My autistic daughter is now 18 years old. I've homeschooled her since about age 3. For several years she exclusively homeschooled using a very intensive program just for severely affected special needs kids with various diagnoses. Once she got to the point where I thought she was ready for school, I began sending her to a local school (part time) that had a program especially for autistic children. She attended school in the mornings, and I continued her homeschool program in the afternoons.
The first couple of years went pretty well. The teacher there discovered that Hannah already knew how to read! There were a few other great discoveries that the teacher made too. Hannah enjoyed school, liked her teacher, and did learn some things. Unfortunately, she also picked up on some very unwelcome social habits from some of the other special needs kids in the classroom. Overall, though, I thought I was doing what was best for her. Until the next year...
The next year Hannah's teacher moved away, and Hannah was placed in a different class. The teacher of that class didn't believe that Hannah could read (She was non-verbal, so she couldn't read out loud.), didn't have high expectations for Hannah academically or socially, and really just didn't want Hannah in her class. So Hannah definitely "lived down" to that teacher's very low expectations. She was smart enough to know that she didn't have to work very hard because the teacher didn't expect her to and didn't think she was capable of it anyway. Sad.
Another thing we discovered that was happening (I'm being honest here.) was that we were learning to live life without Hannah being involved. I had 2 other children by then, and we were going places and doing things without her. It became an inconvenience to us when it was time to pick Hannah up from school. We couldn't do the same things when Hannah was with us that we could do when she wasn't. She was no longer in the habit of going places and doing things with us, and it began to upset her when we did take her along. She was used to her school routine, and any deviation from that caused her to be completely stressed out.
Also, I realized that my other two children were beginning to feel resentful toward Hannah. If we were in the middle of a homeschool activity or field trip or play date and had to stop what we were doing to go pick her up, of course they felt upset. It's fine for our children to learn that sometimes we have to make changes and adjust our schedules for other family members, but when this happens often to young children who aren't mature enough to "get it," the natural consequence is resentment. Not good.
For all of these reasons, my husband and I finally decided that maybe it would be best to bring Hannah home to homeschool with her brother and sister. I was scared half to death at the thought because my other two children were not "easy" children, and I just didn't know if I'd be able to handle all three of them, keep them all fed and clothed, keep discipline under control, and actually teach all of them something at the same time! We truly felt like God was calling us to bring Hannah back home, though, so we decided to give it a try.
I remember the moment I called the principal of the school she was attending to tell her that Hannah wouldn't be back. I was so nervous and unsure, but I forced myself to make the call. The moment I made the call and hung up the phone, I felt as if a huge burden had been lifted from me! I believe God was reassuring me that I'd done the right thing. I literally felt like a new person! I was no longer worried about if I could do it. I knew it still wouldn't be easy but that it was the right thing to do.
Over the next few weeks, Hannah became a regular part of our lives again, and we became a regular part of hers. Her behavior improved dramatically, she ate better, she was more content, and she was just plain happier! The rest of us felt better too. We got back to the point where we enjoyed having her with us and didn't have to completely change our routine to work around her preferences and her school schedule. We felt like a family again.
Another huge benefit was that I knew what Hannah was capable of doing as far as school work was concerned, so I didn't allow her to be lazy about it. I gently and lovingly pushed her to do her best, and she learned to do her best again. She also improved dramatically in her behavior.
Yes, it did mean more work for me. Yes, it did take some time to adjust to our "new normal" schedule. Yes, it was totally worth it!! You see, the fact is that you are the expert on your child. Nobody else has that advantage. Nobody else knows her, her preferences, her wants and needs, like you do.
So if you have a special needs child, I truly believe that, in most cases, homeschooling is the way to go. It's not the easiest way, but it is so good in so many ways!
What do you think? Do you homeschool a special needs child? Why did you make that decision? Or maybe you're considering homeschooling your special needs child. I'd love to hear from you!
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