Homeschooling as an Option for Teaching Children with Special Needs

Community Member

When I became a parent I never had any inkling that someday in my future I would be homeschooling my child.

Sure I had heard of other families doing this but I always assumed that my children would be going to a regular school as I did when I was a kid. But then I found out that my youngest son had autism and that pretty much changed everything.

My son did go to one of the best preschools in town and despite the teacher's best attempts my son grew to loathe the experience. Near the end of the year, I found myself wrestling with a screaming boy who didn't want to go back. We tried the public school system and after a dreadful five hour IEP in order to obtain what I felt to be minimal services, I thought to myself that there has to be a better way. We also looked into private schools but most seemed ill equipped to deal with my son's special needs.

And then it came to me, "Why not home school?"

Some arrive at the decision to homeschool with very little soul searching or exploring other means to an education.

But I feel that these folk are the minority.

Most people I know who homeschool a child with special needs arrive at this decision after much angst and dealing with a system which they felt ultimately did not meet the needs of their child.

A story I would hear over and over from other parents is that they would find a wonderful teacher and things would be going well but then the next year would bring changes of a new teacher who didn't understand the child's needs and then they had to start all over again in advocating for their child. Each year would bring a new set of rules and personalities to contend with for both parent and child. Some parents feel that they spend just as much time at school meetings, teacher conferences, and dealing with homework battles that they might as well be teaching their child at home.   I remember thinking to myself that I only have so much time and energy. How can I best utilize this time and energy to help my son? I also approached things from the standpoint of how my son is best able to learn. When I looked at my son's unique learning needs and my own capabilities of what I could offer, I made the choice to homeschool my son and I have never looked back. I want to make the strong point that homeschooling is not right for every parent or every child. I have two boys and my oldest son goes to public school. Even within the same family, what is right for one child, may not be necessarily a good fit for another.

The following are just some of the possible advantages and disadvantages to homeschooling your child who has special needs:

The Pros

  • Your child is guaranteed one on one instruction.
  • You can better control the environment to cut down on distractions.
  • You can tailor your instruction to your child's unique learning needs.
  • The time spent on task can be maximized as there are fewer transitions such as getting to and from school, waiting for other children to finish, moving from class to class, etc.
  • You can better teach real world skills.   For example, I have more opportunities to take my son out into the community or to teach skills of daily living which occur at home.
  • For children who have food allergies or special dietary needs such as my son, these can be better monitored at home.
  • You can take more time to do projects based upon your child's special interests.
  • You can lessen the amount of busy work and make learning time more pertinent and more productive.
  • You can focus your energies on your child instead of going to countless meetings and fighting for services which may or may not help your child.
  • You have more time to devote to the prevention of behavioral problems than a teacher who has many children in a classroom.
  • You can more easily tend to your child's sensory needs.   My child does best with breaks in between lessons.   We have both a mini trampoline and a therapy ball for him to jump and bounce.   Most typical classrooms are not going to accommodate these types of needs.

The Cons

  • Teaching your child at home is pretty much a full time job with no pay.
  • One parent will have to be the major breadwinner for the family and for many families this simply isn't an option.
  • You will be spending lots of time with your child.
  • If your child has difficult or challenging behaviors this can be stressful for both you and your child.
  • Depending upon how long you wish to homeschool, and what level your child is at academically, you will be responsible for understanding many subjects and for teaching these subjects.
  • Homeschooling isn't cheap.   You will need to buy school supplies, books, a curriculum, and so forth. You will need to find an adequate space for your child to learn and for all the school supplies.   I was once asked by a UPS man whether or not I was running a daycare when he peered into my living room and saw all the school items.
  • You will be responsible for helping your child to get his or her socialization needs met.   Most homeschooled children I know have more than ample opportunities for meeting other children through homeschool groups and co-ops, clubs, church, community organizations and so forth.   This isn't necessarily a con to homeschooling, but it is an area where you will have to put forth a special effort of time and energy.
  • There is a chance for burn out with homeschooling as with any job but the primary risk is that this job involves your child.
  • There is no going home from work because you work from home.
  • It is therefore imperative that you get some respite and have your spouse or other caregivers spend time with your child after home school hours.

Homeschooling is a viable option for educating your child who has special needs. It isn't for everyone, however, and special consideration needs to be taken before embarking on this adventure. Trust your gut and do what is right for you, your family, and primarily for your child.   RESOURCES: The Home School Defense League Association

Legal Homeschool Requirements for Each State

A book on this topic:   Homeschooling the Child with ADD (or Other Special Needs): Your Complete Guide to Successfully Homeschooling the Child with Learning Differences by Lenore Colacion Hayes