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The Benefits of Homeschooling a Child with Physical Disabilities & Chronic Health Conditions
By Kelly Case, August 2018
When you research through homeschooling articles, blogs, forums and online social media groups, there is an abundance of information available to you. You will quickly come to realise the benefits of homeschooling for many different types of children and families. There is also growing advocacy and feedback from parents on the benefits of homeschooling special needs kids, which is fantastic, however I find it lacking in outlining the benefits for those with physical disabilities and chronic health conditions. The information readily available seems to concentrate on special needs like Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety Disorders, Depression and other mental health conditions as well as those suffering from the fallout caused by bullying. Learning disorders also feature heavily through articles and social media groups. Now while I love that these are all receiving well needed attention, I always notice a gap. A little black hole that I know is there but others may not be aware of.
There is a growing number of children within the homeschool community who are specifically homeschooled due to their physical issues. There are a lot of benefits! You just don’t hear about them. My aim in writing this is to make others aware of these little know, often ‘hidden’ or unspoken benefits and in turn hope it may help a struggling family realise there is another option open to them when it comes to educating their child.
My own journey in the world of homeschooling started out of an urgent need help my struggling son. He wasn’t quite 7 years old yet, and was dealing with the special needs I mentioned above (ASD, Anxiety, being bullied, learning disorders and more). We had tried two years of mainstream education across two schools, both private and public. Neither were working for him. A medical professional suggested homeschooling to us and we went from there. At first starting off with Distance Education before switching to the eclectic style of homeschooling that’s been working for us for many years now. Along this journey, my son’s physical health was declining and we had a lot of years of assessments and testing before getting to where we are today. He has been diagnosed with a bleeding disorder and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Through this diagnosis process, I have come to learn how invaluable homeschooling is to the health and wellbeing of my son. Even if I had waved a magic wand and he no longer had the issues which led to him being removed from mainstream schooling, the benefits for him physically because of homeschooling are worth choosing this path.
Here are just 10 of the benefits we’ve found for homeschooling your child with physical disability and chronic health conditions:
Getting enough sleep is essential for a child who suffers with physical disability and with a chronic medical condition. Over and above the fact any child needs a decent amount of sleep to grow, be healthy and be able to focus and learn (especially teens!), sleep for pain sufferers is often broken sleep throughout the night. Pain and overwhelming fatigue is something these kids live with daily, so to be tired due to lack of sleep on top of the daily fatigue associated with their condition is very hard to handle and makes functioning near impossible. My son can sleep as late as he needs to, he can sleep during the day if he needs to, and he can be learning while resting. For that matter so can the parents! Caregivers go without sleep just as much. It’s a bit like having a newborn baby and in those early weeks you function like a zombie. Carers of disabled and special needs kids continue that sleep pattern (or lack of sleep pattern) for years on end. The sheer relief to me as a parent, knowing I can sleep in while my son sleeps, and there is no early morning school run to be organised for is worth it in itself!
2. Temperature Regulation
Many kids with conditions like Epilepsy, and like my son’s bleeding issues, need to be in a temperature controlled environment especially during summer. A rise in body temperature for these kids can mean an increase in seizures or bleeding episodes. Being able to be at home in air conditioning not only reduces the onset of these things, but also helps maintain overall functionality. For example if my son gets overheated and gets a nose bleed, the duration and severity far exceeds a regular nose bleed and the fatigue he experiences from the blood loss (especially when there are multiple bleeds before lunchtime some summer days) impacts him just as much and it takes a while for the body to recover. Seizures for an epileptic are just as debilitating fatigue wise as well as issues like memory loss and physical injuries. A simple thing like staying at home in air conditioning over the summer months has a huge positive health impact. Even if a school classroom was air conditioned, a child still has to move between buildings and play areas etc through the day and be faced with temperature regulation issues.
3. Tailored Learning Environment
Being comfortable is essential in managing pain. Not having to sit at a desk to learn or sit on the floor to listen is a big thing for us. My son can sit on the couch, he can lay down on a therapeutic body size pillow and he can move when he needs to and help alleviate pain. Managing pain means a child is more open to learning. We can find educational pathways for us that suit their learning and physical ability. If a child physically cannot handwrite (whether from a pain perspective, a disability perspective or a vision impairment perspective) then sitting in a classroom being made to write all day just isn’t going to work for you. At home you can find alternatives like audio books, DVD’s, voice to text programs, having a parent scribe for you, etc. There is flexibility and support without having to rely on the availability of a teacher’s aide and without having to work within the same time frames as other classmates.
4. Scheduling and Appointments
In any given week, children with physical disabilities and chronic health issues have appointments to attend with therapists, specialists, hospitals and Doctors as well as home programs to complete. The majority of therapy appointments are requested by families for outside school hours and the waiting lists to see the therapists can be months long. Being able to be flexible with appointment times and see therapists during the day, means often there is no wait to see someone. Having to travel to and from appointments means not ‘missing’ school as we can simply schedule our homeschool learning around our appointments. Reading time on the couch becomes reading time in the car or in the hospital waiting room. There is also the benefit of having therapists come to your home during the day (which they are more likely to be able to do during school hours). When a child is in mainstream school and has to miss a lot of school due to appointments, they can often miss crucial learning and fall behind. At home, they don’t miss anything as you simply tailor learning time around appointments.
Making friends isn’t the easiest thing to do for kids with any kind of disability or special needs. One thing I have noticed within the Homeschooling community however is that kids have a much more relaxed idea of friendship and are open to all kinds of friendship. Children from a mainstream schooling background have an unrealistic expectation that they will see their friends all day every day. Homeschooled kids are often more flexible in this thinking and are fine seeing friends less often, and randomly. They make friends at an excursion and might be a month or more before they see them at another excursion yet they pick up where they left off and it’s not a problem for them. Many interact online with their friends or talk on the phone rather than having to see them in person all the time. This style of friendship and the expectations of friendship suit us much more. My son is also more open to making friends of different ages rather than the rather narrow scope of friendships that happen at school. When kids with chronic illness are in and out of hospital, they can’t attend many gatherings so having understanding friends with more relaxed views on friendship is a big positive.
6. Community Access
When Homeschooling, we have the flexibility to choose when and where we go for Homeschooling events. We can choose the museum visits and the movie or bowling social days rather than the nature hike or park play gatherings. We can pick and choose based on interest and capability. We can check the disabled access before deciding to go, or we can create events that suit us and invite groups online. At school often excursions aren’t suited for all kids and to avoid feeling excluded the kids go along but aren’t really getting anything out of it. That’s not the case when at home. We can attend experiences and excursions with our child to ensure all runs smoothly and needs are met rather than relying on teacher aides to remember all the instructions we need to give them. In many cases, despite us being present at the excursions, the child actually has more opportunity to be independent and involved. We can also be more active in the winter months and stay indoors in the air conditioning in summer if that suits, rather than a school schedule which seems to be busy over the whole year. We can do our shopping and go to the movies during school hours when it’s quieter and there is more chance of getting a car park.
7. Comforts of Home
There is nothing worse than feeling unwell and not being in the comfort of home. Being able to use the bathroom at home for those with complex needs would be preferable to using school toilets, as well as not having to ask to use the toilet 10 or more times a day if you were a child with kidney or bladder problems. Being able to shower 10 times a day in summer to keep cool and regulate temperature, or lay in a bath to ease muscle and joint pain is another benefit of being homeschooled. Being in too much pain to wear a school uniform when instead you can wear socks and PJs all day, another big plus.
8. Damage Control
A child with a physical health problem often needs to be careful of what they do day to day to avoid making their condition worse. Lugging around a heavy school bag isn’t going to help a child who is already in pain. Walking all over a school campus doesn’t help either. Being able to reduce risk and being able to monitor pain levels is something I find a huge help. Kids with allergies and skin conditions can reduce the need to take so many medications if in a medically controlled environment at home. Kids with joint problems can reduce the wear and tear on their joints which lead to long term damage and be active in a supported and safe way instead.
9. Privacy, Self-regulation and Awareness
When a child with a physical disability or chronic health condition is at school, their issues are largely public for all to see. Other students see them get taken to a bathroom break by a teacher aide, or hear them ask to go to the school nurse again, and in general they see and overhear things that can be embarrassing for the child. Being at home gives them the privacy they deserve for personal care issues, helps them learn to self regulate pain issues, and helps them develop self-awareness in a supportive private environment. Life can be hard enough for these kids and if they are having a bad day and need to shed some tears, they don’t have the added worry that someone might tease them for it.
10. Food & Medication
It is so much easier for a child with food intolerances and allergies to eat food at home without the fear of cross contamination. It’s also much easier for a child who is peg fed to have this done at home rather than at school. Food can also be cooked fresh rather than packed in a lunchbox each day. Medication can be administered easier and without the endless forms to be completed for the school. You can also monitor how your child is going over the day and know whether or not they need medicating or a medication adjustment. Just by being at home you might be able to avoid having to use medication at all!
I am sure that there are many more benefits to be found for homeschooling your child if they have a physical disability or suffer with a chronic health condition, but I hope these give you an insight. If you are considering homeschooling, remember that it’s more than just an educational pathway, it’s more than just a change of scenery, and it can honestly be a game changer in the health and well-being of your child and your family.
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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.
Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.
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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine
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