Becoming a Special Education Teacher
By choosing to homeschool a child with disabilities, you are taking on the role of special education teacher. You will need to supplement the professional development you would do as a home educator of a typical child, with specialized training about instruction and accommodations for students with your child’s particular disability.
Some home educators find that homeschooling their child with disabilities works well because their child can receive one-on-one instruction. However, one-on-one instruction will not benefit your child if the instruction you are providing is not what they need—or if your expectations are out of line with your child’s needs or abilities! In some cases, disabled children who are homeschooled do not have their needs met; in other cases, parents homeschooling a child with disabilities find that it is too much for them and re-enroll their child in school. Your child would be better off attending public school and receiving a small amount of one-on-one instruction tailored to their disability than being homeschooled and receiving a large amount of one-on-one instruction that does not meet their needs. This is why it is so important for you to become a special education teacher!
You should learn to identify the services and accommodations your child needs, as well as how to provide the sort of instruction necessary for a child with your child’s disabilities. If this sounds like a lot, it is! Some parents set out to homeschool a child with disabilities but have inadequate support and backup and end up in over their heads, much to their child’s detriment. The good news is that this does not have to be you! Help and assistance are available to you on this journey. No family should be an island; all children, but especially disabled children, need the support of a wider community and multiple caring adult role models. Parents of children with disabilities also need support systems, along with space to recharge their own batteries, and help and guidance from professionals.
Children with disabilities should receive services from licensed professionals to help them manage and accommodate their disabilities; these professionals may also be able to give you guidance on how to work with your child (for more, see this page). You should also connect with support groups directed by adults who share your child’s disability. (Many support groups run by non-disabled parents have blind spots or forms of prejudice regarding disability, or center parents’ needs rather than those of disabled children.) Finally, you can and should connect with other parents homeschooling children with disabilities, although you should be on the lookout for toxic attitudes about disabilities. If you haven’t already, you should take some time to read about disability theory so that you can help your disabled child develop a positive self-image and make them aware of their rights.
Homeschooling is well-suited to offering accommodations for your child with disabilities. While public schools must provide accommodations that differ from a baseline of what they provide for all students, you can create a curriculum that is centered on these accommodations from the start. Before you get too excited, remember that you still need to think like a special education teacher. The accommodations your child needs will not materialize automatically. They are something you need to do consciously. You need to identify what accommodations your child needs and implement them in your home.
What are accommodations? According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities:
Accommodations are alterations in the way tasks are presented that allow children with learning disabilities to complete the same assignments as other students. Accommodations do not alter the content of assignments, give students an unfair advantage or in the case of assessments, change what a test measures. They do make it possible for students with LD to show what they know without being impeded by their disability.
Some accommodations offered in public schools may be related to testing: for example, a student might be given time and a half on tests. Other accommodations may modify the school setting: for example, a child might be given a wobble chair that allows them to rock back and forth and helps them to focus better during class. For sample lists of the kind of accommodations offered in schools, see Accommodations: Assisting Students with Disabilities, from the Florida Department of Education’s Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services (BEESS), and Guide to Accommodations for Students with Disabilities, from the Raleigh County School District in West Virginia.
Accommodations are typically divided into four groups: presentation, response, setting, and timing and scheduling. See here for more explanation:
Be sure to consult with your child as well as with service providers about what accommodations might be beneficial to them. In your homeschool, you have the opportunity to get even more creative than is possible in a school setting. What might accommodations look like for a child who is homeschooled? Here are some examples (note that this list is NOT comprehensive!):
- The child will receive books and materials with large print
- The child will listen to books on audio tape
- The child’s parent will read assignment instructions out loud to the child
- The child will have access to Braille books and materials
- The child will be allowed to present oral, rather than written, book reports
- The child may use speech-to-text software for writing assignments
- The child’s math tests and quizzes will be verbal, rather than written
- The child will be allowed to type assignments rather than hand-writing them
- The child will have access to a wobble chair
- The child may complete work sitting or lying on the couch or bed
- The child will have access to a work space with minimal visual distractions
- The house will be quiet and free from auditory stimulation
Timing and scheduling accommodations
- The child will have frequent movement breaks
- Tests will be administered in a calm, quiet atmosphere at the beginning of the day, and not when the child is fatigued or overstimulated
Some of these items may seem obvious: if your homeschooled child is having problems sitting still, of course they should have a movement break! However, if you think through the accommodations your child needs consciously and write them down, you will have an easier time remembering them. Being intentional about the accommodations you are providing your child up front will also give you something to return to if you become frustrated later.
Remember, accommodations are not special privileges; they are things the child has a right to. Your child has the right to enjoy a full and decent life in conditions that ensure dignity, promote self-reliance, and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community. You should never withhold your child’s accommodations, or threaten to take them away for bad behavior. If you find that the accommodations you are providing are not working, you may need to reassess how to best serve your child’s needs. Recall that according to the social model of disability, the problem is not the child, but their physical surroundings and societal expectations! Your child has the right to be evaluated and periodically re-evaluated; the right to access and receive therapies and medical care from licensed providers; and the right to accommodations and services, including medical and assistive devices which grant independence and facilitate learning and communication.
Don’t forget to read the other articles in this series!
Return to our main Home Educator page!