The term “Special Needs” is so broad and encompasses so many variations that it becomes necessary to narrow one’s focus and look at the specific term, or diagnosis, individually. There are many overlapping traits and similarities, and quite often very similar approaches to working with kids with differing needs. Therefore, some of the information under these headings will be repeat information. Many of these special needs are ‘worked around’ or ‘accommodated for’ in a class room setting. Most of these children are not expected to reverse any of their symptoms. By homeschooling your child with special needs, you can do more than ‘work around’ their difficulties: you can eliminate some of them.
All of the special needs listed here have success stories of children who have undergone specific therapy, learned in a new way, exercised their body differently, or hardwired some new neurological paths and have exceeded the expectations put upon them. While we know that not every special need can be (or needs to be) reversed, we do want you to have the information you need to ensure that your special needs child is given every opportunity, every individualized resource, to help them reach their potential.
IRLEN: Irlen Syndrome, one of the sensory processing disorders (that is, those affected by increased sensitivity to smell, sound, sight, touch and taste) leads, in part, to stress and distractibility which limits learning success. Irlen Method therapy uses coloured-lenses and overlays to help the individual process visual information. Using this method can improve reading, math, ADHD, headaches, dyslexia and more.
Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD): This is not a hearing loss issue. In fact, these students may have no functional hearing issues at all. Rather, as its name implies, CAPD is a disorder that deals with the student’s ability to process the information they receive by hearing. This may present as a child not being able to hear their name when they are called or not being able to follow several spoken instructions in order by memory. Along with those warning flags, you may also notice spelling and reading difficulties, as well as an inability to function in a room with a lot of background noise. A visit to an audiologist can determine whether or not your child has CAPD. When making the appointment (or seeking the referral from your physician) be sure to ask for an audiologist who specializes CAPD testing. Because CAPD is not a hearing issue per se, the treatment does not look to improve hearing, but rather to improve brain speed and neurological processing. Some resources to research for CAPD are:
- Integrated Listening Systems
- Fast ForWord, a software program and off-site assessment service that monitors your child’s learning and reading improvement through online games and programs.
- Online games that require quick processing with fun incentives such as http://www.earobics.com/gamegoo/gooey.html
ADD/ADHD: Likely the most diagnosed (and most over-diagnosed) of all learning disabilities, Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder is very familiar to parents and educators. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of harsh debate over this disability with much finger pointing and blaming being done by both sides. The truth is there are legitimate cases of ADHD. And the truth is that there are also some teachers in the school system who label kids wrongly (and seek to medicate kids too quickly) for their own ease of classroom management.
While medication is often a necessary and beneficial intervention, there are other options to also consider:
- Dr. Leonard Sax has written a book called Boys Adrift, and while the book is not solely about ADHD, there is a very worthwhile section in that book on the testing, diagnosing and treating of ADHD. The vast majority of kids diagnosed with ADHD are boys. This should be a red flag to parents and educators. (Also see his website: http://www.boysadrift.com/home.php)
- In her teaching called Biology of Behavior, Dianne Craft works through some alternative causes and solutions for attention issues and sensory processing issues (which often go together). She discusses diet and supplements.
- Similarly, the Feingold Diet is often used with great success to manage, or eliminate, ADHD symptoms.
- For encouragement for the mom with an ADHD child, Carol Barnier’s website is a haven of hope. http://www.sizzlebop.com/ Also see her original website that has a wide range of helpful, practical teaching tips. http://www.westfieldacademy.org/adhd/
Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or Sensory Integration Disorder: The child who can’t handle crowded rooms. The child who can’t handle bright lights. Or rough fabrics. Or the tag on the back of his shirt. The child who gets car sick on short trips. The child who won’t hug a loved one because skin-to-skin touch is not enjoyable. All of these examples (and so many others falling into the range of ‘senses’) could be signifiers of a sensory processing disorder. The inability of a child to function in the midst of seemingly normal sensory input raises the red flag for a diagnosis.
As you can imagine, if the child is so bothered by the type of fabric he’s wearing or the scents in a room, he would have a very difficult time concentrating on his studies and processing that information as well.
There is help to be found, however:
- Raising a Sensory-Smart Child by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske
- The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder by Carol Cranowitz
- And this blog post from a mom who has been there. http://www.walkingbytheway.com/blog/homeschool-sensory-processing-disorde/
Sometimes the therapist can’t even begin working with a child with Sensory Processing issues. If they are irritated and uncomfortable and stressed before they even begin the work of therapy, there will be no progress made. One product that some therapists use is the iLs Pillow. It is a music therapy program designed to give total relaxation and focus without the use of bulky headphones or other high sensory input.
Again, home is the best place for a child with SPD. The classroom environment is simply not set up to provide the type of physical environment your child may need as he begins his day. At home, he can manage his surroundings and can focus on the important parts of learning.
Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) and Asperger’s Syndrome: Although it is often not detected until later in life, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD) affects social skills more than it affects academic skills. Your child may do very well at reading, writing and math. Their IQ may be quite high. Perhaps their memory and attention to detail is remarkable. But when you look at this list of indicators, you recognize some of the weakness that you’ve been feeling uneasy about.
NVLD kids often have: Great vocabulary and verbal expression but messy and laborious handwriting; they have great attention to detail, but miss the big picture; they are very concrete thinkers, very literal thinkers, and have very poor abstract reasoning; they may have great memory skills for facts, but have great difficulty with word problems; they may have poor coordination, and an inability to read body language, tone of voice, and other social cues; they are often afraid of new situations and resistant to change; and they may be very naïve, lacking common sense, and may seem immature in contrast to their intelligence.
In evaluation, NVLD and Asperger’s Syndrome have many, many similarities. The primary difference seems to concern severity of symptoms. (See this post comparing the two: http://www.myaspergerschild.com/2010/12/aspergers-versus-nonverbal-learning.html)
While NVLD and Asperger’s are not helped by medication, there are therapies and strategies available to help your child succeed.
- You may want to visit a pediatric occupational therapist to get help for your child and their difficulties with motor, visual, and spatial skills. (Find a OT here: https://www.caot.ca/default.asp?pageid=3622 and be sure to ask for one familiar with NVLD/Asperger’s)
- When you give instructions to your child, or teach a new concept, be sure to read instructions to them. Simply showing them how to follow steps will not be enough.
- Sensory Integration Therapy is also an effective treatment. (Consider the iPillow or items from a special needs equipment provider)
- Teaching them typing/keyboarding may be more efficient than handwriting for them in getting their thoughts on paper.
- You will want to practice social cues with your child. Being able to recognize and rehearse appropriate responses to physical cues is incredibly important, and there are resources available for teaching these. (For example see: https://store.schoolspecialty.com/OA_HTML/xxssi_ibeSearchResults.jsp?type=search&minisite=10224&query=social+cues)
Speech and Language Delays: When our children are born, we eagerly anticipate their first words and the ability to communicate with them. If there seems to be a delay in that first conversation, or if the child seems to not be on par with other children of the same age, we begin to get concerned. What is ‘normal’ speech development? How can we tell if our child has an actual delay or if they are simply slower to develop language skills?
The standard timeline of acquiring language skills is as follows:
Age Language Level
2-3 months Cries differently in different circumstances; coos in response to you
3-4 months Babbles randomly
5-6 months Babbles rhythmically
6-11 months Babbles in imitation of real speech, with expression
12 months Says 1-2 words; recognizes name; imitates familiar sounds; understands
18 months Uses 5-20 words, including names
Between 1 & 2 years Says 2-word sentences; vocabulary is growing; waves goodbye; makes
“sounds” of familiar animals; uses words (like “more”) to make wants
known; understands “no”
Between 2 & 3 years Identifies body parts; calls self “me” instead of name; combines nouns
and verbs; has a 450 word vocabulary; uses short sentences; matches
3-4 colors, knows big and little; likes to hear same story repeated; forms
Between 3 & 4 years Can tell a story; sentence length of 4-5 words; vocabulary of about 1000
words; knows last name, name of street, several nursery rhymes
Between 4 & 5 years Sentence length of 4-5 words; uses past tense; vocabulary of about 1500
words; identifies colors, shapes; asks many questions like “why?” and
Between 5 & 6 years Sentence length of 5-6 words; vocabulary of about 2000 words; can tell
you what objects are made of; knows spatial relations (like “on top” and
“far”); knows address; understands same and different; identifies a penny,
nickel and dime; counts ten things; knows right and left hand; uses all
types of sentences
There are many potential causes of a language delay including hearing difficulties, intellectual difficulties, CAPD, Autism, prematurity, stuttering and others. The earlier you have your child tested for potential causes, the easier it is to treat the problem. In cases where the speech and language delays are extreme and not reversible, there are other means of communication that your family may want to pursue including American Sign Language or the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).
There are many resources online that will provide the help and materials you need to work through the particular speech and language delays your child may have:
- The Stuttering Foundation has a helpful 30 minute video for parents with children who stutter.
- The Canadian Stuttering Association also has a series of posts that gives great insight into the realities of parenting a child who stutters.
- The Canadian Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists has resources to help you identify delays, and CASLPA also has a secondary website where you can find a professional to work with your child.
- There are also many fun websites where parents can get some therapeutic ideas to use at home: http://www.speechtherapyideas.com/; http://mommyspeechtherapy.com/; http://www.speechtimefun.blogspot.ca/;
Dyslexia: As with many special needs categories, there are many symptoms that may present in a child with dyslexia. The list of potential markers is long, and not every child has every symptom. Often children with dyslexia also have ADD/ADHD which complicates the evaluation of symptoms. There is a helpful list of symptoms here with relevant milestone timelines. You can also read this set of stories from those who have dyslexia both to understand their experience and to see if you recognize your child in their stories. Have your child tested if you are seeing several of these potential markers for dyslexia.
As you consider homeschooling your child with dyslexia, do be encouraged. There are many resources available for you and your child. A great place to start is the blog of this mom of 8 children (seven of whom have dyslexia!). She has a great blog with great information (See: Abundant Life). From evaluators and therapists, to Curriculum providers (http://www.avko.org/index.htm, http://www.dys-add.com/ and http://www.orton-gillingham.org/) to online games, you can find everything you need to educate your child well at home.
Down Syndrome: Down Syndrome is one of those special needs that is often identified before the child is even born. Knowing in advance does give a parent time to prepare and research, but it can also give a parent time to fret and worry. There are many degrees of severity to Down Syndrome, however, and so it is never very clear just how ‘prepared’ one needs to be. Down Syndrome is caused by an extra chromosome (Chromosome 21) while in utero, and affects 1 in approximately 700 pregnancies. Down Syndrome does come with intellectual, processing, and developmental delays, but it can also come with physical difficulties as well (most notably heart issues, thyroid issues, and others).
A diagnosis, whether during pregnancy or at birth, will be a shock. It will take time and information to help you process the news. However, this diagnosis does not need to come with despair. There are many high functioning children and adults who do not let their Down Syndrome hold them back.
Homeschooling your child with Down Syndrome is a great gift to them. But don’t do this alone! Get help for yourself as you:
- Read the story of a mom who understands because she has been there.
- Get connected with support groups that are dedicated to the inclusion and empowerment of people with Down Syndrome.
- Research the disability with the help of foundations who can connect you with the expert help you need (http://www.cdss.ca/ or http://www.dsrf.org/home/).
- Choose curriculum that works with your child’s strengths and overcomes their weaknesses (for example: Time4Learning or this list of resources from a mom with a child with Down Syndrome.
Autism is a “spectrum disorder”, meaning, in part, that there is a wide range of severity in the standard symptoms of the disorder. There are common traits in children with Autism, but the level of functionality of the children can vary.
There are common categories of impairments: in social interaction, in communication, and in imagination. The common traits that present in Autism are:
- Insistence on sameness; resistance to change
- Difficulty in expressing needs; uses gestures or pointing instead of words
- Repeating words or phrases in place of normal, responsive language
- Laughing, crying, showing distress for reasons not apparent to others
- Prefers to be alone; aloof manner
- Difficulty in mixing with others
- May not want to cuddle or be cuddled
- Little or no eye contact
- Unresponsive to normal teaching methods
- Sustained odd play
- Spins objects
- Inappropriate attachments to objects
- Apparent over-sensitivity or under-sensitivity to pain
- No real fears of danger
- Noticeable physical over-activity or extreme under-activity
- Uneven gross/fine motor skills
- Not responsive to verbal cues; acts as if deaf although hearing tests in normal range.
The benefits to homeschooling a child with Autism are many. You are able to control the environment so that the child is not aggravated by change; you are able to manage time so that time is not wasted and breaks are given as needed; you are able to provide a loving, encouraging environment with no insensitive bullying that is unfortunately often part of a classroom setting; and you can work socialization into your schedule in manageable and appropriate ways.
Recently, a book written by a mom of an Autistic child has stirred up a lot of hope and insight into educating a child with Autism (The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius, by Kristine Barnett). It is a compelling story of a parent who knows their child and who knows how to bring out the potential within. You can give that kind of nurturing to your child, too, by homeschooling. A very helpful article about homeschooling a child with Autism can be read here. The bottom line is this: you know your child best. You love your child most. You are most suited to draw out the potential in your child.
Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder: While some of the other special needs that have been listed here do not have one specific cause, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD) clearly does have one cause: alcohol consumption during pregnancy. The amount of alcohol consumed and when during the pregnancy it was consumed both will affect the severity of the FASD. And, FASD is often the cause of many other special needs (eg. Autism, Sensory Integration, ADHD, Dyslexia, Physical Disabilities and more).
FASD is not a “threshold syndrome”. That is to say, there is not one level of affectedness. Children with FASD can have symptoms from mild intellectual delays to severe delays and physical and cognitive disabilities.
You can find much information on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder on the FASLink website.
Homeschooling a child with FASD gives you the freedom to repeat subject matter at the pace and frequency your child needs in order to retain the information. While the academic side of training your child is important, and difficult, it will also be important to use these homeschool years to instill moral training and decision making abilities. Quite often FASD kids are controlled by impulsive behaviour. While this trait may be irritating to deal with as a parent, it can be positively dangerous when your child becomes an adult. Investing in life skills training will be crucial during your homeschooling years.
Also, there is great benefit to treating the secondary issues (like Sensory Integration Issues and ADHD) by using educational therapy like music therapy, art therapy, sensory integration therapy and more (see NILD Canada for information on the therapies available).
You are not alone. Find a support group in your province and be encouraged and helped by the practical experience of moms who are walking your road. (For example, Families of Faith, FASD 101 and Urban Servant)