Can I homeschool my child with special needs?
Of course you can! I'm not an expert, but here is part of our journey of homeschooling a child who is differently abled! Our youngest blessing was adopted from Hong Kong in 2014. He was almost four years old when he came to his forever family!
Initially, we knew that he was blind, nonverbal, and had significant medical needs. He was later diagnosed with Autism as well. After six months of bonding and getting to know our little guy we decided to start the process of enrolling him in a public preschool. We felt that social interaction would be great for him. It would also be good for us to have more one on one time with our older kids. He did great with public school for a year and half, but then his health began to deteriorate. You see, he has a life threatening medical condition called Adrenal Insufficiency. This means illness, any kind of vomiting or dehydration, and excessive emotional stress becomes life threatening for him quickly. In addition to everything else, he developed severe GI issues that we still manage to this day. He was sick constantly, we were in the ER almost weekly for a while, and had two hospital stays. He missed so much school and when he was away from us we were so worried all the time. So, in September of 2017 we decided it was time to pull him out. Having him at home would give me the peace of mind in knowing I could monitor his needs, but also that we could figure out how to manage his GI issues.
So where do you start? Well, first and foremost you must know the law in your state! Find a local support agency or legal group that can give you exact answers on what needs to be provided. Virginia is a very homeschool friendly state. You can read up here on the laws: https://heav.org/begin-homeschooling/how-to-start-homeschooling-in-virginia/
As someone who already homeschooled, I was somewhat familiar on the laws but was unsure about children with special needs. My two older kids complete testing every year to prove the progress they have made. Obviously, with significant special needs this would not be possible for our little guy.
-My first step was to file a notice of intent to the home instruction specialist in our county. For curriculum, I simply put that he would continue weekly private occupational, speech therapy, and ABA therapy for a total of 17 hours per week. Then I listed that he would be exposed to experiential literature and math with hands on activities. Finally, I listed that he would be exposed to general life skills in order to increase independence in his environment. All of these things were a part of his IEP, but it was broken down into simple terms and actions.
-Then as a courtesy, this is not required, I notified the teachers and staff at his school. I also included in this that I would like for him to continue receiving some services from the school. It is not always recommended, but I had a really great relationship with his school staff! He was able to receive 18 hours for the year from the school system. This is only for those that do not choose to file under religious exemption. From what I understand, anyone who files under religious exemption cannot access school services in Virginia. We split the services up so that he could receive vision services twice a month and orientation and mobility (O&M) once per month. For us, everything went great! The vision teacher came to our house and the O&M met us in the community.
-For the most part, his therapies counted as his primary instruction. We did some fun field trips, crafts, and getting out into our community as much as we could and as long as he felt ok. We also enrolled him into SCCA for music and art classes. He had an ABA therapist with him at all times during class days and he loved getting to be around a lot of the kids!
-What about testing? Well, we had a wonderful lady that we know who was a certified and very experienced teacher who agreed to assess his educational progress. She came out a few times a year, and we also provided her with notes from all his therapy progress. His ABA progress notes where especially important, as that was the bulk of his instruction. She was able to assess him and email a letter to the home instruction specialist at the end of each year to report if he had made adequate progress towards his goals.
We continued this for two years. He is now much more healthy, and has just recently returned to public school to a program that can give him a lot more interaction with kids and more time with his vision services. One of the great things about homeschool is that you can continue all the way through, do it for just a season, or (as we do in my family) reevaluate every year and decide what is the best path for each child!