Yes to Homeschooling a Child with Intellectual Disability


Learning you have a child with an intellectual disability is probably one of the most devastating moments of a parent’s life. It feels at once that all your hopes and dreams for your child are over. Instead many of your dreams are just changed a bit, and fortunately, some of them don’t have to change at all.

A parent can keep their dream for homeschooling a child with an intellectual disability. Homeschooling is popular because it allows parents to individualize and personalize their child’s education. This is exactly what a child with an intellectual disability needs.

What starts out as hugely challenging-homeschooling a child with Intellectual Disability (ID)- can actually be quite the opposite, with planning and preparation, and a new perspective. Read on to learn more about how you can do this for your special needs child.

Homeschooling Is Intellectually Smart

It may seem impossible to homeschool a child with ID. Many parents just skip over the idea completely. However, this is not necessary. And can be detrimental to your child.

Homeschooling is one of the best things you can do for your child and you don’t want your child with a disability to miss out, especially when they can often benefit the most.

Getting Started with Homeschooling

To start homeschooling, you need to be adequately prepared and organized. Preparation is easy with proper planning, and so is organization. And as an experienced homeschooling parent and former teacher, I have lots of tips to help you with both!

Preparation and Planning To get started, you will first need to find out your state’s requirements and regulations for homeschooling. This is the first step so that you are working in the right direction. I talk about this process in another article too, so click here if you want to read that.

Basically, to figure this out, simply Google your state plus department of education home instruction or homeschool. This will quickly lead you to the web page you need for your first step. You’ll learn the minimum requirements, deadlines, what to submit, and so on for ANY family interested in homeschooling, not just someone with a special case.

Once you have this background information, you are ready to move forward with establishing your homeschool. You will want to fill out the forms and get those submitted right away. Most often you can do this electronically for ease and no cost of a stamp. In addition, I like emailing the forms because it provides an automatic paper trail for you and you can reuse them (with tweaking) for years to come!

Don’t worry if you haven’t decided to homeschool just yet. I still encourage you to to submit the forms on time. If you change your mind and decide NOT to homeschool, that’s not a problem. You aren’t obligated to continue it. But if you wait, and miss the deadline, you now have a problem and risk not being able to homeschool until next school year.

Next, you will want to decide on your child’s curriculum. The state regulations can guide you (i.e. how much English, type of math, etc. using their posted standards per grade level and subject area) but as homeschoolers, you will have the freedom to tailor the curriculum for your child.

You may want to include Bible, catechism, charity work, a foreign language, and more. You also have the option to purchase a complete program already put together like Abeka (Click here to find this on Amazon) if you want, but it is certainly not necessary.

There are plenty of options out there for creating a FREE Christian homeschool curriculum. So much so that I wrote a detailed article all about this, if you want to read it next. Feel free to contact me if you have any further questions in this area!

Remember, this is really up to you…just how much time and money you want to put into creating and gathering materials.

Organization Homeschooling parents need to be organized. Since you can’t rely on someone else to maintain records, it is prudent to get organized in the beginning, at the start. Don’t relax in this area because that could potentially cost you your homeschool or negatively affect your child’s pursuit of higher education later on down the road!

For best organization practices, you will need something to hold records for attendance, curriculum materials, your child’s work samples, and tests or other assessments. Much of this can be done online via Google Drive or saved on your individual devices nowadays. However, I think there are times when paper is just plain unavoidable and in those cases, I have several budget-friendly items that I can recommend for your homeschool.

I’ve found that simple pocket folders with prongs can be quite helpful (and inexpensive) for storing student work samples. This is true no matter how young or old your child is. Your child may also want a folder for each subject-area he or she studies, too. Click here to find those on Amazon.

As well, manila folders are a good buy for your homeschool for storing attendance and test records, among other things. They are useful for all office needs, basically. Click here for my inexpensive suggestion of manila folders from Amazon.

Finally, I’ve liked using binders for heavier storage needs. Binders are good for year long records, culminating forms, or student projects. Binders, like folders, are not too costly and can be flexible in use. You’ll likely find many uses for binders over the years of homeschooling. You can click here to go to Amazon to purchase the binders I use.

All of these purchases will help make your homeschool feel official, and more importantly, will keep your homeschool efficient and organized.

Benefits of Homeschooling For All Children

Homeschooling benefits all children and none should be left out just because they aren’t ‘standard’ or because they have specialized needs. All it means is that your homeschool will look a bit different than someone else’s but isn’t that the case anyway?!

Like this article expounds, many choose to homeschool because of the religious benefits to homeschooling. Christian parents can be free to include Biblical history, teaching, morality, and even their faith-based favorite fiction literature and arts in their child’s education. It is also a benefit to have your child not taught Christian-unfriendly doctrine, too, which can occur in public schools.

Other benefits from homeschooling cannot be denied, even from those researchers with obvious biases against homeschooling. In this article, for example, secular researchers admit that homeschooled children score better on standardized tests, including those for college entrances, and that homeschooled children who move on to higher education, are quite successful. And this is from those OBJECTING to homeschools!

Homeschooled children have more time for extracurricular activities such as sports, arts, music, church groups, clubs and martial arts. Because they don’t have as many distractions and time-fillers as their public and private schooled counterparts, including the need for redundant ‘home work’, they can accomplish more academically in less time, giving them freedom for specialized add-ons. You can find out more here about adding martial arts to your child’s homeschool curriculum,

Homeschooled children get to work at their own pace and thus, their academic achievement is generally higher. They can learn more, faster, even if they started out slower/lower than their peers.

Homeschooling allows for filling in academic gaps without the often-attached stigma.

Therefore, those with identified special needs such as children with Intellectual Disability are able to perform better for themselves than they would if not homeschooled. They most likely won’t achieve more than peers without a disability, but they will do better personally by being homeschooled.

In this case, it is hard to argue for NOT homeschooling children with an intellectual disability!

Children with Intellectual Disability

Children with an intellectual disability make up 8-38 per 1,000, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). This is a huge range because studies often differ between including children with mild disability to those with severe intellectual disability (having less than 50 I.Q.). None the less, it is more children than any of us would wish!

An intellectual disability is more likely to occur in children of low socioeconomic background, as well as in minorities. Although, there have been studies that show a connection between minority and socioeconomic status, too.

Children are usually diagnosed in infancy or as toddlers due to lack of reaching expected milestones. Milestones are benchmarks or ‘markers’ in life reached at common spans/ages, including physical, mental, and social/emotional.

Examples of milestones are

  • sitting up
  • crawling
  • babbling
  • talking in sentences
  • walking
  • jumping
  • standing on one leg
  • and MUCH MORE

When children fail to reach one of these milestones at an expected age (e.g. sitting up at 6-9 months), there is nothing to worry about. But if children consistently miss milestones, then pediatricians take note.

There are other times when physical milestones might be met, but others are not, like talking or forming relationships. Sometimes there are abnormalities in mental thinking (logic, problem solving, and ability to grasp concepts or memory acquisition) that will show up later, around school age at 5 or 6 years old.

No matter when it is discovered, it is always a challenge for families when they learn they have a child with an intellectual disability.

What is Intellectual Disability?

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology defines Intellectual disability (ID) as “a diagnosis given when an individual has problems both in intellectual functioning and the ability to function in everyday activities.”

Comprehensive exams and tests are administered once ID is suspected, usually coordinated by your child’s pediatrician and/or school, and before a diagnosis is made. Characteristically, children with ID often have trouble with talking, reading, using technology, and forming relationships or interacting appropriately with other children and adults, including family members.

It is important to make an accurate diagnosis because children with ID need proper support and likewise, children should not be misdiagnosed with it either.

Living with Intellectual Disability

It is critical that those diagnosed with ID have proper support at home and school. Children and families both need this!

Often children with ID act out because they get frustrated with their limitations or recognize that they are different, especially if they attend a regular public/private school. In these cases, school teams usually, and inaccurately, attach emotional and behavior disorders too, like emotional defiance, oppositional defiance, or attention deficit, hyperactivity, to the child’s cumulative records.

This aggressive behavior, and resulting of additional ‘labels’, can have an extreme detrimental effect on your child.

When our special needs child was in 3rd grade, he attended public school in a well-respected school district; his particular school even had classes especially designed for children like him with his same particular diagnosis. Yet in spite of this specialization and staff training, the traditional school setting was not appropriate for him and his behavior showed this.

He was labeled emotionally defiant on his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) after his first year at this school. His inappropriate behaviors that led to this included arguing with students and staff, hitting and kicking others, and not following certain school rules and procedures, according to the teachers and principal.

Naturally, we sought support from the school, psychiatrists, and child development specialists, like we were ‘supposed to do’ under the circumstances.

However, his frustration and erratic behavior continued on to 4th grade. At this point, he was as highly medicated as his little body could take. And yet he began banging his head on the wall, hiding under school desks, and actually leaving campus grounds (several times)- all actions demonstrating the frustration he felt mentally!

It all came to a head when our child psychiatrist asked Ethan point blank, ‘what do you want?’, and he replied, ‘I want to be homeschooled again’. She looked at me and said, ‘Mom, can you do this?’

As a parent whose most important job is to make sure our children are safe and happy, how could I say no?

At this point, we pulled Ethan out of the traditional ‘elite’ public school he was attending and began homeschooling right away.

The frustration for our child with ID was caused by the environment, which he nor we could correct while he was in public school.

Ethan’s behavior did a 180 degree turn. It wasn’t long that he was off all medication! His child development doctor petitioned to remove the ED label because it was a misdiagnosis completely! He is a happy child, does his chores, follows routines, enjoys activities, and LEARNS. He’s been able to improve his reading ability by grade levels (it is still below his age, but nonetheless, it has grown!) and is quite the expert on animal facts.

All of this is to say that living with a child with ID isn’t as difficult as it may seem. And that that child can grow to be a productive, satisfied, contributing, happy adult.

However, it is critical that environmental factors be considered. In our case, homeschooling HELPED our special needs child and it was up to us to make it happen, for his sake!

Issues for Parenting And Teaching Children with Intellectual Disability

There are going to be issues you encounter when homeschooling a child with an intellectual disability. As parents, it is our job to face these issues, do ‘our homework’, and tackle them with the love our child deserves.

Special Considerations When Homeschooling The Disabled

You will need to do some research. One, make sure you are aware of any special requirements for homeschooling your child with ID, or any kind of special needs. In most cases, you will not encounter any restrictions as long as your child makes adequate progress.

Like with any homeschooling situation, you will want to cater your curriculum to your child’s needs and wants. This is the luxury of homeschooling, after all.

Sure, our child has a reading portion to his day. However, WHAT he reads can be structured for him. Our son reads a lot of non-fiction animal books. He really enjoys those!

However, I still push him a bit to include fiction, but I’ll find him books that have animal main characters. Our son also struggles a bit with empathy and seeing ‘change’ in characters, so I will look specifically for material that has this, in order to help him with that deficit.

Your child might need more read alouds or audio books. Or maybe your child struggles with relationship building so you could find material that explicitly teaches this (your public librarian is a good resource for support, but more on that later!).

Regardless, you will have special considerations for your special child, but it’s certainly not impossible or expensive! Trust me on this because we’ve been homeschooling our special needs child now for the last 6 years and haven’t broken the bank yet!

Resources for Parenting Special Kids

There is a wealth of resources for parenting your special needs kids today! There is no reason not to take advantage of what’s available to you, or to get frustrated in thinking there isn’t support for you. There is!

From your pediatrician to the local library to the zoned school for your child, you have in-person support if and when you need it. Your tax dollars support this, so that they can support you! Contact any one of these and I promise you’ll find some ideas you hadn’t thought of yet.

As well, there are local chapters of special needs clubs, especially if you live in a larger populated city. If you don’t and instead live in a place more recluse or isolated, then perhaps you be the change! You don’t have to have all the answers to get started. Sometimes it just helps to meet with a like-minded, focused group.

And with the internet, you can reach around the world for support! I urge you to use trusted sites, but there are plenty dedicated to children with special needs! As well, you can easily join support groups for ideas. Resources abound…you just have to reach for them!

Disabled Is Just A Label

One of our twins is learning disabled, but you’d never know it from this birthday picture!

The Center for Disability Rights says “look at people, not labels” and this almost seems in contrast to the heading here, Disabled is Just a Label. In actuality, the meaning is the same. The intention of both is people first!

Children are Children, Parenting is Parenting

When considering to homeschool your child with Intellectual Disability, you first think there is much more to it than homeschooling a child without ID. As we’ve seen here, there will be some unique aspects. However, in retrospect, there is so much the same!

Children are all unique and different. That’s something the same! We’ve now homeschooled four children (still in the process with two) and each one has been different. We never reused material; they all came at learning from different perspectives and desires.

Two of our children struggled to read, both reading later than ‘expectations’ but both were honor students in high school and received college scholarships.

Yet our daughter worked so hard in her struggle, really trying to read when it was a jumble for her. Our oldest son, in contrast, hated the struggle and mostly ignored pressures to perform, opting for an ‘I don’t care’ attitude. His desire for Yugi Oh cards was what inspired him to put forth effort to learn to read.

We couldn’t approach these deficits the same because our children weren’t the same.

Our other children had their own learning issues and needs. Nevertheless, it certainly hasn’t been most difficult to homeschool our special needs child at all! His learning plan was different, but no more difficult for us as parents to put together. In some ways, he’s probably been easier!

Similarities & Common Approaches

Despite ID, your child has many commonalities to all same-aged children. Thus, you’ll approach homeschooling much the same way as all homeschooling families.

All children need to be engaged. You will have to find motivation for your child initially, and then that motivation will become intrinsic, even for your child with ID.

You’ll set routines and procedures to guide your child. Consistency is key for most, but that doesn’t mean you can tweak and make adjustments along the way. Don’t we all do that in just about everything?

Your child will act out at times; your child with ID is no exception. It’s your job to set boundaries and goals to help your child throughout his or her education, no matter what kind of schooling you do. And most certainly no matter if your child has ID or not.

Homeschooling Parents

Parents who homeschool a child with ID will need to be extra diligent (but it’s not to say that is too difficult).

You will not only need to follow state regulations, but you will have the added burden of ensuring everything is in order. This is no different from non-special needs families, but people might pay extra close attention that you dot all i’s and cross all t’s!

Anytime you have a homeschooling situation that is out of the norm, it is good to connect with others. So again, I encourage you to utilize resources that are readily available to you and form relationships with other homeschooling families. This will not only help you as a special homeschool, but also help your child with ID who needs that support to socialize.

Wrapping up Homeschooling a Child with Intellectual Disability

I’m a homeschooling advocate, no doubt! I’m also a former public school teacher with over 20 years teaching experience from elementary to high school (and a bit of higher education to boot!).

You don’t often see both of those claims representing one person, together!

Let’s recap quickly:

  • It’s smart to homeschool. Benefits have been proven!
  • To get started look at your state regulations and then get organized.
  • It is critical to properly diagnose children with Intellectual Disability. A miss diagnosis (either positive or negative) is detrimental.
  • Children with ID can live happy, productive lives and CAN LEARN!
  • You CAN homeschool children with ID!
  • Children with ID often do better when homeschooled than if traditionally schooled.
  • All children are unique and require unique education!
  • Homeschooling children with ID can actually be easier than homeschooling children without ID!
  • Use your resources! They are all around you.

Homeschooling our child with Intellectual Disability was the best decision for him! It may not have seemed the easiest or most logical choice at the time. We lived in an affluent, well-respected, highly-trained public school system, but it wasn’t the right choice for him! Truly the decision to homeschool him saved his life, and ours!

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a former public school teacher, licensed in 3 states and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. In addition, she taught online as an adjunct professor; homeschooled; owned and operated a daycare; mentored education interns; hosted professional developments; and at one time was appointed interim principal. However, to Jackie, the most rewarding work of all has always been in the vocation of wife and motherhood.

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