Employers are increasingly showing interest in neurodiverse employees. The term neurodiversity has been around a long time. This term encompasses people on the autism spectrum, those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), speech disorders, dyslexia, and several other neurodevelopmental conditions. Neurodiversity advocates seek to highlight that these conditions are not necessarily a deficit, but come with strengths and weaknesses unique to each individual. In a 2009 study, neurodiverse students who viewed themselves as “different” rather than as having a “deficit” had higher academic self-esteem and confidence in their abilities, including career goals. This perception may be key for you if you’re considering planning to homeschool children with special needs.
From a biblical perspective we understand that God made man in His image. The God-given diversity of abilities, strengths, and weaknesses includes everyone. If you have children with special needs in one or more areas, they likely also have strengths in other areas. If you’re planning to homeschool children with special needs, your experience may look different, but the goal is the same. The goal is to equip the child to make a positive difference in his world.
Can I homeschool my child with special needs?
You may be wondering, “Can I homeschool my child with special needs?” Of course you can! Every child learns differently, and often even children without learning disabilities require a tailored approach for particular subjects.
To homeschool a child with a learning disability, you may have to alter your style and adjust your expectations; and you’ll certainly need additional tools and training. But if you strongly believe in homeschooling, you can continue to guide your child’s education in meaningful ways.
You do not need a special education degree or any specific formal training to homeschool your child with special needs. Special education degrees prepare a person to work with a variety of different needs in a classroom setting. You only need to study as much as you can about the specific disability your child has and apply the methods that work for your child.
Should I consider homeschooling my child with special needs?
Perhaps your child’s need for a special education is a recent discovery. If your children have been in a traditional school setting, they might already have an individual education plan (IEP). In a public school setting, an IEP is a legal document that protects each child’s right to educational support. If you decide to homeschool, the document may not be legally binding. It is good to be aware of specific laws in your state.
Homeschool, by nature, is an individualized plan, and therefore might be most suitable for your child. If you have the time to devote to studying your children’s learning disabilities and tailoring an educational plan for them, they will benefit greatly. You absolutely can prepare many children with special needs for college and/or a career. And homeschooling might be the best way for you to accomplish this.
How to Homeschool a Child with Special Needs
Here are some general tips for homeschooling a child with special needs.
- Learn as much as you can about your child’s learning disability. Research it online and try different methods until you find what works for your child.
- Be patient with yourself and with your child. Learning with any kind of disability is hard work. Acknowledge that you and your child are both learning as you go.
- Get support. If you can find other homeschool families who have done what you are trying to do, they will be invaluable resources for you.
- Try various accommodations. Noise-canceling headphones help children who are easily distracted. Alternate seating, such as a physio ball, will help hyperactive children use up some energy. Fidgets toys might help some children with special needs related to focusing attention. Many neurodiverse people will perform better with a structured routine. You might need to ignore penmanship and grade for content alone. Break assignments into small chunks. Pace the work for your child. Some subjects might take longer, and you might find that working at multiple grade levels in different subjects works best.
- Seek professional help. Do not be afraid to get help from tutors, therapists, reading intervention specialists, or other professionals if your child needs it. This is not a failure on your part. On the contrary, acknowledging your own weakness is a good model for your child and ensures the best possible education.
How to Fulfill Testing Requirements for Kids with Special Needs
The most common testing accommodation is extended time. Of course, you have complete freedom to adjust time requirements for any curriculum test. Standardized testing does have time requirements that formal results do rely on. Students with disabilities may have up to 50% more time than the usual allotment on standardized tests. Speed drills are one exception, but those timed test sections may be optional. For a student with ADHD, you might need to break up long sessions into several shorter ones. The additional breaks can help a student maintain focus during standardized testing. Be sure your student is aware that revisiting portions of the test from a previous session is usually not allowed. For some types of tests, you might be allowed to read the questions aloud. Reading comprehension is a notable exception, since the test is not measuring listening comprehension. Match the test level to the curriculum your child has completed regardless of age. An appropriate test level will give you the best information about your child’s progress and potential. You can also special order tests for visual and hearing-impaired students.
Tips and Strategies for Children with Specific Needs
The following sections deal with specific educational needs for different types of learning disabilities.
Dyslexia is a learning disorder characterized by difficulty reading in children with typical intelligence levels and normal or corrected vision. In other words, students with dyslexia may struggle with learning to read even if they have no obvious learning or visual impairments to explain it. Children who struggle with reading can greatly benefit from focused efforts on phonological awareness. Emphasizing the sounds that letters and blends make is an important component of reading instruction.
Options for Students with Dyslexia
The Orton-Gillingham method was designed specifically for dyslexic instruction, but the structured literacy approach benefits all children who are learning to read. Structured literacy is an explicit and systematic way of teaching children to read. The approach enables children to decode the words on the page by modeling how to do it. Orton-Gillingham is also a multi-sensory approach, which helps students with different learning styles. Dyslexic students will not learn to read simply by repeated exposure to good literature and using context and images to figure out words. Structured literacy begins with sounds (phonemes), and moves sequentially to the letters that make the sounds (graphemes), short vowels, vowel-consonant combinations, CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) structured words, and so on. You can only teach the many exceptions to the rules of the English language after mastery of the rules.
A diagnosis from a physician or psychologist may come with specific ideas on accommodations for dyslexia. A dyslexic student will benefit from using a computer for writing assignments, so that spelling is automatically checked. If you can find an audiobook to study in literature, your student will be able to focus on comprehension without the reading struggle. Keep instructions for any assignment simple. Wordy instructions will result in wasted time as the dyslexic student works to decode them. If you can, include a picture to represent the instructions.
What to Be Aware of for Students with Dyslexia
If you have a child who is dyslexic, you might spend a great deal of time teaching him or her to read. The rest of the child’s education hinges on being able to read and understand various texts. The time you invest in reading instruction and phonological awareness will eventually pay out much larger returns. Dyslexic children can go from completely frustrated and thinking they are “stupid” to a complete turnaround once receiving appropriate reading instruction. The return on investment manifests as significant progress in every subject for which reading is required. Reading comprehension can only follow mastery of the skill of reading.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a group of disabilities caused by differences in the brain. Risk factors may be environmental, genetic, or biological, but the cause is unknown. People with ASD differ in their abilities and needs. Communication skills may range from nonverbal to advanced. People with ASD tend to have problems with social interactions and may exhibit repetitive behaviors or focused interests. They may be hypersensitive to noise, light, and other sensory inputs. They also tend to have different ways of learning and moving.
What to Be Aware of for Students with Autism
Autism is not a learning disability, but it does affect how children learn. The key to teaching a child with ASD is to capitalize on their strengths. As a parent, you know best what those strengths are. Children with ASD often benefit from assistive technologies and computer-based learning. When homeschooling, you have the freedom to try various learning strategies until you find one that works for your child.
When children with ASD become fixated on a narrow topic, find a way to incorporate that topic into what you are teaching. Allow them to socialize at their own pace and not necessarily always with other children. Establish a routine and stick to it. Incorporate breaks and physical activity to help with sensory overload.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is a condition that makes it hard for kids to focus, sit still, follow directions, and control impulses. Some specialists may refer to ADHD as a dopamine deficiency. Most people receive a chemical reward (dopamine) when they successfully complete a task. People with ADHD tend to have low levels of dopamine and don’t receive that chemical reward from completing normal tasks. Instead, they only receive this reward when completing tasks they’re inherently interested in or find exciting. Because of this dopamine deficiency, children with ADHD may exhibit inattentive behaviors, like difficulty following instructions, or hyperactive/impulsive behaviors, like always being “on the go” or interrupting others. Some kids with ADHD will exhibit both types of behaviors.
Additionally, boys with ADHD present differently from girls with ADHD. Boys tend to have the standard presentation—they are obviously not listening, constantly moving, and are more disregarding of instructions and rules. Girls with ADHD tend to have a more passive presentation of ADHD—they zone out, become lost in their own thoughts, and may talk excessively. In general, both presentations of ADHD are capable of focusing intently on something exciting to them, and they may become upset when asked to switch focus to something else.
What to Be Aware of for Students with ADHD
When homeschooling children with ADHD, start your day with physical activity. Plan enough breaks for movement throughout the day. Be flexible with your plan and with seating arrangements. Keep a simple checklist for your child. Not only will your children feel a sense of accomplishment when they checks something off, but they will also know how much more they need to get done each day. Help your children with organizational skills by demonstrating them. Make sure you have healthy snacks on hand for those times when hunger becomes a distraction.
Down syndrome is a condition in which a child is born with a partial or entire extra copy of chromosome 21. The extra genetic material impacts how the baby develops during pregnancy and after birth. The syndrome usually presents with developmental delays and mild to moderate cognitive disabilities that impact a child’s education. Children with Down syndrome usually share some common physical features, but they can vary greatly in their abilities and challenges. Although children with Down syndrome can be integrated into a classroom, the individualized education of a homeschool may be more successful.
What to Be Aware of for Students with Down Syndrome
A child with Down syndrome will benefit from an emphasis on visual and multisensory learning. Repetition is important because of a poor working memory. The student may need extra time to process and respond. Technology benefits students with Down syndrome, especially if they have physical difficulty with handwriting. In your homeschool, you can move at a pace that works for your child, and work to complete lessons that are at an appropriate skill level. You might need to provide extra help with staying focused and organized. Learners with Down syndrome typically respond well to extra doses of praise and encouragement. And remember to take a lot of breaks throughout the day. Your children are working extra hard to overcome their weaknesses.
• • • • •Valerie is a wife and a mother to a very busy preschooler. In her free time she enjoys reading all kinds of books. She earned a B.S. in Biology from Bob Jones University, minoring in Mathematics, and a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics from Ohio State University. Valerie has 15 years of experience working in research laboratories and has coauthored 8 original research articles. She has also taught several classes and laboratories at the high school and college levels. She currently works as a Data Analyst and a freelance writer.
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