Parents often wonder about the advantages and disadvantages of homeschooling children with learning disabilities (LD) or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). While there is no single right answer as to whether homeschooling is the best option for your child and family, the following information about this alternative form of education may help guide your decision-making process.
What is homeschooling?
By definition, homeschooling is an education option in which parents accept total responsibility for the education of their children. Home, versus school, becomes the center of the child’s educational universe. Homeschooling is an accepted alternative for kids of elementary school age through the high school years.
In recent years, several styles of homeschooling have evolved, including (among others): faith-based education, self-directed learning, cyber-learning (or online learning), and even an approach called unschooling. This article will focus on the more traditional approach to homeschooling, specifically as it applies to kids with learning and/or attention problems, and their families.
Why would parents of kids with LD or ADHD choose to homeschool?
Parents of kids with LD and/or ADHD offer a variety of reasons for homeschooling. Some believe they can do a better job than a public or private school in meeting their children’s special needs. Some parents think they can more effectively tailor the curriculum to their children’s needs and also protect them from the teasing and stigma associated with being in special education.
Some families opt to homeschool on a short-term basis, to help a child finish a difficult year of school or to reach a certain level of maturity and development. Other parents homeschool their kids from elementary school age through high school years.
What kinds of skills and training do parents need?
Important general factors to take into account when considering homeschooling a child with learning and/or attention problems are:
- Your overall ability to serve as your child’s teacher and meet her individual educational needs
- How well you can apply self-discipline and structure to your child’s homeschool routine (and instill those habits in her)
- Your flexibility and creativity when you encounter obstacles or need to alter your course to adapt to your child’s needs
Homeschooling does allow for individualized curriculum and attention to your child’s needs. However, providing targeted interventions to address a child’s areas of difficulty may require you to do more research and training than a parent of a homeschooler whose needs are more mainstream.
Some parents feel the need to go through formal training to teach a child with LD or ADHD, while others purchase packaged curricula from vendors who specialize in products for homeschool parents. Other parents create their own homeschool curriculum by combining prepared lesson plans with enrichment components such as field trips, the arts, and community involvement.
How will homeschooling affect family dynamics?
Regardless of how you approach homeschooling, it will impact you, your child, your spouse, and any other children living at home. Here are some questions to explore:
- If your child has behavior problems — and acts out with her primary caregiver/parent — might that become even more of a problem with homeschooling?
- How will homeschooling affect your family’s time, routine, budget, and physical space at home?
- Will you homeschool more than one of your children? If so, are you prepared to coordinate teaching kids with differing needs?
- If your other children continue going to public or private school, how will you balance their routine with your homeschooled child’s? For example, you’ll need to coordinate the schedules, vacations, homework, and activities of your kids who attend school outside the home with the schedule and routine you set for your homeschooler.
- If you have a child attending school at home and others outside the home, consider how their school experiences may differ. Kids who attend traditional schools have a different experience than do homeschooled students in terms of classroom settings, social interaction, and school-based events (such as assemblies and graduation ceremonies).
Will my child become socially isolated if she is homeschooled?
Kids who have LD or ADHD often struggle to develop adequate social skills, whether they are homeschooled or not. But, as with all homeschool students, there are several ways to ensure your child has ample opportunity to socialize with others. To expand your child’s socialization skills and experiences, consider involving her in:
- Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts
- Boys and Girls Clubs
- 4H Clubs
- Team sports and other extracurricular activities available through your community recreation department
- Groups affiliated with your place of worship
A local homeschool networking group may become a rich source of social activities for both you and your child. Whether your gatherings are as formal as a field trip or as casual as a picnic, your child will benefit from learning with – and playing with – other kids.
Note: A few states allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular activities (for example, team sports and music) in their public schools. Check your state laws for more information.
What are my child’s prospects for long-term success (including Advanced Placement and college admission tests)?
To date, little research has been done on the long-term success of homeschooled students with LD and ADHD. However, the outlook for homeschooled students in general is positive. For example, according to an article in Education Week (April 26, 2006), “The number of homeschooled students taking Advanced Placement tests has more than tripled in the past five years. For many high-achieving home schoolers, AP tests have become a staple of their education. That growth is due in part to home schoolers who want to validate that they’ve learned challenging academic material, particularly if they are applying to competitive colleges.”
Where can I find information and support in the community?
Before you decide to homeschool, it can be extremely valuable to contact a local homeschool networking group. The parents in such groups offer support, experience, and knowledge related to homeschooling a child in your state and school district. Be sure to “shop around” for a group that is familiar with the needs of children with learning and attention issues. If you eventually decide to homeschool your child, such a group may well become a primary source of support and socialization for you and your child.
To locate a homeschool networking group in your area, contact the Home Education, an organization whose objectives are to provide information to homeschoolers individually and through local/state groups; make it easier for homeschoolers to network together; and promote public relations on a national level.
What kind of support can I expect from the public school district?
State laws and requirements regarding homeschooling vary tremendously from state to state. It’s critical for you to understand your legal rights and responsibilities before you start homeschooling. You will want to learn about the laws governing general education as well as special education.
Many parents want to know how to translate a child’s IEP at a public school into a homeschool curriculum — and to otherwise address the child’s specific learning disability and/or impairments related to AD/HD. Depending on the homeschooling laws in your state, your public school may or may not be willing and able to assist you in bridging that gap.
As you research your state law regarding homeschooling:
- Find out what you are required to communicate to your school district and/or state department of education before, during, and after your child’s homeschooling experience. This might include oversight by the state and/or accountability to the state through reporting, standardized testing, etc.
- Learn what kind of support and collaboration your school district is required to provide you and your homeschooled child. Very few states provide special education support to homeschoolers, although there are exceptions.
Resources to help you learn about the homeschool laws in your state include:
- A local homeschool networking group. This is a great way to connect with other parents who are knowledgeable about the laws in your state and policies in your school district. This can help streamline your research into your legal rights and responsibilities.
- Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA)
- Your state department of education
Do your homework
There is no magic formula for homeschool success, and your decision to homeschool (or not) will be as individual as your child and family. As with any decision concerning your child’s education, we encourage you to tap into trustworthy resources and information (such as those mentioned in this article). Talk with parents of other homeschoolers in your community. And, above all, trust your good judgment about the well-being of your child.