Since the beginning we have been using the term Outside the Box to describe our homeschool and how we learn differently than most. Today, I’m introducing you to a new term and making a little announcement about our Outside the Box family.
Neurodivergent is Another Word for Outside the Box
When Inside Our Normal started, there wasn’t really a word to describe our Outside the Box kids and why learning differently was so important for them. Since then there has been a growing movement for better terminology.
Neurodivergent is an exciting new word meant to represent all of the different ways our brains are wired and an acceptance that having a brain that is wired differently is not “weird” or “defective” or “less” than anyone else, it’s just different. Differently wired brains can have various labels such as Autism, Dyslexia, ADHD, etc.
There are plenty of successful people with these different labels, and there are also millions more who are marginalized and misunderstood because no one take the time to understand how they think. In our neurodivergent homeschool, I try to make sure that there is plenty of space for each of my kids to share their thoughts and talk through their learning challenges so they feel successful.
Having Neurodivergent Homeschool isn’t just about the kids
Recently I have begun to tackle some of my personal weaknesses and struggles. As I learn more about the labels each of my children have received I discover a mirror for my own childhood struggles. I am beginning to understand some of the challenges that I have faced my whole life. I have worked with a therapist and confirmed my own Neurodivergent wiring and my own labels of ADHD and Autism.
Autism does look completely different in women than it does in men. Following an Autism diagnosis in a child, a growing number of moms are subsequently seeking diagnoses for themselves. As young children it’s excusable for girls to be shy or bookworms and not as social, but it might actually be Autism. It often shows up in women during the teen years, when there is more social expectations and where the social landmines and roadblocks that we don’t intuitively understand seem to show up more.
Just like my kids, having these labels to name the challenges I face is empowering me to ask for help and know that I’m not dumb or lazy. I can look for new tools and information to help me through the same challenges I’m helping my kids through.
My mother always commented that I seemed especially in tune with my children’s sensory and Outside the Box needs. I always brushed it off, assuming that all parents were that way. After all, to me the way my brain works is normal to me: I haven’t been inside anyone else’s brain to know how they might think about things differently. However, now her comments make sense: I am wired the same as my kids, so of course I understand their neurodivergent needs naturally!
What does Neurodivergent Learning look like?
I also am learning how my own brain wiring influences our homeschool rhythms and routines. I’m beginning to understand why other families look at me funny when I can’t relate to their kids delaying their homeschool work. That isn’t an issue in our house, because of the way we do things.
Neurodivergent People Need Motivation
It’s our 9th year of formal homeschool, and this is the first year I have assigned my kids a workbook to use. This year I made that a priority because I wanted my kids to learn about reading charts and and graphs and making them, something we hadn’t done in our homeschool yet.
We skip the fluff when it comes to learning. I don’t care if we finish the work book; if I can tell they understand something from discussion there is no reason to do a poster or a project. We have used formal curriculums, but I nearly always remove parts of it. My kids aren’t interested in playing elaborate games to make learning fun. They actually enjoy the process of learning enough on its own.
Use our Special Interests to Help Us Learn
As adults we learn new things every day. We learn a new recipe because we want to make the restaurant recipe at home. We learn a new hobby because it’s fun. In our homeschool, we follow a similar approach. Whenever we can, we make it a point to discuss the why of what we are learning and why it matters that we understand it.
We love science fiction and are a family of Star Wars fans. Recently we have been watching videos about the science of Black Holes, which led to discussions of how they are used in our favorite TV shows or books and if it is science or fiction. The interest in Star Wars motivated the learning of a new science topic.
We also find ways to include our special interests in the more boring and rigid subjects like handwriting or math. One of the boys helped me brainstorm the trivia on the Minecraft themed handwriting pack. Practicing writing is worth doing when you are writing about what you love. Several times I have printed the Minecraft Math Fact pages from MultiTaskin’ Mom for math drill practice. They would complain if it was a plain sheet of paper, but with their favorite characters on it, it’s worth doing.
Believe us about Sensory and Focus Challenges
While our Neurodivergent Homeschool seems like we are all little professors, we all have some serious challenges well. Each of us, including mom, have sensory and focus challenges. These challenges force us to do things differently and work together to support one another.
Our school week is driven by a weekly spreadsheet. We don’t have it to be rigid. We use it because if we didn’t have one we would forget to do things and the balls would be dropped: it’s actually an accommodation for Mom’s ADHD. While assignments are listed each day, my goal each week is do everything within the week. If someone is having a rough day there is usually wiggle room to get it done another day, before the end of the week.
With kids who need to wiggle we don’t follow a clock schedule in our homeschool, we follow a routine. Breaks are taken between subjects, and we use a timer to remind us to come back to the school work when our break is over. Breaks can include reading a book or jumping on a trampoline. For each child it is different from day to day. Sometimes they will take an extra long break if they catch Dad on his work break and go for a walk around the neighborhood.
Focus on our Neurodivergent Strengths
While our homeschool may seem unusual, or that we need a lot of accommodations, there is plenty to celebrate about our Neurodiversity. We often have special interests which may or may not seem out of place. I like to sew as a creative outlet and my local friends come to me with questions when they need help with a costume or other project. That doesn’t feel like an outrageous special interest, but it is one I enjoy none the less.
My Pre-Teen plays a video game with his dad and a group of adults and loves reading Fandom wiki pages about it. He has become so much of an expert that the adults put him in charge of organizing a particular section of the shared guild base. His knowledge is celebrated by adults who have never met him!
In our homeschool there is plenty of skills that we have to focus and work on to build. Within that, however, we have the freedom to help our kids find their special interests that may one day lead to a career where they can be celebrated and earn a living being the expert at what they enjoy.
I hope you will stick around awhile to learn about our normal, which may not look like normal to everyone else.