How to help neurodiverse children thrive in homeschool

Diving into the world of neurodiverse homeschool can be an intimidating leap. In fact, a common question in many homeschooling circles is, “Can I even homeschool my child with neurodiversity?”

The answer? A resounding “YES!”

What does it mean when a child is neurodivergent? 

Simply put, neurodiversity means “learns differently.” Some of the neurodiverse labels you may be more familiar with might be Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, Tourette’s, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Auditory Processing Disorder, Sensory Integration Disorder, among others. 

Did you notice the repeated word ‘disorder’? Before we move on, let’s clear one thing up: Neurodiversity is not a disorder. That’s a dated and limited point of view. Instead, it is a genetic variance, an environmental/developmental effect, or it can be both. 

A vibrant part of the landscape of humanity, we are strengthened by neurological differences just as in any other natural variation of the human genome. 

Many neurodiverse children are twice exceptional or 2e. Twice exceptionality means they are ahead (intellectually gifted) in one or more areas and struggle in another area (ie. dyslexia).

We have many of the labels listed above co-existing in our home, and neurodiversity is one of the main reasons we brought our kids home from the educational system. The resulting journey has been a wild ride, and we’ve experienced some tough times as we worked through de-programming ourselves from the limited scope society, school, and the medical system uses to view our loved ones. 

Which makes me so passionate about spreading this message: Neurodiverse kids thrive in homeschool.

Many educational institutions provide IEPs and 504 plans as additional services to accommodate learning differences, however, these programs focus on the “challenge” of neurodiversity with the goal of “fixing” the learner. Conversely, in homeschooling, you can focus on the strengths and gifts of the person―no “fixing” necessary. Learning at home provides time and space to be self-paced, self-motivated, and incredibly successful.

Benefits of bringing a neurodiverse learner home

For all kinds of learners, homeschooling grants freedom and autonomy―freedom to move, play, and work completely uninterrupted. It is a safe environment where children will learn just as much as in a traditional school―and often even more. 

As a homeschooling parent, you can manage the environment and schedule to suit your family’s needs. Access to the outdoors is freely available to provide multi-sensory input. (Because, as so many of us have learned, nature is the ultimate regulator.) Home learning allows you to co-regulate with your child in periods of dysregulation that grow skills toward self-regulation.

Once home, it is imperative to make time for the next step of connecting and repairing the relationship with your child, also called deschooling. Create safe spaces to help your child get back to being quirky and amazing without the need to mask their differences. Be sure to give yourself time to get the voices that are trying to “fix” your child out of your head.

Getting back to this balance can also mean needing to simplify other commitments until you and your child feel confident in the path you are taking. When relational friction hits, step back to repair the relationship and reassess what isn’t working. And try to avoid the comparison trap―what works for Susie or Joey Homeschooler is wonderful for them

Remember that your child determines the curriculum.

When you’ve made the decision to begin home education, it’s time for you to begin your study and learning journey, too! As you try different methods of learning and teaching, watch and listen to what lights your child up. Take notes on what is working! 

Remember that finding the right curriculum doesn’t have to start with purchasing a neurodiverse homeschool curriculum. Grab an assortment of picture books from the library and take notice of which ones get re-read. (Here is a free list of great family read-alouds to get you started!) Go outside to play with friends in a natural space and watch what your child engages with and with whom. 

Is your child social? Introspective? Is your child a builder, a climber, a game organizer, a dreamer, or a biologist? Does your child have a special interest they laser focus on? Talk to them about it, really listen, ask good questions and limit demands to keep the focus on curiosity and joy of learning. Always remember, less is usually more. 

What approach should I use to ensure my neurodivergent child learns?

Here are some simple steps to take to determine the best neurodiverse homeschool path for your child:

  • Make time for freedom and choice.
  • Play games!
  • Allow movement! Take away the chairs, install some swings, inflate large exercise balls, or head outside. Sensory input and movement are critical for learning and memory, especially for neurodivergent learners. 
  • Meet your child where they are, and adapt your expectations to accommodate their growing autonomy.
  • Minimize transitions. Use compassion and curiosity, notice aloud, and leave extra time when moving from one thing to another.
  • Write for them, type, or use transcription programs online if you have a struggling writer. 
  • Have two layers of communication for activity instructions or schedules (choose from audible, visual, or kinesthetic). For example, seeing posted pictures or words while listening to instructions is a multi-prong approach that helps comprehension and memory.
  • Pre-plan accommodation, sensory integration, or redirection strategies so you are prepared when things don’t go according to plan. 
  • Take turns with the activity, lesson, or reading. Keep it short and successful!
  • Stop while everyone is still having a good time.
You have permission to educate differently. 

One of the biggest benefits of homeschooling, no matter how your child learns, is the extra time and deep relationship you cultivate with your child. This is the doctorate of experience that qualifies you to partner with your child to support their learning throughout their education journey. 

Be confident in your deep knowledge of your neurodiverse child. You are naturally primed to find the right tools, resources, media, and/or curriculum to enhance their interests because you know them better than anyone else ever could. 

How do I choose a neurodiverse-friendly homeschool program?

If you have a neurodiverse learner in your home (or if you are neurodiverse), I encourage you to ask the five questions below about any program you are considering.

  • Is it hands-on and play- or project-based? 
  • Does it allow room for discovery, creativity, and curiosity? 
  • Is it flexible enough to pick up and put down? 
  • Does it engage multiple ages and developmental stages? 
  • Does it trust the learner, or does it use a measurement system to evaluate learning? 

When choosing a curriculum, you want a program that is open and diverse with resources and activities to choose from because this format encourages learning from all ages. The older learners (and adults) will be able to ask larger questions or delve deeper in their quest for information while the younger learners lay a foundation to build upon as they learn and live. I’ve recently tried the Learn + Live Letter program, and I’ve personally enjoyed several of their unit studies with my kids (ages 4, 8, and 14) and found that it provides the flexibility we needed to be successful in homeschooling. 

Where do I start?
  • Start small. A library card, a notebook, and relationship are all you need to begin homeschooling.
  • Share the planning process with your kids―get their input and opinions before and while beginning anything new. They are capable of providing this incredibly helpful feedback.
  • Unit studies are great learning tools because they can be short and often inexpensive and have intersections that occur naturally across all subject areas (science, math, reading, writing, geography, and history). 
  • You have agency to stop using what isn’t working. If you are using a curriculum, don’t let the preset parameters become your master. Use them as your inspiration and as a springboard for future learning.
  • Expand or spend extra time on areas where your children want to go deeper―you don’t have to stop where the curriculum stops! 
  • Toss all timelines out the window! Keep your learning time short, playful, child-focused, and engaging.
  • It’s okay to quit the day or the week. Stress happens, tempers flare, and battles loom for all of us. It is these moments that cue us to stop. Change your direction and focus on reconnecting with your child. 
  • Trust yourself and your child first.
Kelly Edwards, <em>Homeschool Parent Coach</em>
Kelly Edwards, Homeschool Parent Coach

Kelly Edwards is the creator and founder of the 90-Minute School Day, a lifestyle approach to education. The 90-Minute School Day is deschooling method that connects children with learning in their natural environment: at home with their family. Kelly is passionate about home education, connecting families through attachment, seeing neurodivergence as a gift, learning as a lifestyle, and helping children (and parents) identify their purpose. Kelly hangs out online on Instagram and speaks weekly on the Clubhouse app.  You can learn more about Kelly, her coaching, courses and other resources on her website.

Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.