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Beth Corcoran is an adoptive mom to her 8 kids, and has been homeschooling for 13 years. She has children with many diagnoses including dyslexia and Down syndrome, and is passionate about supporting and equipping other special needs homeschooling families through her Flamingo Feathers podcast.
If you prefer to read your content rather than listen, check out these detailed show notes with time stamps to the podcast audio.
Beth’s homeschool story (1:28)
Beth and her husband, Curtis, live in Oklahoma with their eight adopted children. They never intended to homeschool, but when they adopted a sibling group of three kids in the middle of the school year, Beth and Curtis wanted to prioritize bonding with them and helping them catch up academically. Beth explains, “If we put them in public school, they’re going to go bond with those teachers and not with us during the day.“
Homeschooling was a radical change for Beth. Beth is a certified teacher and had done her student teaching in the public schools. She had always planned to work in the schools so her kids would be on the same schedule as she was. Even though Beth never imagined she would be homeschooling, it very quickly grew on her!
Beth has experience homeschooling with dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia, auditory processing issues, autism, fetal alchohol effects, Down syndrome, sensory issues, and adoption trauma. For her, homeschooling means she isn’t sitting in IEP meetings all day and she can tailor an education to each of her individual children and their unique needs.
What is special needs homeschooling? (4:54)
Beth explains, “The term special needs goes in and out of favor. Vocabulary is constantly changing. Sometimes special needs is considered a derogatory term. Some people prefer the word disability. In general, though, when I use the term special needs for my podcast, I’m talking about anybody who has some sort of learning difference, some sort of need that would make a normal school setting inappropriate for them. That could mean a physical disability, but it could be a learning disability as well. It could mean a lot of different things. Basically when I say special needs on my podcast, I’m talking about anybody who has a learning difference or concern so that something needs to be modified for them so that they can grasp what’s going on and flourish.”
What are some of the ways that homeschooling can serve a child with special needs in a way that a traditional school education might not? (6:37)
Beth cites some of the more obvious ways:
- Kids stay healthier when they’re not around all the germs. If you have a child who is immunocompromised, that is a very big concern.
- Home is often a place of security. Many kids feel more comfortable staying with family.
- Lack of bullying. At home the risk of bullying is much lower than in a traditional school setting.
In addition to these basic safety concerns, homeschool parents have an advantage when it comes to understanding their children’s needs. “We are the experts on our children and what they need. Does that mean that we can meet all their needs personally? I don’t think so. We have to have resources available to us, but we can see what is needed.”
What I hear from a lot of my listeners and from people I know personally who homeschool their kids with special needs is that homeschooling has allowed them to flourish in a way that they never were able to do in a traditional school setting.
Traditional schools often focus on life skills for children with special needs. Beth observes: “The public school teachers and the special ed teachers that I have known are very loving, very caring, very well meaning. But their hands are tied in a lot of ways so they cannot individualize things. They may really want your child to succeed, but they don’t have the ability to make that happen because of the size of the class, regulations, things like that. We can bypass all of that by bringing it back into our home.”
For someone who is new to the world of special needs homeschooling, maybe they just got a diagnosis and everything is very overwhelming, where would you recommend they start? (9:54)
- Find support related to your child’s diagnosis so that you can begin to understand what you’re facing.
Look into local support groups related to that specific diagnosis. If you can’t find something near you, connect with other parents online. Search for Facebook groups. Follow the hashtags on social media.
- In addition to finding support for your child’s diagnosis, reach out to other homeschoolers who live near you.
“Get involved with a local homeschooling group. Pick the brains of other homeschool moms. Ask them what works for them because I guarantee you are not the one. Maybe your child has a very rare condition, but you’re not the only one homeschooling children with special circumstances.”
- Consider joining a co-op.
Check out Episode 5 of the Flamingo Feathers Podcast: Is A Homeschool Co-Op Right For You?
To sum up, Beth advises, “Find your people. You don’t need to walk this alone. And you don’t need to be afraid of it.”
What if you have a provider (a pediatrician, speech therapist, specialist, etc.) who doesn’t understand homeschooling or is hostile toward homeschooling? How have you navigated that? (14:05)
Beth had a lot of great advice to share from her experience dealing with unsupportive providers.
Understand that it’s probably not about you.
“We have one doctor in particular who is very hostile toward homeschooling and has been very open about her disdain for homeschooling even toward my kids. I’m not sure where that is coming from. I’ve told my kids, there must be some experience she’s had in the past or she’s ignorant about what homeschooling actually is.“
Try not bringing it up; you don’t have to tell providers everything you’re doing, especially if it’s not relevant to the issue they’re treating.
“If you have a doctor or therapist or counselor that you’re seeing that’s unsupportive, my advice would be to just not bring it up and see what happens. Sometimes you have those doctors that you just don’t tell them everything you’re doing because you don’t want to get into an argument about it.”
Have an answer prepared.
“If you do have a doctor that when your kid walks into the room, they’re like, ‘Tell me what you learned in school today!’, that’s a problem. If they’re not going to let it go, then I would say, have an answer prepared. You can ask them, ‘Please don’t quiz my child. Do you quiz public school kids what they learned in school?’ Probably not.“
Bring your documentation along.
Something else that I learned from the very beginning when I first started homeschooling, was to have a binder. You can go to HSLDA, they have the state laws state by state that show what you have to do to comply with homeschooling. You print it off. I laminated mine so it wouldn’t get gross. Put it in your binder. If you join a co-op, if you join a local support group, put all that documentation in the binder as well. Maybe if you have a little bit of a portfolio of your kids’ work, pictures from field trips, put it all together in a small binder and then have that available so that if you do have a hostile person that you encounter on a regular basis that you’re afraid they’re going to say something or do something because they don’t like that you’re homeschooling, take that and just show them in a casual way. Not in a defensive way because if you’re always feeling like you have to defend yourself, I think that kind of empowers people to question. But if you just are like, ‘Hey, we want to show you what we did on your field trip!’ I think that helps soften people’s hearts toward it.”
You may be the family that shows your provider how great homeschooling can be!
Beth had one provider who was extremely hostile and “because of some things that we did and some conversations we had with her, she softened greatly to the point where she actually apologized that she had been so rude to us about it. You never know who’s hearts you’re changing by having a gracious answer. Don’t argue back, but have some support for yourself. Protect yourself if you do have a provider that’s like that. Just be prepared ahead of time what you’re going to do.“
With a Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) membership you can access a database of homeschool-friendly providers and professionals in your area, grants for homeschool families unable to afford private therapeutic services, and much more. Learn more about HSLDA Membership here!
How have you cultivated friendship for yourself and your kids? (19:05)
Homeschooling can be lonely for some homeschoolers, but Beth hasn’t found that to be the case for her family. She explains, “We are very blessed to be part of a church that has a fair amount of homeschoolers in it, and actually a lot of us go to the same homeschool co-op. I have support, and I’ve had support since the beginning. It was really nice when we first got thrown into accidental homeschooling. I had people I could call that had gone before me, and they gave me a lot of recommendations on what to do.
Beth has some suggestions if you’re feeling isolated:
- Find a support group. Find a co-op. Do sports.
- Connect with like-minded homeschoolers online.
- Check out the Flamingo Feathers community to get in touch with other special needs homeschoolers.
Beth shares the heart behind Flamingo Feathers: “There are lots of resources for special needs homeschooling out there. There’s a lot of people who will give you curriculum advice and therapy advice. But the mission for Flamingo Feathers is really to provide that encouragement that is missing a lot of times because it can be hard. Homeschooling is hard, but then you throw in all these curve balls. It can be very difficult. There’s no reason to be isolated, though, because there are a lot of resources out there. It’s just a matter of being able to find them.”
- Pray about starting something if you can’t find a class or activity that’s right for your child.
For those of us in the homeschool community who aren’t raising a child with special needs, what can we do to make the homeschool space more accessible and accepting and safe for all children? (22:14)
Beth points out that there is a difference between acceptance and inclusion. “We want our kids to accept differences and disabilities, but we also want them to include them.”
There are lots of opportunities to teach and model inclusion.
- Think about inclusion when choosing books for your homeschool. Do you choose stories that include characters of differing abilities? Do you choose stories with examples of children including others and being a good friend?
- Teach your children to look people in the eye and talk to them directly. There’s a difference when someone talks personally to your child and looks them in the eye than when they talk to the caregiver next to a child.
- Teach your children not to laugh when someone says something that doesn’t make sense to them. If you teach a co-op or a class, establish that if someone says something incorrect or that sounds off to you, we’re never going to laugh at someone. We want everyone to feel safe, and we’re going to include everybody.
- Establish a family culture that we honor everyone as worthy of dignity and respect.
- Make sure you purposely put your children in situations where they are around people of disabilities.
Beth’s children participate in a dance class where typical dancers and special needs dancers dance side by side. “They share a dance floor, they share a stage, so my son with Down syndrome takes class there and my neurotypical 14-year-old takes dance class there. You might have a class with somebody with a walker and somebody who is neurotypical as well. That gives them the opportunity to live that inclusivity and learn to love people of all abilities.”
If you don’t have something like that, start it!
Homeschoolers are the original DIY-ers. Start it yourself. If you don’t have that environment available to you, make one.
What resources do you recommend for someone who would like to learn more about special needs homeschooling? (26:51)
They have a lot of information on special needs homeschooling available.
First time HSLDA members can save $15 off your annual membership by enrolling here.
Beth runs this Facebook group for Christian moms who homeschool their children with special needs. It’s a great place to find encouragement and resources from like minded moms!
Final words of encouragement from Beth (28:36)
It is doable. It may seem like a daunting task. It may seem like nobody else is doing it. But if you feel like the Lord is leading you to do this, seek His wisdom and His guidance. If He’s leading you to do it, I promise it is doable.
There are hard days. We’ve had many hard days in our family. Prepare yourself ahead of time. Acknowledge that that’s going to happen ahead of time and prepare yourself for it so you don’t throw in the towel when it does happen.
But the rewards are so much greater than the trails! There is nothing better than seeing your child learn to read. The rewards of struggling for months to learn a concept and all of a sudden they get it. There is no greater reward. That goes for typical homeschooling, and even more so when you’re homeschooling a child who’s struggling.
Our family verse and the verse for our homeschool co-op this year is Galatians 6:9:
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in the due time we will reap a harvest if we do not grow weary or give up.
That would be my encouragement. If this is what the Lord is leading you to do, don’t give up. You will see a harvest and it will be so worth it. Don’t let those hard days discourage you.
Connect with Beth online.
- Visit Beth’s website, Flamingo Feathers
- Follow Beth on Instagram and Facebook
- Join Beth’s Facebook group
Check out some of our favorite special needs homeschooling resources here!
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