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Special-Needs Homeschooling: 4 Steps To Start & Finish Strong

By March 6, 2024March 11th, 2024No Comments

What does special-needs homeschooling look like?

In a recent podcast episode, special education teacher and homeschooler Suzanne Wandling explores “red flags” or behaviors that can indicate developmental delays, dyslexia, or other special needs your child may have.

She also discusses resources to help homeschool families, including learning screenings at our April 5-6 conference and curriculum fair.

Here are some highlights from the podcast:

Tip #1: Look for behavioral indicators.

“Often parents don’t know some general things that are helpful. It’s being curious about your child and how he or she is developing. And so, really being consistent with your child’s well-child checkups with the pediatrician just to see that they’re meeting some of the milestones.”

Here are some things Suzanne listed for parents to observe in their preschooler or kindergarten-aged child:

  • Starting to confuse word order
  • Singing the alphabet song, and your child is not comprehending it like you thought they would
  • Walking on tiptoes a lot, or in a way you don’t anticipate
  • Having difficulty pronouncing certain speech sounds

Tip #2: Build a “team” of quality providers and professionals.

Suzanne says the best place to start special-needs homeschooling is with a pediatrician. The pediatrician can put you in the direction of a speech language pathologist, or an occupational or physical therapist.

“When you’re looking for a quality provider, sometimes referral from a friend is a really good start, and you could ask a friend that may have had a similar concern. Do they have an idea of a professional to look for? Again, just be really curious and ask a lot of questions of the professionals that you think might be helpful.”

homeschool socialization question

Bonus tip: Check out this list of resources to get started, including special-needs homeschooling resources!


  • Consider an educational psychologist or an educational specialist that specializes in assessments with the student, or an occupational therapist.
  • Look for hand dominance to develop by age 4 or 5 (e.g. passing a pencil from left hand to right). Occupational therapists work with hands, physical therapist, work with gait and walking well and sensory issues.
  • Speech-language pathologists can help with communication or articulation difficulties.
  • Reading specialists can help with reading or executive functioning – skills like planning and following up with tasks.

Tip #3: Dispel myths about learning challenges (including dyslexia).

“Kids are very excited to learn. And so one of the first signs behaviorally of a child with dyslexia is that they don’t want to engage.

teach vocabulary homeschool

“So they’re going to procrastinate. They’re going to appear lazy. So, for example, you know, you want your child to write a sentence, and they’re only going to write the first word, or they’re going to read half a line instead of a page.

“And so it’s going to come across that your child doesn’t want to, or is distracted, or has better things to do, but your child is trying to develop some coping mechanisms to deal with this stressful situation. They’re little people. They don’t know what they don’t know.

“And so the sign of laziness, even in an older student who’s maybe in fifth grade, who maybe is newly identified with dyslexia, can be mislabeled as a lazy person. But when they’re doing the thing that’s hardest for them for half of the day, the fatigue level is very high. The stress can be high, can be anxiety producing.”

What can special-needs homeschooling parents do?

  • Look for some of the anxiety-producing signs to know when to pull back.
  • Consider developmental milestones. “If your child is in first or second grade and they’re not writing a complete sentence by the end of second grade or the beginning of a good paragraph in second grade, that’s a red flag.”
  • Don’t assume they just need to try harder. “Telling them to try harder, it actually creates anxiety. And when the brain becomes anxious, it actually lapses into fight or flight. And so telling them to try harder is going to make it more difficult. It’s not going to create that open mind to be able to learn.”
  • Consider a different approach. “It’s up to us as parents to think, well, what is a different way I can present this information? Or, I wonder if I could provide this information in a multi-sensory way so that they’re getting it through hearing and kinesthetic, and different modalities. Might they learn it better?”
  • Don’t buy into the myth of spelling having to do with intelligence. “There’s no correlation between being able to spell and your intelligence. In fact, with dyslexia, to be defined as dyslexic, you’re performing, your intelligence is at or above the average level. … Our culture has identified that if spelling is difficult, you’re not smart.”
  • Know the strengths of people with dyslexia. “They’re known to be incredible out-of-the-box thinkers. They have high levels of communication where they can really connect with people in a different way. Another thing is that they’re super resilient because things have been hard at a very young age. They’ve learned to be super flexible, and so they have a high level of resiliency.”

Tip #4: Explore special-needs homeschooling resources (including screenings).

learning screenings mpe homeschool conference

At this year’s conference, MPE will provide the following screenings for special-needs homeschooling:

  • Speech (K-5th grade): A certified speech-language pathologist (SLP) will be available to provide speech/language screenings. A speech/language screening is a great opportunity to connect with a professional about your child’s communication. Parents will complete a brief form regarding speech concerns, and children will participate in a 10-15 minute screening with the speech pathologist. The SLP will provide resources and a recommendation for further steps if necessary.
  • Sensory-Motor (ages 3-6 years old): An occupational therapist practitioner will provide screenings for gross motor skills such as hopping, skipping and fine motor skills including grasp patterns for drawing, writing, coloring and use of scissors. Sensory processing will also be screened and will include observations of self-regulation, motor planning, eye hand coordination and balance. Parents will complete a brief form and the child will participate in a 10-15 minute screening. The occupational therapy practitioner will provide resources and recommendations for further steps if necessary.
  • Reading (ages K-5th grade): Areas of assessment such as phonemic awareness, alphabet knowledge, decoding skills, oral reading fluency, accuracy, and comprehension will be presented, based on the student’s current grade level. A Special Education/Orton Gillingham Trained Interventionist will conduct the reading screening. Students will participate in their grade specific reading screening. Parents will complete a brief survey. Upon completion of the screening, lasting approximately 10-15 minutes, parents will receive an overview of the screening along with resources to support reading. If it is determined that the student would benefit from additional support, recommendations may be shared.

Other special-needs resources:

Know other special-needs homeschooling resources we missed? Let us know in the comments!

Shanxi Omoniyi

Shanxi Omoniyi (@ShanxiO on Twitter) is MPE's online content director. A homeschool alumna, Shanxi graduated from the University of Kansas with degrees in journalism and English. Her company, Wordspire Media, helps businesses and nonprofits share their stories through content marketing, social media management, and email marketing.

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