It’s no secret that parenting can be challenging. However, parenting a neurodivergent child can be exhausting. For example, parents with neurodiverse kiddos report feeling like there are countless things to worry about. One parent reported, “I can’t get much done around the house because I’m on constant alert for what may or may not happen next.”
Parenting, even in the best-case scenario, can be difficult because even your average or neurotypical children occasionally lack the emotional and self-regulation skills they need to meet adult expectations. But, raising neurodivergent children presents a unique set of difficulties—even when the adult expectations are flexible and reasonable!
If you are curious about raising neurodivergent kids, or your child has recently received a formal diagnosis check out this quick guide to learn more.
What Is Neurodivergence?
While the human brain develops in a similar way, no two brains function the same. Being neurodivergent means having a brain that works differently from the average or neurotypical person. A neurodivergent individual may have different social preferences, ways of learning or communicating, or ways of perceiving environmental sights, sounds, or textures.
Keep in mind that neurodivergence or being neurodivergent is less of a diagnosis and more of an umbrella term for several medical conditions.
What The Data Tells Us About Neurodiverse Children
Millions of children in the US have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Many of those with ADHD tend to present with symptoms or features of Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD), Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD), and many more. Each of these medical conditions is a branch of neurodivergence, and they all have one thing in common.
What Neurodivergent Children Share
Neurodivergence affects how the brain learns and processes information. Simply put, neurodivergent children are more vulnerable to the stress of daily life. As a result, challenging behaviors are sure to follow when there is a gap between what adults expect from these kiddos and the skills they have to meet those expectations at home or in the classroom.
With neurodivergent children, the survival centers in their brains are exceptionally reactive and sensitive. Their brain’s fight, flight, or freeze reflex is highly sensitive. Once triggered, those automatic reflexes continue to exert longer-than-normal control over the thinking part of their brain: the cortex. As a result, the frequency, intensity, and duration of challenging behaviors are far more likely with neurodiverse kiddos.
Different Neurodivergent Traits
Neurodivergent children have common traits. They can be compassionate or excessively generous at times while other children can present with being sensitive to criticism or external stimuli. For example, they’re often sensitive to sights, sounds, and textures. As a result, neurodivergent children are prone to sensory overload which tends to produce challenging behaviors that can range from shutting down (shyness or timidity) to acting out (socially rude or bullying).
One of the main symptoms of neurodivergence is sensory sensitivity. Their brain processes sensory input differently than others.
They may become uncomfortable in large crowds of people. Some have an aversion to specific food or clothing tags and textures.
Challenges With Communicating
Most neurodivergent children may struggle in some aspects of communication such as trouble making eye contact while talking or not reading one’s body language accurately. They can struggle with recognizing some non-verbal cues. For some, things like sarcasm from peers tend to be confusing or emotionally painful.
In many cases, neurodivergent children may have difficulty taking turns in conversation or making small talk with their peers.
A lot of neurodivergent kids have unique interests and strengths. For example, some excel in the creative arts and have wild and colorful imaginations.
A lot of neurodivergent children tend to hyperfocus on a single subject for a long period of time. In some cases, they can also become inflexible about shifting to another topic.
Difficulty With Executive Function
It is not uncommon for your average neurodivergent kiddo to struggle with tasks associated with executive functioning. Executive function is a set of skills that people have that allow them to organize information and complete tasks. Many neurodivergent kids tend to be either deficient or excessive in this area. For example, they overfocus on math homework at the expense of English and writing projects.
Once they hyperfocus on one thing, it will be difficult for them to shift their attention to another. As a result, they may forget important information and not get tasks done on time.
Types of Neurodivergence
As stated above, neurodivergence is an umbrella term that includes various other conditions. Some of these conditions include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, OCD, bipolar disorder, Tourette’s, and epilepsy.
Autism is a spectrum disorder. This means that your child could have mild or severe symptoms.
Those with autism often struggle in social situations. Many have specific interests and show repetitive behavior.
While those with autism face a long range of problems, they also have unique strengths. Most have strong attention to detail and have the ability to think more creatively than others.
ADHD is often associated with hyperactivity and impulsivity. Those with this condition may find it difficult to focus in school.
They could experience these symptoms rarely or all the time. They excel when it comes to creative thinking and resourcefulness. They usually have an easier time multitasking than others, too.
Dyslexia is a common learning disability that hinders a person’s spelling, writing, and reading ability. Those with this condition may have difficulty identifying the sounds of language.
Despite all this, they are strong problem-solvers and visual learners. Like many neurodivergent children, they tend to think outside of the box.
Children with bipolar disorder often experience extreme mood swings. There’s a common misconception that kids with this condition will be happy one moment and depressed the next.
In truth, a child may experience an episode of depression for a week straight before shifting to manic. During their manic weeks, they’ll show confidence and appear to be more energetic.
When they become depressed, the energy will drain from their body. They’ll lose interest in things that they were once excited about. If they make commitments during their manic phase, they may no longer feel up to following through.
Children with OCD have obsessive thoughts that can cause feelings of anxiety. Most people equate this to being bothered by crooked picture frames.
While something like that might trigger a person’s OCD, a better example would be pacing back and forth or flipping a light switch on and off three times before going to bed at night. It’s a repetitive behavior that someone performs to ease their anxiety.
Tourette syndrome is a nervous system disorder where children present with uncontrolled verbal outbursts or physical twitches known as tics. They can appear at random intervals throughout a person’s life.
A child could experience tics for many years before they finally receive an official diagnosis.
Epilepsy is a cognitive condition that causes someone to experience seizures. It often stems from genetics, head trauma, and infections.
Children with this condition may not be able to operate a vehicle later on in life. Their job choices could also be a bit limited.
Common Experiences of Parents With Neurodivergent Kids
Given the challenges that go with raising neurodivergent kids, parents need to take excellent care of themselves so they can provide the best conditions for their kids to thrive. Here is a brief list of why excellent self-care is so important.
Most parents with neurodivergent kids:
- Never feel good enough because they face a lot of judgment from society, especially school systems that expect their children to act normal and try harder.
- Worry about their child’s well-being because they need a lot of support at home and school.
- Need extra support when their child is struggling with things like frustration tolerance, emotional regulation, and cognitive flexibility.
- Feel misunderstood because friends, family, and professionals tend to assume your child would do better if they really wanted. Unwittingly, they assume your child needs to make better choices and try harder.
Meeting with a therapist who truly understands the complexities behind parenting a neurodivergent child could change everything. If you want to calm the chaos, raise emotionally intelligent children, and nurture a family that thrives, contact us today to schedule a free clarity call.
Want To Know More About Parenting Neurodivergent Children?
It is certainly not uncommon for neurodiverse children to feel inadequate, ashamed, or guilty about their way of moving about the world. Thankfully, there is help and hope!
Neurodivergent children often experience more learning difficulties than others, but they have many strengths, as well. They’re creative problem solvers that can think outside the box. Even more, some of the most famous leaders that walked this earth were neurodivergent individuals.
If you, or someone you know, are parenting a neurodivergent child, it may be beneficial to talk to a counselor who is very familiar with the landscape of neurodivergent children. Contact us today to schedule a free clarity call.