Filling in the Gaps: Homeschooling Special Needs Kids

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As homeschoolers, we often worry about our children having “gaps” in their learning. It just seems to naturally follow whatever insecurities we might already have. What if I’m not doing enough? What if I’m doing it wrong? What if I miss something?  This is completely normal, and I’m pretty sure we all go through it. I know I did!

But when your homeschooling special needs, a gifted or a 2E (“twice exceptional”) child, the gap is often very real. That gap isn’t in your lesson plan, though…it’s in how your child learns and perceives. They may cognitively learn at one level, but work and process emotions at completely different levels. This is referred to as being “asynchronous,” and it can be an intimidating thing to try to work with.

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Asynchronous Kids

“Asynchronous” is just a fancy term for children who develop at very different rates. Basically, the level of information they are able to understand is very different from the level of course work, like reading or written work, they are able to do.

Many gifted and special needs children are asynchronous, so much of the time, they need to learn in very non-traditional ways. And at times, they need the structure of traditional methods but a non-traditional schedule.

Imagine a 5th grader who will happily pull a college text off the shelf and dig in, but can’t spell “house.” Or a 9-year-old who spends hours building intricate Lego creations, but can’t tie his shoes. Or a high schooler who is learning her fifth language, but is still left clueless when it comes to phonics.

The struggle is real. How do you work with gaps that seem to defy all common teaching methods? It turns out that the answer is really quite simple: you turn to methods that are not so common.

Life at Our House

Let me start out by sharing a bit of our story. My son is profoundly gifted, but he is also severely dyslexic, dysgraphic, and deals with sensory processing disorder, or SPD. (This is what is referred to as “twice exceptional,” or “2E.”) If you met him, you would probably not be able to tell any of this; gifted kids, as they get older, generally figure out pretty quickly how to “blend in.”

When you have the opportunity to teach him though, a whole new world opens up.

He is intensely interested in learning about anything that catches his attention, and he is able to take in – and retain – massive amounts of information. He makes connections that sometimes stump his college professors. He takes on multiple projects at once, for fun, and digs deeply into them. He started high school classes at age 10 and college classes at 14 – and at 19, he’s still going strong.

However, he also has some pretty serious hurdles to overcome. His dyslexia is so severe that every expert we’ve met with has had no real answers. Having dysgraphia, he has a very hard time writing information down; he can discuss the plans for a novel he’s writing in detail, but could barely fill out a worksheet until he was in high school.

His senses are on overload all the time, and without mental filters that he’s put in place, he would be at their mercy all the time. He got bored one night and analyzed those filters…he counted over 200 different “limiters” that are in place at any given time. You read that right. 200.

Most people only see how quickly he learns, and they think everything comes easy to him. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, he learns at an astonishing rate, but he also works incredibly hard to master tasks that come easily to everyone else.

Accommodating Our Children’s Needs

Parents of special needs kids – wherever they fall on that spectrum – worry about providing accommodations. We know that our “normal” is totally different than what society considers “normal.”

We often feel guilty for accommodating our kids’ needs. What if we’re handicapping them? What if they’re never able to do this on their own? What will other people think? Let me go ahead and tackle those, one by one.

Am I Handicapping My Child?

The short answer? No.

Now for the longer answer: providing accommodations teaches your child to compensate for their learning differences.

Notice I don’t call them “disabilities”…in reality, they’re not. They’re only disabilities when the child is forced to work within a system that doesn’t work for them. And, well, isn’t that why we homeschool? So that we can teach our children in ways that are designed to work for them?

We all have things we’re not great at, or that we do differently, so we ask for help when we need it. It’s completely acceptable for us to allow our special needs kids to do this, too. It really is ok!

What If My Child Can’t Do It By Himself?

Well, so what? There are plenty of things I can’t do by myself. I’m nearly a foot shorter than my husband and son, yet they constantly put things I need on the top shelves. As such, they are also voluntold to bring them down for me. I can barely do math above Algebra 1, yet my guys excel at it. So I ask them.

My son loves to read, but many fonts and formats are literally impossible for him to work with due to his level of dyslexia. To solve this, he works with nearly everything on audio. Our Audible subscription is one of the best homeschool investments we’ve made, and he has a huge library downloaded to his phone.

When we come across a book that hasn’t been recorded, I record it on a digital recorder for him. I treat it like a read-aloud, and he can listen to it whenever he wants. It works for both of us.

If you want to see what this can look like in adulthood, look up William Bolger. He’s a professor who has similar learning needs, but also has 11 graduate degrees. He does what he’s wired to do and accepts help where he needs it.

What Will Others Think?

I used to worry about this, especially since my parents are retired teachers. My family and many of my friends are very education-minded. And for many people, education follows a very specific process. This is a process that we don’t come close to following.

Something I came to understand, though, is that I don’t make decisions regarding my child in order to please or impress others. (I’m pretty sure they don’t make their decisions with me in mind, either.)

I am always happy to share why we make the decisions we do. My son has given me permission to share his story with anyone that it might help, since he wants others to have an easier time figuring it out than we did.

But honestly, if someone doesn’t agree with our choices, I’m fine with that. I make every effort to teach my son according to his needs, in ways that make sense to him. It just doesn’t have to look like what everyone else does.

Every homeschool family has its own stories of joy and accidental failures, of amazing milestones and hot mess mistakes. This is true in some very unique ways for homeschooling special needs though. The great thing about coming here is, there are people who get it. There’s always room for you, and we’re glad you’re here!

I’d love to hear your story and your questions. And who knows, your comments may help someone else!

Jen is a Jesus-loving wife and on-the-go homeschool mom who loves writing and tries to keep up with her guys. She is also the founder of A Helping Hand Homeschool, providing support, resources, activities, and consulting for homeschool families. You can also find her on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

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