At 2 years old, Donnie Humberto Iler’s language skills weren’t developing as expected. He would only speak using isolated words.

His parents Lariza and Donald Iler sought help from Early Childhood Intervention (ECI), a statewide program in Texas that supports children with special needs.

ECI diagnosed Donnie with a speech delay, and he was assigned an ECI speech therapist to help him. But unfortunately, he aged out of the program when he turned 3 and his therapy was transferred to the public school district. (Lariza and Donald didn’t enroll Donnie in public school; they only used their services for Donnie’s speech therapy.)

However, their experience with the public school was a struggle from the start. Frequently, the therapist would be late or not arrive at all. This continued for a couple of months.

“He was losing the progress he had made in the previous program due to the lack of organization in the public school,” Lariza said.

After pushing the district to help their son make up for missed therapy time, Lariza and Donald were able to recover four additional appointments for Donnie. But Lariza didn’t leave it at that. She requested the necessary coursework and materials to keep working with Donnie on his speech delay throughout the summer. Without really intending to, Lariza had started on the path to homeschooling.

During that summer, Donnie overcame his speech delay. “It was a blessing,” Lariza said.

Donnie, Lariza and Don.

Even Lariza’s relatives, all skeptical of homeschooling because they come from a legacy of schoolteachers, were surprised to see Donnie’s progress in just three months of learning at home. Their opinion on homeschooling changed.

Lariza and Donald were greatly encouraged and decided to homeschool Donnie when he turned 4.

Recognizing Learning Preferences

Lariza thought teaching Donnie at home was going to be “marvelous.” She pictured him sitting next to her and listening to her every word. Nothing was further from reality.

“He was jumping, running, and playing upside down,” Lariza said. “I felt defeated. Four days passed and things were still the same. I would read, and he would be in his world.”

But things changed on the fifth day, when Lariza asked Donnie about the things she’d been teaching him. She realized that he actually had retained everything she had taught him.

Lariza realized she could customize her teaching to fit Donnie’s learning preference. She now knew he was able to learn perfectly fine while moving around, and she decided to work with his preference instead of fighting it. (To learn more about your child’s learning preference, read our HSLDA article here.) 

Donnie was later diagnosed with borderline ADHD, and a doctor advised Lariza to make accommodations for Donnie, allotting him more time for testing during their homeschooling. Lariza designed a Student Education Plan (SEP) that would meet Donnie’s special needs. (As a member of HSLDA, she used our SEP sample form found here.)

She found the SEP helpful in structuring Donnie’s time according to his educational needs.

Homeschooling as a Spanish-speaker: Thinking Outside the Box

Adjusting her teaching style to Donnie’s learning preferences was not Lariza’s only concern. Originally from Mexico, Lariza was afraid that as a non-native English speaker, she wouldn’t be able to teach Donnie the correct way to pronounce words in English if she taught him at home.

But she didn’t let her fear stop her. She knew there were plenty of resources she could use.

“A lot of people think you have to be an expert to homeschool,” she said. “But it’s all about finding resources and searching for alternative options.”

“There are ways to teach your child the English language [as a native Spanish speaker]. You just need to think outside the box,” she added.

She used LeapFrog: The Letter Factory so Donnie could learn the sound of each letter, the Reading Lesson, a program based on phonics and key-word recognition so Donnie could learn how to read, and IEW: All About Spelling for him to learn how to be a proficient speller. She also used Heart of Dakota: Little Hearts for His Glory to teach different subjects to Donnie and help him foster a love for learning and a love for the Lord.

At the same time, Lariza wanted to preserve Donnie’s Mexican heritage by teaching him Spanish. So, when Donnie turned 5, she began using Spanish curriculum from Mexico that her sister lent her, enrolled Donnie in Spanish classes, and made sure Donnie spent time speaking Spanish with his Mexican relatives.

This all proved to be very helpful. In 2022, when Donnie was 11 years old, he took a Spanish test from a college examination program and got a score that could earn him up to nine college credits from some universities.

Becoming a Chess Entrepreneur

Donnie continues to thrive as a homeschool student. He is now 12 and is in the 10th grade. He loves to build Legos, swim, and ride his bike.

But, one of his main passions is chess—so much so that he named his schnauzer “Bishop.”

When he discovered there weren’t any chess clubs in his city, he and his mom started the Eagle Pass Rookies chess club and asked for coaching from a chess instructor. Other kids eventually joined the club, and soon they were traveling through Texas, winning medals and trophies in chess competitions.

Donnie earning two trophies in Kingsville, Texas, in the Region VII Chess Tournament at the beginning of 2020.

Then, during COVID-19, Donnie was a participant in the Duke University Talent Identification Program. He and other members of the program co-founded the virtual Tipsters Chess Club for children from all around the country to participate in virtual chess tournaments and Zoom meetings every week.

Donnie is also a student in the Del Rio homeschool co-op, with about 150 members, including parents, teachers, and students. He’s a member of the co-op’s student council, where he helps organize different activities for the students, such as community service opportunities (like collecting trash in parks and highways), game nights, pool parties, and prom.

Last year, Donnie began teaching chess to students ages 8 to 11 in the co-op. He teaches strategy, solving chess puzzles, and playing with chess clocks. He also coordinated virtual and in-person chess competitions for them, awarding trophies and medals to the winners.  

His teaching experience inspired him to start an online chess business in the summer of 2023, called Legacy Chess 2023.

“I teach my students through Zoom lessons every week,” Donnie said. He has two students for now, and hopes his business grows more and more. This has fueled another one of his many interests: entrepreneurship.

As part of his schoolwork, Donnie is also taking two college classes: microeconomics and government.

Homeschooling Through Health Challenges

The Iler family is also thankful for homeschooling because it has helped them overcome various health challenges their family has endured in the past few years.  

“When my grandpa had a heart attack, we were able to go to his house and help him,” Donnie said. “And I could do my school there.”  

A similar thing happened when Donnie’s grandmother got sick—he was able to participate in her care without falling behind on his schoolwork. He is very thankful for this because he got to spend more time with her before she passed.

“We were basically friends,” Donnie said. “Even if I wanted to do something crazy like get up at 4 a.m. and watch TV, she’d do it with me.”

And, in 2021, doctors told Lariza she had a rare tumor called endometrial stromal sarcoma. Since then, she’s undergone three surgeries as part of her treatment. The experience was “very tough and mentally draining” for Lariza, but she said homeschooling has brought them together as a family.  

“When one of us is down, the other one is there to help,” Lariza said. “And that’s what we want Donnie to learn and share with his own family someday.”

Keep “Building Stuff”

His current activities as a 10th grader involve serving as the treasurer of the student council and learning to play the saxophone through his co-op’s band. In the future, Donnie plans to participate in triathlons and the local competitive swimming team, the “Dolphins.”

Donnie also wishes to attend college early and major in a degree related to “building stuff,” such as business, architecture, or mechanical engineering. He’s also thinking of obtaining a minor in Spanish.