To say homeschooling with special needs is to cover a wide spectrum of diagnoses. Even within the diagnosis of Down syndrome, there can be differences. Each child is individually different. I can share my experiences in homeschooling our daughter with Down syndrome, but it may vary for another child with Down syndrome. Yet there is still the common factor of the diagnosis and the implications that carries, such as the fact that it takes our kids with Down syndrome longer to learn new concepts and new lessons. Our children with Down syndrome are visual learners. They learn through repetition and imitation, which is best taught if you homeschool Down syndrome.
We've been teaching our daughter at home since Kindergarten. We also homeschool our two older children. It takes much discipline and consistency to teach our daughter with DS. We need to cover a topic or concept for several weeks or months before it becomes concrete. And even then, we still need to review a few weeks later to make sure it's not forgotten. You know the term 'out of sight, out of mind'? Well, that's very true with Sam. It could take years to learn a concept that may take a typical child months or weeks to learn. At times it can be a challenge to continually teach something when it may seem like it may never become concrete. Teaching our daughter Sam has been more challenging than teaching our other two children, but it has also been the most rewarding. Not to say that teaching our other children is not rewarding. Let me explain. When we've been working for so long to teach her to tell time, for example, and I can see that she's trying and she wants to succeed, but she just cannot understand how a clock works, it can be discouraging. With a typical child we can say, "Oh, they're not ready for this. We'll revisit this in a few months." We cannot do that with our daughter. Though it seems like she's not ready, we need to persevere.
In our culture today, clocks are rare. We've got digital clocks on our oven, our microwave, our watches and our cell phones. Yet it's still important that she not only learn to tell time, but that she learns to add time and subtract time. And this is easier to do on an analog clock. If you have to be somewhere in two hours, what time will it be? This involves problem solving and analytical thinking, which is difficult for a child with cognitive challenges or with Down syndrome. We need to consistently practice telling time, and adding and subtracting time every day until we see that glimmer of understanding. At this point, if we miss a few days, it could mean backtracking and starting from the beginning. For fun daily practice we use educational videos and educational games and activities until we know it’s concrete. That means that we've missed a couple of days or more and come back to it, and she still remembers it. That's when we say, "It's worth it!" It's worth the discipline and time it takes. It's worth the extra time of research for new ways to teach a concept. It's worth the tears...mom's tears. Of course it's worth it. And it's rewarding. You see, I always tell her, "Yes, it's hard and it's going to take some time, but you CAN do it." So it's rewarding when she's been trying for so long and I finally see that big smile when she realizes she CAN do it, and she squeals, "I did it!"