Our three children have never been to school. This year our sixteen-year-old began homeschooling college (gaining credit by examination), and our thirteen-year-old is homeschooling high school. Our youngest child, who happens to be medically fragile with visual challenges, is learning to sound out her letters in homeschool kindergarten. Through the help of the Lord and a strong support network, we were able to meet our special needs preschool goals at home.
We've learned to treasure fellowship, prayer and spiritual support from family, friends, our local church, and a Christian ministry to medically fragile children, through Bridgebuilders, bridgebuilders.4mg.com. Visit them for articles such as "Labels - What a Rip Off!" and "Churches Connecting."
All kids are gifted (although it might not be readily apparent to earthly eyes) and all have limitations. Find other homeschoolers struggling with specific challenges, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autistic Spectrum Disorders, Down syndrome, giftedness, communicative disorders, vision and hearing disorders, through Practical Homeschooling's Special Needs Forum, and NATHHAN (National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network), 208-267-6246, nathhan.com.
Choosing and Using Curriculum for Your Special Child (now out of print: the newest edition is called simply Choosing and Using Curriculum) and Learning in Spite of Labels (both by Joyce Herzog, joyceherzog.com) share practical methods for homeschooling children with learning disabilities. Gifted programs and materials, such as Troll's "Great Beginnings: Activities for gifted and Talented Kids" workbooks, may excite children with learning challenges and help them to succeed.
Parents homeschooling children with special needs often face exceptional economic challenges. The cost of medications, therapies, private educational evaluations, multiple doctor visits, and hospitalizations for a child with special needs can quickly bankrupt the most financially stable family. If you suspect your child may need services, sign up for scarce therapy resources on all available waiting lists as soon as possible. Depending on where you see a specialist - in your own home, in a clinic or in a private office - your appointment may either be free or costly. It pays to ask!
If private insurance falls short, families often don't know the public or private options that may be available, or assume that their income is too high to qualify for private or public assistance. Programs vary from state to state. However, hundreds of little-known resources exist near most major cities. Contact your county health department and your local United Way chapter in the telephone directory (or contact unitedway.org) for help finding specific resources. State health department programs may waive income requirements in cases of extreme financial need - in other words, if medical authorities anticipate your bills would even bankrupt the wealthy.
Our local Children's Hospital provided no-cost counseling regarding finances and health programs that were available in our area.
Find a free Volunteer Budget Coach through Crown Financial Ministries, 800-722-1976, crown.org. Trained Budget Coaches are available to help families develop a personal budget, apply biblical principles of stewardship, build a plan to get out of debt, and provide practical and godly financial counsel.
Young children - whether developing according to the typical schedule or not - generally act quite differently in their own home than they do when they are tested in unfamiliar settings. We've met many families that have learned (with occasional professional advice and supervision) to perform therapies at home, not only saving time and money, but also keeping the family together. Communicating Partners, online at jamesdmacdonald.org, provides free resources to families learning to communicate with their children.
National Academy of Child Development (nacd.org) also works with families to develop individualized physical and academic therapies for a wide range of conditions. There is a charge for their consultations, but you will likely save more by being able to follow their therapy plans at home. While I have not personally used their services, PHS publisher Mary Pride found them very helpful when her handicapped oldest son was young. See their ad in this issue on page 59.
You can search for specific conditions, state-of-the-art treatments, and reputable specialists with an Internet search engine, such as yahoo.com. Include keywords such as "study" to help you evaluate treatments. You can also search for links to free resources about special needs from Achondroplasia to Trisomy disorders at thekidslist.com.
Like me, you probably haven't been to medical school. However, you will probably find that your family becomes the world's leading expert on your own child with a special need. Most doctors welcome a well-informed patient. Our daughter's physician is one of the top doctors in his field, yet he is quick to admit it when he doesn't know everything.
If you're dealing with severe medical, behavioral, communication, and developmental disorders, you know how hard it is to find time to research anything, or even to take a shower. If computer-savvy family members or friends ask if they can help, say "Yes - please!" Write down keywords for your child's condition and ask them to help you with research. Or ask them to take over with household or care-giving chores while you do it yourself.
During our daughter's early years, we received home therapy and developmental evaluations through our county Early Intervention program. We were willing to work with our local program, as I had an excellent relationship with the director. Your situation might be quite different. When our daughter neared age three, we set up an entirely private program.
Like many parents of children with special needs, we've felt pressure to conform to developmental and educational schedules. Books such as Better Late than Early by Raymond and Dorothy Moore encouraged us to focus on good behavior and character development and let academics slide for awhile. We enjoyed talking and playing at our preschooler's level or just a small step beyond. We encouraged taking turns and offered choices whenever possible.
It also helps to remember that many gifted individuals such as Helen Keller lagged behind developmentally, yet succeeded in life. Albert Einstein didn't speak a word until the age of four. Most likely, the toddler Einstein would be labeled mentally retarded or developmentally delayed today. He eventually taught himself calculus and other abstract subjects. Thomas Edison's schoolmaster called the young inventor-to-be "addled." Edison's mother removed her uniquely gifted son from school and taught him at home. The trick is to find out what children like best - no matter how simple - and bring it into play.
Homeschooling a child with special needs can prove challenging. "But my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19
For more inspiration also see Matthew 7:7, Matthew 6:25-34, Mark 11:24, and James 1:5-8.