Homeschool

Should You Homeschool Your Special Needs Child?

Should you homeschool your special needs child? Are you up to the task? Or should you leave it to the “experts”? I get questioned often this time of year by parents who are considering homeschooling their special needs children for the coming school year. The decision to homeschool can be a difficult one to make for any family, but it is often especially important to families with special needs children. It can also be especially frightening to families with special needs children.

 

It is my firm opinion as the homeschooling mother of special needs children myself that the majority of special needs children would be far better off being homeschooled. It is also my opinion that almost any parent is capable and equipped to homeschool. The most important thing you’ll need is love for your child and the desire to see your child do the best he or she is capable of doing.

For 18 years, I’ve homeschooled my oldest child who has severe autism, poor motor skills, and is totally non-verbal. I’m in my 13th year of homeschooling my son who has Asperger’s (ASD). And my youngest, who has ADHD, is now in her 8th year of homeschooling.  I’ve learned so much over the 18 years I’ve been homeschooling them, and I hope this information is helpful to those of you who are in the middle of making this very important decision!

There are many reasons why I think homeschooling is best for most special needs children. I’ll list a few here. If you have some to contribute, I’d love for you to leave me a comment with your reason!

  1. Most special needs children need extra time to learn. Whether your child has autism, Asperger’s (which is now more often being called Autism Spectrum Disorder–or ASD), Down Syndrome, ADHD, or another diagnosis, he probably needs more time than other children to process and learn new information. In classrooms now, the teachers and students are expected to stay on a very strict schedule and to get a certain amount of work done each day/week/etc. This can be very difficult for any child, and our special needs children often just cannot keep up. Our children need time to consider and process new information. They need plenty of time to learn and practice and use new information. And they need the chance to use this information over and over until they can retain it. Classrooms today just don’t offer that kind of time. Educating our special needs children cannot be allowed to be a race. It must be a journey that matches the pace of the child. We can provide that at home.
  2. Our children need to learn in a low-pressure environment so they can enjoy learning and feel successful. Besides just needing more time to learn, our special needs children need to learn in an environment that is as free as possible from stress and pressure. If our children are pressured to learn concepts or information that they just aren’t developmentally or cognitively ready to learn, they will not be successful and they will not be happy. My youngest child wasn’t ready to begin learning math concepts until about 3rd grade. She was very strong in reading and related subjects, but she simply didn’t “get” math until she was in about 3rd grade. Because we homeschool, I was able to wait until she was ready to really dig into math, and we’re both grateful for that!
  3. They need to be challenged to learn and do their best in a loving environment. There’s a difference between challenging a child to do her best and frustrating her by requiring things she isn’t capable of learning or doing yet. As parents, we know our children better than anyone. It’s fine for us to challenge our children to do their best, but we don’t want to challenge them to the point of frustration or to the point where they give up altogether. And we want them to know that we love them and that they are valuable people no matter what they can or cannot do. Yes, I want my children to be challenged to do their best, but I don’t want that challenge to turn into stress.
  4. Our children need more freedom to take breaks and de-stress. I’m concerned for all children in the school system today. They spend hours and hours in a desk where they are required to sit still, pay attention, be quiet, and learn. I think this is difficult for many children, but it’s almost impossible for most special needs children! My children–especially my daughter who has severe autism–need lots of time to take a break from learning–especially if they’ve been learning something brand new or that’s particularly difficult to understand. At home, I can give them these opportunities to take a short break (or a long one if necessary). These breaks give them the ability to rest and relax (or run and play and get some energy out) so that the next subject or activity doesn’t feel so overwhelming. These breaks make a huge and very positive difference in our homeschool.
  5. They often learn better when they’re allowed to move around and be active. As my children have gotten older, they are better able to sit still and learn. During their early elementary years, though, they definitely learned best when they were active! Back then, I often read history or science lessons out loud while they played with Legos, perler beads, PlayDoh, or Shrinky Dinks. We practiced multiplication tables and spelling words while tossing a ball or jumping on the trampoline. We reviewed previously learned information while swinging on the swing set. If I had required them to sit still and be quiet, they would have been frustrated and wouldn’t have learned nearly as much. And they definitely wouldn’t have enjoyed learning.
  6. Special needs children often “live down” to the expectations placed on them by teachers who don’t know what they’re capable of learning and doing. One of the saddest things that I saw happening during the few years that my autistic child attended public school (part-time) was that she “lived down” to the expectations placed on her by teachers who had no idea what she was capable of learning and doing! She did have one teacher who was truly wonderful and who lovingly challenged her. Her other teachers, though, refused to believe that she was smart because she was (and still is) non-verbal. Because they unknowingly communicated those low expectations to my daughter, her behavior got worse and worse, and her frustration level rose higher and higher. Because they thought she wasn’t capable of behaving and learning, she must have decided that they were right. At home, my children know my expectations for both learning and behavior. They aren’t perfect, but they (usually) live up to my high expectations.
  7. Methods of teaching and learning can be tailored to fit the needs of your special needs child. I have three children, and each one learns in a different way and has different strengths and weaknesses than the other two. My non-verbal daughter (who has now graduated) has always been an auditory learner. My son enjoys online instruction much more than in-person instruction. My youngest child is a very hands-on learner. It has been very interesting to see how differently my children learn from each other–yet they are all very capable of learning. Even if I use the same books and materials with all three of them, I can still modify the teaching method to fit each student.
  8. Special needs children usually learn better with fewer distractions. In a classroom with 20 or more other students, it’s easy for any student to get distracted, but it’s especially easy for a special needs child to get off track. When my son was homeschooling for elementary school, it was very easy for him to get distracted to the point where he got frustrated and just gave up. I remember people saying things like, “It’s not good to allow him to do his work in a quiet room. How will he ever learn to function in a workplace in real life?” At the time, it worried me to think about whether he would, as a teen or adult, be able to have a job and be in environments that he couldn’t control. I wondered if he would be able to cope in a noisy office or store or wherever else he might work. Now as I look back, I realize all those years of worry were for nothing. As my son has grown and matured, he has naturally learned to deal with more distractions and noise. He is now able to handle many situations that he couldn’t have endured at younger ages. Some things just take time. And homeschooling has given him that time.
  9. Homeschooling makes it easier to work around appointments and therapies. Many special needs children have weekly therapy appointments (like speech, physical therapy, or occupational therapy) as well as frequent visits to the family doctor, psychiatrist, neurologist, etc. It can feel at times like all we do is drive to one appointment or another! Homeschooling is truly a great option under these circumstances because school can be done in the mornings, afternoons, on weekends, or whenever else you need to do it. It definitely cuts down on the stress of having to get assignments done on a strict schedule.
  10. Homeschooling allows you to enjoy spending time with your child. When my oldest child attended a public school program for autistic children part time during her early elementary years, it was hard for me to find time to just enjoy being her mom. By the time we went to therapy appointments, doctor visits, church activities, and school, I felt like I was always in a hurry to take her somewhere and get something done by a deadline. I didn’t have the time I would have liked to simply play with her or read to her. When I pulled her out of her part-time public school program to homeschool full time, we had much more time to spend together having fun and getting to know each other better.

These are 10 reasons why I think most special needs children can benefit from homeschooling. But to be honest, most of these reasons apply to neuro-typical students too! Now I’d like to hear from you. Do you have any reasons why homeschooling is a great idea for special needs children? If so, please share in the comments! 

About the author

Wendy

Wendy is one of the owners of Hip Homeschool Moms. She married her high school sweetheart, Scott, over 27 years ago, and they live in the South with their three children. Hannah, age 23, has autism and was the first homeschool graduate in the family. Noah, age 21, was the second homeschool graduate. Mary Grace, age 15, is the remaining homeschool student. Wendy loves working out and teaching Training for Warriors classes at her local gym. She also enjoys learning along with her family, educational travel, reading, and writing, and she attempts to grow an herb garden every summer with limited success.

26 Comments

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  • My son has autism, but also severe epilepsy. Seizures make him tired. He can rest as much as he needs to at home and get back to school when he is actually ready to learn.

    • Yes, that is definitely a benefit of homeschooling! My autistic daughter is on a gluten free diet, and having her at home makes it much easier to be sure she’s not eating things she shouldn’t! She also requires more sleep than most other folks her age, so that’s an advantage for us too.

  • Hello,
    Is there anyway I can get your email address as I am considering homeschooling my two children who are high functioning on the ASd spectrum.?
    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Wendy! I’ll email you at the email address that’s listed on the comment you left. 🙂 (The email address is visible to me as a site administrator but not to people who see your comment.)

      ~Wendy

  • I wholeheartedly agree with everything you stated. My daughter is 5yrs old now and has Down Stndrome. She loves learjing and I’ve been “homeschooling” her for years. She has attended preschool and my greatest concerns are that she is not herself in a school/class environment. She is VERY passive and barely speaks, while at home she is very self-expressed etc. she’s smart and I think she was being underestimated and passed over in class. I feel they didn’t take the time/steps to “get to know her”. This concerns me for kindergarten where there is only one teacher and perhaps an aid.

    Can you please let me know how you start. My other main concern is how can I work from home? I’m a single mom and work p/t now while my daughter is in VPK. I need to pay the bills bit also feel compelled to be there for my daughter to provide her with a quality education etc.

    • I had the very same problem when my daughter went to public school for a few years part-time. She had one great teacher who believed in her and realized how smart and capable Hannah was of learning, but when that teacher moved away, the other teachers decided that Hannah wasn’t capable of learning, so they completely overlooked her simply because her behavior was good, so she didn’t “require” much attention. Hannah began having behavior problems because she was so bored and had begun to hate going to school. At that point, I knew it was time to remove her from public school and return to homeschooling full time. Here’s an article with information about how to get started homeschooling: https://hiphomeschoolmoms.com/2014/05/begin-homeschooling-series/. As far as working from home, that would depend upon your skills and abilities as well as how much time you have to devote to working. Some people do writing and editing, others do medical transcription, some clean houses and are able to take their children with them, others babysit, have bakeries, work as photographers, etc. Think about what you can do and what skills you have that others might need. You might also want to talk to other moms in your area who work from home. I pray that it works out that you can homeschool your daughter!

  • Hi,

    I have a 11 y.o. son that just started 5th grade. This is his second year in public and was placed in a special day class. He has high Functioning Autism. I feel like his ticks are getting worse and that he us getting further behind in school. They tested him at the end of second grade and he was at a 2.5 reading comprehension level. According to the special ed teacher, he’s still at that level. And now, the only mainstream class he has is P.E. He mainstreamed in science last year but they said he could handle the pace or the setting. I’m considering homeschooling but I’m rather terrified. I don’t have a clue as to what to do for him. They have schools in the area for asd but they run about $ 25,000 a year. Please, help.

    • Wow! It’s sad that the school for kids with ASD costs so much! I can understand that the thought of homeschooling terrifies you! But it’s because you love your son and you care about him and his education, so try to look at it as a good thing. I’m going to email you to find out more about your son so that maybe I can give you some direction to get you started. If you don’t see an email from me by later tonight (9/10/15), check in spam to be sure it didn’t go there. It is very definitely a wonderful option to homeschool special needs kids!

  • I’m just getting started. I have an 11 year old with severe adhd and anxiety issues. We just pulled him from public school on Friday. We have tried different schools and of course medicines which we hate to have him take so I’m trying to help him from home. He seems to do better in small groups which in public schools is not an option. Any information or help is appreciated!

    • Have you read this article about homeschooling a child with ADHD? It may be helpful to you. Also, I would suggest slowing down and allowing your son to move at a slower pace. I also suggest trying to incorporate topics he’s particularly interested in (like sports, animals, etc.) to help get him interested in what you’re teaching. If he’s very active, take frequent breaks to do jumping jacks or push ups or even play basketball for a few minutes. Being careful about his diet (possibly cutting out sugar or gluten) might also help.

  • Thanks for writing this post. I have considered homeschooling a few years back before my older son’s diagnosis but life got busy with the diagnosis and all the driving to and fro to support him the way “experts” suggested. Recently, I have decided to pull my older out of a special day preschool run by the district and place him in a typical private preK with an aba therapist of our own that we’ve worked with for a couple of years. I also have another on the spectrum that is in school for the first time as a preschooler this year with with our older and he goes to class without a therapist but we are working on getting him one. In all this, I have been thinking about homeschooling as of late again and decided to dedicate the next couple of months to read and pour over it until baby #3 arrives. It is refreshing to hear how forthright and confident in their decision to homeschool you and other homeschooling moms sound – it’s probably something I need.

    • Joanne, I actually did an ABA program with my daughter for the first few years I homeschooled her. I taught her (using ABA) for about 20 to 25 hours a week. It wasn’t easy since her brother is only 18 months younger than her, but it was definitely one of the best things I ever did for her! I had a couple of volunteers from my church who were willing to watch her younger brother for a few hours each week, and I did some of the ABA program on weekends when my husband was home to take care of him. After a few years of ABA, she was ready to move on to a more traditional kind of homeschool program. (She does great with textbooks and workbooks because they are very concrete.) Thank you for your comment! I hope you have more confidence now about the possibility of homeschooling. 🙂

      • That is wonderful to hear about your use of ABA therapists during the first years of homeschooling, as I plan to do the same. I plan to incorporate our therapists into our learning and playing time at home and I imagine that it will work out nicely with my third being so young and needing me quite a bit in the first years of life. I look forward to more posts!

  • Thank you for the post. Homeschooling was in the plans for us, and just about a week before starting K our son received the ASD diagnosis. Even though I chose to do it for the same reasons you shared I still find myself second guessing. It’s so frustrating. I also have 3 kids, the middle is neuro typical but I’m starting to wonder about the 1 year old. I’m wondering if it might be beneficial to look for early intervention programs from the government. I suspected my oldest had something going on with the back and forth conversation but everyone dismissed it, now we are doing speech, I don’t want the same to happen to the young one. I wonder about the future, how to give attention to all kids and meet their educational needs when more than one has special needs. How did you do it? I will have to continue to work. I love though the freedom to choose curricula that meets his needs and be able to go at a doable pace. It’s just hard knowing what the future awaits and how to prepare for social life and demands. One of the hardest things is seeing first hand the struggle to find a buddy to connect with and make friends. This is, I believe, one of the most difficult aspects for me. How did you do that homeschooling? We do church activities on Sun and wed, therapy and the occasional cousins. Any insight would be helpful. Your post was so timely!!

    • I’m glad you came across my post at a good time! When my children were younger, I often homeschooled during the afternoons and on weekends when my husband or a grandparent or friend was able to help watch after the ones who weren’t “doing school” right then. I did some work with all of them together too so they could practice waiting for a turn and that sort of thing. I didn’t worry at all about trying to keep up a certain pace or to get a certain amount of work done each day or week. I simply went with the pace that each child was able to handle. As far as social interaction, we attended church on Sundays and Wednesdays, we got together for play days once a week or every other week with our local homeschool group, I got together with my sisters and their children as often as possible, and I sometimes scheduled “play dates” for my kids to play with children from another family–or sometimes a few families got together. I didn’t feel like my children needed to get together for social opportunities 5 days a week. That was overwhelming to them. They did much better getting together with other children one or two times a week. Besides those tips, I also learned to completely ignore the people who thought I should send my kids to PS. I knew as my kids’ mom that I was doing what was best for them, so I chose to ignore people who disagreed. It wasn’t easy at first, but as my confidence grew, it got easier. I hope this was helpful! 🙂

  • My daughter is in 4th grade. She has severe learning disabilities due to having brain damage and suffers from ADHD. She’s 10 but mentally 4. I need a curriculium she can understand. I’m just lost as to help her

    • Kerry, when my child was younger, I really didn’t use curriculum with her. I did things like use pictures (or even little toys) to teach her object names or verbs. I taught her to imitate actions by doing them myself and then doing them with her hand-over-hand. I helped her develop motor skills and learn to do some basic skills (like putting her shoes in her closet and letting me know when she needed to use the bathroom). If your daughter is mentally 4 years old, it’s really not necessary to use a curriculum with her. I just thought of it like this: At each level of functioning, I asked myself if she were a typical 4-year-old, would I be using curriculum with her? If not, then I didn’t use curriculum. As she got older, I used a curriculum that was appropriate for her level of functioning. It’s absolutely fine to use preschool curriculum with her if that’s what fits her current level.

      • I have a 7 year old severe non verbal ASD son that is currently enrolled in public school. They do not use ABA. I send him to an excellent clinic due to extreme food aversions. We have excellent insurance and the BcBa just suggested full time therapy with about 6 hours a day working with him on all his sensory needs. My question is, how would he be “tested” to prove that he is indeed being educated (homeschooled). What would I send in if I decided to pull him out of public school completely? We live in Florida and I cannot find an answer. His school has no idea. I don’t want to break the law!

        • Megan, that’s a very good question! When it comes to legal questions, the laws are different in every state. I suggest you contact HSLDA (the Home School Legal Defense Association) to find out exactly what you need to do. They know the laws in all 50 states, and they can make sure you know exactly what to do to be sure you’re within the guidelines of the law. You can find them online at https://hslda.org/content/, or you can call them at 540-338-5600.

    • This reply is long after your initial question– but have you checked out some of
      Timberdoodle’s curriculum — they have a lot of great hands-on choices that might be good for your daughter. You could also check out Scholar’s choice ( teacher store) near you– they often have great hands-on toys, games, and manipulatives that might help teach basic letters, phonics and math— which may be the big things to focus on right now.

  • I found your site with the linkup that I just got involved in for the first time today (thank you!). But, come to find out – you have a special needs section too! AMAZING! My son has a very rare genetic condition, L1 Cam Syndrome –> he is the only boy in the world with the genetic mutation he has! Talk about rare! Anyway, I’m super excited to continue reading through your blog. Thank you again, for being ehre for parents like me!

  • Hi Wendy,
    I am a former special needs teacher, and I have a son with central processing disorder who is 2e. We began our homeschool journey a little more than a year ago. He was getting straight As and was not a behavior problem; however, he felt trapped at school. Sitting all day was destroying any love of learning he had, and his anxiety grew more and more every day. He was afraid he couldn’t go to the bathroom or get a snack or say the answer fast enough. His teacher and principal both said that they were preparing the kids for adulthood. I told them I wanted him to be 7 not 27. I finally pulled him, and we are not looking back. I really enjoyed your post. I wasn’t worried about my son’s IEP (now ISP) because this is my field, but I know a lot of parents who don’t think they can. The opportunity to work at your own pace and meet your child’s individual needs is extraordinary. Throw the timetable out the window, and go for it.

    • I’m so glad you were able to pull your son out to homeschool! I’ve never believed that having kids sitting in a desk all day teaches them to function in the “real world.” I know hardly any people in the “real world” who literally sit at a desk all day. Even those who do desk work are able to move around and have some freedom. And there’s nothing better than allowing our kids to love learning and be able to work at their own pace! Thank you for your comment!

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