Homeschooling Your Child with Special Needs
If you are considering homeschooling your child with special needs, 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 are some frequently asked questions with some answers to get you 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 or occupational therapy), you will need to speak with the school staff about these arrangements.
Begin by filing a Notice of Intent as you would for any child. As a courtesy, you could let your child’s principal and teacher know of your intent, although the law does not require you to do so.
If your child has been receiving free special services from the public schools, like speech or OT, 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, please contact the VaHomeschoolers Helpdesk 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 media and techniques and see what works best for your child. The law does not require the use of a certain curriculum; 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 researching.
- 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 curricula 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, 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 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. VaHomeschoolers hosts a listing of local support groups to help you make local connections.
There are many Yahoo groups (email discussion lists)—search “homeschool” plus your child’s disability or “homeschooling children with special needs.”
One example is GiftsNC, a 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 has a sister group in Northern Virginia, GiftsNVA.
The National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network (NATHHAN) is a nonprofit organization that 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.
This information is provided as a courtesy of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers. It is not intended as legal advice. For legal advice, contact a licensed attorney.
VaHomeschoolers is a non-profit public charity with 501(c)(3) status; your donation is tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.