If you are homeschooling a child who is not “typical” (for whatever reason), I want you to stop and pat yourself on the back. When you homeschool a child who has a learning disability, developmental delay or other challenges that make them different, homeschooling is both a beautiful gift you give your child and much harder than it is for other parents. It is like we are all playing the same game. But for parents of children who are atypical, the game is set to “hard mode.” Why do I say that?
Playing a video game in hard mode means that the challenges are greater and the tasks are harder. The monsters have more hit points. The walls are a bit higher and harder to climb. That is exactly how homeschooling with a special needs child can be. Each part of it has extra challenges, extra tasks to do, and also, greater rewards. Your child needs you to give, and give, and work hard on homeschooling. It is so worth it. But there are a lot of ways that it is harder. And I want you to know you aren’t alone in this struggle.
Finding the right support can be super challenging.
Typical homeschoolers can join any group. But that doesn’t always work for getting what you need in a support group. What counts as “special needs” anyway? If you go into an online support group for special needs homeschooling, you may start to wonder if your child is “special enough” for you to fit in. The range of special needs can include a child with dyslexia but is healthy and can complete other tasks, to a child who has global challenges that make every single part of their lives difficult.
Even within a single diagnosis, such as autism, there is such a range of experiences that it can be hard for parents to post about their troubles. How do you complain your child can’t use feeling words to parents who are still waiting to hear their 5-year-old say “Mama”? How do you ask for ideas on how to teach your 12-year-old to read, if the rest of your support group is discussing teaching kids that age to write essays?
Every support group has its own flavor and style, and you really have to hunt for one where you fit.
Finding the right curriculum can be near impossible.
Second, it is extremely hard to find curriculums that work for special needs students. In most cases, you have to purchase something that you think might work, then adapt it. Change out assignments, add explanations and hope you are working on what they need. And if you do find a curriculum that is written for kids who are different, it can be hard to tell if it will be a good fit for your child until you test it out. This is where support groups and blogs can really help.
Feeling like you are not doing enough can eat away at your confidence.
Every homeschooling parent goes through moments of self-doubt. Is this curriculum challenging them enough? Did they really understand dividing fractions or what an adjective is? Are they reading as well as other kids their age?
All of that can be overwhelming if you let it be. But for a parent of a child with special needs, the opportunities to doubt yourself are like a minefield. Surrounding you on all sides and unmarked. It’s not just about if they are learning or on grade level but should we pursue therapy or not? Is this particular behavior an emerging symptom of an undiagnosed issue or a result of puberty and normal development? Are you being fair with your time and energy to your other children and other relationships in your life?
Take a moment to recognize what you are doing for your child.
So today, I just want you to take a moment to honor the awesome gift you are giving your child by homeschooling them. Our schools are not set up to truly help our special children, find where they will excel in life, or to help them become whole people. They seek to make them a minimally functional “student” instead of seeing them as children who just need the right opportunities to succeed.
Enjoy your child today. Teach them to bake cookies or paint pictures. Do things that bring joy to your day. Sing songs, listen to music and play some games. Go outside and enjoy the sunshine. They will get more learning and growth from those activities than from most “typical school activities.”
Treat your child like a whole person, not just a student, and they will grow up to be a whole person. One who is emotionally, socially and physically healthy. And the world needs more of those.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.