All homestead kids are special, but can the homestead provide specific help raising our special needs kids? Join me as I talk to two special needs homesteading moms about their methods, ideas and special helps. You CAN raise happy, special needs kids on your land – in fact, you’re especially well situated to do so!
Special Needs Kids on the Homestead
First of all, I’d like to introduce my friends Kathryn of Farming my Backyard and Tammy of Trayer Wilderness and invite you to visit them in their own digs for lots of great homesteading information. Today, though, they’re sharing their experiences raising special needs kids on their homesteads. Kathryn and her family live in an urban homestead, while Tammy and her family live on an off-grid homestead in the Idaho wilderness. Kathryn’s oldest daughter is autistic, while her younger daughter has sensory processing differences. Tammy’s son Austin is high-functioning autistic. The more these ladies shared with me about their children, the more I realized how the work and rewards of a homestead can help a special needs child develop in meaningful ways.
Since both the Trayer and Robles families live with autism, that’s our focus here, but physical limitations should also be considered as applicable to this conversation, just in different ways. Safety is paramount, of course, but the point is work – finding meaning, purpose and direction for each child in the work of the homestead.
Homeschooling on the Homestead
Not every family chooses to homeschool their special needs child but, for those who do, the homestead provides a rich educational environment. Especially for those with unique brain function, the mandatory schedules and even just the requirement in public school to sit still can be overwhelming for a child. Kathryn says,
“We are unschoolers, so the whole world is our curriculum. Homeschooling has been great for balancing sensory needs for my girls, and relieving day to day stress of dealing with transitions and strict schedules.”
Tammy and Austin have also found the freedom in home education on their homestead that they both needed to help Austin find his balance.
“…I felt the timing was right and that God had lined things up for me to start homeschooling [Austin] and it was amazing to see the results. We use Switched On Schoolhouse from AOP.com which is an amazing, at-your-own-pace Christian program. We use the pc software version vs. the workbooks because it just works better for him.
“The first year Austin accomplished two school years in one. He is very self-driven and determined to get to his schooling. He has always strived for good grades, but that was harder to accomplish in the public school system with the pace that was expected of him. Because there are less distractions [at home], and because he was filled with determination, his pace was amazing! The 2nd year followed suit, but as things got harder he went back to the one year at a time. We also school all year round as this eliminates him forgetting things and allows him to stay fresh with what he is learning.”
Homeschooling is a very large topic and we could spend several hours talking about that subject alone but just know that if you’re feeling lead to give it a try, that’s probably a sign that you’re ready. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed but the truth is that you homeschooled your child for six to seven years before you sent them off to public school. You taught them incredibly hard skills like tying shoe laces and eating with a fork, not to mention how to talk and go potty on the toilet. You know what you need to know to home educated simply because you know your child better than anyone and have already engaged in their learning. Deep breath, give it a whorl. Remember that homeschooling is NOT (unless you want it to be) public school at home – it’s its own animal and you can make it whatever your child needs it to be.
For general ideas of the how’s and why’s of homeschooling on the homestead, you can visit this article – click here. Tammy has some parting advice on this topic, too:
“Something else I wanted to point out is the need to learn your child and their triggers. Understand that you may need to put a spin on how you teach. You are now the teacher and can choose what is best for your student. While homeschooling my son I could see him reaching his limits and becoming overwhelmed, so I would pull him away and we would take a walk, hike, bike ride or something that he would require him to be physically active. This would de-stress him, get his endorphines moving and refresh him, as well as myself. We would return laughing and having a good time. Some days when your child is struggling or having a bad day, instead of overly stressing your child and yourself decide to end the day early and do something either fun or something with hidden education. The next day will be better and more productive. Trust me when I say, if you continue [with high stress levels], nothing good will come of it.”
Special Needs Chores on the Homestead
As parents, we want to pass on a quality set of core values, which includes the ability to and love of work. The other day I had a good dad ask me about having dairy goats and what that’s like. I knew his family to be particularly busy with school and professional work, as well as a high level of church service, so I asked him why he was contemplating dairy goats, knowing full well he didn’t have a lot of time on his hands. His response was that his kids needed something to teach them how to work hard. Regular school and home chore assignments weren’t cutting, it in his estimation; the father in him recognized the value of a chore that HAD to be done, whether anyone felt like doing it, or not.
We who live on homesteads are surround by chores that must get done, day in and day out. Livestock, gardens and scratch-food kitchens all require our labor. The needs of the homestead are as constant as the needs of our children, and so they make a perfect pair. Not every chore will be suited to your special needs child, but you may find that you can clue in to what they’ll be adept at just by watching them. Kathryn shares,
“Some of the really awesome things about homesteading is that you are outside and active. For us that’s really beneficial to get that sunshine and movement each day. Another benefit is there are lots of hands on ways to spend time together, with or without a lot of talking.
“My daughters really love collecting eggs and feeding the rabbits and the cats. I need to be right there helping them still, which is okay, because I am doing my own chores nearby. Some days they need extra help, or ask me to do it for them.
“I think the ideal chores are ones that, if it’s not done perfectly, nothing will suffer. If they are responsible for feeding animals, there needs to be someone keeping an eye out to make sure that it happens at the right time. Other chores like planting, watering, or collecting eggs that have flexible timing or that can be split into small increments are other good choices.”
The beauty of the homestead situation is that there are so many activities to choose from, especially those that allow freedom of movement and a very useful way to channel the sometimes unpredictable amounts of energy that emerge from a special needs child. Homesteading can take the random noise in those special brains and channel it, creating beautiful, useful “music”. Tammy says,
“I think that a child feels important having chores of their own to do. Dishes, setting the table, watering the garden, mowing the grass, chopping firewood, feeding and watering the animals, gathering eggs, etc. Set chores that you feel your child can succeed in at first to build their confidence, and then add harder chores as they age or you feel is appropriate. Many people choose to coddle their special needs child, and in some cases that may be necessary so they do not hurt themselves, but I was one who chose not to do that and to push my son out of his comfort zone as often as I could in supervised situations. I shared with him that the sky really is the limit, that nothing is impossible and that all he had to do was try.
“When he was in the public school and they would play games, he would get angry if he lost. The teacher asked me if it was ok with me that they change the rules so he could win. I said very quickly, “No way!” That is not reality and it would have taught him at an early age that if things aren’t going right, they can be changed to suit him. It would have set him up for failure. I have utilized tough love with my son in an effort for him to see life as it really is. I want him to succeed moving forward as an adult and, in order for that to happen, he needed to experience the realities. He now knows that when he does not succeed, he just needs to try again and maybe harder. My son is now a licensed driver in Idaho and sings in the church band! Those two things alone make me cry thinking that there was a time I questioned whether that would be possible for my boy who was afraid of crowds and could not speak in full sentences. [He’s now] at a point in his life where he is singing his heart out in front of a lot of people!! He is a good driver, too, and I am so very proud of him.”
If your child does well with charts and records, the Homestead Management booklet from Reformation Acres will help them keep track of daily homestead happenings. Included are things like egg tallies, produce amounts and volume of dairy produced. From rabbits to the pantry, there’s a record for everything here. You download the sheets and put them into a binder so your child can easily keep track of what they’re in charge of – we all like to feel like we’re accomplishing something and these records keep things tidy.
Some Considerations on Chores
You’ll need to adapt the chore to the child sometimes, of course, and that can require more work on your part. That’s not a reality belonging solely to special needs parenting, of course – that’s life on the homestead with kids. However, the nature of your child’s condition can mean making certain adjustments in how they do things and also what your expectations may be. Chores may take longer or require your oversight, as Kathryn mentioned before. With her very young children (eight and three) she shares,
“The biggest problem is me finding the time to balance the kids needs alongside the needs of the animals. If someone is having a meltdown at milking time, it’s kind of a time crunch. Usually bringing the child along with me to spend some one on one time while I work helps calm them down.
“Really look at what your child’s strengths are and find ways that they can feel included and be a part of the work, but still excel at the same time. They may not want to be involved in certain chores, but by including them in the things they are interested in you can really use homesteading to strengthen your relationship instead of just another list of chores and time commitments.”
As Tammy points out, sometimes an autistic child will only focus on the first or last thing you say, missing all that’s in between. It’s important to give clear, short instructions and break up the work into smaller increments if they’re having a hard time staying on task (this is especially true of young children). So, too, we need to watch for those who get too fixated, stuck in loops of activity. The blessing of these chores, though, is that they’re often physically demanding and don’t require a lot of complicated verbal interaction.
To ensure that no instruction is forgotten, write down a short list of chores for each child or, as Tammy had to do, write the steps to a chore some place prominent – like the side of the chicken coop!
Tammy adds this last encouragement:
“It is easy to get caught up in the struggles, especially if you are embracing them by yourself (I did that for a stretch of 5 years), or you do not have a supportive partner. But take good care of yourself, take time for yourself here and there, focus on your progress and the positive things in your life. Remind yourself that there is a child in there that is struggling and misunderstood, and that you have not had a chance to meet yet because he is masked by autism. Help your child and know that all your efforts will pay off, even if it is hard. You are not alone and it is definitely a process – it will not happen over night!
“As a parent, be strong, be good to yourself and don’t beat yourself up! The road may not be easy, but your child needs you and together you can accomplish great things!”
I’m grateful to Tammy and Kathryn for sharing their insights and I know they join me in shouting out a hoorah for all homesteading parents, but especially those with special needs children. Sometimes the homestead alone can feel overwhelming but, as often happens, our trials can become a blessing. The chores waiting to be done can provide a useful and happy environment for our energetic, special needs kids, further proving that, at the heart of the homestead, is the home.
Diet isn’t something we touched on today but it can make a world of difference in your special needs child. Tammy share this:
“Diet plays a BIG role in the lives of special needs children, not just autistic children. Going on a 100% gluten free and casein free diet will make the world of difference and 100% is important because otherwise they will be on an emotional roller coaster ride. Please know you are not alone and know there is hope. I just publish The Trayer Wilderness Cookbook ~ Homesteading The Traditional Way ~ Volume 1 and you can get your copy for free by joining our newsletter. The cookbook has all my tips and tricks for cooking and baking gluten free and the recipes are available in gluten free and dairy free versions. I also offer my over 10 years of experience being gluten and dairy free and learned to make all my son’s favorite foods so he never felt like he was missing out.
“You can find the cookbook on our website at TrayerWilderness.com. In addition, feel free to email Austin and I anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions because we really desire to be able to help others.”
Also, be sure to check out Austin’s website at Mountain Boy Journals.
A special thank you to Kathryn for the cover photo for this article. Cute kiddo, cute goat – I’m a sucker for both.
To further explore the topic of family life on the homestead, I invite you to join the Book Circle attendant to the upcoming book, The Do It Yourself Homestead, where we explore all things homesteady, including homestead families. From incorporating small children into the work of the homestead to meaningful contributions from our seasoned citizen friends, we put the home in homestead. Join the Book Circle to learn of the book’s release date and to receive special offers and discounts – including a home education addendum for the book, making homesteading and homeschooling a whole lot easier.