Supporting a Neurodiverse Child

In anxiety, Change, Child Counselling, child development, Individual Counselling, Student Counselling by Amy Meyer

Supporting a Neurodiverse Child
By Amy Meyer, BSW, RSW

What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that includes a range of neurodevelopmental
conditions impacting one’s brain function. Neurodiversity celebrates that no two brains,
or people, are alike. Clinical psychologist, Dr. Julia Barnes suggests “Neurodivergence
is a form of human diversity” and that despite societal norms there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’
type of brain function.

Interestingly, there is not a set number of conditions that are included within
neurodiversity. Some of the diagnoses that fall under the term neurodiversity include
Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, Sensory Processing
Issues, Cognitive disabilities (dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and dyspraxia), as well
as Tourette Syndrome, to name a few.

How Can Caregivers Support Their Neurodivergent Child?

Understanding the unique needs of the child is critical. It is also important to normalize
that each caregiver may have differing reactions to the child’s needs. Some folks find
comfort in a diagnosis, whereas others may need some time to process what a
diagnosis means. Working with a team of health providers may be beneficial for
caregivers and it may be frustrating to have multiple inputs and differing opinions.

Advocating for your neurodiverse child can often be large piece of caregiving. It can
require caregivers to become the expert on the child’s diagnosis, needs and support
system. You may be required to advocate for the child within education and health care
systems. A diagnosis alone does not mean that equitable care will always be provided,
and the child may need your support to advocate for the appropriate care for them. This
may be an empowering and rewarding experience for the caregiver and it can also be
exhausting, discouraging and disempowering.

How to Talk to a Neurodivergent Child About Their Experience

By supporting the child in their self-identity, it helps strengthen their sense of self and
belonging which has several benefits to the child’s overall wellness. While talking to
your child about their neurodiverse experience, it is important to validate their feelings
surrounding their challenges before highlighting their strengths. Additionally, providing
education about how their own brain functions can help both of you to identify the
appropriate resources to best support the child.

Self Compassion for Caregivers

Caregiving, while rewarding, demands energy, time and resources and it is normal to
feel overwhelmed from time to time. Depending on the complexity of a child’s needs,
caregivers may experience isolation from their peers and/or a lack of understanding and
appreciation of the difference surrounding the child’s care. We know that support
systems are important to normalizing and validating our lived experience and caregivers
of neurodiverse children benefit from these shared experiences too! Seeking out
supportive people and/or groups may provide caregivers with the benefits of normalizing
their experience and providing them with a sense of community.

Parenting in today’s Western society is complex. Where social media influencers are
modelling “perfect” parenting and choices in parenting are often critiqued and pulled
apart online and in public, it can be hard to feel confident in our choice with our children.
Ultimately, we can accept life’s challenges by practicing self compassion, which looks
like directing kindness inwards. The reality is that most parents are doing the best they
can and despite being knowledgeable about your child, a caregiver of a neurodivergent
child will usually experience obstacles in an area of the child’s life and functioning. Self
compassion can help caregivers by being in tune with their feelings, honouring them
and doing so without judgment and thereby turn those same practices toward their child.

How to Support a Neurodivergent Child | Children’s Hospital Colorado
Parenting A Neurodivergent Child is Hard! | Psychology Today Canada