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Homeschooling kids who learn and think differently

By Gail Belsky

At a Glance

  • Homeschooling is education that takes place outside of the school system.

  • It’s not public school at home or distance learning.

  • Each state has different rules and requirements for homeschooling.

Homeschooling is on the rise. If you know kids who are homeschooled, or if you’re thinking of teaching your own child at home, you may wonder how it works — especially for kids who learn and think differently.

First, it’s important to know that homeschooling isn’t public school from home. It’s education that takes place outside of the public school system. (Kids still need to meet state standards, though.)

Since COVID, many more families are homeschooling. In the first year of the pandemic, the number of families teaching from home jumped from 5.4 percent to 11 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Parents homeschool for different reasons. Some want a certain type of education for their child. Others do it for religious reasons. And many choose homeschooling because their child struggles in traditional school settings.

Some kids who learn and think differently do well with homeschooling. But it’s important to know that public schools may or may not provide special education services to kids who are homeschooled. 

Dive deeper

Rules and requirements for homeschooling

Homeschooling is regulated by state law and is allowed in all 50 states (as well as all U.S. territories). But each state has its own legal rules and requirements. Some have strict laws and require a lot of paperwork to homeschool. Others require much less. 

Here are some of the requirements you might see:

  • Notice: Most, but not all, states require parents to notify the state or local school district if they’re going to homeschool.

  • Parent qualifications: Some states require parents to have a certain level of education, like a high school diploma, if they want to homeschool their child.

  • Record keeping: Some states require parents to keep records, like grades and attendance, and submit them.

  • Instruction and core subjects: Many states require parents to have homeschool classes for a minimum number of days or hours per year, or to teach their child core subjects, like reading and math.

  • Tests: Several states require homeschooled kids to take standardized tests or other assessments every few years.

Find out about homeschooling requirements for different states. 

Homeschooling and school services

Under federal law, all states (and school districts) must find and evaluate homeschooled kids who may need special education. But they can choose whether to require kids to attend public school to get those services.

A few states offer traditional to homeschooled kids. An IEP entitles a child to services, just like in a public school. In other states, local school districts will typically offer a service plan. This is like an IEP but provides less. 

Some states don’t require school districts to provide special education to homeschooled kids at all. If parents want services, they have to send their kids to public school. Other states let local districts decide whether to provide services to homeschoolers.

Learn more about special education laws in your area through your state’s Parent Training and Information Center

Social interaction with other kids

A common concern about homeschooling is the effect it has on kids’ social skills. Many kids who learn and think differently have trouble with social interactions. Homeschooling may reduce the social anxiety some kids feel at school.

But building social skills is an important part of school. That’s especially true for kids who have a hard time connecting socially.

Homeschooling families need to find other ways for their child to spend time with peers. Community youth groups or sports programs are just two examples of how kids can connect and form friendships outside of school.

Plus, some school districts let homeschoolers participate in the district’s extracurricular clubs and sports. Ask your district what its policy is.

Learn why some kids struggle socially

For parents: Deciding on homeschooling

Deciding whether to homeschool can be hard. There’s a lot to consider as a parent, especially if your child learns and thinks differently.

For example, can you pay for supports like assistive technology that the school might give for free? How will homeschooling affect your child socially? And does your child need special education services?

It can help to talk to other local parents who homeschool and hear about their experiences. But what works for one family may not work for others. In the end, the decision comes down to what you think is best for your child.

Read about factors to consider while deciding on homeschooling .

Hear from a young adult with dyslexia who was homeschooled as a child .

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