By Karen Chegwidden
With children suddenly at home during the pandemic, many parents discovered to their surprise that their children were happier, calmer, and better able to learn at home. Many of those parents have neurodivergent children. So why is home education less stressful for kids on the spectrum?
Transitions (moving from one activity to the next) are generally less frequent, and more likely to come at the completion of the previous activity, rather than at an arbitrary end point determine by a schedule. They are also negotiable, and the kids are likely to have more control. All this makes these stressful moments in a day more manageable.
Schedules can be tailored to the learners needs. Because home education is able to provide a truly individualised education learning becomes a more natural part of the day. Daily rhythms ebb and flow, and can be flexible with the ability to take break as and when needed, and then pick up where you left off next time.
Home education is strength based, not deficit based. Rather than always focusing on what the child can't do and trying to fix that, you can build from what they can do. This kind of approach helps children to feel competent and capable and increases the likelihood that they will take risks and attempt learning that they might find challenging.
It's easy to follow the child's needs. Offer learning opportunities based on their interests and suddenly learning becomes fun rather than work. We all know that learning something you are interested in is easier.
You have control over the learning space - so sensory stimuli is often less overwhelming. If your student thrives on quiet, that is possible. If they concentrate better with music playing, that's OK too. You can also incorporate sensory diet into the day very naturally. At home it's not a problem to be wearing noise cancelling headphones or to be playing with a fidget toy because it's not going to distract anyone else or cause other kids to poke fun because you are different.
You can include therapy (and the home practice) as a normal part of your homeschool day. That means that instead of missing out on class, or doing those things after school when kids are already tired, therapy can be done when the student can get the most benefit.
1:1 support is normal in home education. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the one to one support and individualised education that home education offers is simply not possible in a classroom.
Kids find social acceptance more often. In homeschool groups, different is normal. Home educated children expect their friends to be of different ages, to be wearing different clothes and to be individuals. The expectation of sameness is developed at school where children are segregated into same ages, all wear the same uniforms, eat at the same time, learn the same thing in the same way at the same time.
Social interactions can be supported. Because the adult to child ratios are much higher, parents are able to provide support to children who need it in social settings. The social interactions are usually shorter as well, so children who can manage social interactions in short bursts but not all day often are less stressed and do better.
The daily afterschool meltdowns are a thing of the past. When neurodivergent children go to school they use a lot of energy keeping it all together. When they get home they are exhausted, and they fall apart. Home education is often less stressful, and so at the end of the day things are likely to be less fraught. That's not to say that home educated kids never have meltdowns (they absolutely do!) but not having them every day of the week feels like a win.
If you've been considering making the change to home education and wondering if you can do this, then be reassured that not only is it possible, it's generally successful. The HEA promotes inclusive communities. Let's think about how we can be more inclusive of the neurodivergent amongst us this April.