Do you have what it takes homeschool a child with special needs?


Shouldn’t you have a degree in special education in order to homeschool a child with ADHD, learning disabilities, Autism, or other special needs? You should at least be a “special kind of person,” right? You know, that proverbial “special kind of person” that God designed to educate challenging children.

Homeschooling a typical student is challenging enough, right? But when you have a child who doesn’t respond to the typical curriculums available on the homeschool market, that’s when you may just have to send your child to school, where there are “experts” with degrees and experience, right?

Probably not.

As one of the “experts” with a Master’s Degree and a Rank 1 in both elementary and special education who has taught in public school, I can tell you that you probably can do a better job educating your child at home than I could in public school. Sure, special educators generally are fabulous people who have a lot of knowledge about research-based techniques, and that’s important for sure. But what they generally don’t have is enough time and a small enough teacher-student ratio to do what you can do at home. They also often don’t have the freedom to teach your child what he needs to learn most, because they are subject to laws that say they have to teach the same standards to your child as the typical children in her grade, even if she’s not ready to learn them. And if your child isn’t eligible for smaller special education classes, he will be in a class with 24 to 35 students, depending on grade level, and he probably won’t always have a special education teacher available in those classes.

Even though, as a special education teacher, I wanted desperately wanted to do what I thought was best for students, my hands were often tied by federal laws, such as No Child Left Behind, and by state adherence to the Common Core Standards. It broke my heart to be obligated to teach long division to frustrated students who needed to learn how to subtract a single digit number from a two digit number. It didn’t make sense to have to teach students to balance chemical equations when they were five years below grade level in reading.

As a homeschooler, however, you have the freedom to educate each of your children according to his needs and abilities. You can assess where each child is, make goals for progress, and make a plan to get there. You don’t have to submit to laws that say that you have to teach her something for which she’s not ready. You can spend as long as needed on each concept and you can skip unnecessary material at your own discretion.

Yes, I’m an expert in special education, but you’re an expert about something far more important: You are an expert about your child. A teacher can learn a lot about your child over a few months, but it’s hard to beat the kind of expertise that comes from living with a child day in and day out for years, from tucking her in every night, from reassuring him about his fears, from sharing her hopes and dreams, from cuddling her when she’s upset or sick. It’s actually much easier for you to become an expert at techniques that can benefit your child than it is for a public school teacher to fully understand your child and to have the amount of time needed to give him the time he needs to make progress.

I’m not suggesting that homeschooling a child with learning challenges is easy, and I’m not saying that you can do it the same way as you would teach a typical child. It will likely take more time, effort, and patience on your part. You will want to educate yourself on the best research-based techniques for teaching children with your child’s disability. It will most likely take a different approach than many other homeschooling parents use, but it can be done. And chances are, you can do it better than the “experts.”

11 thoughts on “Do you have what it takes homeschool a child with special needs?

  1. No. I did not have what it took to homeschool my special needs children. I had three children with special needs (autism). We had plenty of “homeschooling” after the actual schooling. We had to do homework, therapy exercises, fill out forms, etc. First they had school at school. Then they had school at home. I really needed a break while they were in school.

    1. Thank you for your comment. I absolutely understand what you’re saying. I am not advocating homeschooling for every family. I am mainly trying to encourage those who are considering homeschooling, or believe that they need to quit, that they can do it. I am not trying to discourage anyone who does not feel called to homeschool. In fact, for several reasons, I am not homeschooling my oldest daughter.

  2. Interesting blog and response by Ann Kilter. There’s no easy answer, but as a special educator my personal opinion is we can do a lot for families, but we do it together with them. That’s the most successful option I can point to.

    1. I agree, but I also believe parents who are willing to work hard have the advantage of a smaller student-teacher ratio and a teacher who knows them better than anyone else. I am not putting down teachers in any way. I have been one and I was passionate about doing my best for my students. Public school is a blessing to many families. But for those who want to homeschool, my encouragement to them is that it can be done.

      1. I needed the support of my local district, doctors, therapists, and community support group. Having a family member with autism can be very isolating. I don’t think that “working hard” is the determining factor. Anyone who knows me knows that I “worked hard” in raising my children, despite the fact that I sent them to public school.

        I feel it has more to do with ability, resources, logistics, and the fit between parent and child. All homeschooling is hard work, if done right. My brothers both home schooled their children (two sets of four). Their choice of homeschooling had a lot to do with rejecting the values of the public schools. My youngest brother was the primary teacher (he worked 2nd shift). In my other brother’s family, his wife was the primary teacher. Their child were not isolated at all, in case anyone thinks that is an argument against homeschooling. They took part in homeschooling groups, community college classes, drama, art, etc., with other students.

        I considered homeschooling. However, one of the major roadblocks was providing speech therapy, occupational therapy, learning disability services, social works. Those services are very expensive to provide on your own, and getting the public school district to provide them when the district is receiving no money for them, is a major battle. I have read stories about parents who succeeded at this, but really, I decided that my energy was needed elsewhere.

        In my research (in the 1990s), I found this group to be a good resource. They are a homeschooling support group for parents of children with special needs. Although I did not homeschool, I did use some of their materials and found encouragement in their articles and newsletters.

  3. Please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying that working hard is the determining factor. I’m saying that homeschooling is hard work, and that parents who do it have to be willing to work hard. Homeschooling isn’t for every parent, and it’s not for every child. As I said, I have a child who is not going to be home schooled. She will continue in public school. I understand that there are circumstances that would make public schooling more effective. I am in no way saying that all parents should homeschool, whether their children have disabilities or not. Parenting is always hard work. Having a child with special needs of any kind is even harder. And homeschooling on top of it all is harder still.
    Thank you for providing the link. I hope it will bless many people.
    I appreciate your perspective on this, and your willingness to dialogue about homeschooling children with special needs.

  4. Thank you for the encouraging article. I’m a parent of a special needs child who was in public school for 4 years and then a private school for 2 years which specialized in teaching children who learn differently. Beginning this fall I will be homeschooling.

    Our child was definitely overwhelmed by the public school approach of teaching grade level core standards even though he had not mastered the foundational concepts. Our son constantly compared himself to peers and his self-esteem plummeted. Private school was a blessing because there were smaller class sizes and core content groupings were based on ability. His self-esteem returned, however this past year we heard from his teachers our son needed one-on-one instruction to maintain attention in order to master the material.

    Homeschooling is the answer for our family. Where else would our child receive teaching at his current academic level with a student/teacher ratio of 1:1? Our family is excited to begin this journey together!

    1. Hi Jennifer! I’ve seen what you’re talking about so many times in the classroom, and it’s heartbreaking. I’m so glad you’re going to be able to homeschool your son. He will be blessed by having the one-on-one attention. If you have any questions about homeschooling, please let me know. I’m glad the article was an encouragement.

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