If you are considering homeschooling your child with special needs, the good news is that you are not alone. There are families in your community and state, and across the nation, who can give you the special information and support you need to have a successful homeschooling experience. You can find that support through local and statewide support groups, VaHomeschoolers, and through special organizations and groups for homeschooling children with special needs. There also are numerous e-lists for families who wish to discuss the joys and challenges of homeschooling children with a particular challenge such as autism, deafness, visual impairment, ADHD, and much more.
In addition to email lists, there are numerous books, websites, and other resources for families who are homeschooling children with special needs. Below is a list of frequently asked questions and some answers to help you get started.
Frequently Asked Questions
Am I allowed to homeschool a child with special needs in Virginia?
Yes. The home instruction statute applies to all children in Virginia.
Many parents have found homeschooling to be a terrific option for their child with special needs. Homeschooling allows these children to learn and grow at their own pace, while developing their academic and social skills in a less stressful environment. Many children with special needs have thrived under the individualized instruction and one-on-one attention that homeschooling can provide. Homeschooling can also give your child the opportunity to learn life skills in real life settings, and to develop interests and activities which play to his strengths, boosting his self-esteem and enabling him to function better in society.
Parents often find that homeschooling strengthens family bonds and brings them closer to their child with special needs. Some parents even report that their child’s learning disability symptoms diminished or vanished completely while homeschooling—although of course, there are no guarantees that this will happen.
How do I withdraw my child with special needs from public school to homeschool him?
The laws for withdrawing a child from school and homeschooling a child with special needs are the same as for any other child. If you wish to continue to utilize services from the public school system (like speech therapy or OT), you will need to speak with the school staff about these arrangements.
Begin by filing a Notice of Intent as you would for a child without special needs. As a courtesy, you could let your child’s principal and teacher know of your intent, although the law does not require for you to do so.
If your child has been receiving free special services from the public schools, like speech or occupational therapy, he may be able to continue with these services once he begins homeschooling, although he is not required to do so. Your child’s IEP will become an ISP and services are likely to be more limited than they were when your child was enrolled in the public school. If you find yourself in this situation or you prefer to seek services outside of the public school system, families in your community can direct you to possible alternatives for the therapy your child needs.
What if the school division gives me a hard time about withdrawing my child with special needs?
VaHomeschoolers recommends that all homeschoolers become familiar with the laws for homeschooling in Virginia. You can point out to the school division that you have the right to homeschool your child and you can show them the text of the law. If they continue to give you a hard time, you can contact VaHomeschoolers and we will help you determine what the next step with your school division should be.
What sort of curriculum should I use?
There isn’t any specific curriculum that you must use. VaHomeschoolers recommends that you try various mediums and techniques and see what works best with your child. The law doesn’t require use of a certain curriculum so you are free to pick and choose what your child enjoys and what helps him learn the best. One of the advantages of teaching your own children at home is that you can customize what you do for their special needs and circumstances. There is no one-size-fits-all curriculum.
- Don’t spend money until you have done a lot of reading.
- Read books and magazines and browse Web sites.
- Relax: there are no educational emergencies.
- Evaluate your method regularly and make adjustments as you see fit.
- Realize you’ll have ups and downs–they are part of the process.
Many families create their own curriculum from a mix of approaches and materials that they think suit their child best. A purchased curriculum is not necessary to homeschool, however some families find them useful and so we’ve listed a few resources here.
Often children with ADD or ADHD and other challenges prefer a hands-on, interactive approach, such as unit studies. Some families like Verticy for language-based learning disabilities, others use Barton or many other intensive reading programs, like Wilson or Sounds in Syllables. Some children with ASD enjoy computer-based learning like Time4Learning. Others don’t. Woodbine House has some good materials designed for children with Down Syndrome, but good for others, too.
How can I find other parents who have experience with homeschooling children with special needs?
Finding support is important for all homeschooling parents, but it’s especially important for parents of children with special needs who may require special resources or strategies. Even if you’ve already homeschooled one or more children successfully, you may have to change your approach significantly for a child with special needs.
In your local area ask other homeschooling parents as they might know someone with similar needs.
There are a lot of Yahoo groups (email discussion lists)—search “homeschool” plus your child’s disability or “homeschooling children with special needs.”
One example of an online Yahoo group is GiftsNC which is a special group for parents who home educate one or more children with physical, developmental, medical, communication or learning challenges. The group started as a North Carolina specific group, but has grown to become a national group with members representing most of the states.
GiftsNC also has a little sister group in Northern Va, GiftsNVA. To join GiftsNVA, a private Yahoo group, email the moderator.
The National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network (NATHHAN) is a nonprofit organization which provides information and support to parents who are homeschooling children with special needs. NATHHAN has a message board where parents can connect.
There is also a message board on special needs at The Well Trained Mind.
How have other families complied with the annual testing/evaluation requirement for their child with special needs?
Virginia state law provides a number of options for demonstrating adequate educational progress. A score in the fourth stanine (24th percentile) or higher on any nationally-normed standardized achievement test is acceptable. An example is the California Achievement Test (CAT test). If your child can pass the California Achievement Test or any other nationally-normed standardized test, that may be the easiest way to show progress. One benefit of the CAT test is that it can be administered at home. If your child had an IEP in school, has an ISP now, or you have other documentation supporting disabilities, share that information with the test provider when you order whichever test you choose and they can usually authorize testing accommodations.
Another method to demonstrate “adequate evidence of progress” commonly used by families homeschooling children with disabilities is an evaluation. An evaluation can be conducted by a certified teacher or anyone with a master’s degree or higher. An evaluator looks at your child’s education and progress. Ask other homeschoolers in your area for recommendations for an evaluator. Read more about the evaluation option.
Can my child receive special testing accommodations?
That depends. For testing accommodations a child needs documented disabilities. This documentation can come from one of the three following options: an independent evaluator who has performed educational testing, an Individual Service Plan (ISP) established for your homeschool child by the public school, or an Individual Education Plan (IEP) from when the child was in public school. If you don’t have documentation for accommodations then you will need to obtain the documentation first, then speak to the test supplier and get their authorization to use the accommodations when administering the test.
Another option many families use is an evaluator to show evidence of progress. This is often a better choice for families who may not have documentation of disabilities or who do not feel that testing will adequately measure their child’s educational progress. Read more about choosing an evaluator.
Special Needs and the Public Schools
Will my child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) still be valid if I educate her at home?
An IEP is a document in which the public school sets goals and promises to provide services for a child in school. The IEP is not binding on private schools or homeschools. When a child begins homeschooling, any IEP (Individual Education Plan) that the child had while in the public school system becomes an ISP (Individual Service Plan).
A previous IEP is still valuable to you, so keep it. Should your child go back to public school, or want accommodations for the College Board exams or at college, showing a copy of even an old expired IEP is evidence that your child has a history of need. In addition, The College Board or any college will want to see current evidence, less than three years old, such as a signed letter from a physician or a neuropsychological evaluation.
Is my homeschooled child eligible for therapy and/or special services through the local public schools?
According to the Virginia Department of Education’s Fact Sheet on Home Instruction the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that all children with disabilities have available a free appropriate public education designed to meet their individual needs in conformity with the child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP). Both the regulations and the United States Department of Education’s General Administrative Regulations (EDGAR) make clear that public education is not the only alternative for children with disabling conditions. However, children who are being educated in home instruction programs, are still entitled to take part in related services provided by the school division for which they are eligible. School divisions must remain ready to serve these children when parents seek services either through regular enrollment or as nonpublic students.
The services will vary from school district to school district and are likely to be less frequent than those services provided when/if your child was once enrolled in the public school system.
I have a religious exemption. Can my child still receive therapy and/or special services through the local public schools?
Children exempted from compulsory education through religious exemption can still receive special services through their local public school. School divisions must provide special education services and programs to these students, but the level of services provided can vary at the discretion of the school division.
My school division doesn’t provide special services to homeschooled children. What are my legal options? How can my child get the services he needs?
Under section 612 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), your local school division is required to spend some money on services for students not in the public schools. It does not, however, create an entitlement that gives you the right to demand certain services. In other words, it is on their terms, not yours. You may have to go through lots of bureaucracy such as Individualized Service Plan (ISP) meetings and appeals. Some districts are better than others. Be polite but persistent. In extreme cases, a lawyer who specializes in education law might be helpful. Many have found that the hassle was just not worth the services provided.
My child’s speech therapist keeps on saying that my child would do better if he were in school. How can I educate the therapist about homeschooling and children with special needs?
Ask your child’s therapist upon what evidence they base their conclusion. Is it just a bias against home schooling, or do they feel that there is something wrong with you as a teacher or your home environment? Keep in mind that ignorance of homeschooling is different from opposition. Ask the therapist if the child would benefit from one-on-one instruction from a dedicated and involved teacher using a curricular approach custom designed for the child’s needs; a homeschooling environment can provide that.
Many professionals back down from their opposition to homeschool if they meet or read about successful homeschoolers. In her book, Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner, Kathy Kuhl interviewed 64 families across North America homeschooling children with diagnosed learning challenges. Their stories are remarkable as they share the many benefits of homeschooling: the ability to customize curricula, provide one-on-one instruction, adapt the daily and yearly schedule to the child’s needs, and not have to deal with therapy and tutoring before or after school when the child is sleepy or tired.
Sharing stories such as these can often help those who know little about homeschooling. Hearing these stories can help them to recognize and appreciate the advantages homeschooling affords children with special needs.
General Special Needs
Articles, advocacy, online support, screening resources. Reviewed links from A to Z Home’s Cool
Some parents opt to educate their children at home, to provide individual attention to their children. If you are homeschooling, and you suspect your child has a problem, these articles may help you get your child assessed and discover some techniques that will help your teaching.
This “handbook” offers resources for parents at every stage of the journey of caring for their special needs children. From learning more about special needs to picking a school, planning a financial future, and getting past the bullying and discrimination that so often plague people with special needs.
Special needs articles at the National Home Education Network.
Families who choose the calling of homeschooling their child with special needs will find a deep well of information and help from NATHHAN, including information on state laws and services and support groups.
A homeschool resource for those homeschooling or considering homeschooling a child with special needs
A popular blogger who advocates that you can homeschool your child no matter the limitation or the special need that they have
A website for parents, attorneys, educators, and advocates of children with special needs. Offers information packages, advocacy training seminars, and a free online newsletter, The Special Education Advocate.
Reviewed links from A to Z Home’s Cool
The Other Side of ADD a non-commercial site devoted entirely to exploring alternative views of attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) in children and adults.
Melinda Boring is a speech/language pathologist, workshop presenter, homeschooling mother, and author. Her experience with distract-able and hyperactive children has been developed in both a professional and personal capacity.
A website for highly distract-able people and their parents
A group of diverse families who have chosen to homeschool their child(ren) with autism. We recognize and honor that each family unit has its own unique logistics, beliefs, perspectives and experiences that shape their lives and decisions. We believe in the adage that “parents know their children best” and “there are as many ways to homeschool as there are families homeschooling”.
Tammy Glaser is part of a ring of bloggers who homeschool children with autism
A comprehensive guide to homeschooling for parents who are considering homeschooling, or who have decided to homeschool, a deaf or hard of hearing child.
Reviewed links from A to Z Home’s Cool.
Although people with dyslexia are among some of the most innovative thinkers the world has ever known, it is grossly misunderstood, perceived as a disease, deficit, or disability. As a result, many children and adults may be embarrassed or ashamed about their dyslexia, be reluctant to self-identify, and never discover their talents and strengths. We want to change what people think of when they think about dyslexia, and we envision a world where dyslexic processing styles are celebrated and all people with dyslexia are given opportunities to flourish.
There’s an epidemic of diagnosing learning disabilities today. Home educator Cindy Gaddis believes it signals a mismatch between the learning needs of right-brained children and the educational environment in most schools. “Creative learners have amazing strengths that emerge when they are placed in an appropriate setting,” says Gaddis. Too many children are shamed for the very traits that define who they are. This website helps parents and teachers stop trying to fit right-brained learners into a left-brained mold, and instead create space for them to flourish.
The Virginia Branch of the International Dyslexia Association is a branch of The International Dyslexia Association, an international organization that concerns itself with the complex issues of dyslexia. The membership of this branch consists of a variety of professionals in partnership with dyslexics and their families.
How to Get Your Child Off the Refrigerator and On to Learning by Carol Barnier
Home Schooling Children with Special Needs (3rd Edition) by Sharon Hensley
Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner by Kathy Kuhl
Many of these books and more are reviewed at Learn Differently Book Reviews.
Links to Amazon.com included on this page are affiliate links with the Amazon Associates program for which The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers receives a referral fee.