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 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 look ‘normal’ (whatever that is) yet are very different in the way they learn. Mainstream teachers have to deal with a wide range of difficulties in a large proportion of children in what can sometimes be overcrowded classrooms. This is not fair on the children and not easy for the teachers.

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

It can help to home educate – there certainly are other children with special needs being home educated, some who may be similar in experience and disposition to your own.

Disability is such a wide-ranging term – from children who need a different 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 a myriad of reasons and having a disability can be one of those.

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

Is funding available for families with special needs’ children?

Some of the same funding that is available to children in the school system is also available for children at home.   If they are enrolled with Te Kura (The Correspondence School), the same funding is available as at schools.  Even though your child is at home, they are still officially enrolled in a school (Te Kura) and so are entitled to all funding available to other school-going children.

Government funding available to special needs children is via ORS (Ongoing Resourcing Scheme).  To access ORS funding your child needs to be enrolled with Te Kura.  You may be able to enrol with Te Kura for free under Medical or Psycho-social grounds.  This will require supporting documentation from a ‘professional’ to qualify.  If you do not have appropriate documentation you can still enrol at Te Kura but will need to pay.  ORS funding can continue until the end of the year your child turns 21.

Funding can include a teacher-aide, who can be someone that you already know of and use to help support you or Te Kura can help you to find a suitable teacher-aide.

Te Kura can be 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.

Non-ORS assistance for Homeschoolers

Students who hold an exemption (not enrolled at Te Kura), who meet the priorities for service, as set by the Ministry of Education, may be able to access speech-language therapy; specialist services for physical disabilities; assistive equipment; advice from BLENNZ for blind and low vision students; Deaf Education Centre support and others.

What if others aren’t supportive?

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. However, 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 but may be 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.

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.  Having help to deliver the teaching can be an important asset.  Families with children who don’t fit into the ‘mainstream of life’ may be struggling to cope with extra daily demands.  Sometimes the challenges are extreme 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 at The Donald Beasley Institute.

Learning Support is a group within 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 our daughter is now free to learn about the stuff that’s important to her. She is developing a love for literacy lying under a shady tree reading books that have been personally selected to her interests. She is writing imaginative stories about things 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.  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. 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 two 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 I had a loose framework of work I wanted to do. Now we are more organised and have a clearer pathway we want to follow.  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

Designer Kids Yahoo Group
Autism NZ
Parent to Parent — supports and offers seminars, training etc for families of people with disabilities of all descriptions
Lumosity — brain training
Brain Pop — 5 minute videos on varied topics. Also an iPad app
Straight Talk 2012 Health and Education — auditory processing disorder and giftedness
The Right Side of Normal — right brained children
Smart Apps for Kids — apps for children with ASD
Forget What You Know TED Talk — child prodigy with autism tells us to forget what we know
Ministry of Education – Inclusive Education


Ministry of Education – Gifted and Talented Online
Gifted Homeschoolers NZ Facebook Page
Creating Curriculum for Gifted Children
New Zealand Association for Gifted Children
Bubble Dome Future Genius — holiday and after school courses
Discovering the Gifted Ex-Child — what happens to gifted children when they are not identified in schools
Insights into Gifted Students — will you be the one to understand me?
Gifted Online — online education for gifted kids
Think Shop — resources for thinking
Potential Plus UK — Formerly the National Association of Gifted Children in Britain
Many Ages At Once — gifted developmental difference.  Article in Psychology Today Blog