Special Needs Homeschooling

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homeschooling a special needs child
Homeschooling a special needs child is definitely not a simple task. The great news, though, is that even though it’s not easy, it can be very rewarding and is never boring! I have been homeschooling my autistic daughter since she was 3 years old. She will be 17 this summer, so it’s been about 14 years of struggle, work, and tears. It has also been 14 years of love, progress, and encouragement. I definitely believe that, while homeschooling a special needs child is a huge task full of obstacles, it is absolutely worth it!

If you have an autistic child, you know that people with autism vary greatly in their abilities. Hannah is totally non-verbal. She also has very poor motor skills. This combination has made homeschooling quite a challenge. When she was small, I knew that ABA therapy was best for her. Since she’s gotten older, though, it’s been harder to decide what is best for her. I feel like she has outgrown the need for such an intensive program. I also feel like she is capable of doing more of her work in a way that is as close as possible to the way “typical” students do their school work.

For the reasons listed above, I’m trying a “new” method with Hannah right now. I basically use the same materials with her that I use with her brother. He is 15 years old, so using his school books and materials definitely still teaches her what she needs to know, but it’s a couple of years behind her age/grade level, so it makes it easier for her to process the information.

As far as exactly how I teach her, it’s really a rather simple process. What I typically do with Hannah is this: Let’s say, for example, that I am teaching her history class. First I read a short passage to her. It may be just a paragraph or two depending upon how much information is contained in that particular passage. Then, if there are terms or information that she might not understand, I stop and explain them to her. She often has trouble understanding unfamiliar ideas. If I relate them to something she already knows, though, that makes it much easier for her. I spend as much or as little time explaining to her as I think she needs, so it varies greatly from day to day depending upon what we’re studying.

Once I’ve read and, if necessary, explained the passage to her, I ask her a question about what we just read. Since she’s non-verbal, I write down three potential answers—each answer on a little slip of paper. I let her watch as I write each answer and read it aloud as I write it. That way she can hear me read each answer, watch me write each answer, and see where I place each answer on the table. I feel like that helps her process each answer and makes it much more likely that she will choose the answer that she really believes is correct instead of just choosing a random answer. I spread the 3 slips of paper out a little on the table so she won’t accidentally touch two answers at once and so her choice will be clear to me. Then I allow her to choose the answer she thinks is correct.

Usually I feel like she tries to choose the correct answer. If, however, she looks confused or seems to be simply choosing an answer without really understanding what she’s choosing, I review the information with her, go over the potential answers again, and give her another chance to choose. If she still can’t answer, then I read the correct answer to her and show her the information in the book (or whatever resource we are using for the lesson) to reinforce the answer in her mind.

I try once a week or so to review the most important information we learned that week. I also occasionally go over information from previous weeks. That is another way I can tell that she’s really learning and not just guessing and getting the answers right.

If it will be helpful, I will be happy to tell you about other methods of homeschooling I used with Hannah when she was younger and before she was able to use this method successfully. Because my space is limited, though, I’ll stop here. I’d like to end by saying that, while homeschooling an autistic child is difficult, it is absolutely do-able. Please don’t give up or think that you aren’t capable. If I can do it, so can you! And hooray for your willingness to do what’s best for your special needs child—no matter what his or her diagnosis may be. You can do it, and may God bless you in your homeschooling efforts!

Wendy lives in the South with her wonderful hubby and 3 great kiddos! She is a Christian, homeschooling, work-from-home mom. She and Scott were high school sweethearts and have been married for more than 20 years. Her oldest child has autism, and Wendy began homeschooling her at age 3. Her son, a typical boy, would rather do anything than school! Her youngest child is a little social butterfly and people lover. Wendy loves reading and quilting and will hopefully return to scrapbooking some time soon. Wendy is the co-owner of the Hip Homeschool Moms. You can visit her personal blog at Homeschooling Blessings.

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  1. Wendy,
    Thank you so much for sharing your honesty about what it’s like to homeschool a child with special needs and your approach. Although our specific special needs challenges are different, I can completely relate to the struggles and triumphs you experience with Hannah as you meet her where she’s at. It isn’t easy to parent or teach a child with special needs, but so worth it and such a blessing.

    I often find that I struggle most to help our 6 year old son when I am not meeting him where he is and instead creating expectations that are beyond him and don’t address him, specifically. When he was born with Pfeiffer Syndrome and a severe hearing loss, I worried about and wondered what his future would look like, if I was capable of being what he needed me to be.

    And then I gave it all to God and those fears were quickly replaced with the knowledge that we, as his parents, were given this special gift (as with all of our children) and He equipped us with all that we need to parent, love and educate these specific children. It is challenging, but like you said…doable and a blessing. I am so thankful for the the privilege of raising and teaching the sons that I have and I know that you feel the same way about your sweet kiddos.

    Thank you Wendy for sharing your heart here and thank you Carlie for hosting an awesome series that, I know will bless many!!!

    Love Megan

    1. Megan, your comment shows your sweet heart and love for your children! You are so right that we must give our lives and our children’s lives to God and He will give us the direction and patience and ability to do whatever we need to do. It’s definitely NOT easy, but the blessings are worth it. And even though our struggles are often very different from those of parents of “typical” children, it’s so good to know that God loves and directs us whether we are homeschooling special needs kiddos or typically developing kids. Many blessings to you as you continue to homeschool all of your children! And thank you, Carlie, for hosting this series!

  2. Really good ideas. It is nice to hear from a mom who has seen her special child through so much of the homeschooling process. God bless your family.

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