Muscular dystrophy robbed the Mendez brothers – Manual and Alberto – of more than their mobility. The condition has left the boys wheelchair bound, dependent on oxygen tanks, and with a weak immune system. Even a common ailment like a cold can lead to a major life-threatening situation.
Anna was a high school student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Her condition was so severe that she couldn’t keep her attention in the classroom for more than a few minutes. She also had a penchant for getting into trouble. So much so, that her attendance at school actually put her in danger from other students.
In many respects, the Mendez brothers and Anna have something in common: The local schools could not accommodate for their educational needs. As a result, the best direction for them was homeschooling.
Despite the advent of laws, technologies, and new teaching practices that have made public and private schools more accessible for students with disabilities, some students and their parents are discovering that homeschooling caters more to their educational needs than traditional route.
Homeschooling is an alternative to traditional school setting; however, it offers something that many students with disabilities need: A safe environment, one-on-one attention, pacing and accommodations at their educational levels, and/or access to respite care.
A Brief History of Special Education and Homeschooling
Having students with disabilities homeschooled is not a new trend. Well before the advent of special education, it was one of two options parents had. The other was to institutionalize the child in an asylum.
Since those days, special education has evolved and public and private schools have become increasingly more accommodating and inclusive for this particular population. In part, state laws and federal civil rights bills such as American with Disabilities Act (ADA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) have helped to create a better environment for these students.
Still, for many, this is not enough. Issues such as poorly equipped facilities, inadequate safety concerns, and the students’ vulnerability to diseases persist.
Homeschooling comes in several forms: there’s the “true” form of homeschooling in which the parent is the teacher. Another form is coordinated through groups of parents or organizations which act as a network for teacher/parents.
Another type is offered through the local school districts the parents and students live in. In this case, a credentialed teacher (or tutor) goes to the student’s home to teach. Many districts call it independent learning or homeschool learning. This latter form acts as an extension of the local school and has the students take the same curriculum and tests as their non-disabled peers in school.
Students with disabilities have always benefited from a small classroom environment, personal attention from the teacher, and lessons accommodated or modified to their needs.
Homeschooling offers this. Usually, the “classroom” is a dining or living room, and the teacher is the parent or a credentialed teacher. Also, in most cases, there’s one teacher per student (In some cases, there might be more than one).
Pacing is another benefit. The teacher works at the student’s pace. For students with processing disorders or short memory retention, this can help. This is also helpful for students with physical disabilities, such as the Mendez brothers (Often, they had to take breaks due to physical therapy, or illness brought on by their conditions).
Attention is another good reason to have a student with disability homeschooled. Anna, the ADHD student could barely keep her attention in a crowded classroom. She was easily distracted by visual or auditory factors often found in a classroom. She barely finished an assignment while in class.
As a homeschooled student, she was very different. She was able complete her work and retain information taught to her. This happened, in part, because the teacher was able to gain her attention and help guide her on her work.
Safety is another factor. The Mendez Brothers simply couldn’t be around other students for fear of catching a cold or flu. Also, the nearby school still didn’t have adequate ramps or facility for wheelchair bound students (this, in spite of being in violation with ADA laws).
On the other hand, Anna had made enemies at school. Her personal safety became an issue, especially from known gang members enrolled at the local school. In her case, the IEP team, school and district administrators, and her parents determined that homeschooling was in her best interest. Again, safety was a benefit for her.
Parents and students have various reasons for choosing homeschooling. For students with disabilities and their parents, it’s not merely a choice; it’s possibly the best setting and opportunity for the child.