In this Vital Mercy series, Dr. Brenda Murphy shares letters to help calm the fears, answer the questions and steer parents on a path to successful teaching and learning with struggling learners at home.

A parent recently sent me an update on her children. The family portrait, five handsome/beautiful, well-groomed, smiling boys and girls, belies the reality that life is generally chaotic. Each child struggles with varying degrees of special needs. Safety is a major concern for one of them so this mom’s email described an important step for that child: a dog trained to protect autistic children. Initial cost: $12,000. That does not include the canine’s upkeep nor the non-financial time and emotional costs. Her hope and prayer is that the return-on-investment in the personal protection for her child far outweighs the tangible dollars-and-cents costs.

That $12,000 is just a drop in the bucket. Families spend thousands and thousands of dollars to find help for and solutions to problems their children with special needs face.  In addition to the costs of well-established and necessary steps, like accurate evaluations and medical care, Kathy Kuhl issues the familiar “buyer beware” for parents of children with special needs in her nicely researched book, Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner. The exploding number of children with special needs has become big business and attracted a dizzying number of less-than-effective, questionable, unresearched therapies and treatments that often drain the pocketbook with little positive results. Even more, these costs are financial add-ons to the standard home-school costs of curriculum, extra-curricula activities, co-op classes, and umbrella-school tuition, to list only a few hard costs.  Other economic cost factors are not ones that are paid out but given up, the opportunity costs.

Two opportunity costs that homeschool families give up are a second income and a “free” public-school education. In the current economic environment average families are hard pressed to make ends meet on two incomes, let alone one. One parent staying home (and it’s not necessarily the mom any longer), foregoing that second paycheck, often means a cutback on the family’s life style. Modifications to family-favorite pastimes, perhaps fewer and different vacations, reduced entertainment activities and extracurricular outings, and a change in clothing, food, and electronic buying habits are among the potential costs just to homeschool, not to mention homeschool a child with special needs. It’s not easy to give these up, making the public option with its free therapies and expert educators oh so enticing. However, families discover that the allure doesn’t always live up to their high hopes and expectations. Initially, the local educational agency may get it right, identifying the child accurately and early, following up with quality services in speech, occupational and physical therapy, but tapering them off too soon. Or, the child’s first teachers are caring, creative and committed, devoting extra time and effort to ensure the child’s success. Then, the next teacher seems completely unaware of how to work with a child with special needs or doesn’t care to learn. The hours at school, frequently recess-less, crush the child’s spirit, and homework. Hours and hours of it dominate the family from afternoon to bedtime. Free doesn’t seem so free when school consumes a child and usually the family. A parent’s heart breaks for that child and an honest counting of all the costs becomes paramount.

The phrase “counting the cost” originates in the Bible with Jesus’s word in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Luke. Jesus admonishes his disciples to fully reckon what it takes to follow him through analogies to builders and kings. He tells his followers to be diligent and enumerate and tally every detail before making the decision to move forward. Other costs are less tangible, yet should be considered in the decision to homeschool a child with special needs.

Time is a huge intangible cost. Can you forfeit time to research for the best educational and therapeutic solutions for your child, plan lessons, study academic subject matter to really understand it, deliver content and monitor academic progress instead of pursue a career, volunteer, enjoy peace and quiet, pursue hobbies, or participate in social activities to homeschool a child with special needs? It will consume the majority of your time. Oh, I forgot to add a picture-perfect, white-glove, clean home to the list of forfeitures.  It sounds daunting, doesn’t it? A little overwhelming, too, huh?  Many costs to consider.

Businesses often use a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to determine whether a project is worth the investment or not. The cost list to homeschool a child with special needs is long. In addition to the hard, tangible costs above we must add the intangibles from people who are will to provide 24/7, uncompromising love, undying belief, unwavering expectations, constant affirmation, and continual push that can be emotionally exhausting. The benefit list, on the other hand, is very short, only one item: a child who reaches her full potential. What’s your CBA finding?

Believing in you like you believe in them,


Read the next letter, Taking the BIG Out of It