Choosing homeschool curriculum for a child with special needs

Choosing curriculum can be as individualized as choosing the right shoes

By Kathy Kuhl     Parents often ask me to recommend curriculum for their children with special needs. But it’s like asking me to recommend shoes. I have questions: what size, width, and activity? Any color you can’t stand? What have you tried and how did that work—or not?

Every child is unique, but here are my steps to shopping for curriculum.

1. Study your child first

and make a short list of their strengths, weaknesses, and interests. With a child with special needs, we parents are tempted to focus on weaknesses in basic skills and academics. List them, but also notice strengths. Passing math or spelling is something to celebrate! Being able to explain 27 kinds of horses, rocks, or locomotives is a strength—even if you hear way too much about it. Note those passions. If your child loves music, drawing, storytelling, or talking to people—even if they aren’t good at it yet—write that down. Build your plans around their passions, strengths, and weaknesses.

When you’ve got that written (keep it short), you are ready to:

2. Set goals for the year

  • Not too many. One new homeschooler showed me her goals for 3 months. It was much more than could be done in a year. You might hire a special education consultant to help you be realistic.
  • Don’t neglect basic life skills, whether it’s learning to wash hands, fix dinner, balance a checkbook, or deal with a disagreement with a friend. If the child is doing something that drives you crazy, like not putting away shoes, even that is a candidate for your list.

3. Network

Now that you know what you want to focus on, ask friends with kids with similar issues what they use. Don’t know anyone homeschooling a child like yours? Join Facebook groups and online forums. Search the groups’ archives, in case someone asked your question last year.

If you aren’t in any online groups yet, search for groups for “homeschool” plus whatever special needs you are working with; e.g. “homeschool deaf,” “homeschool dyslexic” and also more general lists, like “homeschool special needs.”

Look carefully to see who sponsors the forums. Bear in mind that a forum for users of one curriculum is likely to be 95-100% positive. Caveat emptor.

4. Please touch the products

If you can go to a convention, go. Handling the materials, you learn things a catalog or website won’t tell. How big is the type and spacing? Is it colorful? How many practice problems? Are they alternate versions of quizzes and tests? (Some of us need second and third chances.) Talk to the representatives—many know the products very well. These publishers are often small businesses and homeschool families, so support them by purchasing from them. If you need time to go home and think, do it.

If you cannot go to a convention, download samples, an examine them well. Take advantage of free trials.

5. Watch for bargains and surprises

Sometimes you’ll find something marvelous that doesn’t fit your plans. Perhaps you had other plans for science, but then you saw something you know your child would love. Does it fit your larger goals?

Last month I was looking for a pair of ivory pumps. I never imagined I’d buy pink slings. But I saw a cute, well-made pair, marked down. I realized they fit my wardrobe. I changed my plan, kept to my goal, and kept under budget.

By studying your child, setting goals, networking, handling the merchandise, and thinking creatively when you find unexpected bargains, you can turn the chore of shopping for curriculum, into—if not fun, at least a satisfying shopping experience.

This is adapted from a guest post that originally appeared on Jolanthe Erb’s blog.

My favorite source for reviews of individual curriculum is Cathy Duffy. My review of her book and online search tools is here. 

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  1. Sheryl Cook says:

    Hi Kathy I am homeschooling a Autistic and Intellectual Disability nonverbal child grade 5(1) what curriculum or any advice do you have for me?

    1. Sheryl, thanks for writing. What’s best depends on the child’s strengths, needs, and interests. Please use the contact form here, and I’ll send you some questions to answer before your free consultation.

  2. Abigail Preko says:

    Thank you for this article. I’m planning to homeschool my child who is autistic, non verbal, has intellectual disability and is 7 years old. My confusion now is what to include in our homeschool. Do I teach her maths, English, science, arts…I really need help.

    1. Abigail, thank you for asking. While I’ve helped or interviewed parents homeschooling students with autism, students who are non-verbal, and students with intellectual disabilities, I have not worked with students with all three.
      But I would start by reading Judi Munday’s book, Teaching a Child with Special Needs at Home and at School. She has retired but still talks with parents by telephone, so after reading her book, I would contact her through her website. That link and my review of her book is here:

      I have also replied in more detail by email to the questions you sent with the contact form.