HSLDA Cares about Your Struggling Learners and Special Needs Children!
For the past 15 years, HSLDA’s special needs coordinators have been committed to helping parents successfully homeschool special needs children and struggling learners. We now call ourselves the special needs/struggling learner (SNSL) department to encompass learners with widely varying areas and levels of learning struggles.
The term special needs has historically referred to children who have a learning disability or handicapping condition that significantly interferes with their ability to learn without special assistance. In the public school system, these children would be placed in special education and be given an IEP (Individualized Education Plan). The term struggling learners refers to children who do not have a significant disability but still have to work too hard to learn. In public school settings, these children are not in special education, but they are likely receiving more traditional extra support services, such as tutoring for reading, writing, or math in their school day.
Who is Joey?
Wondering about that little kangaroo bouncing over these pages and across HSLDA’s Struggling Learner website?
As HSLDA developed this section of our website, we envisioned warm illustrations that would welcome everyone—from parents of children struggling with severe disabilities to parents of extremely gifted and talented children. We wanted our Struggling Learner resources to be a place where families feel supported, find information, and discover hope.
The concept came to life through a cute little marsupial and his mama. Joey represents a child who sometimes feels isolated by his learning challenges. The mama kangaroo pictures a loving mother who comes alongside to help her Joey conquer these obstacles through homeschooling.
Joey’s creator, artist Michelle Thoburn says, “As a child, I struggled with learning, but was never diagnosed with a specific learning disability. Now that I’m homeschooling my own children, I realize that they struggle with some of the same things, and I want to help make learning less frustrating and more fun for them.” The wife of HSLDA graphic artist Mark Thoburn, Michelle homeschools their two children, Tiffany and Caleb, in northern Virginia.
- Home Schooling Children with
Special Needs by Sharon Hensley, M.A.
- Teaching Students with Learning
Problems by Cecil Mercer and Ann Mercer
- Teaching Your Special Needs Student: Strategies and Tools That Really Work
by Judith Munday
In the public school system, around 13% of the students are in special education.1 Another 20% are receiving extra reading, writing, or math services because they are struggling.2 Based on reports from state homeschool leaders, these percentages of special needs and struggling learners appear to be similarly reflected in the homeschooling population.
Homeschooling’s Fastest-Growing Group
Many statewide homeschool support group leaders report that the special needs/struggling learner population is their fastest-growing student population. When new members sign up with these state groups, say the leaders, a large number of applicants indicate that they decided to homeschool because their child was not making necessary gains in the public school’s special education program. An equal number say that their child was not in a special education program, but was struggling with learning and not making progress in school.
A leader from the Minnesota Association of Christian Home Educators’ SNSL department states, “I have found that 1 in 3 of our homeschooled children seem to be struggling in learning in some area. Some are a year behind in an area, and others are just working so many hours, or so very hard, to achieve any success. For us, this is a significant group of parents and children that we minister to, giving advice and encouragement through our website.”
One of the leaders from New York’s Loving Education at Home, said, “More than half of the new members coming to our convention’s ‘New To Homeschooling’ workshops say that they have a struggling learner at home. These are children who are not just having problems with attention and focus, but who have fallen into the ‘gray area’ in school, where they are struggling to learn and retain material but are not getting the services they need in the public school. This is definitely our fastest-growing group among new homeschoolers.”
Parents Excel in Teaching Their Struggling Learners and Special Needs Children
More formal research on homeschooling children with special needs and struggling learners is needed, but studies do exist that suggest that homeschooling is a viable option for these students. For example, Dr. Steven Duvall, Assistant Professor and Director of the School Psychology Training Program at Fort Hays State University, conducted a study comparing the learning of five public-schooled children with disabilities to that of five homeschooled students with disabilities. After recording and analyzing the amount of time the students were academically engaged during instructional periods, and administering standardized achievement tests to measure their progress in reading, math, and written language, Dr. Duvall recorded the results of his yearlong study:
- Homeschooled special needs students were academically engaged about two and one-half times more often than public-schooled special needs students.
- In reading, the homeschooled students averaged six months’ gain compared to only a one-half month gain by the special needs public-schooled students.
- In written language, homeschooled special needs students gained eight months compared to their public-schooled counterparts who gained only two and one-half months.3
Dr. Duvall concluded, “These results clearly indicate that parents, even though they are not certified teachers, can create instructional environments at home that assist students with learning disabilities to improve their academic skills.”4
The Logistics of Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner
Teaching your struggling learner or special needs child at home is a challenge that requires much patience, support, sacrifice, and unconditional love, but it is also a great privilege. You have the freedom to homeschool under the protection of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
As the number of parents homeschooling children with special needs continues to expand, HSLDA has seen an increase in the number of questions from homeschoolers who are interested in continuing or obtaining special needs help from the schools. While public school special needs services are sometimes available to homeschoolers, depending upon state and federal law, HSLDA recommends that parents pursue special services privately. At HSLDA, we have found that, in many instances, a special needs child shows tremendous gains just by being removed from the public school situation and educated at home by loving and caring parents who are able to provide the stimulation and enrichment each child needs and deserves. Families are not required to accept services offered by the public school system.
The question about whether a family should continue or pursue services and therapies through the public school system is often tricky for parents. While it is tempting to receive the services “for free,” many times that special program limits the freedom you have in homeschooling by requiring either enrollment in the local school or fulfillment of certain mandates to receive the services. Parents should carefully consider this possible loss of freedom when accepting governmental special needs services. Of course, the most important consideration is that the child’s needs are being met.
What are the options for a parent whose child requires special services, such as speech therapy? The HSLDA SNSL coordinators, as well as our legal team, can help a family navigate this area. Parents often have the choice of working with a private speech therapist, or receiving a referral by their pediatrician for speech therapy. In the case of a referral, many times the family’s insurance will pay for part of this therapy. Another route might be to seek out local charitable organizations in each state that often provide free, or very low cost, services. Also, there are several very good home programs, with daily sessions for your child demonstrated by a speech therapist, available on DVD. In addition, the Home School Foundation has a Special Needs Children’s Fund that helps parents with costs they may incur while seeking private services for their special needs child.
Different Teaching Methods for “Atypical” Learners
One of the questions we are frequently asked is, “What is the best curriculum to use with my child?” The answer is that there is no one curriculum suitable for all learners. However, there are some great teaching resources and tools specifically designed for particular learning needs. Most of the time, parents must modify the chosen curriculum by presenting material and concepts in a different way to their struggling learner.
You can find a plethora of resources in our E-newsletter and on the Struggling Learner website to better understand your child’s struggles and to learn what resources are available to help overcome them, so your child can start making the gains in learning that he so desires.
The SNSL Team
Just as you are called by God to homeschool your child who is struggling with learning, HSLDA has been called to partner with you to make that job easier and more successful. Our special needs coordinators, Betty Statnick, Dianne Craft, and Faith Berens, are committed to helping you succeed. Each has a Master’s Degree in Education and many years of experience teaching children with learning disabilities and/or working with struggling learners.
What services do you, as members, receive from this group of educators?
- All members have the unique opportunity to receive a personal response to their questions by telephone and webmail. Let our special needs coordinators help you with ideas, resources, and encouragement.
- All members—and non-members—have the opportunity to subscribe to our monthly E-newsletter written specifically for parents of children who struggle with learning in various areas. The newsletter highlights effective and inexpensive teaching strategies to make learning easier for your struggling child.
- All members-and non-members-can access our informative website. Designed for parents, this website gives you specific information for your special situations. It explains how to use the checklists on the website to find out which of your child’s four learning gates is blocked and to give you more information about your child’s learning. Many corrective measures are provided to help you make immediate changes in how you teach that child. The Resources page gives an alphabetical listing of common learning disabilities with website, book, and curriculum referrals so you can be more informed.
- Our vision for the future is that members will have the opportunity to attend Teacher Training Workshops given by the SNSL coordinators, held at HSLDA headquarters. A whole day of instruction on how to identify and correct your child’s learning glitches at home will be offered. It is our desire that these workshops will be recorded and offered to our members to review or hear for the first time.
Yes, parents can homeschool their struggling learners and special needs children and do it successfully. These children often bloom when taken home and given the extra care, time, and attention they need. You are not alone in your journey with your child! HSLDA is here to help all our families make learning joyful!
1. The International Dyslexia Association, Dyslexia Basics (Baltimore: The International Dyslexia Association, 2008), 1, www.interdys.org/ewebeditpro5/upload/Basics_Fact_Sheet_5-08-08.pdf.
2. “Learning Disabilities Frequently Asked Questions,” The National Center for Learning Disabilities, www.ncld.org/content/view/762.
3. Stephen F. Duvall, “The Effects of Home Education on Children with Learning Disabilities” (Study presented to Home School Legal Defense Association, Purcellville, VA, 1994).
| About the authors|
Faith Berens, Dianne Craft, and Betty Statnick are HSLDA's special needs coordinators.