I committed to unschool at the same time that we realized my daughter is autistic. With these two insights about what our life would look like, I felt incredibly lonely. The diagnosing psychiatrist completely rejected homeschooling because he thought my kid would never learn to socialize. We got stacks and stacks and stacks of paperwork about ABA and early intervention, and were advised to contact the school district and start an organized filing system ASAP or we’d get swamped. We got handouts from Autism Speaks about how we might feel grief. What I felt was, “Ok thanks, that’s what I thought, now I have a key word to start researching.” Meanwhile, on unschooling groups, when I asked about autism I got crickets and personal messages warning me that group members don’t approve of labeling their kids.
Basically, if I were going to unschool my daughter, not do ABA or other early intervention, but also identify her as autistic and search for resources about the autistic experience and what makes life easier, it seemed I would be wrong in all directions and alone. Just me, my partner, and my kid against everyone else.
Instead, I eventually found a ton of online and now even plenty of in-person community. I found beautiful people that respect their kids AND themselves by unschooling neurodiversity. So here is an incomplete, hopefully ever-growing list of resources for other parents who want to unschool a non-neurotypical kid. Please comment and add more!
This is the place to start. I’ve found by immersing myself in the stories of autistic people I can empathize so much more with my kid. A key example: her not responding to a simple request, and me feeling angry about having to ask a dozen times. After I read autistic people’s stories of not processing people’s words and then being yelled at, I realized my anger had no place.
Amethyst Schaber’s Youtube channel is hands down the first resource I’d recommend to a parent of an autistic kid:
What Every Autistic Girl Wishes Her Parents Knew
This is a beautiful book and not just for parents of girls. It’s empowering, and gives you confidence that truly respecting your kid is best for them in the long run. This is published via the Autism Women’s Network.
The Real Experts
This collection has so many insights from a variety of autistic writers and is an excellent foundation for rethinking ableism and making life accessible and joyful for your kid.
The Autistic Self-Advocacy Network
This is a network of local groups that advocate for neurodiversity, respecting kids, and against ABA. They offer scholarships and political activism guides to empower the autistic community. They’ve been a force for good in our current political situation in the US.
The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
This is a beautiful, piece-by-piece account by an autistic teenager in Japan, co-written with David Mitchell, that gave me a much better initial understanding of what it’s like to be autistic.
The State of Grace by Rachel Lucas
Rachel Lucas’ daughter was diagnosed as autistic, and then she realized she was autistic too. This young adult fiction imagines what an autistic teenager’s daily challenges might be and how a few accommodations and a bit of understanding can make life pretty good.
You can find many many blogs here, at Actually Autistic blogs, written by autistic people with descriptions for each link.
For parents specifically, the collaborative blog Respectfully Connected has a wealth of reflections on respectfully parenting neurodiverse kids, and many of the articles are written by neurodiverse Parents.
These are blogs that I’ve appreciated:
Once you’ve read a bit from autistic voices, I’d recommend the facebook group Ask Me, I’m Autistic. But! Either be willing to stay quiet and listen there for a long time, or do some in-depth reading of autistic voices first. The facebook group is an excellent resource where only autistic people comment on posts for the first 24 hours, making a much-needed space. But it’s admins are stretched thin, so please only join if you are ready to listen respectfully!
I feel there’s been a shift in most online unschooling discussions recently, where more people have a greater respect for kids and parents who identify as autistic, adhd, or otherwise neurodiverse, and use those “labels” as personal identifiers that help them find community and respect. Some of the sites and comments that made me so lonely just a few years ago–and guilty for labeling my kid–have been critiqued as ableist. So while not all of these unschooling resources will talk about neurodiversity, I’ve found them excellent guides for unschooling my kid. A lot of people have favorite unschooling authors, like John Taylor Gatto or John Holt, but I haven’t found those as helpful as these parents practicing and discussing unschooling.
Pam Laricchia’s Living Joyfully
Pam has several books, and a new one to come out, that are accessible, friendly, and both practical and philosophical at the same time. She’s unschooled three children. Her podcast is hands-down the best resource I could recommend for new and experienced unschoolers, where she interviews hundreds of parents about what unschooling looks like for their families.
Sue Patterson’s Unschooling Mom2Mom
Sue Patterson is really good at admining facebook groups. She manages a great balance of focusing on unschooling advice–and sometimes deleting comments that aren’t based on unschooling so that readers can find the unschooling advice among more conventional ideaas–while also respecting and being kind and friendly to the original poster. Her groups have hundreds of unschooling parents and many of them parent neurodiverse kids, and they have great ideas about challenges that can arise. Search through the archives of the facebook groups, or check our the Unschooling Mom2Mom website for more resources.
Idzie Desmarais’ I’m Unschooled, Yes I Can Write
Idzie is a life long learner–grown unschooler–who is deeply interested in alternative education and has so much to say about the big educational questions that arise when people start unschooling. She also identifies as a queer feminist and has some great reflections on the unschooling community.
Akilah S. Richards’ Fare of the Free Child
Akilah talks, writes, and discusses unschooling and self-directed education for Black and brown families. She has so many great insights about the specific challenges and joys of unschooling for people of color, and especially about the personal and interpersonal process of deschooling for her family as well as great interviews with people trying to make self-directed education happen in democratic schools.
Unschooling Special Needs
I found this group and have been so grateful for it. It’s a support group for parents wanting to unschool neurodiverse kids or kids with physical disabilities. I know some neurodiversity advocates have been triggered by parents’ attitudes toward their kids here, have wanted to use the comments to correct ableist language and practices, and have felt shut down by admins who want comments to be supportive. I haven’t kept tabs on that tension too much, but I know this is a space I really needed for several years.
Emotional Abuse, CPTSD, Healing, and Narcissism
I’ve learned about unschooling, autism, and narcissism all in one bundle, and it’s hard to distinguish sometimes. If you’ve come here from my “What Is Kindness” comic, here are some links to help.
Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, Lindsay C. Gibson PsyD
Healing from Hidden Abuse, Shannon Thomas
The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van der Kolk, MD
Why Does He Do That?, Lundy Bancroft
Boundaries, Anna Katherine
Will I Ever Be Good Enough? Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers
Life, Abbreviated by Ariel Leve
Educated, Tara Westover
To Throw Away Unopened, Viv Albertine
Bad Indians, Deborah Miranda
Please comment with any further resources you’d recommend, comments, or questions. I hope I can help.