Deciding to homeschool a special needs child can be challenging and rewarding. My granddaughter, Maggie, has severe cerebral palsy. Some of Maggie’s CP symptoms include – she can’t verbally speak, use her arms and hands well, walk, move on her own, or express herself in words. That can be challenging when it comes to homeschooling her along with her siblings. Despite the challenges, when Maggie was 5, her mother decided to teach her at home.
Maggie’s now 12 and attends a regular middle school. She still has all of the same physical difficulties that she had when she was five, however, schooling at home for a number of years was one of the reasons that Maggie was able to transition so well into public classes.
During those homeschooling years we learned some things that made our efforts more successful:
• Be patient
• Let them do everything they can even if the results don’t meet your expectations
• Help as much as they need, they will still feel accomplished. Sometimes, Maggie needs a lot of help. However, at the end of any project, even if she has needed a great deal of help, Maggie smiles as if she did it all by herself.
• If your child is non-verbal develop a system so they can answer questions. (Maggie can point to one of two or three fingers to answer yes or no questions and even more detailed questions. For example: Do you want to color the shirt in red, blue or something else?)
• Remember, they are just like any child in their need to do and learn.
• They are interested in the same things as other children their age.
• Don’t be afraid to let them try. They aren’t afraid to try!
• If possible, find others who can help you a day or two a week.
Here is an example in one of those early at home, school days with Maggie
One of the things that increased the success level for Maggie was finding her a special friend who would come and help one day a week. This gave Jodie a break or allowed her to work with the other children. Cindi Walker was a neighbor and went to church with Jodie and her family. She became a good friend and then transitioned to being a very special friend to Maggie.
The photos and example below occurred when Maggie was six, her brother Jack was four and her sister Mary was 2.
A homeschool day for Cindy and Maggie
When Cindy came she had learning activities that she could help Maggie do despite her physical limitations. She included Jack and Mary if they were interested. Sometimes they were but Maggie was 6 and so many of her activities just didn’t hold their attention.
On this day Maggie was learning about the letter “M”. Her lips do not close like most children’s so it was an
extraordinary challenge for Maggie. We hoped she would eventually be able to say this important letter. (Maggie is still non-verbal but the effort to teach her to speak was fun for both her and those of us who worked with her. She does say the letter I perfectly.)
In order to practice using the ‘m’ sound Cindy helped Maggie make a collage of many different pictures all starting with M. Cindy had pre-cut the pictures but helped Maggie use the glue stick and stick them on the paper. When the collage was finished Cindi would say the M word and then Maggie would give it a try.
Next, they read a darling picture story about “Mary, the Mouse with Measles” which Cindi had written. Maggie loved reading the story and so did her siblings, Jack and Mary.
Cindy and Maggie were putting a “Learning Journal” together. Cindy would help Maggie hold a pencil and write. On this day they wrote about the trip that they all had taken to the Utah School for the Deaf when Maggie’s had her ears tested. Here is what they wrote together: “Jack and I had our hearing tested. We can hear.” (Cindy asked Maggie, “Do we need a period or an exclamation mark?”) Then they practiced saying “We can hear” with emphasis!
While Maggie was busy learning Jack was all over the table and chairs
blowing his train whistle, eating cookies and making comments. He also turned the popcorn popper lid into a Darth Vader mask. Cindy is VERY patient with Maggie and all her siblings.
Maggie drew some “M” pictures with special crayons. She loved and still does, working at holding on to things with her hands and seeing the result.
Of course, they ended their “m” session by eating marshmallows. Maggie enjoyed that the most!
To finish off the day Cindy read to the children from the classic “The Secret Garden”. This book did NOT appeal to Jack or Mary but Cindi remained patient with their wiggles and giggles.
Homeschooling a special needs child can be a successful adventure. It is worth giving it a try. If your child comes to a point where they need more than you can give them at home, their time at home will be a great foundation.
How do you make homeschool work for your special needs child?
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