You have decided to educate your child who has special needs at home. You understand the benefits, and you understand the great possibilities. However, you are likely also becoming very aware of the difficulties. Even with the benefits considered and counted, it is undeniable that homeschooling a child with special needs requires more effort, takes more time, and feels more overwhelming some days.
Thankfully, you are not alone. You do not need to invent a special needs curriculum. You do not need to conduct your own research. You do not need to develop equipment and resources. You do not need to write up an education plan or therapy regimen for your child out of your own knowledge base. Many have walked this road before you and have left a legacy of supports for you. You can become the expert on your own child’s situation without needing to become an expert on special needs generally.
You may have already been in contact with some experts who have evaluated the severity of the need in your home. They may have recommended programs or therapies to you. Some of these can be very expensive and time consuming, but of course you want your child to have the benefit of the programs. There are programs you can use at home to replicate some of what a therapist would do so that you can get a head start on their development while at home.
You may look into Integrated Listening Systems or The Listening Program, both of which report dramatic improvements in children with learning disabilities, those on the autism spectrum, and those with anxiety disorders and more. These are not inexpensive, but they are highly effective. (Contact The Edison Centre to purchase these programs or to discover whether these programs may be a good fit for your child.)
You might also look to use some of the games and exercises in Jerome Rosner’s book Helping Children Overcome Learning Disabilities, or you may use brain speed software (like BrainBuilder also available at The Learning House in Ontario) to increase brain functionality and processing.
You can also do a lot of at home therapy using the techniques demonstrated by Dianne Craft. Her website, books, DVDs, and flash cards are full of easy to implement techniques that make learning so much more accessible for children with dyslexia, ADHD, sensory processing disorders and more.
Perhaps you feel you need some practical reading and encouragement. If so, then some authors you may want to consider reading are: Christine Field, Carol Barnier, Joyce Herzog, and Darlene Mannix.
However, as you come to understand your child’s needs in greater measure, it may become obvious that you need to add professionally administered physical or educational therapy to your child’s schooling on top of what you are able to manage on your own. You will likely need to be registered (or have given your letter of intent) to your local school board in order to apply and qualify for funding from your province to obtain the help of the appropriate therapists. For example, in Ontario, you would need to have filled out the paper work for PPM 131 in order to apply to get the assistance through CCAC (Community Care Access Centre).
You may go to a private clinic for Vision Therapy. You may have appointments with an audiologist. You may receive the services of a Personal Social Worker, or a physiotherapist. An occupational therapist may be able to outfit your home with the gear and equipment your child needs to increase his functionality. All of these beneficial resources may be accessed through your province’s disability program, and many, perhaps, could be covered through your own private insurance benefits. Much of it will need to come out of pocket, however, so do inform yourself of what is most crucial to have in place in your home, and then proceed from there.
One particularly useful route you may want to explore is that of the educational therapists trained through NILD Canada (National Institute for Learning Development). If you have more time than money, you can be trained over the summer to become a therapist yourself and administer the therapy to your child yourself. However, this is not the best decision for every family. Not every child will respond to his mom as therapist. Some kids will simply work harder for someone else. You may realize that spending the money to acquire the services of an outside therapist is well worth the saving of your time and energy. NILD therapists are available all across Canada. (A similar group of therapists can be found at Wise Choice Educational Services, Breakthroughs in Learning as well as at Pathways for Neurological Development)
You are certainly able to homeschool your child with great success. Special needs do not need to change that fact. And you can even do a lot of the therapy yourself if you are so inclined. But it is important that you do not burn out. Sit down with your family, and your physician, and the specialists involved in your child’s case. Honestly evaluate the time and energy you have to spend on adding therapy to your school day. Also honestly assess the financial repercussions of your decisions to add therapy in to your home life. Of course you want to provide your child with exactly what she needs, regardless of cost. You are willing to make a sacrifice of time or money to give her the tools she needs. But do be very thoughtful about this: there is a time when you can and should do it at home all on your own. There will be times, however, when it will be clear that you should bring an expert into your home to supplement what you are already doing at home so that you have the health and strength to keep going.
If you need someone to talk this over with, the HSLDA office does have more than one mom on hand who can speak to you about homeschooling children with special needs and learning disabilities of varying severity. Do not hesitate to call. We’d love to encourage you through this time of transition.