by Kathy Kuhl
Preparing to homeschool children with special needs? It can be scary. Before we start, we plan special curriculum, therapy, and accommodations for our child’s special needs; draft a schedule, and work out logistics. Whew!
But don’t overlook a vital part of your homeschool plan: taking care of yourself.
Some of us already get help from therapists, doctors, psychologists, and special education consultants. But we also need help that requires no advanced training. Support groups can help us keep going.
Imagine you’re just arrived at a homeschool support group. One parent is thrilled about their child who won a scholarship. But you are happy your sixth grader just learned to count to a hundred. Will anyone understand your joy? Feelings of isolation can cause parents to stop looking for support.
Why keep trying? Two reasons:
We need people. It may take time to find the right place and to adjust our expectations, but people were made to be in community.
People need us. Someone else may have a child like ours, or know a parent who does. Our sensitivity to others, humor, and perseverance will encourage others. As Stephanie Hubach says in Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched By Disability, every person is made in the image of God, so each one is valuable.
How to approach homeschool support groups
First, look for common goals. Whatever our children’s abilities, we all want them to be honest, caring people who try hard. Second, don’t be touchy. Be ready to rejoice with that parent whose child won the scholarship. Third, look for folks who will celebrate our children’s progress and perseverance.
Groups differ in their personalities and interests. We may have to try a few to find a good fit. In some areas, there may not be a suitable homeschool group. Or we may find a great group, but no one there has challenges anything like ours. How can we find people who understand our particular situations? It can take time and effort.
Look online, too. Online groups designed for homeschoolers with children with special needs include the Yahoo! Groups Homeschool_SpecialNeedsKidz, GIFTSNC, and HS-Plus. Some homeschool forums have subgroups for families with special needs. There are online groups for homeschoolers with particular challenges, such as the Yahoo’s Homeschooling and Down Syndrome and this group of diverse families who homeschool their child(ren) with autism. Like all groups, they vary in their beliefs and personalities. Try one. Post a short introduction, (without your last name or identifying information), read other posts, and learn. To find a Yahoo group (or “list”), go to groups.yahoo.com, and search for the groups listed above, or enter “homeschool” plus whatever condition your child has.
If you find a good group online, you may find it addictive. Don’t lose sleep over it! And beware of the artificial intimacy created by sharing concerns with strangers. They may not be what they seem.
Virtual communities can’t take the place of local communities. Members of these online support groups cannot meet you for coffee or bring chicken soup when you are sick. So don’t quit your local group.
How do you find support? Share your ideas in the comment section below.
(For ideas on how those who don’t homeschool can still support your homeschool, read this.)