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Homeschooling and special needs children causes a concern for many people. I have heard some people state that you cannot homeschool a special needs child because “it will take too much work.” However, teaching and homeschooling all children requires patience, hard work and determination.
Why Some Parents Decide to Homeschool
Typically, special needs parents do not take any thought about homeschooling before their child enters into the private or public school system. They trust that their child will get the help that they need and will be successful in their school district. However, some parents find that their child may not progress or even regress due to nature of the school environment. Or they may feel that their child is not getting the adequate services that they need. Whatever is the case, it is important to note that if you choose to homeschool you have to make sure it is the right decision for you AND your child. You should not decide to homeschool because your child’s IEP is not being implemented properly or you are not getting along with your child’s teacher. These issues can be handled in other ways.
Where do I begin?
If you decide to homeschool and your child attends public school, you have to officially withdraw them from school. As every state varies on requirements for withdrawing your child from school, you should check your state requirements. But before you withdraw your child, you want to do as much research as you can. When you are researching and learning more about homeschooling, focus on the legalities of your state, local homeschool groups or co-ops, what curriculum(s) you will use and the specific needs of your child.
What are the laws for homeschooling?
Homeschooling, including homeschooling special needs children, is legal in all 50 states. However, the requirements for homeschooling varies in each state. For example, in some states parents may follow a homeschool statute, while in other states they may follow private laws regarding homeschooling. In addition, some states do not require parents to give notice of homeschooling; yet, other states require annual or a one-time notice of homeschooling. If you live in a state that requires notice, then you would submit a form about your intent to homeschool, name of the homeschool, administrator and a basic curriculum. Most states do not have any educational requirements for homeschooling parents or requirements to keep permanent records. Additionally, some states do require homeschool parents to provide a certain number of hours of instruction and assessment requirements.
Does my child still qualify for special education services?
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), public schools are required to identify, locate and evaluate children with special needs, even if they do not attend public school. Since IDEA requires public schools to provide all students with special needs a free appropriate public education (FAPE), schools are required to provide initial (free) evaluations, with parental consent, to students who are homeschooled and present significant delays. Once an evaluation is complete, an IEP team will convene and determine if the child qualifies for special education services. Even though a child may qualify for services at this time, parents will not be able to consent to services through the public school system if they choose to homeschool their child. For parents who choose homeschooling, an IEP can be used as a guide of the educational plan that their child needs. However, homeschooled children with special needs typically will not be able to receive educational support through the public school system. Yet, it is always best to check with your local school district for extra funding for homeschooled special needs children or if you choose to enroll your child in school part time.
It also should be noted that if you live in a state where a homeschool can operate as a private school, IDEA states that homeschooled special needs children can receive funded services through private schools.
What if my child is already receiving special education services?
In order for your child to receive special education services, you must sign parental consent, giving the school district permission to educate your child. Yet, there are times when parents decide that they do not want to continue special education services. If this is the case, you can revoke services. If you decide to revoke special education services, it must be in writing (or the school district will provide you a form) and you should keep in mind that:
- you revoke your consent of special education and related services;
- you understand that once consent is revoked, your child will not be treated as a special education student;
- your child will not receive special education protections for children with a disability for behaviors or misconduct;
- you cannot revoke consent for only some services;
- school districts do not have to remove any references to special education services in your child’s records; and
- school districts can challenge you if they feel that IDEA is being abused.
**Check with your state to determine if you have to revoke services before withdrawing your child or you can just withdraw your child without revoking services.**
What about socialization?
Socialization is a topic that all homeschooled parents have to address, especially if your child has special needs. For children with disabilities, learning fundamental social skills is a cornerstone to their development. So if you choose to homeschool, what do you do? One important place to start is finding a homeschool group that shares your child’s interest. You do not want to just throw your child into any social situation, as this can cause more anxiety in your child. Another idea is enrolling them into a social skills group or behavior therapy group to help build positive social interactions. It is important to keep in mind that you should not just take your child to ‘activities for special needs children’ only, but expose them to as many group activities as possible (music classes, art classes, other homeschool co-ops, etc.). Creating effective and fun socialization opportunities is your goal as they learn to assimilate well with others.
Where do I get additional help?
There are many homeschooling organizations to help you get started. You also want to check your state and local resources. Here are a few:
Getting Your Homeschool Classroom Started
Creating a classroom that your special needs child can learn in is essential for the success of homeschooling. While all learning should not take place in their ‘classroom’ (there should be real life learning), you should have a designated space for learning. Implementing learning stations into your classroom is a great way for children to learn with hands-on experiences. Here are some ideas for learning stations to help you get started:
Literacy – Flash cards are typically used to learn letters, sounds, blends and words. But you do not have to stop there. For children who need extra help in these areas, Phonics DVDs and Extra Practice readers can help master phonics and reading skills. You also want to include books, magnetic letters, phonics games and puzzles for younger readers. For older students, you want to integrate other subjects into literacy as much as possible. For example, providing books on a science activity that they are learning about.
Math – A well designed math station will include manipulatives (cubes, pegboards, lacing beads) that can develop a child’s fine motor skills as well as introduce them to math concepts. You want to include counters, number boards, puzzles, number games, money (a great way to learn about money is using a cash register), rulers, balances and activities about time. For older students, you want to focus on expanding math concepts, problem solving, geometry and using math in real world situations.
Language – There are many aspects of language that fit into this category. Whether it’s letter tracing, writing skills or grammar, each stage of learning to write is important. In this station, you can also include learning sign language if your child has limited verbal skills or learning a foreign language if your child has higher communication skills.
Science – Having children discover nature and other science concepts will give children the opportunities to bring the outdoors indoors. While it is always good practice to go outside and explore as much as possible, having a science station will help children learn about observations, hypotheses, experiments and the environment. One example of a science activity that all children learn to do is learning about the life cycle of a butterfly.
Art and Music – In addition to focusing on academics, you do not want to forget about the Arts. Including opportunities for creative expression through art and music will create a whole learning curriculum. Placing art supplies and musical instruments in this center will serve as a great creative outlet for your child.
Geography – Geography centers are important to teach concepts such as location, place and movement. Include items such as globes, maps and a compass to practice geography literacy.
Blocks/Legos – For younger children, improving their motor skills as well as problem solving skills can be accomplished in the blocks station. You do not have to use traditional blocks, but you can use a variety of LEGOS or building blocks to suit your child’s needs.
Technology – Technology is such a big part of our world now. While many toddlers can already operate iPads and cell phones, it is still great to provide a station for technology while integrating subjects that they are learning.
Sensory and Movement – For those that require sensory breaks, do not forget about sensory toys and/or a trampoline to let out built up energy.
Deciding to homeschool your child is a vital decision. If you do decide to homeschool, plan a schedule, get a curriculum and stick with it. Do not feel intimidated by all the homeschool materials and know that you are doing a considerable service for your child.
Have you decided to homeschool?