By: Kristen Crain
There are three main options which parents may choose for educating their children: send them to a public school, send them to a private school, or homeschool them. While 97% of children are sent to public or private schools, 3% of children are homeschooled. This amounts to 1,733,000 American children who are homeschooled according to the national survey conducted in 2012 (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2014). Although there is an overall lack of empirical evidence concerning homeschool education environments, this paper attempts to provide best practice options for speech-language pathologists who may have homeschooled students on their caseloads.
Because many homeschoolers live in rural areas, access to public academic services may be restricted. Thus, in states where speech and language therapy is must be accessible for all students, homeschooled students may be the first to face difficulty accessing therapeutic services. Speech-language pathologists in schools must be able to support all school-age children. Most often, if homeschooled children are able to receive services from a public-school speech-language pathologist, they are added to a group therapy session and may not receive the attention they need. Private clinics may offer more individualized therapy sessions but can be expensive. Many homeschool families have only one parent in the workforce. Unless insurance covers speech and language therapy, the family would have to pay out of pocket. Therefore, a limit on the number of sessions may be imposed. Therapists will need to utilize the access to the client’s educational instructor to aid in generalizing targeted skills. How might SLPs benefit homeschool students best?
One option for allowing children who live in rural areas to receive therapy is delivery through telepractice. A systematic review revealed that although there is support for this type of therapy, clients do make progress just as with in-person therapy (Wales, Skinner, & Hayman, 2017). This will vary depending on the client’s objectives and access to reliable internet. Delivering therapy through the internet may allow homeschool students to receive services from a public school based SLP or from a private clinic. It is important to note that when administering assessments, standardization must be upheld which may require the child and clinician to be together physically.
Increasing the quality of services rendered to homeschool students is dependent upon the choice of therapy modality, the parent-therapist relationship, and the family structure. Whether in a public school or a private clinic, the relationship between the SLP and the homeschool parent is critical. The parent serves as the child’s guardian and primary instructor. Homeschool parents often serve as excellent informants for a child’s case history because of the unique insight into the child’s social and academic development and performance. The therapist should take caution, however. The parent’s joint role as mom/dad and teacher may result in less involvement in one area or another due to the added responsibility placed on one individual.
For speech-language pathologists to best serve homeschool students, recognizing the differences between parents of homeschool children and parents of traditionally schooled children is important. Because of the varying motivations for choosing to homeschool children, the SLP might encounter parental resistance to therapy. Parents of traditionally schooled children who struggle academically do not face the same criticism and guilt that parents of homeschooled children who struggle academically face. More pressure lies on the shoulders of a homeschool parent who has taken sole responsibility for their children’s education. These parents, while recognizing that their children struggle, are often very defensive of the educational choices that resulted in the situation. The guilt of the students’ failures often causes crippling guilt and embarrassment that leads parents to reject external assistance. Speech-language pathologists interacting with these families must be especially careful not to contribute to the criticism, guilt, and embarrassment that may be already present. Validating the appropriate educational strategies and the parents’ choice to seek assistance will likely reach the parents better than conveying global disapproval and condemning their choice to homeschool.
Some homeschool parents have strong religious beliefs that drive them to shelter their children from outside influences. This includes therapists aiming to treat speech, language, and feeding disorders. A recent study on the perspectives of Christian homeschool fathers, revealed maintaining control of socialization factors as a theme of all conducted interviews. The participants of the study were 21 homeschool fathers of varied socioeconomic statuses. The interviews were loosely guided and consisted of the fathers’ views on their “(1) …motivation and justification for homeschooling; (2) homeschooling practices including curriculum material and pedagogical approaches; and (3) questions on the father’s role and contribution to the enterprise” (Vigilant, Trefethren, & Anderson, 2013). Maintaining control in the form of a “protective cocoon” (Vigilant et al., 2013) can lead to refusal of services from a clinician who holds differing religious views from the parents. Building rapport is very important with these families. The parents need to trust that you will not indoctrinate their children with secular worldviews while conducting therapy. The SLP would do well to keep therapy sessions focused on obtaining and expanding targeted skills rather than informally targeting other social objectives in order to earn the parents’ trust. Once the trust has been built, a mutual respect can begin to grow between the parents and the therapist. It may also open the door for the child to receive other types of services such as physical or occupational therapy if needed.
The school-based SLP may consider using a family-based approach when treating homeschooled students. To implement this effectively, a solid understanding of family paradigms is required. An article on family paradigms in relation to evidence-based practice provides a helpful summary of the most common paradigms: closed, random, open, and synchronous (Hidecker, Jones, Imig, & Villarruel, 2009). Closed paradigm families follow strict routines and chains of command. They are focused on efficiency and constancy. SLPs working with these families will need to gain access and respect through the head of the household. Therapy sessions will need to be timely and focused. These families prefer “time-honored goals” and may question the utility of certain therapy objectives (Hidecker et al., 2009). Clear, concise communication from the SLP will aid in integrating therapy into the family paradigm. Random paradigm families are less structured and more individualistic. They are focused on “innovative” goals and may be resistant to objectives that seem to conform the children to restrictive standards (Hidecker et al., 2009). These families are spontaneous and may have difficulty understanding the importance of a therapy schedule. They admire flexibility. SLPs should be sure to provide frequent, multi-modal communication with these families.
Open paradigm families work toward unanimously agreed-upon goals. Children are given more authority than in closed paradigm families. Members of the family negotiate the use of familial resources such as time and money (Hidecker et al., 2009). SLPs working with these families must also communicate with the children in setting goals and therapy times rather than communicating with the parents only. The children will likely appreciate being present for all formal meetings so they can give their input. Synchronous paradigm families seem to function as one unit rather than as individual members working together. Members of these families understand each other and their roles so well that words are not needed to keep the family unit functioning (Hidecker et al., 2009). SLPs working with these families may feel like outsiders. It may be difficult to understand the family members’ roles because they function so seamlessly. SLPs working with this type of family may become frustrated with the lack of communication between the family members and the professional. It is important to build rapport with each family member. SLPs must be especially careful not to impose their beliefs about functional family units onto these clients.
Current research on homeschool student outcomes is limited. There are a wide variety of homeschooling practices. Further research should be completed to synthesize information on current homeschooling practices and outcomes. Specifically, an exhaustive study should be used to compare traditional curriculum-based homeschooling to unschooling outcomes. Homeschool families have their own unique subculture which presents a different set of trials than the culture of traditionally schooled children. Different methods of service delivery may need to be utilized to reach homeschool students who live in rural areas. Further research should also be directed toward investigating the use of telepractice for this population. Speech-language pathologists treating homeschool students can maximize the distinctive parent-teacher role of homeschool parents to support the generalization of targeted skills. Homeschool students have the opportunity to receive highly individualized education to achieve the most success. SLPs serving homeschool families have the obligation to serve at the tops of their licenses and offer evidence based practices when supporting these families.
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