Identifying Disabilities 

As your child’s teacher, it will be up to you to recognize learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, or conditions like autism, as well as other disabilities including “invisible disabilities” such as diabetes or chronic illness. If you fail to recognize signs that your child may have a disability, you may also fail to meet their physical or learning needs. The information in this section offers guidance for all home educators. Teachers are trained to recognize signs that one of their students may have a disability; you need this training too. 

In this section, we will cover different categories of disabilities that you may encounter. This section is not comprehensive; if you are worried that something is wrong but are not sure what it is, you should talk to your child’s pediatrician. Please review the information below so that you will be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of these disabilities, whether they occur in your home or in your homeschool group. 

  • Learning disabilities and disorders. HelpGuide. “Does your child struggle with school, dread reading out loud, writing an essay, or tackling math? Here’s how to recognize different types of learning disorders and their signs.”
  • Language and speech disorders in children. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Some children struggle with understanding and speaking and they need help. They may not master the language milestones at the same time as other children, and it may be a sign of a language or speech delay or disorder.”
  • Intellectual disability. American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. “Language and philosophy concerning Intellectual Disability (ID) now focuses on levels of support necessary to maximize an individual’s ability, rather than strictly on deficits in functioning.”
  • Emotional disturbance. Center for Parent Information & Resources. “These include (but are not limited to): anxiety disorders; bipolar disorder (sometimes called manic-depression); conduct disorders; eating disorders; obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD); and psychotic disorders.”
  • Autism spectrum disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. “Autism is known as a ‘spectrum’ disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience.”
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Mayo Clinic. “ADHD includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.”

In addition to the conditions included on this list, children who are homeschooled may also have physical, visual, or hearing disabilities. In some cases, physical disabilities may include medical conditions and/or invisible disabilities.

Some physical disabilities have physical attributes that are readily apparent, such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other disabilities that affect motion. If your child has a physical disability, you may be already aware of their disability and have practice meeting their needs. In some cases, however, your child may have a physical disability that you are not aware of, or may develop one in the future without this being readily apparent. It is important to remember that some disabilities are invisible, including chronic illness. 

According to the Invisible Disabilities Association

When most people think of a disability, they picture in their minds a person with a visible, obvious impairment. … We often do not realize that a person can have hindrances that come from the inside and may not be visible on the outside. In other words, they can have a physically limiting illness or injury, even though it is not obvious to the onlooker. Their limitations may be disabling, but because their symptoms can seem unapparent to most, we call them, “Invisible Disabilities.”

Their limitations may stem from such illnesses as Fibromyalgia, Lupus, Lyme Disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), Crohn’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, or a host of many others.

Lisa Copen, the founder of Rest Ministries who lives with Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia reasoned, “He or she may be young, and no one really believes that there are young ill people in our country.”

Even so, they may have debilitating pain, fatigue, weakness, dizziness and/or cognitive impairments from a diseased spine, organs, heart, nervous system, cells or an autoimmune disorder that keeps them from being able to function at a normal level. 

If your child experiences unexplained pain, chronic fatigue, debilitating migraines, or other signs of chronic illness or invisible disability, talk to your child’s pediatrician. At CRHE we know many homeschool alumni with invisible disabilities that were not diagnosed until they were adults, leading to problems that would have been preventable if they were identified earlier. Remember, children who are homeschooled do not have a school nurse or a teacher who might also notice if something seems off. In choosing to homeschool, you have taken on added responsibility for monitoring your child’s health and wellbeing and recognizing and identifying signs that they may have a disability or medical health problem. 

Medical conditions such as juvenile diabetes may also be considered disabilities. In some cases, homeschooled children have died because their parents have either not recognized or not sought help for their juvenile diabetes — remember, you won’t have a school nurse or a teacher who might also recognize signs of a problem to lean on! Learn the signs and symptoms of juvenile diabetes, and do not hesitate to talk to your child’s pediatrician. 

Because homeschooled children do not typically read from a blackboard, their need for glasses may also not be as easily identifiable as it would be if they attended school. In some cases, homeschooled children may experience a delay in the discovery that they need glasses; the same can also be true of hearing loss. If you have concerns about your child’s vision or hearing, or if your family has a history of needing glasses or hearing aids, you should take your child to an eye doctor or ask your child’s pediatrician for a hearing screening. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children have a well-child visit with a pediatrician every year. This includes children who are homeschooled. Regular well-child checks are important both because your doctor may recognize signs of a medical condition or disability, and because regular visits help you develop a relationship with your child’s doctor. For more on our healthcare recommendations for children who are homeschooled, see Wellness and Health Education.

Don’t forget to read the other articles in this series! 

Homeschooling & Disabilities
— Identifying Disabilities
Diagnosis, Therapies, & Specialists
Becoming a Special Education Teacher
Creating an IEP or PDP
Disability Law & Homeschooling

Return to our main Home Educator page!


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