Homeschooling and the Child with NLD
by Sue Thompson, MA, CET
I am often asked by the parents of a child with NLD if I would recommend homeschooling for their child, or if I think they should pull their child out of public school for a period of time, until an appropriate program is developed for their child within the system. The following article is not a philosophical argument for or against the concept of homeschooling. It is simply written to give parents information which will help guide them in deciding whether this choice is right for their particular situation.
Introduction: Factors to consider when making the decision to homeschool your child with NLD.
Most of the parents of older children with NLD I have worked with, or have spoken to, have, at some point in their child's schooling, taken their child out of public school for varying lengths of time. The primary reason cited for taking this action was the need to shelter their child from the emotional (and sometimes physical) abuse suffered at school as the limitations of NLD became more prevalent. This time away from school was seen as necessary for the child's emotional survival, in cases where school officials were unwilling and/or unable to recognize and provide accommodations for the student with NLD. The need for homeschooling occurred more often, of course, prior to so much information becoming available about NLD and appropriate interventions for the child with NLD in the school setting. Whether or not homeschooling is the right option for your child depends upon a variety of factors. However, the main factors influencing your decision are likely to be:
The level of success (or trauma) your child is currently experiencing in his present educational program and placement and the openness and flexibility of the educational team currently working with your child.
Your child's current emotional state and the impact attending school is having upon his emotional well-being: Your child's health and well-being should always be your top priority! However, in making this determination you should keep in mind, homeschooling, in and of itself, will not cure your child's social/emotional issues. In fact, homeschooling could actually exacerbate your child's problems in these areas, if he is isolated from his peers and other adults for an indefinite period of time.
Your own circumstances (job(s), finances, other children and other family responsibilities): You should seriously consider the impact this decision will have upon other areas of your life. It may mean that one or both parents will need to quit working or take a leave from your current job(s). This could have an enormous bearing on your family's financial situation. Homeschooling requires tremendous time, effort and sacrifice on the part of both parents and other family members.
Your level of patience and your teaching skills: Homeschooling requires specific knowledge and skills (most public school teachers have spent a minimum of five years in college, acquiring their skills, as well as years of practical experience honing their craft). The decision to homeschool your child will require a bit of research, and it may require further education and training on your part.
Scenarios which may lead the parents of a child with NLD to consider homeschooling:
Scenario 1: Your child is currently attending school, but it is becoming more and more difficult for her to go to school each day owing to an inappropriate educational program or placement.
I have had student clients with NLD who describe getting up and going to school each day as "sheer torture." I know they are not exaggerating (individuals with NLD don't exaggerate). The school environment will indeed be hostile and uninviting, if the school staff does not recognize and accommodate a child's neurological deficits. One mother told me she felt as though she were "sending her child off to prison each morning." After observing and meeting with the staff at her daughter's school, I realized she was not over-reacting to her daughter's situation. This child was continuously being berated and punished at school for behavior which resulted from her neurological incompetencies.
If your child is experiencing undue abuse and trauma while in school, the idea of homeschooling (for protective reasons) has probably crossed your mind. If your child is developing symptoms of depression and/or anxiety as a result of her treatment at school, your main priority must always be her health and well-being. However, rather than impulsively pulling her out of school without careful planning, consider taking the following steps first:
Meet with the school staff to voice your concerns. Cite specific examples of inappropriate staff responses to your child at school which have contributed to her current plight. Also, be sure to document your concerns in writing. Insist that an appropriate educational program be developed for your child. If the district personnel refuse to provide your child with a free appropriate public education, you should realize they are breaking the law. You can ask to mediate your concerns and/or file for an administrative hearing.
If your child already has an IEP, 504 Plan, and/or a BIP which is not being properly implemented at her school, consider filing a compliance complaint with the State Department of Education. A complaint filed with OCR (Office of Civil Rights) can also lead to an investigation which may force the district to take corrective action. Advocacy groups such as CASE (Community Alliance for Special Education) and PAI (Protection and Advocacy, Inc.) will help you to follow through with these courses of action.
Enlist the aid of your child's pediatrician, psychiatrist and/or therapist. Often the same school officials who will not give any credence to a parent's concerns, will, in fact, listen to an outside professional. Don't be reticent about asking for this type of help if your child is suffering abuse at school.
Research private and nonpublic schools in your area. If you find one that meets your child's unique needs, consider what it would take to place her at this school. Remember, if the public school has failed to provide a free appropriate education for your child, they could very well end-up footing the bill for a private institution that will provide an appropriate educational program. Unfortunately, there are currently an insufficient number of programs available anywhere that meet the unique educational needs of the student with NLD. But, a few such placements do exist. And, the good news is, an ever increasing number of schools are seeking out information about how to work more effectively with students with NLD.
If, after exhausting the options above, you still don't see enough positive changes occurring for your child at school, homeschooling may be your only solution, for the moment. Some parents prefer to look at homeschooling as a short-term, emergency stopgap measure, while they continue to work with their school district officials to develop a more appropriate educational program for their child. And, other parents are left with such a bad taste in their mouths from the underhanded and unethical tactics utilized by some school districts, they resolve to homeschool their child on a permanent basis. Either way, be sure to research homeschooling thoroughly before making your decision, possibly utilizing some of the resources listed at the end of this article.
Scenario 2: Your child is not currently attending school. Your child has attended school until recently and seemed fairly content. Then a traumatic incidence at school and/or a series of traumatic occurrences at school precipitated his refusal to return to school.
School phobia and agoraphobia are medically significant conditions, forms of anxiety and panic disorders, which are often experienced by a student with NLD. These conditions can be triggered by a traumatic incidence at school and/or a series of traumatic occurrences at school. My colleague Judy Lewis and I have begun using the term "school traumatic stress" to describe the heightened level of anxiety which overwhelms a child with NLD who has been traumatized by an incident or incidents occurring at their school as a result of poor educational planning. If your child is not currently attending school, but has attended until recently and was fairly content with his program until a traumatic incidence and/or a series of traumatic occurrences prompted his refusal to return to school, and he expresses a desire to return to school, you may want to consider the following options:
Before pulling your child out of school for good, request temporary home instruction. You will need verification from your child's physician that his absences are medically based. The school district is then required to provide instruction for your child by a credentialed teacher in your home, while he recuperates from the trauma he has suffered and his doctor okays his return to school.
While your child is receiving home instruction, work with school officials to develop a humane reentry plan for your child that everyone agrees to follow. This may mean your child returns to school on a limited basis for a period of time (an hour a day, three days a week - - or whatever works) and then gradually increases the amount of time he is in school, to ensure a successful, non-threatening reentry. Make-up work should not be heaped upon the student when he returns. An alternative means to measure competencies should be developed. School personnel may also need to allow the student to telephone his parent(s) several times a day, until he feels comfortable without this contact. A calm and caring attitude by all staff members will help the student overcome his fears. Most school districts would prefer that students be in school and will have no objections to such a plan. However, unfortunately, there are districts which will balk at providing for an individual child's needs. They are ignoring Special Education law and legal action can be taken, if a school district refuses to develop a compassionate reentry plan for your child. You should discuss your individual child's situation with an advocacy agency or an educational advocate.
Make sure you remain in touch with your child's physician while your child is homebound (if the triggering incident at school was extremely traumatizing, your child may be unable to leave your house even to see his doctor). Untreated agoraphobia can lead to depression. And untreated depression can lead to suicide. Don't assume that just because your child is no longer attending school, all of his problems have been alleviated.
If, after a period of home instruction, it appears your child will be unable to return to school for quite some time, or you determine that returning your child to school could continue to endanger his health and well being, you may decide you need to homeschool him. Be sure to research homeschooling thoroughly, using the resources at the end of this article. Thorough preparation will make it easier for you to get started.
Scenario 3: Your child is not currently attending school, and hasn't attended school for quite some time. You have tried diligently to work with your school district to develop an appropriate program for your child, to no avail.
With this scenario, a plan for homeschooling seems in order, but only if this is something you're prepared to take on. Stalling is a game some school districts play very well. They figure if they don't provide an appropriate education for your child for long enough, eventually you will be forced to step in and do their job for them. You cannot afford to let your child become the sacrificial pawn in these devious games. Long after you formally sever your relationships with your public school district, your child may still be in need of a therapy program to counteract the damage done while he was attending school. In addition, you may want to consider the following suggestions:
An important concept to keep in mind when beginning to homeschool a child who has stopped attending school, and who currently suffers from "school traumatic stress," is the real need this child has for decompression time - sometimes for several months or more! Plan to start out slowly, spending time relaxing with your child while reading aloud, taking field trips, nature walks, baking, painting, constructing, pursuing hobbies and projects, and playing games, to help ease the transition. Trust and mutual respect are the two most important ingredients for a successful homeschooling experience. It will take time and space to renew your child's confidence, so she can begin learning again. Let her have plenty of leeway to express herself in her own way.
Be sure you continue to deal with your child's trauma issues, along with her academic progress. Remember: homeschooling will not automatically resolve all of your concerns about your child. Without appropriate interventions, your child's anxiety can actually increase, even though the source of her current anxiety has been eliminated. Most parents report a tremendous lowering in stress levels (for both parents and child) once they remove their child with NLD from the trauma of their current public school setting. However, this does not necessarily do away with the child's need for therapy.
Realize that homeschooling requires preparation and dedication on your part. Be sure to check out some of the resources at the end of this article to help you prepare for this job. And, don't be hesitant to ask your school district to compensate you for your time and energy. You are doing their job for them. They forced you into this position by their failure to provide a free appropriate public education for your child.
Case studies of students with NLD who have been homeschooled for varying periods of time:
The complexities of social interactions became more and more difficult for Harley, a very intelligent child with NLD, as he progressed through the grade levels of public school. Finally, in sixth grade, Harley simply refused to return to his public school after Christmas break. He couldn't handle being singled-out and picked-on throughout the day, anymore. His parents report that "tears and tantrums" had become a nightly episode for Harley. His teachers were not making the accommodations which were necessary for him to be successful in school. Harley suffered harassment from both peers and school staff who were unfamiliar with his neurological incompetencies.
Harley's mother, who already had a background in religious education, researched homeschooling and decided the best option for Harley, at that time, would be to teach him at home. She then withdrew Harley from the public school. The stress level at their home dropped considerably during this time, his mother reports. She joined-up with other parents who had formed a network in their area for children being homeschooled. The homeschool program his mother developed for Harley emphasized success, as opposed to the constant failure he had been experiencing at school.
This plan worked well for Harley until his mother developed health problems which required hospitalization. Then, she knew it would be necessary for Harley to return to regular school. His parents placed him in a small private school, while they continued to work with their local school district, with the help of an educational advocate and an attorney, to develop an appropriate educational program which would ensure a successful reentry for Harley.
Although considered precocious and gifted as a young child, Mona began experiencing difficulties early on in school. During first grade at her local public school she was sent out of class for remedial reading instruction. By third grade, her mother reports, Mona was out of class for more time than she was actually in class. And something else was beginning to worry her mother: Mona was becoming more and more withdrawn. An assessment at school determined Mona was "bright and should be able to do grade level work." The school assessment team called Mona "passive/resistive." The IEP team determined she did not have a learning disability, but declared Mona to be severely emotionally disturbed (SED) because of her emotional withdrawal.
Mona's parents were not willing to accept the SED label and took their daughter for an outside assessment. IQ testing revealed a 27 point discrepancy between her verbal and performance IQ's. A clinical psychologist diagnosed her as having NLD. Frustrated by the school district's lack of understanding about their daughter's condition, her parents took Mona out of public school and placed her in a parochial school for her fourth grade year. But, Mona still experienced difficulty keeping up with the required written assignments and she couldn't copy from the board. Her parents saw little progress at the parochial school and Mona continued to develop symptoms of depression.
After one year at the parochial school, her parents sent Mona to a special private school for students with learning disabilities. She attended that school for two years, until the end of sixth-grade. During this time Mona's parents participated in numerous meetings with school district officials seeking to find an appropriate placement for their daughter within their school district. The district offered to return Mona to a regular junior high classroom for seventh grade. Her psychologist determined this placement would not be appropriate for Mona. He guaranteed the large classes would be too overwhelming and would cause her to further shut-down. The district also refused to provide the occupational therapy or social skills training recommended for Mona to be successful in school.
Her mother is currently in her second year of homeschooling thirteen-year-old Mona. She has designed her own curriculum to meet her daughter's needs. Both parents are still fighting to get appropriate support services from their school district (occupational therapy, social skills training, and speech therapy for language pragmatics). They have gone through mediation and administrative hearing processes, without favorable results. At this point in time, her mother doesn't see much hope that Mona will ever return to public school. There simply isn't a program available that will meet Mona's unique needs and their school district's personnel remain uneducated about NLD.
A local homeschool group has helped Mona's parents deal with the necessary county paperwork for homeschooling. Mona's mother reports that several of the other students in this group are also individuals with NLD. Her parents are currently looking for a high school placement that would be appropriate for Mona, as they continue trying to work with the school system. They report extreme frustration over all of the events which have transpired.
A brilliant straight-A student through the sixth grade, the limitations caused by Ryan's NLD eventually "caught-up" with him in the seventh grade. He plummeted from straight-A's to straight-F's during his first semester of seventh grade. As one might imagine, his self-image also took a nose dive. Although many meetings were held, the school staff seemed only interested in holding Ryan "responsible" for his educational failures. Ryan was disciplined at school for his neurological incompetencies and told he was "lazy" and "unmotivated." (Ryan had been spending between ten to twelve hours per night on homework and catch-up work since third grade, sleeping very little in the bargain. He is probably the most motivated student I have ever met!).
When Ryan went from Principal's List to "probation," he was illegally excluded from school activities, as a disciplinary measure. Talks between his parents and school officials continued to wind around and around, but never got anywhere. Finally, Ryan's mother agreed to homeschool him, at the suggestion of the district's Special Education Director. She was told this would offer Ryan a temporary respite, while the staff at his regular school was provided with inservice training. However, the district never did work with the school staff and subsequently refused to allow Ryan back into school when he expressed a desire to return. His mother had to enlist the aid of an educational attorney. An IEP was then developed for Ryan, who returned to public school in the eighth grade.
It seems Douglas has always had problems in school, but for a long time there was nothing specific that anyone could pinpoint. His mother reports that a lot of his difficulties stemmed from his inappropriate responses to social situations. Douglas couldn't pick up interpersonal cues and nonverbal innuendos. Adults regarded him as "disrespectful" and his peers manipulated him into doing things he shouldn't. In situations which involved a number of individuals, Douglas was always the one who got "caught." He was the perfect scapegoat for adults and peers alike because he seemed unable to "size-up" a situation. Douglas' parents were perplexed by his naivete.
By the middle of the seventh grade, Douglas had been labeled a "bad kid" at his junior high school. His teachers expected the worst from him and his peers "set him up." His mother reports that Douglas was pulled out of class for "searches" (looking for cigarettes or other illicit contraband) at least 30 times during that school year. Even though nothing was ever found, these searches by the school principal continued at a rate of about twice a week . Douglas became so stressed by these occurrences, he began chewing on his shirt collars. He would arrive home from school a nervous wreck, having "eaten-up" half of his collar, and go right to his room to sleep. Most of his time at home was spent sleeping. Douglas was diagnosed as clinically depressed. It was around this time that his psychologist also determined Douglas met the criteria for NLD.
Then, one day during the last week of school, one of his regular teachers grabbed Douglas by the shoulder, ranting and screaming, and slammed him up against the wall. Douglas sustained sizable bruises from this altercation. His teacher rationalized her behavior by stating she simply "blew-up" because she was "not receiving enough respect from this child." This assault happened at the end of his seventh-grade year. Douglas immediately went into a deep depression. His parents couldn't get him to leave the house for three months (agoraphobia). He was subsequently diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
An IEP team meeting was held over summer, but the district refused to provide any accommodations at school for Douglas. When school started-up again in the fall, his mother requested a home instructor for Douglas, because she felt his school was "not a safe place for him to be." The home instructor was scheduled to come to their home, but never showed up. So, by default, his mother decided to homeschool Douglas. She took a leave of absence from her job in order to do this. Douglas has now been placed in a small Special Day Class with six other students, located at a different school from the one where he was assaulted by his teacher, but his parents continue to struggle with the school personnel's limited understanding of NLD [and the teacher who assaulted Douglas continues to teach at his neighborhood school!].
After being inappropriately placed in a special class set up for students with emotional and behavioral disturbances, eleven-year-old Jessie was traumatized by a stringent behavior modification program (including physical restraints and a locked "time-out" box) which failed to take into account the incompetencies created by her NLD and Tourette's Syndrome. As a result of this treatment, Jessie was subsequently hospitalized for several weeks. When she was released from the hospital, her parents did not feel it was in her best interest, healthwise or educationally, to return her to the inappropriate placement offered by her school district. Both parents took medical leaves of absence from their jobs in order to homeschool Jessie. They are currently suing their school district for their lost wages.
A kindergarten screening revealed Brian had visual-spacial problems, but his parents were told this was nothing to worry about. Nonetheless, they noticed his difficulties in school and placed him in an outside therapy program. Brian continued to struggle in school, although his IQ placed him in the gifted range. By third grade he had been diagnosed with "mild to moderate ADD." His parents requested accommodations, but Brian was denied services by his school district because he was "not failing." Then his parents placed him in a private school, hoping the small class size would be of benefit to Brian. He continued to struggle.
Finally, the summer after his fifth grade year, Brian's parents took him to their local Children's Hospital for a neuropsychological evaluation. He was diagnosed with NLD. For sixth grade, his parents placed him in a private school which specialized in learning disabilities, thinking his NLD would be accommodated there. But, Brian was "not happy" at this school, and his parents report they "feared for his safety" because of the acting-out behaviors of a number of the other students. For seventh grade, Brian returned to his neighborhood public school. His parents again requested special education services for Brian and were denied. After hiring an attorney and going through due process, an IEP was developed for Brian in the eighth-grade. He did fairly well with the modifications indicated.
Unfortunately though, upon entering ninth-grade (his public highschool was in a separate school district), Brian's teachers were not informed of his NLD or his IEP. No steps were taken to ease his transition. After a few days, Brian simply refused to return to school (school phobia). He withdrew and "gave up." Feeling they had exhausted the private schools in the area, his parents decided that homeschooling was the only option they had left for Brian. Since they both worked, they hired a graduate student to come to their home and provide home instruction to Brian. He has been homeschooled for two years now, with his tutor providing approximately ten hours of instruction per week.
Brian's parents are aware that their school district did not follow federal law when they refused to provide him with a free appropriate public education. When the decision of their administrative hearing officer was not followed by their school district, they filed a complaint and went to trial in District Court. Their case is currently being heard in the Federal Court of Appeals (as I write). They estimate they have spent over $90,000.00 in legal fees, trying to get their school district to follow federal law. Their case may be ground-breaking for all students with NLD. They know a decision may come too late for Brian, but hope that other students with NLD who come after him will not have to suffer as he has.
It should be noted that all of the students cited above began their education in public schools. All of their parents had been put through hell, to say nothing of the atrocities committed against their children, prior to making the decision to homeschool their child. And, all of the parents have worked hard to return their children to public placements, with more appropriate programs. Although these are actual cases, all of the children's names have been changed, for their privacy. The examples cited here are primarily from California public schools, although Kentucky and Maryland are also represented. Many are from cases where I have been asked to provide expert testimony related to NLD.
Do's and don'ts when making the decision to homeschool:
Do research homeschooling thoroughly. Also explore other options you have to educate your child (alternative programs, transferring to another school district, private placements, etc.).
Do be aware of the tremendous time and energy commitment needed to homeschool. As you are probably already aware from other aspects of her life, a child with NLD requires a lot of one-on-one verbal interaction. Trying to extract a simple written paragraph from this child can be like pulling teeth (believe me, after years of private educational therapy practice, I know!). Understand before you commence: homeschooling a child with NLD is going to be an arduous and time-consuming job. (This may be one of the reasons so many educators resist making the necessary modifications to this child's program).
Do make sure your child continues to receive the assessments and support services to which she is legally entitled (speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, educational therapy, auditory integration therapy, counseling services, etc.) through your local school district.
Don't give up pursuing your Special Education rights under IDEA. Every child in the United States is guaranteed a free appropriate public education.
Don't let your school district off-the-hook. Put it in writing that you still expect them to develop an educational intervention program which will prove successful for your child.
Don't let homeschooling place your child in a situation where she can avoid the social contacts which are so difficult for her. Make sure she continues to participate in outside activities and has social contacts, even if you have to make special arrangements for these interactions to take place.
Don't expect that your child will always enjoy having you as a teacher. As difficult as it may be to fathom, the adorable ten-year-old who hangs on your every word is destine to turn into a surly thirteen-year-old who wants to be as far away from you as possible. It is natural for children to rebel against their parents during adolescence. If you are that child's parent and her teacher, this can complicate the normal maturation process. Homeschooling may not allow your child the space necessary for her to develop her independence.
Above all, keep in mind that there are many excellent arguments in favor of homeschooling and many successful adults who have been homeschooled. But, homeschooling should not be a forced decision, enacted by parents in order to save their child's life. If homeschooling is not your first choice for your child's education, but your district's failure to provide an appropriate educational program or placement for your child has necessitated it, continue trying to work with your school district. Even if your own child is not helped, you can hope that those with NLD who come after him may be afforded a more receptive environment. A free appropriate public education is a right supposedly guaranteed to all children living in the United States. We need to question why so many individuals with NLD have been left out of this equation?
Resources to help you begin homeschooling, once you've made your decision:
This is just a brief list of the many resources available to the beginning homeschooler.
Reference books for homeschoolers:
Home Education Resource Guide by Don Hubbs (BlueBird Publishing) lists many homeschooling resources and some educational software sources.
The Homeschool Reader by Mark and Helen Hegener (Home Education Press) is a great reference, with articles covering the whole spectrum of homeschooling .
The Homeschooling Handbook by Mary Griffith (Prima Publishing, 1997) offers a thorough overview of homeschooling. As the name of the book implies, this is an excellent resource for the basic homeschool library.
Homeschooling for Excellence by David and Micki Colfax (Warner Books, 1988) explains how this well known (goat farm to Harvard...) family provided an environment that fostered a strong love of learning in their family. Also by these authors, Hard Times in Paradise (Warner Books, 1992).
The Teenage Liberation Handbook by Grace Llewellyn (Lowry House, 1996). This author and former teacher tells how adolescents can get a rich education outside of the standard system. She gives very practical advice about learning resources that would be hard to find elsewhere. You may also want to refer to her new book, Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don’t Go To School, in which various teenagers tell stories about their lives since leaving public school.
Big Book of Home Learning, Vol 1 by Mary Pride provides everything you need to know to get started homeschooling.
Home School Manual by Ted Wade has sections on principles of home education, choosing an educational framework, choosing curriculum, specific areas of study and putting theory into practice.
Catalog Resources for homeschoolers:
American Home-School Publishing, Family Resource Guide and Discount Catalog, Phone: 1-800-684-2121
Greenleaf Press Catalog,
The Elijah Company,
Home Education Magazine, Home Education Press 509-486-1351.
Their catalog is a resource in itself and great place to get started!
Copyright: Sue Thompson, 1996
This article is posted on NLD on the Web! with permission of the author, who retains the rights to this article.