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Homeschooling Children with Exceptionalities

When people think of homeschooling they think of a happy mom standing in front of the kitchen table, lecture style, teaching her gaggle of children arithmetics using workbooks. Her house is spotless, her children are well coiffed, and everyone looks happy. After looking at a few pinterest boards this myth is cemented. However, this is not how everyone’s homeschool looks like. Especially if you are the mother of children with special needs. In actuality your homeschool may look the complete opposite.

I wish that this was a post that only talks all about the wonderful homeschool experience that we have had. How idyllic and beautiful and inspirational it is. I wish that I could comfort you and let you know that homeschooling children with learning challenges is just like homeschooling a neuro-typical child. I wish that I could. I just can’t.

We started our homeschool journey 5 years ago because my oldest son was struggling in public school. We were told by the psychologist that assessed him and finally diagnosed him with ADHD, that he would struggle in the school setting. That this was something that we needed to be ready for. The psychologist gave us resources to be his best advocate. Then I asked, but what if we just opt out? The psychologist had never heard of someone completely changing the school environment for their child. It was not in their experience. They were not exactly sure what the outcome would be.

My husband and I held our breath and jumped in to the homeschooling world feet first.

There are many different articles that suggest that homeschooling is a good fit for children with learning challenges, and there are also articles that say the opposite. In my own experience with two children with ADHD and other learning difficulties, the decision to homeschool was the right choice. However, I had to learn a few hard truths on my own over the years, things that I feel every parent who is homeschooling children with learning difficulties should know.

1. Accept the Fact that Your Children are Different…and that is OKAY.
Children who struggle with learning challenges are different. It took me a long time to come to terms with that. My son is so bright. He is just as smart as all of his peers, however, his ADHD holds him back. It always will. He will not be as focused or as organized as his peers. He will always want to speak out of turn, and he will always get a little too intense when excited. That is who he is.
For many years I would put hm into classes with his neuro-typical homeschool friends and have him struggle. He would clash with the instructors over things that were completely out of his control. I wanted him to get the same opportunities, but I didn’t have the voice to tell the instructor that he was different, and struggling, and that accommodations needed to be made.
The sooner that you accept the fact that your child is not, and will not be like the average child, the better life will be for everyone.
Also, take time to mourn this fact for a moment. Sometimes we are so caught up in what our homeschool “should” look like, that we forget that the reason we are doing this is for the children themselves. If it is not working realize that yes, it can be disappointing, but focus on their strengths and your homeschool will be better for it. We have the opportunity to really individualize our childrens learning experience. We have to meet them where they are.

2. You need Support. 
Friends and family are amazing support networks. Friends who homeschool are even better. However, the best thing that you can do is find support from other parents who are going through the exact same thing that you are. There are amazing support groups out there for parents whose kids have learning challenges. I actually belong to a local group that is full of homeschooling parents whose kids have ADHD. These parents really understand what I am going through, because they live it as well. Your normal is someone elses normal too!

3. Say No.
I know that you really want to put your child in that amazing arts class that is all about pointillism. How about that incredible STEM class that is all on robots and coding… however, if you know in your heart that your child will struggle with it, you have to say no. Know your child’s limitations. Both academically and socially. Do not set your kids up to fail. If you want to do classes like this find an instructor that understands their limitations and will set them up for success. You do not want your child to think the they are dumb because of things out of their control. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t challenge them. Learning happens when children try something, fail, and then succeed. You have to look at the reason for the class. Is it just for fun? Are the children and instructor supportive? Have you talked to the instructor beforehand? It is so important to make sure that these kids enjoy what they are doing in an educational environment as they already have a steep hill to climb. Also, it is so disappointing to both you and your child when a class goes sideways. Save yourself and your child the frustration. One way that I have facilitated classes is to plan them myself, early in the morning for a short while. We plan to have a picnic after so both my kids and I get to visit with friends out of the classroom setting.

4. Remember Self-Care.
Take time for yourself. Having a child who has learning challenges like ADHD or SPD can be taxing as it is. Then when you add homeschooling on top of it, well it becomes a perfect storm. Put yourself first. Do something that feeds your own soul. Write in a journal, decorate a planner, watch a favourite show on Netflix, or eat some hidden chocolate. I use a babysitter once every two weeks just to get out of the house and browse a bookstore by myself. Sleep. Sleep is so important, so go to bed at a reasonable time, and drink lots of water every day. Kids with learning challenges can really drain you quickly so self care needs to be on the calendar daily.

5. Advocate and Support Your Children. 
Sometimes people don’t realize that they can homeschool their kids who have learning challenges. They might not realize that it can actually be better, because of the freedom for individualized learning, and a more relaxed atmosphere. I belong to a couple really big ADHD support groups in my area, and sometimes parents will write seeking advice about something negative that happened in the public system. I offer my support, but I will also mention that I do homeschool and if they would like some resources I am are than happy to share. Sometimes they ignore me as homeschooling is not something that they wish to do, but sometimes they thank me for the suggestion. Knowing your own children and how they learn allows you to set them up for success and allows you to be a better advocate for them, but also for kids like them.

When my boys were first diagnosed I was devastated. I had this idea of what my homeschool would look like in my head. It was basically the pinterest board with the white school room. We would have all the different pretty curriculum and my children that would read books, write book reports and use workbooks for hours on end. This is not my reality, it is far from it.

We use an unschooly approach. My kids get excited about a subject and then I try and find all the learning opportunities that I can to help facilitate their learning. My kids learn best when they are motivated, and excited about something. This means that my schoolroom is barely used, the curriculum stays on the shelf, and the workbooks are non-existent. But what I have in it’s place are two incredibly happy and bright boys who enjoy learning, who do not have any behaviour challenges, and do not need medication at the moment. I meet them where they are, tailor the learning to their interest, and allow them the freedom to explore their own world and who they are inside of it.