{Homegrown Kids} Interview: Making the Choice to Homeschool Your “Atypical” Child

As part of this month’s series featuring gifted homeschoolers–including the October giveaway, I’m pleased to present this virtual interview with Corin Barsily Goodwin and Mika Gustavson. They are co-authors of Making the Choice: When Typical School Doesn’t Fit Your Atypical Child (Print | Kindle).

Question: What prompted you to write the book?

In each of our experiences working with families of outlier kids, we often needed to provide answers to the questions of giftedness, twice-exceptionality, and education. We also discovered we were hearing the same questions in our different arenas of advocacy and mental health. Parents wanted to better understand their children and how they could best meet their education and developmental needs, and they needed something concise and easy-to-read that would work in their limited available time. We also thought it would be useful to have a book as a “here, read this” option for spouses, in-laws, professionals, and others who are involved in our kids’ lives. And prior to our book, nothing really addressed the particular question of “how do you make the choice about educating your atypical child?”

Question: In your mind, what makes a “typical” school and what makes a child “atypical”?

When we say a school is “typical,” we just mean the standard classroom that you’d find in most public or private schools. Granted, all classrooms are a bit different and of course there are some wonderful teachers out there; however, ours is a system of mass education, and there are limits to what a school district on a budget and under all sorts of scrutiny can do to meet the needs of every child. When we are talking about the “atypical” child, we mean the child whose learning needs are far enough from the norm that the average classroom rubric just isn’t appropriate for them. For example, a child who has advanced knowledge in mathematics, but is challenged with dysgraphia, needs to be able to move ahead intellectually, whereas in most classrooms that child would be held back due to handwriting. A child who has additional diagnoses (i.e., twice-exceptional) may do well academically, but be unable to manage the social behaviors required to participate in a classroom setting. Further, not every school has a gifted program that is effective, and differentiation and grade-skipping are often against school policy. All of these issues could lead a parent to determine that a typical school is a poor fit for their child and cause that parent to seek alternative educational options.

Question: In the book you describe “red flags” or warning signals that indicate that there’s a poor match between school and learning environment. Can you tell us what the most common ones are? What steps should a parent take if and when they appear?

Probably the most common red flag that we hear about, and one of the earliest ones, is a child who is “holding it together” during the school day, but “falling apart,” or completely exhausted, once she gets home. This is usually an indicator that a tremendous amount of coping energy is going into just making through the day. This also begs the question of just how much learning is going on for this child, if so much of her energy is occupied in merely tolerating the difficult environment.

Another frequent red flag is when a parent notices they “get their child back” during school breaks: the loving, carefree, relaxed, and engaged kid they know is in there comes back out, but the stressed, struggling, and possibly depressed child re-emerges after school starts up again. There are of course many other red flags, which we discuss at length in chapter three of our book.

As far as steps to take, there isn’t really a single blueprint to follow, any more than there is a single kid with outside-the-box needs. We do think it’s very important not to assume the status quo is automatically benign. As a parent, being willing to ask difficult questions and expand your horizons is key to discovering if there is a better option for your child and family.

Question: What do you wish non-homeschoolers knew and understood about “secular homeschoolers”? What do you wish they knew about families who homeschool because a child is gifted, is an Aspie, or is 2E?

What we wish others knew isn’t really specific to secular, 2e, or any other subgroup of homeschoolers or of parents. The most important thing is that those who choose to homeschool have their child’s best interests in mind, and generally have carefully thought through big decisions, such as leaving the common path. They are working hard to meet their child’s needs the best they can, even if it doesn’t look the way others think it should. Each child is different and outlier kids exist in all of our communities. Just because someone doesn’t make the same choices that we do doesn’t mean they are making poor choices.

Question: What last bit of advice do you have for parents who are struggling with the idea of making the transition to homeschooling for the reasons related to your book?

Probably the single most important bit of advice we could give is to find support! It may be difficult to find other parents in a similar situation in your geographic community, but at the very least, you can and should find it online. There is no need to reinvent the wheel when others have trod a similar path in the past, or are still on that path. The GHF online community has members from around the world who share stories, seek advice, and provide a shoulder or an audience when needed. Our social media outlets include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Pinterest. We also have a series of books from GHF Press and classes designed specifically for gifted a twice-exceptional kids at GHF Online. GHF also offers lists of links and resources of all kinds, including places to seek further information, ideas for lessons and curricula, guidelines for finding the right professional assistance, and links to regional groups. There is a huge community out there, so today’s parents no longer have to go it alone.

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• For details on this book–and to register for the October 2012 giveaway, please click HERE.


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Disclosure: My own book is forthcoming in 2013 from GHF Press. I was in no way compensated for this month’s giveaway or related posts.