Unschooling the Neurospicy
Embracing the Neurospicy means celebrating the different ways we process information while promoting acceptance, and rejecting stigma and intolerance. Unschooling is a flexible environment that protected my offspring’s authenticity.

Neurospicy signifies a difference in traits that add interest to the human recipe.

The term Neurospicy conveys the idea that Neurodivergent (ND) traits are not undesirable, but simply different. “Embracing the Neurospicy” means celebrating the different ways our brains and bodies process information while promoting acceptance, and rejecting bias, stigma, and intolerance.

During the last year, I learned that I have been Autistic and ADHD for my entire life and that I have multiple sensory processing functions that are not Neurotypical (NT). My lifelong unschooling teen’s ND traits were realized over a series of subsequent diagnoses, but as with me, understanding our ND traits illuminates what has been present since birth.

We embrace our disabilities as legitimate aspects of who we are. We promote that society must adapt to include the individual rather than expecting the individual to adapt to the environment when it results in their exclusion or diminishes their access to participation in community. I have adapted the capitalization of Autism/Autistic to signify identity within the neurodiversity movement.

“Autism is not a thing that is added to a person – it’s quite integral to their life and cannot be removed from who they are.” – Devon Price, PhD, Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity

Unschooling can be a supportive paradigm for the Neurospicy.

Choosing to unschool my offspring meant that I focused on connection via authentic attunement while facilitating his self-directed learning. I have written a bit about these experiences since he was a child, but I trailed off from such posts as he became a teen. This was out of respect for him and his control over his public identity, and as a result of my own overwhelm from executive dysfunction. I needed to focus within and limit my distractions to our immediate needs and pathways as we went through complex transitions in our lives. I deleted my social media, we moved to a new state, and now we are making an effort to unfold across the structure we have defined for moving forward with intention and self-compassion.

Unschooling my offspring through his entire childhood affords me a unique lens into who he is, the nuances of who he wants to be at any given time, and what he needs on the most intuitive of levels. By nature of our unschooling process, he, too, is attuned to me via his intuition, authentic connection, and awareness of what makes me who I am – both in semblance to himself as well as where and how I am vastly different from who he perceives himself to be. I have never known a closer relationship – and I am careful to be mindful of the power I hold within such a relationship.

Unschooling is a paradigm of respect, responsiveness, and acceptance.

This influence has always been filtered with respect for my child, first and foremost. This has translated into his reciprocal appreciation for me and my boundaries, with one inseverable thread: He knows that I will put him first as long as he is my primary responsibility as a minor – by authentic standards instead of according to arbitrary ages/milestones – and as a human being developing at his own pace and in his own time.

I want to know that he is prepared to take on the things he desires to do and I also want to facilitate things for him in the ways he needs when he feels he is not ready for next steps. Sometimes this has meant letting him move independently but safely through experiences that provide him an opportunity to make his own mistakes. He has learned to trust himself without being punished, restricted, or otherwise shamed for his choices and preferences, and he knows he doesn’t have to ‘do life’ alone.

This translates to an individual who has the inner confidence to be who he needs to be, regardless of negative or misanthropic influences. It wires within the child a natural sense of awareness about the ill-fitting nuances of societal behaviors that aren’t congruent with generosity, respect, compassion, equality, acceptance, or any other underpinnings that convey morality.

I don’t know of a higher goal any parent might have for the lifelong safety and security of their child. He has learned by nature of this process that he indeed holds ultimate power over himself. He gets to decide his limitations, boundaries, and how to focus his abilities. He gets to decide what matters to him and what can be discarded. He can respectfully tell me when to back off, or when he needs help – or a hug. And he has my trust.

Interdependence is of higher value than independence: Both NDs and NTs benefit from community and connection.

The unschooling process instills an appreciation for one’s interdependent role in justice and social belonging. It promotes inclusivity and community in a way that honors the inherent aspects of environment, culture, and essential needs of those with whom we interact. This is antithetical to bootstrap mentalities of isolated self-reliance that seem to focus responsibility on unrealistic measures of egoistic survival and hierarchy, shame, exclusive communities, and the absence of unconditional acceptance (and therefore, the absence of unconditional love).

The process of unschooling has led me to nurture, facilitate, and protect who my child has needed to be throughout his life. However, conflict is a part of life, and we have extensive experience with trauma and overcoming adversity.

Unschooling gave us the latitude and bandwidth to move through these difficult experiences regardless of the bruises, some of which remain, and others that we’ve been able to compartmentalize, process, or discard. But trauma is also inherent to neurodiversity when we are forced to mask without regard to our sensory needs when understanding of neurodiversity is not present, and when the environment is not accommodative or inclusive.

The ND person experiences daily trauma in the NT world.

I learned that my childhood trauma is partially related to being Autistic in a world that was heavily focused on conformity, certain unaddressed familial dysfunction, and indoctrination. I also learned that females, non-white and non-cis individuals, and non-privileged populations are less likely to be diagnosed as Autistic. This is due to heavily sexist and racist notions that have long-defined historical perspectives and conventional approaches to psychoanalysis and some of the most basic attitudes inherent in medical science that favor the heterosexual male. It is really not surprising at all.

In retrospect, I have lived my entire life with certain cognitive impairment in respect to fitting in and coping within an NT society. As a child, I couldn’t find attunement and connection and was bullied, unable to self-advocate or protect myself from abuse. My internal self-understanding was shaped by repeated mistakes, missteps, and failures that were measured and judged by my own inner critic and those around me according to NT societal standards.

This impacted me initially and profoundly in my sibling relationships, the first place we might look for validation and evidence that we belong. In my generation generally, and in my family, hierarchical family structure dictated that parents didn’t engage their children directly in attunement or individualistically. We may have been more free-range as children, but we had certain critically unmet needs even within some of the most well-intentioned family paradigms.

My conventional achievements were things that I ‘got right’ along the NT path, which came at a high cost to me over time. I overlooked some of my most basic needs in an effort to fit in. I felt confused and on edge, trying to bridge my way to meeting deadlines and expectations while overwhelm invaded my senses. I mistakenly violated boundaries, didn’t recognize pertinent advice, and felt inadequate when the unexpected resulted. I was chewed up and spit out by the medical system for decades while my neurodiversity went undiagnosed. My efforts to meet the demands of fitting in over time invited comorbidities and health crises that now impact much of my life.

Our unschooling process gave us the freedom and latitude to expand and contract according to the progression of our natural self-understanding. Unschooling taught me to recognize that my son’s ND responses are signals, indicating where needs need to be met or boundaries need to be respected. I have focused on validating his self-acceptance. In a single generation, despite all of my limitations, our unschooling process has enabled me to evidence how critical it can be – and how beneficial it is – to dismantle the cycles of dysfunction that impact society exponentially in terms of the authoritarian paradigm. Notable is how far away from our authentic selves we can become across decades and lifetimes without the truth field that is inherent in the unschooling process. I see him now asserting his needs and accepting his limitations with self-awareness and confidence.

Autism and ADHD overlap on a spectrum and share significant identical biomarkers.

I recently found out that Autism and ADHD have up to 70% of the same genetic markers, and many other traits overlap within that range (Hours, Recasens, & Baleyte, 2022). NT individuals’ brains develop through specific pruning of neurological pathways at certain stages. However, for ND populations, this pruning is not consistent, and certain pathways remain unpruned throughout life, affecting how sensory input is processed.

Understanding these facts can help the NT world support, include, and show compassion to ND needs. But there’s still a long way to go in achieving this equitably. The latest neurological research evidences vastly different conclusions than hypotheses about Autism from even five years ago.

I am presenting this information in generalized terms to assert a basic fact that the brains of ND people are physically different, as are the related aspects of intellectual and developmental processing. Five years ago, I didn’t believe that ADHD was real. I also had no related exposure to the facts that determine just how Autistic and ADHD – how Neurospicy – I actually am.

The measure, however, is not the focus. Autism, and much of neurodiversity is a very fluid experience. We do not occupy singly one specific level, degree, or layer of a spectrum. Medically, it is diagnosed in averaged levels and categories. This terminology is out of sync with the social understanding of Autism, where traits are numerous and complex, and are experienced according to as many differences as can exist within a day, an environment, or within relevant stimuli. Along the spectrum of Autism and ADHD, we individually experience the traits of numerous co-occurring conditions and sensory sensitivities.

Masking is the process of trying to fit into social environments, but it comes at a cost. When I consider how I function as an Autistic and ADHD individual, I look at the complexities of where I am in my life and how I feel at the given moment. Many of our social engagements and much of our productivity reflect that we have built up self-accommodations in expectation of feeling the upcoming discomfort from blending in or showing up. The unexpected disruptions and inconsistent conditions in life are the most distressing for us, but unschooling has provided the space and process we need to negotiate through these experiences with empathy for each other.

Where my son’s primary interests are concerned, we both spend significant energy anticipating, planning, and preparing for him to participate. This includes considerations for the space needed afterward to recover from exerting such concentrated energy. We both have to practice pulling back at times while working in partnership to ensure that we can navigate forward without encountering too many waves.

Conventional approaches to the spectrum ignore the inherent needs of ND populations.

Conventional approaches to Autism and ADHD seek to change related ND traits. But I need to feel understood and supported as an Autistic person. I need the evidence that comes from receiving acceptance and understanding to navigate at any moment the longitude and latitude of my existence. This feedback loop is essential in my life’s orientation. It’s important to recognize that being Autistic is a fundamental part of who I am, and it’s important to understand how this affects my needs, even now at a young 59 years old.

When embracing the process of unschooling with my son, I attributed some of his own early-presenting ND traits to quirks of who he is, with full acceptance. This helped to promote a certain level of healthy attachment before having the benefit of being enlightened about our neurodiversity. Our unschooling process also increased my intuitive awareness about connection so that I was able to recognize and avoid approaches to Autism like that of problematic and coercive practices inherent in the conventional Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) behavioral methodology.

While there is evidence of PTSD symptoms in Autistics exposed to ABA, certain formulas or behavioral modification processes practiced in ABA are ubiquitous in schools, medicine, and in numerous programs for ‘treating’ neurodiversity, and specifically Autism. While these programs might work for certain individuals, ABA is not suitable or appropriate as a universal application for all Autistics. It is also antithetical to our unschooling process that values authentic attunement without overstepping consent or intrinsic motivation. ABA approaches, even when identified as positive reinforcement are still a form of manipulation used to encourage exacted response in relationships. Our unschooling process relies on modeling respect and acceptance rather than promoting targeted outcomes in behavior.

Note that Ole Ivar Lovaas is widely considered to be the ‘founder’ of ABA. “Lovaas’s research provides a stark demonstration of how a ‘scientific/expert’ projection of children’s futures has effectively rationalized coercive and violent practices against the children themselves, reshaped professional and familial relations, and bolstered the ongoing devaluation of the adults who are gestured to as a ‘bad outcome,’ be they queer, trans, autistic, or gender non-conforming” (Gibson & Patty, 2018). Autism is not in need of being cured. Efforts to train or cure Autistic traits are inhumane and illogical (Pyne, 2020). “It is the spectrum of personhood – gradations of perceived humanity – that matters most to one’s treatment in the world” (Pyne).

In my search for more information, I have come across certain controversial organizations (e.g., Autism Speaks) that have histories embedded with practices that echo Autism conversion therapies. No matter how many times they update their platforms, the foundation of their approaches remains focused on turning Autistics into neurotypical versions of themselves. Autism self advocacy enables Autistic voices to guide their own descriptions and identify their own needs inclusive of what it means to be Autistic, ND, and disabled. Autistic Self Advocacy Network, Autistic Women and Nonbinary Network, and Self Advocates Becoming Empowered are examples of organizations that work from person-first (or identity-first) philosophies to advocate and seek justice for members of marginalized and disabled communities.

ND masking equates to trauma at any scale.

Throughout my entire life, I have been traumatized daily without the support and understanding – or the acceptance and compassion required of my deficits. The very act of masking – the complex attempt by ND individuals to fit in day after day, year after year, decade after decade – has taken its toll. Autistic comorbidities are no joke – whether they occur neurologically alongside Autism, or whether they result in chronic health concerns that emerge over time from the compounded stress of complex masking.

Even as I notice when my son and I are masking on any given day, I have marveled at how my offspring has embraced his disabilities without really seeming to go through as many internal battles with stigma that I struggled with when first accepting that I am Disabled. I feel that our unschooling process, along with belonging to a more authentic and accepting generation of peers has facilitated this for him. Now we both identify as multiply Disabled, and affectionately, Neurospicy.

Whether overt or subtle, ableism harms and creates obstacles to access.

We encounter ableism just as I work to unlearn my own internalized ableism. I struggle against ageism while he is aware of adultism. He embraces others’ identities without judgment or question. All of these -isms deserve separate discussions, as do all of the ND traits that lead us to identify as Neurospicy. Facts are needed to combat misconceptions and ableist reactions. Something as simple as someone appearing to capably walk from a Disabled parking spot into a business can become a concrete example of circumstances where both visible and invisible disabilities are misjudged.

Ableism can be difficult to wrap one’s head around, however. Someone with the intention to include a Disabled person can easily cross a line into ableism. The best approaches to consider, that will enable Disabled individuals to participate equally in society, are those that do not create isolating conditions. For example, Disabled parking spaces exist alongside regular parking spaces. Even better is the meme where a man is shoveling snow first from the steps as a priority over shoveling the adjacent ramp because more people are waiting to take the steps. The Disabled individual who is present points out that if the man will prioritize shoveling the ramp instead, then “everyone can enter.”

Our unschooling process made me a better human and prepared me to accept my ND traits.

My offspring has moved into the latter portion of his teenage years. It seems like such a short time ago that I was researching alternative pathways for facilitating the education of a toddler who seemed to be thriving at home. I remember a Kindermusik teacher who told me that I needed to put my son into preschool so that he could learn how to sit still and follow instructions. He had been the only 2-year-old running happily to the music around the circle of seated mothers and children. He was so happy, enjoying himself to the fullest. I decided to embrace the unschooling mantra of ‘trust the child.’

My son and I have cultivated a routine that allows us to live at our own pace as much as possible. I focus on keeping our supports in place, and he focuses on his interests in architecture and fencing while blending YouTube and gaming into his day. He has matured to the point that he understands the need for working together in partnership since I have limited mobility, and we both want to improve our health.

We are both thinking about his future, but he isn’t pressured to take steps before he is ready to maintain them. For unschoolers, the future is not the goal. Learning and growing is a never-ending process. Discovering who we are motivates us to build upon what we know, and to do the things we wish to do. Unschooling is full of complex opportunities, experiences, and evidenced outcomes that are intensively individual. We’ve both grown exponentially through the organic process of whole life unschooling and in ways and directions we might never have ventured without it.

Unschooling became for us a natural process that brought my son as close as possible to authenticity in his development and journey. We avoided painful conditioning from the conventional environment of school. He developed a sense of who he is without the need to conform. This is nuanced because he has a natural need to associate with other teens, which he has achieved through authentic friendships unlike any I have ever been able to achieve in my own life. These are focused, meaningful relationship experiences unlike what is conventionally experienced in school such as those that result from cohort proximity and isolation to peer group, or co-scheduling.

I never fully understood my own difficulty fitting in until I understood my Autistic traits. But my son has had the benefit of knowing about his neurodiversity, and that has increased his own self-awareness of masking and how to protect himself when he doesn’t have the energy to mask.

In contrast, I learned to mask at a great cost throughout my life in family, educational, social, religious, and professional environments – for literal decades. I had a difficult time deciphering that masking was harmful to me on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. I found it easier to avoid situations out of fear where my ND needs might be disrespected, while simultaneously finding it impossible to remove myself from being entrenched in circumstances where I was profoundly disrespected and abused. I didn’t understand that my Autistic and ADHD traits made it more difficult to remove myself from those situations.

The steps I took throughout life seemed like the only options available. It was often like being at the end of a long hallway with only one door and a scant inkling of where it led. If someone admonished me according to a conventional paradigm, it didn’t always make sense to how I examine the world with my ND brain. I walked through doors without navigational instruments.

I still find it difficult to define the lines between Autistic experience and trauma because in fact, in many cases, Autism led to abuse and trauma. I want to spend some time focusing on this new awareness.

Autistic identity gives me power that I never understood. Lack of awareness created a life path for me that was full of unnecessary pain and isolation. This awareness unlocks new possibilities for me in moving forward. I am only just learning how to unmask my ND traits and that I have the right to assert that my deficits dictate many of my needs. Giving myself permission to establish boundaries based on my deficits has been huge, but it is still a work in progress.

As Neurospicy individuals, we need to define our place in a world that operates from conventional NT paradigms. Unschooling turned out to be a flexible and forgiving environment that protected my offspring’s authenticity while allowing him to develop confidence, self-direction, and a moral compass within an interdependent paradigm. That he turned out to be ND was not expected in the beginning, but unschooling provided an outstanding paradigm nonetheless to spare him some of the pain and trauma that comes directly from trying to fit in as an ND individual in a conventional world.


  • Hours C, Recasens C, Baleyte JM. “ASD and ADHD Comorbidity: What Are We Talking About?” Front Psychiatry. 28 Feb. 2022; 13:837424. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2022.837424. PMID: 35295773; PMCID: PMC8918663.
  • Gibson, Margaret, F. & Douglas, Patty. “Disturbing Behaviors: Ole Ivar Lovaas and the Queer History of Autism Science” Catalyst Journal. 19 Oct. 2018,
  • Pyne, Jake. “Building a Person”: Legal and Clinical Personhood for Autistic and Trans Children in Ontario. Canadian Journal of Law and Society, 35:2, 17 Nov. 2020. Cambridge University Press,

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