If your child has special needs, you know how hard it can be to get proper services and attention in a typical classroom. Your son or daughter might need more time than a frazzled teacher with 20 students can provide. Public education systems are designed to educate typical children who learn at a typical pace as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. If your child doesn’t fit that mold, homeschooling might be a better option.
It’s not an easy decision. There are resources schools can offer like accessible facilities and a full-time school nurse that you probably won’t have at home. But no one knows your child better than you do. At home, your child can learn at their own pace in the style that suits them best. They also don’t have to deal with bullies or safety concerns.
Understand the Consequences of Your Decision
Before you decide to homeschool your child, understand the laws in your state. This can vary widely. In some places, homeschooled children are entitled to all the same support services as public school students. Other states and districts offer nothing if you leave the public system.
Luckily, homeschooling parents don’t have to invent the wheel or go it alone. You can reach out to support groups and families in your community to help you navigate the policies in your area and access all available resources.
If you do decide to teach your child at home, here are some tips to get off to a good start and create the best experience for both of you.
Set Yourself Up for Success
The best homeschooling routine will be the one that works for you and your child, but as a general rule, you will want to find a balance between structure and flexibility.
- Designate space for a classroom. Start by creating a sensory-rich environment at home that stimulates your child without overwhelming them. It should be a dedicated space with enough room to move around. Consider setting up stations for different activities and having alternative seating options like a yoga ball or bean bag as well as a standard chair.
- Make a realistic schedule. Kids with special needs often thrive on order and schedules, but it’s equally important to be able to adapt if your child has a medical appointment or an “off” day. Work out a doable schedule that includes breaks and physical activity.
- Identify your child’s special needs by reading their assessments, talking to your doctor, consulting former teachers, and adding your own intuition and insights. Consider their interests, temperament, strengths and weaknesses.
- Write an IEP. An IEP is an Individualized Education Program. If your child was formerly in a public school, chances are you already have one, but it’s probably out-of-date and many of the school-focused items may no longer apply. IEPs are usually updated annually. They are helpful for identifying goals, tracking your child’s gains over time, and communicating academic progress. IEP generation tools are available online to help you customize a plan for your child.
- Enlist help. You may be very excited to start homeschooling your child, but you’ll soon learn you can’t do it all on your own. The good news is that there’s a lot of outside help available. From learning materials to tutoring and therapies, there are free and paid resources available. Consider your strengths and areas of expertise and things you are not as qualified to do, then make a wish list of outside support. Speech therapy and other services might be available through your school district or health insurance plan.
- Don’t compare your child to others. Managing your expectations is important for all parents, but especially those whose kids have special needs. Remember not to compare your child to other kids their age. Pull out a calendar and note progress over the last day, week or year. Show your child how proud you are and praise improvements.
- Take a CPR class. Most states require school personnel to have CPR training in case of an emergency. Depending on where you live, homeschooling parents might need to as well. But even if it’s not a legal requirement, it’s a good idea to get trained in basic life-saving techniques. An online CPR class can help you deal with any potential emergencies confidently.
- Take care of yourself. If you burn out, you won’t be much use to yourself or your child. Parenting any child is tiring, but even more so if he or she has special needs. Add homeschooling to the mix, and it can get overwhelming. You can’t be parent, teacher, and therapist 24/7. Schedule “me” time when you can and trade childcare with someone who also homeschools to get a break.
Special Tips for Homeschoolers of Kids on the Autism Spectrum
Here are few more tips specifically for parents of kids on the autism spectrum.
- Incorporate fixations in the learning objective. Children with autism often fixate on specific objects, such as dinosaurs, trains, or sports. Use these fixations to pull your child into the subject matter. Don’t always try to work around them. These fascinations help you understand what makes your kid tick, so incorporate favorite topics every time you deliver a lesson, especially if it’s one your child is not organically interested in.
- Give your child some control. Boost your child’s confidence and decision-making skills by turning over some choices to him. Let him pick the curriculum that appeals to him. This helps you learn what your child sees as his strengths. Don’t forget structure as you develop and implement the criteria. Decision-making skills help them cope with wrong answers or verbal corrections.
- Seek opportunities for socialization. It’s important to find opportunities to practice social skills outside the classroom. First, check out homeschooling families in your area to find team events and social opportunities. Field trips, homeschool co-ops, arts and crafts classes, and play dates help parents get a break and let your child have fun and practice making friends.
Homeschooling your child can be an immensely rewarding experience for both of you – especially if you plan ahead and know what you’re getting into. But remember that there are no absolutes. What works for one family might not work for yours. Other parents can be a terrific source of support, insights, and ideas, but when it comes to your child, trust your instincts. No one knows your child as well as you do. Being able to customize all of your lessons and activities to your specific child’s quirks, interests, preferences, and strengths is the biggest advantage of homeschooling.