Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Homeschooling Your Special Needs Child

Homeschooling or home education can be defined as the education of children outside a school setting. This simply means that a child does not attend a regular school, but a parent or teacher teaches the child at home. In the case of a family with a special needs child, this means that the child is not attending a special school or a mainstream school. Rather, the child is being taught either by a teacher or the parent.
In my opinion, which is in line with Alliance for Inclusive Education UK, the best schooling environment for a special needs child is in the mainstream setting. However, there are instances where this may not be possible or where the child’s potentials are not fully harnessed in the mainstream school that is available.

Reasons for homeschooling a child may include:
Funding: If parents are unable to pay the fees of a private mainstream school or a special school, then they may decide to homeschool the special needs child. Funding may also include the cost of transportation. If a child has a movement disorder and a big stature, or the child is approaching the preteen or teenage years, then it may be difficult for that child to take public transportation to school. Public transportation in Nigeria is not disability-friendly and it is quite expensive to use taxis on a daily basis, even for average income earners.

Another reason for homeschooling a special needs child is if it becomes obvious that the child is not benefiting from the school he or she is attending. It may be that the school the child attends pays lip service to inclusive education. This means that though children with special needs are admitted, the school has no constructive plan to include them in regular school activities or the teachers are not adequately trained to facilitate learning for the children.

Another reason for homeschooling a special needs child could be that the parents cannot find a school in the neighbourhood that is willing to admit the child.

If a special needs child has other complicated medical conditions that affect him or her, then the parents may consider homeschooling. An example is a child who suffers from seizures, a child who is constantly on oxygen machine or a child who feeds through a tube attached to the stomach region. In developed countries, children in this category still go to school; in fact, some go to mainstream schools. However, in Nigeria, these types of medical conditions might hinder a special needs child from getting admission into a good school of his or her choice so homeschooling the child may be the only option.

These are not the only reasons why special needs children are homeschooled.

Early this year, I met a woman whose son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at about two years old, but when I met the boy at the age of eight, he had serious behavioural disorder. When I spoke with the mother about the boy, she said he had been attending an inclusive primary school. However, he was kept in a separate class with two other boys who had autism and that was where he received most of his tuition.  This is a boy who cannot take instructions and makes a lot of noise that can distract other kids. How can such a boy be placed in a class with other children? That will certainly be unfair to the children. It was obvious that the parents and the school did not get things right from the beginning.

I advised the mother to withdraw the boy from the mainstream school and not seek to put him in another mainstream school for a while. I was certain that no mainstream school will allow the boy to stay in the same class with other regular students.

Inclusive education happens when children with disabilities and others without disabilities participate and learn together in the same classes. However, the truth about inclusive education is that the child needs to be given an appropriate diagnosis at an early age, as well as an effective rehabilitation plan. This will also work hand in hand with the appropriate support in school to make inclusive education effective.

Inclusive education is not magic. It is the combination of hard work, patience, consistency by the parents of the child, the school and its teachers as well as the child’s therapy team.

I told the mother of the boy to enroll him in a private special needs school for children with autism but the woman complained about the exorbitant fees of the school. The other alternative is to employ a behavioural therapist to work with the child at home. The child needed to calm down and learn how to take instructions. A one-on-one approach was the best option for him.

In my own case, I withdrew my daughter who was about three years old and living with cerebral palsy, from the mainstream school she was attending. She had been assaulted by her physiotherapist and I was scared of letting her out of my sight. I did not have any problem with her school, but I wanted to keep a closer watch on her. At that time, she was completely non-verbal and that meant she was unable to tell me if someone tried to hurt her.

In handling her homeschooling, the first thing I did was to ask my friends who had children her age, what their children were learning in school. As at then, my daughter was supposed to be in toddlers class, going to nursery one. I drew up a timetable which consisted of her physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy as well as a time to learn phonics, alphabets, numbers, shapes and colours. She also used flashcards, pop-up storybooks, musical instruments and toys to enhance her hand functions. My husband and I employed a school teacher who came to teach her three times a week. We also employed an assistant teacher who stayed with her from morning until evening during the week. Her therapies which included physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy were also conducted at home.

My daughter had a daily routine then. I woke her up at 6a.m as if she was going to a regular school. Then she would be given a bath and breakfast. Thereafter, she would be assisted to walk around the compound of the house. I allocated a small portion of the flowerbed in the compound to her so she could grow a plant. Her nanny assisted her and they grew corn. The whole idea was for her to carry a small plastic watering can so that she could water the plant and also remove the weeds. She could not do these things by herself but with the appropriate assistance, it was achievable.

Exposing a child to early morning sun which is rich in Vitamin D is one of the benefits of walking outside the house. The child will also breathe in fresh air. Walking also helps the blood in the body to circulate better and it is very beneficial to the joints and muscles. It is important to reiterate that my daughter is unable to walk by herself, so her caregiver supports her with a walker.

After that morning ritual, other activities such as learning her phonetics or numbers as well as her therapies, will kick off.

In order to balance the lack of social interaction with her peers, I ensured that from Monday to Friday, when her sister got back from school, they would visit our neighbours who had children in their age group. My neighbour had a big trampoline and swings for children to play with. They were often joined by children from other homes and all of them would play in my neighbour’s compound for an hour.

One of the benefits of homeschooling for my daughter was that I was also able to monitor her feeding. Previously, I had taken her to a nutritionist because she was underweight. However, after she spent two months at home with proper care, she began to add weight. She was also allowed to take a nap after therapy.
The school teacher working with her gave me a list of age appropriate books to buy. They included books about colours, shapes, birds, animals, fruits, cars and trucks. All these books required her to colour. My husband made photocopies of each page so she could do the same classwork as often as possible. She was colouring and she was learning. Colouring meant she would exercise her arms and fingers.

The assistant teacher that we employed did most of the work. She continued the teaching every day except Sundays. Gradually, everyone realised that Oluwalonimi was trying to talk. All our efforts were yielding fruits.

One of the reasons homeschooling worked for my daughter was because I was staying at home with her. I had made up my mind that it was going to work. I did a lot of research and asked people in the disability management profession a lot of questions. I organised my daughter’s programmes, monitored them and ensured they was working for her.

It is best for parents who want to homeschool their special needs children to carry along the children’s therapists. It is also very important for the parents to carry out their own private research on how best to homeschool their children. Parents, you must be willing to try new things. You may make some mistakes but eventually, you will find out what works best for your children.

Just as inclusive education requires hard work and commitment, homeschooling a special needs child also requires commitment, consistency and passion for it to be successful. It is not what you do when you have the time; it is what you must do to achieve a goal.

Homeschooling my daughter meant I had to suspend every other commitment that I had. A friend of mine who works with children who have disabilities suggested that I take my daughter to a mainstream school at least three times a week. I was very reluctant at first but when my daughter, Oluwalonimi began to cry in the morning whenever she saw her younger sister going to school, I knew it was time to reintroduce her to mainstream school.

I found a school with a small number of students that could cater to her needs and she adapted real quick. She started attending the school three times a week, now she goes there five times a week. My daughter has a caregiver who stays with her in school. She also has her therapies three times a week. I have continued to monitor her food intake and she has continued to gain weight that is appropriate for her age.

Homeschooling has its good points. However, when it is not well managed, it may take a toll on the mental and physical health of the caregivers, as it is quite tasking. Where necessary, it can be done for a certain period of time and the child should be re-introduced to mainstream school or a special school that is appropriate for the child’s needs.

Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Tips For Creating a Truly Inclusive School

Inclusive Education, as I have defined in my previous articles, simply means that all students attend and are welcomed by mainstream schools in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school.

Some school owners have approached me to find out how they can introduce inclusive education into their school system. I would say that the two key things in inclusive education is showing empathy and being open to embrace change.

When I was looking for a school for my daughter, Nimi, that was the main thing I was looking out for. I was looking out for a school that would show love and acceptance. A school that would be open to try something new.
Every morning while taking my second daughter to school, I would drive pass another school. I noticed that each morning when I drove by, there was a bus from an orphanage in front of the school that would drop off some kids. I was impressed by this. I said to myself, if this school could accept children from an orphanage then their empathy quotient may be higher than most.

I approached the school and spoke with the school owner. She was warm and welcoming. She told me she had admitted a child with autism in the past but she had never taken someone with cerebral palsy. She didn’t even have an idea about it but she said she was open to trying something new.
It was a Friday, I told her to do her research over the weekend and I would bring my daughter on Monday for a meeting so that she could get to meet her.

Truly she did her research and got some information about cerebral palsy and I filled in the gap. I brought my daughter for an interview and she accepted her.
I decided that my daughter will start with three times a week and I would see how it goes from there.
The day Nimi started school, her classmates presented her with a welcome handmade card. The proprietress told me that the week before Nimi resumed to the school, the teachers had taught the other children about differences, empathy and acceptance. Indeed, I was impressed.

Today, our three days experiment has paid off. Now, my daughter goes to school five times a week just like every other kid. She also takes part in extra curriculum activities. For me it doesn’t matter if she can’t do it as well as other kids, even if she is just among the cheerleaders, that’s okay. It is called social integration. The most important thing is we have achieved inclusive education, in the true sense of it.

To create an inclusive school, the following tips may come in handy:

1. The leadership of the school needs to get proper information. You do not necessarily need to go to a formal school to acquire this. You can have a chat with professionals on the field and also do your own research through reliable websites on the internet.

2. Train your teachers on how to work with children with disabilities or with special learning needs. You can liaise with companies, consultants and nonprofit organisations to accomplish this.

3. Teach the children about disability, accepting differences and showing empathy. This may be done through class reading time; the children can read story books with characters who have disabilities. Encourage them to ask questions and answer the questions truthfully as best as you can. It can also be done by creating a disability awareness day or including disability awareness into your diversity celebration day.

4. It is very important to educate the parents of your students before introducing inclusive education. This would be a better approach than introducing inclusive education then explaining your actions later on.

5. Create a handbook or a guide for all workers; both teachers and non-teachers. It is best to state out in full, what is expected from everyone in relation to your special needs students. It is also important to create a more robust missions statement so that no one is in doubt about what the school stands for. For example, you may want to introduce into your missions statement, equality, fairness and justice for all students.

6. The school may want to assess its building to determine how accessible it is for children with disability. The school may need to provide ramps for easy of using wheelchairs.

If the school is not designed to accommodate a lot of changes, this should not be a major issue because as long as you are open to experiment or to show empathy, there would always be a way around it.

I was told about a school in Lagos Nigeria where form 6 classes in a secondary school were located at the third floor of the school building. A young boy with cerebral palsy who could not walk was made to crawl on the staircase every morning when he got to school and in the afternoon when going home. He couldn’t even dare to come down at lunch time. Not forgetting that his uniform will get dirty every morning. The experience as a whole is dehumanising for anyone to go through that five times a week, twenty times a month.

I strongly believe that the leadership of that school, especially the principal has a wrong value system for human life. The least they could have done was to provide a stretcher for the boy to lie down and two men carry him to his class just like how wounded footballers are carried off the field. They could have even encouraged some of his classmates to help with carrying the stretcher thereby teaching them about helping others. The principal could also have moved one arm of class 6 to the ground floor.

7. The school may need to check out their restrooms and answer some cogent questions? Can this rest room accommodate a wheel chair? If not, can I have space for a changing table or bed? How do I get to monitor what goes on in the restroom? There have been some cases of caregivers molesting children with disabilities in the process of assisting them in the restroom. This brings me to the next point.

8. For schools that can afford this, it is wise to install CCTV all over the school and even in the open space of the restrooms (this is not inside the toilet cubicle itself). Where the CCTV is monitored and feedbacks are given to teachers, non-teaching staff and students, it will help to ensure that everyone is mindful of their actions.

This list is not exhaustive but like I have said earlier, the most important thing is showing empathy and a willingness to embrace change.

Inclusive education should be the goal of any right-thinking society who understands that we do not live in a perfect world. There are no special communities for teenagers or adults with special needs. The best time to integrate them into the society is at infancy. The best place to do so is in our mainstream schools.

Next article would talk about guidelines for admitting children with disabilities and how to create a conducive classroom experience for your special needs students.


Love without Boundaries with Bukola Ayinde: Why are You Afraid of a Child with Disability?

In my quest to understand better the concept of inclusive education, I did a little research and discovered that in Denmark and some other European countries, inclusive education is seen as developing a school for everyone.
There is a national strategy for the implementation of inclusive education. Learners are seen as diverse individuals, and everyone can get support in their own studying group. Classrooms are therefore very diverse. Teacher education has also been redesigned to support the implementation of inclusive education. In Denmark, diversity is seen as a resource for development, and inclusive education as a means to address the challenges. I will discuss further about this in subsequent articles on how to run an effective inclusive school.

Last month, I had the opportunity to speak with a mum who has a six year old daughter living with cerebral palsy. She complained that she had been trying to get a school that her daughter could attend without success. A school agreed to accept her daughter. Her daughter spent only one week at the school before she was asked to withdraw her. When the mother asked what happened, she was told that another mother who had three neuro-typical children (children developing normally) in the school threatened to remove her three children if the six years old girl was not asked to leave the school. Presently, this little girl is at home.

I have seen some children who have been asked to leave school because they can’t use their hands or talk. My daughter, Nimi is unable to use her hands and she doesn’t talk clearly, but she attends school and she does so well academically. It saddens me to see other children in her shoes who are denied the opportunity of going to school based on their physical challenges.

It is true that some schools do not have the requisite knowledge on handling children with disabilities. However, the easiest way to start is to have an open mind and to show empathy. There are non-profit organisations that train teachers on how to teach and manage children with additional needs. There is a lot of information on the internet.

Some schools that are willing to accept children with disabilities face opposition from other parents who do not have children with disabilities. I understand the fact that most schools are for profit making and would therefore make decisions that would protect their revenue. Often times these decisions involve withdrawing the admission of a child with disabilities. I have been told it is a sacrifice the school has to make so it doesn’t close down.

My question today is this: as a parent of a neuro-typical child (a child without disabilities) what are you afraid of? What are your fears? Why do you find it uncomfortable to have children who have disabilities attend the same school with your children?

I have heard statements such as ‘how can abnormal children be in the same class with normal children? Some parents call children with disabilities demons. My question is, have you seen a demon before? What does it look like? Disabled?
The Bible says that the head of demons was one of the most gorgeous creature God made. His appearance was beautiful and dazzling. He was covered with every precious stone: gold, sardius, topaz, diamond, beryl, onyx, jasper, sapphire, emerald, and carbuncle.

Does that sound anything lower than perfection? Certainly not.
I have been to deliverance churches and I have seen beautiful sisters and brothers roll on the floor and manifest different spirits under the anointing. A child doesn’t need to have disability to be under strange influence.
Some parents say they do not like their children to associate with children that drool. The fact is I do not understand how the saliva will touch another child. Secondly, saliva is not poisonous. Thirdly, neuro-developmental disorder is not infectious in any way. It is a brain disorder, usually occurs at birth or early years of a child’s life.

Then permit me to pose this question: if in the future you become ill, let’s say stroke or Alzheimer’s disease would you prefer your child to abandon you or hide you in a room? You may say it is not your portion, but I have come to understand that the world is not a perfect place. I believe no one dreams of growing up to become dependent on others neither does anyone pray to have a child with disability.

Last month while speaking to a 21 years old girl living with a learning disorder and cerebral palsy, she immediately tried to cover her face. I told her not to apologise for who she is because she was not given an opportunity to choose her life; if she had, I bet she would have chosen to look like Agbani Darego.

On the other hand, which we are not too patient to discover, having children living with disabilities in our schools have benefits that cannot be overemphasized. It brings creativity into the classroom. The teacher may need to introduce creative ways to teach the child with special needs. Whatever method she comes up with will benefit other children who may be having difficulties in some subjects. The children will also make creative ways to speak or play with their disabled classmate. They will understand early that life is not perfect. They will learn to accept differences, show love and empathy to people especially those who are venerable.

The children we are shielding away from special needs children are the future leaders who would become doctors and scientist that would champion the search for a cure for developmental disorders. They are the future public workers who will make laws that would improve the welfare of people living with disabilities. They would ensure that people with disabilities have access into all public buildings. They would build roads and pedestrian bridges having in mind that physically challenged people will also use them. They will provide buses that have ramps and give concession to people with disability. They will provide parking spaces for disabled people that are close to the entrance of buildings. They will manage organisations that would employ people living with disabilities. They will pastor churches that speak to their congregations about loving their neighbours who have children that have disabilities.

Remember, not everyone is born with a disability some other people acquire a disability through their journey in life. No one knows tomorrow. Let’s make the world a better place for everyone.