by Kathy Kuhl
In three weeks, I’m going to a special event in Orlando. Not Disney World, not Harry Potter World, but a special needs homeschool conference for gifted and struggling learners. Here’s why you should go. Or, if you cannot, here’s why to attend one of the others listed below.
Homeschooling a child with challenges can feel lonely. When I homeschooled, the only woman I knew with a kid like mine (bright, distractible, dyslexic boy) lived 600 miles away. We exchanged many emails, but never met.
But at a struggling learner homeschool conference, you’ll find many people who understand your situation. You can make new friends. Even if their children’s needs are very different, the struggle to help our children and to find what works for them binds us.
The first homeschooling special needs conference I attended was GIFTSNC in Cary, North Carolina. Seven valiant families with children with special needs sponsored a very professional event for several years, beginning in 2006. Our local special needs homeschool support group began when eight women drove down from Virginia to attend. Most of us didn’t know each other. But we met in the hotel lobby and could not stop talking. Though our kids differed, we had so much in common. What an unexpected blessing to make local friends at an out-of-state conference!
Most homeschool conventions have only a few speakers on giftedness, struggling learners, or special needs, if any. But you will find a schedule full of workshops to choose from in Orlando, at the Florida Parent Educators Association Special Needs Conference for Gifted and Struggling Learners. (See link below.) You’ll find workshops focused on particular disorders or challenges, on particular academic subjects, as well as ones aimed at helping you navigate challenges that apply to anyone homeschooling a struggling learner.
And when I say struggling and challenges, I include giftedness. It’s a challenge to teach a gifted or twice-exceptional child. Twice-exceptional simply means a student is gifted and has a learning disability. See the link below to my recent post.
From peers and from podiums, you will hear from people who’ve helped their children and teens face all kinds of challenges. This won’t simply be information; it will also enrich your homeschooling and help you feel less alone and more confident.
Take keynote speaker Steve Demme. Best known as the author of Math-U-See, Steve has a son with special needs. Steve is wise, funny, and encouraging.
Which vendors come to a special needs/gifted homeschool conference? Ones who are committed to helping our community. The vendor hall won’t be as big as the ones at huge conferences, but more of the representatives will have kids with special needs and know what we need.
If you attend, remember to support these vendors as best you can. It costs vendors money to attend conferences. Just renting a table typically costs hundreds of dollars, to say nothing of the travel expenses for each person behind each table. Want to see more vendors? Vote with your wallet.
5. Serve Families
Want to help families with special needs in your region? Know a leader who’d like to? These conferences are a great place to meet and network with other leaders with a heart for special needs families. I’ve seen board members from many different state organizations exchange ideas and share their vision. Ultimately, this benefits other homeschooling families with struggling learners.
If you cannot come, encourage your state homeschool organization to send a board member. Last time I attended FPEA’s struggling learner/gifted conference, I met leaders from many states, including Arizona. A few weeks ago, they launched their first special needs conference. Thank you, AFHE!
If you usually avoid conferences because of the hassle, reconsider. I know finding child care or traveling with kids with challenges can be tough. But the hospitality extended here may make you rethink. FPEA has done a wonderful job of thinking about the needs of families with exceptional children. For example, vendor hall aisles are wide enough to make wheelchair access easy. They chose the hotel carefully.
Can’t make it to FPEA’s conference, held in Orlando every year the weekend before Thanksgiving? AFHE (Arizona Families for Home Education) held their first gifted/struggling learner conference October 6-7, and a board member told me they plan to grow that event annually.
Another way to keep up on these events is to get HSLDA’s special needs/struggling learner newsletter. Because their wonderful special need consultants are often speaking at such conferences, you’ll learn about opportunities you might be able to attend.
Know of other gifted/struggling learner/special needs homeschool conferences? Post details below, please.
- Florida Parent Educators Association Special Needs Conference for gifted and struggling learners
- Arizona’s Special Needs and Gifted Learners Conference
- HSLDA’s Special Needs/Struggling Learner newsletter
- Some of the largest conventions have the resources to include special needs tracks, such as all five of the Great Homeschool Conventions (SC, TX, OH, CA, and MO), THSC, HEAV, and FPEA.
- My article “If You’re Smart, Why Don’t You Get It?” about gifted/struggling learners