Any debate on home education must take note of the fact that a large proportion of the children deregistered from school have special needs of one sort or another. What do we mean by 'special needs'? This term first became widely known as a result of the 1981 Education Act and has come to replace expressions such as 'disabled' or 'handicapped'. Now there is a slight problem with this terminology. Most ordinary people know perfectly well what they mean by 'disabled' or 'handicapped'. They mean people who are blind, deaf, in a wheelchair or have Down's Syndrome; that sort of thing. Because the expression 'Special needs' has replaced 'handicapped' in common usage, there is an unspoken assumption among a lot of people that a child with special needs is similarly likely to be blind or confined to a wheelchair. Well, some are; most are not.
One of the most interesting things which one notices when reading the lists, blogs and forums about home education in this country is that although it is generally agree that perhaps a third of the children being home educated in Britain have 'special needs', hardly any of them appear to have what would once have been described as disabilities or handicaps. True, they are dyslectic or clumsy. A good number seem to have the symptoms of either wilfulness or ADHD, depending upon one's point of view. Not a few upon the autistic spectrum, although in very many cases this has been diagnosed by their parents rather than the appropriate specialist. A lot also suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, ME and various other debateable and ill-defined conditions of that kind. Wholly absent are children with severe learning difficulties, Down's, blindness and so on. I know one or two such; but then I work in the field. They seem completely invisible from the point of view of most home educators. Does anybody actually know a home educated child in a wheelchair or with Down's Syndrome?
I suppose the question I am mulling over here is why are the parents of children with relatively minor disorders such as dyspraxia or ADHD so much more ready to take their children out of school than are those whose children are deaf or blind? After all, a child who cannot sit still and follow simple instructions is probably in need of quite as much specialised help as is a child who cannot see at all. I suppose that this might be a statistical artefact; there may be many more children with ADHD or on the autistic spectrum than there are deaf, blind and severely learning disabled children. I have an idea that there might be another explanation entirely for this situation, but before I explore this, I would like to know what others think. In short, the nature of the problem is this; there are many children in this country with an enormous variety of special educational needs. The only ones who seem to be deregistered from school though, seem to fall into one or two categories. Why should this be? Why do we read quite often of home educating parents whose child is on the autistic spectrum or has an attention deficit, but hardly ever hear of somebody whose child is non-verbal, has global developmental delay or severe difficulties with walking?