The decision to home-school a child with special needs can be daunting. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that we lack the knowledge, skills and education to give our special child what he or she needs. I speak from experience.
My ex-husband and I had successfully home-schooled our oldest son and daughter. We had struggled through the fact that both were slow to read with the confidence that like me they would catch on when they were ready. And they did. Just like me, they began to pick up reading skills around the age of ten and quickly surpassed their peers. All three of us are ferocious readers and my daughter and I are both writers. Our five year old son was already reading (better than his siblings).
But it was our special needs son with neurofibromatosis that caused us to pause. We knew from the research that we had done that children with this medical condition also battled a complex array of learning difficulties. We worried that we could not provide him with the kind of education he needed to ‘make it in life.’ In the end, we decided that the ‘experts’ could do a better job of teaching him than we could at home.
He is twenty-two now. He graduated high school, has a full-time job in a restaurant and lives on his own with roommates. You would think that looking back I would believe we made the right choice for our son. I don’t. He struggled through out all twelve years. He told me a couple of years ago that he almost dropped out of high school he was so discouraged. He was always placed in ‘special’ classes and on the few occasions he was mainstreamed as they call it, he was subject to bullying. He hated every single minute of school. He played hookey as we used to call it.
And none of it mattered once he left school and started work. Despite all of the protections that the ‘disabled’ have under the law, my son’s employers do not even know about his learning difficulties. Sometimes I disagree with his decisions. He had the opportunity to train as a manager. But he could not pass the written tests in the time given. The law would have allowed him to ask for additional time to complete the exams or even to have them administered orally. But he was too proud to tell anyone about his reading difficulties. That is the legacy of an educational system that singled him out and labelled him…special. He is special but not that way.
It is fifteen years since my ex-husband and I made that decision to place him in public school. Now Emily’s father and I have made the opposite choice. We have decided that traditional schools cannot provide our ‘special’ child with what she needs. We have boldly said to her head teacher, the SENCO (Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator) and the system itself that we can do better for her at home. And you know what? They have pretty much agreed.
In this age of the World Wide Web, parents have access at the touch of their fingers all of the same information that the experts do. We can download, upload and assimilate anything we need to give our child the best possible start in life. And you know what makes us the best teachers? A classroom teacher has twenty-five or more children of various abilities that he or she is responsible for. It is only natural that they miss things, cannot provide the ‘best’ for everyone. You as mother/father/teacher have one (or a few…certainly not twenty-five) child (or children). You can put her or his needs first. If he or she is not getting something, you can stop, take as long as is necessary for them to learn it. That alone should give you the confidence that you can do this. If not think about all of the heart-ache and bullying that you are saving your ‘special’ child. Think of how you will measure him or her only against the best effort and teach them to do so of themselves. It is called self-esteem. It is one of the biggest factors in something called the Emotional Quotient (EQ), which is ever more important determinant of success in life than IQ. And you can give them that!