Parenting special needs teens is hard work; homeschooling special needs takes strategy and determination to see their potential despite the disabilities.
Utilizing these strategies in homeschooling special needs teens will help minimize stress for parent and teen, and allow the teen to learn on his or her level. That in itself is an important strategy to note: teach on the teen’s developmental level, not what should be the grade at that age. My son, who has autism, was a freshman in high school but developmentally a fifth-grader in certain subjects. Teaching him the subjects based on his developmental grade took a great deal of stress out of the equation.
Use lists to schedule the homeschool day, writing down subjects and breaks in order. Don’t put times down on subjects, giving as much time as the child needs, but do list breaks with “15 minutes” or “1 hour lunch” in the list. If there is a field trip planned, make a field trip schedule for the teen to take—and make sure you keep a copy and follow it. Meltdowns occur most often when schedules are expected but not followed. Schedules can be written or visual, depending on the teen’s capability. Keep structures fairly set in stone: one structure for stay home days, another for field trips, and the third for errand
Choose a Curriculum That Works for Your Child
Use curriculum that is appropriate for the teen’s developmental age in each subject. This may mean not buying a set curriculum for all subjects, but a hybrid that is perfect for your child. Choose curriculum that builds upon itself and doesn’t jump around. Moving from place value to time to multiplication then landing on decimals doesn’t help anyone. A subject should move logically from task to task, building upon itself to make sense.
Follow Your Child’s Interests
Using a teen’s special interests or latest obsessions with homeschool helps a great deal with buy-in to homeschool and holding attention. My son’s interest was trains, and I used train clipart on worksheets, picked up train books at the library (it counts as reading!), used trains in math problems, and read about the science of trains (steam, physics, etc). He ate it up! Making learning fun by incorporating special interests is a hot-button strategy that helps everyone.
Use Concrete Objects
Use concrete objects to teach abstract concepts. For example, sometimes getting verbs across as action words can be difficult, like nouns can be hard to teach as persons, places, or things. Asking the child to say their name, then telling them to walk to the kitchen and back while saying “Sam walks,” or “Sam runs,” helps them identify that a person does something and that something is a verb. Using counters for math helps them see that seven red blocks plus three blue blocks equal ten blocks. Especially with autism, the abstract is so hard to teach; concrete objects or actions help the child to incorporate all their senses to absorb the material.
Learn About Special Needs
Finally, one of the most important strategies is to learn as much as you can about your teen’s disability. Join a support group, befriend other parents facing special needs, and help others whose children have recently been diagnosed. Research appropriate summer camps—they can be incredibly rewarding for teens and parents.
Homeschooling teens with special needs can be difficult, but also extremely rewarding. Knowing your teen is learning without fear of being bullied is priceless.