In my last episode (listen here), I talked about my neurodiverse family’s experience homeschooling during the pandemic and why it’s working for us.
But I have complex feelings about homeschooling, so today I’m discussing my concerns, why I think disabled kids should be integrated into conventional classrooms, and why pulling disabled students out of conventional schools might set disability rights back.
? Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 38 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify | Youtube
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Check out our other episodes focusing on education and neurodivergence:
- Ep. 37 / Homeschooling Autistic and ADHD Kids: Our Story
- Ep. 36 / Developing “Soft Skills” in Neurodivergent Youth with Lindsey Wander
- Ep. 35 / Autism, Literacy, and Educational Trauma with Lois Letchford
- Ep. 32 / How to Get Your Child Support at School with Laura Reber of Progress Parade
- Ep. 30 / Polymathy and Neurodivergence with Dustin Miller, PolyInnovator
- Ep. 24 / Auditory Processing Disorder at School with Suzanne DeMallie
- Ep. 23 / Interview with Clif Adkins, author of Martian: A Non-Science Fiction Guide for How to Love, Raise, and Possibly Be Someone Not Quite Human
- Ep. 21 / Raising Successful Neurodivergent Kids with Sally Willbanks of ND Renegade
- Ep. 11 / A Struggling, Undiagnosed Autistic Girl in the 1990s
- Ep. 08 / How ADHD Students of Color Suffer in American Schools
- Tracy Murray’s kindergarten classroom in New York City has a unique approach to supporting students on the spectrum. “What School Could Be If It Were Designed for Kids With Autism.”
- Autism/ADHD specialist coach and speaker, Suzy Rowland, offers some advice on how schools can improve autistic pupils’ wellbeing and learning. “School improvement for autistic pupils.“
- Here’s one United States mom’s experience moving her autistic daughter into homeschooling, and what their ideal homeschool environment looks like: https://www.additudemag.com/homeschooling-autism-success-story/
- United Kingdom parents use flexi-schooling as to split their students’ time between homeschooling and conventional schooling: Lawrence, Clare. (2019). Parents’ perspectives on flexischooling their autistic children. https://www.nheri.org/parents-perspectives-on-flexischooling-their-autistic-children/
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Thank you all so much for supporting this episode of Neurodiverging!
Transcript of Ep. 38: Does Homeschooling Perpetuate Classism and Ableism in the School System?
Hello everyone, and welcome back to the Neurodiverging Podcast! I’m Danielle Sullivan and I’m your host, a certified life coach, and an autistic parent.
In our last episode, I talked about my neurodiverse family’s experience homeschooling during the pandemic and why it’s working for us. But, I have very complex feelings about homeschooling, to put it mildly, so today in part two of the series, I’m discussing my concerns, why I think disabled kids should be integrated into conventional classrooms and why pulling disabled students out of conventional school might set disability rights back.
Before I get to that, I’d like to thank my very generous patrons Klara, Zach, Teresa, Sarah, Marty, Theresa, Galactic Faye, Claire, David, Laura and Wolf – thank you all so much for supporting this episode of Neurodiverging, it means a lot!
If you want to be like these amazing folks and support Neurodiverging, please check us out on Patreon at patreon.com/neurodiverging. You can pledge a dollar, five dollars or ten dollars a month to support the podcast and keep it going. Funding also goes to help me provide support for low-income neurodivergent coaching clients, so it’s very appreciated. Plus, you get awesome perks, so check us out Patreon.com/neurodiverging.
Summary of Part 1, Episode 37
If you didn’t get a chance to listen to our last episode, I would encourage you to pause this and go do that now. To summarize briefly, basically, when the pandemic started, my family moved to homeschool. I like it a lot. It’s working for us. My kids are doing well, I’m doing well, it is a good fit in general for us.
We also found out through doing some research that studies generally show that homeschooled kids mostly do fine in terms of educational ability, job placement, social-emotional health in the long run, so it does seem like homeschooling can be a good choice and an evidence-based choice for a lot of families.
We also found that many parents with disabled kids are homeschooling because it’s the least bad option. Many parents don’t actually want to be homeschooling their disabled kids. They would rather have them be in a traditional, conventional school setting. But, many parents are homeschooling because they are basically tired of fighting with school districts to get these supports that they need for their kids in the classroom, and so they’ve chosen to homeschool because of that.
The Ethical Mire of Homeschooling Neurodivergent Kids
Now, in my family’s situation during the Covid pandemic in the United States, homeschool is really the option, because going back to conventional school with the way the pandemic is moving is not a good choice for us right now with our personal health concerns. When it is safer, hopefully soon, would I like my kids to go back into conventional school? Well, I have very mixed feelings about it and I’ll get into that a little bit today.
There are some really huge significant downsides to homeschooling, not exactly for the family themselves who are choosing to homeschool – many of us are obviously very happy with our homeschooling decision. But there are downsides in terms of the larger picture of society when many parents of disabled kids are pulling their disabled kids out of the school system. I want to talk about that a little bit now.
Basically, there are two groups here. There are many parents with disabled kids. Some of us can choose to homeschool. Some of us have the disposable income where one parent doesn’t have to work or can work very part-time, like in my case, and can stay home and teach the children. Some families can hire tutors, teachers, babysitters, nannies to provide education to their kids.
A lot of parents of disabled kids cannot do that. Parents need to work. Single parents don’t have the option of just staying home and forfeiting an income in order to educate their children. So, there is an issue around pulling kids out of school out of the conventional school system that is a class issue. The folks who are able to pull their kids out and homeschool are the folks with higher income. The folks who would like to pull their kids out of school but are not able to are the folks with lower income.
If enough higher income folks pull their kids out of school, then we are creating a school system that offers a different level of education to lower class families than we are able to offer as higher income families to our own children. That is a social problem. That is not something that I am at all comfortable perpetuating myself.
Obviously, I am right now, and that is a moral and ethical issue that I am struggling with. I mean that honestly. I think about it every single day. It is very challenging as parents to decide, When should I be putting my individual child first, in terms of making a decision that is best for them personally, that will help them get further in this capitalistic society? When when am I morally obligated to put the welfare of all the kids in my community school system in front of my personal family’s?
Perpetuating Class Discrimination in the School System
Say that I am here in my town outside Boulder, Colorado, and I perceive an issue with my children’s education at the conventional school, and my response is to pull my two children out of school and home school. Now my children are fine, my family’s fine, but all the other disabled kids at that school are still dealing with a lack of positive educational resources for them. They are still not getting the supports they need to learn appropriately and happily.
Their families may not be able, for whatever reason, to support their kids in getting what they need at school. They may not have the resources to fight the school system. They may not be English speakers. They may have lower income. They may need the childcare option that public school presents even if their kid is getting a lackluster education or no education. That is something that they don’t always get a choice about. Low-income people have to make sacrifices.
I feel like it’s my job as somebody who has the resources to fight schools – sometimes, not always, I am an autistic person, I am lower resources than a lot of people are – but I have income. I have education. I have a lot of privilege. I do feel like those of us who have that privilege have a responsibility to support other families who are going through the same things we are.
In a non-Covid year, in a non-pandemic emergency situation, pulling your kids out of school to homeschool is not, as a community, the right thing to do. That’s my opinion. We all need to work together to advance things like disability rights, to advance human rights in general. Human rights don’t occur in a vacuum, and they definitely don’t occur when you leave it to one group to fight for themselves. We’re all in this together. Disability rights are so intertwined with class rights, with race rights, with any other human rights issue you can think of. Doing what’s best for your own family and your own children might not be something that we can uphold ethically, might not be something that we can stand up for ethically.
That’s hard. I get that. You might start to see why I have been struggling with this. In this moment of pandemic, emergency homeschooling is the right decision ethically. This is not the time to be putting more burden on the educators in the school systems. But soon, it will be. It won’t be pandemic conditions forever.
Education Is A System, Not the Individual
I did talk about this last podcast, but in case you missed it, when I say “the school system,” I am not necessarily speaking about the individual educators in the school system. I am not talking about the fourth grade teacher or the gym teacher or the speech therapist or the principal. I am talking about educational systems: the way that schools are organized in the United States, the way they are funded, how we decide which student goes where, how districts are organized, all that kind of nitty-gritty stuff. Those are the places where we need to interfere and get more supports in classrooms, more funding, all these kinds of things. I’m going to talk about that more in a minute but I just want to make it very clear right now that I’m not trying to criticize individual educators on the ground. Those folks are amazing. It is generally not an individual teacher that is the problem with the whole school system.
Are there individual educators that could stand to be more educated about these issues? Sure, yes, absolutely. Training is a must. But mostly, these folks are working with no resources whatsoever. They’re underfunded, understaffed, deeply struggling. The educators are not the people that I’m trying to criticize. I’m talking about the system in general.
I also want to talk about a couple other things related to this issue. Like I said, those of us who remove our kids are not supporting neurodiverse families who don’t have the option to homeschool. That is a class issue, and that is a social issue, and that is something that we really have to deeply think about, especially if you are somebody who falls in a higher income bracket. It is our responsibility to support those who are in lower income brackets who are also neurodivergent. We are a group, we fight for our rights together.
Perpetuating Disability Discrimination in the School System
The other thing about this is, if you want to support neurodiversity and neurodivergent rights, autistic rights, ADHD rights, the only way we’re going to do that is by making allies with neurotypical people. Right now they rule the world! We are all aware of this.
If we pull our disabled kids out of classrooms, how are the neurotypical students in the classroom going to get to know what it’s like to have neurodivergent peers? The best way to create bad understandings of what autism is, what ADHD is, etc. is to not let kids get to know each other in the classroom. The best way to create more prejudice and more segregation in the real world after school ends and our kids are off getting jobs is to make sure that those neurotypical kids have never ever met an autistic or ADHD kid before. That happens when we pull our autistic, ADHD kids out of the conventional school environment. We deplete the population of neurodivergent people there.
I realize I’m talking about us like we’re resources, but in this construct we are. If we want neurotypical people to be our allies, they have to get to know us. Neurotypical kids don’t have a lot of opportunity to get to know autistic ADHD kids when we pull them out of the place where they spend eight hours a day on weekdays.
Leaving your kids in the classroom and fighting that fight allows neurotypical people to get more exposure to autistic and ADHD families and what we need and what we want and what we deserve. More inclusive classrooms reduce prejudice and segregation, and this is the case whether we’re talking about race, class, neurotype, any kind of split in human beings. If you want increased tolerance and increased diversity, that starts young.
In school systems where we are pulling our kids out, we are not offering that to neurotypical people. We are not allowing teachers to learn to work with autistic and ADHD kids, which further down the line hurts more students coming in with ADHD and autism. The more that we create a secondary system for autistic and ADHD kids, the more we’re hurting ourselves and our fight for better rights as autistic, ADHD, and neurodivergent people in general.
I would argue that a lot of the reason that autism and ADHD rights have made so much progress in just the past decade or so is partly because of visibility. More and more autistic and ADHD people are coming out, are disclosing their disability, are being public with it and talking about it. More and more people are telling their kids about their autism or ADHD and telling their kids’ friends and making it more public and less stigmatizing.
The other reason is that until very recently, autistic kids especially were institutionalized. You can talk to adults with autism who are in their 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, and they were segregated in the classroom, if they even made it into the classroom. A lot of them were thought to be unteachable or not able to be educated. Maybe they were not speaking, or maybe they weren’t able to be educated in a non-inclusive classroom, but a lot of autistic kids, as we know, are still highly intelligent even if they don’t look like neurotypical kids. A lot of students in just the past 30-50 years were segregated and not allowed in traditional classrooms.
That means that generations of neurotypical kids grew up without seeing autistic kids, ADHD kids, kids with Down’s syndrome. If they were even in the same school, they were in their own special education wing, and a lot of them just were institutionalized in facilities that were not school at all. So then you had generations of adults now who had no familiarity with autistic and ADHD and Down’s individuals or other neurodivergent individuals.
Nowadays, because autistic and ADHD kids are integrated in the classroom – imperfectly, but we are there – more folks are becoming aware of what neurodiversity is. That’s why we’re seeing such a big push for neurodivergent rights in the past 10 or 20 years. That’s because of inclusivity. That’s because of an expectation of inclusivity and diversity in the classroom.
If we pull our disabled kids out of the classroom and choose homeschooling instead, we might be moving backward on that issue. That’s a problem. That’s a problem for everybody, for the whole society, not just for us.
Traumatic Schooling Experiences for Neurodivergent Children
Here’s the other side of this very meaty issue: should our kids have to deal with being in a classroom that doesn’t support them with a teacher or staff that don’t support them, just so that other children have exposure to neurodivergent peers?
No, I wouldn’t say that. I also don’t know a better solution to this whole thorny problem, which is part of why I wanted to make this podcast today. I feel that if a child can handle being in the classroom, even if it’s imperfect, that it is all of our responsibilities to fight to make that classroom more inclusive, and to get it as perfect as we can.
It’s also true that being in traditional school systems is highly traumatic for a lot of us. It traumatized me. Everybody knows that childhood trauma can have long-lasting implications, especially for somebody who is also neurodivergent. Generalized anxiety disorder, depression, higher amounts of suicidal ideation – these are all side effects of a traumatized upbringing in childhood. School trauma can be a big part of that.
I don’t think it’s something that’s discussed enough. I did talk to Lois Letchford about it a couple weeks ago, and it’s come up in some other episodes so I’ll point you to those in the show notes, but it’s not something I want to ignore. I certainly don’t think that we should be traumatizing individual children in the hope that we’ll get a greater good out of it. The ends don’t justify the means here.
Where Is the Middle Ground?
It does mean that there has to be a middle ground even if some of us have to pull our kids out and homeschool for our own health and well-being, and their health, well-being and mental health too. Some of us have to keep fighting the fight. Some of us have to keep pushing for school reform and for educational reform, more inclusivity in classrooms, more funding for teachers that’s not based on very old outdated tax law stuff.
I went over that in episode 8 on why ADHD students of color don’t get any support in school. If you’re interested in how schools are funded, go listen to that episode, because it is a hot mess, I’ll tell you.
There has to be a way that at least some of us can still fight the fight even if we ourselves do need to pull our students out and home school. If you’re somebody who’s homeschooling, it’s not a bad thing and I’m not trying to guilt you about your choice to protect your child. I am trying to point out that if we all do this, we are contributing to a larger problem of human rights and neurodiversity rights.
If you have an autistic or ADHD or neurodivergent child, and you want them to grow up in a world where neurodiversity is assumed and included and expected and just part of life, then we need to be creating that now. We need to be creating that right now.
It is our responsibility as parents and as humans to be working for these human rights. One of the ways we can do that is by pushing for school reform and educational reform. I’m going to put some links in the show notes of ways that you can learn more and get involved. I would also say that there’s a million different ways that we could be making schools better for everybody, so I don’t even want to point you to one specific thing you should be doing. Go look at the problem. Use the resources I’ve given you. Use Google. Talk to people in your school district. Talk to your local representatives and figure out, How can we get money passed to do things that will affect students in our classrooms positively right now?
How can we get more support for students with dyslexia, for students with autism, for students with ADHD? How can we get more occupational therapists in the doors? More school psychologists? More special educators? How can we make sure that parents know how to use the resources that the school already has?
All those questions are things that you can be working on in your communities. You don’t have to write a new law and get it passed in front of the senate! We can be doing small things all together.
Even if you have pulled your student out and you are homeschooling and you are never going back to conventional school, please do not leave the students who don’t have those options behind. We need to be all in this together. It is our job. It is our responsibility. And they are worth it, just like your kids are.
Thank you so much for being here with me today, listening to this podcast and thinking about what you can do in your community to support the next generation of neurodivergent students. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, please let me know! Leave me a comment. Email me: firstname.lastname@example.org Show notes and further reading are available at neurodiverging.com. Thank you to the Patrons for supporting this podcast – you guys are wonderful! Join us at patreon.com/neurodiverging; I hope to see you there. Please remember, we are all in this together.