find themselves facing the additional challenge of meeting special educational needs. You may be a parent to whom God has entrusted a child who doesn’t respond to “traditional” teaching methods. You may have felt the frustration with which your child has lived and experienced the anguish of his plummeting self-esteem, the result of classroom failures. On the other hand, your child may never have been in a traditional school setting but you are seeing signals, some subtle, others more visible, that cause you to wonder if something is wrong. Your child may not be learning as readily as your other children. How can you help him? If your son or daughter has been in special education at a public school, you may already have experienced the intimidation from school authorities reminding you that you can’t teach a special child at home, only “professionals” can.
Whatever your individual scenario, rest assured you CAN successfully educate your special-needs child at home. I’m not implying it will be easy, or that you’ll see immediate results by using the techniques that follow. Rather, by God’s guidance and help, with determination, direction and dedication you can do it.
We have seen many parents incredibly encouraged after withdrawing their frustrated child from school. They’ve witnessed true healing as he blossoms in a loving, nurturing home environment. After all, who knows and loves him best? His family! Often, just relieving the “school pressure” will make an incredible difference in his attitude. Remember, if you had chosen an expensive private “special” school, they too would be providing one-on-one tutoring as you are in your homeschool. But they cannot provide a parent’s love.
If your child has already been diagnosed with a learning problem, you may possess copies of his test results and possibly an individual education plan. Just because you have chosen homeschooling for your family doesn’t mean those items may not be useful to you. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water! Your educational consultant can help you interpret and utilize the testing results as you plan to meet your child’s educational needs.
If you suspect your child may not be able to meet Virginia’s testing/evaluation requirement (the fourth stanine–23rd percentile, or above) on a standardized test, you may want to have him tested privately. If you cannot satisfy the law pertaining to “normal” children, you may wish to seek to have your child’s special needs identified. If you decide to have your child tested to diagnose a learning problem, remember the importance of using a tester who is sympathetic to home education. Once special problems are identified, your child could be eligible for an evaluation or more appropriate standardized tests.
An educational consultant is someone who has credentials or experience in the area of your child’s need. This consultant should be in contact with your family a minimum of four times during the school year to document your child’s progress.
You may find a qualified consultant through the Counselors, Testers, and Tutors page on the HEAV website or personal or local support group recommendations. HSLDA also maintains a database of individuals who may assist homeschooling families with special-needs children. If you are unable to locate a consultant in any of these ways, you may wish to contact consultants who serve public-school children; they may be willing to serve homeschoolers. Some colleges and universities also offer programs to families with special needs.
DOCUMENTATION AND RECORDKEEPING
You definitely must make a priority of documenting your work and obtaining regular evaluations of your child’s progress. Accurate record keeping should explain how you are meeting your child’s special needs and how he is progressing. This is vital, whatever the severity of his learning needs.
Documentation is essential if it should become necessary to defend your homeschool. It also helps you, as a parent/teacher, to have a clear picture of where your child is academically. Keep a notebook in which you write goals in measurable terms, and make concrete plans for the methods and materials you will use to achieve the objectives. In other words, chart your course before you take off. God’s word encourages us to count the cost and plan well before undertaking a project.
The education of a special child requires more planning, more documentation, and more frequent evaluation than does the education of an average child. Don’t wait for a big end-of-the-year evaluation. Track your progress toward your goals on a regular basis. This is how you will know whether you are meeting your goals and whether you need to adjust your course. “Feeling” that progress has been made is not enough. If you have specific goals, you’ll know that progress has been made!
For peace of mind, or if you are anticipating being challenged, you may want to consider joining Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA). They also have a special-needs coordinator.
FINDING OTHER FAMILIES IN SIMILAR CIRCUMSTANCES
Remember not to isolate yourself or your child. Planning, organizing, teaching, and evaluating can seem overwhelming, if not impossible. Hook up with other families in similar circumstances. You need the support as much as your child needs the relationships. We all need each other.
NATHHAN (NATional cHallenged Homeschoolers Associated Network) is an organization for you to explore. Staff there can acquaint you with other homeschoolers across the country who have similar special-learning needs. The network offers not only a 60-page guide containing more than 200 resources to help challenged families, but also a family directory, lending library, and a newsletter.
WHAT CURRICULA SHOULD I USE?
This common question has no simple answer. The curricula or materials you select for your teaching will depend greatly on your individual needs, teaching style, budget, and your child’s learning style. Your child probably will not achieve at the level of his potential, nor will he remediate any deficiency using a standard school textbook.
Be aware that if a special need is discovered, special measures must be taken. You can’t assume that once the child is at home he will thrive on your love alone. He may, but most special-needs children will need special teaching techniques and adapted or adjusted curricula. You may have one publisher for math, another for reading, and have a teacher-made spelling program, and be using each one with different techniques than would ordinarily be used. Don’t forget to ask around, observe your child, try different methods, and pray! God will give you guidance and wisdom as you ask Him.