by Kathy Kuhl
As you homeschool a child with special needs, look beyond your homeschool community for help. Other parents, advocacy groups, friends, family, and your place of worship can aid and encourage you.
Parents with a special needs child like yours can support you, even if they don’t homeschool. Years ago, one mother told me it was easier to explain homeschooling to parents of other children with autism, than to explain autism to homeschoolers. Her daughter succeeded in small group activities sponsored by a local autism group, after homeschool group activities had proven too difficult.
Patient advocacy groups love to help, whether you have a formal diagnosis or not. For instance, I’ve learned a lot from joining CHADD (Children and Adults with AD/HD) and Learning Disabilities Association. The successful adults with AD/HD are fun to be with and they encourage my son. And our presence reminds people that homeschooling works. Check your local chapters of the Down Syndrome Association, the ARC, and other nonprofits. They help many families with special needs, not just the kinds listed on their mission statements.
Have a gifted child? Check out SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted), Hoagie’s Gifted Education page, and the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum.
Not sure if your child is gifted? Relax: you don’t need an official diagnosis to benefit from these resources. My son is has a fantastic memory for history and details of stories. But for him to learn reading or math facts was torture. Sound familiar? Some children are “twice-exceptional” or “2E,” that is, gifted and learning disabled. Check out the resources for parents of twice-exceptional students, including The 2e Newsletter and Uniquely Gifted.
When you join any group for parents of children with special needs, don’t take it personally if folks respond slowly or seem somewhat disorganized. The leaders are also busy managing special children. Keep your expectations modest.
Beyond groups, look for informal support. Sometimes calling an old friend, even one with no children with disabilities, can help you get through a tough day. The joy of helping new homeschoolers can encourage you and remind you how much you’ve learned.
Can your extended family help? Family may provide respite care or teach your child a skill. My father came and taught history once a week for years. Several families told me that cousins have been dear friends to their children with special needs.
Your house of worship can support you. Though some families cannot attend services because of their children’s special needs, some churches have begun special needs ministries. (See Stephanie Hubach’s booklet, All Things Possible: Calling Your Church Leadership to Embrace Disability Ministry.) In Virginia, McLean Bible Church is a leader in providing services, including a special summer camp and a separate camp for siblings of children with special needs. They also host The Accessibility Summit, a national conference for “families and caregivers, faith-based organizations, service providers, teachers, and other professionals connected to the special needs community.” Know someone who should attend?
Sadly, finding support can be a struggle. We may arrive at support groups hoping for help, when their leaders are barely keeping up. So look for ways to encourage others. Enjoy what resources you can find. Cherish those growing friendships. And don’t forget to enjoy your children. Their developing gifts, their patience, their smiles, are all gifts to you.