Guest Blogger Heidi Starr, The This is Home Blog
None of us expected the “special needs parent” life to be our normal. For me, I always wanted to be a mother. I knew I wanted to be at home with my children at least until they were school age. Then I pictured myself being the active classroom mom at their school. Homeschooling was definitely not on the radar of my super-extroverted self.
My oldest was first diagnosed with autism at the age of two. We are a military family and were stationed in Japan at the time. It is ironic because, the day after the diagnosis, we had actually had a tour scheduled for a great Montessori preschool. We canceled the tour, and the diagnosis led to a change of location for our family. The military moved us back to the states, where my son was to get extensive hours of therapy and to be put into a special education preschool classroom.
We went for his evaluation at the local school, which was quick 15 minutes they took him into the library with the preschool class. Weeks later, I received the paperwork, and I thought it was left blank for me to fill out. I called the school and asked if I was to fill this out before the IEP meeting. I remember the secretary’s words clearly, “ma’am no we filled it out, and your son doesn’t have autism. He doesn’t need to be here.”
I responded with several things on the list that my son was clearly struggling with (but they didn’t see it in the 15-minute library session), and I asked why they put “no diagnosis-mother suspected.” This made me very uncomfortable, because I submitted not one but three doctors’ diagnosis paperwork, along with the extensive list of therapy notes from multiple therapists.
We were left in complete confusion as to what we should do next. Do we fight the school and have them take him? Did he really have a misdiagnosis? Or do we look into private schools?
We requested a second IEP meeting and observation because we had received yet another huge diagnosis since the last meeting. My now three-year-old and five-month-old boys had both been diagnosed with Becker’s Muscular Dystrophy.
But again, the school didn’t believe any of this meant he should go into special education preschool and suggested that if he could not walk, then they could easily just pull him in a wagon. That was the final straw for my husband and me.
Our doctors and developmental pediatricians were shocked by the school’s response to our situation. One doctor immediately told us to get a lawyer and fight it. But my husband and I both made the decision that even though we did believe the school was in the complete wrong with their findings and decision, this was the clear direction to homeschool.
Deciding to Homeschool Special Needs
During the time of our decision, we looked at private schools and other public school options. But in the end, I decided I did not want to describe his behaviors and special needs to each person my son worked with. It was exhausting. Also, when and how would he do the multiple therapies he needed and attend school? For a three-year-old, that is exhausting, and a recipe for daily sensory meltdowns.
All of his therapists always praised our family for taking the therapies and making them routine in our home. We worked diligently to implement each program and activity at home, not just during the therapy session. This gave me the confidence that I could in fact homeschool my special needs child.
Researching Special Needs Homeschool Curriculum
I began researching many homeschool curriculum options and activities for preschoolers and for special needs children. I have blended many of the therapies we have done to make activities educational and fun for him. We do several ABA techniques and OT and PT activities with our work. All of this helps so we aren’t exhausting him with just academics and then expecting him to do 2 hours of therapies on top of “school.”Throughout my research of the many different ways to homeschool, I have learned so many people do things differently.
“My favorite thing about homeschooling is that I GET to cater to my son’s interests and see first hand his love for learning..”
Scheduling Our Special Needs Homeschool
The scheduling flexibility is probably the most obvious reason we homeschool.
- My son is able to do therapies in a clinic during the daytime, and we don’t have to fight extensive waitlists for “after school hours.”
- We can take a vacation whenever we like, which helps with crowds of large sought after places because most children are in school. This is a huge win for my sensory child. We live in Washington, DC and able to visit the museums and other attractions without crowds whenever we like.
- I never have to worry about a doctors note or too many absences beyond our control.
- We are able to go with and explore other areas without the restrictive schedule of school, which is a super fun added bonus Especially since my husband is active duty, and travels for work occasionally.
Individualizing Our Special Needs Homeschool
My favorite thing about homeschooling is that I GET to cater to my son’s interests and see first hand his love for learning. One of the things the school told us is that none of his diagnosis’s affect him academically. Well, I believe there is more to academic than just making “grade level.”
My son is extremely intelligent, which also might be some of the autistic behaviors we see. He is a walking encyclopedia at the age of five, and always asking questions of how things work and what things are. It’s amazing but has also been a great way for us to homeschool.
I am not limited to only grade level academics. Anything he is interested in we explore and learn at the level he can do, and then we challenge him to learn more.
Socialization for Our Special Needs Homeschool
With a special needs diagnosis, everyone is looking at you to answer this question: “What do you do about socialization?”. Many believe you have to send a child to a classroom for the only chance of socialization. But most homeschoolers have proven that to be very wrong.
I only have two children, both boys, so I hear it often that I better make sure they’re getting plenty of socialization. Yes, I can say that my children play team sports, go to Sunday school at church, playgroups, and are outside every evening with the neighborhood kids. But that’s not what socialization is all about either. It’s not just being around peers.
For my special needs children, it’s about being in everyday places and being able to self-regulate to the area. Being able to use their manners and know what people outside a school do all day. Those everyday places include the grocery store, post office, hospitals, and doctors offices. My homeschool children get to see museums with a docent who is able to give them one on one attention and explain things to them. I want my children to be able to communicate with all generations of society, not just peer aged groups.
Finding Community While Homeschooling Special Needs
Remember how I described myself as super extroverted? Well, this was a huge fear of mine when we decided to homeschool. I did not want to be alone at this. We chose to join a co-op and a community of other homeschool families.
We meet once a week, and our children of all ages are learning the same curricula, and we are there as a community for each other. This is a beautiful arrangement for my family. Not only does it fill my heart to be in community with these families, but they’re there for my children as well, knowing each child is different and caring for their needs as well. My son has the confidence to present in front of the community and has friends that see him no different than others. I have even used the community and co-op as an outlet for me to be that “classroom mom,” except now I’m also the teacher!
To be able to teach our boys and be with them as they learn new things has been the biggest blessing of all for our family. Being a special needs parent has many hard and dark times, but when we see our child accomplish something, make a milestone, or learn something new, we celebrate in such a big way! There is no way I would ever want to miss these big celebrations with my children!