Homeschooling neurodivergent children may seem overwhelming―and you may have outside voices telling you that it’s not a good idea for various presumed psychological, educational, or medical reasons. While these voices may be well-intentioned, I’m here to tell you that if you want to follow this path with your kiddo, it is possible. More than that, it can be filled with positivity, growth, healing, and bonding for you both.
Why we chose homeschooling for our neurodivergent children
It’s important for me to say that I’m not trained in special education, and that neurodiversity is a wide and complicated spectrum. I’m sharing a bit of my homeschooling experience with the hope that it can give you some inspiration and encouragement should you need it to walk a similar path.
We’ve been homeschooling our neurodivergent twin boys since 2017. We took them out of the public school system after a traumatic year that included “othering” (or making us feel like they weren’t capable of anything) and bullying.
My husband and I are both products of non-homeschool educational systems (me in South Africa and him in the UK), so we had felt that we needed to give a similar style of schooling a try. But we quickly realized that it was not working for our children. We wanted them to love learning and to reach their full potential in education, rather than be shut down by an environment that was in no way suited to them and their needs.
So we took them out of the school they were in…and we haven’t looked back since! Don’t get me wrong―it isn’t all sunshine and roses. But I firmly believe that few things that are worthwhile are, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
And the results have spoken for themselves. While we don’t really subscribe to grades as such, our children are at ‘grade level’ for the most part. More importantly, we’ve seen that they’re capable of so much, and it has been such a pleasure and a joy to watch them develop, progress, and grow.
Successfully homeschooling neurodivergent children
Homeschooling is hard for most people. I have interviewed many women who homeschool on my podcast, and 99.9% of them have told me that homeschooling is rocky sometimes. There might be additional challenges if your kid is neurodivergent.
But I believe that most of the work required comes from us as the parents. Our mindset is what’s going to make homeschooling successful, and we have to approach it with love and positivity. Here are a few tips that have worked for us in our homeschool and helped us find more joy in the process.
Start with deschooling
I can’t overstate the importance of deschooling. If you’re not familiar with the term, it means moving from a mindset of standardized and institutionalized education to one that is open to learning in all its guises and forms. It’s a time for your kids to take the lead, to play, to have fun and to learn tangentially. It’s a time for you to observe, to be open and to support them and their interests.
If you went to public or private school, then you’re definitely going to need some deschooling. That’s because you’re going to need to open your mind right up in order to give your child the best learning experience you can.
Deschooling helps to:
- transition from one learning reality to another
- see what your child enjoys and responds to
- discover the ways they like to learn
- find ways to manage spending so much time together
I think it’s really important to trust the process and to give everyone enough time to adjust. We deschooled for a year and a half and have done it multiple times since we started. It can also be used to re-evaluate your homeschool when needed.
Make use of all the resources available to you
As I said before, homeschooling is hard! But we’re so lucky to be living in a time when there are so many wonderful resources available to us. Finding out what your child responds to often takes some trial and error, but here are some things to keep in mind or consider when choosing materials for your child:
- If you feel unsure about teaching a particular subject or teaching in general, you could outsource. There are fantastic programs and memberships out there, created by experts, that take some of the weight off your shoulders as your child’s education facilitator.
- Be open to the fact that your child might learn differently than you do. But if you give them the opportunity to try lots of different things, they will let you know what they engage with best.
- You might have to stop using learning materials that don’t work. I know that this can be difficult, especially if you’ve spent a lot of money, but you could very easily cause your child to become reluctant to engage in learning if you double down on something. Sometimes it’s better to stop than to push through.
- Don’t choose a curriculum or teaching methodology just because they worked well for someone else. Your child is bound to have different interests and ways of learning. If you do use a structured learning plan, be sure that you can use it with flexibility.
Have the right mindset
Homeschooling is so much about mindset. This is doubly the case when you’re homeschooling neurodivergent children.
There are some very practical things that I do to manage my mindset while homeschooling, and I highly recommend trying to include some of them into your life as well. They’re going to make everything more harmonious and enjoyable for everyone involved!
- Make time for yourself. Homeschooling is full on! So you’re going to need time to rest and to fill your own cup. Be sure to schedule this time like any other important appointment or task.
- Find a community. My online community, which is just as valuable and supportive as an in-person community, has been my lifeline in so many instances. I don’t even think I would have tried homeschooling in the first place if it wasn’t for them!
- Don’t compare. Your neurodivergent child is unique, so your homeschool should be unique. Sure, you can get inspiration from others, but don’t beat yourself up if someone else’s homeschool looks different (or you perceive it as better) than yours. I can promise you that you’re only seeing the highlight reel and not the messy parts!
- Be kind. Your child might find learning really tough, so treat them kindly and shower them with praise and support. (Remember: Connection is one of the most important parts of homeschooling!) But be kind to yourself as well! If you lose your cool, apologize and move on. As parents of neurodivergent children, we’ve been given a momentous task to perform―and it’s natural to slip up at times. Avoid being hard on yourself because the result will be that you’re concentrating on the negative.
- ‘Mistakes’ are learning opportunities. I hesitate to use the word ‘mistake,’ but if you feel like you’ve done something wrong, use it as an opportunity for growth. If you examine what went awry, you might be able to identify things that need to change. And this is a good thing because no growth can come without change.
- Always remember your ‘why.’ On really tough days, it’s important to remember your homeschool why. This is going to give you the motivation you need to carry on―especially when it feels like it’s too much!
At the end of the day, the only way to get your head around homeschooling your neurodivergent child or children is to actually do it―because nothing can truly prepare you for what it’s really like! But I can promise you that as long as you approach your child, learning, and yourself with love and positivity, everything will work out like it should.