What Autism Safety Really Means

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Infographics, Writing

Last month I participated in a panel discussion on the topic of Autism Safety at a conference hosted by a local autism organization.

The two hottest takes when it comes to “Autism Safety” – in the “autism community,” that is – always seem to be wandering/elopement and police interactions.

Elopement or wandering refer to the problem of autistic children (not always children, but almost always) who run off unattended, often leaving an enclosed space like their home or school. And, as a parent myself, I do understand this worry – to an extent. Naturally the idea of one’s child getting lost and/or getting into dangerous situations takes one’s breath away to even imagine.

But in the grand scheme of an autistic life, how pressing is this issue really? Parent-led organizations sometimes run scary stories about the dangers of elopement. Recent studies have shown that about half of autistic children elope at least once, and half of those elope long enough to cause serious concern. That does sound worrying, but let’s keep this number in mind and I’ll return to it in a moment: 25% of autistic children have significant elopement incidents. Other factors to keep in mind: most of those children are nonverbal, and elopement peaks at age 5.

The other hot topic in safety is about police interactions. And while I whole heartedly agree that this is a key safety issues for autistic people, I find the ways that autism parent communities and neurotypical-led organizations discuss this issue tend to be highly problematic: most notably, that they ignore the racial issues at the heart of the danger. Skirting the autism-race interaction in conversations about police and first responders not only makes our conversations about safety incomplete, it also makes our proposed solutions severely inadequate at best.

What the parent community’s hot safety takes amount to tends to be a clamor for more neurotypical (NT) control over autistic people. Wandering? Police interaction? For NT parents and experts, the solutions are about GPS tracking devices, autism registrations, and more compliance training for autistics.

These solutions themselves are indicators of racial erasure. I think anyone who pauses for even one minutes to consider how those solutions might work for a black or brown autistic person could see how deeply flawed they are. How would a black family in America be affected by being in an autism registry or GPS service with their local police department? What kinds of issues might arise for a population that is already at risk of being racially profiled? What is the likelihood they would sign up for this voluntarily, given the downsides? Can you imagine a black autistic parent, or a Latinx immigrant family, being willing to be on such a registry?

And where to even begin with pushing more compliance training on non-white autistics. How well has compliance worked for black Americans historically in this country, when it comes to keeping them safe in police interactions? Eric Garner said it best: I can’t breathe.

My presentation on Autism Safety to my local community was cut short, as the moderator verbally nudged me to move on from the topic of safety – they mostly wanted me to list my credentials as a “self-advocate” and then sit down.

What I wanted to tell them is that NT parent/expert control of autistic people, stripping us of autonomy, and ramping up compliance training, all compound the most serious dangers we face in our lives. When parents, teachers, and autism “experts” have tunnel vision that focuses on autism itself as our main threat, they actively endanger us. I understand why they are reluctant to look at the real safety issues we face, because many of those issues are coming from them.

I’ll remind you now of the figure above that told us 25% of autistic children have seriously concerning elopement incidents, peaking at age 5.

Now let me tell you about what Autism Safety really means:

Abuse and Violence
  • Disabled children are 3.5 times more likely to be abused or neglected than non-disabled children
  • Disabled people are 3 times more likely to be victims of serious crime than non-disabled people
  •  Exact figures are unknown, but numerous studies have estimated that the number of people killed in police interactions who were disabled is at least 50%, and likely much higher as these calculations under-count people with psychiatric disabilities
  • Black people are nearly 3 times as likely to be killed by police than white people; therefore, we MUST include racial issues in addressing autism safety with law enforcement
Psychological Effects
  • 70% of autistic people also have a psychiatric disability such as depression or anxiety
  • 30-50% of autistic people have reported having suicidal thoughts or attempts
Bullying
  • 60-80% of autistic students report being bullied at school
  • 40% of parents of autistic students report their children were bullied
  • 22% of those who were bullied report being bullied all the time”
Restraint & Seclusion
  • While only 12% of public school students are disabled (covered by IDEA), 75% of students restrained at school are disabled and 58% of students secluded and isolated at school are disabled.
  • 25% of arrests and referrals to police are disabled students – that means a disabled student is twice as likely to be arrested for a disciplinary incident at school.
  • Federal data shows public schools reported 163,000 incidents of students being restrained in one school year.
  • 40% of students restrained at school are autistic
  • 50% of students secluded/isolated at school are autistic
  • Of the disabled student population, only 19% are black, but they make up 36% of those who are restrained and secluded – this means that among disabled students, black children are twice as likely to be restrained and secluded
  • 7,600 of the incidents of restraint involved mechanical restraints (i.e. not restrained merely with school staff’s hands/arms)
  • Students were secluded in scream rooms” 104,000 times in that school year
  • 20 public school students died while being restrained at school between 1988-2008
  • In many states (including mine), there are no legal restrictions on the use of restraint and seclusion in schools

Many of these risks to autistic children are much more prevalent and dangerous than the risk of elopement, and many continue to affect autistic people throughout our lives – as our high rates of depression and anxiety show. And yet, these are the dangers that are rarely discussed by parents and autism organizations. These risks do not seem to inspire as many panel discussions, safety curricula, training sessions, and special safety programs. Perhaps because, by and large, they require change on the parts of the everyone else but the autistic child.

Even more crucially, the parent/expert safety programs that are most popular – the GPS trackers, registries, and compliance training – actually put autistic people at greater risk to our real threats: abuse, victimization, discrimination, isolation, and psychological trauma. Trackers, registries, and compliance make us LESS SAFE. Worst of all, they will have the strongest negative effects on the segment of the autistic population that is already the most vulnerable – you know, the ones we never talk about? – those of us who are not white.

Of course we can’t wait around for mainstream culture to protect us, so here are some safety tips you can really use. And please see my Autism Safety PDF for more information and sources for all of the above statistics.

SAFETY TIPS
  • For Autistic People:
    • learn how to recognize and report abuse
    • learn what to do if you or someone you know is feeling suicidal
    • learn how to avoid interactions with law enforcement
    • advocate for community change that lessens the frequency of interactions with LE, and the risks of violence during interactions with LE
    • learn what to do if you get lost or need help in public spaces
  • For Families: 
    • learn to recognize and respond to signs of abuse, neglect, and bullying
    • learn strategies to reduce the risk of LE involvement and violence
    • learn to recognize and respond when someone you love feels suicidal
    • teach your loved one survival skills, including a safety plan for getting lost 
  • extra tip: medical ID bracelets are safer than ID cards or registries!

Social Skills for Everyone

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Friendship, Infographics, Neurodiversity, Parenting

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

[Each of the slides above has its own image description. Slideshow can be paused for ease of reading text. Full transcript at the end of this post, with a downloadable PDF.]

Issues of social inclusion are often persistent throughout a disabled person’s lifespan. Lack of inclusion can be a vicious cycle if non-disabled people are unfamiliar with how to include and interact with disabled people in their community:

1. disabled people are excluded, are segregated to disabled-only spaces, and/or withdraw from community life when they are socially rejected

2. non-disabled people continue to have social spaces and groups that have no disabled people in them, and they never become familiar or intimately connected with disabled people

3. disabled people continue to be rejected or excluded by non-disabled people who are unfamiliar with how to include us

And, REPEAT.

How do we break this cycle? Traditionally, most of the onus has been on disabled people to assimilate and “normalize,” but this not only doesn’t work well, it’s unfair and ableist. Mainstream culture is beginning to realize that non-disabled need to do more to include us without trying to “fix” us, but it’s crucial to understand that acceptance is more than just a feeling. It’s a series of actions, and for most it will require some learning and listening to disabled people.

I have a dream that parents of non-disabled children will begin to talk to their kids about disability, as early and as often as possible. Just as with other issues of discrimination, it’s not enough to trust that your kids will be “nice” – even nice, lovely, kind hearted children may discriminate against or exclude disabled children if they simply do not know how to include them, and don’t understand people who are different from themselves in ways that a child can easily perceive.

This guide is a start. Please please share it with your kids and talk to them about what disability inclusion means. It’s not about pity or charity, it’s about equality.

Social Skills for Everyone PDF

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Cover.
Infographic cover has the title Social Skills for Everyone,” subtitle making friends and getting along.” Above the title are two human figures, one waving their arms with a speech bubble saying hi!” and the other with arms akimbo and a speech bubble containing ellipses. 
Page One.
Infographic text says: You might have noticed… there are all kinds of people in the world. no two are exactly alike. Not even twins! You probably won’t be friends with everyone you meet (and that’s ok!) but learning to get along with people makes life a little better for all of us.” One group of human figures is multicolored, with a green figure waving and saying hello!” A pair of orange figures who look the same as each other stand side by side, one saying I love drawing comic books” and the other saying I don’t draw. But I love Minecraft!” 
Page Two.
Infographic text says: There isn’t only one right way” to socialize… Just like there isn’t only one way to play! Everyone has their own style figure adds, and I think that’s cool!’ and learning someone else’s style is how you include someone new figure adds, and hey, remember… next time, the new person… could be you!’” Bottom image shows a green figure standing in foreground holding/touching their own head, with other figures in the background playing and one waving in greeting to the green new person.
Page Three.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone new… it’s nice to greet them and ever nicer to invite them to talk or play with you.” Image shows two human figures in foreground and two more playing in the background. A green figure waves and says to the orange figure, Hi, I’m Alex. Do you want to play tag with us?’ More text: but what if they don’t answer?” The green figure stands with a question mark thought bubble, while the orange figure touches/holds their own head and stands with a thought bubble containing ellipses.
Page Four.
Infographic text says: It might NOT mean they don’t want to play. Try this! Wait a few more seconds some people just need a little more time to answer questions or think of what to say.” Orange figure has a speech bubble that says …………okay!’ Move so they can see your face some people need to read your lips while you talk.” Two green heads in profile face each other, one with sound waves around mouth. Ask in a different way if they aren’t sure how to answer, using different words might help.” Green figure points to the side and says to orange figure, He’s it.” Let’s run!’ Or maybe just try again later. They might not be ready to join in yet, and that’s okay too!
Page Five.
Infographic text says: Some people do not speak at all (or not very much) but you can still include them! People who don’t speak communicate in other ways, like: Body Language! (orange figure in a variety of poses/gestures), using their voice in other ways (orange laughing face with speech bubble hahaha!’) or even using an app on a tablet! (orange figure holds a black tablet which has a dialog box saying okay. let’s play!’)
Page Six.
Infographic text says: When you meet someone who seems different, you might notice that they look, talk, or act differently than anyone else you’ve met before.” A green figure stands touching/holding their own head with a question mark thought bubble. It’s okay to ask polite questions.” A green figure asks, Does that hurt?’ to an orange figure with a small red mark on their face, who responds, No. It’s just a birthmark.’ More text: It’s good to celebrate our differences AND remember we aren’t all that different on the inside we all pretty much want the same things: to be accepted, to feel we belong, and to have fun doing things we enjoy.” At the bottom is a row of human figures: a green one with arms akimbo, orange one with heart-shaped birthmark, gray one waving arms, green one with headphones high-fiving a gray one with an orange wheelchair.
diversity is beautiful cartoon

Diversity is Beautiful

ableism, Autism, comics, Disability, Education, Infographics, Neurodiversity

One of the most frequent questions I hear from parents of autistic children is, “how do I tell them they are autistic?” They want to explain autism to their child in a positive way; to frame the information as something that empowers.

My favorite way to approach conversations about autism and other forms of disability, especially (but not only!) with children, is rather than singling out the autistic or otherwise disabled child, begin with the larger context of diversity.

Diversity is, after all, an essential ingredient in a thriving natural environment; it is valuable for its own sake.

What I love about this approach is that it de-centers any one “typical” way of being, unlike the old way of explaining autism as a brain with a set of deficits that makes it something other than normal. There is no one correct or even best kind of brain, any more than there is one correct or best kind of dog or bird.

I have this “Diversity is Beautiful” cartoon for sale in my shop, on posters and mugs and a bunch of other cool products. If you choose to purchase something from there, your support is greatly appreciated! But I am also offering free printable PDFs (see below) so that anyone may use this information. As with all of my infographics, you have permission use these for personal, educational, and any other not-for-profit purpose, retaining credit to me (and any other sources listed in my graphics).

diversity is beautiful cartoon

The Simple version of Diversity is Beautiful gives you more space to create your own accessible explanations for the concepts in the image. I recommend this one for audiences with less complex receptive language and/or reading skills.

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world.” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people.” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains.” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Simple)

"diversity is beautiful" cartoon w explanations

The version called Diversity is Beautiful (Explained) has a more lengthy explanation for each form of diversity shown. This is a nice choice for anyone who does not wish to create their own script, or would like people to be able to access the image’s concepts independently (for example, as a poster in a school classroom).

Image description: title is “diversity is beautiful.” First row of drawings shows a variety of animals, with the caption “diversity in the animal world / there are millions of different kinds of animals – more than we can count!” Second row shows an assortment of kids: from left to right is a person with a limb (arm) difference, person using a wheelchair, person with no visible disability, person signing “hello,” person using forearm crutches, person wearing glasses, person using a white/probing cane. Caption is “diversity of people / people come in a great variety of shapes, sizes, genders, abilities, and appearances – we are all unique!” Third row shows four heads with smiling faces and on foreheads are drawings of multicolored brains, caption is “diversity of human brains / no two brains are alike, but we have names for different types – like ADHD, autistic, dyslexic, typical, & more!” ©Erin Human 2017

Printable PDF:
Diversity is Beautiful (Explained)

 

 

 

What causes ableism?

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Neurodiversity

[The following text is also a transcript for the featured image description]

What causes ableism? 

* There is no single cause of ableism; rather, it is a complex and interrelated set of attitudes, assumptions, and prejudicial biases. Ableism develops from a combination of individual prejudice and environmental factors, such as widespread normalization of ableism, misinformation by ableist institutions, and societal lack of inclusion for disabled people.

* Some important risk factors for ableism are unfamiliarity with disabled people and ignorance about disability issues and disability rights. Tragically, an ableist culture that fails to provide access and true inclusion for disabled people has a high risk of worsening the ableism epidemic.

* Vaccines do NOT cause ableism; on the contrary, a large scale program of inoculation against ableism, through the inclusion of disabled people and education for non-disabled people, may protect individual people and major societal institutions from falling victim to ableism.

[Image has a graphic image of a syringe at left, and “erinhuman.com” at bottom right]

Intro: Ableism Awareness Month

Part 1: What is ableism?

Part 2: How many people are affected by ableism?

Part 4: Is there a cure for ableism?

Part 5: Ableism Therapies

Ableism Awareness Wrapup Post

What is Ableism?

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education

[The following text is also a transcript for the featured image description]

What is ableism?

Ableism is a cultural disorder that can affect people’s language and communication skills, social relationships, and other interpersonal behaviors.

Symptoms may include:

* Deficits in respectful, disability-inclusive communicate skills; may include the repetitive use of language that discriminated against or excludes disabled people, and a failure to provide communication access to disabled people.

* Deficits in social-emotional reciprocity with disabled people, ranging (for example) from lack of empathy toward disabled people to failure to include disabled people in social activities; in severe forms, may include abuse, homicide/filicide, and/or total apathy toward the abuse of disabled people.

* Restricted patterns of discriminatory behavior, for example: insistence on segregating, mocking, and/or abusing disabled people; unusual interest in “inspiration pornography” that objectifies and demeans disabled people, etc.

Ableism is any form of discrimination or negative bias toward disabled people or disability in general.

Intro: Ableism Awareness Month

Part 2: How many people are affected by ableism?

Part 3: What causes ableism?

Part 4: Is there a cure for ableism?

Part 5: Ableism Therapies

Ableism Awareness Wrapup Post

 

April is Ableism Awareness Month

ableism, Autism, Disability, Education, Neurodiversity

For several years, autism organizations led by non-autistic parents and professionals have focused on Autism Awareness in the month of April.

Autistic people have pushed back on the Awareness campaigns (and their usual pathologizing, othering frameworks) by asking for less talk of awareness and more acceptance for autistic people of all ages.

This year I was inspired to flip the old script with a new kind of Awareness campaign:

This April is Ableism Awareness Month

Join me in the coming weeks as I roll out some basic information and awareness of this epidemic of ableism, including examples and symptoms, treatments and alternatives, and more.

Part 1: What is ableism?

Part 2: How many people are affected by ableism?

Part 3: What causes ableism?

Part 4: Is there a cure for ableism?

Part 5: Ableism Therapies

Ableism Awareness Wrapup Post

#SayTheWord, Not “Special Needs”

Autism, Disability, Education, Neurodiversity

The deeper I go into autistic culture and autistic rights activism, the more I find myself pulled to align my goals, my activism, and my identity with the broader disability rights community.

There’s a social media campaign going on right now to #SayTheWord – it was started by Lawrence Carter-Long, the Public Affairs Manager for the National Council on Disability, and is an active Twitter hashtag. The word, of course, is disabled.

The importance of this campaign is driven home to me over and over again as I see people performing ludicrous and painful contortions to avoid saying it. Reminder that when I make a criticism the way well-meaning people interact with disability, I am not attacking the people (parenthetical reminder that I was immersed in ableism myself not long ago), but inviting people to think about things in a different way.

Instead of saying disabled, nice people say things like:

  • differently abled
  • handicapable (yes, really)
  • physically/mentally challenged
  • special needs

It’s that last one, special needs, that I really want to take aim at, because I believe that seemingly innocuous phrase does serious damage to disability rights.

Every time someone says “special needs,” they reinforce the false notion that disabled people are asking for “extras” when we require accommodations, modifications, and/or support to access the same things that non-disabled people are able to access, such as education, public spaces, community involvement, and so on.

That’s the first problem, because access is not “special” for disabled people. It’s our right. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, modeled on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protects disabled Americans from discrimination, requires us to be accommodated in the workplace, and grants us equal access to public spaces and institutions. Other countries have laws in place to protect disability rights in similar ways.

The second problem is, the phrase “special needs” flies in the face of the social model of disability. The social model says, the disabled person’s inability to access things is due not to the disabled person’s failings, flaws, or deficits, but on the environment’s failure to provide access to the things. For example, a Blind person is not disabled because they can’t see, they are disabled because the world was set up by seeing people for seeing people and is made of many things that are inaccessible to non-seeing people.

To make a metaphor of it, imagine taking a brand new car and submerging it in a lake. The car is disabled; there’s nothing wrong with the car itself, it still does everything it’s designed to do, but it cannot operate in its current environment. If were in an environment well suited to its needs and purposes, like say a road, it would be able to do all the things a car does.

Or, take a look at this short (1 minute 26 second) animation explaining the social model – it has captions for those who have auditory processing or hearing disabilities.

So, when you say “special needs” instead of disabled, you are saying, this person needs all sorts of special things to help them do what we can do. We, the people who designed the buildings, the curriculum, the programs, the services, so that they are tailored to our needs – we don’t need anything special to access those things. Well of course!

Some people shy away from the word disabled because they feel that it’s stigmatizing. (Some people feel the same way about the word autistic.) But you don’t remove stigma by dancing around it and being coy and hush-hush about it. That actually increases stigma. Disabled is not a slur and never was; it’s a neutral description. I believe that the truth is people are not just uncomfortable with the word, they are uncomfortable with disability itself.

Disability is a normal part of human diversity; somewhere around 15-20% of the human population is disabled. Like other forms of diversity, the presence of disability in the world enriches humanity in ways that we probably can’t even imagine. Being disabled is not something to be ashamed of, and it’s not something to be scared of; it’s just a fact of life.

I #SayTheWord because I believe that only by saying it over and over again, with pride, with confidence, can we accept disability itself. Say it with me.

(Another great post on this topic is Disabled? I Am Legend! by unstrangemind. And if you are on Twitter, be sure to check out the #SayTheWord hashtag, which is full of excellent.)

buy me pizzaImage says “#saytheword / eisforerin.com / disabled not ‘special needs'” on a blue background.

The Clay vs The Seed

Education, Parenting

The Clay

A lump of clay has the potential to do or be almost anything, but until the intent, creativity, and pressure of a higher being is applied, it just sits there. Generally it quite willingly gives to that pressure and molds to the shapes desired, but if left to its own devices, it will just sit on the table, inert, with no ideas or motivation or momentum of its own. With the steady and goal-oriented guidance of more intelligent hands, it can be shaped into a thing of beauty and purpose.

The Seed

A seed also appears to be an inert object, but is actually a small bundle of energy and potential that just needs a fertile environment in which to grow. It needs some nurturing, but it does not need to be told how to grow, how quickly to do it, or what to grow into. Its full potential and eventual form are all contained within the seed. Funny thing, many seeds can even grow in a crack in the concrete; but it’s best to start with a nourishing soil, and sunlight and water as needed (another funny thing, too much watering can cause the budding plant to wilt). The seed needs opportunity, but not motivation; it is born with the drive become the mature form it will someday be.

I firmly believe that children are very much like seeds. I agree with author and father of unschooling John Holt when he says,

We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can, accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions — if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.

I’ve heard many arguments against unschooling that go something like, “without adults to tell children how to behave, it will be Lord of the Flies.” Lord of the Flies is an allegory about the essential evil of human nature (by the way, NOT children’s nature specifically! It’s meant to be about people generally, much the way Animal Farm is not actually about the natural instincts of barnyard critters) that ties in with the concept of original sin (and the name “Lord of the Flies” is a synonym for Beelzebub).

Golding believed that people were basically cruel and evil, and if the veneer of higher law and order were ever stripped away, we’d fall back on killing and eating each other. When people use the Lord of the Flies argument for controlling children, we should interpret that not as a parenting or teaching style but as a certain kind of fundamental worldview.

It seems to me that many people who are not necessarily religious or Christian nevertheless have absorbed this concept of original sin – man’s sinful, evil nature. And actually it seems a little dangerous to me that atheistic/agnostic people can retain that concept of man’s evil nature while rejecting the theology of redemption. Christians, at least, are saved by grace. What do you have to save you if you aren’t religious but believe that humans are inclined toward murder and destruction? (Maybe worth noting at this juncture that Golding died by suicide.) I suppose all you have is the idea that we can choose to be civilized and live under a higher authority that forces us all to behave and not be too murdery, and so it stands to reason that we have to do this to children (mold them, shape them, control them, and convince them it’s better not to stab people). (As Modest Mouse once sang, “who would want to be such a control freak?”)

I reject this worldview completely. I’m an atheist, but I’m a humanist with an essentially rational, not dogmatic, belief system. I believe that humans are social animals whose driving force is to form groups and support each other to perpetuate the species. My belief is almost the opposite of Golding’s, who felt that culture had the ability to sort of tenuously suppress evil; I think that culture often stirs up and perpetuates evil (see: racism, misogyny, ableism, classism, et al), while the essential nature of humans is sort of neutral-good. We are built to learn and thrive.

It’s my view that children do not need to be taught how to think; they are born knowing this. What usually happens is that adults convince them they don’t know how to think, and that we must teach them. Some kids acquiesce to this more easily, and struggle with a lack of self-confidence as they believe the message that they quite incapable of thinking on their own; others resist it, and struggle with a lack of self-worth as they are continually locked in battle with adults who tell them they are defiant and disrespectful.

These feelings don’t magically evaporate as we push grown children out of the nest; they persist into adulthood and so those children become adults who have fully internalized the belief that they were once children who, if they hadn’t been molded, sometimes forcibly, by adults, would not have amounted to anything – or worse, would default to delinquents and monsters. It stands to reason then that these are adults who, in turn, insist that children are lumps of clay who must be molded, taught how to think, shaped by outside hands into functional beings. As with many things in human culture, a cycle perpetuates itself.

I think that being autistic gives me a kind of advantage when it comes to critically thinking about cultural practices. I am as susceptible as the next parent (and homeschooler) to the emotions of fear and feelings of inadequacy, but I don’t adopt cultural attitudes automatically. It’s not in my nature to do what everyone else is doing (in some ways doing so would actually help me, but it just isn’t my way). In parenting and in homeschooling I’ve taken a leap out of the cycle of molding Clay. Providing a nurturing environments for Seeds makes more sense to me, better suits my worldview, and is more conducive to the kind of mutually respectful relationship with my children (and any other children for which I am in the position of caring and teaching) that I desire.

Image shows a sprig of maple seeds with the text: a seed needs some nurturing, but it does not need to be told how to grow, how quickly to do it, or what to grow into. – eisforerin.com.

Busting Homeschooling Myths

Education

IMG_6479

Image is two small children walking on a wide path in the woods.

I never thought I would be a homeschooling parent in a million billion years. First of all, I obviously have a shaky grasp on mathematics. Just kidding. No, it was more that I came from a world where everyone went to public school and that was that. If ever I stopped to actually consider what it would be like to homeschool, I had the same arguments as pretty much everyone else does when they say they would never. When I talk to other homeschooling moms now, I find there are two kinds: the ones who always knew they would choose this path, and those who, like me, thought they absolutely would not! So I thought it would be fun to bust some of those myths that I used to believe in.

IMG_6717

Image is a red toy lathe spinning a wooden dowel, with an adult’s hand guiding a child’s hand in carving the dowel.

1. I am not patient enough. I think almost everyone thinks this at first. We parents are hard on ourselves and wish we were more like the archetypical kind Kindergarten teacher of our imaginations. A lot of this myth comes from your expectations of how much work homeschooling is going to be, which is based on how much work traditional school is. It’s helpful to know that you DON’T have to do six straight hours of schoolwork a day. This article breaks down a normal school day into 40 minutes of new instruction time; the rest is fluff like classroom management, changing classes, reviews, recess, and so on. Even if you want to do very traditional “school at home” homeschooling, I’m sure even the most impatient parent can handle 40 minutes a day. If you want something more relaxed than workbooks – even better.

IMG_6314

Image is a chalkboard with assorted chalks and erasers on a tray, and a child’s drawing on the board.

2. I am not smart/educated enough. You aren’t preparing your child for a PhD, you’re preparing them for a high school diploma. Or, hell, let’s take it a step at a time. This year you’re probably preparing them for first or fifth or ninth grade. You have a ninth grade education, right? You don’t? Okay, surely you have a first grade education. If not, maybe you should homeschool yourself, friend. Again, don’t get trapped in the notion that you have to be doing everything that “they” are doing in public schools. You don’t have to teach The New New New Really Newest Math to educate your child. If you don’t remember how to do the advanced calculus you learned in high school, maaayyyyybe most people don’t really need advanced calculus in life. Just saying.

3. I can’t be home with my kids all day every day. I hear ya! Listen, you don’t have to do this alone, and you shouldn’t. According to Boston College psychologist Peter Gray, unschoolers who fare best in life are the ones whose parents make an effort to connect them to the world outside their nuclear family. Different communities have different levels of support available locally, to be sure – Omaha happens to have a large and vibrant homeschooling community, so much so that I could easily schedule my children into enough groups that I wouldn’t see them all week! But that’s not our style. Facebook makes it easy for you to connect with other homeschoolers in your area. If you have no support in your city or town – create it! Trust me, it’s rewarding.

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Image is three children, seen from above, playing with a plastic train set on the floor.

4. What About Socialization??? Maybe I should have put this one first, because the it’s first thing eeeeeveryone thinks of when they think of homeschooling, right? Unschooled blogger Idzie Desmarais wrote up a great comprehensive post on the socialization question that you should read. If you don’t, I’ll say in a more concise fashion that traditional school doesn’t provide all that many great opportunities to socialize: kids are stuck in classes with a bunch of kids exactly their same age and are usually not allowed to talk to each other much, aside from a 20 minute lunch and 20 minute recess each day. That’s not great preparation for “the real world,” is it? By contrast, a conscientious homeschooler can bring their kids around people of all ages, including adults, where they may freely converse and interact. In my personal experience I’ve found homeschooled/unschooled kids to be, on the whole, very social, able to get along with lot of different kinds of people, and noticeably self-assured. One thing most adults will quickly notice about homeschooled kids is that they are not afraid to talk to adults. That doesn’t mean they’re rude, it means they talk to you like just another person because they aren’t trained to only answer your questions when prompted. I’ve also found they’re more likely to help out a younger child without being asked to do it. It’s pretty cool.


5. What About Outcomes?
The next biggest concern for people who are thinking about homeschooling, after socialization, is what the future opportunities are for homeschooled kids, also known as What About College? The Peter Gray study on unschooling outcomes linked above in #3 lays it out pretty clearly: 83% of the unschooled adults he surveyed had gone on to some form of higher education, and almost half of those completed or were on track to complete a bachelor’s degree. The rest of the stats are similarly encouraging, with high rates of financial independence, many ending up in STEM careers or the arts, and a very high percentage of them pursuing careers in which they could continue to be self-directed in their work. The number one complaint about adjusting to college life was that other students did not seem to take the work very seriously.

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Image is a close-up of multicolored pencils in a can.

6. Public education is too important to abandon. This was probably the last qualm to go for me. I am a die hard political lefty with a strong passion for social equality, so I fully understand the argument for keeping public schools alive so that children from all walks of life have access to education and opportunity. The problem, I’ve come to find out, is that is not what public schools provide. What they really offer is a one size fits all approach to education that actually fits only a very few. From poorly practiced inclusion to the preschool-to-prison pipeline, the public system is rife with problems that disadvantage the many and offer privilege to only a few – typically, the few that happen to be white, middle class, and good at doing school.

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Image is a toddler sitting at a table, painting with red paint on orange paper.

I don’t know what the future will bring for us. I used to always say that if the kids decided they want to go to public school in the future, I’d agree to it and let them make that choice for themselves. I probably still would, but I’d have more reservations. I feel good about our choice to homeschool and I do hope that our new co-op is successful, but even if it’s not I feel happy with what we already have available to us. I’m always happy to sit down and answer questions with anyone who is curious about homeschooling and wants to know more, so if you do please leave a comment or drop me an email sometime!