Home Educating Children with Special Needs
Vanessa Whittaker, Exploring Approaches to Home Education Seminar, Adelaide 2008
I believe, and our experience is that it is possible and even beneficial to home educate children with special needs.
There are a series of questions to ask yourself when evaluating whether it is possible to home educate your child. Some may include:
These are some questions I can think of that it is important to consider if you are planning a journey into home educating a child or children with special needs. From our experience, where the professionals initially started telling us we were not qualified to meet our child's needs, it was intensely stressful to get to the stage where our decision was finally accepted.
In my opinion, it is a very good option to home educate even if your child needs frequent hospitalisations or visits to medical specialists. I know there are schools in major children's hospitals but this can still lead to a fragmented education program, due to problems communicating between school and hospital school, if the child has to miss a lot of days at school. It may be that they constantly miss the same day and therefore the same lesson, or maybe they miss different days and thus miss a range of subject areas. If you are providing the curriculum it doesn't matter when (or where) your child does their school work. It is just important it happens. You may also choose for your child to do some school work on the weekend and possibly make two weekdays your family's weekend. Flexibility is a major strength of home education.
Sometimes the fact the child has needed frequent visits to hospitals means the family has been separated a lot and maybe siblings have often had to stay with family or friends. Home education can help the family to bond again. The child with special needs may have had lots of painful contact. Home education can help rebuild family relationships and trust. There is enough research available which tells us that children with chronic health issues which involve pain and frequent visits and time in hospital are at high risk of attachment and trust issues which can lead to high risk behaviour later in life. Siblings are also at risk because they can feel excluded. If the family are able to do things together this can help heal or prevent these types of issues. Our experience has been that home education helps in these situations.
In determining a curriculum, for your child with special needs, are you able to record a plan under the eight areas of learning? Are the eight areas of learning relevant for your child?
We understood that our child may show learning disabilities as a result of his medical issues and the treatments he required. He hasn't as yet but the knowledge of the possibility has meant I have been aware and alert to how the issues may present. Our child has been able to learn, to process information like most children, with his issues initially requiring his being fed with a gastrostomy device 23 hours per day and in the long term being associated with physical strength, energy and co-ordination and damage done to nerve tissue and bone development. Planning an appropriate curriculum, for him, has been quite easy.
It has been more complicated for our daughter who was identified with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder and visual issues just after we began home educating and we found rather than just hating to read and developing many avoidance strategies, she actually did not know how to read and how to decode words. We then developed a language rich, phonics based program for her and she has made amazing progress since that time. (I wrote an article about this in one of the last issues of Education Choices and I am happy to send people copies of this if people think it may be useful to their situation.) Now we have been home educating for about five years it has become quite easy to plan and record our curriculum.
Our home education program is perhaps more formal than other families but it is the style that our children both want and need. We have found our groove and if something doesn't work I just need to remind myself why we do what we do.. And the children then direct us back to where they want to go.
A benefit for home education has also been to keep self-confidence and self esteem at a positive level. Children who are different for whatever reason know they are different and if they don't know, someone in a school or social environment will feel it is their duty to let them know they are different and to keep on telling them, often in very negative ways. Home needs to be children's safe place - home education assists with this.
An important point, if you are home educating a child with special needs it may be that what you do in your family, for your children, will be different from another home educating family. It is important to know that it is okay to be different. There is not just one way to home educate. It is important to determine and then meet the needs of your child or children.
The daily time required to home educate is a firm and regular commitment. This time commitment is more when the child has special needs as often you need to be with them as they participate in activities. Some children may never be completely independent while other children may be older when they can complete activities without assistance. The home education program for your child may need to be a lighter load, daily, but with less breaks or holidays if your child has issues retaining or remembering information. Again there is the notion of the need for flexibility.
It is important that regular time to relax and enjoy some regenerating time is placed high on the family priority list for the person who has the main responsibility of the home education. 'Burnout' may be a real risk if relaxation time is not seen as important.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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