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Homeschooling with a Disability

Jodi Maslanka  

I used to think that education should be left to the educators. But 1.2 million children in the U.S. are being homeschooled these days. And contrary to what I once thought, not all homeschoolers are anti-establishment. Each has a reason for choosing homeschooling.

I chose homeschooling for my 15-year-old son, Jimmy. He has suffered from migraine headaches since he was 4. He made it through grade school, but the headaches have gotten progressively worse. The one semester Jimmy attended high school was a horrible experience. His headaches were so unpredictable that he couldn't follow a routine. Not only was he failing academically, but his headaches were so frequent and severe that he didn't make any friends. Listening to his complaints about school – how he was missing at least two days a week, how he had no one to talk to – it was clear that we needed to find an alternative method of education.

Taking Charge

I was afraid of being in charge of Jimmy's education, so I turned to our public school system for help. I enrolled Jimmy in its "Home Bound" program, and a tutor came to our house for an hour each afternoon. For the first time in a long time we had a routine, and our stress levels were down. But I was still dissatisfied with the quality of his education. For instance, Jimmy spent hours coloring maps for World Geography. He even passed a class without being given any assignments. Then his headaches got worse, and his self-esteem plummeted. That's when I started researching homeschooling.

I didn't know anyone who was homeschooling. But I found a support group in our neighborhood, participated in a seminar, talked to a consultant, and attended a convention. I even met the mothers of two other migraine sufferers. When I heard that homeschoolers outperform public school students on standardized achievement tests, I was convinced. I was ready to take charge.

Setting Goals

Like most homeschoolers, we've written our own curriculum. Since we never know how Jimmy will feel from one day to the next, we've set a goal of 20 hours of school a week. Jimmy chose four themes to research and write about this year: creation and evolution, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the Reformation. We're incorporating English, science, social studies, and theology into these topics. Jimmy is also using a textbook to study math. He's studying investing through a program on the Internet, and learning about computers by volunteering twice a week at a local computer store.

Jimmy hopes to attend law school. For my own peace of mind, we've already started researching colleges. While a few say he would have to get his GED, most say his acceptance would be based on test scores and portfolios of his work.


The most important lesson we've learned from homeschooling is that there's always an alternative. I've quit worrying about the future. As Jimmy's self-esteem has grown, so has his circle of friends. Once he finishes high school, he'll have more opportunities. There's a 50/50 chance that his headaches will subside when he stops growing. These days, Jimmy barely functions in the mornings. But in the future, he'll be able to attend evening college classes, work flexible hours, or, like many homeschoolers, become an entrepreneur!


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