Our sixteen-year-old attended her first day of high school last week. She counted down the days for three weeks. Fortunately, she came home saying it was great, fantastic, and wonderful. She spends about half her day in Special Ed. classrooms, and the other half in regular classes. Because she has Down syndrome, life presents her with a unique package of cognitive challenges, as well as a huge package of love, enthusiasm, and personality. Kind peer tutors help her get to and from several of the classes.

Her ability to read gives her an immeasurable edge, not only in schooling, but in her whole life. Reading has been huge for her zest for life. Nonetheless, we notice she has a tendency to reject a wide variety of reading materials. This disinterest could be due to lack of exposure to the content (which causes a lack of interest), or from an inability to understand the content material adequately. A teacher's note that was sent home recently indicated that her Functional English Skills class will be reading different newspaper sections each day, among other things, which will be good for her. Then I thought, "Why haven't I been able to interest her in the newspaper myself? Did I try at one time unsuccessfully, and then forgot about it?" That happens.

We homeschooled her for one year in order to teach her to read at ages 6-7. Although there have been many good things come out of her public schooling experience, she still requires much direction for supplemental learning at home. Providing select opportunities, encouragement, and follow-through to help achieve desired results is an ongoing lifestyle for us as parents that will need to continue all her life. We follow her lead as much as we can, but frequently realize how we limit her by not being "ahead of the game" with an expanded vision of opening more doors of experience and knowledge for her. For example, she may bring home library books she's already read multiple times before, ones that are not causing her mind to stretch, and even at times big books she won't really read but finds "impressive" (which she just imagines herself reading!). She does this simply because she hasn't been exposed to something different in the right way. That takes more energy and forethought from parents -- such constant factors. Since she can easily become overwhelmed by too much information, frequently causing her interest to turn away or even shut down if we aren't careful, reading activities are an interesting challenge. But it's very fun to see her thrilled with new reading material that fits the bill, and she will often go forward in writing about it for hours.

Whether homeschooling or not officially homeschooling (yet always looking to provide the best learning for a child with special needs), there is much help available. Barbara Frank shares books she's found helpful in her own journey in the article "Booklist for Homeschooling a Child With Down Syndrome".

Frank also shares a short article for parents of children with Down syndrome or similar special needs: "Homeschooling Your Child With Down Syndrome"

I like what author Linda Mikottis had to say in an interview by Christine Field in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine (Summer 2009) entitled "Special Needs Curriculum: Be Flexible!", about breaking down lessons into bite-sized pieces. That is certainly a key. "Better to master the content than rush through and master nothing," she says. Linda presents courses for the Institute for Excellence in Writing. (See www.excellenceinwriting.com/.)

Through correspondence with her, I've learned that The Discover Intensive Phonics for Yourself program has worked well for her son with special needs, and she found that brain integration therapy from Dianne Craft complimented it nicely. (http://diannecraft.com/.)

See www.down-syndrome.org for more information about teaching children with downsyndrome to read (ages 5-11). One helpful article is reprinted at http://athome.readinghorizons.com/research/teaching-phonics-and-down-syndrome.aspx 

Do you have experience with special needs children and find any especially appealing, educational, or just entertaining materials you'd like to share with others? Share in the comment section!