Homeschool Corner

A homeschooling journey with my special needs child

by Wendy Hilton

Having a special needs child is challenging. Homeschooling a special needs child is even more challenging. It is also, however, one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done!

Many moms understandably think that they can’t or shouldn’t homeschool their special needs children because they aren’t “experts.” I used to feel that way too. I was wrong. I am now firmly convinced that our special needs children belong at home just like our “typical” children. Let me tell you why.

My daughter Hannah was diagnosed with autism at age 2½. At the time of her diagnosis she was totally nonverbal, could not (orwould not) feed herself, was not potty trained (and was nowhere near being ready), and had no appropriate means of communication. Hannah was much more like an infant than a toddler, though she was able to walk.

I chose to begin teaching her simple things such as how to imitate actions, follow simple one-step instructions, play with developmentally appropriate toys, take turns, appropriately look at books (without putting them in her mouth—a serious sensory issue of hers), indicate her wants and needs without crying or throwing a fit, and sit still for increasingly long periods of time. Most of these were things neuro-typical children learn on their own but that many autistic children don’t.

It was definitely a slow and steady process, but Hannah slowly began to learn these skills and others. It was also hard work, but with God’s strength and direction, we kept going. Hannah usually enjoyed the one-on-one attention she got, and she loved being rewarded for correct responses and for working hard at whatever she was learning.

When Hannah was about 5, I decided that she had learned enough so that she could probably attend school part-time and continue with her home program for a few hours each day. She began going to a local public school that provided a class just for autistic children. At first, the program seemed to be working very well. Hannah seemed to enjoy going to school, she worked hard and was transferring what she’d learned at home to the school environment, and we were pleased with how things were going for her.

For a couple of years, we were happy.Then the teacher who taught the classfor autistic children moved away. Therewas no other teacher trained to take herplace, so Hannah was put in a regularclassroom with her own assistant. The assistanttried her hardest to keep Hannahbusy and help her learn and do well inthe mainstreamed classroom. After severalmonths, though, I knew it just wasn’tworking out.

Hannah was coming home in the afternoonsupset and sad. She was frustratedand had behavior issues that she hadnever had before. She was simply no longerhappy at school. Because Hannah wasnonverbal, her new teacher didn’t believein her ability to read or even to understand what was being spoken to her. Forthat reason, she was having the assistantdo very basic work with Hannah (suchas identifying colors, numbers, and letters),and Hannah was simply bored!After doing everything I knew to do (talking to the principal and the teacher,having meetings with them, sendingnotes and information with Hannah toschool, offering to let the teacher come tomy house to observe a “school” session,and even sending work with her to do atschool), I finally decided to bring Hannahhome for good. She would no longerattend school part-time and do her workat home part-time. From then on, Hannah would homeschool.

Looking back, I see what I didn’t seeclearly at the time. The fact was that I wasthe “expert” on my own child and knewbest how to educate her at that point inher life. I was providing direction andeven much of the material to be taughtbecause I knew my child and the teacherdid not. In addition, it would probablyhave been unreasonable for me to expectthe teacher to know her as I did. Oneteacher simply cannot be an “expert” onan entire room full of children.

It didn’t take long to realize that Hannahloved being at home full-time withher brother and me! She was happyagain! She was doing her work nicely. Shewas making progress both with motorskills and social skills. She was using theacademic information she possessed tomake more academic progress. She wasbecoming herself again! It was wonderfulto see.

Not long after that, when her brother began officially homeschooling for kindergarten, a new baby was added to the family. It was definitely difficult homeschooling two children and caring for a newborn, but we survived that challenge just like we had survived other challenges until that time.

Fast-forward a few years. Hannah is now 17, her brother is 15, and her younger sister is 10. Hannah and her brother are both homeschooling at tenth-grade level this year, and my younger daughter is in the fifth grade. Even though it is necessary to test Hannah differently and to use different teaching techniques with her, she is capable of doing some tenth-grade work. (Since her brother is in tenth grade, I use some of his curricula with Hannah as well.) In the subjects that are more difficult for her, I use materials that are at a lower grade level.

Since all three of my children are homeschooled, we attend local homeschool-group outings such as field trips, holiday parties, and classes together. Our family attends church together, goes on vacation together, visits friends and neighbors and relatives together, and in general has a wonderful time learning and growing together!

Is this the way I thought my children would be educated? No. Would I choose to homeschool again if I had it to do over? Definitely! Homeschooling is not for every family—whether you have “typical” kids or “special” kids. It certainly works well for some of us, though. I encourage you to consider whether the homeschooling option might be right for you and your children. Having a special needs child should not keep you from pursuing the homeschool option. It might just be the answer you’ve been looking for!

Biographical Information

Wendy lives in the South with her wonderful hubby and three great kiddos! She is a Christian, homeschooling, work-from-home mom. She and Scott were high school sweethearts and have been married for more than twenty years. Her oldest child, Hannah, has autism, and Wendy began homeschooling Hannah at age 2. Wendy’s son, a typical boy, would rather do anything than school! Her youngest child is a little social butterfly and people lover. Wendy loves reading and quilting and will hopefully return to scrapbooking some time soon. You can find Wendy on her personal blog at wendyhomeschoolingblessings.blogspot.com or at www.HipHomeschoolMoms.com, where she is co-owner and social media director.

Copyright 2013, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the family education magazine. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.