Previously I wrote an open letter to the homeschooling community about how there is a widespread lack of support and accommodations for disabled homeschoolers in general. Many people commented in support of the piece, adding that they had had similar experiences, and some even said that they had simply resigned themselves to being excluded.
However, there was some pushback from people who felt that homeschooling groups are not obligated to accommodate disabled children, and/or cannot be expected to “become autism experts” in order to do so.
To the first point I would like to respond: homeschooling groups may not be legally obligated under education law to accommodate disabled children, but they absolutely are ethically and morally obligated to do so. Inclusion is a right, not a privilege. And people who see accommodations as “special allowances” are being ableist, period. Even parents of disabled children who have decided that their children are not owed accessibility are being ableist – perhaps without even realizing it, because ableism is so intertwined in the culture at large. And as studies in formal education have shown time and again, inclusion benefits everyone, not just disabled people.
To the second point, certainly I do not and would not expect homeschooling groups to know everything about accessibility or to become “autism experts” overnight (in fact, I’d really rather they didn’t, given the amount of misinformation available to the public). What my post did ask was simply that homeschooling groups be responsive to requests for accommodations.
And to be sure, some of the responsibility to make homeschooling activities accessible lies with the parents of disabled children, who usually must ask for the supports they need. But it would also be wonderful if, over time, some of these practices became routine and commonplace, so that those parents who have resigned themselves to not participating – without even thinking of asking for accommodations – can know they do have options.
We at Respectfully Connected came up with a number of examples that would make homeschooling activities, classes, and outings more accessible to neurodivergent children:
- Low noise environments
- Low lighting indoors, no florescent lighting
- No strong smells, perfumes, air fresheners
- No flashing/strobing lights (as in bowling alley or bounce place)
- Fenced play areas and playgrounds
- Chill-out/quiet areas
- Flexible class times or makeup class opportunities
- No forced introductions or ice breakers
- Open ended participation/completion (as with arts & crafts)
- Free play options
- Limit wait times or have things to do while waiting
- Flexibility on turn-taking procedures
- No pressure for reward stickers, hand stamps, etc.
- No mandatory clothing unless safety issue (i.e. smocks, bracelets, goggles, etc.)
- Online/email registration (for neurodivergent parents)
- Drop-in or monthly pay schedules
- Itineraries so we know what to expect
- Option to join outings without taking classes (or vice versa)
Additionally, there are many practices that would fall under the umbrella of asking people not to exhibit ableist and discriminatory attitudes toward disabled parents and children, such as:
- Not judging what kids are eating or not eating
- Not judging what they are wearing (or not wearing – like shoes)
- Not judging what they are playing with or how they play
- Not judging, mocking, or criticizing stimming or tics
- Not ignoring nonspeaking children
- Not offering unsolicited treatment, remedy, cure, therapy ideas
- Respecting accessibility issues around food storage and prep (such as plastic packaging, prepared foods, convenience foods, etc.)
The latter category about ableist attitudes contains improvements that all homeschooling groups could and should make, starting now. It does not cost anything in time or money to check yourself before judging others for things you may not understand. And yet, that list comes from experiences that the parents in Respectfully Connected have had while out with our children.
Specific sensory and structural accommodations, as in the first list, may not all be necessary all of the time in every group. But to the extent that they are possible, they would make activities more accessible to homeschooled neurodivergent children, and certainly should at least be attempted if specifically requested by a parent. We owe it to our kids – disabled and non disabled alike – to integrate them in our communities.