Amy Dunaway   Reprinted with the permission of the author.

I must preface this piece to let you know that I am not an expert in homeschooling, special education, or Down syndrome. I am only an expert on my own children, with and without a diagnosis or label. I am with them 24 hours a day. I am THE expert in their needs. I know them better than any professional. I am passionate about having their needs met in the best manner available. No professional can match the commitment that I have to my children. I want them to be the best that they can be. I have compiled these resources over the years seeking ways to better prepare my children for life as adults. This is what has worked for me. I hope that you will find something here that is useful for you and your homeschool. For those of you searching for the best ways to meet your child's educational needs, I hope you find useful information here to consider as you make your decision. Homeschooling is an option for thoughtful consideration, but not necessarily the best option for all families. The family unit as a whole must be considered when making a decision of such magnitude. It is my hope that all of our decisions will be met with respect regardless of the educational option we choose.

The benefits for the home educated child with special needs are numerous.
  1. They receive the one-on-one teaching that will enable them to grow academically. This cannot be matched in the public school setting.
  2. The program designed for them by the person who knows their needs intimately. Your home program will best suit their individual needs. You can create a balanced program that does not sacrifice academic skills for life skills.
  3. The child can learn at his/her own pace to allow their needs to be met properly. Concepts can be taught with the repetition necessary for mastery using a wide variety of materials ensuring success appropriate to the child's needs and developmental age.
  4. Your child will have the opportunity for successful learning experiences that will motivate them to develop persistence in learning difficult concepts.
  5. The child learns academic and functional life skills in the best of all venues-real life. My daughter learns quickly when the concepts are meaningful to her life. Fractions are "important" when it comes time to share her beloved pizza.
  6. The child with special needs can learn where they are safe from peer ridicule. Children with Down syndrome often make unintentional mistakes because of processing difficulties. Your child can make mistakes where it is safe to do so-their own home.
  7. You can pick and choose whom your child socializes with. Homeschooled children are not limited to socializing with only their peers. Homeschooled children tend to socialize with children and adults of all ages for a wide variety of experiences. Homeschooled children are less affected by peer pressure.
  8. Character development and behavior issues can be dealt with by providing an environment where limits and consequences are consistently enforced. Many children with Down syndrome lack the inner self-talk of their "typical" peers and need to learn to make proper choices. Homeschooling can offer atmosphere where the choices and consequences are articulated as necessary to make the best choice available and wrong choices can be discussed and dealt with consistently.
  9. The spiritual needs of children with Down syndrome can be met best in our own homes where they will be exposed to the love and word of God. In a world where our children with Down syndrome are seen as "disposable" and somehow less worthy, they need to know that God has a plan for them and loves them unconditionally. God does not make mistakes! "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. Praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psalm 139:13-14, NIV.
  10. The health benefits are tremendous. Children exposed to Early Intervention in group settings and the public school system are constantly exposed to every viral/bacterial illness present in the community. Homeschooled children with special needs can avoid many of these common illnesses which are always present until they are older and better able to tolerate them. There is plenty of time in our children's lives to build immunity. Though primarily a nuisance to typically developing children without Down Syndrome, these common bacterial/viral illnesses are a major concern for our children with Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome are susceptible to frequent upper respiratory infections with recurrent otitis media (ear infections) due to structural abnormalities which can undermine speech and language production. These frequent upper respiratory infections are not conducive to a productive learning environment. Even minor illnesses affect our children's ability to learn and process information.
As you begin this journey into the world of homeschooling children with special needs, I encourage you to educate yourself in several areas. Educate yourselves on the different educational philosophies, teaching methods and learning styles. There are many good books available to introduce these areas. They are available in most of the homeschool catalogs and the public libraries.
A few general homeschooling titles include:
The Way They Learn by Cynthia Tobias
Discusses learning styles.
How to Home School: A Practical Approach by Gayle Graham
Discusses planning for success, knowing children's learning styles and needs.
The Christian Home Educator's Curriculum Manual by Cathy Duffy
Examines a broad spectrum of teaching materials and recommends the best curriculum for each type of learner in each subject.
The How and Why of Homeschooling by Ray E Ballmann
Answers common questions, helps you make knowledgeable decisions when choosing curriculum and practical teaching guidelines, offers support group information and much more.
The Big Book of Home Learning by Mary Pride
Discusses products, catalogs, organization, philosophy and methods available to home educators today. Her titles include:
Volume 1, Getting Started
Volume 2, Preschool and Elementary and
Volume 3, Teen and College.
These books all introduce you to the world of homeschooling.
See your local homeschooling support group's introductory package for further recommendations.

Educate yourself about Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome have much in common with the typically developing child. Children with Down syndrome progress through all areas of development though generally at a slower rate. Research has shown that children with Down syndrome have a unique learning profile requiring strategies to support learning.

Educate yourself about IEP (Individualized Education Plan) development. IEP's are not required outside of the realm of the public school system. The IEP is a wonderful tool, especially if your child's skills are scattered at different levels of development. The curriculum for a child with special needs is determined by the child and is displayed in the IEP. An IEP is a personalized roadmap. It is what will lead you to where you want to go.
A good IEP will lend credibility to your home program if you follow the pattern set up by the public schools if your program ever comes into question by school officials.

Purchase a developmental scale. The Brigance is a diagnostic inventory of skills. Many families with a child with special needs can use this diagnostic inventory to test and keep track of skills for their child. The inventory does not compare your child to other children like the achievement tests do. The Brigance gives performance objectives that help you to design an IEP for the following year using the results from your testing. It does not require a special tester. Brigance has developmental scales for all ages. It can be found at Curriculum Associates, 1.800.225.0248 (for catalog) or:

Another good developmental scale is one developed by VORT. They publish the HELP (Hawaii Early Learning Profile) Series. It has Assessment Stands (an inventory) and activities for learning for early education & elementary school ages.
VORT has developed a Behavioral Characteristics Profile or BCP for special education professionals. The BCP is a curriculum-based assessment & planning guide. I purchased the BCP Activity Guide and the BCP Assessment Record booklet. I use them a great deal for planning and breaking skills down for teaching. VORT can be reached at:
VORT Corporation
PO Box 60132
Palo Alto, CA 94306
Ph. 650.322.8282
Sample pages of their publications are available on their website.

The developmental inventory will tell you where your child's skill level is within selected areas (fine motor skills, gross motor skills, self-help skills, academic, etc.) along the developmental scale. This will allow you to set individual long-term goals for your child. Have expectations that are reasonable. Work near your child's success range to prevent frustration while allowing success in learning.

Create short-term objectives to meet these long-term goals. Seek measurable ways to display and keep track of short-term goals for record keeping. Children with Down syndrome do not learn as much incidentally as their typically developing peers. They will need more direct teaching which requires planning and structure to prevent gaps in learning. Most of what children with Down syndrome know someone has directly taught to him or her. In the development of an IEP you will break down skills into small steps that are easily taught sequentially.

Develop evaluations or a task analysis for these skills to keep track of progress. A task analysis breaks down skills into steps that are easily taught. Each step should be mastered before teaching the next step. Sometimes progress seems slow when educating a child with special needs. They often grow in one area and in favor of another. As I update my skills evaluation forms each month, I am easily able to track the progress we are making. I have something tangible to show for my child's progress. This is how we demonstrate what my child has learned over the course of specified time.

Decide what methods and materials you will use. Purchase curriculum with your goals and your child's strengths in mind. You will find no curriculum specifically targeting children with Down syndrome though Bob Jones University Press offers pilot programs for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten math and language. They have adapted their curriculum for children with Down syndrome and other challenged learners.

Many curriculums can be modified to meet your child's needs. Included in this package is a sample of modifications made in the public school system for special education students. I think there is some valuable information present for modifying curriculum for our home educated students. Joyce Herzog, author of Choosing and Using Curriculum For Your Special Child, has a long list of curriculum modifications (and much more) in her book.

You may find more information about modifications to curriculum in the archives (February 1999) of the Down-Syn Listserve at:

The Down Syndrome Listserve Archives (for general online Down syndrome support) can be found at:

LD Online has a web page with examples of accommodations/modifications that can be utilized by the home educator:
LD Online publishes a free monthly electronic newsletter that often has information pertinent to educating children with Down syndrome. Subscriptions are available at their site.

I have found the Down Syndrome Educational Trust of Great Britain to be an invaluable resource for materials regarding educating children with Down syndrome. They have a wonderful online library that can be accessed after a simple registration process at:
They also have a series available for purchase called Down Syndrome Issues and Information that includes much specific information regarding meeting the educational needs of children with Down syndrome. They also offer software, teaching materials, books, journals, periodicals, and games. For a catalog access their website or reach them at:
The Down Syndrome Educational Trust
The Sarah Duffen Centre
Belmont Street
Southsea, Hampshire
England PO5 1NA
Phone: +44 (0)23 9285 5330
Fax: +44 (0)23 9285 5320
Another resource that I have found to greatly benefit our homeschool is a book called Effective Teaching Strategies for Successful Inclusion, A Focus on Down Syndrome. It is published by the PREP Program in Calgary, Canada. This book describes the obstacles to learning for children with Down syndrome and offers specific teaching tips to help overcome those obstacles. It is available from The PREP Program. See the resource guide for more specific information.

It is generally felt that children with Down syndrome learn best using a hands on approach with activities that are meaningful to our children-especially in the early years. My daughter is visually oriented as are many children with Down syndrome. She is learning to read rapidly using the sight word method and phonics described in the book Teaching Reading to Children With Down Syndrome by Patricia Oelwein.

One method that has been extremely important for successful learning experiences in our home and used by many in the field of educating children with Down syndrome is errorless learning. It is defined as teaching new tasks by guiding the child through each step correctly, not allowing them to fail. As your child becomes more capable, the prompt or cue can be reduced until it is not needed. One of the keys to errorless learning is errorless teaching. Errorless teaching uses the same language with each lesson and repeating the process several times (as long as it takes) following the same steps, in the same order, using the same words. Hopefully, this method will develop a strong base for higher levels of learning such as problem solving with a trial and error approach.

Most curriculums will have to be adapted to allow successful experiences. Using repetition with expansion and reinforcement of previously learned skills is recommended. Use as many channels of input as possible-visual and auditory, with hands-on materials while making the best of opportunities available throughout the day to put learned concepts into practical use...all keeping a positive attitude! Research has shown that because of short-term auditory memory deficits, language supported by visual (ie. pictures or words) and/or symbolic movements (ie. sign language) will help our children learn and remember. I use a wide variety of curriculum to vary presentation and keep motivation high.

Memory training is important to our children with Down syndrome. As our children enter the formal school years the deficits become more pronounced. Start visual and auditory memory training early in the preschool years to enhance the learning process. The Down Syndrome Educational Trust has some excellent memory training exercises available in their Down Syndrome Issues and Information Series. They also have a book available online, Memory Training for Children with Down Syndrome, which discusses memory difficulties, strategies, and skills.

Much has been written about learning styles. I believe they are most easily understood by breaking the learning styles into three groups: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.

The visual learner needs to see something to best understand it. They often roll their eyes to the side as they are being talked because they are trying to picture it in their mind. They like to write things down and need quiet in order to concentrate. Visual learners often learn to read easily.

Auditory learners need to hear something to learn it best and like a lot of auditory input. They like to tell you things sequentially in complete detail. They love to talk!

Kinesthetic learners need to touch in order to learn. They learn best by doing and interacting with the item. They often need to reduce visual and auditory input and work alone with "hands on" items.

Some homeschoolers choose to use educational consultants to help them design their home program. Members of NATHHAN and HSLDA may find some assistance in locating educational consultants by inquiring at those organizations.

The neurodevelopmental approach is used by some homeschooling families with children with Down syndrome. The neurodevelopmental approach develops very specific home programs for infants, children, and adults. The program is designed to specifically address inefficiencies in neurological development, visual and auditory perception, tactile sensitivity and perception, mobility, manual function, speech and language, social development, behavior, and academics. Program activities are designed to influence dominance, increase processing, encourage development, and teach academics. I do not have a lot of knowledge regarding this approach. I have seen amazing results in the area of early literacy.

I believe that record keeping is very important. I create an IEP yearly. I update my IEP evaluation forms monthly. I keep meticulous records on our word processor of daily activities. I print out all of these forms and place them in a three-ring binder so that they are readily accessible.

Seek support. Contact your local homeschooling support group for others homeschooling children with special learning needs. NATHHAN (NATional cHallenged Homeschoolers Associated Network) is a Christian, non-profit organization dedicated to providing encouragement to families with children with special needs that are homeschooling. They publish an online or hard copy quarterly newsletter. They also publish a family directory, updated each year. They have a large lending library by operated by mail. NATHHAN'S mailing address is:
P.O. Box 39
Porthill, ID 83853
or on the web:

In Illinois there are at least three statewide groups to contact to find local support.
H.O.U.S.E (Home Oriented Unique Schooling Experience) is a non-sectarian, statewide, homeschool support association. H.O.U.S.E can be reached at: Web page:

The special needs contact for H.O.U.S.E is:
Jean Kulczyk
102 Willow Drive
Waukegan, IL 60087

Illinois Christian Home Educators (ICHE) has a Special Needs Coordinator. She can be reached by e-mail at:
Web page:
Phone: 815.943.7882 Monday-Friday 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

NICHE (Network of Illinois Catholic Home Educators) puts people in touch with Catholic homeschool support groups in the state of Illinois. They can be reached by e-mail:

New York has a group for parents homeschooling children with special needs. PICC, Parents Instructing Challenged Children.
Barb Mulvey is the director and they put out a quarterly newsletter, either email or hard copy. PICC also has a lending library and a packet of information pertaining to homeschooling kids with special needs in New York State. Membership is not limited to NY.

Pennsylvania has an organization supporting homeschoolers of children with special needs. H.A.N.D.S ON!, The Homeschooling Advocacy Network for Differently abled and Specifically Challenged Children.

Educate yourself on homeschooling and the law. Homeschools are considered private schools in the state of Illinois. As I began homeschooling I researched the Individuals With Disabilities Act. A website for that information is:

Visit the State of Illinois Department of Education on the web at:
or their mailing address is:
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777
Ph. 217.782.4321

These web sites discuss special education and the law:

We should all be aware of the needs and rights of children with disabilities. Our children can receive therapeutic services from the local school district in the state of Illinois. This includes speech therapy, physical therapy, occupational therapy, audiologists' and social workers' services.

For more information on your child's right to services please see: I think it is important to be aware of the information contained within this act as it may be relevant to our homeschools.

I have purchased several books from Woodbine House (1.800.843.7323) that have been helpful in setting up my education plan that speak directly to the special needs of children with Down syndrome. These books also take much of the mystery out of services provided by occupational therapists, speech therapists, & physical therapists. The titles include:
Teaching Reading to Children With Down Syndrome by Patricia Oelwein
Communication Skills in Children With Down Syndrome by Libby Kumin, Ph.D.
Classroom Language Skills for Children with Down Syndrome by Libby Kumin, Ph.D.
Gross Motor Skills in Children with Down Syndrome by Patricia C. Winders, PT
Fine Motor Skills in Children With Down Syndrome by Maryanne Bruni, BSc, OT

I decide which services I wish for my child to receive and search for a therapist in the private sector. With some effort, I have found therapists willing to work with us using a home program with annual or biannual visits-or more if needed. Professionals are wonderful resources! I would encourage you to search for professionals that are homeschool friendly. HSLDA or NATHHAN may be able to help you find such a professional. In our case, it was a matter of interviewing professionals by phone to find one who agreed with our philosophy and was willing to work with us.

Homeschool Legal Defense Association has information regarding the laws in each state. It is recommended that people homeschooling children with special needs join this group. HSLDA is an advocacy organization, established to advance home school and family. freedoms. The annual membership fee is $100.00 (discounted if you belong to NATHHAN or most local support groups). Each member receives legal protection for his own family if needed. Founded in 1983, HSLDA is operated by Christian attorneys who teach their children at home. For a free brochure and application form write to:
PO Box 3000
Purcellville, VA 20134
There are at least two other legal defense organizations available. They are The Pacific Justice Institute ( and the Rutherford Institute ( They primarily defend civil liberties. Your best defense against intrusion by state officials into your homeschool is to be aware of and follow the laws and to keep good records.

As you research homeschooling your child with special needs you will discover many areas of controversy within any given subject. That is why I urge you educate yourselves as best you can so that you can make informed decisions about fulfilling the needs of your children. My way is not the only way. I only offer it to you in hopes that it might be of some use to you. There is much published material for you to research.

I feel I must address an issue that may be of concern to you in making this decision and will likely be a concern of others. The first question I am asked by others after finding out our unconventional educational choice is "What about socialization?" First, let's define the term. Socialization is the process by which the norms and standards of our society are passed from one generation to the next. Socialization is probably best achieved in your own home where the standards are generally higher than those in the classroom. Socializing is the gathering for communal activities where friendships are formed. Socializing is generally the concern of the well-meaning folks and for some new homeschoolers. I must tell you that the opportunities for socializing are endless and not a problem. From the activities of the homeschool support groups to the usual Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, AWANAS, Sunday school, park district programs, church activities etc. you will never run out of social activities. I have found all of the above open and inclusive to children with special needs. The only problem is, more often than not, there are TOO many social activities for us to keep up with. Home educated children are well known for their ability to socialize with people of all ages.

If you are new to the homeschooling world, this may all seem overwhelming and unattainable. This is absolutely not the case. Record keeping may seem formidable to some. I have seen records ranging from very detailed to boxes filled in with pencil listing the day's activities. It doesn't have to be complicated. It needs to be useful and pertinent to your homeschool.

Homeschooling our children with Down syndrome successfully is a process dependent upon our educating ourselves to find the best ways to meet the needs of our children. As I move forward on this homeschooling adventure, I am always learning something new that improves what I do in my homeschool. My own "education" has resulted in tremendous personal growth and added great dimension to my children's education. It has been a wonderful journey benefiting everyone! Homeschooling a child with special needs is challenging at times but extremely rewarding. Teaching academics and life skills in the home will give your children a rich educational experience with individualized attention needed to meet their needs. Homeschooling is an exciting option available to parents of children with Down syndrome. Others have traveled this road before us and blazed an exciting trail that is ever widening as others join in on this wonderful journey. You will not be alone!

IEP Adaptation Checklist


Modify Format by changing the following:
Changing essays to multiple choice
Reduce multiple choice to _____ choices
No True or False
No Essay
Provide a word bank (very important one for gen ed classes by the way)
Matching in groups of five
Fill-ins in groups of five
Accept short answers
Open book or open notes
Other: _____________

Allow students to record or dictate answers
Reduce spelling list for spelling tests
Do not penalize spelling errors, except on spelling list tests
Extend time frame or shorten length of test
No scantron answer sheets
Read test to student
Provide study guide prior to test
Type written tests
Test over smaller units of test material
Key directions are to be highlighted
Take test in alternative site
Allowed to use calculator


Uncluttered worksheets
Give directions in writing and verbally
Write assignments on the board
Do not penalize for spelling errors, except on spelling test assignments
Show samples as models, visual models
Reduce assignment
Read written work to student
Allow student to word process assignment
Provide alternate assignment/strategy when demands of class conflict with student capabilities
Avoid penalizing for poor penmanship
Allow to use manuscript
Allow parental assistance with homework
Communicate homework expectations with parents
Check for student's lesson comprehension
Shorten tasks to accomplish longer tasks


Teach to the student's learning style:_____________________________
Read text aloud
Small group instruction
Provide an accurate copy of notes or key points written on the board or overhead
Model lesson being taught
Utilize manipulatives
Highlight critical information
Pre-teach the vocabulary
Do not call on to read aloud in class
Check students lesson comprehension
Study guides
Study buddy


Use pass/fail
Use a modified scale
Credit for partial completion
Consider effort in assigning grade
Credit for participation
Copy of midterms to Special Ed teacher
Copy of all midterms to parents
Teacher will notify special ed. teacher when grades drop below C-


Taped textbooks or other class material
Highlighted textbooks
Special equipment: calculator, computer, word processor/spell checker
Large print books
Two sets of books
Assignment sheet or planner
Behavior monitor sheet
High interest: low vocabulary readers


Avoid timed activities
Preferential seating
Cues for staying on task
Provide a quiet place to work
Opportunity for physical movement
Seat next to a good role model
Daily check-in time with special ed teacher

This is a sample of an IEP adaptation checklist taken from a public school system.

My Child

My child has some special needs,
but that is part of God's design.
I just need to remember
that God's will is best, not mine.
My child is not a burden,
he's a blessing from above.
Sometimes we face a struggle,
but our lives are filled with love.
Put Jesus at the center,
and forget your selfish ways.
The Lord will surely bless you,
and help you through your days.

Beth Lohse

I Never Told My Son He Couldn't Dance

I never told my son he couldn't dance.
I never thought he didn't have a chance.

I never told my son he might not read.
I only sought to plant the seed.

I never showed my son a star.
That, I felt, was way too far.

I never taught my son to fly,
But I gave him wings with which to try.

I never questioned God's intent.
I only hoped my time well spent.

We never know what life will bring.
I only know that I must sing.

I never told my son he couldn't dance.
That is why he had a chance.

Kathie Harrington, M.A. C.C.C. SLP
(mom of autistic son)