Originally Published Winter 2013
Homeschoolers who have children with special needs need help—and we know it! We get it, too, from many experts: doctors, writers, therapists, psychologists, and special-education consultants. But we also need support from those who have no advanced training. Support groups, community groups, family, and church friends can help us keep going.
But what happens when you attend your homeschool support group? During the discussion you hear one parent who is thrilled that her child won a scholarship. You are happy your sixth grader just learned to count to a hundred. Will anyone understand your joy? Feelings of isolation can cause parents to stop looking for support.
Why keep trying?
We need people. It may take time to find the right place and to adjust our expectations, but people were made to be in community.
People need us. Someone else may have a child like ours or know a parent who does. Our sensitivity to those who struggle, our humor, and our perseverance will encourage others. As Stephanie Hubach says in Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability, “Every person is made in the image of God, so each one is valuable.”
Look for local support groups.
How then do we approach homeschool support groups? First, look for common goals. Whatever our children’s abilities, we all want them to be honest, caring people who try hard. Second, don’t be touchy. Be ready to rejoice with that parent whose child won the scholarship. Third, look for folks who will celebrate our children’s progress and perseverance, too. Groups differ in their personalities and interests. We may have to try a few groups to find a good fit.
Look for online support groups.
In some situations, we may not find a suitable homeschool group. Or maybe it’s a great group, but no one has a child with disabilities anything like our child’s challenges. How can we find people who understand and can support us in our particular situations? Look online.
NATHHAN, the National Challenged Homeschoolers Association and Network (www.nathhan.com), is a group of Christian families homeschooling children with all kinds of special needs. Other groups designed for special needs include the Yahoo!Groups Homeschool_SpecialNeedsKidz, GIFTSNC, and HS-Plus. Some homeschool forums have subgroups for families with special needs. There are online groups for homeschoolers with particular challenges, such as the Yahoo! groups HSDyslexicKids, homeschoolinganddownsyndrome, aut-home-fam. Like all groups, they vary in their beliefs and personalities. Search them and try one. Post a brief introduction (without your last name or identifying information), read other posts, and learn. If you are new to Yahoo groups, go to groups.yahoo.com and search for the groups listed above, or enter “homeschool,” plus whatever condition your child has.
If you find a good group online, you may find it addictive. Beware of the artificial intimacy created by sharing concerns with strangers who may not be what they seem. Be wary of sharing last names or other personal information.
Virtual communities cannot take the place of local communities. Members of these online support groups cannot meet you for coffee or bring chicken soup when you are sick. So do not quit your local group. In online support groups, however, you are more likely to meet someone with a child like yours, which can be encouraging. You may find someone who has tried that unusual curriculum or therapy you have been wondering about. (But not everything works for everyone, so be wise!)
Find advocacy groups.
Another source of support is parents who do not homeschool but have a child with special needs.
Advocacy groups can help us learn and keep going. One mother told me it was easier to explain homeschooling to parents of children with autism, than to explain autism to homeschooling parents. Our local attention-deficit disorder group has educated and encouraged us.
In any special-needs support group, you may find that folks are slow to respond. Don’t take it personally. In northern Virginia, we formed a local online group, GIFTSNVA, for homeschoolers with children with special needs. We only meet occasionally. Days go by without anyone posting to our list. We are too busy homeschooling our special children. Keep your expectations reasonable.
Ask friends to help.
Look beyond formal groups, too. A call to a friend, even one who has no children with disabilities, can give you the lift you need to get through a tough day. Can your extended family help you? My father came over to teach his favorite subject, history, one afternoon a week for years. Several families I interviewed said cousins have been special friends to their special children.
Your church can support you. Though some families are unable to attend worship because of their children’s needs, others have churches that are able to help or are willing to begin a special-needs ministry. You might give Hubach’s book, All Things Possible, published by Joni and Friends, to your church leaders.
Count your blessings.
Finally, be realistic. Some of us live where we cannot find much support. Some of us arrive at support groups hoping they can serve us, only to find those leaders are barely keeping up. Look for ways to encourage others. Enjoy what resources you can find and be thankful. What a blessing that we can homeschool our exceptional children!
Kathy Kuhl began homeschooling in 1997 after years of trying to help her son succeed in school despite his learning and attention difficulties. After homeschooling him for grades 4–12, she interviewed 64 other homeschoolers as research for her book, Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner (ISBN# 978-0981938905). She speaks internationally and advises parents by phone and Skype. Visit her website, learndifferently.com.