For any parent, choosing whether or not to homeschool your child is a big decision. But when your child has special needs, there are even more factors to consider. As someone who has been there, I can tell you that there are tradeoffs. For my family, the pros have far outweighed the cons, but it’s important to know what you’re giving up and what you’re getting by teaching your child at home. Here are some things to consider.
In Favor of Homeschooling
There are many advantages to homeschooling a child with special needs. The following are a handful for you to consider:
- Kids who are homeschooled get one-on-one attention. No matter how good your local school is, the teacher will never be able to spend as much time with your child as you can teaching them at home. Public schools are designed to deliver education as cost-effectively as possible to as many children as possible. Teachers have to focus the bulk of their time on the majority of the students. Those at either end of the bell curve often get left out. Most kids with special needs learn differently than their peers and respond well to individual attention and praise.
- Homeschooling allows for more schedule flexibility. While it’s important for homeschooling families to have a routine, you can tailor your schedule around doctor’s appointments or therapy sessions as needed. You can also give your child the breaks they may need during the day. For instance, working in chunks of 20 to 30 minutes and then taking a 5 to 10-minute break may be what works best for your child. Giving your child mental breaks can help them retain more when learning, as well as making them feel more comfortable in general and in many cases less overwhelmed.
- You can customize your teaching style to best fit your child’s needs. Most public schools cater to kids who are visual learners. But some children retain information better when there are songs or rhymes attached. Some learners need to move and touch things to get a handle on them. Homeschooling gives you control over the content and how you deliver it. If your child shows a particular interest in a subject that isn’t typically taught at public schools, you can work that interest into their learning. If your child needs a sensory-rich environment, you can create one. Go ahead and use bean bags, swings, or a mini-trampoline instead of a standard desk and chair!
- You have more flexibility on where your child learns on any given day. This could mean scheduling school time at places like the zoo or other learning centers, or just changing the location of class in your home. For example, you can create an outdoor learning area for particularly nice days. Consider making a garden as part of a school project. Learning in different areas or in your yard instead of in the classroom can be a reward for your child, as a change of scenery at school is always exciting for kids.
- Homeschoolers have more control over their children’s social interaction. It can be a bit more work to provide opportunities for social interaction when your child is homeschooled, but you can also keep a closer eye on who they interact with and prevent bullying. With so many parents choosing to homeschool, it’s not hard to connect with local groups and arrange joint field trips and activities. When you find nice kids who your child gets along well with, schedule regular get-togethers.
Drawbacks and Possible Solutions
Of course, while there are many advantages to homeschooling a child with special needs, there are also some drawbacks. Fortunately, there are ways to fill in most of the gaps or compensate for any shortfalls you may encounter. Here is a list of both drawbacks and possible solutions:
- Art, music, and sports are sometimes hard subjects to replicate. Children who are homeschooled miss out on the ability to use state-funded art, music, and sports facilities. One way to make sure your child stays active is to have PE lessons in the park or community pool. You can give your child the experience of being on a team by getting involved with Little League, Youth Soccer, or Special Olympics. Or you can sign them up for activities like dance, karate, gymnastics, or bowling. There are non-competitive and disability-friendly options in most communities. If you aren’t naturally artistic or musical, look for after-school enrichment programs in art or music. You can also do at-home crafts that don’t require a tremendous amount of talent. Stock up on basic crafting items like crepe paper, washi tape, glue, ribbons and pipe cleaners in your home classroom and don’t be afraid to get a bit messy.
- You’ll need to see specialists outside the home. Being homeschooled, your child may miss out on seeing special education specialists like those employed by most large school districts. The only real way to combat this setback is to accept that there will be things for which you have to take your child to an outside specialist or therapist. Whether it’s an occupational therapist, speech therapist, reading specialist, or educational psychologist, finding those professional outside sources is very important when homeschooling. Depending on where you live, you might be able to access help through the state department of education. Find out what you’re entitled to by law.
- Less interaction with peers their age. Your child won’t be spending time with as many kids their age as they would in traditional schools. But if you find one or two compatible families, you might end up with deeper and more meaningful friendships. You can start by checking out homeschooling organizations in your state.
- Your child won’t have access to a school nurse. It’s always a good idea for parents (especially those who are homeschooling) to get CPR certified. You could also take local first aid/basic nursing classes, and make sure you have a first aid kit tucked away somewhere in your learning area.
- Mixing home and schooling can be very confusing for children. For example, if your learning center is in your child’s playroom, they may think they can play with the toys in the room during your time designated for learning. To help mitigate this confusion, consider having a space dedicated to homeschooling your child. That way when you’re in your ‘school zone,’ your child will know it’s time for learning and not play. When deciding on your learning area, make sure it’s big enough to walk around in, as well as fit a desk for your child. Make sure the temperature in the room is comfortable, and that the space you choose is bright and has some natural light which is shown to be better for learning. While natural light is important, make sure you have enough artificial lighting to brighten the room on overcast days or during the evening. Consider painting your walls a calming color, and make sure you add pops of bright color to keep the environment fun. Make sure you have plenty of wall space to hang posters and any chalk or dry erase boards. Spill-proof flooring is also preferable, especially if this is the room you’ll be teaching arts and science in.
- It’s harder to measure progress. Parents homeschooling typical children can easily track their progress by using any number of benchmarks or standards for different grade levels. However, if your child has cognitive or intellectual disabilities, you might be on a different journey where the usual milestones don’t apply. You will see growth and development as your child masters new skills, but it may be hard to know if they’re learning as much as they would have in a traditional school. Self-doubt goes with the territory, but at the end of the day, you need to trust your instincts. If your child is learning, you’re doing well. A yearlong study found that most parents who homeschool children with special needs do an excellent job.
- Homeschooling can be exhausting. It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to be your child’s parent, teacher, coach, therapist, companion, and cheerleader around the clock. It’s important to know your own limitations, enlist help from others, and take time now and then for your own interests and adult friendships. You won’t be much good to your child if you burn out or become socially isolated.
Taking on the responsibility of homeschooling your child with special needs is a big choice to make. Many parents, however, find that homeschooling is the best option for their child. At the end of the day, every situation is different and it’s important for parents to take their child’s specific needs into consideration when thinking about the possibility of homeschooling. Knowing the positives and negatives (and possible solutions to the negatives) when it comes to homeschooling will help you make the best choice for your family.