FAQ About Children With Special Needs
Here are some frequently asked questions about homeschooling children with special needs.
Q: Because my child is not functioning academically at grade level, does this mean he or she has a learning disorder?
A: Not necessarily. There are a number of areas that need to be explored before placing a label on any child. There are physical concerns that take priority. The first step in making this evaluation is a complete physical examination. This may lead to further evaluation of the eyes and ears. Basic concerns may need to be addressed such as the need for glasses to correct a farsighted or nearsighted condition. A child with a history of ear infections may need professional care in this area. Physical problems of any kind will affect learning. Maturity is another consideration. All children do not mature at the same rate. This is not a learned activity and it cannot be taught or rushed. Some children are just not ready for the academic standard of their age level. The mental ability must enter in as a factor. The home environment is another consideration as well as identification of a physical handicap which has perhaps deprived the child of advancement in academics and presents an opportunity for remediation, the hidden handicap enters in at this point. We usually classify the child with a learning disability as being average or above ability but functioning below expected potential. The concern is what happens to the information that has entered the brain? How is the auditory information processed that has entered the brain through ears that can hear? How is the visual information processed that has entered the brain through eyes that check out with 20/20 vision? In the late 60s, educators, physiologists, and physicians became concerned with these questions. Many have studied the function of the brain and the learning pattern. We may still not have all the answers but we do know that in order to assist these children in learning we must get to the source of the problem. The problem must be met on a neurological level. Information enters the brain through the eyes or the ears and is processed through the brain to be released through speech or some kind of motor response. If there is some abnormality in this process it will reflect in what we refer to as a learning disorder and must be treated as such.
Q: My child has been diagnosed with ADHD. What can I do to help him learn?
A: First of all the word “diagnosed” is very important. If a child has been checked by a specialist and given that diagnosis, that is one thing. Unfortunately, many parents and teachers confuse hyperactive with hyperkinetic, the latter term signifying a neurologically-caused inability to sit still. Simply because a child displays distractibility, lack of attention, or impulsive behavior, it may not necessarily mean the child has ADHD. It is suggested that hyperactivity may reflect the judgment of the person working with the child. An active “all boy” may react very differently than his quiet older sister. A teacher or parent who requires order and quiet behavior may find the child’s behavior difficult to tolerate while a teacher or parent who is more relaxed sees no concern. Children are different. In a firm, loving manner we set the rules and bend when necessary.
If the child is diagnosed by a specialist, we need to flex when possible. Shorten the time the child needs to sit still. Change activities often. Let him stand to read if that is easier for him. He probably does have a difficult time not noticing everything around him and all at the same time. Find some method of learning that he enjoys and use it often. There is still a great deal of study and research being done in this field being done currently. Diet is very important. I am not a nutritionist but this would be one area I would certainly look into carefully. Children react to foods in different ways. Our modern “eat on the run” diet can be detrimental to the learning process.
Q: My child seems to be unable to correctly reproduce sounds, letters, or words. What kind of a disability is this?
A: This is referred to as an Auditory Processing problem. Many children who have passed the hearing test within a normal range cannot make sense out of what they hear. They may miss much of what is said because they cannot process it quickly enough. A few words or sounds may be “heard” but cannot be understood amid unintelligible sounds. They may “hear” speech sounds, but they all sound alike. Some children may hear a vowel sound different each time it is spoken. The child may hear a reverse sound. For example, when a “th” sound is given the child may hear an “f” sound. This is frustrating to the child but also to the parent. When a series of directions are given the child with an auditory processing problem may hear only one in the series. For example: “Pick up your coat, take it to your room, and put it on your bed.” The child may be only able to process one direction, “go to your room.” The parent should be aware of this concern and speak distinctly, patiently, and repeatedly. In severe cases, there are specialists that work with this problem.
A child may have a Visual Processing problem. Like the auditory, the child may test with 20/20 vision and yet not be able to correctly process letters or words that he sees. There are specialists that work with severe cases. Drills and activities can also be used at home.
There are curriculum programs that work from the neurological approach that are very helpful in strengthening both of these areas.
Q: What relationship is there between music and learning, especially with the “special needs” child?
A: Learning a verse or a poem has always been easier when put to music. Remember how you learned the alphabet? Music is part of every human being. We match music to emotions. When we are discouraged, music covers the hurt. When tired, music is restful. We select the music that fits the occasion. It has been said that music has the power to shape a child’s intellect and life-long education. A recent article pointed out the fact that music encourages the learning process by engaging all of the senses that involve creative discovery and self-expression. A lot of research is being conducted in this field not only for its effect upon learning in general but especially with children with special needs. The correct selection of music is important.
A homeschool mom recently mentioned to me that while singing from the hymn book at church it occurred to her that the words were divided into syllables that flowed with the music. She began using this approach with her son.
Q: It is impossible to read what my child has tried to write on paper. How important is handwriting to the learning process?
A: Over the many years that I have worked with children with special needs, I have observed the correlation of good fluent cursive handwriting with reading. In responding to the above question, I would like to use two quotes.
Dr. George H. Early, associate professor, Department of Special Education at Indiana State University, in an article from Academic Therapy, Vol. IX. No. 1 points out a number of advantages of cursive writing. He states that one advantage of cursive writing is that each word consists of one continuous line where all elements flow together (exception k, j, and t). Because of this continual flow of elements, the student more readily experiences the total form of a given word. He advocates teaching the art of good fluent cursive handwriting along with reading skills. Dr. Early mentions the rhythm in cursive writing. This promotes the automatic nature of the writing task. Dr. Early further states that cursive writing helps to prevent the development of early directional problems.
Dr. Samuel Blumenfelf, Education Philosopher is quoted as saying, “Do not teach anything that has to be unlearned and do not let a child develop a bad habit. Instruct the child to do it right from the beginning. Knowledge acquired by the hand is transferred to the reading process. Thus, learning to write helps in learning to read.”
In working with students I advocate the use of the gross motor skills gradually reducing to letters using fine movements of the hands and fingers. Making the letters in wide sweeps in the air then forming the letters in sand or finger paint. From this point gradually working to letters completely covering an 8 by 11 sheet of paper. When ready for lined paper use primary lines first. Music with handwriting drills is valuable.
I would like to refer you to a booklet of information gathered by a homeschool mom, SIMPLY BETTER HANDWRITING by Pamela Vinson Aldrich.
Q: What attitudes and mannerisms should I cultivate in my own life as a parent of a “special needs” child?
A: The first word that comes to my mind is “patience.” However, I turned to some parents that struggle with this question on a daily basis. Here are some of the responses that they shared. An openness in dealing with the situation as a family affair. Understanding, help, and support are essential for every member of the family. Many parents are prone to have feelings of guilt and their attitude is relayed to other members of the family. It is not the fault of anyone. You are a good mom and/or a good dad. Do not let guilt come between you and your child. Because “special needs” children require enormous amounts of time, brothers and sisters may feel neglected. Working out time with the other children in the family is an enormous task and every member of the family must be involved in helping to make this time available. Mom needs a little attention and time as well. Dads often find it difficult to set realistic goals especially if the child is a son. A “special needs” son especially needs the role model he finds in dad. Children are tuned into the moods and feelings of those around them. Children with special needs are even more aware of this. Above all talk freely about the child’s problem. The child needs to know the truth in a language he or she is able to understand. They need to know that in spite of limitations they are loved and wanted.
As I work daily with parents and “special needs” children I marvel at the love, care, and time these parents share. It is as if God selected them to meet the needs of these special children.
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More About the Author:
Jean Munroe Lanman has over thirty years of experience with “special needs students”. She holds several teaching credentials and is a Learning Disability Specialist. Jean has an extensive background having taught grades K through college in public and private schools. She has instructed educators on the college level and continues to instruct teachers and parents in the most current methods of learning. Jean homeschooled one of her grandchildren and has been involved with homeschooling parents for many years. Abreast of all new technology, she is in constant daily contact with students with special needs as Director of Lanman Educational Services offering Home School and Distance Learning opportunities using Expressways To Learning – Reading and Math Systems. Her approach includes meeting the needs of the student individually using a neurological technique, Auditory-Visual Impression Pairing, developed by Dr. Jack Hoes. Jean values the use of music, color, and handwriting as important for the development of the learning pattern.