Thinking About Special Needs


Growing up it was quite rare for me to come into contact with an individual that had special needs. As I’ve gotten older it has become much more prevalent. There are many who believe that children today are misdiagnosed with disorders such as ADHD/ADD, sensory disorders, or even autism. Some diagnoses today I don’t even know what they mean by the term. Other special needs we can readily see, such as Down Syndrome or Cerebral Palsy.

Before you get defensive, I’m not stating that these children do or don’t have whatever they are diagnosed with. For the purpose of this post, it really does not matter if they do or do not. Rather this post is about understanding what it means when a child or adult is diagnosed with a disorder, of any kind. What matters is how you react to the child and their family.

Thinking About Special Needs -- how to support homeschool families with special needs. hsbapost.com

It is human nature to shun what we don’t understand; to avoid what makes us uncomfortable. One reason I think I did not have contact with special needs children or adults while I was growing up is because they were not included in the general activities as all the other kids. They instead were kept to a room or building where others “like them” could be taught and cared for. {This also isn’t a post about whether that is right or wrong, then or now.}

Nowadays there is a much stronger push for inclusion in schools and so society in general may be getting a more realistic view of what it is like for those with special needs. Those children in those classrooms see that the child with special needs struggles with sitting still, talking quietly, learning to read, working on math, etc.

It is amazing how many homeschoolers I have come into contact, in real life but more through online correspondence, who are working with children with special needs. It is tough! But at the same time, those families are learning something that other families may not be learning: what it takes to step out of yourself for the sake of another.

By that statement I am not saying that homeschooling families of children with special needs are superior to other homeschooling families. But you would be shortchanging them if you made a statement that they don’t have more of a struggle. They require a strength that some others do not possess because they have never had to work that part of themselves because they do not have special needs in their lives.

So what I’m proposing is for us to put ourselves out there for those families with members with special needs. Take time to support the entire family.


  • Ask questions to better help understand the situation and circumstance.
  • Be humble.
  • Offer support that will be beneficial to the child and family (be careful to give support that is not self-serving).
  • Take time on your own to research the particular needs so that you can be better equipped to help the family as they need it.


  • Do not be belligerent or tell them that their child (or other member of the family) doesn’t have whatever diagnosis that is stated.
  • Don’t tell the family what they should do for their child or situation. Offer humble advice that is based on relevant experience and understanding of their situation.
  • Don’t avoid the family because you don’t understand the needs. (See “Do” list.)
  • Do not take it personal if the child or parents do not want to talk about their situation. Each person and family are different. Respect their space and them as people.

What are some specific ways we can support those with special needs? Does your family have special needs? If so, what are some of the ways others can help you?

North Laurel (35 Posts)

Blossom- "North Laurel" to the online world- lives in Ohio with her husband and two teens, homeschooling the Charlotte Mason way with Ambleside Online. She is graciously allowed to be a moderator for the Ambleside Online Forum. North Laurel loves to read, be on the computer, and learn. You can read her blogging about homeschooling, book reviews and life in general at North Laurel's Musings.

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Evaluating Learning Gaps


Evaluating Learning Gaps in your Homeschool. hsbapost.com

Homeschoolers can become confused and frustrated by the unevenness of learning, and seemingly gaping holes in their child’s understanding. When you wonder if you’ve finally met your match because your kid is just not getting it. Or you’re subjecting yourself to all kinds of guilt because maybe your kid should have been evaluated by a professional for a learning disability after all.  And the worry that this particular delay or issue doesn’t fall within the parameters of “normal”. Oh the anxiety produced when we second-guess ourselves and doubt our ability to recognize our child’s needs! And all too often, we are subjecting ourselves to much of that anxiety because we are comparing ourselves and our kids to others or to an unrealistic standard.

Now, I’m not saying that learning disabilities and challenges aren’t real. As Leah explained in “Does Your Child Need a Special Needs Label?” there are cases in which a formal evaluation and diagnosis can be very helpful in addressing a child’s specific needs. And I add my encouragement to parents to trust their own instinct and knowledge about their child as to whether pursuing a diagnosis would be a wise move.

The reality is that even kids without a special needs label can experience a real difficulty in one subject area even though they do fine, or excel in others. It’s also a reality that kids can hit a roadblock in their learning that slows their progress significantly, even though they don’t have a specific learning disability that is causing their slowdown. If you’re puzzled by a student that is surging ahead in some subjects and stymied by others, or seems to be completely stuck in understanding a concept, how do you handle it?

Let me offer two suggestions to combat the worry: Put the problem in perspective. Resist the temptation to compare unrealistically.

Most importantly, I believe you need perspective on the problem. Is this roadblock another piece in a puzzle that is starting to look like a special need or learning disability? If it’s something that’s part of a bigger picture that your gut says you should pay attention to, then do what you need to do. But it’s also possible that your child just needs a little extra time or a different approach. Try to look at that big picture. As an example, one of my students learned letters and phonic sounds easily by first grade, but then seemed to hit a wall when it came to sounding out words of more than three letters. A word like “spill” would come out as “slip” even though the sounds were in the right order when done individually. We were getting nowhere fast in second grade reading. And I worried. I worried because an older sibling had learned to read almost effortlessly, so I was sure that either I was doing something terribly wrong, or this child had a learning disability. Turns out I was exaggerating. When I did some research and consulted a good friend who was an early education specialist, I found out that a child’s mental ability to put together the “puzzle pieces” of something they understand into a bigger picture develops anywhere between five and eight years old. Was my child dyslexic? Quite possibly, but since he had never reversed numbers or written numbers or letters backwards, it didn’t seem as likely any more. So I relaxed and waited, and sure enough, that child learned to read.

As students get older, and move past the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic, you may find that a kid that is going along great guns in every subject except one that they just don’t seem to grasp. The problem can become something akin to a special need during the high school years when subject areas overlap or one is dependent on another. A student that struggles with reading comprehension will be slowed down in almost every subject. A student that struggles with math and is “behind” grade level in that area will have a really tough time in the sciences that are so dependent on formulas and equations. I’ve got a student that does great in every subject area except math. And I can sympathize, because I’m somewhat math-challenged myself! This is where homeschooling can be such a blessing, because we can keep working at finding the curriculum and resources that make math understandable, without sticking a “remedial” label on it. We can keep working to interest and ability in the subjects that are strengths while finding workable solutions for learning the things that are not coming easily.

There will be learning gaps and uneven places in any education. Gaps where information was missed, and gaps where one concept or skill was elusive while others were mastered. Uneven places where learning moved quickly in one area but stumbled along in another, or where some subject areas had to be put on hold until the student could catch up in another area. Homeschooling offers the benefit of being able to adjust course for the uneven places, and come up with individualized solutions for filling in the gaps as we recognize them. This very ordinary – yet very special – need for overcoming an individual struggle is one we’ll all face at some point in our education.


Kym (14 Posts)

Kym is in the middle of her 17th year of homeschooling her four kids, two of whom have graduated. She and her husband of 27 years are Canadians transplanted to Maryland. Kym loves coffee, history, and homeschooling, and you can join her for coffee break at her blog, Homeschool Coffee Break.

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Your Child Has Special Needs, Too

Your Child Has Special Needs Too

“My kids don’t go to school?”

[silence, mild contemplation]

“Do you homeschool them or something?”

“Well, we don’t use that term….but yeah.”


“My kids have special needs.”

“Oh.” [apologetically]

[end of conversation]

Now, in general I don’t short-circuit the homeschooling conversation like that. I actually very much prefer to go on the offensive until the inquiring party gets defensive and tries to break free!

But I certainly always have that retort in reserve and you are welcome to use my special needs silencer to ward off interrogations yourself.

It’s all aboveboard because as far as I’m concerned, and with all due respect, ALL CHILDREN have special needs.

Yes, many can claim medical and/or psychological distinction (ADHD, dyslexia, Apsergers, autism, etc.) but I submit that all other kids also may especially NEED:

  • To sleep more
  • To be outside more, if not all day
  • To spend copious time in solitude
  • To accelerate their education
  • To be constantly moving (i.e. can’t sit all day long!)
  • To read a ton
  • To be around their family a lot
  • To have vast creative space for art/music/dance
  • Etc.

I’m always talking to parents who are upset and frustrated that their kids can’t sit still in school, can’t focus on the assigned tasks, and are being strongly advised to medicate…

The first thing I do is try to flip their moods around.

I say that the fact that their child has energy and is self-directed is a HUGE POSITIVE for their long-term development. I point out that some of the most successful people ever to walk the earth have shared those same gifts.

And I assert that if their child was doing well in school. If they could competently sit for hours on end, blindly take orders and jump through hoops….if they were unstirred by any internal passions then they would have a MUCH BIGGER PROBLEM on their hands.

The fact is, all children, including yours, have prodigious latent talent, gifts, and energy bottled up inside them.

And if they (and you) aren’t aware of them…

Well they aren’t in an environment or on a plan to unlock their full-potential.

If you don’t take steps, SOON, to drastically change the situation….there will be unpleasant long-term consequences, painful side effects all-around, i.e. for them AND you.

Jim Rohn has famously said, “Potential underutilized leads to pain.”

I know I can attest to that personally and I bet you can, too.


Dan (21 Posts)

Husband to Inez. Father of John and Christine. Homeschool Coach, Accelerated Math Teacher. Former derivatives trader and future scratch golfer! Follow our learning adventures at HomeschoolDad.com.

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