Dear Homeschooling Community,
We are a homeschooling family with an autistic parent (that’s me), and two young children, one of whom is also autistic. We decided to homeschool about two years ago when my older son was 4 years old, after much reading and researching and a couple of attempts at preschool that didn’t go so well. This has been a great choice for our family and we love being able to educate our kids at home.
You may not know this, but homeschooling is becoming an ever more popular choice for families with disabled children, because so much of the time public schools do a poor job of including our kids. Children with developmental disabilities tend to experience less stress and are able to learn better in a home environment where their needs can be truly supported.
But, there’s a problem. We need to talk.
Our children still need to be part of a community, and the obvious place to look for one is within you, Homeschooling Community. You are the ones out and about during school hours with other kids the same ages as ours; you are the ones who help provide discounted access to educational opportunities like museums and farm tours and theater. The problem is, you are often not much better than the public schools about including us.
Merely acknowledging that we exist and inviting us to come along, without providing any kind of support or accommodation to disabled children (and disabled parents, for that matter), is not inclusion. Telling us that you “won’t judge” us when our children melt down, because of the lack of support provided in these activities, is not inclusion.
In fact this somewhat resembles the poorly practiced inclusion our kids too often find at school: the “throw them in the pool” method. Throw the kid who can’t swim into the pool with all the other kids who can swim. If the kid doesn’t like it or has a bad time, they can just get out of the pool and find somewhere else to go. This is NOT inclusion.
It actually is an insidious and harmful form of exclusion in which the burden of failure is transferred to the child whose needs were not met, instead of the organization whose responsibility it was to meet those needs.
If we express to you that our child would like to attend one of your events, activities, classes, or outings, but will not be able to do so as the thing stands now, your response should not be, “I’m sorry, maybe the next one will be a better fit.” It should not be, “Have you tried the Autism [Totally Different Activity] instead?” It should not be, “Just bring them anyway, I’m sure it will be fine and if not we will understand.” That is not actual understanding, Homeschooling Community. Your response should be, “How can we make this accessible to your child?” And then follow up on our feedback and make it happen.
Our children deserve to be included as valued members of their community, their peer groups, their neighborhoods and cities. Segregation into disabled-only activities, classes, clubs, and leagues is not good enough.
For our neurodiverse family, as much as we want to also find our autistic community, those “autism things” are not appealing, as they are far too often therapy-oriented, designed to build “social skills” (that’s code for “acting more neurotypical”), as if our kids can never be part of the world or even just have fun without being actively trained to suppress their needs and true selves and conform to society’s norms.
Somehow our disappointment in not being included is particularly bitter when it comes to you, Homeschooling Community, because you claim to be all about individual needs, play, freedom, and sometimes you even use the word inclusive, but still you have no place for us. Not really. All of the burden is placed on us, on our children, to adapt to you, with no effort from you to expand and grow to include us.
Homeschooling Community, you need to do better. Our numbers are growing and we are looking for a place in the world. Do you want to be like the institutions you have personally rejected – narrow, exclusive, homogenous, upholding the values of conformity and perpetuating ableism? Or do you really want to embody the values you claim to hold, and make a place for us? If so, start by listening to what we really need, and then make it happen.
Image is a green square with a small blue icon of an envelope, and in all cap blue lettering, “Dear homeschooling community, we need to talk / Meg Murry / FB/RespectfullyConnected”