Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Homeschooling a Child with Special Needs

            Having a child with special needs has been a very eye-opening experience, to say the least.  Deciding to homeschool her, however, has been a learning experience for both of us, and I think I have learned more than she has!  The most important lesson I’ve learned is that it can be done, and in spite of the challenges, it is one of the best decisions we have made for our daughter!

            Sometimes when people ask me what is “wrong” with my daughter, I want to just say one thing – CP, ADHD, etc., and be done in one quick word or phrase.  The fact is, though, Babygirl has many issues that she is facing, and there are different times when doctors are addressing different issues.  Her Cerebral Palsy is mild, and now we are not doing much to address it.  Her severe ADHD is an on-going problem, as she basically cannot function if she does not have her medication.  (NOTE:  I was a public school teacher for 12 years – I know ADHD and its effect on kids.  Hers is definitely severe, at the very least).  Babygirl’s ADHD specialist referred her for an IQ test.  I used to pride myself on being able to guess (within about 5 points) what a child’s IQ score would be – Babygirl was 20 points below my lowest guess, barely keeping her in the classification of “MMR” (mildly mentally handicapped).  Her scoliosis is our latest problem.  There may also be an issue with her eye muscles, but that is still being evaluated…Hmmm.. I think that’s all the issues I can remember now.

            With so many health issues, I sometimes feel guilty that there are days (or weeks sometimes) when we have so many doctor’s visits, or visits to specialists or other groups for therapy, that we can barely do any school work!  While the orthopedist has been watching her spine for 2 years, between February – August of this year, the curve of her spine went from 13% (near normal) to almost 20%!  At 22%, he wanted to discuss putting her in a back brace!  In an attempt to avoid the back brace and, possibly later, surgery, we are going to a certified reflexologist for the “Raindrop” treatment once per week and a chiropractor three days per week.  Neither is proven to help, but I feel like we’re doing more than wait until it’s time for a back brace, and it has helped some with her because after 4 months, her spine's curve has not gotten worse.  Plus the monthly, every-other-month, and annual doctor visits to several other doctors.  Plus a therapeutic horseback riding center she visits twice per month.  Plus a produce coop which I run of my house that takes up one day every 2 weeks of my time, not necessarily hers.  (Though she is limited on how much work she will do independently, so I can’t just assign her work while I’m busy).  When did we ever have time for school???!!

            With all these appointments and interruptions in our days, would she be better off in public school, since we don’t spend all day, 5 days per week doing pencil and paper work?  This question has bothered me some, but when I take the time to consider the alternatives, the answer is always “Absolutely NOT!”   If she were in public school, then either I would have to take her out of school for the doctor visits, which would upset the teacher and cause both the teacher and my daughter to do extra work, or Babygirl would not get to go to the doctor & chiropractor visits as often, so she would not get the treatments she needs.  Since I view these medical visits as necessary, cancelling the appointments would not be an option, so she would still be missing a lot of instruction.  Besides, Babygirl does not learn from paper-and-pencil work, anyway.  Homeschooling gives us the flexibility to go to doctor’s appointments and do activities that allow my daughter to learn reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as help her learn life-skills which she will need beyond “book learning.”

            So once I figured out that traditional school-work does not help my daughter, in fact it only causes her frustration, I had to look for other ways to “do school.”  I want her to read daily, do some type of math daily, and when possible, write.  Once these things are done, I can feel confident that we have “done school” for the day.  Even with my daughter’s disabilities which make understanding difficult, I have found that discussion is very helpful for her.  Everything we do, I plan on spending 2 – 3 times the original activities’ length of time in discussion.   For example, if it takes us 5 minutes to read a book, we plan on discussing the book for at least 15 minutes (sometimes more, sometimes less – that’s just an average time).  If we are practicing addition facts, I will plan about 5 – 10 minutes of work, and about 5 – 10 minutes of “guided practice” before the assignment and 20 minutes afterward to discuss anything which she had problems with, whether it is writing the numbers, moving the objects to count, or memorizing the facts.   Science and social studies come from either the books we read or experiences from local sites.  Writing assignments vary from handwriting practice to journaling to organizing her thoughts using the 4-square technique.

            Do I try to keep up with public schools?  No.  I make a loose guide at the beginning of the year, assigning a topic to study every month for each subject, but I do NOT make any attempt to “keep up” with what public schools are doing.  If Babygirl were in public school again, she would be in a separate class which would not teach what other classes were learning, anyway.  My goal is to teach her what she needs to learn for life.  That includes reading, an understanding of basic math, and writing skills.  She needs to know what is happening currently, as well as the history of this area where we live.  We see how our surroundings work (science), and read books and do experiments to find out what she does not already know.  All of it involves a great deal of discussion, frequently in the car or the waiting room of a doctor’s office.  If she is interested in a topic, I will find a helpful site on the internet and create a link for her so she can explore it on her own (who knows how many times she watched the video of a platypus swimming!!  But other kids are amazed how she can tell you all about this bizarre creature).  Because of our success, many people don’t immediately know that she has any special needs, which makes me very happy.

            Babygirl has blossomed in ways she never would have if she had been allowed to stay in public school.  I have nothing against her teachers – they were doing the best that they could.  However, I am her Mom, and I am the one who understands her better than any of the school teachers.  I am looking at the whole person, not just academics.  Keeping her at home doesn’t mean that I am the only one to meet her needs – it just means I need to coordinate her getting services she needs.  I am able to make connections with specialists, as well as explore the latest research on her health issues so that I can help her grow to be the most productive person she can be as an adult.  She can learn her limits as well as her strengths, and that gives her a much better chance at future happiness than she would ever have being stuck in a classroom all day, being reminded that she is different from other kids.  If you are not homeschooling your child with special needs, I encourage you to check into it.  It can be frustrating, but the rewards are innumerable for both you and your child!

1 comment:

  1. Wow Terri, this was awesome to read. I believe that you and John have made the best decision in home schooling your daughter. I bet she is learning more at home than she would in school, because she has such a caring and loving mother. You have taken the time to know the best learning environment for your daughter and use this to your advantage. Keep up the good work. Debbie Ostrom