Homeschooling has been growing in popularity, particularly in recent years, as increasing numbers of parents become dissatisfied with their children’s schooling and more aware of the benefits homeschooling offers.
However, for parents of children with special needs, the decision to homeschool seems more complicated. They wonder if they can meet their children’s unique needs in a homeschool environment or if the services offered at school are what’s truly best.
I asked homeschool graduate and special education expert Margaret Walsh her advice for parents considering the homeschool option for their special needs children. Here’s what she said.
The Epoch Times: You were raised as a homeschooler from kindergarten through high school. How has homeschooling impacted your life?
Margaret Walsh: Homeschooling has impacted my life in many ways. It helped foster independent thought and learning and a desire to find the truth, something I highly value. I learned how to apply myself and how to study, when to apply principles to everyday life, and how to be creative with both my lifestyle and work ethic. Because of all these things, I have been able to lead an active life and find a fulfilling career that impacts the lives of others in a meaningful way.
Being homeschooled gave me the tools I need to work in the special education field. It is definitely a field that requires independent thought and the ability to study and increase your knowledge base, learn to be flexible and creative when working with students, and know how to think outside the box for each situation that comes your way.
My parents sacrificed a lot in order to educate me the best way they could even before homeschooling was hip, and I am truly thankful for their sacrifice.
The Epoch Times: What inspired you to launch your company, Secret Garden Educational Pathways?
Ms. Walsh: I wanted to give back to the homeschool community. I know that homeschoolers have little to no support if their student has special education needs, and they are then pressured to resort to the public school for help. I wanted to provide homeschoolers professional support as a special educator, without the pressure to place their student in a school. These families should not be left behind, just because they decided the best thing for their student was to homeschool.
The Epoch Times: Parents of children with special needs tend to be apprehensive about homeschooling their children. Do you believe homeschooling is a good option for such families?
Ms. Walsh: Absolutely! I’ve worked with hundreds of families over the past six years and though homeschooling is not for all families, most families do very well when homeschooling. On this journey, I have found that many homeschool students are optimally set up to succeed better than students in the public school because they are already receiving one-on-one instruction, individualized lesson plans, modified curriculum, and a truly supportive and loving environment.
Most of the time an IEP (Individualized Educational Plan) has suggestions for modifications and accommodations so that a student with special learning needs can survive in a classroom, but when a student is at home, these changes naturally fall into place. This means that more time can be spent figuring out what may be causing the learning struggle and how to improve the outcome. I have found that many students can greatly increase their learning potential with the right services, and some students can even reverse their learning struggles. When parents decide to homeschool, they have the freedom and flexibility to choose what extra support is needed for their students, since they are already naturally doing a lot of what the IEP is designed for. Homeschooled students can do more than survive because they can be supported better. This is a very hopeful outlook for homeschooled students.
There is also the added effect of a loving environment. Once a student knows that someone believes in him, he will try his hardest to make progress, and his fear of failure will be a lot less. There are some great teachers out there, but who will always believe in their students? The parents. This is crucial to learning success for students with special education needs, to feel loved, to know someone has their back, to know people believe in them, and to have support exploring nonconventional career options. Even in families where the parents are separated, I can see this love and support. Only parents can truly fulfill this role, given to them by God, to love their child and be his best advocate. I see this time and again and it is a privilege to see these amazing parents and their awesome kids.
The Epoch Times: What considerations should parents of children with special needs consider before deciding to homeschool their children?
Ms. Walsh: Parents will need to consider these things before deciding to homeschool:
- It will take more time and effort than “normal.”
- There will be struggles, but there will definitely be laughs and joy too!
- Find a good curriculum that is already made, even if you modify it later. Many umbrella schools can help modify the curriculum, especially if they have someone working specifically with families who have students with special education needs.
- Find multisensory teaching material (Math U See, All About Reading, Montessori materials, etc.).
- Know what services and support your student might need that you can’t provide.
- Don’t be afraid of seeking professional advice and support.
- Look for experts who use remedial techniques to help strengthen the processes needed for learning.
- Find a good support group for yourself, either friends and family, a homeschool group, another veteran mom, prayer, or church group.
- Make sure to take time off to relax and have fun. This is for both the parents and students!
- Make sure you know your rights and get signed up with HSLDA [Homeschool Legal Defense Association], who will be your advocate if anyone challenges your decision to homeschool.
The Epoch Times: Many schools offer their students access to experts in special education and learning resources geared toward students of special needs. Are such services superior to what a homeschooling parent can provide?
Ms. Walsh: Though I do agree that some students might do better in school, I have found that most students do very well homeschooling. It may mean more work than the parents originally expected, but the outcome is worth it. Many parents know instinctively what kind of support their student needs, what their student is capable of (sometimes despite testing), how much to push forward, how much to hold back.
I would say that services and experts that homeschooling parents can find outside of the school are not inferior to services the schools provide. However, this does mean that parents will need to search for professional services and special education resources and not try to tackle everything themselves. Most of the time excellent services can be found outside of the schools, offered by private and professional individuals—just make sure they are professionally trained. Sometimes these outside services are even better than what the schools can offer because there is more freedom and flexibility. There are also many technological resources that families can use at home.
There is more flexibility for families who homeschool because they can do more intense versions of therapy or services, they can find the right professional for their student, they can choose what services they are in need of, and many parents can learn how to work with their students themselves. Some of the “services” provided by the schools are just modifying the curriculum, or providing a quiet environment. Like I stated before, this happens naturally at home. So if parents are looking for experts and resources in the special education field, they have a lot more liberty to find the right ones to support their students in the best way possible.
The Epoch Times: If you could offer parents of special needs one piece of advice, what would it be?
Ms. Walsh: I would tell parents to believe in themselves! God chose them to be special superheroes for their kids, even though life can get really hard sometimes. He will always be there for them and guide them in what choices they need to make. So many times, parents are told that they don’t have the right degree or training in order to instruct their students. But they know their student better than anyone else, which is the most important knowledge needed for them to teach their student. And if they are lacking in any area where they need to consult a professional, there are more and more great professionals out there for them to consult. Parents out there, you got this!