“Have you heard of success with homeschooling?”

This is a question I often hear from parents of children with special needs. As a pediatric occupational therapy assistant, I regularly interact with parents who are disillusioned with the public school system and searching for an education model that better supports their child’s unique strengths and challenges. An increasing number of parents are finding that the combination of flexibility, one-on-one support, and social experiences that homeschooling offers makes it an excellent fit for children with special needs.

In 1975, the inclusion of children with special needs within mainstream public school classrooms became mandatory with the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (reformulated as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1990). Although this legislation aimed to provide equal access to education for all children, regardless of disability, the reality has been far from beneficial for many children living with special needs.

As a result of IDEA, children with special needs are now automatically placed in school classrooms based on their age, often regardless of their ability or preference. This can be damaging for a child with special needs, as they frequently require additional supports that teachers struggle to provide. School systems try to bridge this gap by bringing in supporting professionals, including social workers, speech and occupational therapists, and special education teachers, but limited school funding often means these professionals are few and far between, making customized learning difficult.

In contrast, homeschooling provides nearly unlimited opportunities to develop an education model that works for your child, including increased time, one-on-one support, sensory breaks as needed, adapted learning opportunities, and flexibility to schedule school time around any additional therapy or doctor appointments the child may need. Homeschooling a child with special needs will always present unique challenges, but the growing interest among parents of children with special needs is resulting in more support and resources than ever before, including online forums and blogs, curriculum, tutors, therapy centers, and entire co-ops dedicated to providing support for children with special needs. Knowing your options and seeking support from others is key to your success, especially if you are attempting to homeschool multiple children with varying levels of ability.

While individualized learning is often a main factor in the decision to homeschool, recently I am hearing more parents express that the desire for better social opportunities was a deciding factor in their decision to homeschool their children with special needs. Many children with special needs struggle in the areas of social interest and engagement, making the already complicated peer dynamics that are typical in a school setting seem nearly impossible to navigate.

Although recent awareness about bullying has made school environments less hostile towards kids who appear different from their peers, many children with special needs continue to feel ostracized within traditional school settings. This sense of not belonging may be caused by the standard (and often necessary) practice of structuring school events and social time to appeal to the average student. While this practice allows for the greatest
number of students to be included, it results in additional difficulties for children who don’t fit within social norms.

In contrast, parents who homeschool have the opportunity to handpick social situations and activities where their child is likely to thrive, which often results in increased confidence and social interest from their child. It is also important to note that recent studies on child development suggest that children primarily learn social skills from adults, not their peers. Although time with peers is an important part of a child’s social development, one-on-one time with parents is more likely to increase a child’s overall social skills than spending time with peers.

Parents are tasked with finding the right education model for their children. This responsibility can be frightening, especially when you are trying to raise a child with additional struggles and vulnerabilities that accompany a diagnosis. It is essential for parents who are considering homeschooling to seek wisdom as they strive to shepherd their children well. James 1:5 encourages believers, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally … and it will be given him.” As you consider what the right education model for your child may be, seek God’s wisdom, and know that He is able and eager to direct you.

Copyright 2019, The Old Schoolhouse®. Used with permission. All rights reserved by the Author. Originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade publication for homeschool moms.

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Gentle Langley is a homeschool alumni and certified occupational therapy assistant with over seven years of experience working with and educating children with special needs. She always enjoys the opportunity to combine her passion for learning, writing, working within the special needs community, adoption advocacy, and Scripture. She and her husband live in Rockford, Minnesota.