Homeschooling The Child With Allergies

Homeschooling the chronically environmental or inhalant child with allergies can have some interesting challenges for the home instructor/parent.

The allergic child may present some special problems for the homeschooling parent. Frequently children with environmental or inhalant allergies will have a period of time throughout the year when external factors prevent them from focusing on their studies and the home instructor will have to be sensitive to this change in health and try to schedule less strenuous non-book work during this time. It might also be possible for the homeschooling parent to consider taking school breaks during these times rather than the North American standard times of Christmas and summer breaks.

One of the most common factors which affect the allergic child is the pollen count. Many companies on the internet now keep daily pollen counts available for certain areas of the US and Canada and this may help the parent to know whether or not to use prophylactic medications like Claritin, Allegra or Reactin, or to change the school schedule to include more hands on manipulative work instead of multiplication tables and geometry. In our home, the tree pollination season (mid Feb to mid-June) accounts for many of our focus problems and we have opted to work through July and August rather than fail a child in subjects in which he normally performs well.

Other children will have learning difficulties during the winter season when sealed windows and high humidity lead to increased mold and dust mites in our homes. There are several ways to decrease these allergens in the home, not the least of which is a dehumidifier in those damp areas like basements or in trailers. Ironically, we may need a dehumidifier in the basement and a humidifier in the bedroom, depending on our home. If you have to seal over your windows with plastic for the winter, be sure to leave a couple you can use for ventilation. Airing out the home for a few minutes daily can go a long way to reducing allergic reactions during the winter months.

An air-filter (preferably a hepa filter) on the forced air furnace will remove many of the foreign particles from the air and help the allergic child to suffer less with his allergy symptoms. In addition to the hepa filter on the furnace, one can purchase special filters to go over the air vents and this too can reduce airborne pollution for the allergic child. If one cannot afford these for the entire home, at least be sure to have them in place in the bedroom and school room of the allergic child.

Children who are normally fine with pets and their danders, may become reactive during periods of reactivity to other allergens. If this is true of your homeschooled allergic child, be sure to keep his sleeping area free of pets and to provide him with a lint brush for his clothing each night. A special stand alone filter unit in his room may also be beneficial.

Another consideration which is often a factor in arranging the homeschooled child's schedule, is the use of medications. New line antihistamines are not sedating like the older varieties and this helps the child to remain more alert during the season of his allergies. However, some of these same medications can cause a form of hyperactivity and the home instructor may have to incorporate techniques for helping the child refocus attention in a manner similar to those dealing with children with ADHD, FAS or other disorders which affect the brain's ability to control impulse and energy levels. Other medications, like those used for crisis treatment in asthma may also lead to hyperactive behaviour and the home instructor should be prepared to manage these reactions as well.

Different styles of home instruction, may benefit the allergic child in his homeschooling. A technique called unschooling (which allows the child to pursue topics of interest to him), or unit studies (which pursue one topic thoroughly) give the child a greater leniency in making choices about class time and book work. Computer learning games like Ancient Civilizations, Amazon Trail, or Anna Tomy may be useful at peak allergy times to help the child learn by targeting a different section of the brain than that which is normally in use during academic studies. It may be impossible to learn facts and figures at times when the child is reacting to allergens cerebrally, but it may instead be possible to coach the child in acquiring a second language at this time. French For Everyone is a computer assisted language acquisition program which seems to work well with my allergic children.

As another alternative, this may be the time for a concentrated period of study in art. The child may be able to access his creative brain while unable to access his analytic brain and this can lead to a good output in artistic work. We tend to focus on academics while we can, and use things like projects from the television show Art Attack with Neil Buchanan to supplement our creative mind during peak allergy seasons. CAD programs may also be helpful in instructing the child in architecture, planning a garden or preparing business cards and other publishing type work.

There is also a place for life skills in the homeschooling program of any child, but the allergic child may be especially needful of a time for doing these lessons. For example, when the trees start to pollinate in February, my son's studies turn to cooking, home care and laundry and these are skills that he will take with him throughout his entire life.

An important point to emphasize in closing, is that the child who suffers for allergies may indeed be a behavioural challenge for his home instructor/parent. Brain symptoms of allergies can mimic the symptoms of ADHD and the allergic child may even exhibit signs similar to someone suffering from a major depression. The home instructor will need to have a good grounding in what is a symptom and what is not and will have to have skills to deal with the outcome of symptoms. Frequently a child who suffers cerebral symptoms from allergies will refuse to try simply because they are not feeling well at the time and the teacher will need to be flexible to deal with this chronic illness.

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