Homeschooling with Special Needs: The Reality

posted in: Special Needs | 33

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I don't write about my children's special needs on here very often. I try to be careful about what parts of their stories I tell, because it's not my story and I want to respect their privacy. The reality, though, is that it is incredibly difficult. Far more difficult that I could have ever imagined…

I got a call one day, back in 2002, about a six day old African-American baby boy…three weeks later I was holding that baby in my arms as Chuck and I signed the papers to accept custody of him. Eight months later, his adoption was finalized and he legally became our son. 

We knew Mordecai had special needs before we ever met him. We read all we could, have worked closely with his doctor, we have taken special training through our state,   have taken him for evaluation after evaluation. I breastfed him until past his first birthday (at that point, Hezekiah was on the way!) He has been nurtured, loved, trained, fed healthy food and goes to bed at the same time every night. He's had his tonsils and adenoids out, two surgeries on his hands…He's in Cub Scouts and made several good friends…

But he rages (or, as we like to call in our house, he Grumps). I can promise you that I never, ever, give into his raging fits. But that doesn't stop him from raging. Is it an anger issue? I don't know. Does he honestly think someday he'll get what he wants by raging? I don't know. 

What I do know, is that his has affected his schooling drastically. The past few years he has been a major distraction to the other children (who can do math with a screaming, raging kid in the house?). This year, he's fine as long as I don't ask him to do anything (housework, schoolwork, etc). On a good day, if I ask Mordecai to get out his school books, he will  whine, say they're too hard, he can't find them, cry that he can't find a pencil, or just wander off. On a bad day, he will scream and cry. On a really bad day he might throw things. I may listen to him yell in his room for 30-40 minutes to get a 5 minute reading lesson in. At that point he's worn out from scream ing and/or completely distraught.  And then there's handwriting and math.

I often wonder to myself if he would "grump" at school with a teacher and other kids…or would be be too self-conscious? I don't know…but I do know he is learning nothing this year….nothing I can see and note, at least.

Mordecai was speech delayed as a toddler. He was around five before he could use he/she consistently. He talks fine now…except, he has trouble with his memory. He often substitutes similar but completely different words (shoe:foot, ketchup:syrup, bagel: doughnut). His word usage and vocabulary strikes me almost like a stroke victim or someone who's had a traumatic brain injury….most recently while at Baskin-Robbins he had to ask me if "the brown one" was called chocolate or vanilla. It is heartbreaking for me to see him struggle so much. 

And so I am considering my options for next year…and I don't think homeschooling him will be one of them…

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33 Responses

  1. Delia Brands

    God sure knew which family Kai needed in order to thrive – as he does for each of our children, adopted or bio. Thanks for sharing your journey with us & for keepin’ it real.

  2. My sister had to make this hard decision. And after one year of full time (half day) school, in a Christian school I might add, her boy is like a new child! He has learned so many things the least of which is how to count, read etc. He gets along with children better, less fits, less everything negative. Who would of thought that for some school is best! Praying for your time of decision making and for God’s clear leading. LOVE YOU ALL xoxo

  3. J Sorenson

    Thank you for this post. Our family has several special needs “homegrown” kids, and nothing we’ve faced touches your day to day experiences. We are trying to become foster parents, and I want to go into it with my eyes wide open. I so appreciate your honesty, especially when it’s hard.

  4. Nothing but prayers and heart felt thoughts for you as you navigate this hard path of parenting. Thank you for baring your heart here and know, really know, that you are not alone! This is something we struggle with as well. A child that is hard to teach, hard to measure what is learned and still struggles with daily tasks. We have seen some improvement but there are days when I consider sending her to school so everyone else can get a break.

  5. It does sound like he has some type of injury to his brain either before or shortly after birth. I know you want only the best for your children, and you certainly know that not all children learn the same way. Perhaps some further evaluation is in order to help you decide if his needs would be better met in a public or private school situation. A little fear of fellow classmates reactions might help him realize his rages make him less likable for the moment.

  6. wow it is really comforting to hear this for me. we have a special needs girl. she had a traumatic brain injury and was severely abused before she came to live with us at 15 months. we homeschool all our children except her. i have been feeling guilty for sending her to school, but it is working out for her. she has therapies at school. she just now is entering her terrible twos even though she is almost six. my 2.5 year old can do way more than her and speak way better. it is amazing that there is so much set back, but yet i don’t feel i am capable of giving her everything she needs educationally. thanks for your post.

  7. Word swapping like that along with the rages sounds like it could be symptomatic of autism, to me. Not that it necessarily is, but that it could be. That type of word swapping is somewhat typical for verbal autistics.
    Having been subject to rages myself as a child, and (much less frequently) as an adult, I can tell you that it has nothing to do with thinking that it will get him what it wants. There is no conscious control, there is no learning that this isn’t a productive way to accomplish things. For me being in a rage was just total, complete, abject terror and fury. I felt like I was fighting for my life, only I didn’t know against what or who, just that I was so incredibly angry and I had to fight.
    I couldn’t, and still can’t, keep myself from going off like that, but I did learn to see it coming. By the time I was getting into junior high I had a pretty good idea of what my triggers were and I could take myself out of situations to avoid them. I also grew out of it, somewhat. Things that used to be triggers aren’t so bad anymore.
    Formal schooling may be helpful to Mordecai, or it may not, but it’s worth a try. Eventually you’ll probably be able to figure out his triggers and then it WILL get better. Even though it may appear general (like asking him to do Anything related to school) mine were all really incredibly specific things, but I couldn’t understand or express that as a child. It was when I was about 11 or 12 that I started to be more aware of what specific things triggered me and be able to communicate that.
    I hope some of that helps, and I really hope it does get better soon for you and ‘Cai.

  8. Kristen McLewin

    My adopted son also rages and has some brain/memory issues. School has been important for him and for me. He has only raged there a couple of times in five years. The non-family audience seems to serve as quite the deterrent. I believe you and I are in the same elementary school district, and I’ve been VERY pleased with the cooperation of the school staff there. Let me know if you ever want to talk about it.

  9. Speaking from personal experience)…Sounds like the memory issue may be the root of the other problems. Having a very poor memory for words/numbers would make schoolwork extremely frustrating. Thankfully, the ability to memorise can be drastically improved with training, so I would suggest focusing all efforts in this area.

  10. I found your blog recently and though I have never commented wanted to stop by and offer you support and prayers. May whatever choice you make be the best one and provide some relief for you.
    As a homeschooling mother who has recently been praying about the same choice (to send one of my children to public school or not) I hope you figure out something that’s good for your entire family. Good luck!

  11. I have been going through the exact same thought process with our 8 year old adopted son this year. To homeschool or public school? His first day of homeschool in the fall started with 45 minutes of screaming and he completed two worksheets that day. His issues are RAD, memory problems, speech issues, logical thinking and auditory processing problems. At seven he still couldn’t remember the names of the days of the week let alone know what day today is–the passage of time is a hard concept for him. Plus he needs as much line of sight supervision as I can give him.
    I’ve talked with our local school to see what their special ed dept was like. They need to evaluate him and then place him in the “least restrictive environment” for his needs. I took that to mean that they would mainstream him until he failed in that classroom and then move him into a more supervised room. My son does not need more failures. But he is failing here at home, too. His reading ability is on par with my 4 yr olds.
    This year we have taken him to specialized cognitive training to see if his memory issues can be helped and to help him overcome his fear of trying anything. It has helped, but not as much as we had hoped. Logical thinking, empathy and putting forth effort are still such a stretch for him. At the moment next year I will still be homeschooling him but I will group him with my 5,4 and 3 yr olds and do kindergarten for all; but on the days he sucks all the time and attention I have I wonder if I am making the right decision.

  12. Jane Anderson

    As the mother of 10, 7 adopted and all with drug and alcohol exposure, when I first saw the picture of Mordecai I could have said he was my sons twin! We adopted Kevin at the age of 4, basically the social workers said we cant rule out full mental retardation, we worked with him for years and he recently turned 18 and is a junior at a local charter school. We have full guardianship of him as he has the diagnosis of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, ADHD and valproate embryopathy. I would like to say that your son has the same physical features as our son, have you had him diagnosed with anything? it sounds like classic FASD. Good Luck with the choices you make, each child is so different and require such different paths to follow.

  13. Stacy Birchmore

    I was sure that I would homeschool Austin as well but when he was diagnosed at four with Autism we changed our course. I struggled with this for a long time but now that he has been through a christian preschool and is now attending a christian kindergarten, we see that it was the best choice for him. He has received funding for an aide through the government for home and school therapy and we have seen extremely great results which I know would not have happened if we didn’t have the outside help. Next year for grade one things will change as we don’t receive as much funding so he won’t have an aide specifically assigned to him but we will take that as it comes. I am praying that the tools that he has learned these past two years will carry him through as well as the part time assistance. May God give you wisdom and clear direction as you make these incredibly hard decisions, my prayers are with you. Stacy

  14. We have seven at home and one will probably always be in public school. Same story as yours – great outcome in school. He doesn’t have behavioral problems at school. He saves them for at home where he feels safe. Praying as you make your decision.

  15. I know exactly how you feel, except my two children like this are my birth children, not adorpted. I have one that acts exactly like you described about school and other responsibilities. He is not always like this but more often than not. Most likely if I put him in school, they would medicate him to manage him.
    The other one like this just gets this way when he doesn’t get his way. He likes school so that is not an issue usually, but he is unable to do any chores because of his behavior. Today he tried to bite another son of mine three times. I must tell you too, that this biter is sixteen, and grabbed my 13 year old by both arms so he could hold him down to bite him. I don’t know how to correct him. I did put him into public school for a few years several years ago, not because of his schooling, but for his behavior, but they couldn’t change it either. They just adapted the whole day to suit him. Gave him his own room to go to when he wanted and a one-on-one aide to follow him around, attending to his every need, even to the point of massaging his feet! Needless to say, it didn’t help his behavior at home. We ended up takeing him back out of school. I don’t talk about this side of our life on my blog much either, but it is there.

  16. As a “former homeschooler who upset my homeschool community by putting my kids into the (gasp) public schools”, I can tell you that it’s ok to do what you think is best for your kids. Individually. Year by year. One year of homeschooling my son was all it took to realize I would never see the same sweet results in him that we had seen in our older two daughters. He THRIVES in public school. He LOVES school. He CRIES when it’s vacation (seriously!) because he wants to be in school. Seriously, I think he does better in a setting where routines are set (not that we didn’t have routines, but you know what I mean), and peer pressure to work hard is all around. There have been draw backs, but no education system is perfect. It’s worth exploring and if in the end you choose homeschooling for next year, you won’t have to wonder if you should have at least looked at your options. good luck. Happy praying 🙂

  17. Praying for you as you make the decision about what is best for Mordecai’s academic success. I went through the guilt phase of taking my then 2 1/2 year old to a special ed pre-school and keeping his twin at home. However, nothing was working to stop the 5-6 hour daily rages and I totally felt out of my element to help him. It did not help that he had significant speech delays so he could not articulate his needs. 8 months into it, we see remarkable changes in his behavior – we learnt some strategies of communication and we use the Picture Exchange Communication System, we also ramped up using sign language with him and with daily speech therapy, his speech has improved dramatically. I am not sure if most of the changes can be attributed to the school environment and the intensive intervetions he receives and where the teacher/student ratio is 1:2 or maturity and better communication skills. But, I feel confident that we made the right decision for him.
    As I agonize about home schooling my other kids, I am pretty sure, he will remain in his current school setting for the forseeable future.
    Blessings.

  18. I will be praying for you and Chuck as you consider what will be best for your son and your family next year. No one loves him and knows him more than you do. I pray that the Lord gives you all the wisdom and insight that you need as well as a clear path.

  19. Thank you for sharing this. You are not alone in this. our son rages too. It’s sad and frightening to think he is this unhappy all the time. We also have two kids with the language and memory issues. It’s like english was their second language only it wasn’t. We found that they have excellent long term memory if we can get the info in. We spend a great deal of time memorizing things as a family and it gives them a sense of accomplishment they don’t get in their usual school work.

  20. Firstly, can I say it saddens me that you seem to feel (though I could be wrong) guilt about this. You shouldn’t. You are an amazing Mum. Not all kids need the same things. And you have to think of all your kids. Also, I don’t think you should see trying him at school as a punishment. (Depending on the school of course!) In Special Ed classes there are usually just 1:4 or 1:6 adult to student ratio (at least in Aust.), and the kids are similar ages (usually K-2, 3-6 or highschool). So the teachers have more time to deal with each kid. Also you are right that kids OFTEN behave very differently at school. I was sometimes amazed that the quietest kids in my class were the ones who were hell at home for their parents.
    The other thing is regarding the word swapping: I don’t think it’s anything to do with memory. I worked as a teacher for language disordered kids for years and my PhD is in language acquisition. A language disorder is very loosely defined as having a “significant” difference between verbal and non-verbal IQ. I would bet it is about word retrieval, not memory. The word is there, he is having trouble finding it. The face that he can find related words shows that. One of the things we would teach kids with this issue is how to describe what they want if they can’t find the word. (eg, a kid who couldn’t think of the word toast (age 12) once said to me: “you know where the bread is cooked and goes brown”).
    Anyway, that is my rather long two bob.

  21. Just wanted to say thanks, as always, for your honesty. I think one of the strengths that you and Chuck have is that you’re very good at determining a plan of action for each individual child and you don’t lump them all together, whether the issue be sleep training for infants or homeschooling or lots of other things. Good for you!
    I’ll pray for you to have much wisdom as you consider the next year of schooling and an abundance of peace about all of it.

  22. I am on the other side of this situation. I have 9 children, 4 adopted. Jackson, my oldest adopted child, age 7, has raged since the day after we got him at barely 5. All seven of my school-aged children attend public school. But, I am considering homeschooling Jackson next school year. He is very well behaved at school but he is a totally different child at home. I am very concerned about him making false accusations against our family in the school setting. He is very vindictive and threatens us about telling others things that are not true. He is diagnosed with ADHD, RAD, ODD and a mood disorder. I am hopeful and prayerful that homeschooling him will help with him with his attachment to us but I do fear that he may not be able to learn because of his rages. I am planning to try it and see how it goes.
    Your son may do great at school. I think you are right to give it a try. You can always change your mind at any time during the year.

  23. From the beginning of our marriage, we were going to homeschoo our kids. Period. My how things change when the actual kids show up!
    Our daughter has special needs due to premature birth and is in public school full time. She has been in school since she turned 3. It works for her. She thrives there and she loves it. She receives special education services and all of her therapies. But as we get closer and closer to junior high, we are having to weigh our options. We do NOT want our child in public school in the secondary years. Too much at risk for us. But I really do not feel that she would do well at home. We have one more year to make a plan. We hope that the Lord will make it abundantly clear what that plan should be.
    Our 4 year old just started at the public pre-school. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome last fall. We never intended to enroll him in any preschool, but to keep him home until he started kinder at a private classical academy. But he needs more than what I can give him at home right now and he is doing so well at school 2.5 hours a day. Most likely he will attend full day pre-K next year. I totally do not buy into the “kids need preschool” philosophy, but it seems my son needs this.
    It is hard not to feel like a failure when you have a plan in mind and then it changes. I feel like I have lost my resolve in some way and that hurts my pride. I have to remind myself though that my pride needs to be squashed and my children’s needs have to be first.

  24. I’m sure you have prayed for God’s wisdom and so I think you should give it a try. Out of my 6 children I do have one in public school. He’s there for different reasons (although some sound similar) but I know he’s where he’s supposed to be. I will pray that God gives you peace and confirmation about your decision.

  25. ssmazzon

    don’t beat yourself up. do what is best for him but also for all of you in your home learning environment. take care

  26. I had anger management and learning disability problems as a child. My mom felt that it was because I was a heroin baby, my father did heroin in the army. she didnt know, she got pregnant on leave. The doctors said it wasnt possible from just the father. But I was a crack baby according to my mom who is a nurse. Now studies say 7% of children born to heroin addicted fathers, are addicted to drugs. My son is similar, though no drugs so less. I was angry, drugs or no drugs. I was hard to teach, so was my son. He is better now, but again no drugs. I think you should pray and strongly consider some school system that could give one on one. Ezra needed something different, so maybe Mordecai does also. I will be praying for your family. I know he is luckier and better off for being part of your family but it sounds like there is a lot of stress.

  27. Praying for wisdom

  28. Hi Friend. Gosh. We need another 30 minute talk in the nursery to get caught up. (Ha!) I’ve been thinking of you and wondering how the other area of life that we talked about before is going for you. But this brings up a whole lot of new questions. My 5th has some milder, yet similar, issues like the ones you’ve shared in this post. She definitely rises to the occasion amazingly well in her full time K class at school. It definitely hasn’t worked miracles, but its been a move in the positive direction. It helps the big picture of family life, for sure. It’s one thing I’ve always admired about you is your willingness to think outside the box, even the traditional homeschooling box. You’re a good evaluator of your kids and situation. It’ll be neat to see where you go with this too.

  29. God bless you. You are doing anything that you can to help your son progress. No one can ever find fault in that, and I hope that you aren’t disappointed that it comes to this.
    I love your honesty, and willingness to do something hard in order to help him. You’re wonderful.

  30. Hugs to you Renee and thanks for your honesty. Saying a prayer for Mordecai and for wisdom for you and Chuck. I can’t imagine this is easy.

  31. Thanks for your transparency. It is good for other moms to know they are not alone.
    We, too, struggle with what is best for our 9 y.o. adopted daughter. After homeschooling our other 11 children for 20+ years, it is really strange to be thinking about putting her in school. However, the primary reason that I haven’t put her in school (as another commenter said) is my fear that she will make false accusations about us. I am terrified of a CPS case due to an out-of-control RAD and raging child. Ugh!
    The great thing about your choice is … if it doesn’t work, than you try something different. Maybe he needs full-time at the public school, maybe he needs part-time at the public school, maybe he needs a tutor (with your PPP funds). As a homeschooling mama for 20 years, I am ALL about doing what is best for each individual child, each year. Take it a year at a time … or a day at a time.
    Hope your Mother’s Day Weekend is BLESSED!
    Laurel 🙂

  32. Colleen

    Do you follow Dorothy (urbanservant)’s blog? She has 9 adopted FASD children, and has talked about some great stuff re: raging, the inevitable accusations, the classic facial characteristics, and the actual brain damage that occurs.
    http://urbanservant.blogspot.com/
    I hope you’ll be able to find what works best for your family, and especially Mordecai! 🙂

  33. I have an 8 yr ds who also struggles with meltdowns about schoolwork. It seems like it is not that uncommon for that age boys to struggle in this area. His schoolwork is pretty light, but he loves reading and is wonderfully creative and imaginative. Is there anything productive Mordecai does at home? I have an older daughter who also has special needs and didn’t read until at least 8yrs and struggled, still does with language and communication. I just have a hard time imagining singling out one of my dear children to go to school. I might be just stuck in a rut, but I love the relationship we have as a family and I can’t imagine trying to manage kids in a dual life like that.
    I know it does work for some though.

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