Teaching A Special Needs Child

Recently, I did a radio show on this very subject and I felt like I needed to share what I shared on the show. You see, I, too, know the struggles and intricacies of homeschooling a special needs child…I actually have two. The list I’m going to give is in no way exhaustive. It’s just a hodgepodge, if you will, of things I have figured out in my journey.

*Denial is your enemy—recognize that there is a special need. This is the first step and usually the hardest. Finding out that your child has a special need changes your whole world. Adaptions have to be made. Diets have to be tweaked. Triggers have to be removed. Help may need to be sought out. Not wanting to realize the possibility can be more hurtful than anything.

*You CAN teach your child! This was one thing that took me a while to grab a hold to. I had people coming at me from every direction recommending doctors, the school system, special schools…everything. Not that it wasn’t useful information, but I felt like that’s the road I had to take…until I started traveling it. A Facebook friend posted a list of curriculum companies that offer materials for special needs kids. I printed that list out and saw some familiar names. It was then that I realized that I could do this!

*Pay attention to HOW your child best learns and retains information. Use this to your advantage. If they learn best with songs, find a way to incorporate that. For example, my middle daughter learns best through music. It didn’t hit me until her older sister was having trouble remembering what a noun was. Well, this little one began singing a song about nouns that she’d learned from the show “Super Why.” She also likes singalong songs with the words on the screen…that’s how she practices reading.

*Realize and hone the skills that they already have. Mistakes can be made here. Sometimes in our hurry to find the best thing at the best price, we sometimes buy things we don’t need and possibly can’t return or resell. I’ve been there. I almost spent $200 on phonics games, flashcards, and the like…I forgot that my daughter was already reading! Fortunately, I hadn’t ordered anything and was able to go back to the drawing board.

*Realize that technology does have its place with a child with special needs. We hear a lot of talk about eliminating screen time and the argument has its validity. However, children with special needs just may need the screen time. There are hundreds of apps, games, and resources out there that can enhance what you’re already doing or open up a totally new area of learning experiences. And it can also help in other instances such as during car trips, doctor visits, and sometimes even church!

*Recognize that a daily routine may work better than a daily schedule. One thing about my daughter is that she doesn’t have a concept of time, but she judges when it’s time to do things by what PBS show is on. If Curious George is on, she knows breakfast is coming. If Daniel Tiger is going off, she knows it’s time to do tablet time with me or her Dad. Once Thomas goes off, it’s time to come to the table with Mom for lessons and lunch. You may need to use a visual reinforcement board to help your child learn the sequence of their day.

*Allow extra time for the both of you to grasp what you’re trying to accomplish. Rome was not built in a day and it is going to take time for the goals you have as a family to be met. You may have to school year round, have longer days with breaks every so often, or even add in the weekends. It’s necessary for you and your child to get into a good rhythm together. When you rush or don’t have realistic, attainable goals, both of you end up stressed out and ready to throw in the towel.

*Take advantage of times where your child shows that they want to do things. They may want to do it 87 times in a row, but they are still learning. When they want to read a book, stop and read. When they want to go over that favorite learning activity again, add a little extra to it and play on! Keep singing that song. Keep coloring those pictures. Keep those smiles on their faces.

*When using formal curriculum, make sure that it fits what your child needs. We all have our go-tos, but they may not be right for that child. For instance, I love Heart of Dakota, but ABeka works better because of the reviews, games, and other reinforcements. What do I do? I mix the two! I follow the teacher’s guide from Heart of Dakota, but I use ABeka’s material and it works for her.

*Don’t allow people to downplay what you’re trying to do in homeschooling your child. People will tell you that you’re not trained or equipped for what you’re doing. They will tell you that therapy at home is impossible and not a good thing to try. They will tell you that you aren’t enough. I heard all of that…and still do at times, but I let it all roll off because I know the goals that I have for my child and I know that I have found what works best for her.

*Pray, Read, Research, Plan, and Adapt! This is my formula. This is my law. There is so much out there. If you find something cool and new, see if it will mesh with your program. Take the time to seek out credible homeschool articles and blogs about not only special needs children, but also your child’s particular special need. New things are discovered and created daily! Never be afraid to change things up. If it’s broke, fix it! And always, always, always keep your family before the Lord in prayer…ask for strength, guidance, wisdom, stability…help. The peace you will feel can’t be imagined.


Tammie P.

Effective Tutor Specializing in Early Childhood and Elementary Ed

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