Special Needs Homeschooling
​By Meg Grooms

Every single child in this world is different and has different educational needs. Parents who have children with special education needs face unique challenges, I happen to have two special needs children who are homeschooled. The good news is that homeschooling your special needs child is often the best situation for the child and your child doesn't have to give up school-funded therapies in order to homeschool, and it doesn't have to hurt your wallet. The hard work of homeschooling a special needs child is twice as rewarding.

Most states allow children to be evaluated for special programs at the public school, including students who do the bulk of their learning outside of a traditional school. Homeschooled children in most states are eligible to receive free speech therapy, autism support, occupational therapy, gifted education and other programs through their locally zoned public school. Your child will attend school for these programs only, they do not need to be enrolled full-time. Using this option is generally the least expensive and most convenient for a family, however family participation isn't always encouraged and you may find yourself fighting to stay informed of your child's status. You may also feel pressure from the school to enroll your child full-time. If this happens remember that they are speaking from a numbers and funding standpoint, schools garner three times as much funding for special education students as they do "normal" students. Your local school district will have all of the information you need to have your child evaluated and you generally do not have to have a prior evaluation or referral from a doctor. The school has a legal obligation to provide these services to your child regardless of where you child is educated. If you find the program just isn't working out you are free to remove your child at any time to seek services elsewhere.

Most states also offer early intervention programs for children identified before the age of 5 as having special needs. In some states these programs work hand-in-hand with the local schools, but since all are publicly funded they are open to ALL children who qualify. Evaluations, programs and therapies will be provided at no cost, and many can be performed in your home. A quick call to your state's Department of Health should gain you all the information you need to get your child evaluated.

Parents who have private medical insurance might be surprised at what they will pay for. Many top-tier insurance plans now cover speech therapy, hearing aids, physical therapy, psychological care, occupational therapy and many other therapies and programs your child can benefit from. There are hoops that you will have to jump through and you will most likely need the referral of a physician. This is a wonderful alternative for those who are unable to take their children to a school for these services or who want to try to keep everything in-house and under the radar. While this option is not free, it is desirable for those in the position to pay for therapy and who want the government school system involved as little as possible. If your family participates in a state-funded insurance program you are eligible for these services through your state Department of Health at no cost in most cases, when your child reaches compulsory school attendance age you will be referred to the local school district for most services. If you do not have insurance most hospitals that offer these services have a sliding scale, some have limited amounts of state funding to cover the costs of low income and uninsured children.

There are alternative service locations available if you know where to look. In many communities, tutoring for all ages is offered for free or low cost at senior centers, community centers, churches and church schools, the YMCA and other community clubs, community colleges and universities. Many private and church schools have programs for special needs children at a reduced cost, including autism support programs several days a week. 

While homeschooling a special needs child takes more effort than homeschooling a child who doesn't need these services, you are your child's best advocate and you have the ultimate choice of where and how their education will take place. 

- Your child doesn't need to go to school in order to receive the services they need. 

- It is your job as parent to ensure your children get the best possible education, and for most special needs students traditional school isn't the best option, and it is certainly not the only option. 

- Arm yourself with information and surround yourself with people who care and can support you. Locate a support group geared for parents of special education children who are homeschooled, research the internet, talk to professionals and make a sound decision based on your information and child.