Being a parent of a special needs child is hard. Whether your child’s disability is physical or developmental, you know that you need to push their education within their abilities. How do you do that in a school system designed for able-bodied, developmentally on-target children?
Brick and mortar schools try. They offer paraeducators to give your child more one-on-one time; they train teachers to recognize and work with students with disabilities; they try to help your family by working out an IEP (individualized education program) to set goals for your child specifically. But with hundreds of other students, it’s hard for them to give your child the special attention or accommodations they may need.
Enter “virtual schools.” These aren’t merely online curriculums; they are managed by real, certified teachers. They aren’t set up like online college classes either, where most communication takes place by email and recorded lectures. Nor are they third-party education plans used in homeschooling. These are real, state-funded schools that aim to offer the same level of education as a physical school building would.
How does it work?
These virtual schools let the teacher and student speak via microphone. Webcams allow the teacher to physically see the child’s homework and give them individual help. Students can “attend” live class with a webcam, see the teacher live, see the class live, ask questions and receive live answers. Students turn in homework either by completing assignments online or even by scanning and emailing files.
Advantages and Disadvantages
As a parent of a special needs child, how could virtual education help you? Depending on the type of disability, different families will see different advantages in the program. Here are some examples:
- Asperger’s/Autism. Children on the autism spectrum have difficulty connecting with people, but we find they often have no problem connecting with technology: In fact, they seem to have a special knack with it. Virtual education lets them learn in an environment that is comfortable to them while helping polish their technology skills, which will be beneficial later in life. However, though physical school may be uncomfortable for kids on the autism spectrum, it does force them to learn some social skills, which they can use as they go through life.
- Mobility difficulties. If you have a child with a disability that affects his or her mobility, you’ve probably found that everything takes twice as long as it would with an able-bodied child. They may move more slowly, which means they take extra time getting ready for school, which means they have to get up earlier, and possibly get less sleep. You may have to load a wheelchair in and out of a van every morning. A virtual education releases the burden of early morning deadlines, giving you and your child a break. However, structure is important in any child’s life and enforcing it at home is more difficult than at school.
- Sensory difficulties. If your child has difficulty hearing, virtual education may be the most comfortable option for him/her, where the child can simply turn up the volume. In the same way, children with visual difficulties can easily enlarge text on a screen.
- Developmental delays/disabilities. One difficulty experienced by children with developmental delays in large classrooms: teachers are often unable to provide the one-on-one help your child needs to understand concepts. Virtual education lets you, the parent, be the support your child needs in conjunction with his or her online teacher. It’s easy for you to communicate with the teacher about your child’s progress and to develop individual plans as deemed best. As a bonus, many virtual classrooms are smaller than their physical counterparts, so teachers are able to spend extra time with students who need extra help understanding concepts.
If you’ve ever wished you had the time, energy, or ability to homeschool your child but felt the burden would be too great, virtual education may be your answer. Close parental supervision will ensure your child’s needs are met, and the assistance of a live teacher and a pre-written curriculum will keep you from burning out. Check out this state-by-state list of free K-12 online public schools to find more information about how virtual school may benefit your family!