Unschooling and Autism

Wanna know a secret? I’ve been staring at a blank screen off and on since around 10 this morning, trying to decide what to write. I felt anxious about writing this post in particular. Unschooling and Autism in the same sentence?! Should I turn in my Unschoolers card now? I’m joking – sorta.
I kept telling myself to write something! It easy for me to take photos of our days and post them along with my thoughts, but the second I began to tackle writing in-depth about a topic, particularly unschooling, I freeze.


I always feel like others explain unschooling  in a more eloquent way than I ever could.
Then I started thinking that instead of explaining unschooling in a general way, maybe it would work best if I explained how it works and looks in my family.

Here’s the other thing – after being part of several unschooling groups for so long and hearing or reading about how you’re not really a unschooler if you take your child in for any kind of testing or diagnosis, it chipped away at my instincts.
You see, unschooling is living as if school doesn’t exist. BUT if you do something schoolish, like testing and getting a labeling diagnosis, then how can you live like school doesn’t exist? Testing and diagnosis/labeling are what they do in schools. Follow me?
I’m not saying these groups weren’t beneficial to me because they absolutely were. I didn’t have a mother who was willing to look at how she spoke to me and treated me. For me, learning about unschooling was also learning about how to be a better mother to my children.

I can see how a parent can start to think of their child as only being on the spectrum or *insert whatever your family has going on*, and it could be damaging because you start to see the label and not the child, I see being on the spectrum as a part of who my daughter is, not the whole of who she is.

I started leaving these groups about two years ago and instead of depending on the advice of people who were not living my life, in my home, with my children, I turned the focus on my family. I looked at what my kids needed and what would be best for all of us.

childhood unplugged
Doing the testing and getting the diagnosis was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. No one was mean or rude to my child, no one frowned upon my choice to homeschool(not to my face anyway). We have been met with nothing but kindness and understanding on this journey from our spectrum team.
I was asked what my goals were, did I want to put her in school now or in the near future? My answer was I want to meet my daughter where she is. I want to understand how to best be there for her and help her. I have no plans of putting her in school at this time.
And they helped me develop a care plan. If I change my mind or plans change, then I have the option to go back and they will help us come up with a new care plan. These Dr’s and therapists know just as well as I do that homeschooling allows us to move at Kiah’s pace in a way that’s best for her. Having the diagnosis allows us to receive services that we couldn’t get without the testing and diagnosis. Our lives have improved so much over the last two years because of our unschooling lifestyle and because of the services we were able to get, and because I understand my child in a way that I didn’t before!

We’ve all heard that children on the spectrum thrive on routine and structure, right? To a point.
Here’s how it works in our family….

My daughter can rely on her mother being there for her, supporting her, keeping her life fun and interesting. She can rely on me to answer her questions and help her when she needs it.
Our days and life are very relaxed. It probably looks like we’re not doing anything to people who don’t get what unschooling is. BUT what looks like nothing is actually a lot of learning.

Unschooling isn’t just another method of homeschooling for us, it’s a lifestyle, and one that I love living with my children.
It is not child-led learning – I don’t sit back and twiddle my thumbs, waiting for my kid to learn something new every day. There’s no passive parenting to the point of neglect going on over here. If I have concerns with something then I address it. It could be that my expectations are too high, or it could be a real issue and I take the steps to work on it with them.

Photo taken with a camera phone via telescope.
The Moon: Photo taken with a camera phone via telescope.

Kiah is a highly social person with an insane amount of energy, so she thrives on hanging out with friends and being on the go. We make plans but we can also be flexible. Making sure I allow plenty of time for lounging around after waking up, eating, and getting dressed is important. Our days usually start around 10am  and if we’re having an out and about day it starts in the afternoon and goes on until evening.


We live and we learn through living.
When I first heard of unschooling and read up on what it meant, I thought it would be soooo easy. The concept was easy for me to understand but the execution can get tricky sometimes. This lifestyle is fun but it’s also hard work!
Sometimes it helps me to break down our adventures into subjects and make a record(using this blog at times)of what we do and what/how they’re learning. I have three kids with three different learning styles and needs.

It doesn’t matter if the interest is Japan, dinosaurs, trucks, sharks, animal jam, fashion, the solar system, gardening, human anatomy, zoology, or Mario Bros….I support them. We watch documentaries, cartoons, get books from the library, use puzzles, make up games with flash cards, attend homeschool co-op, find nearby classes, museums, Lego, and youtube videos. We go to the parks and beaches, festivals, and travel out of town when we can afford it.
We also use our microscope and telescope.

The point I’m trying to make is that having a child with Autism hasn’t changed my view of what unschooling is and looks like for our family.
Children learn through play and I don’t think having a child on the spectrum is any different, not for us.



Jodi from Geek Club Books is sponsoring this fabulous All Geeked Out Giveaway:

Mighty League Vol. 1 Autism Story App
Mighty League Vol 1 Comic Book
Dorktales Storytime CD
Geek Club books Tote

To Enter: leave a comment below, stating you want to be entered into the giveaway. Your email address is visible only to me. The winner will be announced next Thursday, here on the blog. You will have 48hrs to respond via email with your address. 

You can read the previous posts in this series:

Process For Getting An Autism Diagnosis.

Occupational Therapy Changed Our Life.

Siblings and Autism.

Thank You For Sharing!

17 Replies to “Unschooling and Autism”

  1. I think you have summed up beautifully what unschooling means to you. I find in the homeschooling community we are so set on labeling what we do, and I think we just need to figure out what works best for us, as mamas, and for our children and then do it. There really is no right or wrong way, it is about what is the best fit.

    1. Thanks Kim.
      You are right, there are a lot of politics in the homeschooling community and it was best for me and my family to move away from all of that. The beauty of homeschooling is tailoring it to fit your family.

  2. Elissa Grobman says: Reply

    As an SLP, I believe in an eclectic approach. This giveaway would support my students nicely. Thanks for all you do.

  3. Giveaway entry please!

    Unschooling is more or less what we’re doing with my neurodivergent kids too. Fits better with our family personality and as individuals, since both of us the parents are neurodivergent too lol

  4. Love to be entered in all geeked out giveaway

  5. We would love to be entered! Thanks!

  6. I want to enter into the giveaway.

  7. You said it perfectly! I was recently telling someone that we are unschoolers as well and they were quiet “shocked” to hear that! The beauty of unschooling is that there are so many opportunities in the world to learn from. I’m so glad that God has naturally guided us down this path as we are in our 4th year with unschooling! My children have grown beautifully since taking them from the “standard” way of learning! Love the updates! 🙂

  8. I am so glad to have run into your blog and this article hit the jackpot when i was looking for some answers to my questions. My main concerns about unschooling autistic children (My 5 yr old is ob the spectrum with language disorder) is that, by reading and hearing what actual autistic adults say about needing the routines and visual guidance, i kind of feel that unschooling can be a bit confusing for my son and therefore he will have less confidence to do what he can and wants to do…

    1. I think you can unschool and have structure to your days. Part of the beauty of homeschooling is being able to tailor it to fit your family’s needs.
      I’m going to email you to get a better feel for your specific concerns.

  9. Please enter me in the Giveaway 🙂 Also, thank you so much for your inspiring words! Like you I am a single mom. I have twin 8 year old boys, one of whom is “on the spectrum”, and one who is highly sensitive. We’ve been homeschooling and are transitioning to the unschooling lifestyle. Tonight I came by your site for the first time and after reading it I no longer felt alone. Honestly everything you said spoke directly to me. I think that unschooling special needs children hasn’t been talked about enough, and it’s a great relief to see that this philosophy is reaching, touching and succeeding in “non-typical” families. Thank you!

  10. I’m glad you posted this. We are struggling with the decision to have an evaluation for on of our children. We were of the mind that because we did not use school, and could tailor our days and expectations to his needs we didn’t need any labels. Then came an event that might have been made easier on us if we had those labels (dentist appointments assigned by age and special need) that we were not able to even approach without the diagnosis.

    We are an unschool family (almost radical ones at this point, because our state does not mandate education before age 8 and we have a goal of PLAY as much as they can, while they can) and I have been rolling it around trying to see where these tests and labels would matter in our lifestyle for a while.

  11. Oh, and I would like to be entered for the giveaway.

  12. I really loved hearing about your homeschooling day and what that looks like – I’m always curious as to how others, especially with ASD children, manage their days. I also homeschool my spectrum kid and although I hadn’t given much thought to what style of homeschooling we practice, I guess it is a mix, but heavy on unschooling. We do have some formal teaching areas, but that is because for those areas, that is the way my son responds best. I think part of the reason I’ve not given much thought to the style is because really, my style is whatever works for my child. I’ll encourage him in whatever ways I can think of to help him grasp concepts, and for us as well, that has made all the difference in him. I think we’re pretty like minded in that way.. that helps me to feel as though I’m on the right page. Thanks!
    Kim recently posted…They like me! They like me!My Profile

  13. Love this post, this is exactly why I had to shed the label of unschooling and focus on what is best for each of my girls. Having a child on the spectrum is why I started to homeschool in the beginning, now I would not have it any other way. Peace for the journey. 🙂

  14. Your experiences sound so much like mine. I’m encouraged to see so many others posting that they are also homeschooling/unschooling, not-worrying-about-what-we-call-it schooling our kids. Thank you for posting. I started with my son last year and have been keeping a blog/journal at http://weauttobeathome.blogspot.com/

    I started it with the hope of sharing with other parents doing the same thing, so we can learn from each other while teaching our kids. Thanks again! So glad to have found you.
    Deborah Sale Butler recently posted…LossMy Profile

  15. Greetings, I really enjoyed your article and wanted to ask a question of you because I am considering unschooling my 8 year old son that has been recently diagnosed as being autstic I would like to know how to go about receiving services for him as an unschooled child would benefits still be available to him? Thank you for any information that you may find useful to us.


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