After two or three years of researching every curriculum available to homeschooling families and spending lots of money trying out programs that weren’t right for us, I realized how important and difficult the selection process can be. I felt I had an advantage as a special education teacher since I was familiar with a variety of specialized programs in my classroom. I had been given opportunities to utilize books and programs from the local university and teacher friends as well as to purchase materials with which to experiment. Furthermore, I was already homeschooling my niece; her parents contributed financially, affording me much more flexibility. That was a huge help, as programs that looked good in catalogs didn’t always resonate with my children’s learning styles and needs.

To further my research, I attended multiple local and statewide homeschooling conferences in order to flip through desk copies of books (not for sale but for examination only). I would also talk with seasoned homeschool parents and hear from experts in breakout sessions. This too was time consuming and costly, but it helped me to build a strong foundation both philosophically and educationally. I was so thankful to have access to all of these resources and as I watched my children learn and grow in their knowledge and enthusiasm for learning, I was overwhelmed with a sense of purpose.

As I got to know other homeschool parents and their personal stories, I became acutely aware of their disadvantage when working with students with special needs and disabilities. Some parents were not sure what disability their child actually had since they were opposed to obtaining an evaluation; many moms and dads had been using traditional textbook-workbook type curriculums with little success; others were experiencing great frustration from trying to mimic the public school structure, scheduling, and grading; and as for the gifted students, the acceleration and challenges they needed were practically nonexistent. Remember, this was in the late 80s and early 90s when very little was available in terms of instructional support.

A seed was planted in my heart which, in time, germinated into the building of support services for homeschooled children and their families. I found my passion in sharing experiences and knowledge with other families, as it often saved them from emotional struggles, financial burdens, and the self-doubt that so many new homeschoolers deal with. I decided to begin making house calls so I could get to know the dynamics of the entire family culture and thus individualize my services. My goals were to provide initial evaluations of academic grade levels, identify personal learning styles, and diagnose any disabilities that might be present. Secondly, I helped the parents to choose curriculum and materials that best fit their family’s needs as well as individual needs and interests of the children. Finally, I continued to personally connect with the families, building relationships with them throughout the school year via phone calls, visits, and end of the year testing.

I discovered such joy from watching children learn and grow academically, spiritually, and emotionally in the midst of their loving home environments. Especially those who had previously struggled educationally in so many ways. However, my greater joy came as I witnessed the growth of parents, not only in their knowledge of curriculum and instruction, but in a deeper understanding of their children’s exceptional learning needs, abilities, and talents. As parents’ developed confidence in their ability to make educational decisions for their children, my services decreased and parents took ownership of educational plans for the school years to come. Amazingly, thirty years later, this remains my passion, my calling, and my joy.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed our “First Glance” blog series by Trudy Abel! Over the last few weeks we have featured different Special Needs topics – introducing you to each concept through the lens of Trudy’s initial experiences with various diagnoses.

Trudy Abel holds a M.A.Ed. in Gifted Education and a Ph.D. in Special Education from University of Southern Mississippi. She has taught students of all ages within general, gifted, and special education in public, private and homeschool settings. She has also served as a special education professor in four different universities, recently retiring from University of North Alabama.

She homeschooled her two sons at different points in their education to accommodate their learning differences (dyslexia, ADHD, and giftedness); homeschooled two nieces for a couple of years; and taught history in a homeschool cooperative. Before homeschooling was widely accepted, Trudy opened a consulting business for homeschooling families to provide academic support, testing and accountability. Later, she co-founded a non-profit school for children with dyslexia.

Most of her career has focused on educating future teachers and parents about special needs. Her passion in working with families of children with special needs is to increase understanding, provide support, and equip with needed resources to ensure success.