Unschooling and Special Needs

Rebecca Farrin wrote on the Always Learning list, November 1, 2012:
When I adopted my kids about 13 months ago, they were both heavily involved in special education services, especially my daughter who has Marfan Syndrome, low vision and "global developmental delays", but also my son who was "delayed" and having sensory issues and other effects of prenatal exposure to alcohol. They are currently 3.5 and 5 years old.

I will focus on my daughter who is school age and who I received the most advice for how to handle. I was told that she might not ever potty-train or talk (beyond mimicking) and would likely need to be a full-time special education student in school. When she moved into our home, she was seeing around 30 different professionals between doctors, teachers, therapists and DHS people.

Within a few weeks of my children's arrival in my home, I started devouring every bit of information I could find on alternatives because I immediately felt that this wasn't going to be live able for any of us! I came across Sandra's site, and later, this list, and life has changed dramatically for us!

I slowly withdrew both kids from all professionals except the most essential (I.e. eye doctors), transitioned my kids slowly to more freedom and free time and found a counselor for my daughter who agreed with my approach. One year later, my daughter is potty-trained, talks constantly (sharing plenty of her own independent thought!) and most people who meet her would call her quirky but charismatic. She makes friends easily and I suspect that her previous teachers would be shocked if they had an opportunity to see her now! How?? She learned to talk from watching t.v. With me beside her to repeat phrases and answer the endless question " What they doing?". She has learned letters and is beginning to read because of t.v. And the iPad, on games such as Starfall ABC, the Meet the Letters/sight words app, videos, podcasts (especially Sesame Street). As it turns out, my daughter needs a lot of repetition while in a safe environment to learn. The specialized preschool with constant comings and goings if strangers was too unsettling for her! She loves to act out her own stories while I write them down and read them back to her. She has a passion for Barbie that I would NOT have encouraged with my heavy feminist background, but I did not interfere and instead encouraged and supported this passion, and her storytelling has really taken off! While we have faced many attachment challenges as a result of my kids' foster care experiences and my own difficult childhood experiences, our home has experienced so much positive as a direct result of moving "slowly but quickly" into unschooling.

On Always Learning in March 2011, someone asked about Trying to juggle two little one's needs, having a child with Down Syndrome, all his required therapies (even though he was younger than two) and about putting her older child in day care because of the time involved in the therapies. Other posters had a few ideas, but akgreeley wrote something especially inspiring:

I have a son who would certainly be labeled with disabilities if he were in school. I am familiar with the early intervention path, and how it can make every suggestion seem mandatory.

One of the reasons I quit the path of cookie-cutter help was because I got to watch my (unschooler) friend's son, a boy much like my own, blossom in her care. With every difficulty or difference he presented, whether it was speech differences, sensory difficulties, or behavior issues, she arranged life to fit his needs. She also approached all this with a solid faith in him that he was the way he was supposed to be, and that he was on his own schedule. She sought appropriate help when needed, but it was out of a "what are his true needs" space.

I have since approached my son's needs in a similar manner, and he is blossoming. He doesn't need OT because he gets plenty of appropriate stimulation, and I am able to cater to his environmental and physical needs. It is looking like he would benefit from some play therapy, as he's currently dealing with dangerously strong emotions, and we will get that for him because I can see both my own limitations in helping him with that issue, and the benefit of the proposed therapy.

My son requires huge amounts of my attention and time, and I struggle with how this takes away from my other two children. Had we come to unschooling earlier, I might know better how to balance my time. As it is, I'm getting better and I'm seeing all my children thrive.

In your shoes, I might ask myself if all of the therapies are truly necessary. They are designed as preludes to schooling, and they may not all apply. Even if they do, is there a less invasive schedule you could take? When the help you're getting takes away so drastically from the rest of your life, maybe it's not really a help.

If you didn't know these therapies "had" to be used, what help would you need for your child, right now? What wouldn't you need?

Susan, on Video Games

Video Games and Autism, by Susan/wifetovegman, responding to questions posed on a discussion list.


Doesn't sound like ADHD to me! Interesting account of the history of a boy whose first grade teacher says "ADHD."

Kathy Ward

has three pages on special needs children. Kathy has homeschooled and unschooled both, and has nine children all happy and healthy. Her site dissolved and is being reconstructed. Part of it is here: SandraDodd.com/KathyWard and there's a link to her new pages, still in progress.

Another Path, a comprehensive guide to homeschooling your deaf or hard-of-hearing child [Don't know these folks, but came across an unschooling page on their site.]

If you have suggestions for links or would like to contribute articles, write to [email protected]

Thoughts on Giftedness When Siblings FightUnderstanding Anger