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November 29, 2016

More Help for Parents of Children with Special Needs

IN YOUR COMMUNITY Faith Berens and her daughter greet visitors. HSLDA Special Needs Consultant Faith Berens and her homeschooled daughter Hailey, 14, greet visitors to the HSLDA booth at the FPEA Special Needs Conference for Gifted and Struggling Learners.

Two Home School Legal Defense Association staff members delayed their Thanksgiving preparations this year in order to meet and assist members of a major segment of the homeschooling community—families of students with special needs.

Tj Schmidt, HSLDA’s contact attorney for Florida, and Faith Berens, an HSLDA special needs consultant, trekked to the Sunshine State to participate in the Nov. 18–19 Special Needs Conference for Gifted and Struggling Learners hosted by Florida Parent-Educators Association (FPEA).

Many state homeschooling organizations have a special needs track at their annual conferences. But FPEA used the popularity of its general conference (15,000-plus attendance) to launch a standalone event dedicated to families of struggling learners—a quickly-growing segment of the homeschooling community.

The conference provided a more intimate setting for homeschooling parents of children who struggle with profound challenges.

At the conference, Schmidt said, “a lot of the parents I spoke to said their kids’ needs were not being met in traditional schools. They were getting frustrated. But in their homeschooling environments they have flexibility. They’re able to provide the accommodations and assistance their kids need all the time.”

As this segment grows, so does the range of needed services. At this year’s FPEA special needs conference, about a dozen speakers addressed topics ranging from neurodevelopment to storytelling.

Schmidt and Berens worked together to craft presentations about specific legal issues involving special needs education, including:

  • How HSLDA can assist families who are being discriminated against because of disabilities;
  • What the law says about minors and disability income through Social Security;
  • How to apply for special accommodations for students who wish to take college aptitude exams such as the SAT;
  • Alternatives to a four-year high school diploma.

Berens, meanwhile, was able to counsel parents about specific situations.

“It’s what we do,” she explained, adding that she hopes more homeschooling organizations reach out specifically to special needs families. “It’s our mission to equip and encourage families, and it’s our stance that homeschooling really is the best way to provide an individualized education plan.”

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