Robert J. Doman, Jr.
Many families are becoming frustrated at their often ineffective attempts to homeschool their special needs child. Others still wrestle with the decision of whether or not to succumb to the pressures being exerted on them by family, friends, or the “professionals” to put their child into the public school system. These decisions are not easy, and there are no simple answers because there is generally nothing easy or simple about our special needs children.
Being a homeschooling parent, the parent of a special needs child, as well as having designed over 50,000 homeschool programs for special needs kids has given me some insight into the difficulties involved in the process of determining what is best for a particular child and family. Most parents are wondering, what really is the best possible learning environment for my child?
If you take your child with special needs to a public school and ask the “experts” to describe the best possible learning environment for your child, they will probably tell you that your child needs to be in the least restrictive environment, to have lots of 1:1 time, to have peers that are outstanding role models, and to have a program designed to meet his or her individual needs. And they are right! Furthermore, what they have described is the home.
The home is the least restrictive environment because it is the natural setting where a child is able to participate in every day activities with people both young and old who are functioning normally. In this setting a child has the opportunity to observe and then to imitate appropriate behaviors. The parent has the opportunity to provide the child with immediate and consistent feedback if he displays any type of negative or inappropriate behaviors.
This is in contrast to the school setting where the child would most likely be grouped with other children displaying a variety of negative behaviors, which he would then begin imitating, thus further compounding his problems.
How important is 1:1 attention? Whether we’re talking about reading, math, gross or fine motor development, receptive or expressive language, vision, processing, behavior, or any other developmental or educational functions, advancement is almost directly related to how much individual attention 1:1 input the child can receive. Schools typically will say that they will meet the child’s needs through small group instruction and that anything more than minimal 1:1 instruction is economically prohibitive. The environment that affords the greatest amount of 1:1 per day is to be preferred.
A big step in the process of determining what is best for your child and your family is the acceptance of yourselves—the child’s parents—as the world’s greatest experts on your child. The most powerful tool the schools and professionals will attempt to persuade you with is your supposed lack of expertise. But the truth is that you know your child’s strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and wants and needs better than anyone else. It is this knowledge and expertise that will enable you to design and carry out an appropriate and individualized program for your child.
Many “professionals” and most of the schools rarely see past the labels that they give our children. To them, the label becomes a reflection of their potential and the basis upon which limited goals are established. Almost universally the family has a significantly different perception of the child, a much higher perception of potential. Because the family really knows the child the family can see past the inefficiencies and see the child waiting to be unleashed from the burdens of those inefficiencies. Without proper program design and support the homeschooling family is often disappointed with the results they can achieve with their special needs child. If provided, however, with the necessary expertise, program design, and support, the home is most often the very best place for our special needs children.
Almost universally the only chance our special needs children have to achieve their innate potential lies with homeschool.
Reprinted from the Journal of The NACD Foundation (formerly The National Academy for Child Development)