April 29, 2008
When the doctor first mentioned our adopted son might be mildly autistic, it confirmed my suspicions, but left me feeling inadequate. Somehow I was no longer capable of teaching him at home. Yes, we had schooled our seven other children for 12 years, but this was beyond my scope and perceived ability. Then I found some wonderful resources which encouraged me to try, and helped me believe that “Yes, I can!” homeschool a special needs child. And if I can, so can you.
Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)1
Our first call was to HSLDA. Their Special Needs Coordinator returned my call with much encouragement and information: catalogs to order, books to borrow and buy, support groups with newsletters. All from a phone call. One of their lawyers contacted us next with the legal information. Not having a special needs child tested and diagnosed can be viewed as medical neglect, but testing locally or through the local school might not be the best idea. Public school students with disabilities bring more government funding to the local school system than do normal children. The difference is phenomenal: averaging $6,000 per normal student per year up to $100,000 yearly for a special needs child. Using a homeschool-friendly tester, not associated with social services or the local school is usually a better option. HSLDA provides members with referrals. Testing is not just for a label, but for a handle – so you can gather the most helpful resources, ask the right questions, and locate the best support and assistance.
HSLDA also highly recommends homeschooling any child with a learning disability or special need. 2 Since the primary caregiver (usually a parent) knows the child the best, s/he is the one most qualified to teach the child. They understand when the child needs to be pushed further to achieve higher goals, and when to back off and try again another day. Also, time is not wasted trying to develop a rapport, but can be used to progress towards set goals.
Joyce has written many books on homeschooling the special needs child,3 including book-length lists of what to teach when: academically, socially, physically, hygiene, life skills and spiritually. With a Master’s in Learning Disabilities, she is well-qualified to write and offers her services to personally come to your home to test and teach you how to teach your child. Those who have hired Mrs. Herzog report great insight, sensitivity and a changed mindset from her services.
Dr. Joe Sutton
Author, speaker and testing consultant, Dr. Sutton 4 and his wife, Connie, have over 25 years combined experience teaching students with disabilities. Their book, Strategies for Struggling Learners (2nd Edition), written specifically for the homeschooling parent, begins with down-to-earth information on the multitude of disabilities. Defining and describing them, it progresses to practical how-to’s of testing, diagnosing and home-teaching the child with special needs.
National Challenged Homeschoolers (NATHHAN) 5
My next contact was with NATHHAN. Run by Tom and Sherry Bushnell, it is a clearinghouse of information, resources and contacts. They could refer us to families with the same type of situation as ours. The members can offer a hand to hold when you feel overwhelmed. Dealing with most types of disabilities, they can refer you also to newsletters, curricula, books, catalogs and other resources for whatever your need. They publish a quarterly newsletter and emphasize the need for parents to educate themselves first. They offer resources, but no teaching, nor practical hands-on help. Though it takes much research and time, some members have learned how to do occupational, physical, neurological and speech therapy for their own children. Others have built, or received grants for, specialized equipment. If you are willing, you can learn to do much of the therapy the professionals do. (NATHHAN is going through some changes to their business and offerings. Contact them for information.)
For years we looked for a home speech therapy course for one of our sons. Traveling once or twice a week to the therapist’s office got old, and we felt we could work with our child more often and more thoroughly at home. Finally, Marisa Lapish (M.A. in Speech Pathology) wrote Straight Talk, 6 a curriculum for parents to teach how to evaluate problem sounds, teach correct formation of the sound, and reproduce it correctly in words and sentences. 2nd Straight Talk6 teaches how to construct sentences and language. These have been wonderful resources.
Speech therapy is also now available at most local public schools, through the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education) Act.
There were other books that helped me begin this journey of homeschooling a special needs child. Many are available at your local library.
Home Schooling Children with Special Needs by Sharon Hensley is a great first resource. With much emotional support, guidance through the grief, curriculum suggestions, behavior training and practical help in planning the student’s IEP (Individual Education Plan, in some states a required yearly academic and therapeutic plan).
Coping with a Learning Disability describes 21 learning disabilities, gives easy-to-read examples of each, but no homeschooling advice for parents of LD. Library # 371.9 Cla.
The Special Education Sourcebook is a teacher’s guide to programs, materials, and information sources. This is a list of newsletters, magazines, catalogs and other resources available per specific disability. Library # [R] 371.9 Ros
Searching the internet for information proved helpful. There are many bulletin boards, chat boards and websites to provide you with ideas, contacts, resources and support. Since there are many disabilities and variations in special needs, a list of these ‘net locations would prove too long, or would not meet the specific need you have. We’ve included a few to begin with. You can follow the links or do a search of your own.
Our story hasn’t ended yet, but with all these helpful people and wonderful resources we’ve had a great beginning.
Mark & Kym Wright have homeschooled since the mid-80s. They have 8 children, having graduated 3. Kym pens the “Learn and Do” unit studies. She is also a speaker for homeschool groups and state conventions.
You can visit her websites at: www.KymWright.com and www.Learn-and-Do.com.
Published in The Mother’s Heart magazine, a premium online publication for mothers with hearts in their homes. Visit www.The-Mothers-Heart.com for more information.
Special Needs Resources
Website addresses are given below. There are links from these sites, to many other special needs resources websites.
1. HSLDA, PO Box 3000, Purcellville, VA 20134, (540) 338-5600. Membership: $100/year. www.hslda.org
2. Some states require prior approval to homeschool a special needs child, others demand state-certified special education teachers be involved in the teaching or evaluation of a child with special needs. Be sure find out about the laws in your state, through leadership or HSLDA.
3. Special Needs books by Joyce Herzog: Learning In Spite of Labels; Choosing & Using Curriculum for your Special Needs Child; Luke’s Lifelong List (Individual Education Planner); and Luke’s Academics List. Joyce Herzog, Simplified Learning Products www.joyceherzog.com/
4. Dr. Sutton, 220 Douglas Drive, Simpsonville, SC 29681; (864) 967-4729; firstname.lastname@example.org
5. NATHHAN www.nathhan.com.
6. Order Straight Talk 1 and 2 from homeschool catalogs or NATHHAN. For a complete review on Straight Talk, see The Mothers’ Heart magazine (Feb 97), www.The-Mothers-Heart.com $14.95/year or $4.00/back issue. Or see Homeschooling Today magazine (Sept 97), www.homeschoolingtoday.com