(The following post is written by Amy Vickery, special needs/struggling learners teacher at True North Homeschool Academy.)
Struggling Learners vs. Special Education
A lot of parents ask questions about the difference between struggling learners and special education. A struggling learner is basically working at or just below grade level. It might take them longer to catch on, they might need a few more examples, or a few more examples. A struggling learner may take longer to memorize math facts, but ultimately they get them down. This might even include a student with ADHD or dyslexia, depending on the severity.
A Special Education student, however, generally has a specific diagnosis (Autism, Down’s, Intellectual Disability, severe ADHD or Dyslexia, and many others). These students generally are 2-3 grade levels or developmentally 2-3 years behind their peers in specific areas or across all areas.
When do I need to seek out a diagnosis?
When a parent asks me if they should seek out a diagnosis, I ask them to consider the following:
- Why do you need a diagnosis?
- What questions are you hoping to answer with a diagnosis?
- How would a diagnosis benefit you and your child?
A diagnosis might be beneficial if:
- You utilize public school services (some states allow this even for homeschoolers)
- You will be eligible for services or resources not currently available without a diagnosis
- You need a diagnosis for your state due to testing regulations
- You are preparing for college and a diagnosis is required for needed accommodations for classes or testing (the testing usually has to be less than 3 years old going into college)
- You really don’t know what to do or how to help your child and you are looking for help in how to approach teaching them
- You know something is “off” or “not right” or a “problem” but you can’t quite put your finger on what’s going on. The hope of naming your unrest will bring you some peace and hope to help your kiddo.
What do I do after I receive a diagnosis?
No matter how prepared you think you are going into an evaluation process, receiving a diagnosis comes with a mix of emotions. You are relieved because you find out that something really is going on (and you really weren’t just THAT crazy mom after all). However, parents need to be prepared.
There is always a grieving process that comes with receiving a diagnosis. There will be anger, sadness, feelings of doubt, and eventually you will come out feeling stronger and better equipped to help your child.
Here are some tips to help you through this process:
- Don’t make any immediate changes that aren’t absolutely necessary. Give yourself time to adjust before making changes to educational setting (especially to homeschool from public school or vice versa), curriculum or how you are approaching things.
- Educate yourself. Find some articles, a video, or a book to read on the specific diagnosis. Even if you know a lot about it already, it helps to see the information through the new eyes of KNOWING what is going on.
- Find some support. Facebook groups and friends are great places to start.
- Say some prayers. The road is going to be long and hard, even armed with a diagnosis. Prayers for understanding and peace go a long way.
How to find support…
One of the most important things to do as a parent of a child who struggles or has special needs is to find a support group. Friends who will pray with and for you, families going through similar struggles and a good sitter are all important. Here are some great ideas for finding support:
- Church – a lot of times you can find support through a church. From support groups to an hour to be an “adult” on Sundays while your kids are in Bible Class can do a lot for how you feel the rest of your week. Talk with them about what your needs are and advocate for yourself and your child.
- Facebook groups – Not all Facebook groups are the same, but there are some wonderful ones out there. Some I recommend to parents:
- Friends – Find your “Tribe.” Friends who can understand and be the shoulder you lean on when things get tough. Parents who are going through similar situations are great because they are in the trenches with you. Being able to offer support at times can be beneficial too.
Struggling Learners and Special Needs students will take more faith, perseverance, and resources but be encouraged! There are a plethora of resources, books, conferences, and groups now more than ever before, including small group classes offered live online through True North Homeschool Academy. We also offer Special Needs and Struggling Learners Academic Advising. We would love to link arms with you as you seek out what’s best for your Struggling Learner or Special Needs student!
Amy Vickrey, MSE is a mother of a seven-year-old and almost three-year-old. Her homeschool journey began over 20 years ago when she saw how homeschooling enabled her sister who had memory issues and fell through the crack at school, to graduate and go to college. Amy knew then she wanted to implement what she saw – the love and individual attention – into her own teaching. She now homeschools her two boys and loves every minute of it! Having completed the second year of their homeschool journey, she is looking forward to many more to come!
Amy holds a Masters of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. Also, she spent 2 years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy and loves the discovery approach to learning. Teaching children how to learn will help them reach their goals and dreams.
Amy Vickrey states, “My passion for learning and being a lifelong learner is something I want to pass on to the children I teach, as well as my own children. Making learning fun and engaging is an important part of this process. My goal is to lift others up to help them achieve their own goals and dreams.”