Shannon Ramiro

Recently I had the privilege of interviewing a friend of mine, Karrie Cannell, about her international special needs adoptions. I hope you enjoy her story as well as the insight she has to share with other families who may be thinking of adopting a child with a disability from another country.

 

What led your family to do an international adoption?

One morning I was online and came across a little boy’s picture that was listed for adoption. I had never thought about adoption, we had 8 children, so it wasn’t even on my mind. I kept going back to his picture. He had the same skin condition, epidermolysis bullosa (EB for short) as my stepdaughter. I knew I could care for him. I talked to my husband and we talked to our kids, and we all prayed about it. The next thing we knew, we were knee-deep in adoption paperwork.

About halfway through the adoption process, we found out the boy we were looking to adopt had a biological brother with the same skin condition. They had been separated 3 years before. We immediately decided to adopt both boys. About 7 years later we adopted again, and it happened about the same way. Someone knew we had kids with EB and shared a little girl’s picture with me. At first, I was just advocating for her family to come forward. Little did I know I was going to be her momma.

 

Were there language barriers before, during and after the adoption? How did you navigate them?

We didn’t speak Ukrainian and the boys didn’t speak English. We used Google translate at first, but once they were immersed in the English language they picked it up very fast.

With our daughter, we didn’t use Google translate. She was adopted at a much younger age than the boys. Since she was only 3, we just pointed to things and slowly repeated ourselves, speaking to her in English. She picked up English even quicker than the boys did. Looking back, I can see some frustrations when they couldn’t understand or tell us what their needs were, but we didn’t quit. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly hard.

 

What has been the most enjoyable part of being a foster/adoptive family?

It’s different with each child. The boys have significant delays caused by the lack of care from their biological mother and the orphanage. Getting them home and giving them better care all around is my greatest joy. Seeing them enjoy life and experience things for the first time is also a great joy.

For our daughter, she also lived in an orphanage but doesn’t have the mental delays like the boys. She was very young when she came home, so the transition was easier and she was happier. Her joy is infectious and she loves being in our family.

 

I can see some frustrations when they couldn’t understand or tell us what their needs were, but we didn’t quit.”

 

What was the most challenging part of your international adoption?

The biggest challenge was probably getting the boys the mental help they need. Finding someone who specializes in Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and truly knowing how to help us was our biggest issue, and still is. It’s been a tough road with the boys, a journey I never knew I needed to be on, but I am so blessed to be where I am at with them.

 

What specific learning challenges have you encountered with your foster/adopted child(ren)? What resources have you found the most helpful in these situations? 

Mental health resources have been our biggest challenge. As the boys get older we have found what works for them and what doesn’t. 

 

What advice do you have for families who are thinking about looking into an international adoption?

I wish we were more informed, educated, and better equipped to help the boys with their mental health issues. There needs to be more resources to help families that are struggling. More respite. More knowledge. More information when you feel alone and lost and feel like you have nowhere to turn.

 

 

 


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Peggy Ployhar

I had the privilege this month of interviewing my parents, Joe and Margie Prenosil, who have been special needs adoptive parents for 30 years! I hope you enjoy the insight and wisdom they have to share from their many years of experience as they have loved and cared for my siblings.

 

How long have you been parents? How long have you been adoptive parents? Was it always your intention to adopt?

We have been parents for almost 50 years, and adoptive parents for 30 years. As far as our intention to adopt, after 4 years of providing foster care, it was something we started to consider. At that point in our foster care services, a baby came into our care who no one wanted to adopt because of the complications he had with severe cerebral palsy. We decided to adopt him and thus Nicholas became our first adopted child.

 

Because you have specifically adopted children with special needs, what challenges/obstacles did you face early on? And, what resources did you find the most helpful for navigating them?

Our challenges started with finding what resources were available to us from our county and state as well as various specialized clinics. The first thing we found helpful was to expand our foster care work to also include our county. This step greatly increased our learning curve regarding what resources and connections were available locally that were most beneficial for each obstacle that came our way. 

The first obstacle we had was learning all the medical information needed to treat and comfort the children we cared for. It was a medical education that took many years for us to feel like we knew what we were talking about regarding various medicines and adaptive equipment.

Our second obstacle was identifying where to acquire handicap equipment and transportation. The most useful resources we discovered while working with individuals who helped foster parents in our county.

One final obstacle, but one that benefited us the most in subsequent adoptions, was learning our state referral chain for requesting assistance. In our area, we were to go to our county Case Manager first before requesting services from the state Adoption Assistance Specialist.

 

What were some of the things you learned from parenting your biological children that helped parent your adopted children?

First was realizing there was a developmental difference between typical children and special needs children. Once the differences were identified, it was a matter of determining whether to seek advice or accept the condition and adapt from there. 

Daniel, our fourth biological child, had some special needs so parenting him provided a bit of a transition gateway for our adoptive special needs parenting skills. Daniel was dyslexic and hyperactive. Sometimes his difficulties were too much for others to handle. Because of his struggles, we often had friends and family ask whether we were going to bring him with us when we came to visit. Daniel took special needs classes in high school and Margie did most of his reading to accommodate his Dyslexia.

 

“…be ready to acquire ‘new’ skills for yourself. 

 

What were some new parenting strategies you had to learn after adopting children with special needs?

When requesting services or equipment, we learned we needed to share the worst incident instead of the best-case scenario for that child. Also, we learned not to assume that we would always be available to provide the service or help and to also build in requests for helpers. 

We also learned to hire PCAs (Private Care Assistants) as teens who came from large families. In general, these youth were already trained through regular family life to care for their siblings, so all we had to do was additional care training that met our child’s specific needs.

Another strategy we learned was to fully understand what your school district does and doesn’t provide. Two of our children were able to receive in-home services from the school district because of the severity of their conditions.

 

How have you managed family life, church, school, extra-curricular activities, and respite time over the years? Do you have any advice for other adoptive families of children with special needs on how to best juggle these demands?

Family Life: We didn’t adopt children older than our birth children, thus we limited the competition. Our adoptive parenting years started as our birth children were starting college and lives outside our home. Full-time help came over a period of years. First, we hired a full-time PCA using a waiver and then eventually were able to add our youngest son on as hired help. When our son left for college, we were able to hire a full-time PCA that stayed with us for thirteen years. She helped to coordinate other PCAs, cover homecare when we needed to assist a child away from home, as well as respite time for us. She left after the deaths of two of our totally disabled children.

Since then we have relied upon young adults from 16-20 years to fill the gap. Plus after the decrease in PCAs and Margie heart attack, the county helped our ability to work with an agency to hire and maintain staff by reclassifying our home as a group foster home. We are the only one in the county. 

Our church and extra-curricular activities center around family members which extended to include PCA youth (16+) and their families. Through the church, stay connected to a larger community as well as develop relationships with families we know well and feel good about hiring to do care in our home. 

Because we had a full-time PCA/agency, we could coordinate yearly getaways for ourselves but for about three years when we were between agencies, we were unable to get any time away.

Advice to parents: It is impossible to duplicate what we have done to the letter. Stay flexible. We learned that we needed to change as our children’s needs changed and as well as determine what appropriate assistance was necessary for us to help each child with specific needs.

When starting this type of journey, a couple needs to assess whether their current family can accept and contribute towards bringing in a new family member. Second, they need to take into consideration this child’s care may be a lifelong commitment and both parents need to be committed to this child, not just one.

Next, you should assess what financial and community support is available to you if you adopt. Any financial support provided to care for a child should only fill the gaps for that child’s care and should not be seen as another source of income. When you put income before the care of a child you are not letting God do his work. First, seek the Kingdom of God, and then everything else will be provided. We found this to be very true. 

 

“…be willing to accept a child saying, “I love you” as meaning “Do you love me?”

 

If a family was interested in adopting a child with special needs, what advice would you want to share with them based on your 30+ years of being adoptive special needs parents?

First, you need to consider your motivation for adoption. If you have a perceived idea of what you want a child to become without understanding all the baggage this child has acquired and will continue to work through in your home, stop. You will be disappointed. Understand that first, the child will educate you by their behavior, life experiences, and what they want (which is not always appropriate). They will lead by showing you what triggers their actions, and you must observe before acting. You will probably need professional help in understanding the underneath behavior and be ready to acquire ‘new’ skills for yourself. 

Children in the foster care system have learned to defend themselves when everyone else in their lives has failed them. You must be willing to struggle with them as well as be their spokesperson because they may not have the words to describe what they are feeling. If they are in trauma, they may take a long time to change, if ever. Also, be willing to accept a child saying, “I love you” as meaning “Do you love me?”

After considering the above questions we then suggest you again consider why you would want to adopt. Here are two reasons we have found provided a stable foundation for us as we have adopted. First, a real desire to be faithful to the child we are adopting no matter what. We may not change the child we adopt. Ultimately God is in charge of change and we must be willing to let God take the lead in this area or be okay if change is not in His plan. Second, we must be able to accept our failures, limitations, and frustrations. Every day we review our day with God and choose to be happy with what the day afforded us. We ask God for guidance, change what we can, and then we are joyful about the journey and the amazing people He has allowed us to share our lives with.

 

 

 

 

 


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SPED Homeschool Team

 

The special demands that naturally occur during this time of year can make celebrating the holidays with special needs children difficult. From food to family, each event can be a minefield of potential reactions, meltdowns, and misadventures. Or, with the right perspective and a few adjustments, the holidays can be as meaningful as they are meant to be. Hear from our SPED Homeschool Team Members as they share their tips for celebrating the holidays with their special needs children.

 

 

Dawn Spence

Family and holidays can be a complicated adventure. From medical needs and allergy needs, I used to find myself apologizing for needing things a certain way. Fast forward 8 years and I realized that no apologies are needed, and I meet our family’s needs without skipping a beat. I had to allow myself to be okay with the way things were before I could expect anyone else too. I know when my daughter has had too much, and we leave guilt-free. We bring foods that meet our allergy needs and even make extra for everyone else to enjoy. Being with family can be stressful, but at the same time, it’s the perfect opportunity to relax and enjoy the life you have been given.

 

Although we are very busy this time of year with all the parties and so forth, we handle it by guarding Friday night as “Family Night.”

 

 

Cammie Arn

The holidays in our home aren’t typical. We don’t have large extended families to travel to or to visit due to either distance or death. Instead, we have created new family traditions such as making a birthday cake (both regular and gluten-free) for Jesus at Christmas or homemade Belgian waffles with homemade fruit syrup.

 

We participate in a “feast of nations” at church the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Some dress in modern-day clothing representing their home country and bring a dish to share. Having an international church does help with this for sure. There have been times when this was thanksgiving for us.

 

One really neat idea is to do Christmas around the world in December. You can learn about a different country every day, study how they celebrate Christmas, and possibly try a special Christmas treat from that country. End your study by praying for that country.

 

How do we handle the food for all this fun? We find out what food is being served and modify from there. At potlucks, I always bring food tailored to our family’s needs to eliminate reactions. So far so good.

 

Holiday chaos? Not us. Although we are very busy this time of year with all the parties and so forth, we handle it by guarding Friday night as “Family Night.” We watch a movie at home and have pizza. Pretty much no exception. We also have a “no work” rule on Sunday that helps our family decompress and prep for the next week.

 

 

Peggy Ployhar

Our family dynamics are a bit different than most, and because I am the oldest of 14 with 10 adopted siblings, we don’t often have to explain anything to our family about how to deal with atypical behaviors of our children. Recently, we spent a few days with extended family at an indoor waterpark resort in the Wisconsin Dells and at one point my youngest sister went missing. Immediately our family flew into action with various members each immediately stepping in to stake out the campus, contact security, and canvas the facility. It didn’t seem out of place at all to switch from “vacation mode” to “search and rescue” mode, and once the call came in that my sister had been found and was being returned to her room by a helpful Good Samaritan, my husband stated nonchalantly to me, “Just another vacation with the Prenosil family.”

 

I don’t share this story to make it seem like this episode wasn’t a critical undertaking for everyone involved, but over the past 30 years, our family has developed a culture of caring for one another where no one asks why we just respond in love and concern. We are all in this together, whether it is caring for our adopted siblings or for each other’s children who also struggle with extreme food allergies and difficult to handle diagnoses. If you are just getting started on this special needs journey I want to encourage you that over time you can develop the support team you need just like our family has, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Little by little your immediate and extended family will learn the most by following your lead, so gently show them the way. Pray for their hearts to be softened towards the circumstances that surround the needs of your child and what you feel convicted to do as their parent and teacher for the best possible outcomes for their future. In turn, they will follow, but do understand it may take many years for them to come around and be the supportive family you desire for them to be for you right now.

 

 

Celebrating the holidays with your special needs children does not have to take the magic out of the season. Careful planning, simple celebrations, and supportive family can make all the difference.

 

 

 

 

 


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Peggy Ployhar

 

Holidays are tricky for families dealing with atypical situations, but that doesn’t mean holidays need to magnify these areas of your family life. Follow these DIFFERENT steps to ensure you won’t miss out on a joyful holiday season with your family.

 

D – Develop a plan

No matter how many activities your family would like to do over the holiday season, take a critical look at your schedule, at what is essential and what isn’t. Purposefully blocking in margin around these essentials reduces stress and the pull towards over-booking holiday activities. Then, discuss as a family what traditions or activities matter most to each of you. Finally, match open dates and times in your calendar with these top traditions/activities.

 

Also realize every year will be different and just because you may only be able to schedule in three or four activities this year, this doesn’t mean next year you will have to do the same.

 

I – Individualize acceptance

Holiday activities are often accompanied by vivid memories and biases on how they should be done or enjoyed. But, when you have a family member who has a disability, sickness, or other struggles that require a holiday tradition to be modified it can be difficult to make the necessary adjustments if you can’t be flexible. Yes, your family tradition may take on a new flavor, but that doesn’t mean the new flavor is worse than the original. It is just different.

 

Over time your family member may be able to adjust to the original way you remember enjoying this holiday activity, or over time the modified activity may become more favored by you and your family than the original.

 

F – Focus on strengths

Holiday celebrations and traditions often stretch relationships, sensory thresholds, and much more. Unfortunately, this stretching can cause contention between family members who only see the weakness others possess in comparison to their strengths. On the other hand, these differences in strengths can be beneficial, gifts that complement other family members in need.

 

Especially during this season of giving, it can be helpful to set aside time to discuss individual strengths and weaknesses of each family member, create awareness, and purposefully work towards strengthening each other by better supporting one another.

 

F – Frame togetherness

Just because your family may want to spend more time together creating memories and doing your favorite holiday activities, it may not be realistic to expect everyone to spend all their spare time together doing these activities, especially when considering the needs of the more introverted and medically fragile members of your family.

 

Framing holiday time together with family members who must build rest into their daily schedules should be prioritized by setting aside not only specific days of the week but also the specific times of day for that rest. For instance, if the morning is the best time of day for your child, then booking a matinee for your family to attend the Nutcracker would be better than holding out for an evening performance like you remember enjoying from your childhood.

 

E – Embrace forgiveness

No one is perfect, and yet we often fantasize about having perfect holiday experiences with our imperfect family and less than perfect self. Realistically it is better to aim for ideal and build a larger buffer of forgiveness and understanding into our holiday planning.

 

Sicknesses, miscommunications, forgetfulness, and the general confusion and chaos which happens during the holiday season typically remind us we need to be okay with allowing wiggle room into our “perfect” holiday plans. This way, we don’t ruin our entire experience because we struggle to see beyond the imperfections and to simply enjoy the experiences we have been given to share with our family.

 

“If we desire to make our holiday season the most joyful season of the year, it is imperative to determine how to love others above traditions, events, or seasonal activities”

 

R – Remember to love

The greatest gift we can give any time of the year is to love others the way we would like to be loved ourselves. It’s not about the gifts we work so hard to hunt down and buy. Sometimes the pursuit of the perfect gift ends up sidetracking us from being anything but loving.

 

If we desire to make our holiday season the most joyful season of the year, it is imperative to determine how to love others above traditions, events, or seasonal activities. Many times, this means we have to sacrifice our wants to love, but this is the exact love that Christmas is all about.

 

E – Enjoy the journey

Joy is essentially the bi-product of where we determine our enjoyment or fulfillment will draw from. If our joy rests solely on the product of our day, or even the season, we do not find fulfillment because life’s twists and turns can keep us from reaching these goals on time or how we had imagined them to turn out. But, if we instead seek to rest our joy on the journey towards reaching our goals, we can more readily find joy in our progress as well as in our relationships we might have otherwise overlooked.

 

During the holiday season, focusing on the joy of the journey can require even more intentional concentration as our days, weeks, and even months have checklists for things we don’t normally prioritize in our lives. This is when getting done what the day allows without sacrificing the joyful journey alongside our family members needs to become an even more intentional practice as well as something we intentionally celebrate throughout the season.

 

N – Non-negotiable relationships

Loving others is difficult and the holiday season often brings our lives closer in proximity to relatives we don’t always associate with regularly. And, while it is important to set boundaries with others, proper boundaries always leave room for any relationship to continue to grow if these individuals make positive changes and establish more healthy habits and boundaries.

 

Everything we can do on our end to leave a relationship open, even if we have to mostly close out a family member because of their personal choices or extenuating circumstances, leaves room for that door to widen once again in the future. We can’t always take on the full weight of what another family member is going through or allow the harmful or unsafe choices immediate or extended family members have made into our homes, but we can show there is always room in our hearts to love beyond these extenuating circumstances.

 

T – Take action

 

Finally, it is important to remember to act and put these practices to work. A plan and good intentions will never lead you to where you want to go. Only by stepping out in faith to approach this holiday season differently and move beyond various obstacles that in the past may have held you or your family back from experiencing joy will the season be the most joyful one you could experience.

 

 

 

 


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Steve Demme

 

In December I had the privilege to witness a powerful event, a blessing. A father, who had MS and was unable to stand, blessed his son and bride at their wedding. I was amazed and inspired to hear the scriptural truths pour forth from this elderly saint’s heart and mind as he blessed these two newlyweds. Without a script, that godly affirming father spoke truth over, and into, the lives of this devoted young couple for at least five minutes.

 

I felt as if I was on holy ground as I witnessed this event that had been videotaped fifteen years earlier. I also had trouble processing what I had just witnessed. The words and evident love and affection between father and son impacted me at a deep level. It has now been several weeks since I watched this sacred utterance, and I am still trying to assimilate what I observed.

 

A little background. This grainy family wedding video was being shown to a group of ministry leaders at a conference where we were seeking to find out ways that we could teach and encourage fathers. As one man succinctly stated, all of the current social ills of our society stem from fatherlessness. And yet here we were, observing a sacred example of a godly father affirming and blessing his son and his new daughter-in-law.

 

The father, who was the vehicle for this heavenly benediction, had not been raised in a godly Christian home. Yet, he desperately wanted his children to have every spiritual advantage that he had not received. To that end, he read books on raising godly children including The Blessing by John Trent and Gary Smalley.

 

“…deep down I crave the affirmation that only a dad can bequeath. In the past few years, the Spirit of God has satisfied this longing by making me know in my heart that I am an adopted son of my Heavenly Father.”

 

When the video concluded, the son, who was the recipient of those inspired words, stood and addressed us with words of comfort and hope. Many of us were wishing we had received a similar blessing from our earthly father and he comforted us by pointing us to the word of God. In Ephesians 1:3 the Spirit informs us that “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, … has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing.” While we may not have received a blessing from our earthly Dads, in Christ, we have been given, “every spiritual blessing”.

 

Then this man, who I will identify later, imparted a vision and hope for the next generation, as he told us what it was like being the recipient of such an anointed blessing. He said that many children live FOR the blessing of their father, while he lives FROM the blessing of his father.

 

I think about what motivates me and other men. Many of my friends and I are looking for approval and acceptance from our Dad. I could tell you many examples but one sticks out to me. I was watching the US Open, on Father’s Day, with my brother and my dad. Ken Venturi, who had won major championships, bared his soul and told how he longed to have his father say “well-done son.” For him, golf had been the vehicle to earn this praise. But regardless of how well he did, his father never affirmed him, until one day, when the son despaired of life, his dad told him “he had always been number one in his book.” Those simple words changed his life.

 

I am one of many who would dearly love to have a written or verbal blessing from my earthly dad. He did the best he could, with the resources that he had, and I rise up and honor his memory. But deep down I crave the affirmation that only a dad can bequeath. In the past few years, the Spirit of God has satisfied this longing by making me know in my heart that I am an adopted son of my Heavenly Father.

 

Now I am a father, and it is my earnest hope and desire that my sons will experience life not looking FOR my blessing, but living FROM my blessing. You and I are living in troubled times, but also wonderful times. For the Spirit of God is turning the hearts of fathers to their children, children’s hearts to their father, and all of our hearts to our Heavenly Dad.

 

Today, I’m thankful for my earthly dad and eternally grateful for my Heavenly Dad.

 

Author’s note: The man who received the blessing was Stephen Kendrick. He related that his frail father had also pronounced similar blessings at his brother’s weddings. Part of the blessing was that his sons would be fruitful in reaching thousands with the gospel. If the name is not familiar, these Kendrick brothers have produced several inspiring movies pointing thousands of people to Christ, including Fireproof, Courageous, and War Room.

 

We are excited to announce that Steve Demme was recently elected as the 2020 SPED Homeschool board chair. This  article was originally printed on Steve Demme’s website, Building Faith Families, but was reprinted with permission from the author.

 

 

 

 

 


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SPED Homeschool Team

During the homeschool struggle with special needs, it’s not uncommon to feel like you are treading water or getting nowhere. Standard educational and developmental goals are out of reach and overwhelming, but we all inherently know our kids can and do make progress. Our children can achieve realistic goals. Sometimes it just takes thinking outside of the box. Our SPEDHomeschool team members shared their creative methods for helping their children achieve goals.

 

Dawn Spence:

Goals for our children as they learn is a wonderful way to look at their progress. As I set goals for my children, I first look at their individual talents and their interests. 

My son needs an outside motivator. He needs to see at the end there is going to be something that he works toward. Reading the Narnia books with the goal of getting to watch the movie, for instance, helps him to complete his reading. It can be something simple, but it has to be something that interests him. 

My next daughter, who flourishes in art and has dyslexia, needs a creative way to express herself. Allowing her to use her art to draw out her math problems or illustrate her vocabulary words motivates her to work toward achieving her goals. Combining educational goals with her creativity helps her to be successful and enjoy the learning process even when lessons are tough. 

My last daughter has multiple learning issues, and I find myself creating hands-on activities to meet her goals. I have learned through her that the world is more abstract than I realize. I need to make it more concrete and tangible for her. I find new ways to use play-doh, games, and puzzles. Meeting her where she is and using manipulatives helps her meet her goals. Also, breaking down a goal into smaller goals has helped my daughter.

 

Cammie Arn:

I’ve learned I have to think outside the box.

  • Reading a description at a museum is reading (and history, and sometimes science as well.) 
  • Growing food in a garden teaches not just science but also problem-solving skills. Go a step further and prepare a meal with that food, and you have Home Ec. 
  • If our goal is to read a novel. I let them pick the book. If they are interested in the topic, they are more likely to glean more information. If the skill is reading, then it truly doesn’t matter what they are reading just that they read it. If the skill is to learn the content, we often use audio and videos. 
  • Use a museum as a scavenger hunt and take advantage of the free resources that they provide for teachers. Many military bases have museums for a nominal fee that cover WWI & WWII battles, aircraft, ground vehicles weaponry. I’m seeing museums offer Sensory Friendly rooms or sensory sensitive exhibit times as well. Download our free museum guide and checklist to help your next museum visit go smoothly.
  • Take advantage of the Parks and Wildlife Agency in your area. Many offer free materials to do unit studies on things like plant identification, water conservation, taking care of our environment, and more. 
  • Use your library. Mine has computer classes open to the public and offers gardening classes for all ages.

 

Amy Vickrey:  

My children are younger (7 and 3). My 7-year-old has autism, and my 3-year-old has some developmental delays, too. Some days, trying to get everything done can be a real challenge! One of my big goals this year was to help my children be more independent. To do this, I have had to get a little creative and flexible. I have to discern when to stick with our plan and when to give a little. This “dance” takes time and energy to maintain, but when you see it through, you can accomplish your goals and so much more. Here are some of the ways I help my kids be independent

 

  • Use visuals such as checklists, schedules, reminders to knock, and labeling drawers and bins.
  • Enlist their help and praise what they do right. If something needs to be fixed, it is done with little fuss. The focus stays on the positive (most of the time). 
  • Give some freedom to make decisions. My 7-year-old son can choose where he keeps his markers as long as they are put up. He sorted and organized the cup cabinet himself. This “buy-in” gives him ownership and he’s more likely to maintain the system. 
  • Rewards are great motivation. I always start out with a bigger reward for smaller tasks and then start decreasing the reward and increasing the expectation. By the time it becomes a habit, the reward is intrinsic!
  • Sometimes money talks. When I was having some extremely challenging behaviors like talking back and leaving dirty socks on furniture (yuck!), I created a money system to let him earn money for positive behaviors and lose it (or get charged) for the negative. He figured it out really fast, and the negative behaviors disappeared (or greatly diminished). By the time he made his goal (he wanted to buy a movie), behaviors were manageable without continuing the system. Now all I have to say is, “Do I get a dollar or are you going to _______?” 

 

Peggy Ployhar:  

For each of my children, I have had to be creative in different ways to help each with various goals. Below are some ways I have helped all three of my children over the years work in accomplishing a goal or set of goals we set for them.

For my oldest, his biggest struggle was reading and writing. We took the slow-and-steady approach to help him get better at these skills while at the same time not making learning so difficult that he would shut down on me. I wrote about this process in a previous article called Slow and Steady: The Key to Homeschooling Success which includes a link to my interview with Andrew Pudewa and how I used his curriculum IEW to help my son eventually reach the goal of learning to write. We took one little step at a time and trusted the curriculum would help my son learn all the basics he needed.  

For my middle son, one subject he struggled with consistently was math. Not so much the concrete computations, but the theoretical aspect of the subject. I learned very quickly I had to make sure math was presented to him in a language he would understand, which meant I often had to change the subjects in a word problem from something he didn’t relate to (like a piece of produce) to something he was used to thinking and talking about (like superheroes). As he got older this became more difficult and after doing a year of Geometry using a hands-on approach with the Patty Paper curriculum we moved to less theoretical math and dove into a course on stewardship and then the following year we moved onto  advanced logic in place of upper-level algebra and trigonometry/pre-calculus.

With my youngest, I had a different issue in achieving a goal, and that was teaching her art without actually teaching her. I had been advised by a variety of professional artists that she should take some time to develop her skills using the basics she already knew and therefore create her own style. Therefore, to help my daughter have content to draw and a regular schedule for her to use her artistic skills we used a curriculum that led her through the process of writing a magazine over a year for her language arts credit and then she created the art for her magazine to keep working on her art style. In the end, she finished a well-written and well-illustrated magazine at the end of the year.

 

Tracy Glockle:  

Last summer, I was really struggling with motivating one of my children who struggles with learning anxieties. She quickly gets overwhelmed by anything that takes effort and then shuts down. From there, every subject seems like a fight. I read a book that was extremely helpful: Self-Reg by Dr. Stuart Shanker.

The book helped me to see how allowing my daughter to have more control over her school and schedule (even when she didn’t appear ready for that control) could help with stress. I allowed her to set some learning goals and tell me what she wanted my help with. I set a few guidelines for her to work within and then respected the schedule she created for herself, even when her schedule took longer to accomplish the work than I thought she needed. The results were amazing!

Writing is a specific subject area that creates a great deal of stress for my daughter. So using this idea of letting her have more control over the areas where she is overwhelmed, I allowed her to create display boards of topics that interested her rather than writing papers. The result was that she wrote several strong paragraphs for each display board willingly and with no anxiety. She actually wrote more than I would have required if she’d been assigned to write a paper on the topic!

 

Our kids with wide ranges of academic and developmental abilities have just as wide a range of goals to achieve and unique gifts to share with the world. Sometimes, it just takes a few creative methods to help them achieve those goals and find success.

 

 

 

 

 


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Guest Blogger – Neches Phelps

 

What was supposed to be a mid-semester break from our year-round charter school turned into a homeschool trial.  We were faced with a choice: file a Level 1 complaint and fight for accommodations that my child wouldn’t see for 6 months to a year, or homeschool.  I don’t remember much from those first three weeks. My husband and I did some google searches, downloaded some curricula samples that we thought might be a good fit, and then I started working with what we had and accumulating what we didn’t.  

 

I’d really like to say that as a former educator and administrator that everything went according to the schedule that I had planned, but that simply wasn’t the case. Some things seemed way too easy; others way too hard. And sometimes it was both within the same curriculum!  When I asked an experienced SPED homeschooling mom for advice, she simply responded by telling me to follow my child’s lead. I wasn’t quite sure what “following my child’s lead” would mean. Where would his love for numbers and rock music take me? I didn’t have to wait long.

 

While jumping on the couch one evening, he said, “Mom, what’s your favorite Queen song?”

“I don’t know.  ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?” I shrugged. 

He said, “’Bohemian Rhapsody’ is from the album A Night at the Opera and was released in 1975.”

 

I wasn’t quite sure what “following my child’s lead” would mean. Where would his love for numbers and rock music take me? I didn’t have to wait long.

 

I realized that he had been studying the Greatest Hits Queen CD sleeve while we had been listening to it in the car.  Sure enough, he knew them all! On Thanksgiving day, he told us that this was the exact date that Freddy Mercury died.  His love for rock music had met his obsession with numbers. This was too easy, I remember thinking to myself. “When is Freddy Mercury’s birthday?” I asked. He had to find out. 

 

Conversational skills were born when he started to ask people when their birthdays were, how old they were when Freddy Mercury died, etc. He must have seen a picture of Freddy Mercury driving a car because he started to ask people how old they were when they first drove a car. That led to some very interesting conversations as he discovered that some people started driving a tractor first or that they were quite young when they first got behind the wheel.

 

We did what I call “Freddy Mercury Math,” read Queen lyrics, and studied our family trees. Did you know that Roger Taylor (Queen’s drummer) has a son named Tiger Taylor who plays drums in The Darkness? (Neither did I.) And we talked about death.

 

The traditional educator in me still isn’t entirely convinced by the idea of unschooling.  But the mom in me says that we are going to be celebrating the Queen band members birthdays and writing their biographies this next school year.  I have a calendar filled with important dates that I don’t want to miss, and I’ve researched some reading and math curricula to help fill in some gaps.  It turns out that following my child’s lead isn’t going to be so difficult after all!

 

 


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Guest Blogger – Charl Rae Cobb

 

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Lao Tzu

The term “special needs” is a term that covers a broad spectrum of medical, developmental, congenital, and psychiatric challenges that other people might not face (or yet have identified). I’m not sure any parents ever anticipate it. We certainly did not. Yet, from my son’s birth, it became obvious that he would have significant allergies to deal with his entire life. Fortunately, he was born into a family that has multiple generations of allergic and asthmatic individuals to empower him with education, information, and support. And fortunately, homeschooling has allowed us to meet our child’s many special needs in a way that nothing else has.

 

Identifying our child’s special needs

We were so excited to be pregnant! We did all the “right things” to have as healthy a pregnancy as possible.  I planned to breastfeed to reduce the risk of our baby developing allergies and asthma (prevalent in my family medical history). However, our precious son was born allergic to all milk proteins (even mine) and reacted to all the formulas the doctors recommended.

How ironic that I, who can’t tolerate any alcohol so I never consume mixed drinks, would be concocting cocktails (“shaken, not stirred”) containing H1 and H2 antihistamines and decongestant prescribed by the doctors in hopes our infant could absorb enough of the latest formula to maintain enough weight to stay above the “failure to thrive” designation at each check-up. He also had breathing treatments prescribed around the clock and as needed between the regularly scheduled treatments. To see him now, well developed and healthy, you would never know the battles we fought to gain each ounce for 6 years and the battle to breathe normally without needing rescue inhalers for each physical activity.

His first pediatrician told me she suspected he was having headaches. Since headaches, eczema, abdominal pain, diarrhea, rashes, and a host of other symptoms he was experiencing are well documented to correspond with allergies, I hoped they would be eliminated as we identified and addressed the specific allergens he reacted to. What we did not know is that the headaches would continue and eventually worsen leading to a diagnosis of abdominal migraines.

 

Homeschooling has created a better learning environment for our child.

 

Meeting our child’s special needs by homeschooling

Due to our circumstances, I carried medical insurance through my work. Thus, while I worked, our child was at a highly recommended daycare or preschool during his early years as well as spending lots of time with my parents (who are very well versed in raising an allergic and asthmatic child). I was able to change departments at work so that I could take our child to all the doctor appointments (many were out-of-town) and be available when the daycare or preschool called for me to pick up my sick child or give another breathing treatment. We also wound up changing daycares and preschools due to bullying incidents. Verbal and physical bullying, the refusal of the school administration to establish/accept a 504 or IEP plan, and being told by the teacher and administrator that he needed to “just sit still while the rest of the class catches up to him” would eventually lead to us withdrawing our child from first grade and officially privately educating at home.

 Along the way, different teachers and administrators made unsolicited comments about our son’s various behavior traits which prompted me to take him to a development pediatrician. She ruled out any diagnosis of autism but stated he was “normal” if a bit anxious (which I relate to the multiple bullying incidents) and possibly gifted (but not tested at that time) and suggested homeschooling him.

 

Meeting our child’s special needs by homeschooling

  • Homeschooling has allowed us to better control his environmental allergens and exposures, improving our son’s physical coordination (including eye tracking), attentiveness or focus, and occasional hyperactivity. 
  • Homeschooling has allowed us to identify additional special needs. We have identified symptoms of dysgraphia and have taken steps to help him cope with that. (I found the  dianecraft.org website to be helpful in understanding dysgraphia and some strategies for addressing it.) 
  •  Homeschooling has allowed us to find support from other parents. Our local homeschool support group was invaluable in providing insight from experienced veterans who informed us of resources like the various co-ops, curriculum, and clubs in our area. “The Way They Learn” by Cynthia Ulrich Tobais was another resource that helped me structure our homeschool program.
  • Homeschooling has created a better learning environment for our child. We are able to answer questions when they arise (rather than having to wait to get home because the teacher would not answer them or steer him to a resource). We can  share successes and frustrations in learning new ideas, understand how various mathematical concepts apply to real life situations, take field trips and create projects to reinforce history or science, and master content before moving to the next level (vs moving on because administration dictates). The flexibility of homeschooling our special needs child at home has also eliminated the stigma and penalties our child was stressing over when his multiple doctor appointments were criticized by teachers and administration of traditional school and documented on his report cards. 
  • Homeschooling also provides more opportunities to grow together as a multi-generational family unit. 

 

As parents of a child with multiple allergies and asthma, we had to move from denial to acceptance with lightning speed because the very life of our child depended on it. Did we ever “go back” and experience the other stages of grief—denial, anger, sadness, guilt, etc.? Of course, we are human. As Christians, we also constantly trust our omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent Lord who created this child to provide the resources to meet his needs and the loving support to meet ours so that he can live the fullest life possible and be the unique individual he is designed to be. We are thankful that homeschooling has allowed us to meet our child’s (indeed, our family’s) physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional needs in a way that is unparalleled with our previous personal experiences.

 

 


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By Peggy Ployhar

When our family started our homeschooling journey it was because of the needs of my oldest child. In no way was I prepared or equipped to handle teaching my son who was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome only the month prior, nor did I fully understand how severe his depression was, but I knew in my heart keeping him home to learn would keep my son from slipping any further away from me than he already had in his 8 months while attending private school.

Watch our story here.


This journey started 17 years ago for our family and through it, our entire family has dramatically changed. I would say for the better. Homeschooling is a hard road, but homeschooling a child with extra learning, emotional, social, and behavioral needs is also often an isolating and lonely journey. Some families are able to push through this isolation and build a small support community, but for others, the needs of their child(ren) create barriers too large to overcome on their own.

 

 

Opportunity Complications
As I described in the video above, our family created our own support and many families can create their own tribe if they dedicate a good amount of time and energy to the task. But for families who homeschool children with a more complicated diagnosis or family dynamics, the solution for finding time to rest and opportunities to do activities and develop relationships are not as simple as pulling a few families together to create community. Instead, these families must rely on someone else to do the support legwork for them. Otherwise, they just continue the journey alone as best they can.

 

I would like to introduce you two homeschooling families who have been part of SPED Homeschool since we launched our nonprofit in 2017. SPED Homeschool board member Elaine Carmichael and SPED Homeschool team member Shanel Tarrant-Simone. Both of these hard-working homeschooling parents are mothers of boys on the more complicated end of the autism spectrum.

 

Elaine shares her story here about how after homeschooling her typical children for many years in a loving and nurturing co-op, her support system crumbled as her youngest son’s needs grew greater.


Further on in this same interview, Elaine also shared that even though her son just turned 18 this past year, there really is no place for her family to turn for the respite and help; respite she and her husband need and buddy opportunities so her son can have experiences similar to other kids and young adults his age. 
 


When I emailed Elaine last week to ask her some questions about the hurdles they face with integrating into their community and what it would mean to her family and her son Aaron to have reliable respite and buddy opportunities, here is how she answered my questions:


Q: How difficult is going out in public with Aaron? What roadblocks are a constant hindrance?

A: “Roadblocks are sights & sounds that overwhelm Aaron which most of us take for granted because they don’t bother us or we can ignore them.”

Q: In what ways does bringing Aaron out in public without help hinder your family’s ability to integrate into society?

A: “Having an extra set of hands can be a tremendous help. Aaron will try to run if he is uncomfortable with a situation.”

Q: How could having a consistent, trained, and caring buddy/helper for Aaron improve your family’s ability to participate in your community?

A: “It would be helpful to have “buddies” to come alongside us to allow us to go to dr appts, date nights, to a Bible class together, or both be able to be involved with choir & music rehearsals and worship services at the same time. Those are just a few. Maybe even be able to attend activities of our older children and granddaughter, knowing Aaron was enjoying good company.”


Q: Why did you choose to homeschool despite knowing the school could have helped provide some respite or buddy opportunities for you and Aaron?

A: “We continued homeschooling Aaron after his siblings graduated from homeschool. We felt it was still a calling God has given us. We had also heard many stories of the struggles families had with public schooling their special needs kids.”

 

Q: What else would you share with families/individuals about the advantages of homeschooling Aaron?
A: “We have the advantage of setting our own schedule, especially with dr appts and therapies taking time in a day. We can work around our son’s poor sleep schedule. We don’t have to concern with bullying or teachers who don’t understand Aaron’s needs.”

 

In the same way, but with even greater demands upon her time and resources, SPED Homeschool team member Shanel has raised and homeschooled her nonverbal autistic twin sons as a single mother. Shanel deals with similar issues as Elaine in caring for her boys who also just recently turned 18, but an added stress to her life is the sad truth that as a single-parent she often walks this road almost completely alone.


Opportunity Possibilities
SPED Homeschool understands a special needs homeschooling family’s need for respite and opportunities intimately because we have experienced those same needs within most of our own family’s homeschooling journeys. It breaks our hearts every time we have a new member join our Facebook support group asking for help in connecting them to local resources and not having anywhere to send them.


But we are not satisfied with providing just an online support for these families we have a heart to serve. We instead want to meet their greater needs and develop local support groups in communities throughout the United States through a program we are calling SPED Strong Tribes. These tribes will focus on filling 5 basic needs: togetherness, respite, opportunities, networking, and growth. Each of these components are being covered in blogs this week before our campaign to increase awareness of the essential nature of each in supporting special needs homeschooling families.

 

To learn more about the SPED Strong Tribes campaign and how you can help build stronger special education homeschooling families by partnering with us in this campaign, click here.

 

We have also created this simple video to explain the whole program. 

Thank you for sharing this information and partnering with us to help our isolated families get the respite and opportunities they so greatly desire and need.

For more information on the five basic foundations we will be building into our new SPED Strong Tribes, check out all the blogs in this series:
Homeschooling Families Strengthened by Togetherness
Homeschooling Families Strengthened by Respite and Opportunities
Homeschooling Families Strengthened by Networking
Homeschooling Families Strengthened by Growth

 

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By Peggy Ployhar

 
As I cited in my previous article, The Then and Now of Special Education Homeschooling, more parents who have children with special educational needs are choosing to homeschool as a reaction to the lesser quality educational options offered by public or private schools. But, with this transition, many parents unknowingly bring the same teaching mindset they were looking to leave at school into their new homeschooling experience.

Below are the 4 most important distinctions of how specialized home education differs from an institutionalized special education program and opens the freedom potential parents have in homeschooling a child outside the box of special education.

1 – Schooling is focused on the positive aspects of your child, not the negative
Special education within a school setting was created to detect and correct a child’s learning issues. By focusing on what doesn’t work well for a child, the negative aspects of a child’s learning disability becomes pronounced in their lesson plans and overall educational goals.

The beauty of homeschooling is that although a child may still struggle with an ability to learn, a parent has the freedom to design lessons around the positive ways a child can learn. Over time homeschooled children learn what methods and tools work best to help them learn, which they then can adapt and eventually carry into their adulthood.


2 – A child is taught according to their gifts, not their deficits
All children have specific gifts, as well as deficits. Unfortunately, non-academic gifts are outside the reach of a traditional special education classroom. Homeschooling allows a parent to supplement a child’s studies with opportunities to work on specific skill sets and gifting alongside the subjects the child struggles in. This ability to blend academic and non-academic pursuits allows a child to find success in their studies where before they may have only met defeat.

Turning interests like cooking, woodworking, computer programming, acting, or even martial arts into school subjects is not out of the question when you homeschool. The options are endless on what you can turn into an area of study and the benefit of adding these classes for children who struggle in core curriculum subjects, is they start to realize learning can be fun instead of an always defeating experience.

3- Progression happens at the rate your child learns, not against a “norm”
Classroom learning and grading, in general, are based on norms. If a child is not keeping up with a specific norm, then they are considered “behind.” Schools focus on working with a child to get them “caught up”. Unfortunately, each child is unique and those who are more pronounced in their uniqueness will never quite match a level of “normal.”

Homeschooling, on the other hand, not only allows children to be unique it can celebrate their unique qualities. Schooling at home allows a child time to discover how they learn best, not how to learn like everyone else. Each lesson learned by a child in a homeschool setting sets the bar for what lesson comes next, no matter how long it takes the child to move from one step to the next.

4 – A lifestyle of learning replaces a compartmentalized learning process
Many children with learning challenges also struggle with translating a learned concept to another part of their life. This inability for a child to learn one lesson at school and then translate that same lesson to a scenario at home or in a “real world” setting prolongs the learning process for these children.

When a family starts homeschooling, they also start a shift in how learning is perceived. Learning is no longer just found in books, in classrooms, or on a computer, but everywhere in life. Every experience, every encounter, and every relationship brings lessons to be taught as well as lessons to be learned that flow over the boundaries of subjects and grade levels. This decompartmentalization of learning removes many learning translation issues which in turn speeds up the child’s overall learning process.

For a child who experiences learning challenges, educational delays, or struggles with a disability or medical condition, a specialized home education approach provides opportunities to succeed in learning instead of hurdles they must get beyond. If you embrace those freedoms as a homeschooling parent, you will be rewarded in watching your child soar above their struggles and embrace the learning process…for life!

If you would like more information about getting started in homeschooling your student with special educational needs, make sure to visit our Getting Started Page .

We would also love to have you as part of our community! Come connect with almost 2k families on our  SPED Homeschool Facebook Support group as we daily discuss the ups and downs and ins and outs of homeschooling a child with learning differences. If you are not on Facebook, make sure you sign up for our newsletter because we have some new regional groups launching soon that will allow you to connect with other local special education homeschooling families in your area.

This article was originally written for School House Rocked but was re-edited and reprinted with the author’s permission.

 

 

 


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