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Homeschooling a Child With A Special Need or Condition

Homeschooling a Child With A Special Need or Condition

Article by: Sysy Munoz (Sr. Contributor)
May 03, 2021

     Children with special needs or chronic conditions are, despite our feelings in the matter, more vulnerable than those without. As someone who grew up with a life-threatening and incurable condition, I learned this the hard way. One can be successful in many endeavors despite health issues, but nevertheless, special needs and chronic conditions must be acknowledged and respected so as to ensure a child’s health and quality-of-life.

     Certain cases of special needs surely require plenty of outsider help and support. I want to generalize on the cases that are more manageable to parents. For example, many might include attention deficit disorders, learning disabilities like dyslexia, injuries, and autoimmune conditions like asthma, type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Celiac disease, severe food allergies. 

     Chronic conditions inherently involve some degree of additional time spent planning and treating. It’s much easier to eat one’s special diet or maintain a course of treatment from home. If a child needs frequent breaks for whatever reason, these happen seamlessly at home, too. Accommodations and interventions are a lot easier to make for one child at home versus one of many at a school with adults whose attention is spread thin.

     There’s the concern about homeschooling a child with a condition or a special need being overly sheltered at home versus learning to manage out in the typical school setting. First of all, is it an overabundance of shelter or is it proper care that is being delivered at home? If it’s the latter, then no need to worry that a child wouldn’t learn to cope with their condition out in “the real world” for you can teach them what they need to know and take them out at any time and let them practice as you see fit. 

     I attended public school my entire life and my daughter has been homeschooled for all of hers. In my case and my daughter’s, there are required finger sticks and insulin injections throughout the day and we avoid sugar, carbohydrates, and gluten out of sheer necessity. I can compare what my experience was like managing my condition in public school with my daughter’s. I will share this personal experience so as to help illustrate how homeschooling is a huge asset to kids who have some kind of special need.

     As a kid, I had to make hard decisions like how to adjust my lunch insulin dose or how much glucose to take for a low blood sugar while taking a multitude of factors into account. These are hard enough for your typical adult, let alone a child with incomplete brain development. I also had to resist eating sugary foods but I had a child’s level of self-control and wasn’t being watched so that didn’t go well. Also, much of my care suffered as a direct result of adapting to the public school environment which is designed to manage a large number of children and thus cannot easily provide much individualized attention. At home, you adapt the environment to your child where necessary.

     Due to homeschooling, my daughter is not so frequently thrown into the situation where many children are doing what she cannot or where she has to make decisions beyond her capability. We can ease her into tricky situations where she practices dealing with scenarios like feeling left out at a birthday party when cake is passed out or calculating how many grams of glucose or units of insulin she needs. While she acquires these critical skills of lifestyle habits, mindset and emotional control, she is with the adults most qualified to care for her and where her sibling has empathy for what she goes through and where the food is entirely accessible to her. She doesn’t have to go to the school nurse before lunch for an injection. She doesn’t have to check her blood sugar while her peers wince at her. This isn’t about going soft on her or putting her in a protective bubble, it’s about respecting the serious needs of a child. You toughen children up slowly over time, not by putting them, untrained, into situations even adults regularly fail.

     It’s extremely common for children with type 1 diabetes to rebel against their care routine while at school and at home, due to how demanding it is. My daughter does not. I can leave her alone to do what she knows she should do. I carefully increase her level of responsibility to match her level of readiness versus pressuring her into a potentially dangerous situation. I was expected to take on an adult level of vigilance and responsibility with my condition while at school. It did not help me mature. Instead, I came very close to death on several occasions, which did nothing but scar and weaken me. While I have now recovered, it is my goal to help my daughter be hardy and capable without incurring debilitating fear and trauma along the way. 

     There’s a popular saying in the diabetes world: “kids first, diabetes second” and while it sounds like something you’d nod along to, it refers to how the focus is on the child with diabetes’ feelings and experience in life versus their serious condition. Concessions are thus justified. Children can have sugary treats even if it raises their blood sugar because they deserve the enjoyment of said treat. I disagree and have the experience and multiple long-term complications to back up my point of view. It is our responsibility to get children to adulthood as healthy as possible. If diabetes isn’t properly dealt with, the child will not even be “second'', they will be last, or perhaps they won’t even be, at all. 

     I advocate homeschooling for anyone who can because I think it is highly advantageous to all children. It is even more helpful to children with some additional vulnerability. You protect your child better than anyone out there you best determine when they are ready for certain tasks. You are most equipped to help them manage their emotions in a healthy way so that they can face their hardship. The brutal truth is that it is crucial my daughter learn how to keep herself healthy as an adult because without that she will be limited in all else. Being healthy is most conducive to learning anyway so keeping that a top priority positively influences all else. I’m not sure how any of my family’s experience may relate to children with other needs or situations but I think the key takeaway is this: do not ignore your child’s challenges - confront them and help them master them, otherwise your child will be brutally forced to contend with them later on down the road. Homeschooling provides the ample time, space, and freedom you need.