Special Needs

Yes, you can home educate special needs children, and they may be far better off learning at home

Anita and Louis snow bikeThe range of special needs is very wide — from the gifted child to the very challenged who find even the simplest communication difficult.

New Zealand’s education system can be lacking when it comes to the extra needs of these “outside the box” students – especially for those who may look almost “normal” (whatever that is) yet are very different in the way they learn. Mainstream teachers are left to deal as best they can with such a wide range of difficulties in up to a third of the children in their sometimes overcrowded classrooms. It is not fair on the children and definitely not easy for the teachers.
It can certainly help to home educate – there are others home educating due to various circumstances, some who may have children similar in experiences and disposition to your own. We (in the Designer_Kids yahoo group) are all unique and accepting of others.

Is home education an option for families with children with ‘special needs’?

Disability is such a wide-ranging term, from children who just need a different type of teaching style, to children with major learning and life issues.

Sometimes school just does not suit our children. Parents choose to home educate their children for such a myriad of reasons and having a disability can be one of those reasons.

Recommend reading is ‘Home Schooling Children with Special Needs’— Sharon C. Hensley ISBN 1-55857-010-4. It is a very realistic and supportive view of the challenges faced.

Is funding available for families with special needs’ children?

The funding available in teacher aide support that your child would be entitled to within the school system is also available to you if you school your child at home.

Under the current Government funding scheme available to special needs children the ORS (On-going Resourcing Scheme) funds can be used to pay for teacher-aide support to help to educate your child.

To access your ORS funding you need to enrol your child with the Correspondence School under either an Educational or Medical exemption — this may require you getting supporting documentation from a ‘professional’ to qualify. The services of the Correspondence school will be free if you qualify.

Te Kura (formerly the Correspondence school) will pay your teacher-aide. This can be someone that you already know of and use to help support you or they will help you to find a suitable teacher-aide.

Generally the Correspondence school are very supportive and empowering. They recognise that parents are the real ‘experts’ on their children in the way that they learn and their learning needs. Having access to their teaching materials is useful as resources can be very costly.

If you choose to home-school without enrolling with the Correspondence School the Government will not give you access to your ORS funding.

What if others aren’t supportive?

You may find that people may not be supportive of your choice to educate a child with special needs at home. This is particularly true in the ‘social’ area. The flaw in this theory is that just because children are with a large group of other children does not mean that they will socialise together. The home education community provides an opportunity for you to get to know other families on a more intimate basis and for your child to have access to peers who may not be the same chronological age and therefore you can ‘socialise’ your child with peers of a similar developmental level.

‘It is important to remember that we have to make decisions based on our own children and family situations. There will always be people who oppose whatever we do. We must make our decisions based on our needs and the needs of our children and not the opinions of others.’ — from ‘Homeschooling a child with Special needs’: Sharon.C Hensley.

Are there alternative options?

It is also possible for you to educate your child at home part-time, whether they attend a special school or a mainstream school for the other part of their schooling week. You can negotiate this with the school under the Education Act.
If you feel that you need an advocate, IHC in Auckland has a specialist in this area — Sue McKinnon.

Is home-schooling a child with a disability realistic?

‘Our society is obsessed with normal and even above normal. We must let go of the feelings that our children are less as people if they don’t measure up academically’ — Sharon C.Hensley.

Homeschooling a child with a disability is a challenging task. It is not always easy and having help to deliver the teaching is, I feel, imperative. Families with children who don’t fit into the ‘mainstream of life’ are already struggling to cope with extra daily demands and sometimes extreme challenges and we need to be realistic about their abilities. This does not mean however that they won’t constantly surprise us with what they achieve.

Homeschooling is NOT a magic cure for our children’s learning or behaviour issues but they will be learning in an environment where all the people involved have their needs very much at heart and this has got to be a desirable thing!

Useful links can be found on ‘The Donald Beasley Institute’ site.

‘Group Special Education (GSE) is a group in the Ministry of Education focused on providing services — directly and indirectly — to children and young people with special education needs.’


Below are a few comments from some mothers who home educate their Designer Kids

Instead of spending her days learning how to dumb down her language to fit in with her age peers and how to deal with 30 hours a week of boredom, our daughter is now free to learn about the stuff that’s important to her – about the world around us, observing insect life in the garden on a warm spring days and caring for caterpillars whilst they grow and pupate. She is developing a love for literacy lying under a shady tree reading books that have been personally selected to her interests, and finding purpose in reading to others through reading to her younger sister. She is writing imaginative stories about the mermaids who live in the sandcastle she built on the beach yesterday and the dragons that have always fascinated her. Instead of starting her day being shouted at to “hurry up, get a move on, we’ll be late…..!” she starts it when she has finished her breakfast in her own time (which is often a fair length!), followed by David Attenborough and the wonders of the Blue Planet, or planning her learning schedule for the day by pinning picture cards onto a board that represent the different learning areas.

Learning to work with peers has its proportionate place for a six year old, at a level that is appropriate for her, at One Day School.

Meanwhile, we are becoming experts on educating gifted children, reading avidly and putting into practise what we find out. Together we are learning as a family. Last week I was shown that there really is such a thing as a Trumpet Fish, and how this could be developed into a neat little toy for a toddler who loves instruments. The old adage “by your children you will be taught” suddenly has new meaning! What will you let your child teach you today?



I have been home educating my special needs kids for the last 2 years. The oldest is autistic with dyslexia, and the youngest is gifted with a sensitive personality. For both, school wasn’t a nice experience, not suited to their learning styles. They had a hard time fitting into the box of expected academic performance in a set time.

Now that we are home educating I can cater for their specific needs (and their needs are worlds apart). They are not rushed to finish work in a set time. In the beginning a lesson that was supposed to take 30 minutes took us an hour, with 10 minutes of work and 10 minute breaks for an hour. Now after 2 years they are able to concentrate for longer and have improved a lot of their work strategies. In the beginning I had a loose framework of work I wanted to do. Now we are more organized and have a clearer pathway we want to follow.

As my kids hate physically writing, we do most of our work on the computer. There are lovely programmes like Reading Eggs for reading, spelling and language, and Mathletics, for their maths. There are a lot of wonderful maths, language, spelling and brain games on the internet, such as on Woodlands, Progressive Phonics and Fun Brain. I also can gear their learning more toward possible careers they will be following one day. They both show interest in specific areas, so we can cater for study in those areas, instead of forcing them to learn what all the kids learn in school. They have the freedom to explore their interests to their delight.



Luca is now a million times better then he was, he is now very high functioning where a few years ago he was simply autistic. Everyday life was difficult with him, shopping, going anywhere, communication, anything. Not now. And it is due to the time I have spent with him. I am sure there are useful resources we can and have to pay for, such as the behavioural vision therapy we went through, but that again was me putting in the time to do the tasks/exercises the optometrist gave us.

The bottom line is observation, and following up several different ideas to see what works for you. But you must follow up on them, no way around it. You must put the hours in. No one else will do it for you.


Useful Resources

Special Needs



http://www.parent2parent.org.nz — supports and offers seminars, training etc for families of people with disabilities of all descriptions

http://www.lumosity.com/ — brain training

http://www.brainpop.com/ — 5 minute videos on varied topics. Also an iPad app

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s2l9qNHPKu8 — auditory processing disorder and giftedness

http://kids.thinkingskillsclub.com/ — online games that help you think

http://www.therightsideofnormal.com/ — right brained children

http://www.smartappsforkids.com/2012/05/deannes-top-10-free-apps-for-asd-kids.html — apps for children with ASD

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=Uq-FOOQ1TpE — child prodigy with autism tells us to forget what we know






http://www.giftedchildren.org.nz/explorers.org.nz/ — Auckland club for gifted children

http://www.bubbledome.co.nz — holiday and after school courses

http://www.sengifted.org/archives/articles/discovering-the-gifted-ex-child — what happens to gifted children when they are not identified in schools

http://www.nzac.org.nz/journal/ — will you be the one to understand me?

http://giftededucation.ultranet.school.nz/Home/ — online education for gifted kids

http://www.thinkshop.org/home-schooling/ — thinking resources

https://www.potentialplusuk.org/ — Formerly the National Association of Gifted Children in Britain

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/creative-synthesis/201201/many-ages-once — gifted developmental difference