It’s easy to get lost in a sea of terms, words, diagnoses and opinions. A word that has been talked about a lot lately, neurodiversity. It may seem like a popular word in the last few years, but neurodiversity It was first used by Australian sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s.
As a pediatric psychologist, I work with children, teens, and young adults to help them better understand their brains, emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and relationships. As a parent coach, I help parents better understand their children and teens so they can respond differently and break some unhealthy generational cycles along the way. . Parenting a neurotically diverse child can present unique challenges.
Neurodiversity and neural branching are terms that describe different conditions and diagnoses. These include autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia), Tourette’s disorder, and others. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, and sensory processing disorders are often cited as neurodiverse conditions. Neurodiversity also includes highly sensitive individuals. Of course, this list is not exhaustive, and more will be revealed as new evidence emerges.
Neurodiversity is not a negative, but rather an indication of how differences in children’s brains affect brain function and how they function differently than the larger neurotypical group. increase.
Based on my 17 years of experience as a child psychologist supporting parents and neurodiverse children, here are five important things to know about parenting neurodiverse children.
- Identify if an actual neurodiverse condition or diagnosis exists. Children don’t need labels. In some cases, however, identifying challenges in and around your child can set you up for success in any environment your child is in. Consulting your child’s pediatrician and possibly being evaluated by a developmental pediatrician, child psychologist, or neuropsychologist can help rule out and pinpoint what is going on. Overall, trust your intuition if you feel that your child is not functioning or developing well based on their chronological age.
- Learn more about your child’s condition and diagnosis. I am a big advocate of educating and learning why we act, think, feel and act the way we do. Once you’re in a position of understanding, you’ll be able to better understand why your child reacts to things the way they do, and why they resist. The behaviors and attitudes you see may not be about disobedience. Rather, their brains may be processing and responding differently than you expect.
- Educate your child about neurodiversity. Now that you’re equipped, let’s educate and equip your children. Name their challenges, conditions, diagnoses, or personality styles. Help them understand their strengths and superpowers. Talk to them about what makes the situation worse and what makes it better. Ask them what they noticed and where they need further help. Do this collaboratively, listen to them, empathize with their concerns and concerns, and express your support.
- Communicate expectations in different ways. Now that you understand their brain better and they understand, the way you communicate your expectations needs to be in line with this understanding. Neurodiverse brains process and think about the world differently than stereotypical brains. If you have certain expectations about chores, homework, screens, and bedtime, discuss them based on different learning and processing styles. This might look like short lists (visual), speaking aloud (verbal), or practicing steps (kinesthetic), to name a few. Most importantly, find what works best for your child. What will help them remember? What will prevent them from meeting their expectations? Are those expectations developmentally appropriate?
- Have a clear routine and be flexible. Children tend to grow up when they know what’s going to happen. Their brains don’t have to work as hard to figure things out or fill in the gaps. However, sticking to rigid schedules and routines isn’t good for neurodiverse brains that tend to “stick”. Getting too hung up on a particular cereal brand, a particular movie theater, or a morning routine can make it difficult to go with the flow when things change. So create a routine and incorporate small changes into that routine as well. Even if there are things you “like”, your child’s brain will begin to learn that you can do something else.
Parenting a neurotically diverse child can be very difficult. It may not be the parenting life you plan or expect. You may feel pressure from others to “just enjoy the process” or “remember they grow up fast”. You may not find it enjoyable. You may even see that other people are raising their children differently and don’t understand why they aren’t getting the same results or the same fulfillment as you. These are all common thoughts and challenges for parents of neurodivergent children. Be patient with yourself. Bless your children. Find ways to calm your nervous system and take care of yourself. Seek help if needed. A parent coach with experience working with neurotically diverse children and their parents is a great place to start.