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  1. #1

    Default From Acorns To Oaks: Growing Together (Supporting Children With Special Needs)

    Five years ago I began a homeschool journey for my two children while working full time in early intervention. I have also taught in special education, trained teachers and day care providers and developed curriculum for special group activities. Since joining the homeschool community I have found many friends, some of whom are educating their children with special needs. Common concerns I have heard from friends and from responses in this group were “How do I find/adapt/teach my child who learns differently?” and “How do I have time to give everyone the attention they need, not just my child with special needs?”. I also received some responses from this group asking about ways to support executive function and identify when and how to use early intervention. These are such big topics individually, especially because all children are unique in their needs and learning styles.

    In thinking about this topic I considered families I know and my own background, having a parent with a disability. There are academic needs, social emotional needs, physical needs and family needs to take into consideration. While there is sometimes overlap, often the ways they are met is very individual. Some families respond well to structure, but individuals need more processing time or down time, or have sensory integration struggles that need to be met before they can focus and process academics. Some families are more laid back, but a child needs more structure and routine in order to be successful. It always comes back to what is going to work best for your family as a whole, and then finding ways to tweak it so it fits as many of your needs as possible. I personally am a mixture of structure and flexibility. How many of you find structure is key? How many find flexibility is a necessity? Any others who find a mixture of both is what works best?

    In response to when to seek early intervention:
    When it comes to worrying about our children and knowing when to seek help, I fully believe “go with your gut” is the best response. If you do not get the answers you are comfortable with, seek a second opinion. A good evaluation team will answer questions, and provide activities or strategies to support the needs your child has. They should be able to point you to community resources or to in home activities to help develop the skills in question.

    Several people asked for strategies to support executive function:
    Developing executive function skills can take practice, multiple times as often as you can, but have them also be fun. Let your child direct you through an activity or task- it will help you see where they are overwhelmed or missing steps. Use timers and checklists. Separate skills into smaller steps with some reward for completing. Consider offering two choices instead of an open ended request.

    Another frequent concern expressed was how to support siblings as well as your child with a special need:
    The best advice I have to offer for working with a wide range of needs and ages is to keep your schedule flexible within structure. I used a few tools in my own home that I recommend to families I work with as well, one is a bed tray- this can be used as a desk or play area, helps define space and can let one child work at a desk while another plays on the floor, or used for a small space to play a game or activity with turn taking- it can go to Grandmas, or the hospital, or therapy, wherever you need to be- so the structure is the bed tray but your use is anything, anywhere. I also use “school in a bag”, these are more fun or practice resources, puzzle books, crayons, puzzles in a baggy, usually around the themes of our school work, but can also go anywhere and be used at anytime. They are designed to be self structuring so if I was reading with one child in the Dr.s office another could be doing a favorite activity from the bag. My other go to has always been audible books. We spend so much time in the car, I could play a few chapters in a book, or play music, and again, the school in a bag would be on the seat with its Clip board for each child- so they could also use those activities in the car.

    What are some of your biggest challenges? What are some of your most successful tricks of the trade? What is some of the best advice you have been given or shared? What was something you would never do again or recommend?

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  3. #2
    Site Admin Arrived Topsy's Avatar
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    I'm never sure I am one for advice, because even though my sons are now both "grown" I still feel like I am learning to be a parent of children with special needs. And even though this is still something I'm trying to learn myself, I would say to encourage independence in your children as much as parent-ly possible. I remember practically having to sit on my hands to keep myself from reaching in to do things for my sons that they may have been struggling with. If they are reaching a frustration level that you know is going to push them over the edge, then by all means step in, but if they are just taking their time...learning as they go...give them that time. Even if it makes you 5 minutes late for an appointment for the chance for them to tie their own shoes, it's worth it. It gives them such confidence in the long run!!

  4. #3


    Is it always *Go with your gut?*

    I remember with my son's first developmental evaluation, I was in absolute denial that there was anything different about my boy. "Hes just talking late. He will get there when he gets there". (He was 2.5) Not to mention how I picked apart everything in the eval that I had objections to.
    After the (scathing! imo) report (saying my boy had the communication skills of a 6mo old!), I was grudgingly able to accept that perhaps we could do a little bit of speech therapy. Thank goodness it was paid for by the county!

    And then that he needed OT - but to my eyes, he had no trouble with his fine motor skills....

    Of course he really needed both, and I see that now, but I was pretty contemptuous of it at first.
    Just as I had disregarded our pediatrician's concerns for the past year and a half. It went into the pile of *make me conform* just like cosleeping and babyfood.

    I see it here, on SHS, too... parents have their gut instinct, and it tells them "Doctors dont know my child as well as I do." I can really well relate to that, but at the end of the day, I was wrong. I guess those years of medical school and experience with hundreds or thousands of other kids is worth something, after all.

    Isnt it better to pursue diagnosis?

    (We are now in speech, OT, and a social skills *group* class - I see improvements weekly! The group class is so unexpectedly helpful - I never wouldve guessed how much so before we started.)
    Homeschooling DS13, DS6.


    My spelling was fine, then my brain left me.

  5. #4


    I think it should be a combination of going with your gut and playing it safe. An evaluation never hurt anyone, but not evaluating for possible disabilities can cause major problems down the road.

    It's hard to take people's advice when it feels like they're telling you that there's something wrong with your child, and you can't see it for yourself.
    When Ds9 was 5, his speech therapist suggested that we have him formally evaluated for autism. We brushed it off, thinking "she treats so many autistic kids that she probably sees autism everywhere", when obviously we should have thought "she treats so many autistic kids that she probably knows what she's talking about".
    Laura, homeschooling mom of five boys
    Ben (17), Jake (13), Frankie (11), Marc (9) and Reese (5)

  6. #5


    Yes Topsy- I agree wholeheartedly with this, small amounts of frustration with encouragement develop patience and problem solving, as well as many other skills.
    Last edited by christina keller; 04-27-2016 at 01:39 PM.

  7. #6


    Alexsmom-I see your situation completely! Sometimes it is hard to give as complete an answer as I would- because this is like an introduction, so the first perspective that I have found more common was the one I expressed. I have had several families with significant concerns brushed off by other family members, and sometimes medical professionals- so my "go with your gut" response was with that in mind- seek information if you really feel something is wrong. Most recently a child I work with was ill for months, and her pediatrician and ENT brushed mom off, but mom and team were certain there was more to the picture- and she finally had a full eval done to discover there was a significant underlying illness at play. I also have had families who denied anything was wrong, and we did not provide services- would you have recommendations on how I could better approach a parent who is not ready to hear their child needs extra help?
    Last edited by christina keller; 04-27-2016 at 01:56 PM.

  8. #7


    LadyMondegreen- This is where I struggle the most. I would rather be able to say there is nothing to worry about, but when there is and the parent is not ready to hear it, how can I best provide support- or are there other ways professionals can approach this to help parents who are struggling this way?

  9. #8


    Hah! No, and how do you convince independent-minded people who may have baggage tied to labels, who see a diagnosis as something *wrong* with their kids?

    But then on the other hand, we see boys being diagnosed with and medicated for ADHD when it seems likely that the only thing *wrong* is that theyre being asked to sit quietly and perform tasks they are not developmentally ready for.

    And it seems there are also therapies for everything, sometimes seeming perhaps a little frivolous....

    Do you have advice for parents who get (what they feel) a ridiculous IEP offer?
    Homeschooling DS13, DS6.


    My spelling was fine, then my brain left me.

  10. #9


    Completely agree with you- Our children need more play time and less seat time- and we will see they are typical kids. Our bodies did not evolve to sit still all day. As far as IEP's- I recommend that my friends print off a blank IEP and go in with their own Present Levels and goals, especially since the plan is supposed to be developed together. The goals should not only be measurable, but should be very clear about how a skill is being taught/modified/supported etc. Also- Wrights Law is free online and an excellent tool about Special ed laws- I also recommend printing and highlighting specific parts to demonstrate the law that is expected to be followed. Every state also has an advocates office, so if goals are not being followed they can be contacted to work with a family and get support for IEP's. If the amount of time is part of the issue- the school needs to provide how that time is supporting the child in developing a skill. It becomes difficult because of funding, but that is not and excuse. I did not like working for the school system as a whole because teachers often had their hands tied no matter how much they wanted to help. Was it a ridiculous goal or time or something else completely?

  11. #10


    For us, it was a ludicrous and inappropriate evaluation, followed by that meeting a month later where all they wanted to do was put my 3yo in a *reverse mainstream* preschool with no speech therapy. At the time, my barely 3yo had two consonant sounds in his repertoire, due to an *idiosyncratic neurological condition* (says the neurologist... I believe this means, not any of the usual suspects, sorry we dont know why your child has these difficulties). Two uninterrupted hours of tests, one of the women literally followed me around the room when I tried getting my boy a break from them, urging him to play ball with her. "Does he greet friends by name? Does he say hi and bye mom and dad?" "No, well that shows severely delayed social skills."
    They came up with 18 points for the IEP, only one dealing with speech, and their tactic for that was to provide him a *language rich environment*. Oh yes, the preK teacher assured me, once he is in a class with other kids who talk, he will blossom with speech. The other seventeen were ridiculous, having to do with that inappropriate survey of behavioral development, and such things as *needs help transitioning between events* which, the lady said, was based on his unwillingness at the end of the evaluation when she wanted him to go from playing with Thomas the train and switch to reading a (boring) book. Their solution for all of this was to put him in a 5-day/week preschool, busing him in at 7:30am.
    All we want is speeech and OT, we tried reasoning. He doesnt talk, he goes rigid for about a half hour if he gets upset by anything. We dont want all that preschool stuff. Just speech and OT.
    They wouldnt budge from only offering the preschool, no therapy.
    I was told later that we should have brought a special needs advocate if we wanted anything different.

    So thats my long sob story.

    I dont want to shell out money to hire someone to represent us to get us the services we should be able to get.
    Do you have tips for dealing with this sort of disinterested school district?
    (Im sure Im not the only one to have been given the bs runaround / stonewall approach from the local school district.)
    Homeschooling DS13, DS6.


    My spelling was fine, then my brain left me.

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From Acorns To Oaks: Growing Together (Supporting Children With Special Needs)