Homeschooling a child with a language disorder requires a lot of creativity and patience, and cannot be approached in a traditional school setting.
Trying to educate a child with a language disorder as you would a child with normal language development will frustrate both you and your child.
I learned this the hard way.
In fact, I had to learn in many times over – and still find myself naturally gravitating toward a traditional school-type setting as I homeschool.
But my atypical developing child is quick to remind me to go back to the drawing board and find creative ways of teaching.
6 Things You Need to Know About Homeschooling a Child With a Language Disorder
While I have many, many years of training and experience in child care – having worked in daycare and taught Sunday school since the age of 13, even worked with special needs children (children with epilepsy, functioning and non-functioning autism, and Down’s syndrome) I have never worked with children who have the type of language disorder my children have.
In fact, I’d never even heard of MERLD until my husband and I began to suspect some sort of developmental delay in our children.
What I’m sharing with you today is what I’ve learned both through research and my own experience in teaching my children.
1. Start with their interests
I believe this goes for any child, but particularly a child with a language disorder.
Gaining their interest and keeping it is not only critical, it is difficult.
In his book Einstein Syndrome, Thomas Sowell describes how Albert Einstein’s teachers thought he had a learning disability when in fact, he simply wouldn’t do any schoolwork that didn’t interest him.
Based on the fact that Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4, Thomas Sowell draws many parallels between late-talking children with a greater level of intelligence (which is common in late-talking children) and Albert Einstein.
He calls it The Einstein Syndrome, and has written a book of the same name. Though I would add that he is not saying all late-talking children are geniuses.
It is common for late-talking children to gravitate heavily, or even obsess, over certain things while showing a remarkable disinterest in others.
And because they also tend to be stubborn, like Einstein, if they don’t have an interest in something they simply will not do it!
Starting with their interests is crucial.
When I began to homeschool our youngest, I began with unit studies to warm him up.
I particularly began with a unit study on transportation vehicles, starting with trains, because he has an obsession with Thomas the Train.
Everything we did that first week surrounded trains: from his Thomas the Train counting flashcards to Thomas the Train worksheets I found online, vocabulary words about trains, and art.
As a child with a language disorder begins to speak, they will often try to communicate using only one or two words to convey a whole thought.
As they progress, they will often mix up their grammar and syntax.
MERLD children often have great difficulty with grammar and syntax, and their vocabulary is very often quite limited in comparison with their peers.
As parents, there are things we can do that with either help or hinder them in growing and expanding their vocabulary and expressive/receptive language.
One of the things I’ve learned, and found invaluable, is recasting.
Recasting is simply repeating back to your child the correct way of saying what he/she is trying to say without repeating what they’ve just said.
This last part is very important, because if you repeat what they’ve said, you are negating the proper way of speaking by reinforcing the wrong thing!
Without repeating them, simply say for them – as many times and in as many contexts as is appropriate – the correct way of saying what they’ve said.
3. Practice “WH” questions
One of the most typical struggles a MERLD child has is the understanding of the “WH” questions: What, Where, When, Why, How, and even to Whom
For whatever reason, they find these questions confusing and will often even mix up the answers.
For example, today I asked my child, “When do you brush your teeth?” and he answered, “In the bathroom”. He mixed up the question “when” with the question “where”.
Find natural ways of practicing the “wh” questions; the more they practice the more then brain will begin to process the questions appropriately.
I take time most everyday to find natural opportunities to practice or reinforce the “WH” questions, often using them with recasting.
4. Play a lot of games
One surefire way to frustrate yourself and your child is to homeschool in the traditional “sit still and listen” method.
In his book Late-Talking Children: a Symptom or a Stage, Dr. Stephen Camarata talks about how children with language disorders not only have trouble learning this way, they may even disrupt those around them with their inability to concentrate and sit still.
Play games. Lots of games!
Learning through play is not only fun, it is a very effective tool for learning.
If your child needs to learn multiplication tables, do it while swinging or jumping on a trampoline.
A useful tool I’ve learned for comprehension has been to grab stuffed animals or hand puppets and act out the story.
You can also take board games or card games and repurpose them to reinforce certain subjects you are learning.
You can find a lot of learning games online: one place I often find games is on Teachers Pay Teachers.
5. Sing a lot of songs
One thing I’ve read, in doing research, is how a lot of children find it much easier to learn language through music.
In fact, a speech therapist my children used to see encouraged music more than reading; explaining to me how a child’s brain finds it easier to process language through music than through speaking or reading books.
It is very easy to take any subject you are teaching and put the facts to familiar songs like Row, Row, Row Your Boat or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
I’ve found this an invaluable tool for me in teaching.
It makes teaching fun, and the music helps to connect the information to the brain in a particularly memorable way!
6. Go back to the drawing board often
As we are nearing the end of this school year, I find I have gone back to the drawing board countless times to restructure what I’m doing.
In fact, I realized early on that planning school beyond one week was a complete waste of time.
At first I found that certain subjects took much longer to learn while he flew through others; and yet, as the year went on, he began to speed up in some subjects while seemingly slowing down in others.
Also, after 2-3 months, I found he grew bored with the unit studies and grew very fond of having actual school books.
I have found it very helpful to have a check sheet on hand on which I list his strengths and weaknesses, so I know where to continue to focus, and where we’ve made improvement.
In my next post, I will share 6 things I’ve learned while homeschooling children with a language disorder.
Resources I Have Found Helpful:
Teachers Pay Teachers “WH” Questions Resources
Rosilind, a Pacific Northwest native, is mom to two MERLD boys, one who is homeschooled and one who attends public school. She graduated from homeschool in 1991 and went on to work with children of all ages in various capacities ranging from daycare to Sunday School. Rosilind blogs at MERLD Homeschool Mom. You can join her MERLD Facebook group for support and follow her on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.