Starting home education can be quite daunting—doubly so if you are deciding to home educate special needs children, whether they are gifted, disabled, or both (called twice exceptional, 2e or GLD). But where to start? What's out there to help new homeschooling families find resources and information? And what are the challenges that families might face?
Neurodiverse kids tend not to fit in neat school boxes, and can be a challenge to parent and to home educate. The one characteristic that really identifies gifted/2e kids is asynchronous development. These kids are capable of being multiple ages at the same time, for example, twenty years old when discussing high-level economics, eight years old physically, but four years old emotionally when asked to share. You can never be quite sure which age they will be on any given day or moment.
Gifted children also often have characteristics called Dabrowski’s Overexcitabilities. These characteristics are not exclusive to giftedness, but gifted children will exhibit many of them in varying degrees of intensity. The higher a child is on the gifted spectrum, the more they will have and the more intense they will present:
- Psychomotor OE – which can lead a child to be overly active or energetic and exhibit as a compulsion to be constantly moving. This can in some cases may be difficult to distinguish from ADHD.
- Sensual OE – a heightened sensory experience where they can be super-sensitive to sound, smell, light, touch or taste. It can show itself in an early and intense appreciation for things like music, art or food, but for some children it can be hard to distinguish from Sensory Processing Disorder.
- Intellectual OE – which can show itself in intense curiosity, passion, and obsession with learning and discussing their knowledge. It also means that they can be extreme truth-tellers with a passion for ethics and fair-play and little tolerance for social ‘white lies’. It can be hard to distinguish between giftedness and high functioning autism, particularly for highly+ gifted children.
- Imaginational OE – an intense imagination which can be richly detailed and vivid but can often lead to them being highly distracted by their own ideas – ‘space cadets’. They also sometimes have trouble differentiating reality from the stories they create.
- Emotional OE – manifests as heightened and intense feelings that can be difficult for them to control. It can include physical responses such as stomach aches, through to emotional meltdowns when they are feeling overwhelmed, and they can often be accused of ‘overreacting’. Children with intense emotional OE can also be very concerned about death and depression – existential and clinical depression can be a greater risk for these children, often from an extremely young age.
The standard advice for new homeschoolers is to deschool for one month for every year your children have been in traditional school. Deschooling is like unschooling—no set activities. It's also called natural learning. (And it can be hard work! Sometimes set activities are easier.) The idea is to give you and your children time to adjust to a new rhythm of not-being-in-school. It doesn’t mean you can’t do lessons or worksheets, but it does mean you try to focus on what your children want to do. This is a kind of decompression, and it can really help if school has been stressful or difficult—it gives a clear break that lets your children know that home education won’t be the same as school.
Take the time to find your rhythm, which will usually start to develop after a few weeks—whether you have nothing planned, strictly planned, or have a few things that need doing every day.
It’s also worth considering whether you need to spend a lot of money on curriculum right away. There are so many options available online for free curriculum, including lots of free worksheets from many websites that you can print out, as well as study guides, teacher resources and apps. By taking the time to explore the free options available, you can get a great feel for what type of lessons your children like, and what they dislike. This gives you a much better idea of what curriculum might be worth purchasing.
Now don’t worry if you really want to dive in and buy awesome stuff. I felt exactly the same when I started. Some of the stuff we bought worked really well. Some didn’t. Along the way, I learned that gifted, particularly highly+ gifted kids will probably power through some curriculum at double, triple, quadruple or an even higher speed, while other subjects might be extremely slow, particularly if there is also a learning disability.
This is one of the beauties of home education—tailoring lessons to what your children are ready and able to learn. Finding ways to allow them to advance to their interest level while shaping the content to cope and support their disabilities is individual to each child, and that takes time to figure out. And that’s OK.
In Australia, each state has different requirements for homeschool registration and reporting. Each state also usually has a volunteer homeschooling support organisation that can help new homeschoolers learn about the requirements. Home Education Australia has a state-by state breakdown of support groups and links to government legal requirements. It's a great place to start.
If you're a bit unsure about whether to homeschool, or how it can work, the Home Education Network has some great articles on special needs homeschooling, including gifted and 2e. They also do a bi-monthly magazine which is a great resource for finding out about how other families homeschool.
It's also worth noting that for isolated children - whether due to distance, special needs or medical requirements, Distance Education is a school-at-home option offered by each state in Australia that follows the state curriculum. This has a long history in Australia, and is also sometimes called the 'School of the Air'.
Outside Australia, (and even inside Australia), one of the best resources out there is A to Z Home's Cool, where you can find links to homeschooling associations, resources and legal requirements for many different countries.
Many homeschool organisations also offer discounts to members for purchasing curriculum resources, which can be a very useful. Some also provide resource lists for local homeschool groups and insurance cover for homeschool groups organising activities.
Gifted and 2e Resources
- Great articles on gifted/2e and homeschooling
- An extensive list of resources
- books covering specific challenges for gifted/2e homeschoolers.
- and online courses for gifted/2e students.
Lisa Rivero has also written a book on gifted homeschooling which I found very helpful when I was starting, called "Creative Homeschooling: A Resource Guide for Smart Families". Great Potential Press also has a number of other great books on gifted/2e topics as well.
For information on gifted /2e not specifically related to homeschooling, these sites are also excellent:
- Hoagies Gifted is an enormous resource for all things gifted.
- Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG) has a number of excellent articles on the challenges of raising gifted children.
- The Twice-Exceptional Newsletter is a great source of information on current 2e news plus they have a range of books on 2e issues.
- Davidson Institute for Talent Development has many interesting articles. They also offer quite a few great services for profoundly gifted children in the United States.
Special Needs Homeschooling
In Australia, there are a number of extra resources for families with special needs:
- Better Start - A program to provide improved access for early intervention service.
- Chronic Disease Management Plan - A program to support GPs managing patients which requires many health professionals.
- Mental Health Care Plans (Better Access) - which includes a certain number of rebates for access to certain mental health services.
- Carer’s Allowance - an allowance for carer's of children or adults with a disability or medical condition.
- Companion Card - which is a card designed to remove the financial barrier for people with disability who require lifelong attendant care support to participate at events, activities and venues, including access to public transport.
There is also a specific supplement for homeschooling special needs or geographically isolated children for qualifying families called the Assistance for Isolated Children Scheme
And children with diagnosed special needs usually also qualify for full Distance Education provisions.
Outside Australia, a good place to start looking for information includes:
- Special Needs Homeschooling at A to Z Home's Cool
- GHF has an excellent list of resources and organisations for 2e children
- HSLDA has an extensive list of state-by-state provisions for special needs homeschooling in the United States
- My Little Poppies has a great collection of resources for gifted/2e families (including homeschooling resources)
Most countries will also have extra resources available for families of special needs children who need to be homeschooled - but it might take a bit of effort to find them! Sometimes the best place to start is to contact local homeschool or disability-support organisations who will often be able to help with where to look for available resources.
It is also really worth finding support groups to help you feel less alone. From detailed information on brain wiring, to brainstorming and commiserating with fellow parents, having a support group, either face-to-face or online, can be a life-saver.
- The Homeschooling Gifted Kids in Australia facebook group.
- The Gifted Learning Disabled (GLD) Australia yahoo group
- The Homeschooling Australia facebook group
Outside Australia, there are a number of homeschooling groups for gifted/2e families:
- GHF has a number of online community resources including yahoo groups
- The TAGMAX yahoo group is also a great resource for gifted homeschooling families.
- As is the Gifted Unschooling facebook group
- And Raising Poppies, though not exclusively for homeschooling, has a large homeschooling community as well.
One Last Note
These resources are by no means the only resources out there,but are only the resources that I have collected over the years. I do my best to make sure they are as accurate as possible, but as country and state laws and regulations change, the options for homeschooling gifted/2e kids will undoubtedly change as well. It is probably best to consult with the relevant organisations and government departments to get the most up-to-date information but hopefully this article gives a few pointers on where to start.
Is there anything I've missed? What are your favourite resources for homeschooling gifted and twice-exceptional children?