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December 2016 Newsletter

Homeschooling When a Child Has Chronic Physical or Mental Health Problems

Faith Barens, M.Ed. Faith Barens, M.Ed.

By Faith Berens, M. Ed., Reading Specialist
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

As homeschooling continues to grow in popularity, our special needs consultants receive more and more calls and emails from families who have pulled their children out of traditional school settings due to chronic health issues. 

These are the parents whose children struggle with Lyme disease, chronic fatigue, mitochondrial disorders, sleep and mood disorders, epilepsy, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder—you name it.

And though the switch to homeschooling and the flexibility it offers may provide these parents with some relief, let’s be realistic. The challenges of both educating your child and managing health issues can be daunting.

Two of the questions we most often hear are:

1. How do we get schoolwork done when we are so busy running to medical appointments or when our child requires so much sleep?

2. How do we pay for our child’s expensive but necessary therapies, treatments, or medical equipment?  

In this newsletter, I hope to offer avenues of funding, tips for managing your days and duties, as well as teaching ideas to help your child who is struggling due to a medical or mental health condition. 

Funding Sources for Necessary Therapies and Equipment

A huge concern our department hears about in calls and emails is where to find assistance to pay for the needed therapies and medical equipment. 

The Homeschool Foundation, HSLDA’s charitable arm, offers several grants, one of which is the special needs children’s fund. This grant can be used for adaptive equipment, assistive technology, special camps, counseling or therapy services, and specialized curricula and learning materials. To apply, visit

The Lindsay Foundation assists families with children who have been diagnosed with long-term catastrophic illnesses, have not reached the age of 18 years, and reside at home. Grants are awarded based on the child’s need, not the family’s income.

They provide assistance with (but not limited to) the following:

  • Rehabilitative equipment
  • Seating systems, strollers, transport chairs
  • Communication devices (excluding iPads)
  • Physical therapy
  • Aquatic therapy
  • Speech therapy
  • Therapeutic horseback riding
  • Some medical supplies not covered by insurance.
  • Medical procedures on a case-by-case basis.

They do not post their application for assistance on their website. They prefer that you contact them via email and allow them to confirm your eligibility before sending the form. Email

Make a Paradigm Shift

Remember that schooling doesn’t all have to be “at the table” learning or even necessarily book work.  Our children are learning when they help cook meals, listen to music while resting in bed, or lie on the sofa watching the History Channel.

Cultivate a lifestyle and love of learning.  Even when your child does not feel well, try to be positive and encouraging.  Stimulate his thinking by asking good questions and initiating discussion about literature, movies, or music. Ask questions such as “Tell me about the genre of music you are listening to?” or “What do you think about the new book we began listening to on audio this week?”

The traditional school year lasts about 180 days; we have 365 days a year to teach and learn alongside our children. All of life is learning. Whether measuring out medicines, keeping a nutrition log, managing schedules, writing thank-you cards, reading a magazine in a therapist’s waiting room, or calculating a discount at the grocery store, our children can always be learning and practicing new skills. 

Have two schedules—one “normal” or “ideal” schedule for when your child is well, and an alternative schedule for bad or sick days. 

Teaching Outside of the Box

Think creatively. Develop ways your child can be engaged and included with her siblings even when she can’t get out of bed or up off the couch.

Consider what games, projects, handy-crafts, etc. your child can do while you are reading aloud.

Do lots of oral activities and exercises.

Have your child teach the lesson, read aloud, or “be” the lesson, where they re-tell the story or history events, pantomime/act out, demonstrate, or role-play (perhaps with a stick, sock, or finger puppets).

Use educational DVDs, movies, and computer-driven lessons, such as Teaching Textbooks, Math-U-See, Drive Thru History, Chemistry and Biology 101—available at

Use musical resources, learning apps, and books on audio with e-readers or other portable, handheld devices. 

Not well enough to take a field trip? Take virtual field trips! For ideas, check out our newsletter “Fantastic Fieldtrips.

Be “for real” and don’t try to wear the Super Parent Cape all the time!

Caring for a child with special needs can be exhausting physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally. 

Be willing to seek respite. Ask for help and accept it when it is offered. Many churches now offer disability ministries. Joni and Friends is an organization that provides encouragement for people who suffer with serious disabilities. To find an affiliate near you, check out their directory.

It’s okay to relinquish some roles. You can’t do it all. Do the things that only you can do, the things that are most important to you, or the things you are most passionate about—and outsource the rest!

You will not always be on schedule. Let’s face it, we are never caught up on everything! And speaking of being on schedule and caught up: Here’s a tip when it comes to lesson plans. Don’t pre-date them! Date them once you have completed the lessons and as kids finish assignments. 

Homeschooling parents often feel burnt out, not so much due to the teaching part of homeschooling, but with all the other keeping-up-with-life activities that go along with it—cooking, laundry, chores, bill-paying, etc.  Homeschooling a child with special needs is very time-consuming and demanding.  Here are some tips to help with managing other areas of home life. 

Managing Your Home

Train other siblings in the home to assist with chores. We have two tidy-up times during our day. One is before getting ready for bed and the other is usually just after lunch. Give kids zones or “jurisdictions.” One homeschooling mom I know calls chores “Service Opportunities.”

Use your crock pot. This is a life (and sanity) saver! Throw in your ingredients in the morning and forget about it, so that after a full day of schooling, activities, or therapy and medical appointments, you have a hearty meal ready to go in the evening. 

For more help and ideas on home management, visit HSLDA’s Toddlers to Tweens resource page.

Helpful Links and Resources: 

Learn on the go: While medical appointments and therapies can be burdensome, they can also be a vital part of your child’s individualized home education program. So try to make the most of travel and waiting room time.  We keep a stash of travel games in the car, such as magnetic Hangman, to play in route or in the waiting room. “Car school” is the perfect place for audiobooks, recorded courses, geography or grammar songs, and even educational videos.

Denise Eide’s Logic of English curriculum has engaging, educational mobile apps for the iOS, Kindle, iPhones, iPods, and iPads. 

Sound Therapy delivers classical music, as well as poetry and classic literature through headphones; the music and stories are specially filtered based on the Tomatis method. This specialized listening therapy may help with improving mood, sleep, attention, and auditory processing issues.

iTikes Map can be a stand-alone toy and is compatible with an iPhone. This map game offers kids various ways to interact and comes with interchangeable card maps with different topics such as world facts, music, dinosaurs, and much more. It has three levels of difficulty to engage a range of students. The iPhone app includes animated facts and 3D images.   

Carol Barnier’s Ditty Bugs offers chants and rhymes to help kids memorize information such as steps in a process, presidents, important events in history and much more.

Sue Dickson’s Songs that Teach offers CDs and DVDs with catchy songs to teach sight words, math facts, important American documents, and much more. offers geography songs, Bible songs, grammar songs and more.

Lyrical Learning uses fun, old-timey tunes with scientific information to get kids singing and learning!

For learning multiplication tables, check out Skip Counting Songs with Mack the Muskrat.

Finally, be encouraged. If you’re homeschooling a son or daughter at home with medical special needs, you’re not alone. Financial help, academic resources and emotional support are readily available. You can do this.

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