Receiving support services as a homeschooler

tips for receiving support services as a homeschooler ~SimpleHomeschool

Written by contributor Hillary Boucher

We started to notice the gap in his expressive language around 18 months old. Other kids his age were pointing at things, trying out words. Him, not so much.

I didn’t pay any attention. Our eldest son spoke early and has always had an impressive vocabulary. I had already promised myself that I would not compare and would trust that he would bloom in his own good time.

He turned two, then two-and-a-half and there started to be other signs that he was struggling: intense tantrums and mood swings, extreme clinging to parents (mostly me),  and clear signs of stress.

We began declining social invitations and found it difficult to bring him to the grocery store or even to the park. It was just too hard on all of us.

At his three-year-old well check-up the nurse practitioner scolded him repeatedly before asking me incredulously, “Is he always like this?” I was furious by her lack of professionalism and quite frankly, her lack of compassion. I was also confused and not sure how to help him or our family.

But the experience with the nurse practitioner furthered my belief that external support systems weren’t right for us. They would label, judge, and lack the compassion I wanted for my little guy.

It took me nine more months before I finally took him to be evaluated.

They were professional, kind, and followed my lead as the expert of my child’s well-being. All the testing was play-based and I stayed with him the whole time. They gave context to the information they had gathered and we worked together as a team to figure out what he needed.

I was pleasantly surprised and quite frankly, relieved. In the end I felt very good about accepting the services offered to us.

He went on to receive services, first in our home through an early childhood program, and then transitioned to visiting the therapist at our local neighborhood school twice a week when he turned five.

And I’m happy to say that he has absolutely blossomed. The therapists we have worked with have provided us with helpful skill building exercises, strategies to help him overcome his challenges and moral support. It’s changed the quality of his life, and our family experience, for the better.

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I wanted to share our story in case you ever find yourself needing to additional support and resources for your child.

Here are a few things I learned along the way.

Set your child up for success.

You know your child — use this to your advantage. Set up the evaluation and therapy times when they are most likely to be cooperative and happy. Get creative and frame the experience in a way that will help them feel the most comfortable.

Go with the flow, but define the story of the experience.

It was important to let the therapists do their work with minimal interference from me, but it was important to my son that I was very close by. I did everything I could to have him feel comfortable, but also did my best to not interrupt the evaluation unless asked a question or looked to for confirmation. I did my best to trust their process.

That being said, I found that I had a strong influence on the feeling of the session. I spoke with the evaluators before the session and explained where I was coming from, what I was most concerned about and what I hoped for as an outcome. I found them to be very responsive and accommodating.

Get informed and think about bringing an advocate.

IEP (Individual Education Program) meetings can be intense. In our case I was at the table with the local school principal, school psychologist, kindergarten teacher and head of special services.

I wished I had been better prepared for that meeting.

If I could do it again I would have planned it so my mom, a long time educator who has participated in hundreds of these meetings, could have been in attendance. I know she has attended them as an advocate for friends and family in the past. Even bringing someone who knows and loves your child can help.

Develop thick skin.

There may be a bias against homeschooling at the above mentioned table. There were definitely some inferred “school might be just what he needs” comments when I shared some of his social challenges.

I just ignored it and did my best to stay focused on being the best advocate for my child. Afterall, as homeschoolers we’re used to the misinformed stereotypes thrust upon us.

I hope that you won’t find yourself in this situation, but if you do, I want you to know that support is available and can be a profoundly positive experience.

When I look back I only wish I had started the process earlier.

Have you had your homeschool child evaluated? Receiving services? Was your experience similar or different than mine?

About Hillary

Hillary feels lucky to be able to work full-time from home and shares the homeschooling responsibilities with her partner. Together, with a little creativity, a full schedule and a lot of love, they facilitate the education of their three adorable, and sometimes very loud, children.


  1. You have no idea how timely this is. We are working on trying to get our so evaluated now. I have been avoiding the school system due to my own horrid experience with it, but perhaps I should give it a chance? We wanted to avoid him being “on their radar” so I’m not sure what we’re going to do. Sigh. That said, it is needed and it will be done.
    Beth’s latest post: Homeschool Mother’s Journal — 2/9/13

  2. You don’t need to use the school to evaluate, though it is free. Find out if you have anyone in the private sector who can the evaluations and do private services for you.

    • I agree wholeheartedly. We’re using the state’s early intervention services for speech therapy. I’ve already signed the paperwork stating that when they turn three years old, I will not allow my paperwork to be sent to the local school system. I will deem what is needed for my child– not the school system. Be wary of anything that is “free”. There are often strings attached.

    • We actually chose a private institution to do the evaluation, but it was still free. (I’m not entirely sure why that option was available to us — something unique to our community perhaps. But either way I know many people do seek out private evaluations.) Then once he became eligible to receive services through the state it was our decision whether to accept what was offered to us or not.
      I guess that was part of the empowerment I found through the process was that nobody was deciding anything for us. He qualified to receive services and if we were happy with what was offered we had the choice to accept or refuse them.
      One thing that I had to double check on was that he was aged into school aged services, but because his birthday is in the fall I am choosing not to register him as a homeschooler for another year. This was a big concern of mine (that the services would force him into a grade – in the school’s eyes – earlier than I wanted).
      I should also mention that we live in New York State which has some of the strictest homeschool laws. We are required to report and our family chooses to comply with those laws. There are some homeschooling families in our community who do not which would of course make this situation very different.
      Hillary’s latest post: Why I Chose Midwives (Video)

  3. My son also had a speech delay. We received early intervention services from about 18 mo – 27 mo. We plan to homeschool, but obviously were not officially homeschooling at that age. I was apprehensive about some things. We did choose to use “the rod” and though we don’t abuse our child by any means we know that those who work for the state can be very sensitive to that sort of thing and quick to talk to child protective services. That can be scary, but we needed to trust God and be faithful to what we felt he was calling us to. (For example we felt like we needed him to come to us right away if mommy or daddy called him – and discipline if he didn’t come – we live on a very busy road, ands if he didn’t understand that “come to mommy” or “come to daddy” meant right away it could mean him getting killed by a car – much more painful than a small spanking.) Sorry – a tangent I guess, but if you do use the rod it’s something you need to be aware of when having the state in your home. That being said – we had a great experience and his language really grew though the services. I’m grateful for them.

  4. Thank you for all the advice! Our littlest had some therapy through early intervention services, but we are now seeing that he has some deeper issues. Having him tested is scary, but it will be so nice to have answers. Not sure how we will handle the homeschooling and receiving services. Being stationed overseas somewhat limits our options. Perhaps an advocate is just what we need. Thanks again!

  5. I am currently trying to get my son in to be evaluated for SPD. I live in a province where there is a huge waiting list and am looking at a 2 year wait list in order to see a specialist. He is 4.5 and will be school age next year in an area that has lots of yearly outcomes he needs to achieve while homeschooling. He would not do well in a classroom, and I already homeschool his 6 year old sister so there is no sense in going the school route. When discussed with the school board they refuse to make ANY allowance for him unless he has an official diagnosis. Right now I am so angry at the school board and so panicked at the thought of trying to teach my little boy when he is so clearly not ready for formal learning. Depending on how bad it gets we may just move to another province.

    Sorry I am not as positive about it, but we’re just at the beginning of our battle and I dread it. It already seems as if we are constantly fighting for the best for our children and I am worn out but still determined.

    • I hear you. It was an emotionally intense process. Actually, I’ve been trying to write about for a few months, but it took me quite a few tries before I was ready to share.
      Lots of support for you as your head down your journey.
      Hillary’s latest post: Why I Chose Midwives (Video)

    • Awww, you are right…he probably doesn’t need formal learning at all! Informal learning for years is so wonderful for young boys…especially ones who fall outside the box. Have you read Dr. Moore’s book Better Late Than Early? I think it would encourage you.
      Aimee’s latest post: The Sustainable Homeschool

  6. My son has been receiving services since he was 2 years old. He did not start with in home therapy. He attended a local speech and hearing center. He then moved on to preschool with head start, kindergarten at one school, 1 and 2nd at another. He did not go back for 3rd, which is when we started homeschooling. In kindergarten he was in a 12-1-1 classroom. He was in an inclusion classroom in 1st and 2nd, but there were still many problems with other kids. Most of the problems were due to his lack of communication and ability to decipher tones and body language. He still needs speech therapy as of right now. I think this year, we will have him evaluated outside of the school district. My husband handled all of the IEP meetings because he has had prior experience. His skin is also much thicker.

    If there is something you KNOW your child needs, PUSH for it, and be persistent until they provide. Make sure you have all the documentation needed. If you think your child needs a certain service, have an outside professional require it. The school district must provide it(at least in NYS). I am thankful that this road is almost over and he will no longer needs the outside support.

  7. I’m glad you shared this. I have only had experience with my children needing speech therapy. The first child it went well overall. Now we have moved and its not going so well. I think I need to say something about how the therapist does things with my child. I’ll see from there how it goes.

    I have found it best in the past to speak up about certain things so that the therapist was aware of how we do things. For example my child does not know certain pictures of cartoon characters that were being used in speech therapy so we just told them and that was changed for us.

  8. I am glad you had a good experience with out side resources. When our kids were little we were in the mind set of sending them to our local Christian School – I thought Homeschooling was okay but just… um… yeah..not for us…it’s for “those” people. SOOO… When our son was in the toddeler years he had a speech delay. It took close to a year to finally get him fully evaluated through the public school system and settled into a pk program (No child left behind – the kids either had speech delays themselves or only spoke Spanish – no good rolemodels). The special ed teacher was worried more about he/him and she/her correct verbage (mind you he couldn’t even say these words). In Kindergarden we sent him to the local Christian school and again had him tested through the public school system to see what services they could offer to him. Again there was little help. I could never get in touch with the special ed teacher and one day she threw a packet of papers my way and told me to have my son practice the words and he would know what to do. Well, he didn’t. We also sent him to be tested through the childrens hospital for sensory processings. Again the therapist was no help. She left for vacation the next day and never heard from her again even after many attempts on my part. By this time I had had enough of others not helping me (my son). A close friend had always talked about homeschooling and convinced me that I could take control of my son’s education and he could go at his pace and I could work with him one-on-one. That is when I finally opened my (naive/judgemental) eyes to the idea of homeschool. My son is now 12 and is a wonderful learner…sometimes slow and not up the “12 yo standards” but he is lovely boy and tries his best. I am not against outside resources but we also have to be conscience to the fact that we can do a lot of things ourselves through time, love and patience. Again, not knocking outside resources. It just wasn’t what God had planned for our family. And actually because of this lack in help brought us to our calling to homeschool our 4 children. Blessings. And I’m glad your son is doing much better as well. We just need to listen for God’s direction on the matter. (Hope this doesn’t offend anyone).

  9. Hi. I was just searching for a bit of clarification. Why, because you sought early services for your child, did you end up in an IEP meeting? I’m confused as to what the principal, social worker and teacher all employed by the school had to do with early childhood services for a child under “school age.” Any info on the connection would be great. Thanks and best to you!

  10. Our oldest started out in public school. She has dyslexia and is hearing impaired. Before realizing these 2 things she was evaluated and mis-diagnosed with ADHD. She had a horrible experience with school and I never regret removing her to homeschool.

  11. IEP meetings are the pits,=; no matter how prepared you feel that you are, everyone seems to know what is best for your child. I understand that some teachers and therapists may have a lot of experience, but not with my child. As for now, my son, who has autism, is going to a developmental preschool. One of our private therapists always said to kill them(educators/therapists) with kindness in the meeting and don’t go in with your guns blazin, but she also said that the squeeky wheel gets the oil. Since my son is 90% nonverbal, communication between the staff has been crucial. I have had to send quite a few (nagging) emails to remind people that I need weekly updates(something I added to his IEP). He has made some great progress, so as long as he is happy, I’m happy. With that said, I am hoping that one day our younger son will be able to be homeschooled with his older brother.

    • “IEP meetings are the pits”
      It’s so true.
      ” I understand that some teachers and therapists may have a lot of experience, but not with my child.”
      This was one of my greatest surprises. They kept turning it over to me and saying, “You are the expert of your child. You need to tell us what he is like, what he needs, what kind of support you need.” I was not expecting that at all. Obviously this depends on the professionals involved, but I think this was part of what made this an overall positive experience.

      “One of our private therapists always said to kill them(educators/therapists) with kindness in the meeting and don’t go in with your guns blazin, but she also said that the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
      This is such great advice. I’d add that you need to drop your defense, take on a team mentality, but be ready to advocate strongly for what you need.
      Hillary’s latest post: Why I Chose Midwives (Video)

      • I forgot to mention, our first IEP meeting was with teachers and therapists that had never seen nor evaluated my child. They relied solely on the evaluation that the Birth to Three program my son was in. Odd, right? I even mentioned that they reevaluate him after he started school in the fall, because there was a 6 month gap, but they weren’t very receptive.
        I am so fortunate that we happened to move, because our new school and staff are so much better.

        • The right people make such a big difference. Nobody at our IEP meeting had every met or evaluated him either. The therapist who had been supporting him in preschool services volunteered to come on her own time. Thank goodness. She was pretty adamant in advocating for him, too. It was really good to have her there.
          Hillary’s latest post: Why I Chose Midwives (Video)

  12. Oh! It’s like you were writing our story….sort of.
    My son is now 7yrs and we have JUST begun homeschooling after finding that the public and private system weren’t quite the right fit. Last week the homeschool board we are with phoned with the “we can’t provide” speech and it was just too much. For me…I am just tired of hearing what is wrong and I just want to give my child the best and that is what I am striving to do.

  13. I homeschool my 4 kids 2,5,7,and 10. My 5 year old daughter Bethany is profoundly deaf. She currently recives speech therapy at our home 3 times a week through the local school district and sees a Teacher of The Deaf 2 days a week. We go to District Office to see the TOTD for 3 hours a day. She sees her along with a little 6 year old boy who is homeschooled. These arangements have been in place scince she was 3. I am happy that our school district is so great with Bethany.

  14. My daughter is nine and we just had her tested in the public school system. She has always been homeschooled but as a former public school teacher, I knew that something wasn’t making a connection with her. She has learning disability in visual and auditory processing (which would fall under the umbrella of dyslexia). However, the school systems will not use the word “dyslexia” because it is a medical term. As a teacher, I thought I was prepared for the reports from the school psychologist. Nothing could have been further from the truth! I feel bad for parents who are thrown into this with no background knowledge of education. I’ve done tons of research and still feel unsure of the case conference this week. I’ve been on the hunt for great multisensory curriculum for homeschool to better meet her needs next year. I would love some suggestions if anyone has any!!!!

  15. Stefanie Brickey says:

    Oh my, I second the request for ideas on multi-sensory curriculum!!!! I don’t know how I am just reading this, but it is truly perfectly timed. My 4.5 yr old was just diagnosed with SPD (as someone above mentioned) and we are homeschooling our 6 yr old twins. I was feeling pretty good about school and how everything is going (other than the struggles with my 4yr old) but looking ahead to next year, what I can provide, incorporating her therapy/activities/modification and THEN the learning is an overwhelming feeling for me…. She will not be able to handle the classroom, so we are not easily swayed in that direction, but I am feeling total trepidation at how to provide for not just her but my other children as well.

    Also (I’m so new to this), have any of you had the option to register with a public homeschooling system? We have looked into that solely for the sake of the support services that would be available….?

  16. We had a wonderful experience in 2 different states I referred my oldest when she was 2.5 to our birth to 3 services because of her speech. They evaulated her for free and than came to our house and did play therapy. When she turned 3 we started going to our neighborhood school and the teacher was great . We were happy and planning to send her to the free Pre-K at a montessori school the next year. Than we moved across the country. One phone call and a fax of paperwork and we were going to a new school with yet another great teacher unfortunately the schools overall were traditional and medicore but we were happy with the speech. By Kindergarten she was a speech graduate and a homeschool student. If one of my kids needed something I would try the school system first but would not be afraid to say this is not working.

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