Should You Homeschool a Child With Special Needs?

When our family started homeschooling some 20 years ago, it seemed like a natural progression of what we were already doing with our kids; talking about the world, reading good books, exploring our community, and simply experiencing life together. I mean, all that was left was to teach reading and math. How hard could that really be?

Famous last words!

Our Special Needs Homeschool Journey

We took our turn at trying and failing at creating school at home. The fact that I practically had to strap my normally cheerful and easy-going 6-year old son to his seat to get him to finish his textbook, workbook, and extra seatwork in first grade opened my eyes up to understand how hard homeschooling could be!

Not only that but that same son still wasn’t reading the following year despite being a bright, inquisitive kid. Educational testing revealed dyslexia. What? I never even knew there were intelligent kids who struggled to learn!

Fast forward a few years and we’re given the opportunity to travel with our whole family for several years aboard our sailboat. It was an opportunity of a lifetime but I had serious concerns about whether we should go as our son was still not reading. Because we didn’t know how to teach a child with dyslexia, we were considering putting him in school since we considered them the educational experts.

Coincidentally, our son’s dyslexia diagnosis also diagnosed my husband, who had similar struggles growing up as a boy in rural England. He grew up hating school because he struggled so much. He did learn to read eventually and felt that the trip would be good for the family and that we could spend more time working on reading while we traveled.

We rented our home out to some friends from church and set off, with a mix of excitement and concern, on what ended up being an amazing 3-year journey. (The benefits of extended traveling as a family is the subject of a different post.) What was interesting about this time, however, is that the family that rented our home during those three years put their kids in the local public school where our kids would have gone had we chosen that route.

Even more interestingly, their oldest daughter (who was the same age as our dyslexic son) was also dyslexic. Curious, I asked how the school handled her special needs. The answer is an all-too-common and tragic one. The teacher, our friends shared, knew nothing about dyslexia – except maybe the many, hurtful myths about dyslexia.

This teacher shamed and intentionally humiliated our friend’s daughter by having her stand up and read in front of the whole class – one of the most terrifying experiences for any child with dyslexia. To this teacher’s credit, she really did think that this embarrassment would motivate our friend’s young daughter to try harder. Eventually, her anxiety about going to school caused her to become mysteriously ill with headaches and stomach aches – anything so that she wouldn’t have to go to school.

Okay, so maybe putting our son, who was still reading poorly upon our return home, was not the best idea.

Maybe homeschooling a child with special needs actually is the BEST educational environment for these unique children.

More Diagnoses

Our family went on to have a total of eight children. Each one of them is uniquely gifted, even though seven of them have some combination of dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia – with a few with ADHD as well!  

Years of research since starting homeschooling 20 years ago has led me to understand a few very important things about kids with special needs:

  • God created all of us uniquely and with a PURPOSE from before time began (2 Tim 1:9)
  • There are many types of intelligence and most of them cannot be measured by standardized tests
  • Parents know their kids better than anyone else
  • Committed parents are capable of teaching their unique children and teach them well

Benefits of Homeschooling Kids With Special Needs

In case you’re not convinced by my story, here are five more reasons why homeschooling is good for kids with special needs:

Allows for individualized instruction in all subject areas: reading, spelling, composition, and comprehension. Through accommodations, (audiobooks, oral responses, etc.) homeschooled kids with learning struggles can learn at their intellectual level and be taught the most effective methods in reading, spelling, and writing.

Allows for kids to focus on areas of interest and for lessons to be planned around those interests. The nature of homeschooling is to be interest-led. For example, reading about and writing a paper on a topic of your choosing – of interest – is far more interesting and therefore a struggling reader and writer will be more motivated to work through their difficulties.

Allows for freedom from being measured against peers with no learning difficulties. It is natural to compare ourselves to those around us. School kids know who the ‘smart’ kids are, who the popular kids are and those who are not. Try as they may to hide it, the weaknesses that special needs kids have in reading, writing, and spelling become obvious within a classroom environment. Without understanding, it is easy to mistakenly label these kids as just plain dumb.

Allows for your child to work at their own pace using resources that work best with their individual strengths. Teaching methods and curriculum used by large schools are designed in large part for an organization. Keeping track of 30+ students is difficult! Not so with homeschooling. There are many methods and curricula that work especially well with dyslexic learners. Homeschooling allows parents to choose what works best for their unique child.

Homeschooling necessarily avoids the rigid scheduling and standardized testing {and the practice of teaching to the test} that is required in public schools. Not much more to say here. I think we can all agree that the practice of teaching kids to pass a test all day long, is a surefire way to kill any desire to learn.

Homeschooling kids with special needs, whether they are medical needs, emotional needs, physical needs or educational needs allows for the individualization that the larger, public, or private schools just cannot offer. While homeschooling struggling learners isn’t always easy, it is an excellent option for families.

So what do you think?  Should parents homeschool their kids with special needs?

Marianne Sunderland

About the author

Marianne Sunderland is a homeschooling mother of eight unique children ages 6 to 25, including adventurous and homeschooled sailors, Zac and Abby Sunderland, known for their world-record setting around the world sailing campaigns. Because 7 of her 8 children are dyslexic, Marianne is a dedicated dyslexia advocate with a passion for educating and encouraging families, not only to understand dyslexia, but also to discover and nurture their children’s God-given gifts and talents, in and outside of the classroom.

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  1. I enjoyed your article so much. I am getting ready to homeschool my 6 year old grandson who doesn’t have autism but is in the autism spectrum. I’ve been praying for guidance and patience?. I worked in our small church school for 12 years from kindergarten to high school. So my daughter who went to that school and graduated from there ask me to work with her on this. So our journey begins in a couple weeks.?

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