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Special Needs Homeschooling & Grief: A Path to Success

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Homeschool veteran and special needs mom Kristen Pratt is our guest today. I love her practical approach to homeschooling and I asked if she would share some thoughts on special needs homeschooling with my readers. Her article took a different twist than I expected, but it is definitely a good read. In fact, all special needs parents will appreciate it, whether or not they homeschool.

Do you have a favorite hiking trail? Our family had our very own in our back yard. It wandered through about three acres of mostly wooded land. It became very natural to walk the trail, avoiding hazards such as the gaping woodchuck hole in the middle of a hill that led to an open field. We all knew to step to the side of the path in that one deceivingly grassy section to avoid mud-caked shoes. We even discovered hidden secrets like the wild blueberry bush at the back end of the property. At what seemed like the end of the trail, we knew to veer right for a hidden way back to the original path. We didn’t have to look up to know where the deer stands are located. We could have navigated that trail blindfolded.

Parenting for us has become like that well-worn path. We have 9 children: 3 married, 1 just graduated & 5 more still homeschooling. We have grown accustomed to some of the pitfalls and easily avoid them. We have learned from tripping over logs in the path. We know to look for the hidden treasures. While each child is unique and we continue to learn new things, the path is comfortable and our stride is sure. At least it used to be.

We adopted a little guy from the Caribbean about 11 years ago. By a year-and-a-half old he was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Parenting our son is like walking that well-worn path in the darkness of night. We knew it would be a little bit of a challenge but we know the path well. It would all be ok. After all, the doctor thought he was only mildly affected. (Boy was he wrong!) We were not prepared to slam into a tree that mysteriously appeared in the middle of the trail. That big root we fell on really hurt the shins! We are certain the path doesn’t go in this new direction! And what about that river that nearly drowned us?  This is what it can feel like raising a child with special needs. Everything you know about raising a child is changed, moved, and sometimes makes no sense. The well-worn path is sometimes unrecognizable.

How do we parent and homeschool a child who struggles with the simplest of tasks? It isn’t easy. We cry. We get frustrated. We grieve. Do not pass by that last sentence quickly. We grieve. We grieve a lot. My banner for raising our son is to shoot for the stars and hope we get a couple of inches off from the ground. Sometimes we do not get off the ground at all. Sometimes it feels like we end up in hole. That is when I grieve. This does not mean I give up. It means I accept the limits of today and feel a natural sadness. It stings. Our son has lost so much and we have to cope with that loss. Until I grieve, I cannot accept reality and plan for the future.

Our son is supposed to start 6th grade. As I began to plan the new school year I found 6th grade takes a big leap into the abstract. Our son cannot understand abstract. He has hit a wall (or tree) and there is no way around it. That hurts. My son has no ability to understand this loss so I grieve for us both. Until I grieve it, I cannot accept it. I need to accept it in order to help him where he is at, rather than where I want him to be. The homeschool teacher side of me wants to fight. My post-grieving side knows I will do more harm than good if I do. Instead I developed a plan that will engage him where he is. However, his books will not say 6th grade. I admit that still stings a little.

How about you? Do you have areas you haven’t yet grieved? Is it setting you and your child up for frustration and failure? I fight it, too, sometimes, but I am getting a little better at recognizing my need to grieve. It isn’t giving up; it is letting go. It is letting go of something that doesn’t exist anywhere but in our hopes, dreams, and expectations. Yet, it is real loss worthy of our sorrow. It is essential that we grieve for our own well-being and also for the success of our child. Pray and ask God to help you identify the areas you need to grieve. Study up on the steps of grief in order to understand the process. (affiliate link) At the other end, you may still feel some sadness but you will be able to accept reality and make better decisions with the goal of helping your child grow as much as possible.

What do you think of Kristen’s thoughts on grieving and progress? I’d love to hear in the comments!

I’m putting together a super-duper ebook of survival tips for special needs parents! My newsletters subscribers will be the first to get it…FOR FREE! Just click the button below to sign up and you’ll be in the know.

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Kristen Pratt is a homeschool curriculum editor for www.Master Books.com.  She loves helping put together “curriculum with purpose” in a way that is easy to use and engaging for students.  She is married to Randy, who also works for Master Books (NLPG).   As an owner of Pennywise Learning (now owned by CBD) she has helped thousands of homeschool moms navigate curriculum choices. Kristen has 20 years of experience homeschooling her nine children and has had the pleasure of seeing four of them graduate.  She continues to homeschool the remaining five children, including one with special needs.

Get a great scheduling tip from one of jennyherman.com's readers!

Save Your Scheduling Sanity with This Reader Tip!

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The other day my newsletter shared some posts for helping you avoid overwhelm this new season. I also invited my readers to tell me their biggest challenge as special needs parents. I love it when my readers reply!

One fantastic reader, Karen, not only replied, but also took time to share her own scheduling trick. I imagine this will save many of you, whether or not you have a special needs child. Here’s what Karen said,

One idea about appointments that I am so glad I had last year, I’d like to share: schedule a week or two periodically for NO appointments. It is as if we have a vacation coming up, even though we don’t. I mark on the calendar, “schedule no appointments,” so when a medical office is telling me my child can be seen by a certain doctor only on Tuesday mornings, for example, and we are looking at that “sacred” week, I have to say, “OK, then we’ll have to go with the following Tuesday,” rather than acquiescing to the day they are suggesting. And if we are trying to fit in a dental appointment, and the receptionist asks about a date during that particular week, I simply let her know that week is unavailable. 
It seems like a simple thing to do, but it hadn’t occurred to me before this past year, and I found that every single week had one to three different appointments. I tried doing the “cluster several appointments together, especially if they are all in the same distant town” idea, and also the “make all your medical appointments to be the same day of the week, and also use that day to do your other errands as well” idea. However, too often, the medical offices do not operate under that plan–for example, some are not open every day or the physician uses certain days strictly for surgeries. And by the time we’re done with two appointments in a town an hour away, we don’t have time for other errands unless we want to arrive home to make supper at 9 p.m.! So that didn’t work either.
When we found ourselves in one of those “no appointment weeks,” I can’t tell you how free I felt! As it happened, we still had unexpected things come up that were inconvenient, such as an unscheduled injury or a car breakdown, but having a few days in a row where we didn’t have to go anywhere but the occasional grocery store pickup or driving a teen to work, or going to co-op were quite refreshing! 
That is indeed, genius! Thank you, Karen, for sharing your sanity-saving tip with us! Do YOU have a tip that saves your sanity? I’d love to hear!
Speaking of sanity savers, my Kindle book The Power of One: Change Your Perspective, Change Your Life is on sale for Labor Day weekend! It’s just 99 cents until 4pm on September 3rd, then it goes to $1.99 for the rest of the holiday weekend. It’s a great time to grab some hope and inspiration for the fall! (affiliate link)

I’m putting together a super-duper ebook of survival tips for special needs parents! My newsletters subscribers will be the first to get it…FOR FREE! Just click the button below to sign up and you’ll be in the know.

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Learn more about the new book Special Education at Home! via jennyherman.com

Special Education at Home Q & A [Plus GIVEAWAY!]

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UPDATE: Congratulations to comment #3, Kayleen! You are the winner of an autographed copy of Special Education at Home by Shawna Wingert!

Though I have not met autism mom Shawna Wingert in person, I think we’d have no problem sitting in a coffee shop should we get to meet in real life some day. I am a fangirl of her writing. She writes with such heart and her beautiful words seep into the souls of special needs parents. I’m excited to have her here today for a Q&A session about her new book, Special Education at Home: Out-of-Box Learning for Out-of-Box Learners. Be sure to read all the way through, because Shawna has a surprise. Let’s get started!

Me: Tell me a little about your special needs homeschool story.

Shawna: Well, the honest answer is, I NEVER in a million years thought I would homeschool. I was solidly a public school girl growing up, and assumed my children would do the same. When my oldest son was in the second grade, however, it became clear that school was not working for him – at all. So we made the leap. (You can read the full story here.)

Me: Why did you decide to write Special Education at Home: Out-of-Box Learning for Out-of-Box Learners?

Learn about the new book Special Education at Home! via jennyherman.comShawna: When we received my sons’ various diagnoses, we were already homeschoolers. What surprised me were how many people just assumed we would put them back into a school environment to let the “experts” teach them. The truth is, a mom homeschooling a child with special needs is subject to constant scrutiny for her decision to homeschool. My child see two therapists and a developmental pediatrician regularly. All three of them are constantly asking questions about my sons’ educations. Sometimes, I feel supported in our decision to homeschool. (It’s the BEST to have a doctor say,”I can see now that homeschooling really is the best decision for him. You are doing a great job.”) Sometimes, I am asked a lot of questions about how my child is performing in school and how I am teaching him – more than a parent of a special needs child in a school program would ever have to answer for. That can be tough. I wrote the book to essentially encourage other parents that they are more than qualified to teach their child with special needs at home.

Me: I know people can look at the table of contents, but what would you say is the essence of your book? Is it inspiring? Practical?

Shawna: I hope it is both! My favorite quote ever about the book is from Jamie Martin (author of Give Your Child the World and editor at Simple Homeschool). She graciously said, “Her voice (Shawna’s) is caring, guilt free, and full of both practical advice and inspiration.” I cried when I read her words because that is exactly what I was hoping for. The reality is that we need both. We need the practical, how do I deal with being at doctors appointments twice a week and still fitting in math, or what do I do on days when my child was up until 3 AM. But we also need the encouragement, the you can do this, the you are not alone. I hope the book does both!

Me: Have special needs homeschoolers responded to your book, telling you what speaks to them the most?

Shawna: I am so blessed to have a very loyal, loving audience. Yes, I have been lucky enough to hear from many readers who were touched by the book. Some of my favorites are from moms who are thinking about homeschooling, or are just getting started. A sweet momma who is beginning her special needs homeschooling journey this month sent me this message:

“I will be embarking on this homeschool journey for the first time. I will be letting go of all the services and accommodations I have fought so hard for. However, it is liberating knowing I am no longer chained to a system that does not know how to teach to my children’s style of learning. I was so relieved to hear  your ‘out of the box’ approach . A lot of the pressure I was feeling truly subsided. Thank you for getting out there and sharing your experiences.”

Me: What a great testimonial! Here’s my final book question: What’s your favorite part of the book?

Shawna: This is a difficult question to answer. I guess my favorite parts of the book are the ones that tackle everyday issues that most authors seem to avoid. The chapter about sleep and how much it impacts education (and thus makes homeschooling a child with chronic sleep issues a great choice) is one of them. So is the reality of how much we use screen time to aid our homeschooling days. My favorite message in the book is ‘Just because it is hard, doesn’t mean you are doing it wrong.’ I fall into this trap all the time. Somehow, if things are tough, I am convinced that it is my fault – that somehow I am messing it all up. What I am learning is that sometimes, some things are just hard and must be lived through. And that’s OK. No one is the blame. Not even me.

Me: Thank you for answering all these questions! I can’t wait to see how many special needs homeschooling families will be blessed by your book. Is there a way people can connect with you and get further help from you?

Shawna: I blog at NotTheFormerThings.com about this beautiful, messy life I have been given. I also coach other parents on creating and implementing homeschool plans for their children, no matter what their needs. Coaching information is available here.

Here’s the exciting news! Shawna has a giveaway for my readers. One entrant will win an autographed copy of Special Education at Home: Out-of-Box Learning for Out-of-Box Learners!

I’m keeping this giveaway super simple.

If you already subscribe to my weekly newsletter, leave a comment saying so. If you need to subscribe, just click the red button below. You can unsubscribe at any time. If you stay subscribed, you’ll receive my survival guide for special needs parents when it’s done, for FREE. Remember to leave a comment here that you subscribed–it’s your entry.

For a bonus entry, subscribe to Shawna’s personal notes by entering your email address in the bar at the top of her site. Then leave another comment.

If you love giveaways and you want more entries, you can share this on your social media and leave a comment for each place you shared it. Just click the share buttons below.

The giveaway closes Sunday night at 11:59 EST and a random winner will be contacted Monday. The contest is for US folks 18 years and older. No affiliation with any social media. No purchase necessary. Thanks for entering!

 

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Click on over to find a list of apps to use in special needs homeschooling! via jennyherman.com

Big List of Apps for Special Needs Homeschooling

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Let’s face it. Technology is here to stay. Additionally, many of our kids with special needs gravitate towards technology. Why not put that to good use? I asked some other special needs homeschooling moms to tell me their favorite apps, both for education and coping with challenges. Here’s what they came up with. Many of the ladies who gave suggestions also have blogs, so have fun clicking over to their blogs via the links at their names. (more…)

Click for encouragement for autism parents! via jennyherman.com

Breaking News: God is Bigger Than Autism

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Do me a favor. Get a piece of paper and write down a challenge you’re facing. Then write down another. It’s ok–I’ll wait. Done?

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I’m task-oriented. I’m a fixer. It’s just my nature. But in that task orientation and fixing, I can get off track.

I focus on the problems, the trials, the challenges. I “just keep swimming”, pushing ever harder against the waves, forgetting there’s a boat next to me.

I get overwhelmed by the challenges I can’t fix. I cry because my son with autism can speak, but he can’t communicate. I ask him too many questions in an effort to understand, and I make him melt away more into himself. I wish I could fix the sensory issues that bother him so he and his brother could enjoy each other more despite their differences. I wish I could help my youngest understand a little better.

I wish, I wish, I wish. I push on, hanging on to the knowledge that God is in control.

But I forget.

I forget that God is bigger. God is bigger than autism. God is bigger than Sensory Processing Disorder. God is bigger than sibling squabbles and daily stress. God is bigger than my fear. God is bigger than my anxiety. God is bigger than my lack of faith.

God. Is. Bigger.

I was struck by the end of Psalm 46 the other day. “The God of Jacob is our fortress.” Now, David was writing that many years after Jacob, but the same is true for us. The God of Jacob, Isaac, Abraham, Paul, Rahab, Esther, Ruth, Moses…he’s still the same, and he’s a fortress!

He holds me in his hand. He holds my child in his hand. And there’s room to spare. He knows what my child cannot say. And he loves us.

Take that paper out. Write God is bigger than in front of each challenge you wrote down. Tape it to your mirror. Say it out loud. Write it on your hand. Make that your one thing for the next week. He is bigger and he is a fortress. Remember that. Rehearse it.

God is bigger than autism and in that knowledge I am humbled and ever so grateful.

If you’re a special needs parent hanging on, I recommend the book The Life We Never Expected. I’ll be reviewing it later, but for now, know it’s a great book to help you through tough times. If you’re not familiar with God’s sacrificial love for you, learn more here.

Where will you put your “God is bigger” note? Tell me!

I’m putting together a super-duper ebook of survival tips for special needs parents! My newsletters subscribers will be the first to get it…FOR FREE! Just click the button below to sign up and you’ll be in the know.

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Come on over and discover some new articles to read! via jennyherman.com

For My Readers: New People to Read

Happy Monday, friends! Today is the last day of Darren Rowse’s Blogging Groove challenge. If you’ve missed the rest of my posts from this challenge, here you go…

Day 1: List (Ironically, I wrote this one the day before I knew about the challenge, and it fit!) “7 Reasons I Homeschool My Child with Special Needs Instead of Sending Him to School

Day 2: FAQ, “How Do You Deal with Those Who Think You Shouldn’t Homeschool Your Child with Special Needs?”

Day 3: Review, “The Special Needs SCHOOL Survival Guide

Day 4: Story, “The Day My Son with Autism Broke My Heart

Day 5: How-To, “How to Be a Friend to an Autism Parent During a Child’s Meltdown

Day 6: Discussion Starter, “How Do You Do Special Needs Therapy at Home?

Do you know what one of the best parts of the challenge has been? Meeting new bloggers and seeing the different ways people respond to blog post challenges–the variety of topics and twists.

I’ve come across some posts that I thought you might like. They all relate to my readers in one way or another. Let me know which one interests you the most!

  • When I read this post by an autism mum in Australia, it struck me how much alike we special needs parents are. Though each of our children have different challenges, we experience many of the same things.
  • I know many of my readers like alternatives to chemical cleaners. Over at the Hippy Home, you can learn about non-toxic cleaners.
  • Many of you are busy parents like me. I don’t know about you, but because I work from home and my job uses the computer, I feel like I’m on the computer much of the day. I often feel like I’m neglecting my boys. I love the Post-It Note idea in this post idea in this post on saying yes to our kids and no to distractions!

There’s a new kid on the special needs homeschooling block, and I hope you’ll click on over and say hello. To get an idea for her voice, read this post on why she chose to homeschool her son with severe autism.

Now that the challenge is done and we’re in the back-to-school season, I’ll be going back to my regularly scheduled programming, posting twice a week.

It’s your turn! Which one of those new-to-me posts did you enjoy the most? Tell me in the comments!

Join the discussion! Tell us how YOU provide therapy at home for your child with special needs! via jennyherman.com

Join the Discussion: How Do You Do Special Needs Therapy at Home?

The other day I published a post titled 7 Reasons I Homeschool My Child with Special Needs Instead of Sending Him to School. In five days it had over 2,600 views. Wow!

One of the roadblocks for people who want to homeschool their special needs child is school services. Many parents doubt their ability to provide the needed therapy for their child.

So, here’s my question for you today, and really you don’t have to be a homeschooler to answer it.

What therapy do you do at home for your child with special needs? There are all kinds of therapies out there–percolate and ponder for a minute. You may be doing therapy and not even realize it!

I’d love to start a discussion in the comments. I am going to be writing a blog post about this later on. I’d love to hear what therapies you do, how you do them, what your favorite resources are, etc.

Thanks for joining the discussion! Your answers will help others. I know it.

I’m putting together a super-duper ebook of survival tips for special needs parents! My newsletters subscribers will be the first to get it…FOR FREE! Just click the button below to sign up and you’ll be in the know.

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Get 5 tips for being a friend to an autism parent! via jennyherman.com

How to Be a Friend to an Autism Parent During a Child’s Meltdown

Years ago, a friend did something for me as an autism mom that I’ll never forget. Following a meeting, she took me to pick up my boys from a sitter. My son with autism was not ready to leave. He was young then and transitions were still hard for him. Things fell apart. I could barely get him into her van. Throughout the meltdown, she remained calm and quiet. She didn’t yell at him to sit down. She didn’t try to tell me what to do. She just calmly put the van in drive and drove the less than a quarter mile to get us home.

My son still in meltdown mode, she grabbed backpacks and my youngest. Still calm, she took stuff to the door of our apartment building. She never made me feel badly about the situation. Her calm enabled me to stress less. I knew I didn’t have to worry what she was thinking. It was a gift.

How can you be a good friend to an autism parent during a meltdown?

  • Just like my friend, remain calm during meltdowns or other intense situations. Almost every child, special needs or not, has a meltdown at one time or another. It’s just part of life. Your composed demeanor allows your friend to focus on what needs to be done.
  • Help. If it is a situation like an all-out falling apart, do what you know would help–pick up items that need to go home, hold the hand of a younger sibling and walk them wherever they need to go, get a child’s comfort item, etc. If you don’t know what would help and it is possible, just ask, “How can I help?” Sometimes you might not be able to ask, but a simple face gesture or mouthing of words could work. Note: If your friend says there’s nothing for you to do, be okay with that.
  • Don’t tell your friend how to handle a situation. Unless you’ve experienced something similar and you have a good rapport with your friend, don’t say anything. Definitely don’t say anything in the middle of a challenge.
  • Don’t try to take over a situation. The more people and voices added to a situation, the more the child with autism spirals into fight or flight mode. If a bunch of people are talking, he cannot hear his parent’s voice. He needs less noise, not more. Of course, if you are part of a pre-established exit plan, that is a different story.
  • Offer encouragement. A smile, a hug, a “you’re doing great” strengthens your friend while she works through the challenging moments. Bringing a cup of coffee or sending a quick text encourages her when she wants to cry.

Do you know that those five suggestions have in common? They’re not hard. They’re not expensive. With these simple tips, you , too, can be a good friend to an autism parent when their child has a meltdown.

Are you an autism parent? How has someone helped you, during a meltdown or otherwise? Tell me in the comments!

I’m putting together a super-duper ebook of survival tips for special needs parents! My newsletters subscribers will be the first to get it…FOR FREE! Just click the button below to sign up and you’ll be in the know.

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Click to read this autism mom's story! via jennyherman.com

The Day My Son with Autism Broke My Heart

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Communication represents a big challenge for most people on the autism spectrum. For some, they seem quite capable of communicating, but it is extremely difficult for them. Others are considered non-verbal, and some folks fall somewhere in between. So when my son with autism opens up for a few minutes, I stop and pay attention.

Two or three weeks ago I thought I’d go sit next to my son while he played Minecraft. I don’t remember exactly now, but I think I asked him to tell me about what he was doing. He started talking and then he said the words that both broke my heart and made me excited.

“I might be better at video game life than real life.”

Oh, my heart. Now here’s the catch. I can jump all over that and get in his space and he’ll shut down (which I’ve learned from many mistakes). Or, I could go the casual route and see if I could get him to say anything else.

For once I was able to control myself and say something like, “Yeah? What makes you say that?”

And what made me excited was that he actually answered me! Lately he’s been afraid to answer questions because he doesn’t want to give a wrong answer, even when we tell him there’s no wrong answer. It can be a little taxing to say the least.

He told me how in real life he can’t communicate well and that he deals with bullies.

I was so proud of him for being able to get that out. I pointed out that sometimes what seems like bullying is an energetic child who can’t stay out of someone else’s space (something we deal with around here). That’s as far as I got. He wouldn’t tell me about other bullying other than it isn’t physical.

And that’s ok. I told my hubby because sometimes he can get stuff out that I can’t. We’ll keep an eye on things and patiently wait for the day when he can say more.

So in one sentence my son broke my heart and made me want to cheer. I understand video games are so much easier to deal with than people. I know it wears him out to try to explain himself. Even though my son has made tremendous progress and “doesn’t look autistic”, his challenges are very real.

I know I’m not the only parent in this situation, a parent who has a verbal child who can’t talk. Hang in there. You are not alone.

It’s really hard to coax and coach our verbal kids who have communication challenges. Do you have something that helps you? Tell me about it!

I’m putting together a super-duper ebook of survival tips for special needs parents! My newsletters subscribers will be the first to get it…FOR FREE! Just click the button below to sign up and you’ll be in the know.

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