I have a very passionate, personal motivation for enriching the lives of people living with disabilities.
I myself am disabled, I have a son with a serious form of epilepsy and is on the autism spectrum, a daughter who I rebel against calling “normal”.
She was diagnosed as a downs baby when I was pregnant, but came out with the tiniest slant of the eyes that coupled with her full head of pitch black hair made her look like an Egyptian goddess.
She had no other signs of a down syndrome child and had no learning disabilities.
I also have another daughter who has 6 forms of dyslexia and a nasty case of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
I homeschooled all three from grade 0 to grade 12 after the schooling system failed them. All 3 are now successful, productive adults.
For many families living with children with special needs, homeschooling is a last resort.
Raising a child with special needs is way more expensive than raising a child with no physical, mental, emotional, or intellectual disabilities.
For this reason, parents are often forced to have both parents employed full time to cover their costs.
So how can we adapt our lives to facilitate the best learning experience that will empower our children and make them self-sufficient, productive adults?
Guiding Special needs Learners to be Productive Adults
Parenting is hard enough without dealing with special needs. Unfortunately, the number of children with special needs has grown substantially over the last 20 years.
Globally, the number of kids testing on the autistic spectrum, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), and congenital disorders has risen at a rate that the school systems globally cannot accommodate.
As a parent, I can tell you, it is harder than any of us could ever predict while we are thinking of having kids or as expectant moms and dads to be.
There are so many factors that need to be addressed to make sure your child gets the best education possible to ensure that they are productive members of society.
And the reality is, we underestimate the abilities of our special needs children.
In my case, even the doctors tried to tell us there is no help. We were told our son would never learn to read, write, or speak.
He was excused from the mandatory schooling system, and we were told, do not bother trying, it will not work.
When we started homeschooling, he was two and a half years behind. He was completely caught up to his age group within 6 months! Today he is a successful writer.
I am not saying every special needs child will be a thrivingly rich, successful adult if you homeschool. What I am saying is, do not give up on your child EVER.
I do not know how Steven Hawking was educated, but if there was ever a testament to a successful, innovative, motivated, motivating, disabled person, it is him.
There are so many accommodations we as parents need to make physically, emotionally, and intellectually if we want to give our children a chance to succeed.
Understanding our children, their special needs, and what we can do to help them succeed will calm us as parents and equip us better to prepare our children for the competitive world of adults.
Before You start, Understand the Pros and Cons of Homeschooling a Special Needs Child
- Personalized curriculum
- Child centered education that works to the strengths of the child
- Work to grow according to the child’s strengths
- Work according to your child’s moods by being flexible with your child’s schedule.
- Promote personalized social experiences
- Take away all the anxiety that comes with a busy environment surrounded by peers (and the potential for bullying that often goes with that)
- Personalized teaching styles
- One-on-one instruction
- A handicapped friendly learning environment
- Reduce stress triggers
- Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
- Often our children want to learn about things we are not good at, meaning tutors will be needed for certain subjects
- Lack of access to trained professionals
- Some areas completely exclude homeschool children from inclusion to after school activities like drama club, chess club, debate teams, etc.
- Major responsibility and accountability on the homeschooling parent
- Very expensive
- Parents often underestimate the scope of teaching a special needs learner, make no mistake, if you choose to homeschool, it will be hard
- Parents of special needs children who homeschool often neglect their own physical, mental, and emotional needs; they do not have a break from their children and are at risk of burnout
- Physically demanding
- Some subjects require access to advanced environments like science labs and other learners to speak to in foreign languages
- Learners can feel like they are hidden from the world and lack integration skills they will need as adults
- Children with disabilities often feel stigmas attached to their special needs
- Children do not always get the social interaction with other children, both able-bodied and disabled; they can feel isolated and lonely
- In my experience working with parents who want to homeschool, I have seen many parents failing their children because they think flexible means no routine; be flexible with what your child works on if they are having a bad day, but have hours that form a routine for your child
Identifying Special Needs
With modern technology, we can now often identify a child who will have special needs while they are in utero.
Down syndrome, spina bifida, lack of limbs, and many other conditions are visible on a standard ultrasound scan.
Disabilities are often identified at birth. Especially in the case of mothers who have not had the luxury of an ultrasound scan during pregnancy, this can be a massive shock to the whole family.
Developmental abnormalities are only diagnosed through the passage of time, a perceptive parent, and regular checkups to ensure the child is developing normally.
Learning or intellectual disabilities are harder to detect in preschool going age children. These kids are often only recognized by teachers who have the luxury of small, intimate classes where they can develop relationships with each child.
Teachers then begin the process of diagnosing the learning barrier.
A team of specialists like teachers, pediatricians, doctors, psychologists, educational psychologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and teacher’s assistants all communicate with each other and the parents to monitor and develop a plan and enforce the plan to maximize the child’s learning opportunities.
Parent teacher conferences are essential to address issues noticed by the teacher and by the parent.
Sometimes teachers only begin to identify issues when parents raise issues identified when the child is struggling and showing signs of frustration with homework.
The sooner a problem is identified, and intervention begins, the better the long-term outcome.
Children are assist based on a battery of tests that look at:
- Developmental delays
- Communication skills
- Eye contact
- Behaviors such as stimming (repetitive behaviors)
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Cognitive skills
- Lack of understanding
- Letter reversal
- Overall health
- Inability to focus for extended periods
- Struggling to form relationships with adults and children
- Inability to complete tasks
- Excessive talking
- Inappropriate language-based learning
- Math-based difficulties
- Difficulty processing visual-spatial concepts
- Lack of progress against Early Learning Goals
- Performance of National Curriculum, age-related expectations
- Performance during SATs
Why Choose to Homeschool
Deciding to homeschool should never be taken lightly. It is hard work. It can lead to feelings of isolation for both the child and the parents.
It can make educational disabilities worse because of the lack of trained professionals assisting with education.
So why homeschool?
- You know your child best; you can detect issues sooner than anyone else
- You can plan an individualized, personalized curriculum
- Your child will receive one on one attention
- You can build your school day according to your child’s physical, mental, and emotional needs from day to day
- You can build on the strengths of your child; developing skills in an area that your child is good at will raise their self-confidence
- You can diversify your child’s learning experiences through field trips to museums, galleries, places of worship, after school activities, and interactions with support groups for all homeschool families and for families with special needs children
- Homeschooling removes a lot of the stressors for children with special needs; peer pressure, time constraints, expectations, environment, noise, light, and number of children all place a lot of stress on special needs children exacerbating the learning impairment
The Legalities of Homeschooling
Homeschooling is legal in all 50 states in America. It is legal in most countries across the world.
You will be expected to register with your local district as a homeschooler. I have 1st hand knowledge that many homeschool families do not register because they fear governmental interference.
Registration is not a conspiracy to foil your plans. It is necessary to ensure that all children of mandated age are getting the education they will need to succeed in the world as adults.
Registration also ensures that children are studying age appropriate, diverse material to allow them to enter college or university once they graduate.
In most countries there are restrictions demanding parental supervision. In South Africa, homeschooling is only legal if carried out by a parent.
It is illegal for grandparents, family, or friends to take on the responsibility of educating the child. Additionally, tutors can only be provided as an additional resource for 2 subjects.
The tutors are not the primary source of education for the child, they are after hours resources only. The responsibility remains on the parent.
Children are expected to do at the desk studies for a minimum amount of time every day. This differs from country to country and state to state.
Parents are expected to keep records showing all schoolwork, attendance, and input or assessment of all external resources.
Children are expected to take standardized tests or assessments every year to prove that progress is being made.
Parents do not have to hold any qualification for teaching. They just have to follow an accredited, appropriate curriculum.
There are many advocacy organizations you can turn to if you need clarification of the legality of homeschooling or if you run into trouble with local education departments.
In America, you can turn to:
- Alliance for Intellectual Freedom of Education
- Homeschool Legal Defense Association
- American Homeschool Association
In South Africa, you can turn to:
In Australia, you can turn to:
In the UK, you can turn to:
The reality is that many countries welcome homeschooling as they simply do not have the teachers or resources to educate the volume of learners.
Support for Homeschooling Your Child
There is more to raising a special needs child than just giving them book smarts.
Special needs students are often very good at the knowledge side of education, but their social skills are often lacking. They fear rejection, bullying, intimacy, and the stress of being expected to interact.
As the parent of a child with special needs, you need to build an educational plan that affords a holistic approach to enrich the personality, social interaction, mental ability, and physical ability of your child.
Forgive me for tooting my own horn here, but I developed an incredibly successful system for integration, social skills, creative interaction, and parental support.
It was so successful that the Gauteng (Pretoria) Education Department referred potential homeschoolers to at least take part in my group for one month or attend meetings with me personally for 4 hours before they would register the potential family as homeschoolers.
This is how it worked…
Once a week (we did this every Friday) all the families that were homeschooling special needs kids and able children met for 2 hours in the morning.
This meant that there was still time to do schoolwork afterwards and it was a great way to end the week.
The first hour we split into two groups. One group for the children, the other for the parents. We rotated responsibilities for these meetings.
One parent would be responsible for providing snacks for tea with the adults. One parent supplied appropriate snacks for the kids.
One parent was responsible for an activity with the kids that would keep them busy for an hour. They could ask for an extra set of hands if needed.
They could do art, read stories, bake (sweets and treats that did not require an oven or stove, or do whatever creative idea they came up with that addressed age-appropriate versions of activities.
Another parent was responsible for teaching the parents a skill that works for them or to guide a discussion or address concerns.
This would take one hour (while the other delegated parent worked with the children).
Once a month the Education Department would send a representative to listen to concerns, address issues, and provide insight and support.
The representative was not there for policing, they were there for support and guidance and to relate new policies.
The second hour was for socialization. This is when kids could build relationships, and parents could get to know each other and develop friendships that would benefit their children through friendships with families with similar age children or similar special needs.
Interaction with any other children is vital for developing the social skills needed later in their lives.
This was a safe space for the children to interact and blow off some steam, and it was a great way for parents to relax and socialize with other parents who had similar concerns.
Children also benefit socially if they take part in extracurricular activities like sport, debate teams, or clubs like scouts.
Rule of Law to Your Aid
In South Africa and many other countries, the laws are written that no public schools are allowed to exclude homeschool families from clubs or sports.
Most private schools here are also happy to incorporate homeschooled children in their activities.
Children can take part in drama clubs, hockey teams, soccer teams, rugby (similar to football), or even camp with children from their local schools.
Any interaction is a big plus for the child, but it is also important to try to build relationships with other children with special needs. This will help your child feel less “different”.
Socialization for the children also has a major effect on the parents. Interaction with other parents can bring much stress relief and sanity.
As a parent who is homeschooling, you will feel very isolated and frustrated as you spend all day every day with your child and never interact with other adults.
Friends can take turns looking after children, freeing up the other parent for some ‘me’ time.
Incorporating Other Therapies with the Education Path
One of the biggest stumbling blocks I have seen families with special needs children make is to think they can do it all on their own.
Trust me, you cannot!
Even if your child was in an integrated or special needs school, they would require input from several therapists.
1. Educational Psychologists
Educational psychologists are a valuable resource to show that your child is making progress, to assess realistic goals, identify learning disabilities, suggest the specific means to improve your child’s learning experience, identify special accommodations for testing, examinations, and assessments, and to actually work with you and your child.
Remember the primary goal: educate your child to the best the child can be educated to help them succeed in the future.
Take your child for a full assessment once a year, and where possible take them as often as recommended throughout the year for the extra help they need.
2. Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapists focus on the physical ability to perform specific tasks necessary to function independently (as far as possible) in day-to-day life.
Occupational therapists work to assess and, essentially, train the child’s muscles to perform tasks such as:
- Holding a cup, pencil, building block, etc.
- Teach a child to suck through a straw – this is essential to speech
- Manipulate tools
- Learn to use buttons, zippers, and laces
- Feed themselves
- Use a computer
- Brush their own teeth and hair
- Organize items
- Improve coordination
- Improve fine and gross motor skills
- Improve sensory perception skills
- Reduce tactile defensiveness
- Improve visual perception
- Manage behaviors like tics and stimming
- Learn to free play and participate in extracurricular activities like sport, art, and team activities
An occupational therapist will also be able to suggest physical equipment that will help your child function better educationally and physically in everyday life – these can include the use of computers, handheld devices such as speech computers, calculators, thick grip pencils, etc.
Occupational therapists – if they do this right – always involve the parents in the therapy of the child. Every parent at some time expected to raise an able-bodied child.
Faced with a special needs learner, we as parents have to unlearn what the self-help books and our own childhoods prepared us for.
We need to be involved in all aspects of preparing our children for THEIR best life.
3. Child Psychologists
Child psychologists are as important for parents as they are for children. They help children understand the source of their frustrations and learn coping mechanisms. They can identify and diagnose conditions like autism.
They can diagnose and treat depression – I have yet to meet a child with special needs who has not experienced depression at some point in their lives.
The child psychologist can also help parents who are not identifying the source for behaviors and are experiencing great frustration because they do not see the cause or understand the behavior of the child.
Your response to your child’s behavior often leads to frustration, anger, self-confidence and depression issues, and feelings of being misunderstood and undervalued.
Learning to understand these behaviors and to respond to them in more appropriate ways will improve your child’s self-confidence, self-value, and ability to cope in stressful situations.
Physiotherapists do more than just help people clear their lungs when they are sick or heal an aching back. They also help strengthen muscles, balance, and movement.
They can also work with you so that you can learn to do daily exercises and only visit the physiotherapist once a month.
5. Speech Therapists
Children with special needs often need assistance with their speech. Special needs and speech often are mutually inclusive.
Other children, and adults, easily recognize special needs children by their speech. Sadly, the inability to communicate clearly often is all that is needed for bullies to paint a bullseye on a special needs child.
Your child’s ability to speak clearly and convey their opinions and needs is essential for integration in society.
Speech therapists will develop the muscles of the mouth, speech, pronunciation, projection, and vocabulary of your child and will give you exercises to do with your child to improve the muscles of the mouth and grow your child’s ability to communicate.
Adapting the Learning Experience
Homeschooling both the illusive “normal” child and children with special needs is so much fun because you can play around and figure out what works and what does not work for your child and develop an individual centered experience for your child.
In the 21 years it took to homeschool my children, I changed curriculum at least once a year for at least one child. What worked one year often did not work for the following year.
This was never a bad thing, all the resources that I bought over the years from the first child I was able to set aside as a resource for the other children down the line.
This does not mean that they necessarily followed the same curriculum, but they had access to the learning materials of the other curriculum to refer to if they were having an issue studying a certain concept in the curriculum that they were following.
We were able to diversify our learning environment itself to maximize room space, lighting, accessibility, and each child’s interaction with the learning environment and with each other.
Choosing the Right Working Environment
One thing that we never did was that we never put desks in our children’s bedrooms and never allowed them to work in their bedrooms on schoolwork.
This ensured that our children had access to a place of complete relaxation, where they could step away from learning and just unwind and destress.
We also did not allow our children to take their computers into their bedrooms until they turned 18. Computers were in the school room where they could be monitored to ensure nothing inappropriate popped up.
Extracurricular activities could also be arranged based on the strengths and interests of each child.
We always wanted our children to do at least one activity that challenged their abilities and one activity in which they excelled.
Activities were very much family-related in that many of the activities the children took part in involved at least once a year going on a camp with other learners and other homeschool families, and then just doing an outdoor activity as a family.
Being very much the outdoors type, I took my children on a 10 kilometer hike every weekend. The youngest completed her first 10 kilometer hike without being carried when she was 2 years old (thank you ADHD).
They would go horse riding with me once a week, and they took part in canoeing in a club where both myself and my husband were involved in training and safety.
They participated and did exceptionally well in competitions every weekend and going on once a year camps to take part in the South African National Canoeing Competition
Each child got their Mpumalanga and South African Colors in at least 3 distances for at least 7 years in a row.
In addition, my son excelled in chess, and really liked to participate through a local school team after hours.
The eldest of my two daughters was very creative. She went for art lessons through one of the mothers in our homeschool group, who did art lessons for children in the homeschool group, and also loved to paint with me.
My youngest daughter, who had a very bad case of ADHD, needed to be physical a lot of the time; she took part in ballet, modern dancing, and gymnastics.
She became a gymnastics coach when she turned 13 at the club where she was a team member. She got her Mpumalanga and her South African Colors for 6 years.
We also had to get a trampoline set up in our backyard, so that while she was working in the school day she could go and jump on the trampoline when her attention was starting to wander, and she needed to burn off some energy to be able to concentrate on her schoolwork.
Extracurricular Activities Are a Must
Extracurricular activities such as visits to museums, monuments, state parks, historical sites, caving in South Africa at the cradle of humankind, all formed a part of our curriculum.
These were not just outings; these were learning experiences.
We did guided tours with input from knowledgeable leaders who were able to explain the place, the period, the historical foundation, or whatever environment it was that we were exposing the children to.
These are things that took place at least once every month, this was something that the children really looked forward to doing as it got them away from their desks and out into the real world in interesting and entertaining ways.
We also had a reward system in place.
If the children were able to meet all the goals that they had set for themselves at the beginning of the month and they had been well behaved they would be treated to a fun outing such as a trip to the zoo, to the movies, to the trampoline park, or to the indoor jungle gym fun center.
All three children also participated in the scouting movement. This helped them build relationships and learn new skills as well as participate in activities to improve the lives of others.
My children also were expected to volunteer once a week for an hour or two at center’s that:
- promoted and afforded special needs children the ability to participate in fun sports,
- teach underprivileged children new skills,
- read to grades 1 to 3 at a school for special needs children and help teach the children to read,
- pick up litter and clean our local parks,
- assist at the local SPCA,
- or visit at old age homes
… not just as entertainment for old people but rather to build relationships with the residents at the homes.
All of these tasks fostered a sense of importance in the children’s lives. They learned that they could contribute in a meaningful way to society.
Their self-confidence grew, their self-respect grew, and their sense of value of life improved.
On hot summer days we took all our books and a picnic basket and would go and sit under a tree to work.
When one of our horses was in labor, we would take our books and move into an empty stall in the barn that was well lit and worked in the barn.
Here the children could take regular breaks to look and see how the horse is progressing and just enjoy the moment.
My husband and I took our children on extended hikes often covering between 30 and 50 kilometers over a period of five days.
We would take some of our lighter schoolbooks with us on these hikes and when the day got too hot to walk, we would take cover under a tree or in a hiker’s hut and cover some of our learning material.
But the bulk of our learning would be based on the nature that we are walking in.
We would teach the children about different animals, different birds, different insects, different grasses, different vegetation, conservation and rehabilitation.
We would also teach them important survival skills such as boiling water before consuming it, or finding plants to eat in the environment, or safety skills when climbing, when near water, or around wild animals.
We were able to develop relationships with other homeschool families that lasted to this day with children of the same age groups and children with the same special needs.
You can create your own routine based on the time of day that your children function the best and time needed to attend other therapies or activities.
Do Have Set Schedule
I do have a recommendation on this however, I enforced regular school hours from 8:00 in the morning until 2:00 in the afternoon.
The children had a short break before lunch to go to the bathroom, stretch their legs, or grab a drink. And they had an hour for lunch.
I found that this method of developing a routine was really helpful in forming good habits and a good work ethic for the children.
Remember that this can be flexible. If your children work better in the late afternoon, start your school day later in the day but ensure your children are getting enough time to grow their knowledge and skills.
For many education departments, there are set numbers of hours that form part of the regulations for the country or state whereby each child has to be educated using a curriculum for a set number of hours.
For special needs children most states say that each child should be educated for three hours a day working from textbooks or a curriculum.
The short academic day is based largely on the special needs child’s ability to concentrate and the intense focus of education without distractions that would occur in a normal integrated school.
Setting Up The Classroom
Your classroom at home can vary from working in a dedicated study, spare room, or even at the dining room table.
As long as you have sufficient light for your children to work and sufficient air flow you are good to go.
You can adapt the environment to incorporate desks that are high enough for a wheelchair to fit under, the use of headphones to allow your child to listen to educational material without disturbing the other children who are studying in the same room.
You can make use of ergonomic desks for example laptop desks that are able to raise the computer at an angle, so the typing does not cause carpal tunnel syndrome.
You can make use of yoga balls as seating; this worked very well for my youngest daughter as the bouncing on the ball helped burn out some of the energy that was building from being at a desk.
We had a wonderful sunroom that had good ventilation for summer and lots of warmth during winter.
The room was big enough that we were able to fit 4 desks in one for each of the children and one for me with 3 meters around each desk.
My desk was on the back of the room facing the children’s desks, and the children’s desks were spaced out along the side of the room with the windows spread out from each other.
There are so many ways to diversify the learning environment, use of resources, use of curriculum, use of time, and use of the outside world to improve the learning experience, knowledge, and application of all the things our children learn.
This is where you can let your creative side flow over into your children’s education.
Learn what works for your children, and the day that it stops working for your children, be ready to change paths with ideas given to you by various therapists and most importantly by your child.
Educational departments for both public, private, and home-schooled children require that children be assessed on a yearly basis according to a specific number of criteria of age-appropriate abilities and knowledge.
These assessments are done under the assumption that no matter what curriculum the child is learning from, the child will be able to meet the requirements set out by the educational department as age appropriate.
When formulating an education plan that includes your curriculum of choice, you should start with the following:
- Diagnose the specific special need
- Form objectives that are appropriate to your child
- Select content that is appropriate for the child
- Organize your content goals
- Decide on what you will teach your child and how you will deliver knowledge and skills
- Decide who will assess and evaluate your child annually and how assessments will be carried out
For children with special needs, any curriculum can be adapted on the basis of special accommodations as mandated by an educational psychologist or occupational therapist.
These adaptations are not exclusively for the actual curriculum that you are following.
Adaptations can include:
- The physical learning environment
- The incorporation of group learning opportunities
- The availability of resources such as posters of the scientific tables, multiplication charts, or alphabet charts
- Organizers that are easy to use that provide key scientific information to help the child understand specific concepts
- Organizers that demonstrate or explain new concepts
- Individual oriented pace of the activities to suit the individual special needs of your child
- Providing enough time to complete assignments based on the child’s ability to grasp concepts and formulate answers
- Provide short assignments that assess individual concepts rather than a big assignment that covers a large volume of learning material that can lead to confusion and frustration for your child
- Curriculum can be provided with different modes of input such as dictate to scribe, the use of online materials, the use of a tape recorder, the use of pictures or charts, the use of a scribe, the use of building materials to illustrate answers, the use of a computer, the use of an electronic speech device for nonverbal individuals, the use of pictures, enlarged text or visual aids, the use of manipulatives, and the use of a calculator
- Different materials can be used to maximize the ability to learn such as large print activity sheets, sheets that provide more writing space for learners who struggle to write, the use of colors to identify new sections of studies or topics, using pages that provide less information on one page and that provide more illustration or application of information on the page
- The provision of assistance by way of a tutor, a peer, an assistant, and consultants or therapists
- Provision of more flexible assessment that demonstrates the child’s level of understanding of concepts and their application
- Provision of alternative ways of conducting testing such as application of a concept, the ability to demonstrate knowledge as it applies in real life, oral tests, and open book tests
- Simplification of the way that a concept is taught, the child’s demonstration of their level of understanding, the way that a subject is tested, and real-world application based on the learners’ special needs and level of their own abilities
Your curriculum should include:
- Communication and language
- Social, environmental, and scientific studies
- Science and technology
- Health education
- Guidance counseling
- Religious and/or moral education
- Physical education
Some recognized homeschool curricula are:
- General Education Curriculum
- Accelerated Christian Education (ACE)
- British International Distance Curriculum (BIDC)
- Hands On Learning
Building an Inspiring Physical Learning Environment
Some special needs learners are extremely light sensitive, for them a sunroom will not facilitate a comfortable learning environment.
Some special needs children need visual cues such as posters or building blocks.
Some learners work better at learning stations where they move to a different location for each subject that can be left as is for the child to come back to.
Soothing music is a great aid for many learners.
Color coding subject material is a fantastic visual cue to stimulate association making it easier to develop mind maps and remember content.
Build your child’s environment to incorporate their likes or dislikes, to prompt understanding, to allow for physical needs, or to inspire learning.
The availability of resources is often regulated by local laws or rules. Access to local schools’ facilities for example school science laboratories or school libraries are often at the discretion of the schooling system or district.
I found that a little bit of sugar went a long way to having schools open their doors for my children to participate in activities at the school.
By building a relationship with the headmaster and teaching staff at schools, and by volunteering at sports meets or as chaperones on outings, many schools will open their doors and give your children the opportunity to interact with other children and enjoy the full array of resources at the school.
By approaching local teachers and building relationships with them many will provide their knowledge and input on how best to introduce and grow knowledge on new topics.
They can also be used as tutors to assist with material that is outside of your own scope of knowledge; however, you should also work on your own knowledge so that as your child develops you can develop with them and assist them in grasping the subject material.
Teachers can also help you understand material so that you can teach and reinforce new concepts for your child.
Computers are a valuable tool when teaching the deaf as they can read information themselves without needing constant interaction.
Computers are also a valuable tool when teaching visually impaired children as computers can read aloud subject matter and your child can dictate their inputs into the subject matter.
The use of videos is also a very good way to stimulate young minds, expanding knowledge and teaching real world scenarios where knowledge can be applied in an interesting and entertaining manner.
Presentations for lessons given by you as the parent are also important in building a safe and hospitable relationship with your child.
These presentations should be interactive with your child, and you should note concepts that your child is struggling with so that you can provide the extra input or teach the subject material in a different way so that your child can master that concept.
Live web sessions or webinars will help your child gain immediate feedback from a professional who can answer their questions in real time.
This interaction can also assist your child in asking and responding to questions in a more logical and clear way.
Following an online curriculum can also help your child by allowing your child to progress at his or her own speed while teaching a subject in a variety of ways.
Online courses are easy to assess for understanding and knowledge growth.
Public libraries also supply a wealth of knowledge via librarians. Librarians are able to recommend books, open up new avenues for exploration, and interact with children with special needs as well as their parents passing on aids and advice for study material.
They can also supply Internet access and access to larger databases in addition to reading books.
By joining local clubs your children can be afforded the opportunity to interact with others, learn social skills, gain physical strength, and improve endurance. Successful participation in such clubs can vastly improve your child’s self-confidence.
Never underestimate the power of Google and YouTube! They are valuable for you as the primary teacher to understand concepts and skills you will need to teach your child.
Videos are great for teaching your child. Today’s children seem to retain anything they learn online much better than when they have to learn from a book or their mom or dad.
They will also learn to research the information they need for assignments and base their answers from more than 1 source.
Tips for Helping Your Special Needs Child
Autism Spectrum Disorder
The priority for a parent of an autistic child is to develop social skills, develop play skills that promote interaction, and develop daily routines that foster independence.
Insist on your child looking you in the eye when you want to say something to them as well as when they want to communicate with you.
Routine is the rule by which parents of children with Asperger’s stay sane. Children (and adults) with Asperger’s do not like change!
They want things to happen at a reliable time and in a reliable manner. If something different is going to happen, such as a doctor’s visit or field trip, they need as much notice of the change in routine as possible.
They will need this information to be repeated often so that they can process this new plan well before it happens.
Attention Deficit and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Children with ADD or ADHD have difficulty focusing, paying attention, listening, or putting effort into their schoolwork. A combination of modifications will have the best results for these children.
Give clear instructions repetitively, pair up written, visual, and auditory instructions. Make eye contact when giving instructions and have the child repeat the instruction.
Provide tools for multitasking such as chewing gum, fiddlesticks, or time on the trampoline to break up activities.
Children with Visual Disabilities
Children with visual disabilities need access to auditory lessons, computers that can read text aloud, earphones to block the sound from other learners, braille, and voice to text, or voice recorders to complete tasks.
Children with Hearing Disabilities
Children with hearing disabilities need visual inputs.
Pictures, written text, voice to text applications, flashing lights to get their attention, and sign language all can help your child better understand learning material.
Children with down syndrome grasp new skills and subjects best with tactile demonstrations.
Keep instructions unambiguous and use clear facial expressions to convey mood, intention, expectations, and explanations.
Make eye contact, speak in short sentences, and work according to routines every day.
Children with dyslexia should be taught to read using phonetic symbols with pictures to associate phonetic sound as it applies.
I was not keen on the full curriculum, but ACE’s Learning to Read (grade 0 and 1) was amazing.
Many parents swear by the Orton-Gillingham approach. Your child will need extra time to read, understand, and formulate answers. Keep a consistent routine, with clear rules that are consistently enforced.
Anxiety and Depression
Children suffering from depression are often bullied at school. Sometimes the anxiety and depression result from bullying.
These kids face major stress from home situations, issues in their friendship circles, in the classroom, from the complexity of a curriculum they struggle to grasp.
If ever there was a reason to homeschool, this is it. Anxiety and depression are debilitating. These children need to follow a curriculum that lets the child work at his or her own pace.
They need activities that boost their self-confidence and activities that help them develop a feeling of value to society.
Routines and enforcement of rules helps develop a sense of right and wrong, cause and effect for both good and bad behavior.
I can write a book on teaching a child with epilepsy. Many people see epilepsy as just this one event and that when the moment is past, normality is restored. It is not!
Children with epilepsy forget what they just learnt before a seizure occurred and need to relearn what the seizure erased.
Repetition of concepts in small segments with frequent testing on short sections of work reduce the stress that can fuel seizures.
Use mind maps that your child can refer to. Allow extra time for learning and for examinations and tests. Reduce a task into steps that follow each other and simplify the task or concept.
Children with cerebral palsy need more physical space for learning comfortably. The sooner you embrace technology the better.
Be prepared to be flexible in how you teach your child. Give your child choices and an avenue of how they want to be taught.
You will need to work more with all your therapists, doctors, and local teachers. Building self-esteem is very important.
Children with developmental disorders are generally diagnosed very early in life when they do not meet expected milestones.
They need extra time to work at their own pace. Use positive reinforcement. Teach subjects in small blocks and simplify the way you teach your child.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and children born with drug dependence
Children born with fetal alcohol syndrome can be very challenging – but not impossible – to teach.
Education starts very early. Children with FAS need a lot more time to learn new concepts. The lessons need to be simplified and reinforced often and in different ways.
Their education will be a collaboration with therapists, tutors, and mental health counseling for the child and the parents. Expectations need to be realistic.
These children’s brains have been damaged by substance abuse during the pregnancy limiting their abilities.
We were freed of the responsibility of educating my son because he was deemed unable to learn anything.
We persevered and raised an awesome young writer. Take your time. Teach in small, simplified blocks.
Test frequently using short tests with more time to complete them.
Use visual cues when teaching. Routines are really important. Rules need to be consistently enforced.
Take time to breathe and never give up on your child!
Children with muscular dystrophy should be encouraged to use their muscles as much as possible to strengthen and maintain their muscles.
Children with muscular dystrophy will need an individualized education plan (IEP). Technology will allow your child to learn better. They will need more time to learn with frequent testing.
Oppositional Defiant Disorder
Children with oppositional defiant disorder are very challenging to teach. Many parents are forced to homeschool because of behavioral issues in the classroom and disruption to other learners.
Developing an individualized educational plan for these children should be done based on their own interests and in a way that stimulates creativity and curiosity.
It is not enough to expect your child to respect you, children with oppositional defiant disorder often feel that they are not heard and crave respect.
School work should be presented in a fun and interesting way that focuses on the child’s interests and how the child learns.
Instead of just teaching your child with ODD try learning with your child, introduce new subjects and do research with your child allowing the child to teach you as if you are the learner.
Keep disruptions to a minimum.
Above all else stay positive, children with oppositional defiant disorder can easily identify when you are not in a good mood and that is when they tend to play up.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder can be very disruptive to other learners. Children can often be ridiculed or bullied in mainstream or integrated schools.
OCD can be managed at home by setting limits to the behaviors, being firm about enforcing rules, and rewarding your child for their efforts to manage their own OCD.
Do not accommodate or enable your child when they develop a new obsession. It is better to manage the behavior as soon as it shows up before it becomes an obsession.
Children with spina bifida have multiple special needs both in life and in education.
Some children will experience memory and functionality problems, and some may struggle with fine and gross motor tasks, and many experience personal care challenges, especially issues with continence.
Often children with spina bifida find giving oral answers or responses easier than writing out responses. Provide a variety of ways and activities to teach concepts in fun and interesting ways.
Tourette’s syndrome can influence a child’s ability to learn in a big way. Children with Tourette’s often find it very difficult to read and write while they are having tics.
They often experience problems with acceptance and are embarrassed by their own tics. Children with Tourette’s are often bullied at school and have a bad self-image as a result of the disorder.
Remove or reduce exposure to anything that can lead to stress or anxiety. Stress and anxiety can aggravate tics making it harder to grasp new concepts.
Provide written notes for your child so that they are not forced to write down notes on their own.
Your child will also need to be tested and treated by an occupational therapist and a child psychologist to help them learn coping mechanisms and ways to lower the number of tics that they have in a day.
It is very important that you allow your child to take part in something that will boost their self-confidence.
Setting Ground Rules and Boundaries for Discipline
Setting up rules, identifying boundaries, and applying appropriate discipline when rules are broken is vital to your child’s relationships, interactions, understanding of social cues, routines, and understanding of cause and effect.
It is also the most important thing you can do to ensure your sanity. The punishment should always be fair!
School hours should be clear, use an alarm to wake your child on time for school. If your child is late for school, the appropriate punishment would be to make the child work for however minutes late they were in getting to school after they would normally have finished school.
Inappropriate behavior during school hours could be corrected verbally or, in the case of ADHD children, by breaking the routine with an activity that encourages good behavior.
Having grown up in the period where computers were not even imagined yet, I grew up with the notion that handwriting was very important.
Back in my day, if we did not write neatly, our teachers would give us lines to write out over and over again with neat handwriting.
It took my son’s messy handwriting for me to understand that handwriting in modern society is not as important as typing.
Children still need to learn how to write using a pencil and paper or pen in paper but handwriting simply needs to be legible, not artistic.
If your child has untidy handwriting, you can give them more written assignments to focus on their handwriting.
It does not need to be lines that are repetitive, you can help your child write a short story, write out a project on a topic they enjoy, or write a letter to their mom or dad explaining what was good at school today and what was bad at school today.
If your child has not been completing math correctly based on the age appropriateness of the equations or out of lack of interest, they can be given extra math equations to solve as homework.
For any subject, if a child is not achieving achievable goals in that subject, work that was not included during school hours can be given as homework. Remember, the punishment must always fit the crime.
Most importantly, pick your battles and do not sweat the small stuff!
The Problem with the Conventional Public School System and Private Schools
The school system is failing our children. Currently the ratio of teachers to learners is 65 learners to 1 teacher in South Africa! For many countries the ratio is even higher.
I do not see that it even serves able bodied learners. For special needs learners, the educational system is taxed to the max and is not giving special needs learners the assistance they need.
- The cost of placing your special needs child in a private school or specialized school is astronomical.
- Specialized learners for specific disabilities often have fewer subjects, limiting the possible career path of your child.
- Many schools require an extra, specific fee to have a teacher’s aide who literally goes from class to class with a special needs learner.
- Population of learner to teacher ratios make it impossible for a teacher to address the needs of any of the learners in their class; often the size of the class makes it impossible for the teacher to even know the names of all the students in their class.
- Many schools have an entrance exam that is not flexible for special needs learners.
- Children in schools are often faced with extreme peer pressure. Kids want to fit in, this balance of peer pressure and the scope of ability is often insurmountable. This can lead to major depression and low self-esteem
- Because of their special needs, children often fear failure because they feel disadvantaged in public, private, and inclusive schools. They are acutely aware of the fact that they are different from “normal” learners. As a result, they do not want to be seen as a failure or intellectually or physically disabled.
- All learners struggle with self-esteem, self-worth, and self-confidence feelings from time to time. Most learners feel this every day for their whole learning period. Special needs learners are acutely affected by these issues.
- Schools are ill-equipped to facilitate special needs learners. Schools built ten years ago do not have elevators or ramps for wheelchairs. Braille textbooks are not available in many schools. Safe rooms are not available for learners with autism or Asperger’s to go to so that they can stabilize themselves when they get stressed.
- Because of the size of classes, children with intellectual disabilities, ADHD, Tourette’s, Autism, Asperger’s, and fetal alcohol syndrome can act out disrupting the class.
- Curriculums are geared towards learners in the traditional school system who do not have any disabilities.
- Goals for special needs learners are not set out. They are judged on the same goals of learners who are mainstream.
- Schools have a cookie cutter attitude towards all learners. Learners must complete a specific number of subjects, and there is a standard pass mark. If the child does not pass, they feel stigmatized and intellectually inferior.
- Integrated, public, and private school teachers are often frustrated with special needs learners because they can be disruptive for other learners and delay the progress of teaching. The three most disruptive conditions that disrupt classes are Tourette’s syndrome, ADHD, and autism.
- Because disruptions are tolerated in inclusive schools, research has shown that other learners will often act out in class.
- Standardized schools often marginalize special needs learners leaving these learners to be nothing more than spectators in the classroom. They do not include special needs learners in discussions, answering questions, and voicing their opinions or viewpoints.
- Research has been conducted and the conclusion reached is that learners without disabilities are negatively impacted by having special needs learners in their classes. This has thrown even more stigma onto special needs learners. Schools often refuse entry or discourage integration for this reason.
- The same research found that learners who have children with physical, mental, emotional, or behavioral disabilities have a larger rate of absenteeism of children without disabilities than non-inclusive schools.
Working from Home to Afford the High Cost of Caring for a Special Needs Child
Homeschooling is a very expensive way to educate your child. This can build on top of medical costs making it a necessity to work. If you are homeschooling, you will not be able to have a job that you go to every day.
Working from home can be done while homeschooling. Look at jobs that can be performed remotely such as writing training material or developing new documents for companies.
You will be able to get in some work while your child is doing schoolwork. However, your child should always be your number one priority during school hours.
I always found that working at night was nicer as the house was quiet and the kids were all asleep in bed, so I did not have to divide my attention between work and children.
You can also make craft items or baked goods to sell at local markets or in local shops, and you can even involve your children to help make items to sell.
This can be a fun way to learn new skills, follow instructions, learn financial management, and apply knowledge in the real world.
Tutoring from home can also be a very lucrative business. If you have the knowledge, skills, and time you will be able to build a nice business tutoring local children and other homeschooled children based on the knowledge that you have gained while teaching your own children.
If you are not mentally, physically, and emotionally well, it will affect the condition of your child.
Even the most disabled child will feel your condition, and this often becomes a cycle where the parent is frustrated, the child plays out because he or she becomes frustrated, and this further frustrates you.
Take some time each day to do something you enjoy like taking a walk (your child can come too), painting, reading, doing yoga, meditating, etc.
Take time once a week to go away from your child for an hour or two. Hike, ride a horse, visit a friend who does not have children (you need a break from all kids), take a class, go have a cup of coffee on your own, go to your happy place.
Make friends with other parents of special needs children and make a point of getting together or catching up on Skype once a week.
I found it extremely disheartening to surround myself exclusively with parents of kids with no special needs.
They can never truly know how hard your life can be or the struggles you go through every day.
Be kind to yourself! Every parent has times when they feel they cannot possibly be doing the right thing. Every parent goes through moments when they want to pull their hair out.
Every parent messes up. Forgive yourself, have a cup of tea, and move on.
Take up a hobby that will not interfere with your child’s ability to work.
I learnt to crochet, so when my kids were working or reading, I could stay available while not going out of my mind with boredom.
PS: Do not do anything you are too passionate about like read a gripping book.
Keep things simple. A structured routine is important for children.
Getting up, going to school, tea and lunch breaks, and the end of the school day are all very important as they discipline and lay out your expectations for your child.
This frame can be adapted on a daily basis to cover all subjects, interject spontaneous breaks or outings, and accommodate therapy or social interaction.
Stay positive. This can be the hardest thing you do. It is so easy to see the negatives in the world and your home.
You can easily focus on all the things your child will never do or be able to do. It is so easy to see other parents and their mainstream kids and compare your life with theirs.
Instead, focus on who your child is and what they can do to bring joy into your life and family.
Di-Anne Devenish Seebregts was raised in an environment where daily life consisted of hiking, environmental conservation, growing fruit and vegetables, and raising poultry for meat and eggs.
She combined her passion for the writing word with her love of the pride that comes with not relying on others. She raised three children (who are now adults) to value the environment, and understand the value of being self-sufficient.