I’m a Secular, Homeschooling, Special Needs Mama

I was hopeful we could enroll Beth in a cyber school (a government-funded homeschool option where the cyber school provides a curriculum, Individualized Education Plan [a document that outlines goals for special needs kids], hands-on materials, and courses over the internet) for Kindergarten next fall. But after speaking with the cyber school special needs coordinator, it quickly became clear the cyber school was not for us. The special education coordinator said that my daughter would need to sit and participate in live classes via computer for hours a day. And with the way my child learns best, in short sessions spread throughout the day, I knew it could never work. So, I said thanks, but no thanks. I took a deep breath, tried not to feel alone, and started thinking about life as an “official” (i.e. I have been teaching her preschool concepts, but now she will be in Kindergarten come fall) homeschooling special needs mama.

In the Minority

It is hard not to feel alone if I believe the common perceptions of a homeschooler.  A friend of mine recently sent me this article on homeschooling:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/billflax/2013/01/22/want-to-tell-the-state-to-stick-it-homeschool-your-kids/

Here are some excerpts from the article that were particularly striking to me:

  • “The God-fearing, flag-waiving, gun-toting homeschool crowd embodies the American spirit of mutual self-reliance.”  Well, that’s not me at all, except I think of myself as self-reliant.
  • “The modern homeschool movement comes largely by Christians aghast over an academic establishment overrun by progressives.”  I AM a progressive. I am not really aghast of the academic establishment, I just think I can give my anxious child more specialized instruction in a calmer environment at home.  
  • “Homeschooling represents a microcosm of traditional Americana and a rebuke of government meddling. Hence liberals hate it.”  Yep, you guessed it, I am a liberal.
  • “The homeschool community reflects a cross-section of Americans…” At least this fits me, because I am in the cross-section somewhere!

First of all, my experiences with homeschoolers have been positive (more about that in the section below), and I believe the above statements are sensationalized, as are all news articles.  But after reading this, I did wonder just how much of a minority are we by not choosing religion, school safety, or school quality as a reason to homeschool.   All of the census info is online, so this was an easy question to answer.

According to my state’s information (http://www.education.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/home_school_statistics/7428), and U.S. census data  claiming that 3.6% of the parents say their primary reason for homeschooling is special needs (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/tables/table-hsc-2.asp), I get that there are about 16 people in my county with children 11 and under who are homeschooling due to special needs.  A small number indeed.

The Homeschooling Community

If you cut it up like I did above it feels lonely.  But one thing I have learned from the homeschooling community is that ages, abilities, and even religious beliefs, intermix.  Homeschoolers are all driven by one prevailing desire: to teach our children in the way we want them to be taught. I have been interacting with two closed groups on facebook, The Special Needs Homeschooling group and the Autism Spectrum Disorder/Asperger’s Homeschool Group (1), and the combined membership is close to 1000 people. Questions are posted, and then several people answer with very innovative, informative, and helpful information. Some people are religious, but those who are less religious aren’t afraid to say so if, for example, they ask for curriculum suggestions and they don’t want the emphasis to be religion. The groups feel very welcoming to me and the information I get from the group is outstanding.

There are many ways to homeschool, such as unschooling (learning through real life and the child’s interests), the Charlotte Mason Method (which emphasizes going outside as much as possible in Kindergarten), and various structured learning programs that mirror typical school classrooms. My most likely approach will take the best from a variety of homeschooling programs, which is called eclectic homeschooling. I am currently contemplating the right “curriculum” for Beth, but belonging to the groups above helps me relax and realize it is okay to think outside the box and to change approaches as you go. Also, I found a local mom who is homeschooling her special needs child in Kindergarten next fall, and we are going through our nail-biting decisions together.  

As for social opportunities within the homeschooling community, there seem to be more opportunities as children get older. A lot of people start out in public school in Kindergarten, decide it is not working, then switch to homeschooling later.  But we have plenty of weekend opportunities with our friends and their kids, and with families in our local special needs groups. Also, since Beth is developmentally younger in terms of social skills, we will continue to do preschool activities (play dates, music class, etc.) during the week days with local stay at home moms. That will work for at least another year, and it is enough for Beth right now.

So, onward on this homeschooling journey. I am not sure how long we will be homeschooling, but it will be at least through the next school year. One thing is for sure, it will be interesting!

___________

Inbox me on my FB page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Fumbling-Thru-Autism/102482513246303) for more info.  You have to be seriously considering homeschooling your child to join the groups.

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9 thoughts on “I’m a Secular, Homeschooling, Special Needs Mama

  1. Esther says:

    I have homeschooled before, then sent the children to school. But I am contemplating it again for my little guy, 4, who has autism. Crowds make him so anxious and he is still not potty trained. I want to follow your blog since you are a year ahead to see what works for you!

  2. topsytechie says:

    I would LOVE to add your blog to our secular homeschool blogroll! If you’d be interested, would you head to this page to list it? http://www.secularhomeschool.com/content/812-secular-homeschool-blogs/

  3. Michelle says:

    I have just made the decision to homeschool my son.age 15-need some help to make choices( ex.curriculum ,what groups are out there in Bucks County,whether or not to join a group,etc.)?any suggestions???

    • grahamta says:

      Hi there…I am just setting on our curriculum. I suggest that you get on the homeschool facebook groups I mentioned in this post…they have GREAT suggestions. Try the secular group too, and the inclusive and other groups on yahoo groups. Join them all and throw your question out there! You will get tons of advice.

  4. Have you checked into Time4Learning? If you have not, then I would give them a look. It is a month to month, online, secular curriculum that is very affordable IMO.
    Here is a link to them:
    http://www.time4learning.com/learning-special-needs.shtml
    Like you, we are also what I would call “Eclectic”, but that is why T4L works so well; because it can be used so easily alone or with other things. For us, we use it with Unit studies, and some printable worksheets. Anyways, I hope this helps with your search.
    Keri 🙂

  5. judy says:

    Hi!
    I just found your blog via SPDbloggernetwork, and I’m really enjoying it so far. Thanks for being willing to share your struggles, you’re definitely not alone, though it really feels that way sometimes. We just recently found out that our son 10 1/2 takes on the world everyday with Asperger’s. And we are fairly certain that the same diagnosis is in both our girls’ near futures.

    we have homeschooled both of the big kids since Kindergarten, before we knew what was behind some of thier quirks. After several years of trying different programs, I found Timberdoodle.com. We have been customizing and purchasing our curriculums through them going on four years now. They have so many incredible options all in one place. We love it.

    Two of my munchkins have very similar sensory profiles to your little girl, though we have not had the privilege of working with any professional familiar with the challenges of poor sensory processing. We struggle, work with, succeed and fail with their challenges every day.

    It sounds like you are a great mama, with excellent instincts, and most importantly, you trust in them.

    I know you are crazy busy like the rest of us, but if you ever feel like it, your welcome to check out our crazy chaos at my blog, hide-n-sensory-seeking.blogspot.com.

    Wishing you and yours a great day!

    • grahamta says:

      Thanks so much. I will check your blog out!

      I am starting to think the best route for us is the occasional eval and new ideas from different therapists, then just follow her lead. I am betting that if you had the formal therapists, not much would be different, although your path may have been more of a challenge. There is so much to be said for trusting your mama instincts!

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