Spotlight on the Crew — Homeschooling the Special Needs Child: Balancing Goals with Outcomes

{This week’s Spotlight on the Crew article is brought to you from Lori, at  Special Connection Homeschool.}


What are we doing in the morning?”  That’s the question I hear every night from my daughter before she goes to bed.  I must explain that by that question she means, “what are we doing tomorrow?”  I know this because if I simply answer what we are doing in the morning, she then asks, “what else?”  She will keep asking, “what else” until I tell her that is all.  Sometimes after going over a long list of items we are doing the next day my reply to her will be, “isn’t that enough?!”

My daughter Gesserine (who happens to have Down syndrome) will be 11 next month and I have been homeschooling her since she started school.  She is now in the 4th grade and while she reads on that level she struggles in other areas like math.  At first I thought the challenge would be finding the curriculum that worked best for her but it wasn’t long before I realized the real challenge was finding if one would work at all.

You know there are some children who have special needs that with the right education and therapy will grow up to live independent lives.  However, there are also many students who, like my daughter, might not ever be able to live on their own.  While there are some areas my daughter excels in she still does not know the proper way to ask what we are doing tomorrow.   Communication is often difficult for her as are abstract concepts.  While independent living is still the dream and goal of my academic plans for my daughter I also realize that she will most likely always need some sort of assistance.  So how do we make sure our children with these types of special needs have the best outcome?

The first thing you need to do is relax.  The thought that we might not reach a goal has to be the most frightening part of homeschooling for a parent.  When their child can not do something they immediately question whether it’s actually that the child can not do it or whether they somehow failed to teach it properly.  We work really hard to find that balance between challenging our child to do more and yet not forcing our child to do something they are just not capable of doing.  I have found the most important thing you can do is to remind yourself of this one thing: Because you are the parent you do know your child better than anyone else. No one knows, loves, or cares about your child more than you do.  So keep that in mind and give yourself a break.  No matter what the outcome, you really have done all that you can do which is probably much more than any other service provider could or would do.

The other important thing to remember is to keep your lessons relevant. While I have curriculum that I try to follow, I need to remember to tailor it to what Gess will actually need and use. I read a book by a speech therapist named Libby Kumin who talked about that very thing. She said it’s ridiculous to have learning animal sounds as your child’s goal if they live in a city and can’t even say their own name.  While Gess doesn’t ask what we are doing tomorrow correctly, the fact that she is thinking about tomorrow is what matters!  We worked very hard teaching her the concept of time, tomorrow, yesterday, next month, and so on.  Understanding that concept is much more important than being able to say we did X number of pages in a workbook!

After 12 years of school Gess might not be able to live on her own or get the job of her dreams, however, that doesn’t mean I will keep her from dreaming or simply expect that they won’t happen.  While I realize that her dreams might not work out, until we reach the end of her schooling I will work as hard as I can to give her the best education possible.  I also want to make sure we enjoy the journey along the way.  To do that my goals have to be challenging, but real.  I may make mistakes, but what teacher doesn’t?  I can tell you this one thing, when Gess asks me, “what are we doing in the morning” and I say, “school,” that makes her happy, so I must be doing something right.


Lori Sevedge homeschools her daughter Gesserine who has Down syndrome.  Lori loves learning as much as she does teaching and she is constantly seeking out new ideas and resources for her daughter.  She later began blogging about those resources to help other parents who have struggling learners, those who homeschool, and especially those who do both.  You will find her experiences homeschooling a child with special needs at Special Connection Homeschool.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

A Division of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine