I recently read that children need to feel their parents understand them. Do you feel you understand your kids all the time? I certainly have not. So, I’ve been giving this a lot of thought.
I’ve written before about how my kids are neurodivergent and have learning challenges. Those differences mean that many methods in “typical” parenting books don’t work for them. And for years of raising my kids, I wondered why it was SO hard. Because when your child is different, it isn’t just a few things that have the potential to be hard. It is everything. When your child is neurodiverse, it means that they experience the world differently. They may miss clues you can see clearly about how to act. Their thought process works differently, so they approach life differently.
It’s just different
Neurodiverse kids are more likely to take their toys apart to see how they work. They are more likely to create their own science experiments all over your kitchen. “What is that in the freezer?” you ask with trepidation. They misunderstand directions and do things you are certain no one else’s kids do. On top of that, they may struggle with basic activities like eating and sleeping. Because their bio-rhythms are also different, you may wonder if you can keep them alive.
For us, getting a diagnosis was step one in learning to parent the kids we have and not some imaginary “normal” ones. If you wonder why your child can’t just “act normal” it is because they don’t experience the world in a “normal way.” The sensory input you experience from a birthday party, people touching you, voices speaking to you, music playing, and new foods to eat can be overwhelming instead of fun. That’s why your child ran outside or hid under the table. They don’t want to misbehave, they just feel overwhelmed.
A Diagnosis is not enough
And this brings me to step two. It isn’t enough to have the diagnosis. As a parent, the next step has to be learning about your child’s needs both from experts and from those with lived experiences. One of the most helpful things about social media today is how many neurodiverse people are out there sharing their stories. You can catch videos and reels with adults talking about the challenges of having ADHD or autism. You can follow them for snack-sized bites of education about what your child is dealing with. And this will help you be a better parent.
Your child probably can’t explain to you that they can’t do a task because their executive function is not there today. And they can’t explain why it worked yesterday but doesn’t work today. But Conor DeWolfe, “The ADHD Guy” on Tik Tok will tell you all about that struggle. He does a great job explaining the struggles of being a slave to the dopamine you need and how living with an ADHD brain can feel out of control at times. He even has ideas for tricking yourself into doing things, that might be helpful. You can also follow Paige Layle who talks about her experience with autism and also shares some good tips. And if you don’t want to use TikTok, you can follow them on Facebook or Instagram instead.
Getting to know your child is a lifelong experience. When we cuddle them as infants, we think we understand them. They need milk, a diaper, and a cuddle. But as they get older, they need SO much more. Our desire as humans is to be loved and understood. So, if your child does a lot of things you don’t understand, you need to lean into that. Work on learning why they do what they do. Is it sensory seeking? Is it because they don’t know what else to do?
Don’t let a desire for normal stop you from having the best possible relationship with your kids. Normal is overrated.
About the Author
Laura Sowdon, OTR/L is an occupational therapist, writer, speaker, educator and creator of the Five Senses Literature Lessons homeschool curriculum. She has worked as an occupational therapist with children in public and private schools, as well as private practice. Laura has taught and managed homeschool co-ops as well as homeschooling her own three children. Laura is dedicated to the idea of educating children at a pace that aligns with brain and physical development milestones and respects neurodiversity in all its forms.