Supporting Neurodiverse Learners in the Homeschool Community

On January 16th, Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M. Ed., LPC, shared her knowledge and experience of neurodiversity with the Virginia homeschool community in the second of our ongoing Virtual Workshop series. Emily explained labels associated with neurodiversity, shared accommodations we can make to support neurodiverse learners, and answered community member questions in an open Q&A at the end of the session. The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers provided this event at no cost to members and non-members alike.

Emily Kircher-Morris is a clinical mental health counselor, author, and host of The Neurodiversity Podcast. Emily is inspired by her own experiences as a neurodivergent person and is dedicated to destigmatizing neurodiversity and providing support to neurodivergent people of all ages. Before starting her private practice, she worked as a gifted education teacher and school counselor. Emily brings with her an abundance of experience in supporting neurodiverse learners and shared a great deal of helpful information with our community during her workshop.

Emily began her presentation with defining terms and labels associated with neurodiversity, emphasizing that someone who is neurodiverse has a different way of learning, thinking, and operating in the world. From there, Emily compared the traditional concept, typically thought of as a straight line of least to greatest, of autism and other neurodivergent labels, such as ADHD and giftedness, with her preferred way, which is more of a web with interwoven pieces. The web concept illustrates that there are several elements that make up each type of neurodivergence and these may impact the levels of support that each learner needs in those areas. Emily went on to discuss hyper- and hypo-sensitivities related to each of our body systems that many neurodivergent people experience, highlighting the point that we must be emotionally regulated to learn. This sentiment is in line with what many of us, as homeschooling families, know so well: when we are feeling good, learning can be a joyful experience! The challenge is when we aren’t feeling so great and then figuring out how to get to that positive state.

Emily recommends a strength based approached for teaching neurodiverse learners. This strength based approach is not necessarily interest-focused, but it can incorporate a learner’s unique interests. Neurodivergent learners are each different, but Emily shared with us some strengths that we can look for and incorporate into our teaching strategies: monotropism, hyperfixation, verbal ability, visual-spatial ability, and comfort with routine, among others. To work with these strengths, Emily suggested that we build accommodations into our homeschool strategies. What this means is that we build in flexibility, and focus on learning objectives rather than completing a lesson exactly as stated. For example, if we have a student studying ancient Egypt and their lesson plan asks them to write a paragraph, but we know our child has visual-spatial strengths, we might ask them to create an explanatory poster or visual to show their understanding of the material instead. As homeschoolers, we have the benefit of flexibility and because of this, we can individualize our lessons to meet the needs of each of our children and really dig into strength-based teaching and learning. Emily also highlighted the importance of ongoing conversations with our children, which help them learn to recognize their own strengths and develop the ability to advocate for themselves as they move forward in the learning.

She pointed out that a conversation that often arises is; ‘When do accommodations become enabling?’ For Emily, enabling occurs when the educator or parent is putting tools in place and the learner is unaware it is happening, which can lead to a learned helplessness. Accommodations, on the other hand, place the learner in the process and asks for them to engage in the decision making. This is another area where ongoing conversations are important, and result in cooperation that she feels build independence and self advocacy.

At the end of the workshop, Emily answered several questions from our community, offering practical strategies and advice for supporting neurodiverse learners in our homes and in homeschool co-op settings. She also made recommended a few resources and invited our members to register for her Neurodiversity Affirming Crash Course. 

Recommended Resources:

We are so thankful to everyone who joined us and we look forward to inviting our community to join in our ongoing Virtual Workshops series. We will be announcing the next in the series soon, so keep an eye on our website and your inbox for updates!

 

This blog was written by Sydney Miller Milbert, VaHomeschoolers Board of Director and PR Committee Member. Sydney is a homeschooling mom of two children, works part-time as a virtual Language Arts teacher, and serves on the board of NICE Circle, a Loudoun County non-profit that provides homeschooling families the opportunities for classes, clubs and service projects. In addition, she is currently pursuing a graduate degree in gifted education, with the hope and intention to provide support for gifted and neurodiverse learners and their families in the homeschool community.

Opinions expressed by individual writers in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Board of Directors of The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, nor do they represent an official position of VaHomeschoolers. Writers’ views are their own, and readers are encouraged to research and explore homeschooling issues to their own satisfaction.

Building LGBTQ+ Inclusive Homeschool Spaces: A Review of the Side by Side Workshop

On September 18th, Shannon Cassano and Abram Clear of Side...

Continuing the Learning Magic during Summer

As the temperatures warm up and the summer sun beckons...

Leave your comment