The picture above is of my special needs homeschoolers, Sean and Tim, when they were 11. The photo is two years old and they are so much taller and thinner now (no meds), but it symbolizes the crossroads I was at when I was making the decision on if I could homeschool them along with their typical sisters.
I’ve already shared a few posts on homeschooling a child(ren) with special needs, but I wanted to share with you this morning how I came to make that decision to homeschool my twins with special needs. How I came about making that decision to pull them from public school and begin teaching them at home along with their typical sisters.
Sean and Tim are both cognitively challenged. They will always live with us. They were my very first pregnancy, …a full term, fantastically wonderful pregnancy that ended with a hard delivery that resulted in both of them receiving birth trauma. Identical in looks and different in pretty much every other way, the decision to homeschool them was not a light one.
This is me…(hair much longer now, but I digress)…
Mother of five, Jane Austen loving, anglo/francophone who also happens to be a clinically trained pediatric speech language pathologist with a masters degree and 18 years experience. I am a veteran on both sides of the special needs table: service delivery provider and parent. I’ve learned a lot in the years since I started homeschooling the boys, who started out in public school but really thrived when I let go of my fear and reservations about if I could homeschool them. I’m excited to share posts with you that can help you have needed information and support if you are a special needs homeschooler! (Come back next Saturday for a post scheduled on Sat. Nov 16th, on how to teach life skills as a curriculum subject!)
For us, the decision to homeschool my special needs twins was born out of a every bad year and knowing my boys did not have another bad year to give. I have nothing against public school programs and saw my boys thrive the three years previous in public school programs where all the pieces were working together (teachers, correct placement, therapies, activities). I worked 2 years myself in a public school district in Los Angeles as an elementary school Speech-language pathologist and a large portion of my job was providing service to children with special needs; particularly autism, downs syndrome and CP students who were augmentative communication users. I loved that job and saw teachers and therapists go above and beyond the call of duty (and their salary) in order to give 110% to the students in their classrooms.
Unfortunately, for Sean and Tim, it seemed their program was moved each year to a different campus…meaning a new school to learn for them each year and forget keeping school friends year to year…still, progress was significant; and then third grade happened. In a nutshell, their program was moved to a school that had never had a special needs program on the campus. It was not a welcome addition. And there was that issue with their teacher getting fired and they didn’t have a teacher for three months; apparently alot of youtube watching happened during that period, and there was the changes in my boys…
From good behavior to a plethora of negative and aggressive behaviours that the faculty told me they were picking up from their lower level classmates.
From loving reading and reading at a first grade level (at that time) to losing all sight words.
From loving school to screaming and crying and hiding in their room when they saw a school bus.
During this time, my son Tim was sent home (before 9am) 9 times. No, you read that right…9 times BEFORE 9am. I called IEP meetings. I offered to agree to new placement or a behavior management plan…no one seemed to want to change anything; just call me daily and complain…and send him home.
Every day when I would pick Tim up, he would be sitting there, in the principals office, crying, crestfallen. Another bad morning. He would sign to me “Tim bad”. I would sign back. “Who said Tim was bad?”. Should I mention at this time that the reason he was signing to me and NOT using his Vanguard communication device was because when he would get to school they would lock in the the filing cabinet “for safe keeping”)….yeah, I know… anyway, I asked him “who said Tim was bad?” He signed “teacher”. I went home that day, called another IEP meeting and told Mr. Darcy something had to be different. ASAP.
The same week, Tim’s hair was pulled and he was scratched by a child in his class (it happens). The next day,he pulled a child’s hair who was in a normal class. Tim was sent home, received a 3 day suspension (it is illegal to suspend a child with special needs, mind you) and assault was put on his school record. Yes, you read that right…assault.
My husband and I had had enough. We were in the process of obtaining an advocate when luckily, thankfully, blessedly, this same time, a new teacher was found who really seemed to care about my boys and she genuinely enjoyed Tim and she went above and beyond to help us salvage what we could of the year and we finished the last 6 weeks of the school year, thankful to her, thankful for her.
But the new year was looming…
and it would be another new campus…
at another new school that there was already a division and public bickering about the inclusion of a special needs program on the campus.
I asked “what type of classroom? TEACH? what type of structure/methodology? No one knew.
Who will be the teacher? (“we don’t have one yet”)…hmmm…ever get that real FOREBODING feeling that bad is coming? Yep. Had it in spades.
I called my husband and said “What do you think about me homeschooling the boys next year in addition to Audrey (She was going into kindergarten that year). My husband’s reply was immediate, kind of funny, kind of sad, and 100% true:
“Well, I don’t think you can do any worse”.
and thus our homeschooling special needs journey begun.
That was 5 years ago. And it didn’t get worse. It got better. Really better.
The boys have made progress in all subjects and on all fronts. Because my expectation for them was higher than what any teacher had held them to before, they have learned things we didn’t think possible 5 years ago. Because their schedule is more flexible, two mornings a week they are available for therapies (Therapies they had been on a wait list for over 2 years for, waiting for an afterschool slot to open). I don’t know how long we will homeschool our special homeschoolers; for now, it is the right decision for our family, for me, for my boys.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when it comes to making the decision to homeschool your special needs homeschooler:
- Are you prepared to be both parent and teacher to your special needs child?
- Can you provide the therapies your child needs on your own that a public school would provide for free as part of their program? (ST, OT, PT, etc)
- Can you commit to the time requirement homeschooling takes? It takes even more in planning and duration of your day if you have a special needs homeschooler.
- Does your special needs child require a great deal of structure? If yes, are you prepared to provide that structure throughout the day?
- Do you know the requirements for you state for homeschooling? Are there additional requirements in curricula or documentation for a special needs homeschooler?
- What are your community resources?
- What is your support system?
I have covered many of these in these previous posts:
I look forward to discussing these topics with you and would love for you to share your questions, comments or your own special needs homeschooling story in the comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.