By Charl Rae Cobb


Denial, anger, rationalization, bargaining, depression, anxiety, and eventual acceptance. In nursing school, I learned that everyone goes through several stages during the grieving process. I was taught to help support people whose loved ones have died. What I now recognize is that every diagnosis, whether it is medical or not, brings out these emotions. Realizing it is a natural, and unfortunately, a necessary process helps our family deal with each new health challenge.


Whether we are dealing with the symptoms of an acute illness like a virus or an allergic reaction, a long-term condition such as an auto-immune disorder or cancer, or an unexpected change in medication, illnesses wind up disrupting our current and carefully planned academic and household schedule. Honestly, it can be upsetting, overwhelming, and confusing until I remind myself that teaching my child how to handle change is as important as teaching math and writing skills.


Some days I want to cry because of the unfairness and disappointment of a new medical diagnosis or medicine that we now have to deal with. At times, I am anxious or fearful that the academics will slide. Sometimes I feel emotionally and or physically exhausted. Some days I want someone else to take over the multiple roles I am responsible for in our home: teacher, cook, laundress, chauffeur, social coordinator, cheerleader, budget balancer, time manager, etc. Just so that I can be the mom and/or nurse that my child needs or I can just focus on my own health needs or those of another family member.


After I allow myself some private time to identify that as part of the grieving process, I find myself better prepared to move myself and my student who studies and learns from everything I do as well as say into the acceptance stage of the grieving process where we can empower ourselves with education and a can do attitude. This has become our “Step Number One“.


Step Two, is a chance to reassess our priorities. We like the analogy of filling a glass jar with large rocks, small rocks, sand, and water. No one can be successful in filling the jar with all the items if they try to put all the small things in first. Anyone can be successful if they put the largest rocks in, then the smaller rocks, then the sand followed by the water. Our family finds success and satisfaction when we prioritize our needs and our wants. This becomes an important life lesson that translates into financial budgeting and time management as well as health and academics. We also find this to be a powerful opportunity to teach discernment. If our child learns a healthy decision-making process so that he can continue to do so independently as an adult, then we have invested our time in a worthwhile endeavor rather than wasting it with worry.


Step Three is based on Step Two. If one or more of our family members need to focus on sleep, bedrest and antibiotics or other treatments to recover from a short-term illness, that becomes the priority and other things can wait. We may choose to progress slowly toward reading literature, watching documentaries, or playing games prior to resuming academics. It has been helpful to record what we did in our lesson planner retrospectively during these times. We have been pleased to see that we actually have satisfying discussions about a story we read together or a documentary we watched and were inspired to explore more about that particular topic or interest. When social distancing is due to illness, it has been helpful to maintain connections with others via FaceTime, phone calls, texting, and letter writing. It has amazed me at how much my child and his pen pals are lengthy and detailed letters to each other as well as watching their handwriting, typing, and spelling skills improve!


If I am the one who is ill, my child may proceed with lessons he feels more confident about. He may give me a short progress report each day or ask his dad or grandmother to help him work through a question if he did not find understanding by searching the Internet or textbook. If we are dealing with a long term health challenge or a newly diagnosed learning disability related to an illness, we tend to approach it as a health related unit study and learn what we can about the symptoms, treatment or therapy, etc. Therefore we can plan for success with physical health, social interactions, and schoolwork. Occasionally, this has led to combining nutrition and cooking lessons with biology, physics, and physiology in fun and memorable ways!


Every family goes through health challenges in their own unique ways. I hope that sharing our perspective might encourage someone else, as I have been encouraged by other parents who are homeschooling through medical challenges.


Charl’s work experiences include writing, education, healthcare, and art. She loves helping homeschoolers learn how to identify dominant learning styles and how to plan strategies for success. Respecting the individual requirements of her multi-generational household, she strives to create tasty, family-friendly meals while juggling multiple dietary requirements, provide social and educational activities that encourage those dealing with multiple special needs, and balance life in general. 






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by the SPED Homeschool Team


Learn how three long-time special needs homeschooling moms learned to balance education and medical needs in their homes by properly orienting priorities, energy, and choices.


Balancing Priorities

Home educating through illnesses is something our team wrote about a few years ago, just as I was going through the third of three surgeries in 2020. What I learned through that experience is that priorities are a must because there isn’t time to do everything you would like to do when illness upends your life. However, there is always time for the things you put at the top of your list as long as you focus on prioritizing them. For school work, that means numbering subjects in order of importance and then doing them in that order. For daily chores, it means doing your best to have everyone focus on the day’s top chore and being thankful if it gets done between doctor appointments planned or not, necessary breaks for cuddles, telling your kids how much you love them, and taking a much needed nap.The best advice I can give, though, is to focus on what you have to be thankful for each day. Even if it was the gift of another day of life that you get to spend with your kids because you are blessed with the opportunity to homeschool.

-Peggy Ployhar


Balancing Energy

The amount of school we do is in inverse proportion to the severity of what’s going on, be it illness or sensory meltdowns. We take sick days when we are really sick. When things are milder and ongoing, I try to get at least some school done. We may not do core subjects those days because I’d rather have my child at full capacity for those. We might do low-energy activities that teach the same material, like watch videos, or explore the topic in ways other than using our regular curriculum. That way, learning continues, but not at the same intensity or duration as a normal school day. Once the crisis has passed, we get back on track.

-Stephanie Buckwalter


Balancing Choices

Many types of illnesses have affected our family and our homeschool life over the years. The first question I try to ask myself is what am I willing to give up and what is my goal at the time. Small quick illnesses I give whoever is sick a day or two of rest and then we pick back up. The chronic illnesses are the ones that I have to ask myself what is the most important need right now. When I studied education we learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and basically the bottom of the pyramid is that if our basic physiological needs are not being met like sleep, food, breathing and I will add in here being well our motivation will be low resulting in low output. This is what I try to remember during illnesses: do I just want stuff done for the sake of getting it done or do I want it done well? The times when we are going through more chronic issues, I use more games, documentaries, movies that touch on what we are learning, and most important rest. Rest during an illness is one of the most important lessons we can teach our children. Our bodies need rest to heal, and it is important that we learn to listen to our bodies. Finding a place where you are comfortable letting up on school during an illness is a personal choice, but sometimes we have no choice but to stop and heal and that is okay.

-Dawn Spence






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by Cheryl Swope, M.Ed.with Simply Classical Curriculum


Have you ever listed all of the medical, educational, and other diagnoses your child has been given or the diagnoses you suspect? Lined up in a row, the terms appear as heavy as artillery ready to overtake your child and you. As their parent, sometimes you may feel as if you stand alone in your child’s defense.


Your child’s diagnoses, given or suspected, may sometimes ring in your ears or haunt you day and night. Surrounding you with a clinical grimness, words such as disorder, impairment, syndrome, and disability may threaten to rob you of the God-given love, respect, and persevering care for your child. When you homeschool a child whose medical conditions, daily care, or puzzling diagnoses seem overwhelming, formidable pressure can seem to push from all sides. What are you to do?


Cast care aside, lean on your guide;

His boundless mercy will provide.

Trust, and enduring faith shall prove

Christ is your life and Christ your love.


In my homeschool, our boy/girl twins’ list of medical conditions and diagnostic terms fill more than a single spaced page. The pages of terms continue to grow, as if more troops march forth to assail my children and myself. My role as my defender, advocate, and counter-assailant can only grow to meet them if the Lord equips me with His love, His mercy, His wisdom, and His armor for each day. 


Fight the good fight with all your might;

Christ is your strength, and Christ your right.

Lay hold on life, and it shall be

Your joy and crown eternally.


With the help of God, in our homeschool when conditions and diagnoses began mounting in my children’s early years, we found ourselves becoming resourceful. When doctor appointments, hospital stays, and therapy visits filled our days, “portable education,” became clever tools for academic progress. This also modeled making the most of the time. I describe in greater detail within the pages of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child and sometimes marvel that we listened to poetry, cradle songs, and silly songs set to music when traveling to and from appointments. As caregivers, you do such things too. We played memory games or I Spy to pass the time in waiting rooms and kept the children’s minds relaxed and light-hearted. We found parks or made a trip to the zoo for taking long, relaxing walks after evaluations. When home for extended periods due to illness or recovery, we created artistic history notebooks that became keepsakes still on our shelves. 


To this day, my son finds discussions with the doctors “fascinating” as we often tied medical terminology to etymology (oto-scope = Greek ear/look). Recently my daughter occupied herself in an exam room by calculating the total number of floor tile squares, as we once did while learning multiplication and area years ago. She finds art or photography on the walls and asks me the questions I asked long ago, “Which is your favorite? Why?” and then shares hers. Not long ago in a gastroenterologist’s office she shuddered with dismay at the many posters of intestines. “They really need some beautiful artwork in here!”


When mood disorders and mental illness were added to the daunting legion, I did not know what we would do. I recall crying out to a Christian friend. “I feel as if I’m barely holding on by a thread.” She reassured me with words I still remember, “Do not worry about your ability to hold on. The Lord is holding on to YOU!” 


Faint not nor fear, His arms are near;

He changes not who holds you dear;

Only believe, and you will see

That Christ is all eternally.


Today as medical conditions continue to assail my children, “faint not” remains sufficient because He remains sufficient. The Lord strengthens us, upholds us, and fights for us. Sometimes medical conditions become too powerful or urgent to allow the teaching of etymology, math, or art; but we can teach our children this: Jesus is with us. 


If you are in the throes of this battle, hold on. Hold on to your children. Hold on to your family. Hold on to your friends. Most of all, hold on to the One who holds on to you. “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you.’” (Isaiah 41:13). Yes, He will.


*Hymn stanzas from “Fight the Good Fight,” written by John S. B. Monsell, 1811-1875.

Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., is the author of Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child (Memoria Press, 2nd edition, 2019). With Memoria Press, Cheryl has created award-winning homeschooling resources for all ages of children with autism, adhd, dyslexia, Down syndrome, medical conditions, and other learning challenges,

Cheryl has a master’s degree in special education. She and her husband of 31 years homeschooled adopted boy/girl twins with autism, mental illness, and learning disabilities. They homeschooled through high school graduation. The family lives in a quiet lake community in southeast Missouri.






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By Dawn Spence, SPED Homeschool Teaching Manager


Homeschooling a child with special needs and medical needs can provide many challenges. Yet, provide wonderful challenges for teaching your student more creatively.


When I started homeschooling my daughter with special needs, I knew she had multiple needs. I also knew not one curriculum or way of teaching would meet all her needs. Her brain and mind were bright, but learning was challenging. My daughter’s multifaceted learning disabilities called for a wide variety of tools.


To learn how to teach my daughter, I started reaching out to experts who were willing to help me teach my daughter.


To learn more about how I could use neurodevelopmental strategies, I spoke with Dr. Jan Bedell, the President of Little Giant Steps. Jan helped me find which of the learning tools she developed would work best in helping me address my daughter’s auditory processing issues.


I also spoke with Dr. Carol Brown, the founder of Equipping Minds, and found her games could help my daughter improve her working memory and executive functioning.


But, my daughter needed more, so I turned to Dianne Craft and from her Right-Brained Learning Approach, I realized my daughter also needed visuals to learn sight words.


From there, I learned from other experts and uncovered more strategies and tools that I use for teaching my daughter.


Using multiple strategies can be overwhelming for a homeschooling parent, but I can confidently say all my research was worth it, because my daughter is learning! She is reading AND retaining information.


If you are frustrated and find yourself saying, “I need to find a new curriculum. What I am using is not working.” You are not alone.


When things are not working, it is best to start by figuring out what your child needs and then research how you can help teach to those needs. Once you figure out what your child needs, you open the door to approaches, tools, or curriculum that will unlock your child’s unique learning path.


When your child has so much going on with medical or learning needs, unlocking the puzzle can take time and lots of trial and error, but fear not, you are not alone and there are lots of people who people who are more than happy to help you learn how to best meet your child’s learning needs, but you need to be willing to ask for help, learn new strategies, and combine multiple approaches. The time and effort it takes to figure out what your child needs is worth it.


Every day I see my daughter striving and thriving and learning more than I ever could have imagined just a few years ago. I encourage you to keep searching and learning. You won’t regret the investment you made in helping your child strive to their full learning potential.


Dawn Spence is the SPED Homeschool Teaching Manager and a former public school teacher who has a passion to help all children to learn and to help parents find what their children need to succeed. 




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