One Step at a Time: Balancing Health and School

Aug 31, 2023 | Posted by Jennifer

Parents decide to homeschool their children for different reasons. Many choose homeschooling because they enjoy selecting what curriculum they use and in what manner they teach their children. For others, however, the decision to homeschool is based more upon need.

Last year I was contacted by Cindy, who was interested in having her son take my writing class. Throughout the year I met with Daniel and his classmates twice a week. Nearly every week I would see his cheerful face appear on my computer screen. He always paid attention and contributed to the class. I missed him on days he was absent, but he had a good reason. Daniel faces many medical challenges every day with grace and resilience. I reached out to Cindy to discuss her homeschooling experience.

When did you first become concerned about Daniel?

From the time that he was born, he was really floppy and had a lot of challenges with feeding. We noticed that something wasn't right, but we didn’t really know what it was exactly. Later on, we noticed he didn’t play appropriately. He would just spin the wheels on the bus but wouldn’t put it down and play with it. When he was three, we had him evaluated.

It revealed that he had an intellectual disability and moderate-to-severe autism. The report said that Daniel was in the eighteenth percentile for speech. We began services for him and also started intensive occupational therapy and physical therapy.

What did you do to help Daniel?

We sent Daniel to a special summer camp for kids with learning challenges. Prior to the time that he went there, he had been nonverbal with his peers. At age seven he never really played with the other kids. At this camp everything changed. He went from being unable to interact with his peers to being one of the most outgoing students in the entire school.

While there, Daniel also began a program called Orton-Gillingham, and it was very helpful to him. I never thought my son would learn to read, and now he’s a phenomenal reader.

He changed to a school where the teachers had Barton training and implemented Orton-Gillingham. For the first time in a long time, he flourished. But in fourth grade he began to get really sick at the school. During that time he was hospitalized and developed a life-threatening condition called adrenal insufficiency. He would become critically sick with every little illness, which made it really tough for him to be in school. We decided to homeschool him to protect his immune system.

Is that when you started IEW?

Yes. I had heard Andrew Pudewa speak a few times, so I began working with Daniel using Structure and Style for Students: Year 1 Level A. The next year we worked together through Following Narnia Volume 1: The Lion’s Song. Then last year he took your class. I have been absolutely amazed by his progress! And next year he will take Structure and Style for Students: Year 1 Level C.

I think the thing that really blew me away with IEW was that it really seemed to help his writing skills. The thing that I always wondered, though, was would Daniel be able to take his ideas and share them with other people? He is such a creative, amazing kid!

How did you see Daniel’s writing change?

Here is just one example showing how he had applied the skills he’s learned through IEW. He owns a 3D printer and began writing his thoughts about it in an online forum, mentioning the problems with it and the possible solutions he thought the company should take to keep its base of customers. If you had read what he wrote, you would never have had any idea that the words were written by a kid.

He also works with a teacher doing a program called Visualizing and Verbalizing, which helps him with comprehension. His teacher is absolutely amazed at his writing. He’s just been blown away and has started asking me for contacts or tutors who know IEW so that he can refer other students to them.

Daniel wants to be an aerospace engineer, so this year I want him to focus on writing some really excellent lab reports. I know he can do it too!

How do you continue to navigate Daniel’s health with school?

Honestly, we just put one foot in front of the other. It helps that Daniel has a can-do attitude. We take our clues from him and try to live in whatever moment we’re in and do the best we can. If he can’t move forward to complete his homework in the morning, perhaps he will be able to later in the day or tomorrow.

Do you have any advice to share with parents of medically complex children?

I would say accept the things you can’t change. Just because you can’t change something today, however, doesn’t mean you won’t be able to sometime in the future.


Although being parents of medically complex children can be daunting, this family demonstrates grace even as together they face the unknown. They celebrate the moments of health and take their days step-by-step. It’s a good lesson for all of us.

Jennifer has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. Discovering IEW when her oldest was in fifth grade, she knew she'd found the perfect writing program for her family and never looked back. Her children are all grown and have either graduated from college or are finishing up, so now she has turned her attention to working with other students. Jennifer teaches writing and literature classes in a local co-op as well as online. A certified Barton tutor at the master level, she specializes in working with dyslexic students by using her training in both programs. In addition to serving IEW as an educational consultant, Jennifer enjoys writing IEW's blog posts. Living near the venerable city of St. Augustine, Florida, she relishes regular trips to the beach, where she can often be found with a book or a bit of knitting in hand.

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