6 Ways to Help Neurodivergent Children

1. Let Go of Expectations 

When you found out your child was neurodivergent, did your thoughts of the future change? Did the diagnosis shake you and your expectations? Maybe it did, and that’s OK. However, to quickly get into the best position for your child, let go of your expectations. Expectations rob us from joy by taking our focus away from the present and into an expected future—a future that is rigid. We need to stay flexible and curious! When you’re free of your expectations, you can find new experiences filled with more moments of happiness. Life can be so enjoyable if you celebrate small and unique wins with your children and family and see where life’s road takes you!

2. Reframe the Pathology  

It’s a radical idea! There is so much negativity that surrounds neurodivergent diagnoses, but it doesn’t need to be this way. For example, you might feel concerned that your child is “obsessed” with trains. Reframe and focus on the positives. Instead of thinking about it as pathology—they are “obsessed”—consider that this hyper-focus can quickly make them an expert. Experts are highly valued for their knowledge and experiences. If you can reframe pathology and look at your child’s aspects in positive ways, you can help them gain confidence and awareness of their unique abilities and strengths.

3. See Behaviour as a Way to Communicate Feelings   

Many of us get caught up in expert reports on how many words our child should speak or what behaviours they should have mastered. When they don’t meet these markers, we may feel they—or we—are failing. Remember that our child’s behaviour is also a communication tool. Their body language lets us know they are not feeling safe, heard, respected, and are frustrated, angry, bored, tired or just not feeling it. It’s okay to physically express all of the different feelings, and we can create safe spaces for them to do this. For example, if my child throws when they are frustrated, I can find them a soft object to throw. Of if they push and need that pressure, I can push the wall with them. By recognizing our child’s behaviour as communication, we can learn about and help them through their feelings.

4. Build a Community 

Our children have given us an opportunity to create community! My community includes parent groups, friends, family and people in the Autistic community. I have learned so much about resources from local parent groups on social media. They are a great way to figure out funding, respite and other helpful programs. I also have a wonderful group of friends and family who are non-judgemental, hopeful and offer support. I’ve made a point of finding out more about what Autistics feel too so that I can have a better sense of what might work for my kids. So get out there and connect!

5.Take Time for Yourself 

How many times have you snapped at your child for their behaviour? Were you pushed to your limit at that moment? Did you need a snack, more water, rest, or someone to support you? How many times have I felt like I was running on empty? Too many to count. I’m guessing you have felt this way too, especially during the pandemic. When I was always just coming up for air, my children felt it. I was less patient, and frustration came quickly. When I decided to finally take some time for myself, all of our lives improved. Parents often feel guilty for focusing on their needs, but I can show my kids that self-love is a priority by taking care of myself. Try to find small windows of time for yourself and enjoy whatever you choose to do—sing in the shower, savour a food you love, go for a mindful walk. Go ahead—you deserve a break!

6. Gratitude 

Neurodivergent families have many challenges and generally, they don’t have enough emotional support. Gratitude helps to give us a break from feeling burnt out. It gives us space to breathe, observe and even savour joyful moments. Physiologically, gratitude leads to lower blood pressure, helps with mild to moderate depression, and has some excellent effects on our everyday life. However, I’ve learned that it is a muscle that needs to be flexed—daily! Start by thinking of what you are thankful for once a day, even just one thing. Write it down. In time, you will feel a shift toward the positive.

If you find ways to build these concepts into your life, you will find it makes a positive difference. I now look for the good. It’s brought us so much joy—more laughs, happiness, love shared and positive memories. We know there will be challenges along the way, but we savour the good together.

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