Learning Disabilities and Homeschool

I have not been in contact with my family in several years, and my siblings have attended some charter school and community college. I can only speak to my personal experience, not to what has happened in my siblings’ education since cutting contact.

My parents had a religious and political agenda in homeschooling my siblings and me. They were not capable of teaching a full range of subjects through 12 grades to 16 kids. To believe this is possible takes a great deal of ignorance and arrogance, and this fueled their approach to how they taught us. While these elements contributed to my ignorance as I entered adulthood, I was also limited by learning disabilities that were overlooked and undetected by my parents. I was told that I was excelling when I was never being tested. Homeschool Christian speech and debate competition supposedly held significant weight in my academic and professional success.

When I started college, it was not only my lack of basic education that held me back. I had severe anxiety and was struggling to focus, study, and learn. Several distinct symptoms indicate that I am neurodivergent. This means, among many things, that I struggle to learn at the same pace and in the same way as neurotypical people. I have been trying for years to teach myself what I missed growing up, but my retention of information is poor. I’m either highly distracted or hyper-focused on creating. It is difficult if not impossible for me to force myself to focus or pay attention, even to do something simple like watch a movie.

While I was a distracted student throughout my childhood, it was treated as a behavior problem if it was noticed at all. Mostly it went unnoticed, because my only standard of success was whether I had trophies from memorizing passages from the bible or performing in speech and debate. I didn’t take tests or receive informed instruction beyond the simplified children’s propaganda published by Christian conservative homeschool publishers. My symptoms of fidgeting or struggling to sit still were punished when I was very young so that I would sit still in church. Beyond this, I was often reprimanded for being forgetful of the many things I had to keep track of in caring for my younger siblings. Overall, my symptoms were not recognized as ones that could hinder my learning, just my own failures to shoulder the responsibilities I was given.

There is also significant stigma against acknowledging and properly treating mental illness in the evangelical Christian world. In some instances, it is seen as a spiritual problem to be addressed with prayer. In others, it is seen as behavior to be corrected with negative reinforcement. Rarely is a child given adequate treatment to address the underlying cause of the symptoms in this environment. There was nothing to indicate whether I was doing well or not, because homeschooling meant my parents could teach in whatever way they wished. They could declare me an educational success because they said so.

Year after year, my parents would teach us kids the same basic things. Year after year, most of the kids would fail to learn these basics, because there was no structure, no testing, and no informed instruction. We went through at least three different reading curricula before one of them finally clicked, which left my younger siblings very confused about how to read, write, and spell. I was often tasked with helping to teach them how to read when I should have been learning more advanced things myself.

In 2014, when I started blogging about my parents’ abuse, I gave another example of neurodivergence in my family. This is because I had still not recognized that I had learning struggles of my own. I was vague and didn’t specify which sibling or identify their gender when I brought this up. I wrote the following in my post “Of course it wasn’t all bad”:

“Another one of my siblings is severely dyslexic, and thinks it’s their own fault they didn’t work harder to learn to read by themselves. After all, I was a fast learner and I picked up on reading quickly, surely all the other kids will pick it up by themselves. My parents didn’t discover that sibling’s dyslexia until that sibling was fourteen.”

During 2020, my dad had the entire draft of his book about me up on his blog, but it has since been removed. I have the screenshots and text saved from when it was online. In response to what I wrote above, he twisted my statement to make it sound like I was attacking and teasing my sibling, or blaming my parents for something they couldn’t control:  

“My second-born son, just a year younger than my first and nearly an adult, was most devastated. He had a strong story of overcoming severe dyslexia and going on to winning national speech tournaments. He’s quite a success story, but his sisters hijacked his story to accuse us of “educational abuse,” making his dyslexia somehow our failure as parents. He hated the misrepresentation and attempted to enter the online frenzy to set things straight. He was teased by his sisters, especially when he would misspell words, and the online community claimed such misspellings as evidence of our “educational abuse,” not his dyslexia.”

In my dad’s own words, the emphasis on speech and debate success is apparent. I wasn’t saying that the dyslexia itself was my parent’s mistake, but their failure to notice it until he was well into his teens was. This sibling is not the only one in the family who struggles with spelling and grammar – we all did, including me. I may write for a living, but that doesn’t make my writing academic or grammatically excellent by any means. I just write about what happened, and I know now that I have learning disabilities of my own that were overlooked because my education was inadequate.