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What if Mom is the One With Special Needs?

“Mom? Mooooommmm. Mom, would you listen to me?”

“Huh? Oh, yeah. What is it, sweetie?”

“Mom, was your head in the clouds again?”

“Yes, dear, I guess it was. What did you want?”

“Never mind. I’m tired of saying it.”


I’m sure we’ve all sounded that way with our children at some point—usually with a computer in front of us, screen aglow with internet browsers, word processors, and Twitter applications. For me, though, that conversation often happens in the middle of a lesson I was just a few moments ago actively teaching.

As far as I can tell, my oldest son has a perfectly normal attention span for a 7 year old boy. Unfortunately, so does his mother. I have Attention Deficit Disorder, and growing up doesn’t seem to have helped very much.

One minute I’m happily chirping away about helping verbs, and the next, my unseeing gaze is fixed on some distant point in the meadow outside, entirely forgetful of the lesson I was teaching. Some new thought occurs to me, or I see a movement out of the corner of my eye demanding my attention, and several unaccounted-for minutes later, I’m staring down at my lesson plan trying to figure out what I was doing, feeling like a fool and an incompetent teacher.

I’ve learned a few things about keeping up with homeschooling when mom is the one with special needs. Whether it be adult ADD or chronic fatigue (which I also deal with), or something even more serious, you can still be an effective homeschooling mom! Here are a few things I’ve learned that help me get through, even on the days when my muddled mind seems to be more of a problem student than a capable teacher.

Make today an unschooling day, even if you’re not an unschooler. If you’re entirely un in your methods, you can skip this one. You already know how valuable self-guided learning can be. Our family is a little less relaxed than that–I’m of a Classical mind–but I’ve learned that my school-age kids suffer none of the limitations I do, so I let them guide themselves whenever I find myself unable to continue.

Your kids are watching you struggle, and they’re learning to deal with adversity. Even though an unschool day is a great remedy occasionally, there really is no substitute for sticking to your plans, even when you feel like you’re getting it wrong. Did you let a mildly bad day send you back to bed, or did you show them perseverance? Your children are not learning what is acceptable behavior in times of difficulty from those cute little character-building books you bought. They’re learning it from you, whether you like it or not!

Laugh at yourself. Often, the only thing stopping me from getting back on track is fretting over what I’ve gotten wrong. It can, after all, be rather embarrassing to lose track of your thoughts in the very middle of expressing them. If I can find the humor in what I’m experiencing, I can shake it off and try again. If I get stressed out about things, the day might as well be over. I know some disabilities don’t seem to lend themselves to hum0r, but I’m convinced that God gave us our funny bones to help us get through the hard parts with grace.

Look at what others have accomplished. I know of several homeschooling moms who suffer from illnesses that are considered crippling, but who shoulder the burden of educating their children with cheerfulness. It helps to know that my imperfections aren’t going to ruin my children! Those who have walked this path before me light the way with their experience. Their children have made it, and so will mine!

Finally, never stop praying. God teaches us His most valuable lessons through our weaknesses. Your children are not the only ones still growing, you know! Use your disability to draw closer to God, and let your children see you doing it. No lesson will serve your children better than learning to lean on Jesus when their own brains and bodies fail them.

How about you, moms? Do you face any unusual challenges in your homeschooling?

Cindy Dyer is a rookie homeschooling mom of 4 (and counting) wonderful kids. She’s is a social media and blogging enthusiast (aka addict). When she’s not buried under piles of laundry or up to her elbows in bread dough, you can find her on Twitter or at Get Along Home, where she blogs about motherhood, homeschooling, food, and whatever else catches her fancy.


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  1. I have special needs as well. I have a chronic illness that puts me out of commission on a regular basis. In fact, I’ve been sick non-stop for a year now. Just when my health starts taking a turn for the better my kids will get sick with a cold or the flu and then I’ll catch it and I’ll be down for a few weeks or months. Its rough. Today I meant to take a 30 minute nap. I napped for 3 hours and finally awoke when my 3 year old (who was being supervised by her older brother) came and told me she was hungry. Its hard. Very hard. But homeschooling has been a life saver. I can teach by example how to carry on despite trials. I can show them how its okay to give in when you just can’t continue. I wish someone had taught me how to listen to my body at a younger age. We have learned about the importance of exercise and eating healthy and getting sleep. They’ve seen my ups and downs and its made us stronger all the same. I’m also grateful because with my illness I don’t honestly know how much longer I’ll be on this earth. Homeschooling has provided me with an opportunity to make wonderful memories with my children and to really get to know them. On days when I just can’t teach I use educational games and videos or allow them to do work on their own. We make it up later. Its all good. They’re learning, they’re happy, we’re a strong family.

    1. I too have chronic health issues that regularly take me out of commission! My boys are 4 and 6 and have never known me other than with my illness. Some days are overwhelming and horrid. Others are ok. I home schooled last year for my 5yr old, with my 3 yr old tagging right along! 🙂 This yr we are trying a small charter school, as my health took a turn for the worse. But if it doesn’t work we are right back to home schooling. Keep up the great work everyone, even when it is a terrible struggle. We are doing it for our kids and they love us no matter what we are dealing with. Even when I am feeling like a failure and am in terrible pain, my 4 yr old will come up, lay his head on me while rubbing my back with his tiny little hand. He will say “It’s ok mommie.” with his enormous blue eyes full of love and concern for me. We are doing our best and they know it! 🙂

  2. I’m so glad to know that I am not the only one who teaches my child at home and suffers from adult adhd.Some days it is really a struggle but God gets us through it.I really enjoyed and was encouraged by reading your blog.

    1. And now *I’m* glad to know I’m not the only one! LOL. All the moms I know seem to have NO clue what I’m dealing with, which is ok. They’re great moms! I just feel a little bit inadequate beside people who are super organized, have no problem sticking to a plan, and various other little quirks I deal with. I’m pretty sure my kids will survive it, though. 🙂

  3. WOW. We could be twins. I have ADD, chronic pain issues, and most likely chronic fatigue. Great advice! I also have a son with ADHD, autism, and Prader-willi syndrome. The Lord IS my strength!!! Great post.

  4. I am so glad to see you addressing this! I have SID/SPD (wrote about it here: http://www.raisingarrows.net/2010/11/having-sensory-integration-disorder-and-being-mom/ ) and in a large family it can sometimes feel like I am losing my mind. It is so important as homeschooling moms we address our own issues and recognize our own “deficits.” I know what I need to do to “cope” and I know how to tell other people when I simply cannot participate in activities that will make things worse. Much needed discussion, Cindy! Thank you!

  5. I am dyslexic and the other day I was helping my daughter with her spelling, looking at her book from the top. So I was reading it upside down and watched her miss spell a word and I picked up my pencil to correct it and proceeded to write it for her backwards with my bd all together wrong. She looked up at me, and I said, ” oh well that is not right,” In my family there is a strong visual problem( dyslexia, color blindness, lazy eye) that my dad has shared with his crazy genetics. I hope to have been passed the stay skinny gene also, I am not sure I have that gene and my have landed the “later in life big rear” gene. My reading problem has helped me to help my daughter with her struggles in reading, I am so blessed to know what is going on with her. My dad is dyslexic but he did not know what that was till I was sent to the reading specialist in public school, and my mom only knew she had a third grader who could not read or do math. On another note, I scour any curriculum that I buy to make sure there is no copy from the book work, like copy math problems on to a sheet of paper. I can not check the work, the back and forth movement of my eyes freaks my brain out, and messes with my eyes. and my daughter could not copy the work correctly and it would be setting her up for failure. I have one kiddo that struggles with reading (like momma did) and one that is a super reader, and a little one, It is exactly the same with my sister. Ironically I never considered my reading dilemmas as anything but normal because that is normal for me and my first born. When my second child could read and learn phonics easily I was so amazed and called my sister and told her how easily he was learning to read, it was like angels singing and a brilliant light shining in the school room. I told myself, “Ohh, this is how it is supposed to be, learning to read is not a life struggle for everyone.” I guess God knew that I needed that.

    1. What a blessing it is to hear from you! My dad is dyslexic, also, and I suspect we may be seeing some of that problem with my oldest son. It certainly does make it harder to teach spelling, but I’ll bet your kids have the most understanding teacher in the world when they get it wrong! God bless you for carrying on!

  6. Oh wow, did this post touch home! Having children with ADD/dyslexia/etc. can be tough enough in the homeschool community but when it’s mom too, well that’s a whole other ballgame! Thanks for sharing so honestly. I find that it is so hard to stay on track sometimes, okay, maybe I should say most of the time. 🙂 There are days that I think I just can’t homeschool my kids like this. Thankfully, my children are older now and I’m not such a distraction anymore. 🙂

  7. I also have a chronic disease, rheumatoid arthritis. Along with joint pain comes fatigue. The joint pain is much easier to deal with than fatigue. Sometimes I push through it and we get our work done. Sometimes my children spend the day watching PBS while I sleep. I don’t like it when that happens but that’s life. One of the hardest things for me is accepting my limitations and creating a wonderful life for us within the boundaries of my limitations. I don’t worry (usually) about what other homeschool moms are doing. If you have the energy to do school for 6 hours straight, that’s great for you. I don’t. So we keep things simple. 🙂

  8. Well put! I’m sitting here, in chronic pain, struggling physically but thanking God for all the wonderful resources available now. When my sons were growing up I knew I was very unwell much of the time. I also joked about having ADD and dyslexia. It was actually very disheartening to struggle do very hard and yet feel like no one had a clue how hard it was just getting through each day.
    I wasn’t diagnosed until a few years ago but knowing now that I have (and have had for at least 30 years) MS, fibromyalgia, ADD, Other stuff plus whatever it is called when you get numbers all mixed up, just the knowing makes it easier. Even better? Having such wonderful online communities! And the best? Growing in Christ, day by day.
    Trying to Choose Joy every day. God bless you – moms with Special Needs! Draw near to Him. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139 is my favorite. ~Maggie

  9. A few years back, when I was at a homeschooling moms thing, another mom actually asked me something along the lines of “Your husband actually LETS you homeschool, knowing that you have ADD and are obsessive compulsive?” How’s that for encouragement, lol? ;0)

    My husband wouldn’t have it any other way. I have other learning differences as well. It is often a struggle, but in some ways that helps me to understand my kiddo’s learning difficulties better. I wrote at length about that topic not long ago: http://homeschoolheartandmind.blogspot.com/2011/10/when-mama-has-learning-disability-too.html
    And I was surprised by the number of facebook homeschooling friends who read that post admitted they had similar difficulties. I think us “oddballs” are more “normal” than we think.

  10. I found this searching for homeschooling mom with adhd too! I’m also glad I’m not alone out there. I actually have chronic fatigue, thyroid issues, bipolar and was just diagnosed with adhd last spring and yet, we have many good days. Even with my other struggles I rank ADHD as my top issue. I’m thinking of trying the work box system to help. My oldest is amazing with her ability to just get out her work and get it done so I’m trying to set up a way to help the other three do the same. I’m mom to a dyslexic and definitely one, maybe two or 3 add/adhd kids, so we’re trying to learn together how to manage time, set goals, prioritize, etc. It feels daunting when I compare myself to the moms out there who just know how to get it done and are so on top of things. Some of the advice I get from the super moms just makes me wilt inside. I have to SIMPLIFY and recognize my limitations but also give myself credit for my strengths. Yes, “oddballs” are very common in the homeschooling realm. I think a lot of us had miserable experiences at school and are super dedicated to making life different for our own struggling kids. Thanks for this post!

  11. I have several physical issues plus bipolar. It was VERY hard to make the decision to homeschool. We actually haven’t started yet; we’re starting when this school year gets out. I know he needs me, so I’ll figure out how to be there. I think, since I cycle every couple of weeks, we should get the hard stuff done when I’m at my best and set it aside when I’m at my worst. He can handle most of the subjects very well with some encouragement.

    My confidence is shaky. It helped so much reading this article. I will do it, no matter how confident I am or am not. I’m sure, though, that I’ll do it better and happier if I understand that it’s OK that I’m not perfect.

    1. I’m so glad this article encouraged you! I think your plan to do the hardest things during the times you feel the best is a great one! You can even plan to do certain subjects only during certain weeks if you need to. You may still need to do a little math and reading every day just to keep those skills sharp, but you can be much more flexible with everything else. May God bless you and your homeschool!

  12. This is me to a “T”! It’s summer and I’m feeling a little down about not managing time so well this year (maybe taking on a bit too much, too) and, even though we’ve learned some great things, maybe they’d be better with someone who “gets” organization of time and materials. Maybe they’d be better in public school. Then I quickly bring to mind how nice it is that everyone has a say in their studies and are met at their level followed by stressful doubts of “will I ever get this down?!?”

    I always apologize to my four kiddos, “Sorry you had to say my name so many times (again), honey. This is my best.” Glad to hear I’m not the only one. I need a constant reminder to not compare myself to other hs moms that don’t have ADD (what would THAT be like??? Can you imagine?) and moms who have less than four. Thanks for posting this!!!

  13. I have ADD and Fibromylagia my child has ADHD and ODD I want to homeschool her but I know it’s going to be hard I am taking college classes and it’s hard for me to concentrate and focus on my school work and I am always in pain from the Fibromylagia I know it’s going to be a struggle my daughter is 5 and on Ritilan our doctor diagnosed her at 4 I wish I could get her off the drugs but she is completely out of control when not taking them I wish I knew how to help her.

    1. Nicole, I know people have differing opinions about their children taking medicine to help with ADHD. I personally think that, if your child truly needs medication, it’s ok to give it to her. Hopefully, as she matures, she will begin to be better able to handle her emotions and focus her attention without having to take meds, but I wouldn’t worry about that right now. I think that, at her very young age, you need to focus on loving her and teaching her. When she’s older and is able to understand her ADHD and the issues that it causes, she’ll be better prepared to learn to handle her own behavior. So give yourself a break and don’t feel guilty about giving her the meds!

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