by Marian Soderholm, MA, LD Specialist
Speaker at CHEA’s Special Needs Solutions Conference, Saturday, November 1.

Every week, for the past two years, Erna comes by with a loaf of bread, leaves it on the porch and crosses back over to her side of a helping hand to successthe street, where she has lived as our neighbor for more than 17 years. God used her two years ago to help provide food for our family as we weathered a tough time.

Times have changed, but she continues to provide weekly food gifts, a reminder to me of God’s faithfulness when we are uncertain needing His guidance and support.

As a learning disabilities specialist for the homeschooling community, I meet many families who are also relying on God for that faithfulness to help them through the uncertainties of working with a special needs child. I have been impressed by the dedication and efforts these parents will go to in helping their children succeed.

Parental Effort

Having spent time learning how to overcome and work with my own mild auditory processing interference, I know how much effort and research a parent puts into this task. Many long hours are required to help their students grasp concepts and retain information, two things vital to the learning process.

There is also the sacrifice of time as parents must become adept at being their child’s advocate. They must first understand how that child learns, what things may be interfering with the learning process. Then they must look for resources, appropriate curriculum, and perhaps even outside therapies to help them as they homeschool, not to mention they need to learn how to work with their child in a consistent one-on-one format. This is time-consuming and can be expensive, depending on the needs.

People often ask me, “Is it better to homeschool a child with some type of special needs, or put them into a regular classroom setting?” I answer this by sharing with them some of the good resources and methods for working with children in their own homes.

I personally see how much more effective it can be to have that child taught by proactive parents who will go the extra mile because of their personal involvement. It is more difficult for any child with a learning difficulty to get that type of attention within a classroom, no matter how caring the teachers may be. The sheer numbers of students needing attention practically demands the “one size fits all” mentality concerning curriculum and teaching techniques.

Home is a great place for doing the type of multi-sensory teaching so helpful to students with different types of learning or sensory-integration difficulties. I think it is wise for parents to seek outside counsel to help in determining their student’s learning strengths and weaknesses, and to design an educational program best suited to that student’s needs. But the actual everyday give and take of working through the learning process, identifying areas of difficulty and teaching the student to work with their own style is much better served in the home.

The pressure to hurry, to conform to some mythical standard of excellence can be erased. Instead, time can be spent on repetition of necessary skills, incorporating games and physical exercises, which strengthen sensory motor integration and help students learn more effectively.

A multi-sensory approach to teaching involves SAYING or verbalizing the concept to be taught, SHOWING or giving a visual of the concept, DOING or being involved physically with the concept, and having the student SPEAK back and explain the concept being taught. This approach covers a variety of learning styles and stresses involvement with the learning process.

Breaking Down Information

A student with auditory processing interference in the area of sequencing or memory would benefit from having information broken down into small pieces, better able to be put onto index cards and mentally digested.

Color-coding of information in texts works wonders for visual learners, as does making puzzle pieces of spelling and vocabulary words written individually on index cards, then laying the pieces out onto the carpet, allowing the visual learner to “see” the words, even using one card for each letter of a word and letting your learner spell out the words by picking up the letter from the puzzle.

3D puzzles help those learners who need to “touch” the material, as does making words from sandpaper or velvet, or having them draw an idea for a story, and then have them speak the story into a tape recorder. Later, they can sit and transcribe their own words onto paper, a technique helpful for students who labor to put their ideas down on paper, but who do not lack for ideas.

Strong auditory (receptive language) learners will often like being read to rather than reading themselves, while verbal (expressive language) learners will need to “verbalize” every concept they are learning in order to “visualize” in their minds. Needless to say, different styles of learning call for creative solutions in teaching.

The biggest cause for frustration in the teaching process when working with a struggling learner is the gap between what the parent expects and what the student can deliver, and the amount of time needed to close that gap. This is where character training comes in, for both parents and their students. Jeremiah 29:11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Parents of special needs students know the value of taking time to pray, essential for this task.

All of us homeschooling parents need to remember that the God who called us to this task is the same God who will equip us to do what He has put before us. Any student who must deal with a learning difficulty will profit even more from having the Godly character traits necessary to deal with living a purposeful and productive life in God’s kingdom, believing they are fearfully and wonderfully made and an important part of His plan.

Being trusted, by God, with a special needs child, is a big responsibility and God will equip those parents with whatever they will need to handle, over time, being up to the task. He is faithful to do this. He says so in His word. There are many homeschooling families doing just that and they are to be applauded for their efforts.

Marian will be presenting the following workshops at the Special Needs Solutions Conference.

  • Teach to How Your Children Learn
  • Dealing with Dyslexia and Other Language Processing Disorders
  • Recognizing and Dealing Successfully with ADHD
  • Aspergers Syndrome and Sensory Integration Skills

Copyright 2011. Used by permission of the author. Originally published in The Parent Educator, February/March 2001.

Marian and her husband Erik live in Long Beach and began homeschooling their two children in 1993. One child is now in the Torrey Honors program at Biola. Marian is a learning specialist providing testing, resources and program planning to the special needs homeschool community. She possesses a BA, an MA in counseling,  and two lifetime teaching credentials, one in the field of special education.