Services for Special Needs Kids And Other Thoughts That Wandered In

This post was submitted by Sarah Zmick, who lives and homeschools her children in Albemarle County, Virginia.


In Albemarle County, homeschoolers and private schoolers receive access to the same services which is almost nothing. No direct services are offered by Albemarle County (speech, PT, OT, special ed consult, etc.). Everything goes through one liaison, Patty Watson, a supportive, respectful, overworked individual who is responsible for ALL privately placed special needs students in the ACPS attendance area. She tries to help identify resources and offers ideas as she is able, but she is not trained in nor has the time to offer specialized services such as therapies. If your child qualifies, you might be able to get a 1 hour consultation a month, at best.  We see her 2-3 times a year.

Albemarle County has changed their policy regarding special education. Previously, they supported a child in reaching his/her individual potential. So, for example, if you had a highly intelligent child whose skills in a particular subject were significantly delayed compared to his/her potential as indicated by IQ (learning disabled), he/she would qualify for services even though he/she may perform at grade level (because he/she is not performing at a level commensurate with his/her IQ). This is no longer the policy of Albemarle County Schools. A child whose performance is acceptable at grade level will not qualify for services, regardless of his/her potential.

So, one may ask, why bother? For me, the main reason is so that my children will have accommodations if and when they enter the school system (even if its not until he/she goes to college). You do not need a long track record to get accommodations in college, just current testing. One service that you can get is comprehensive testing, saving a large expense if you were to have it done privately. I would prefer that Albemarle County pays for that testing. One can later pursue other testing if needing specific additional information.

What are accommodations? They are changes to the “normal” classroom to level the playing field for kids who are disabled. A child who has mechanical difficulty with writing might be allowed to use a computer. A child with ADD might be given extra time on tests. A hearing-impaired student might receive interpreting services or sit closer to the teacher. When we have children at home, we often provide these adjustments without much thought or trouble. Have an energetic child who is tired of doing math problems? Take a break and do them later. Or better yet, use engaging math games to practice skills instead of “boring” drills. In school, the aforementioned energetic child would need to have a qualifying diagnosis and the accommodation would be specified in advance on a legally enforceable document.

It is common to hear stories within the homeschool community about children who had trouble at school, but flourished at home. I suspect that these children have benefited greatly from the flexibility of their home placement. In other words, their learning needs were better met through a different teaching style, accommodations and the lowered stress of being able to progress without constant comparison to peers. In my experience (having two children with special needs, ages 22 and 18), the home did provide the best educational setting but it did not make their problems disappear. The flexibility of homeschooling smoothed out some of the difficulties and allowed them to progress at their own pace and keep their self-esteem intact (a huge accomplishment!). They still have the same issues that they have had all along and are now trying to figure out how to integrate into an adult world that is less accommodating than the one they have been living in for the past few decades.

Teaching a child with special needs is demanding. You are likely already an expert on your child and what works best for him/her. If not, you will become one. Sometimes that means needing to try several approaches to find the best fit “for now.” Build on his/her strengths. I highly encourage you to seek continuing education opportunities and network with other parents, especially those who might have dealt with similar issues. Utilize professionals when needed, but keep in mind that they may view the educational process differently that you do. Remember also to take care of yourself; create opportunities to focus on things other than your child’s needs and education. You both deserve it.

All homeschooling parents, special needs or not, need to understand how their child learns and choose an approach which best fits their families needs. After all, that is the real advantage of homeschooling. All our children can enjoy a custom-designed education which incorporates their interests and best fits their learning style. A child whose learning style is incompatible with his/her current placement may not qualify for “special needs services,” but may blossom when transplanted to the fertile soil of a loving home, tended by a caregiver who is fully vested in his/her progress and willing to learn the specific requirements of each seedling.

For more information:

VDOE: Special Education

VASAR – Virginia Special Education Resource

Virginia Council of Administrators of Special Education

US Dept. of Education – Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services

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1 comment to Services for Special Needs Kids And Other Thoughts That Wandered In

  • Suzanne Grummell

    Went to Open House for my 13 year old at the middle school she was assigned to for the new school year. Silly me, the term “protected” environment in reality meant “isolated” environment at the middle school she was supposed to attend. I could see a year of quiet desperation ahead of her. I have been home schooling her sister for the last two years and, although, my 13 year old never showed a lot of academic progress in her elementary school special needs class, at least she was loved, felt part of the entire school and was happy; my instincts have told me that this would not be the case in this middle school. I have sent off my Notice of Intent this morning by certified mail with the list of concerns I had sent to the Director of Special Education about the condition of the room, it’s far distance from the Nurse’s office and the incorrect spelling of her name by the teachers. Fortunately, I am in a position to do homeschooling. I worry about the children that will have to endure this atmosphere with no alternatives. Pretty shabby treatment for children who often get a great deal of additional funding from the state and federal government because they are children with special needs.

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