Meet your HSLDA Special Needs Consultant: Kristy Horner is a homeschooling mama to her twins, Griffin and Gabriella. She lives in West Virginia and enjoys reading, participating in her local homeschool co-op, history, field trips, writing, and spending time with her family—including Jack, their King Charles Cavalier.
Q: How can I better communicate my child’s needs to him/her and our family?
A: Wow! This is a really good question—I love that you are asking about it. Once any child’s learning difference has been professionally diagnosed, one of the first next questions most parents find themselves asking is “How do I let my child or family in on this complex information?”
Finding an effective tool to help your child, your family, and others understand the characteristics of a learning challenge or disability can be a big hurdle. This learning difference may affected many areas of your child’s life, ranging from daily living skills to academics, and it can be frustrating when challenges are not easily overcome.
You may sometimes worry that calling attention to your child’s differences could make them feel inadequate among peers or encourage them to use their challenge as a crutch.
But what if opening this conversation actually empowered them to advocate for themselves and others? What if it allowed them to relax and understand the way they think, feel or learn? What if it opened the door for family to assist your child or make better accommodations?
After all, we want our kids to grow into the best possible version of themselves by embracing the reality that different is not less.
A great first step is awareness or education for all involved.
When sharing information about specific special needs, it can be difficult to find an approach that is both relatable and encouraging without being too technical. Also, it’s often challenging that the focus of a learning difference diagnosis is on deficits or what the child can’t do, rather than their strengths or gifts.
If you’re looking for a gentle way to communicate or get a first-hand look at a specific learning disability or special need, I would suggest you consider finding a book written directly to the child or about a child with a similar struggle.
These books are easy to comprehend and are generally a quick read. They give a helpful big-picture overview, while at the same time providing great detail and valuable insight.
My most recent favorite is Lexy, a story and reference book about dyslexia by Kristi Davis. While the story itself explains what it’s like to be Lexy, the accompanying notes for parents can signal early warning signs or help a relative or friend obtain a deeper understanding of dyslexia. Readers of all ages will have a sense of what Lexy goes through on a daily basis when performing different tasks. If you hand this book over to your dyslexic child, they will see, through their own eyes, that they are not alone. There is a relief in a child’s coming to know they are accepted. This could be the first time your child realizes there are strengths and unique abilities that lay in the shadows of their struggle—and they become inspired with a new determination to foster their strengths and abilities. Reading Lexy could be life changing.
I love that there are so many authors and books out there to encourage and offer hope to these precious children!
Speaking of books and resources, if you would like to learn even more about your child’s unique learning difference, HSLDA’s Special Needs Consultants have gathered a bunch of resources on a wide range of learning challenges and special needs. You can start by typing “special needs” or a specific learning difference into the search box in the upper right hand corner of this blog page to see all the posts we’ve written related to your interest. And then check out even more resources in the special needs section of HSLDA’s website.
If you’re not into browsing, but would prefer a quick list, here are seven resources I recommend for families of children with special needs:
- Special Needs Homeschooling—Founded by Heather Laurie, the mother of five special needs children and a nationally known homeschool conference speaker. Her website and Facebook page offer families a supportive community, resources, and a blog with helpful tips, recipes, and sensory and art project ideas!
- SPED Homeschool—This nonprofit organization was founded by Peggy Ployhar, a homeschooling mom and former special needs consultant for a state homeschooling organization. SPED offers you support, encouragement, and resources through experienced special education homeschooling parents sharing relevant information and ideas. It is also a place where families can be connected with helpful services and online social groups.
- Praying for Parker—On this blog and website, Tammy Hodson, whose youngest son, Parker, has Down Syndrome and other special needs, shares her life, homeschooling journey, updates on Parker, as well as teaching tips, art ideas, recipes for those who have special dietary needs, as well as offers a section on frugal living and shopping.
- Focus On the Family—This Christian organization offers a wonderful series on parenting a special needs child, recognizing siblings’ needs, and finding balance as a family, as well as resources for educating churches about disabilities. Additionally, Focus on the Family hosts a referral network for Christian counselors.
- Joni and Friends—Founded by quadrapalegic Joni Eareckson Tada, this Christian nonprofit is most known for its programs like Family Retreats and Wheels for the World (delivering wheelchairs to people around the globe). But you may find other kinds of specific help and encouragement through Joni and Friends’ disability ministry directory, radio program, prayer team, education and research, and resources for families and churches impacted by and serving people with special needs.
- Understood—A partnership of 15 nonprofit organizations, Understood, aims to help the millions of parents whose children, ages 3–20, are struggling with learning and attention issues. They seek to empower parents to understand their children’s issues and relate to their experiences. With this knowledge, parents can make effective choices that propel their children from simply coping to truly thriving. Understood offers free expert webinars, resource lists, a community of parents, live expert chats, and a parent toolkit.
- LDAdvisory.com—Elizabeth C. Hamblet began her career as a high school special education teacher and case manager, and then worked as a learning disabilities specialist at Simmons College and Rutgers University. She is now a learning specialist at Columbia University, where she helps students with time management, organization, reading, and study skills. Her website offers parents references and resource guides for transitioning students with learning disabilities to college as well as a guide on Steps to Success-Transitioning High School to College.
- The Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity—Founded by Dr. Sally Shaywitz and her husband, Dr. Bennett Shaywitz, leading researchers and advocates in the field of dyslexia. YCDC’s mission is to increase awareness of dyslexia and its true nature, specifically to illuminate the creative and intellectual strengths of those with dyslexia, to disseminate the latest scientific research and practical resources, and to transform the treatment of all dyslexic children and adults. Their website offers resources and encouragement for parents and children, success stories, news and developments in the area of dyslexia, and a list of assistive tech tools.
I hope that you are feeling much more confident and equipped to help your child and your family understand your child’s learning differences. Come on over for coffee again sometime and tell me how it’s going! You know, I’m always up for more questions.* And I love to swap homeschooling stories and have some more homeschooling resources and curricula to share over here . . .
* If you are an HSLDA member and you are reading this, you are welcome to reach out to me with your questions at members.hslda.org.
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis