Unschooling As A Perfect Fit For Neurodiverse Families

School doesn’t suit your neurodiverse children or your family. It is common to find children that are resistant to the system which micro manages their every move, whilst other’s witness their children in deep distress at home but masking within the classroom. Either way, the message is clear, mainstream school is not a safe, nurturing, environment for your neuro diverse children.

Those who begin ‘school at home’ style home education, often find that their children remain opposed to this style of education. When we move outside of mainstream schooling, we have an opportunity to redefine what is important and how we approach that within our families. Your neurodiverse children can and will benefit from an approach that recognises their needs, without shame, and facilitates their interests, without diminishing their spirit.

Children Learn at Different Times

Schools expect children to learn the same content as the same time as every other child the same age as them. There is some room for differentiation but ultimately, when your child works outside the parameters, then they require additional support to meet this set material. This model ignores the beauty of human uniqueness and expects one size to fit all.

The reality is that children learn at different times. Children are capable and able to learn in their own time frames. Human beings are born with an innate curiosity about the world around them. When we let go of developmental milestones, and age-based expectations this equips you to support your child where they are right now. You can focus on what your child can do and what they are doing.

Trusting Your Child

Tabletop learning isn’t for everyone. Children within school are required, trained, and coerced into this style of education. In reality very few children are able to manage this without incentive. Young humans are not designed to sit still and keep quiet. Anyone who has spent time with an articulate 4-year-old knows that they are constantly asking questions. It is estimated that the average four-year-old asks 200 – 300 questions a day. And then they go to school, and they learn that their questions don’t matter, that there are right questions to ask. So, as well as being manipulated into sitting for longer than they would really like, they are simultaneously shamed into supressing their own questions and curiosities.

Your child needs to move. They need to be physically able to move in ways that their body is telling them they need to move. This might be running, climbing, spinning, rocking, flapping, fiddling, bouncing. These are all movements that help to regulate the nervous system and contribute to sensory feedback which supports your child’s growth and development. Enabling your child to move in the ways that they need to, when they want to, will contribute to them understanding themselves, meeting their needs in a supportive environment, and preparing their brains for cognitive learning when they are ready.

Our children’s natural development involves them asking questions, their own questions, about the world around them. As you move away from educational systems that cause stress for your child, we can move towards a lifestyle that (re)ignites their interests and passions. You will begin to trust and know that your child is learning the things that they need to know when they need to know them.

Do More of The Things They Love

Anyone who has been in the school system is familiar with the use of comparison. In a setting where everyone is set to learn the same thing, at the same time, measurement is used to assess and compare. Your child is not unaware of how they have been treated differently and singled out. The school system is built on a hierarchy of intelligence measured according to the set curriculum. It is a miserable system to be constantly subject to. Those ‘underachieving’ feel inadequate and those ‘succeeding’ feel the pressure to maintain their status.

Comparison is the thief of joy

Theodore Roosevelt

It is time to re-write your child’s life experience. Begin enjoying life and learning. Whatever your child enjoys, do more of that, as frequently and as often as you can. Pause and enjoy moments whenever you are able to. Stop and watch that snail climb the wall; rescue the caterpillar from the path you are walking; take a different road home because it has an interesting signpost. Your child is interested in the world around them, stop and be interested with them. And move on when it no longer holds interest.

Prioritise Your Child and Their Voice

We have been taught to expect children to learn in a consistently increasing trajectory. Curriculums set out learning in a linear or step by step fashion. Anyone who resists learning in this way will typically find school or ‘school at home’ frustrating, dull, and pointless. Not everyone learns in a linear way. Learning is the connection of ideas and ideas are many and can be connected in many ways.

Your child will also need rest days, and active days, quiet reflective moments, intense questioning moments, and everything in between. You will discover new learning trajectories. Some of them you will witness right before your eyes, those A-ha moments or discovery and realisation. Some will look like the repeating of an activity: reading the same book multiple times, watching the same movie over and over again, doing the same moves on the trampoline for weeks on end. Apparent inactivity is as essential for internal processing and cognitive development as clear identifiable learning.

Your child will find learning easier if they are enjoying it and find value in what they are doing. By listening to your children’s questions, their ideas, and facilitating the things that they choose to do, all the things that they choose to do, you give them the keys to learning that will flourish.

Image: The web of learning by Anna Steel

The Focus is Always Providing Safety, Emotional Security, and Physical Well Being

Mainstream education is always focused on learning. Schools have a duty to focus on educational outcomes and learning objectives. What has been learnt, and how well. It leaves no room for a deep understanding of self and your own needs. School limits the exploration of your own ideas and smothers emotional and physical wellbeing

Unschooling recognises emotional and physical wellbeing and development as an essential aspect of successful natural learning. Being in an environment where you are surrounded and supported by close, meaningful, relationships is the foundation for real growth and learning. You have the opportunity to provide what your child really needs: respectful relationships, peaceful spaces, attuned and responsive to their needs, and finding a community that shares your values.

Unique Education

Unschooling does look different to school, but your neurodiverse family need something different. They need a lifestyle and an education to suit their own unique selves, not one size fits all. They need a life that meets their unique needs and allows them to develop and grow in their own way.

You Can’t Tell Me What To Do

Naomi Fisher and I have devised a course for neurodiverse families. A course designed to explore radical acceptance of your family, its own unique requirements, and find peace within yourself and your home. You can find out more about it at You Can’t Tell Me What To Do.

Published by heiditsteel

Teacher turned Unschooler: passionate about autonomous education and supporting our children's natural inclination towards learning through play.

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