5 Keys to Homeschooling Special Needs High School Teens

Overview: Julie Polanco from Julie Naturally knows first-hand about homeschooling special needs high school, and her advice is super helpful! I'm glad she is willing to share it with us!

Do you have a special needs teen? Are you thinking about homeschooling special needs high school and feeling overwhelmed?

Well, I have four special needs kids — two with ADHD and two with Aspie traits — and I homeschooled all of them through high school. Some things worked well and some things were lessons I can now pass on to you!

Let me share with you five keys to being successful with your special needs student in high school.

Are you homeschooling special needs high school? Check out these tips to help you have a successful year with your teen!

Five Keys to Homeschooling Special Needs High School

1) They still need hands-on sensory learning

The first important thing to remember is that these kids tend to take longer to grasp abstract concepts, especially when homeschooling Aspies. Their brains take longer to mature than neurotypical kids. So, you still need to use lots of hands-on materials.

For example, using a ball and stick set for chemistry in addition to lots of experiments. Or, using some sort of manipulatives and real world problems when teaching Algebra and Geometry.

In addition, they sometimes have trouble with inferring emotion and character motivation in literature selections typical for high school classes. You may need to consider an alternate book list to accommodate this.

Related: Homeschool Literature Curriculum Options for Teens Who Hate to Read

2) Executive function skills still need coaching (sometimes a lot)

Most of the time, children of this age are pretty independent. You just give them their assignments and they do them. They can figure out how to manage their time to get things done. Not so with special needs teens.

They may still need you to sit with them even though they are embarrassed to say so. Or, they may need you to help them break assignments into smaller bits. You may even have to sit with them and formulate a schedule.

For example, you may need to divide up the work it takes to write an essay or short research paper. Or, it may help to only give them a little at a time.

Many times, when homeschooling special needs high school, we need to keep in mind that our teens might get confused or overwhelmed easily. When this happens, they can shut down and resist doing anything.

3) Capitalize on interests when homeschooling special needs high school

Most special needs kids can focus better and complete work when it has personal significance to them, especially if you are unschooling ADHD. Aspies, too, have obsessive interests and respond well to tailored courses. High school lends itself well to this since we can take advantage of “electives” and creative ways of fulfilling required courses.

Related: The Complete Guide to High School Electives for Homeschoolers

For example, if your special needs teen struggles with writing, you might encourage blogging instead of writing papers. Or, documenting their projects through video or photography and filling in the description section thoroughly. As another example, if your teen has an interest in animals, maybe she learns veterinary science instead of the typical biology course.

There are many ways to encourage and support special needs high schoolers in their interests. Brainstorm with them!

4) Plan for varying levels of motivation

From working with your child, you probably already know that sometimes he's on and sometimes he's off. When he's on, he understands everything and flies through the day. When he's off, everything is a struggle. He may not even get out of bed. It is important to accept this and know that when homeschooling special needs high school, the struggles you had in grade school may not get better. Plan for it.

This may mean that you school year round or on weekends. It may mean that you give credit based on different criteria than what is typical. Be creative, be flexible, and mold your school around your teen, not the other way around!

5) Beware of the socialization trap

One of the big issues with homeschooling special needs high school, and really homeschooling high school in general, is whether or not to participate in church youth groups. We want our teens to have wholesome friends and find belonging, but sometimes what we think will be great disappoints us. I know of teens whose p*rn addiction started in youth group and others who left the church because of bullying they experienced there.

In addition, special needs teens have social skills challenges that can be exploited by neurotypical teens. So, be careful! Sometimes we are more concerned about finding friends for them than they are about finding friends for themselves.

Don't force socialization on them, but if they express a deep need, help them find what they are looking for. And accept that for some teens, just being out of the house among other people is enough.

Homeschooling special needs high school can be very rewarding. It also just might be the best place for your teen to experience the success and support he needs to prepare for life's challenges. Embrace the possibilities!

Listen to Julie sharing her wisdom on the It's Not That Hard to Homeschool High School Podcast!
Click here: Episode 91 – Unschooling High School: My Experience and Advice.

Julie Polanco

2 thoughts on “5 Keys to Homeschooling Special Needs High School Teens”

  1. I have a 13 year old son with a cognitive delay. I just have no idea how to accommodate his needs as he gets older. It can take 6 hours to do one lesson of math, and I have 3 other younger kids to homeschool. I’m overwhelmed because I don’t want to short-change him, but there aren’t enough hours in the day to just “give him more time.” I feel lost with adjusting expectations in a way that doesn’t leave him behind.

    1. Do you have any kind of educational support? You might want to outsource some of his classes. I know True North Homeschool Academy offers small group, live online SPED classes. Also, do you have any kind of SPED consultant that you could work with to help you know how to manage expectations, abilities and what’s reasonable to expect?

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