In our series of benefits of homeschooling kids with special needs, we’ve covered from planning to teaching strategies and assessments as well as how to provide feedback. But what else can you do to help your child achieve greater success and prepare them beyond academics?
Your child may excel in certain topics, perform at average levels in some skill or knowledge areas, and struggle with specific subjects or tasks. You may find that, even if good performance is achieved in academics, your child with special needs still has challenges with things like self-confidence, social skills, or organization.
In a typical school situation, parents may have little input into the actual content that is being taught. However, because you are homeschooling your child with special needs, you have the flexibility to supplement typical “academic” instruction with additional content that can benefit your child. How do you choose among the multitude of possibilities?
We’ve got some suggestions:
Including Areas of Strength or Interest
Your child with special needs may find regular academic subjects challenging, but your child also has strengths and areas of interest. Although, in a typical school situation, teachers may be limited in their time or in their ability to tailor content to individuals, you do have that luxury as a homeschool parent. Children with learning differences may find that success in academics takes additional focus and time, and they may find that—despite their best efforts—they still experience setbacks. This may affect their self-confidence and motivation.
As a homeschool parent, you can tailor instruction to include areas of interest, and you can make sure that your child has opportunities to succeed. For example, you can incorporate a favorite character into learning about a topic that may not be otherwise interesting to your child. Skills practice, like learning math facts or spelling, can be done through activities that are fun for your child (e.g., throwing a ball, shooting baskets, or using shaving cream on the bathtub wall). You can also schedule learning that tends to be more successful right after an area of challenge. If you have the time, you can even include additional learning related to an area of strength. If your child loves art, why not include short art sessions each day, particularly after difficult topics?
Supporting Executive Function
In typical school settings, children may understand academic content and demonstrate skills but still earn poor grades. They forget or lose homework, get overwhelmed with information, or procrastinate. They have trouble starting tasks or finishing them to completion, or they underestimate the time a task will take. Often, such issues are due to difficulties with executive function.
There are many different lists of executive function skills depending on the researcher and theory. For example, Dawson & Guare (2010) list these 12 skills: planning/prioritization, task initiation, organization, time management, goal-directed persistence, working memory, sustained attention, flexibility, metacognition (thinking about one’s own thinking), response inhibition, emotional control, and stress tolerance.
As a homeschool parent, you can teach your child with special needs specific strategies for dealing with challenges in these areas. You can model your own successful strategies and expose your child to various strategies in areas where there may be challenges. For example, you may be able to help your child estimate how long a task will take, break down large tasks into smaller subtasks, use a planner to schedule due dates for these subtasks, and set goals for completion.
Building Social Skills
Part of executive function is being able to regulate emotions and monitor one’s behavior. All children can have difficulties in these areas. What may result are challenges with social interactions. Since the day that you started homeschooling, you likely have explained how your child will “get socialized” to many critics. The truth is that your child with special needs may flourish socially within the homeschool setting but may need additional, more direct instruction when it comes to social interactions in less familiar settings. Luckily, there are methods for teaching social skills to children with special needs. Here are a few based on Webster (2020):
- Social conventions: Your child with special needs may not notice and/or understand social conventions like greetings, manners, turn taking, sharing, and cooperation. He/she may not grasp how to alter conversation and behavior when in the presence of adults versus peers. As a homeschool parent, you can weave in direct instruction and role-playing of these behaviors and then practice and provide feedback outside of the homeschool.
- Self-management: As with academics, your child with special needs may not find monitoring or regulating emotions to be easy. As a homeschool parent, you can bring awareness to your child’s emotional states, discuss behaviors, and offer alternative behaviors.
- Interpersonal skills: As a homeschool parent, you can model appropriate social interactions, create scripts for different social scenarios, and role-play. You can also infuse social stories and other text-based or video-based resources into subject areas to help your child notice and learn from described or observed social situations.
Teaching social skills to students with disabilities using the above methods can be particularly effective through homeschooling because social skills learning can be generalized and practiced beyond the school day. This continuation of learning is what may be lacking in typical school social skills instruction, but it won’t be for you!
In typical school situations, if children with special needs are lucky, their parents advocate for them. However, if those same children are not taught to advocate for themselves at some point, they reach college or employment (where different laws are in place) and find that their parents may not be able or even allowed to advocate for them any longer.
As a homeschool parent, you are in a unique position to teach your child with special needs how to advocate in an appropriate way. As with social skills, you can model, observe, discuss, and role-play situations where self-advocacy is necessary. Then you can practice out in the “real world.” Start with simple, non-threatening requests, like asking for a book at the library before moving to requests based on what your child needs for success.
This article ends the series about the benefits of homeschooling your child with special needs. We hope that you have found the suggestions useful and encourage you to continue doing what you are doing—supporting your child with special needs with the best opportunities for success!