Dear NATHHAN friends,
This June I was given a wonderful opportunity to organize a seminar on
homeschooling our children with special needs at the annual B.C. Homeschooling
Convention. At first I didn't think it was such a wonderful opportunity. It
would involve a 10 hour trip (one way), leaving some of my family behind, as
well as the nervousness involved in doing something I'd never done before. It
was only because the Lord opened the doors to make it possible to go, and
because my husband was so supportive about my going, that I agreed to do it. As
it turned out, though, it was a wonderful opportunity. I was prepared to do all
the talking if I absolutely had to. But once the seminar got underway, it ended
up being more of a support group meeting with me saying hardly anything, simply
directing the discussion as necessary! It was very encouraging being able to
share concerns and glean wisdom from other moms who are facing similar
challenges in their homeschooling. Since all of us came from the same province
in Canada, this gave us all additional insights, unique to special needs
homeschooling in B.C..
If any of you are ever given the opportunity to organize something similar at
a homeschooling convention in your area, do it!! There are moms out there that
just need to know that others are doing what they are doing. The Lord could work
a real blessing through you in the lives of others. He sure worked a blessing in
my heart through the moms that attended!
I would like to share with you what I prepared for the convention, adapted a
bit to make it more readable, including some of the ideas I gleaned from the
seminar. I hope it is a blessing to you!
Seminar on Special Needs and Homeschooling
(She began speaking to the group of moms with a smile on her face as bright
as the sun, I am sure.... Editor's note.)
My name is Diane Ryckman. My husband's name is John, and we have 7 children.
Our 6th child, Andrew, was born with Downs syndrome, and he was my introduction
to special needs homeschooling.
Prior to getting married and having children, I trained as an elementary
school teacher. After that I taught for two years at a small Christian school in
Creston, British Columbia, where I met my husband. 8 years ago we returned to
Creston to raise our growing family. Our oldest daughter, Rachel has just turned
16, then there's Jennifer, 14, John Daniel, 12, Timmy, 10, Sarah, 7, Andrew,
almost 5, and Benny, 2. Each of them have been homeschooled from the beginning.
Though I trained as a teacher, and taught a couple of years, I didn't really
begin learning to teach until our children came along... and I'm still
What has most influenced my perspective on homeschooling (and everything else
about life for that matter), is the Bible, the Word of God. During my last year
of high school I came face to face with the claims of Jesus Christ as recorded
in the Bible. I have embraced Him and sought to follow Him since. The Word of
God is my guidebook for education, for morality, for raising children, for being
a wife and mother... you name it, the Bible has something to say about it.
Andrew was born just after midnight on his Dad's 39th birthday. His birth was
uneventful. Neither of us noticed anything unusual about him at that point, but
two hours later, after John had headed home from the hospital and I was settling
in for some sleep, our doctor came in and gently let me know that they suspected
Andrew of having Downs Syndrome. It had never crossed my mind that any of our
children would ever be born with a disability of any type. My response to the
doctor was, "If the Lord wanted to give us a little son who needed lots of extra
love and attention, He sent him to the right place."
The morning after Andrew was born, however, the Lord brought me face to face
with three very ugly attitudes and misconceptions I'd had all my life.
Talking With Family and Friends...
- I never realized I'd always looked at people with handicaps (especially
mental ones) as on a different plane from the rest of us. The Lord makes it very
clear in His Word that every one of us is created in the image of God. Every one
of us is made for a purpose. It is such a relief to realize that God has
designed each one of us, including our children with special needs, just the way
we are. People with handicaps are not handicapped people, but rather people who
just happen to have a handicap.
- As a result of my ingrained prejudices, my love for Andrew that first
morning was a lesser type of love than that for the rest of our children. I knew
it was so wrong. The Lord was doing some heavy duty cleaning in my life through
our wee son. He showed me my heart, "deceitful, and desperately wicked". I asked
Him to love Andrew through me. He then gave me such a love for and joy in our
precious child, I couldn't believe the difference! He gently lead me along to
see that my love for each of our children is so inadequate, so human and
variable, that not only do I need the Lord to love Andrew through me, but each
of the others as well.
- The third lesson the Lord taught me that morning was one of "ownership".
Because of the effects of DS on Andrew's facial features, his family resemblance
was different than the other children. This made him seem more of a gift baby
from the Lord we were responsible to raise for Him. Then it hit me that each of
our children is the Lord's stewardship to us as parents. None of them are really
our own, they all belong to Him. As such all must be treated with great care and
respect. These were the first lessons the Lord taught me through Andrew in the
wee hours of the morning on Andrew's birthday. Once the Lord had dealt with me
in these three areas I was able to "change gears" and help others "change gears" as we broke the news to them.
When Andrew was first born, we were very open with family and friends about
his situation. This made it a lot easier for them to ask us questions, and for
them to accept Andrew just the way he is.
We have never been ashamed of our son. He was placed in our family by design
- not ours, but the Lord's. And we wouldn't have it any other way!
As Andrew has grown and developed we have come to realize that children with
disabilities are not slow, as some people perceive them. No, they are fighters.
They have to work hard to achieve what so many of us take for granted.
Individualized Education Plans
Now I'd like to touch on a tool that has revolutionized the way I plan school
for each of our children - the Individualized Education Plan (or IEP). Let's
first define education.
Education consists of so much more than academics, especially for the
Christian homeschooling family. Besides the "3 R's" it includes character
development, life skills, verbal communication, physical development, and most
importantly, spiritual understanding. Education is equipping for life. An IEP is
a personalized plan for carrying out that equipping, one step at a time. The
idea behind an IEP is that I will design an education to fit my child, as
opposed to trying to make my child fit a pre-determined education.
With an IEP we think, not in terms of grade level and grades, but of learning and progress. When designing an IEP, there are three questions to keep in mind. I feel these are important for my children:
As we look more closely at each area of education, here are some of the
insights and techniques that have worked either in our family, or that other
families have recommended. Let's start with one of the foundations of education:
- Where is my child at?
- What are we aiming for? (short term goals, long term goals)
- How will we get there?
Pre-speech communication: When Andrew was two he began to get frustrated
about not being able to communicate with us. We could tell he had a good
understanding of what we would say to him, but just wasn't able to get out what
he wanted to say to us. At that time we began to teach him sign language. He was
quick to learn the signs... he wanted so badly to be understood! When we knew
what he would want to say (at the dinner table, pointing to something he wanted
more of, for example), we would use the sign and say the word it represented.
Soon he caught on to the signs. Every time he used a sign, we would repeat the
word that went with it. In time we noticed that after he had learned the signs
and used them for a while, he began to say the word with the sign (which helped
us identify what the word was). The signing seemed to be a bridge to the spoken
word for Andrew. Signing and saying the word at the same time provides sight,
action, and sound cues all at the same time, and from what I've read about
teaching children, the more forms of input the better. A good reference book for
sign language is The Joy of Signing, by Lottie Riekehof. An
excellent signing video series is Sign With Me which is produced
Boys Town National Research Hospital
We were able to borrow it from the local school district resource center. Andrew would often watch it with me and catch on to the signs that way, too.
555 North 30th St.
Omaha, NE 68131
Another tool which a number of parents have found helpful in encouraging their children to communicate is a program called the Hanen method:
The Hanen Center
For those of us in B.C., Canada, a course and materials are available through
the local health unit, or through the government provided infant development
program. Though we did not take part in the infant development program, we heard
about a parent workshop to be held locally, and were able to attend.
Suite 403 - 1075 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M5S 2B1
(416) 921- 1073
The Hanen method teaches parents how to be more aware of opportunities
to draw communication from their non-speaking child, or to set up opportunities
for communication to happen. Lots of good ideas there!
Love and Learning video series. Produced by:
Joe and Sue Kotlinski
Andrew really enjoyed watching the videos and "reading" the books with us. As he watched the first one, the ABC's, he began saying the letter names along with the video. Soon he could identify the letters whenever he saw them. Once he was able to say the sounds of the alphabet, his speech really began to pick up.
P.O. Box 4088
Dearborn, MI 48126-4088
Many of the sounds we use in speech are contained in the alphabet names so once he had them, he was away. Now at almost 5 Andrew's vocabulary is picking up daily, though some of it is hard to understand. We just repeat what he says
clearly so he hears again how it should be spoken. When he gets "lazy" and just sits and cries or makes noise instead of words, we remind him that he can talk, and to use his words. We try to wait until he says what he wants to communicate instead of figuring it out and responding to his noise.
Picture Books of Important Words
Another thing we did was make up picture books of important words using photographs - family names, actions, etc. - and would "read" them over and over, doing signs to accompany the target words. This helped us both remember the
signs, and provided visual, auditory and kinesthetic input for each word.
Others have mentioned Beckman oral motor exercises as being a real help to their child (beckmanoralmotor.com). As well as 1st and 2nd Straight Talks (NATHHAN).
- Here are some steps to learning to read, and things to consider:
- The recognition of sounds (one sound per letter - just the basics!)
- Finger following along words from left to right
- Introducing the idea of words having more than one sound
- The blending of sounds (100 Easy Lessons, Reading Reflex, Acorn In My Hand, Contact Lifetime Books and Gifts 1-800-377-0390)
- Choose method of reading, sight words vs. phonics, or combination of both.
- Use flash cards, or booklets for sight word reading.
- Here are 2 suggestions for implementing a multi sensory approach to reading. These are really useful for teaching sight words.
- Write word out on strip of paper
- Child looks at word, then traces letters with finger as saying word.
- Neurological Impress Method
- Parent reads with child, directing voice in child's ear.
- Parent reads slightly faster and louder than child at first.
- Parent slides finger under words as reads them.
- As child becomes capable, let him lead and underline words with finger.
- Some other resources:
- Child learns to control a pencil.
- Learning to make basic movements (NATHHAN Winter 2001).
- Recognition of letter names (keyboard).
- Choosing printing vs. italics or cursive.
Use of a tape recorder for written assignment
- Have child develop an outline.
- Dictate thoughts in complete sentences on tape.
- Focus on one major point only per sitting.
- Transcribe (with parental assistance as necessary) using computer.
- Proof read (spell check, etc.).
Use of a tape recorder for spelling
- Have child record own words for the week on tape, leaving a 5 second pause between words.
- Child can then listen back to words for studying, and for test administration.
Other spelling hints:
- Cut down on number of words each day. 3/day gives 15 each week.
- Master 3 words each day, and review them daily
- Practice each word over and over, writing, tracing or typing the word
- Give the child a strategy for studying
- say word
- write and say word
- check word
- trace and say word
- write from memory and check
Information (science, social studies, etc.):
- Andrew learned to count going up and down the stairs at our
church building - we have none at home! First John would count with him over and
over to 3. After a few weeks of this, Andrew began counting along with Daddy,
then Daddy began counting up to five, then 8, 10, etc. We're still working our
way through the later teens.
- Number recognition
- (John purchased a large button calculator for a
couple of dollars just for Andrew. He loved playing with it and quickly learned
the number symbols to go with the names he already knew).
- Addition facts
- We had purchased some exercise tapes called U Can
Do 1-800-286-8585 for the older children. The children on the video say the
addition or multiplication facts while doing an exercise routine. Andrew loves
doing the exercises - his way! - along with the video, and is now beginning to
say the facts along with the children. I know he doesn't yet understand the
concepts of addition or multiplication yet. We're working on addition, but when
things do "click" he'll already have the facts memorized!). Some have also
suggested using Cuisenaire rods, and
Math-U-See 1378 River Rd. Drumore, PA 17518, (888) 854-6284.
We interact with books, broadening Andrew's understanding. We figure if we
put thoughts there, stimulating his mind, the next time we'll ask to see if he
remembers. If not, we'll tell him again. If a child is lacking speech, they
can't ask typical kid questions such as why? what's that?, etc.learn to
anticipate questions and answer them for him.
Some really fun audio tapes are: Your Story Hour, Diana Warring
history series, etc. Lifetime Books and Gifts has these 1-800-377-0390.
- Bible memorization:
- We usually work on the portion of scripture we're memorizing at breakfast.
Last summer we were memorizing the parable of the sower and the seed from Luke.
One evening I was lying beside Andrew at bedtime waiting for him to fall asleep.
We'd gone over the alphabet together (another learning routine). I figured I
would practice the memory work. To my surprise, as I came to the end of a verse
or sentence, Andrew would say the word before I did. He knew it too, only he
didn't have the ability to get all those words out. It was only the last word
that he'd say. This winter at Sunday school we were all challenged to memorize 1
Corinthians 12, or portions of it. Andrew received an award for learning his
section. We made up signs to go with the words, which helped us all remember the
- Knowledge of our Creator and His creation:
- Point out the beauty around us and that God made it. Point out His goodness, His greatness, His bigness, etc.
- Talk about the Bible, written by God. Written for each one of us, etc.
- Obedience and respect of authority- Lovingly Guiding their Footsteps
(Available through NATHHAN $3.75)
- To Train Up a Child, a book by Michael and Debbie Pearl is straight forward and practical. They advise actually setting up training sessions, teaching our children early basics like sit, stay, come and not waiting until it is too late. These early basics in obedience can set a good foundation for future obedience.
- In our home we also implement character building in: Respect of others and their things, manners and courtesy, helpfulness, thoughtfulness and sharing.
Categories in our home include:
Some Thoughts on Sharing About Disability with Others
- Self care
- Helpfulness in the community
- Social Skills
- One mom shared in a back issue of NATHHAN magazine (Spring 1993) one idea on how to help her son with social skills. She wrote an article in an effort to help her community and church family better understand her son. Letting people know what to expect and what is normal for your special needs child can help them better understand your needs as a family.
- One boy with Tourettes Syndrome asked his mom if they could make up a card explaining Tourettes that he could give out to people so he wouldn't have to keep explaining it himself.
- One mom made up a picture book called About Me that she asked each parent in a group her daughter was involved with to take home so they could as a family take the time to know about her daughter who has cerebral palsy.
Let other people know the physical reason for his behavior.
Let people know what he is capable of especially if it's not obvious to them.
Ask for an opportunity to educate the parents of the children, so they can pass on their understanding to their children.
Write something out that can be given to others.
One family has at various times adopted a buddy for their son, someone who is willing to help him be able to take part in the activities that are going on.
Link up with maybe 3 other families that will learn to know your child with special needs well, and will treat her as one of their own siblings. Organize your own field trips with these 3 families.
Some Tips for Handling Learning With Disabilities from NATHHAN Spring 1993 - Maureen Westcott)
Some Principals of Learning
- Educate yourself - become an expert on your child's specific disabilities.
(I've been studying Downs Syndrome for close to 5 years now. -Figured I've at
least earned my degree in special needs early childhood education. Now I'm
working on the thesis for my Masters!)
- Check out the library (inter-library loan), or the NATHHAN lending library. Even if a
book does not specifically address your child's problem, if it deals with special needs you may be able to glean something that can be applied to your
- Educate your child. Help your child realize the fault is not with them,
but is a learning problem which can be dealt with the same as if they needed
glasses. Having a cup of tea together, talking it out, can put our children on
our side, rather than making us antagonists. Become a team to work it out.
- Try local private schools. Can they offer you assistance? What do
they do with their students who have learning disabilities? Who do they use,
where do they test? Can they can test your child? etc.
- Try local groups
- Talk about it at homeschool meetings
- Accent the good areas - concentrate on what your children excel in.
- Pray - "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God...and it shall
be given him." James 1:5
- Start early with input, even if understanding is not there, so that by the time he does understand, he'll have the knowledge to build on.
- Lots of repetition.
- Break skills down into subskills, and teach one subskill at a time.
- Positive atmosphere - make it fun. Encourage lots!
- Repeat and expand. Build on the knowledge he has.
- Use as many channels of input as possible - visual, auditory, kinesthetic.
- Stimulation. Keep his mind busy. (Having a big family is a definite benefit in this area!)
- Watch for opportunities through out the day's activities to teach "incidentally".
- Get as many senses as possible involved (show it, say it, etc.)
- Give specific cues to maintain child's attention (eyes right here).
- Give clear, concise simple instructions.
- Be consistent with daily instructions. Give the same instructions from day to day. (In the same tone of voice and verbiage.)
- Have child repeat instructions back to you so you can insure comprehension.
- If you need to repeat, do it patiently, being clear, kind and firm. Encourage child to ask for help appropriately if he needs it.
- Use a daily assignment book - begin by writing in assignments for child then transfer that responsibility to child when capable.
Homeschooling takes a lot of work, and at times can be overwhelming. When you throw in a special need or two, it can become extremely overwhelming!
However, despite the challenges, homeschooling your child with special needs is still the best option available to him. You, as his parent, best know your own child. You know his level of comprehension, and can best help him go beyond that.
Other professionals make great resource people, but they can never match your commitment to doing the best for your child. They do not have the time you do to capture your child's teachable moments when your child is home with you.
It is a lot of work, a huge commitment, and it will cost - monetarily, possibly, but time-wise for sure. But the Lord has promised His strength for our weakness, and His wisdom for the asking. With resources like these, what more could we ask for?
Revised: February 1, 2002.