Special children are not given to special families; they are born to normal folks like you and me. Hopefully, we will rise to the occasion and find ways to help them progress to their greatest potential.

While the diagnosis of a special needs child usually brings relief that your notions and observations were correct, it can also bring fear of the unknown, grief for the future your child will never know, and confusion about how to teach. Research now indicates that the home is by far the best situation for most special children.1 Since there is a built-in rapport within the family structure, there is no need to re-establish this daily, as in a school setting. The family also knows the child’s personality and temperament, and can usually tell when to push or back off. The same reasons for homeschooling our other children apply to our handicapped child, in even more pronounced ways:

We want him to have Christian character and to transfer of our values. Academics geared for his level, learning style, and interests can be modified to fit his areas of need and giftedness. Children become like those they spend time with: if they spend time with other learning disabled children, they will become more like them; if they spend more time with the family, we will have the most influence in their lives. Since we are homeschooling our seven “normal” children, we decided this would be the best for our special child, too.

However, there were many terms I didn’t understand, the first of which was “IEP.”

Definition

An IEP is an Individualized Educational Plan, mainly used for children with special needs. The law does not require an IEP for homeschooled special needs children, but there are so many benefits that we should consider writing one anyway. It helps you focus on specific goals and plan ways to measure progress. If the goals are too lofty and unattainable this semester, or if you have been too easy, you can go back and rework them. It gives you a thoughtful, sequential plan to make daily progress towards larger goals. An IEP looks impressive and professional, helping in any conflict with state or school board officials. An IEP also helps you see you have accomplished things during the year.

In her book, Deborah Mills states, “The task of designing an IEP is to create a specialized curriculum for a particular child. To implement an IEP for home education, the plan must fit comfortably into the family’s lifestyle and reflect personal values.”2

Joe Sutton writes, “We believe that a tailor-made curriculum is a better approach over the modified regular curriculum approach.”3 The IEP should be comprehensive, including every area of life. Specific goals and objectives should be stated in measurable, observable behaviors. Sequencing level-development gives order to the goals. Set realistic and appropriate plans, in understandable language. Think of an IEP as a pie, the slices representing areas of life, where every type of therapy or learning belongs to at least one of these categories:

Domestic: home life skills, chores, hygiene, dressing

Academic: school, book learning, computer, reading

Character/Spiritual: behavior goals, learning about the Lord

Vocational: work skills, marketable skills

Community: relating to neighbors, friends, store personnel, church members, going to the store or other public places

Recreation/Leisure: playtime, hobbies, fun activities

Contents

1. Include the whole family in the plans. Since homeschooling a special needs child will affect the whole family, they need to be involved. Sometimes our other children see things I don’t, and have good insight into what we need to include in the IEP. This also helps them get involved in helping the special child, builds relationships, and gives them more compassion for those in need.

2. Present level of performance: Write an assessment telling what level the child is accomplishing now. What are his weaknesses? This can include professional tests and evaluations or your assessment (age equivalent capabilities or descriptions of activities). Be as complete as possible, as this is the foundation of the IEP. Include copies of all documentation.

3. Annual Goals: what my student with a disability can reasonably be expected to accomplish in a year’s time in specific areas. Address identified areas of weakness, making this unique to your child - not general to their disability. What is the next level of accomplishment or learning? This includes therapies, specialists, etc. These become this year’s goals. Some families make 5- and 10-year goals, to set a vision for “where we’re ultimately headed.” Write down all your goals.

4. Objectives: Break the goals down to measurable, concrete objectives. These are sequential steps moving the child towards the yearly goals. What can we do this month, quarter or semester to accomplish the plan? Who will do it? Where? What special equipment do we need? What is the target date of accomplishment?

5. Set a daily plan: When can I fit this into the schedule? Set the daily sequence, including therapy sessions, breaks, and chores.

6. Plan the criteria and procedures to test or measure progress. Criteria examples: professional evaluation, performs skill a set number of times, masters a skill, percentage of accuracy. Procedure examples: mommy-made test, finishes curriculum (or portions), interview or observations, samples of work, etc. 

7. Evaluation: Schedule reassessment times to help you stay on target, change daily plans, simplify or make the goals harder. This evaluation can be completed daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or by a specified date.

Since homeschooling a special needs child is more time-consuming, and sometimes harder emotionally, husband and wife need to work and talk through the details: the needs, the goals, who will help, the equipment and everything involved with homeschooling a special needs child. Prayer, asking the Lord to give strength, wisdom and guidance as you raise this special child for Him.

1. HSLDA “Homeschooling Your Special Needs Child”

2. The IEP Manual: The “How To” Guide for Developing Homeschool IEP’s, by Deborah Mills

3. Strategies for Struggling Learners, by Joe Sutton, Ph.D.

Books

The IEP Manual: The “How To” Guide for Developing Homeschool IEP’s, by Deborah Mills; by Joyce Herzog: Luke’s Lifelong List (skills, character); Luke’s Academics List; Learning In Spite of Labels; Choosing & Using Curriculum for Your Special Child; Assessment: Brigance Diagnostic Inventory of Early Development by Albert Brigance; Strategies for Struggling Learners, by Joe Sutton, Ph.D.

Mark & Kym Wright have homeschooled since the mid-80s. They have eight children, one with special needs. Kym pens the “Learn and Do” unit studies. You can visit her website at: http://www.learn-and-do.com/. First published in The Mother’s Heart magazine, a premium online publication for mothers with hearts in their homes. Visit http://www.the-mothers-heart.com/ for more information.