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How do I Parent my Neurodivergent Child

Parenting a neurodivergent child is a journey filled with moments of learning, empathy and growth. There will be moments of joy, celebration and pride, and there will be moments of frustration, guilt and overwhelm. Most of all you will have moments when you worry if you’re doing the best to support them as they navigate this neurotypical world.

Embrace Their Uniqueness

Being a supportive, neuroaffirming parent involves embracing your child’s uniqueness, understanding the different ways they experience and interact with the world and recognising their individual skills, strengths and needs. You may be asking but how do I do this? Have a read through some of the suggestions below as a starting point.

Spend time observing and noticing the times when they are finding joy as well as the times they are finding difficult. This may involve first just noticing how they express their joy and their frustration. They may be able to tell you in words but if your child is unable to use words to let you know, then you may be able to see it in other ways. You may see smiles, hear laughter or witness jumping in delight but it could also be moments of stillness or shifts in the way they are moving or vocalising. You may hear shouting, see tensed fists or flailing limbs, but it could also be a withdrawal from the room, a slight freeze in movement or a facial expression.

Now you can start to look around and notice what was happening just before you saw those signs, what happened afterwards, what sort of day has it been for them, are there any clues in the world around them that can indicate what they needed in that moment. Was it a noise that they seemed to want to get rid of or away from or was it also they wanted more time spent playing with you? Was it that they woke early, missed breakfast, had a cold? Was it getting to cuddle in tight and squeeze? Is it they have a special interest that they just want to share with you and others? These observations can give you some insight into your child’s needs, whether those are physical needs, sensory needs, social needs or emotional needs.

You can also make note of their skills and strengths, what can they do well and what is more challenging? Do they find some motor activities like climbing or jumping difficult? Do they find it easier to follow instructions if you use a visual clue as to what you are asking? Do they struggle when things around them change? Simply noticing and making note of these skills and strengths can be a first step towards understanding how you can best support them on their journey through this neurotypical world.

Being A Safe Haven

Neuroaffirming parenting also involves being a safe haven for your child when dealing with the world becomes challenging and difficult to navigate. Being compassionate and understanding when big feelings and behaviours occur. Knowing that your child is showing you that they’re finding it hard. If you have spent time getting to know their needs, skills and strengths then it can be a little easier to focus on WHY a big feeling or behaviour is happening instead of the feeling or behaviour itself.

In that moment, your child is letting you know that something is hard: they don’t like the loud noise, they find it hard to move from one activity to another, they want to spend some time with you or they may just be mad that they can’t do the thing they want to do! In that moment the feeling and/or behaviour is the only way they can respond, the other options ,for whatever reason, are out of reach. Once the moment is over we can look at ways to help them access those other ways, but right now they can’t. So we can be a safe place, a place where it is ok to feel those feelings and for you to understand why the behaviours are happening. This does not mean that you are condoning or ‘letting them away with it’ – simply that you will be there to help them get through and leave dealing with it until the moment has passed.

For example, your child discovers that running down the slide is something they really enjoy, but as an adult you know the risks involved and know that it’s something you need to stop. You can move in to stop the running from happening, and continue to stop it but at the same time be aware that any screaming, crying or pushing you away is coming from a place of wanting to be allowed to run down the slide, loving the feeling of the wind through their hair, that sensation of their head going light as they go down, the laughter of the other children and feeling mad about not being allowed to access all of it. It’s ok to sit with them and allow them to be mad, to use your words, tone and gestures to show them its ok to be mad and that you understand. You can still prevent the running, but from a place of compassion and understanding that lets them know you get it.

This also gives you a chance to co-regulate and as the moment passes, or at a time afterwards you can begin to teach and/or practice the other ways your child could respond in that situation, or think about ways in which you could find alternative, safe ways to get that same feeling of running down the slide, or just other ways to get different enjoyment out of other things at the park so there are alternatives available.

Being An Advocate

And finally, for this post at least, neuroaffirming parenting means being an advocate, being open and raising awareness of your child’s neurodiverse needs within their family, school and wider community.

Your child may not be able to, or have limited ability to advocate for themselves and let others around them know about their needs. It is important as their parent to pass on all of this knowledge that you have learnt from your child. Make sure that other family members are aware, whether it is immediate family or the wider family circle. Keep other key adults informed so that they can create a space, e.g. a school environment, after-school club or summer camp that is inclusive and catered to your child’s neurodiverse needs.

Where possible, encourage your own child to be their own advocate too. Whether this is through helping your child to recognise and become aware of their own needs,  through to supporting them to openly talk to their own teachers or friends about how they perceive the world.

And bringing a sense of normalcy to talking about neurodiversity – just because the majority of the people in the world perceive the world in one way does not mean that we all do. That its ok to perceive it differently and to stand up for the world making changes so it makes it less hard for your child to navigate it instead of your child having to change to fit this world. By keeping the neurodiversity conversation open and loud we can share the knowledge and understanding required to make this a truly neuroaffirming world.

AT ACT to Connect we provide a range of services to support you and/or your child with any of the issues raised above. If you would like to talk to us about our services you can book a free initial consult here for more information on what we have to offer visit our home page

Whether you're a parent, caregiver, teacher, or healthcare professional, the Act to Connect Blog is here for you. Share your experiences, perspectives, and feedback in the comments, and let's support each other on this journey.