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If you wanted to regularly be working with special needs children, you could be a pediatrician, therapist, or even a specialized lawyer. But in our societies, it’s teachers who spend the most time helping these special kiddos. In schools, special education teachers are often the most patient, warm, creative, and predictable people in the building. And with good reason! It doesn’t take a saint, but it does take a certain kind of person to teach special needs children well.
I know when I got my first teaching job, I was surprised to learn that more than half my kids would have special needs. It made me feel totally unqualified and underprepared, despite my degree in education. I believed those myths about how only “saints” could teach special needs children. I anticipated miserable days full of frustration and little joy. Worst of all, a little part of me figured I’d be bored silly trying to teach kids who weren’t capable of or interested in learning. (Forgive me, kids!)
Maybe you’re wondering if you have what it takes to homeschool your child with special needs. You’re considering it, but you want a closer look at daily life. If you ever wanted to know if you have the skills, read on and see what you should already have or start working on.
Skills you need when working with special needs children
Creative problem solving
Kids with special needs often don’t do what you expect. You’ll need to be able to take whatever they throw at you (sometimes I mean this literally) and use it to help them move forward.
If you were studying to be a special educator, you would spend a lot of time working on these skills. But for those who can’t take college courses or get a special degree, you’ll need to DIY a lot of it. If you want a few more tools in your toolbox, don’t forget to check out the Homeschool Resource Room Shop! We’ve got tons of resources especially geared for special education, including graphic organizers, lesson planners, visual aides, and more!
Manage your emotions
Children with special needs often get frustrated. Sometimes this leads them to act out, just like some adults do when someone cuts them off in traffic. You, however, can’t show your frustration when on the job. Your getting angry or escalating will only further escalate the child. Instead, you need to be able to keep calm, take a deep breath, or know when to step outside the room to collect yourself.
Don’t take things personally
Depending on the types of disabilities, some children with special needs can say really hurtful things. I know there’s a stereotype of the “angelic” kid with, say, Down’s Syndrome. But just like everyone else, kids with special needs can have bad days. They also can have big emotions they’re too developmentally immature to handle, and frustrations that come from their limitations.
This means you can’t get personally offended if your kid calls you poopy pants, or worse. A child throwing a tantrum doesn’t mean you’re a horrible teacher and can’t do anything right either. Usually, children’s behaviors say more about where they’re at emotionally than anything to do with you.
Be a stickler for the rules
By this, I don’t mean you’re a classroom dictator or harsh in giving consequences. Rather, I mean you need to enforce the expectations every single time, even when you just don’t want to. When working with special needs children, you need to show a lot of consistency! This gives them a sense of safety in your room because they know what to expect. It also will help them more quickly adapt to your environment because there’s constant and consistent reinforcement of the expectations.
In addition, there are the state and federal rules that YOU need to follow. If you go down this route, special education plans like Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 504s are legally binding. If a child has a plan that says they get to use headphones during class, you can’t forbid them. Paying attention to details is important so you can know all relevant details of each child’s plan.
See the individual
Treating every child as an individual with dignity and worthy of respect is crucial. Kids with special needs might have behavioral, developmental, physical, and/or intellectual delays, but they’re not dumb. They know when someone doesn’t genuinely care about them, or is treating them like something they scraped off their shoe.
Instead, make a point to get to know each kid individually. Even if you’ve worked with a thousand kids with autism, this next one will be a different and unrepeatable human. They also don’t want you to just treat them like a baby or someone totally incapable of anything. Use words they’ll understand, but never speak down to a child with special needs.
One of the most demoralizing things for a special kiddo is to think everyone has given up on them. Even if there are genuine things a child will never be capable of (like read Tolstoy, walk, or get married), that doesn’t mean they’re a hopeless case. This is one of the most challenging tasks for a special educator. When working with special needs children, you need to help a child accept some of their limitations while never telling them they’re hopeless. Help them continue dreaming of things they CAN do and help them achieve those dreams.
If you’re thinking about homeschooling your child with special needs, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed. Luckily, we’ve got a one stop shop homeschool set up course for you! Ready Set Homeschool is a hands-on, five day workbook that will guide you through the process of setting up your homeschool step-by-step. This practical handbook takes the pressure off with a down-to-earth style, relatable examples, and simple, actionable tasks that can be completed in about an hour per day.
We’ve also got a visual run-down of homeschooling with special needs if you prefer your info in video format!
For further reading on this topic:
- 25+ Learning Accommodations for ADHD
- Understanding the 3 Different Types of Learning Disabilities
- What is Alternative Education? 4 Options for Your Child
- Sanity-Saving Activities for Children with Anxiety
Or browse posts in our special needs category.
Hillary is a former teacher who went rogue and became a freelance writer. When not offering support and advice to homeschooling families, she tends to her own garden, family, and cat. You can connect with her on her website, homegrownhillary.com.