Welcome to the How She Does It series: Homeschooling Moms of Special Needs Kids Speak Out. To read more stories from other homeschooling moms, visit our How She Does It installment on our Special Needs page.
Today’s post is from Sharla, who blogs over at The Chaos and the Clutter. Sharla is the mom of 7 wonderfully unique children. Here is how she describes her family:
Two of our children were blessed by birth and the other five through adoption. Four have special needs with many of them having multiple diagnoses. These include four kids with SPD (sensory processing disorder), two with FASD, a lung disease, Aspergers, speech delays, severe cognitive delays, hearing loss, subtractive bilangualism (fancy way of saying he lost his first language before learning his second), RAD (reactive attachment disorder), PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and anxiety disorder. There is obviously never a dull moment in our household!
What part of the world do you live in? We live in beautiful Alberta, Canada and because of all the special needs in our family, are very grateful for the help we get from the government here including an aide for our other kids while I attend an intensive trauma and attachment program with our youngest daughter.
What are your best tips for homeschooling with a special needs child? I have found that when homeschooling children who learn differently, it is so important to adjust my expectations and to celebrate the small victories. My kids have taught me so much and as I have absorbed some of that and started to relax more, I have been able to enjoy homeschooling much more. When I think too far into the future or worry about ten years from now, I miss out on what is right in front of me. It’s important to enjoy today and find the joys in the right now.
How do you get support from your husband/partner, your parents, your extended family? Or, if you don’t get the support you need, tell us about that and how you deal with it. I have been so fortunate in that the homeschooling community and the adoption community where I live are very active and by getting involved in those (I find that many of the homeschool families here have also adopted so they often overlap), we have created a new extended family for ourselves. They have brought meals when our daughter has been in the hospital, encouraged us, prayed for us, and been overall supportive of our somewhat unconventional choices in having a large, transracial, special needs, homeschooling family!
Some members of our actual family have been supportive of our choices while others have been far less than supportive, so having support from friends, other homeschoolers and our church has been even more critical.
How do you prioritize things: homeschooling/learning, therapies/activities for your kids, taking care of other children, marriage/partnership, extended family, volunteer commitments, friends, etc.? Balance is something I have yet to achieve. Writing this is a classic example. Julie has been very patient and understanding but I am very late in getting this to her because our one daughter’s lungs have been in bad shape the past few weeks and everything has turned upside down and become a matter of triage. When she can’t breathe, everything else becomes very low priority!
I am by nature a planner but having the family we do has forced me to be flexible and to accept that I am never in control of anything.
On a good week, I homeschool for a few hours in the mornings Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and every second Friday. The afternoon is for activities and appointments for the kids and Thursdays is our youngest daughter’s treatment program while every other Friday, our oldest daughter goes in to her pulmonary specialist. It’s a constant juggling act.
I manage better when I am organized but that is not something I am good at and struggle with it constantly. When I meal plan, make freezer meals, make lists, make lesson plans, pre-cut fruits and veggies for snacks, and have all the supplies I need, things run smoothly. When I get behind on those things, everything falls apart.
It is honestly very hard to find time to fit in the things that are less critical in a triage sense but more critical in a long-term sense like working on my marriage, spending one-on-one time with each of the kids, and maintaining relationships with friends.
How do you take care of yourself? This question kind of makes me laugh and at the same time, makes me want to skip over it. I literally wrote the book on self-care…really! One of my books is called Shield: A Framework of Self-Care for Foster and Adoptive Families and it’s full of really great advice that really works…if you follow it. I am a classic example of not being very good at following my own advice. I go in spurts of getting better at it and then a crisis, such as the recent one of our daughter’s health declining, causes me to fall off the boat. I know that it’s time for me to climb back aboard though.
I recently started walking a few times a week with a friend. It’s good exercise which is great self-care and it provides some adult time of being able to talk with a friend without interruption so it’s healthy all around. I also try to make sure that I start my days with what energizes me, reading a few Bible verses, having some tea with lots of sugar, drinking a glass of water, and getting a few minutes of almost quiet in the shower.
Do you combine learning/homeschool with therapy/activities that support your children’s needs? I have found that the things that have been the most helpful with our kids have been sensory related. We incorporate sensory bins into whatever we are learning, have a very sensory rich classroom, use things like weighted neck rolls and Move-n-Sit cushions for some of the kids, and do a lot of hands-on activities. We also use a variety of things designed to help reduce anxiety or optimize learning such as brain breaks, an anti-anxiety kit, and music.
How does your decision to homeschool, your style/approach to homeschooling, or the curriculum you use factor in with your child’s special needs? I love that homeschooling has given our kids the chance to maximize their potential, regardless of the limitations they may have and has allowed them to be who they were meant to be without being made fun of for being different. Our kids have challenges but the remark we hear the most commonly about our kids is how happy they are. That makes me feel like something about our approach is working.
Thank you, Sharla! I am so glad to have you share your wisdom with us.
You can read more about Sharla and her family, as well as get more information about her books, at The Chaos and the Clutter. Sharla has lots of great posts about parenting and homeschooling kids with special needs. You can also follow Sharla on Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter.
Do you homeschool a child or children with special needs? We’d love to hear your story. We are looking for monthly contributors to this series. Please email me at creeksidelearn at gmail dot com. Thanks. ~Julie