Parenting is about decisions and the rationale behind them. It defines your style, which will shape who your children turn out to be. The biggest of those decisions involve outcomes that children will carry with them forever –and education is chief among them. Between the intense laughter, tears, and gnashing of teeth required to parent a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), we are required to forge some sort of path for our son. That path, for us, was to provide him with a homeschool education, and as we trod along, we spend plenty of time sitting on fallen logs, wondering “what the heck were we thinking?”
SPD is a funny thing. At present, it isn’t even considered an official medical diagnosis. Yet a large body research on the condition exists, treatment centers are booked, and therapists have developed distinct methods for treatment. The majority of children diagnosed with the condition also fall into the category of Autism Spectrum Disorder, but many do not.
The symptoms vary from child to child, but all involve the abnormal way in which their brains process sensory data. Sometimes the sound of a siren can cause an SPD child to run and cry, or even defecate in their pants. While others, with less severe symptoms, will crouch down and cover their ears. A brush on the shoulder may not be felt by some, while others would get very uncomfortable and irritated by the contact. Automatic flushing toilets with their sudden loudness frightens our little guy, and he will sometimes refuse to use them and hold it. It’s that uncomfortable to him. Tantrums are common as the frustration with how to manage all of the data around them grows. They melt down pretty regularly.
Why Homeschool a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder
As for our decision to educate him in the home: If we were to scribble down all of the reasons we homeschool onto little pieces of paper and throw them into a fishbowl, the pressure would crack the glass, then shatter like a cartoon opera singer hit just the right note. But after seven years with our precious little SPD brainiac, his condition is, by far, our most compelling reason. We expand on WHY we chose this route in our article, entitled “Homeschooling Sensory Processing Disorder Kids.”
If you are considering homeschooling your SPD child, it’s fitting to compare the journey to a day at the beach.
The sand is beautiful and soft, but at the height of summer, it can burn your feet. Similarly, keeping them home can give you tender moments and let you focus on their individual needs, but they will direct their frustrations at you when things get a little hot. Afterall, you’re the teacher, and it’s your job to make sure things “make sense.”
The water can be pleasantly warm in the summer months, but unbearably cold in the winter. Sometimes the water is choppy and can pull you right out with a fierce riptide. If the forecast calls for one of those “tough days” that all SPD parents are painfully familiar with, you can abandon your plans and make it a board game day, or to enjoy some time snuggling up with a movie. Some days you may want to avoid learning altogether (more on this later).
How to Homeschool a Child with Sensory Processing Disorder
That covers the WHY. The next question is HOW do we do it, effectively?
We chose to adopt a year-round school calendar.
Yes, it sounds about as fun as chewing thumbtacks, but it has become necessary for us. When we know the vibe isn’t right, and the world is bothering our little guy too much (or there is a red tide warning), we postpone our lesson for the next day. We cram enough curriculum into our year by spreading them out over twelve months, even with multiple days and weeks off. Those two months when public school children are off are simply scattered throughout our year. Using a really elaborate planner or software on your computer is super helpful. Don’t make a concrete schedule then beat yourself up for not following it. Everyone knows you don’t swim against the current.
We create lessons that suit his style and quirks.
In public school, federal law dictates that teachers provide accommodations and modifications of lessons to reach ESE children. You should do nothing less. Most SPD kids are hyper and non-focused. Scavenger hunts that tie into science lessons, videos relating to social studies, and math with candy are great ways to start. But what works for your SPD kid may be a disaster for another. That’s why, you as the parent, are the most prepared to teach them. One of the hardest things to teach is writing because sitting and focusing on sentences or essays is so difficult for him. We still use the state standards approach to responding to prompts, but we modify them to make them interesting. He has written great paragraphs about “What I would do If I was invisible,” or explaining why characters in certain stories made flawed decisions–and he’s only seven!
We attend a homeschool co-op. We are lucky to live in a large metropolitan area (nearly 3.5 million people) in Tampa Bay. There are a number of great groups and co-ops. This is a neat way to get our SPD dude into a group of his peers. If he has an outburst, it’s amongst children whose parents are right there in the room. We react together in the most appropriate way, and defuse, while he still gets the chance to find his place in the world socially. If you live in a more rural area or a non-homeschool friendly area, START YOUR OWN CO-OP and find local people online who are interested. Before you know it, you’ll have a group built up. It’s well worth the effort. Also, our local library has some of the exact books that children in Brick & Mortar schools are using, and the web is full of lesson plans and ideas. We find what works, and toss the rest, while still covering our bases and legal obligations.
Field trips galore.
Sometimes we mix a little sugar with his medicine. We present a trip as a normal family outing but focus on certain elements. Maybe the children’s museum has a great section on how the local water systems work. We take pictures, study it, and take an overall interest in it. Then we come home and prop it up with an informative video. Then he can analyze and synthesize what he learned. This is so much better than book work, and studies have shown, it’s a gazillion times more effective. This idea can be applied to any site of interest, and often we don’t have to disguise that it’s a learning trip. He just loves experiences, because they fulfill his desire to “stimulate” his senses, yet feel in control at the same time (a typical SPD trait).
Even better? We go at times when the crowds are sparse. Tuesday mornings, Thursday afternoons–both are better than a Saturday at the museum, and we worry a lot less about the risks involved in big crowds.
I taught in our local public school system, and deeply admire the men and women who pour their blood, sweat, and tears into our youth. But even the best among them doesn’t understand my cutie the way I do, and no one, NOT ANY of them can cook him his favorite dinner after a successful day of learning. Nor can they hold his hand at the beach while gazing at the Florida sunset, dreaming about what’s beyond the horizon.
Jenivieve Elly is a graduate of the College of Education at the University of South Florida. She is a homeschooling, work from home mom, who has created hundreds of pages of SEO tuned content for web publication. Her current mission is to document her creative parenting techniques and homeschooling skills to inspire others to take the plunge. For more on Jenivieve, visit her website Homeschool Educational Resources.
This article is part of the I Homeschool Because . . . series. Click here to read other articles in this series, download the free eBook, You Can Do It, Too: 25 homeschool families share their stories, and enter a giveaway from Kiwi Crate valued at more than $200.