Homeschooling a child with special needs may seem daunting. We might be lead to believe that psychologists, school administrators, and others have all the answers. Is it possible to homeschool a child with special challenges? Might that child even flourish?
In this section three moms who have found their own solutions to special education challenges share some helpful advice. You will also find some helpful books, periodicals, and other resources.
Homeschooling a child with disabilities, special circumstances, unique characteristics, different learning styles, or whatever one wishes to call an unusual challenge, can be done. Many families find that no one 'recipe' stays successful, and that midcourse corrections are the order of the day. Finding resources can be exciting, yet frustrating, because what is true today may NOT be true tomorrow, or in a different part of the state!
The situation regarding special education in California is in a constant state of change. Most districts are interpreting the law to mean that if the local school district is offering an 'appropriate special education program' for your child in the public school, but you choose to send your child to a private school or to homeschool outside the public system, the district is relieved of any further responsibility to serve the child's special education needs. This could mean some families might wish to continue in an established relationship with a district speech therapist, for example, but be denied that service. However, in some cases personal appeals to the district for an exception have been successful. Establishing a cordial relationship with a Special Ed representative as early as possible may facilitate future goals. Keeping a record of all contacts will be very important. It is as yet unclear how homeschoolers will be impacted, if at all, by changes in Special Ed policies, but some districts seem more amenable to performing special ed services on what they call a 'consulting basis' for homeschooling families.
The Internet provides many chances to compare notes, find families with similar problems, and generally get support outside the school district. Wellness sites like Healthcentral.com have pages with basic information on many conditions, and ideas for further research. A fine magazine is Exceptional Parent, which addresses many rare conditions and has discussed homeschooling as one of the answers for many families.
If a child is permanently blind, one can make plans based on that. But when a child's situation never stays the same for any period of time, planning becomes more complex. Along with that comes the evolution inherent in different developmental stages. Adjusting to the constant change can be exhausting. Please contact me directly at email@example.com or (925) 455-0465 if you have questions about the California policies or need individual help.
You Are Not Alone
I began this homeschooling journey searching for the book that would tell me exactly what to do. I searched the web and reviewed materials, and read many books, only to discover there is no one particular book with all the best answers. Since each child has individual strengths and weaknesses, talents and interests, what seems to work best is a "cut and paste" approach. This involves sifting through materials and resources to find what you feel will work best for you and your child. In spite of changes to the law, you might still be able to receive services such as Speech and Occupational Therapy. Feel confident when you attend your IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) meeting, knowing that you are providing a superior education for your child. Remember: you are the person who knows your child best. Follow your intuition, knowing that if something doesn't feel right to you, it probably isn't right. There is support out there as more families choose to homeschool their children with special needs. At times it may seem like it's one step forward and two steps back, but try to be patient with the process and trust yourself along the way. I can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bringing Your Special Education Child "Home"
School is getting ready to start again and as you reminisce about your child's relatively relaxing summer, you wonder if you should give serious consideration to not returning him to school. Homeschooling is something that has always appealed to you, but your child has been diagnosed with a learning disability (or other special needs) and the notion of educating him without his usual cadre of special education specialists has been a major roadblock for you to overcome.
Still, you think back to days throughout the summer when your son awoke on his own at 10 each morning, fixed his own breakfast, picked out his clothes, dressed himself and filled the remainder of the day with playing Legos, reading magazines, and running with the dogs in the yard. Those summer days have been in stark contrast to his usual routine. The angst-ridden morning ritual of dragging him out of bed at daybreak, so that there is sufficient time to tussle with him over what clothes he'll wear to school. While you prepare breakfast (and a sack lunch to go), you will undoubtedly encounter 30-to-45-minutes of deliberations over the virtues of peanut butter versus cheese sandwiches and whether or not he can digest a bowl of cold cereal without regurgitating it. The search for his book bag and an overdue science report will account for at least another 30 minutes, which will get him to the school bus stop with 0.02 seconds to spare.
You find yourself at the crossroads of trying to decide whether keeping your son out of a classroom to enhance his emotional growth will somehow mar his academic progress. Reframe your outlook to one that is less negative; as your child's emotional development matures, so will his ability to better comprehend the academic realm. At home, your son will follow a daily schedule that fits his temperament and internal clock, rather than the one imposed by the school that disrupts his natural rhythms. He will have the extra time that he needs to comprehend multiplication and he won't develop antsy boredom rereading the same chapter of a book waiting for the rest of his classmates to complete the task. The benefits of homeschooling a special education (SPED) child can be innumerable.
Now that you have decided to proceed with homeschooling, your next step will be to determine which legal option best suits your family's needs. While there are a number of ways to legally homeschool in California, parents of SPED students may opt for one option over another based on a number of considerations. Do you want to try to retain your child's school-provided SPED services? Or, do you prefer to get as far away from public services as possible with the least amount of hassle? Do you want to develop your own learning plan? Or would you prefer a curriculum that more resembles traditional school?
Probably the most popular method by which to legally homeschool is to file the R-4 Private School Affidavit (PSA) with the state office of education. This option requires a simple online filing, maintenance of minimal paperwork, and a basic understanding of a handful of California Education Codes. Families filing the R-4 are free to use whatever materials and resources they deem appropriate for their children. (See our page on the Private School Option).
Families whose children already have an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) may not feel comfortable going it alone with the R-4. If a family wishes to try to keep the child's SPED services through the public schools, the best option is to enroll with a charter school program designed for homeschoolers. Many of the public school district operated independent study programs (ISP), as well as some charters, may not provide special services to IEP students. But, many of the charters do provide speech, occupational and other services. Ask before enrolling! The charter programs are also popular in some homeschooling circles because they provide curriculum materials, along with classes and access to field trips, computer labs and other perks.
Private ISPs are another option that are especially appealing to many new families because they offer something of a safety net by providing the new homeschooler with a certain amount of anonymity from the state (the private ISP, not the individual family, files the R-4), as well as interacting with previous school officials to obtain the child's cumulative records. Families who have developed adverse relationships with school staff by demanding services due their children may prefer to enlist the assistance of a private ISP administrator to "officially" remove the child's files, while also offering guidance to the new family. Smaller private ISPs tend to allow a lot of flexibility to families wanting to choose their own learning materials. The larger (and more expensive) programs generally offer a prepackaged curriculum to enrolled families.
The downside to enrolling in a private program or filing your own R-4 is that your child will be considered a private school student and no longer eligible for special education services. However, nonpublic school students are still entitled to assessments and periodic consultations with the public schools. Therefore, your child's IEP can be reevaluated when the current one expires or your child can benefit from occasional meetings with the school's SPED teachers.
Countless families decide to opt out of these services, either because they are substandard in quality or the families simply tire of jumping through bureaucratic hoops. However, because they decide to forego school services doesn't mean that they eliminate them altogether. There are a variety of low-to-no cost therapeutic (speech, occupational, etc.) services available within most communities. Other families create partnerships with their medical and mental health professionals. Learning to work with your own children and checking-in with the specialists on a regular or as-needed basis is a more cost-effective approach and helps the child apply the therapeutic interventions within their own environments (as opposed to an unfamiliar office setting). Many other families realize that a child previously diagnosed with a mild-to-moderate learning disorder no longer suffers from such, leading many to believe that children are misdiagnosed simply because they learn on their own timetables while utilizing their own styles.
Regardless of the legal approach or educational style you chose, homeschooling is a very do-able proposition for families of children with learning differences. And, should you start to fall back into the notion that your special child's education must be provided by a credentialed or licensed individual, just think back to those summer afternoons when your son filled his time with lots of water-based experiments and tending to a small garden. How does that child compare to the sulky one returning home, laden down with hours of homework ahead of him?
Reprinted with the permission of the HomeSchool Association of California. © 2007–2008 by HomeSchool Association of California. All rights reserved.