It's natural for parents to feel at a loss for how to proceed once they become aware of the fact that they are raising a neurodivergent child. With the strong opinions the community holds about therapies that seek to conform neurodivergent children to be more neurotypical, parents often feel cornered and lost without a way forward.
This is a blessing not a curse. This is a moment for you to pause and embrace the truth: Nothing is ever in control. We don't know where this is going and that is OK. There isn't necessarily a way you should be going.
The answer is as simple as it is profound and challenging: You control the way forward. You can make your own way, or follow a road well traveled. There isn't a right choice all made up for you yet. You get to DECIDE.
Don't shrink back in fear! Revel in this adventure before you! All those opportunities and possibilities yet to unfold which you will have the privilege of sharing with your child as they grow. Embrace this adventure!
A life yet unlived. A story yet unwritten.
It's important to acknowledge that parenting a neurodivergent child can be extremely challenging and that children who are neurodivergent often need unique support and intervention for reasons that vary as wildly as the colour of wildflowers.
Still, there is no set outcome we are sure of. There is no script that can tell you how your kid is going to develop going forward. You must discover this as you go along. That uncertainty is uncomfortable, but in its wide expanses lies a lot of freedom too.
Let's focus on the vastness of possibility instead of the narrowness that we are encouraged to experience when a diagnostic label is chosen for a child by the medical fraternity. We can acknowledge that the label informs us about possible needs our child may have in the future without growing attached to any of those hypothetical future stories for their lives.
Showing up is half the job
Understand that parenting was always going to be one of the the hardest things you will ever have to do. All parents experience despair or directionlessness at times. Don't get stuck in that. If you feel like you can't get out of it, you need to seek support for that struggle not just for your child but for yourself. Learning to meditate and ground ourselves so we can be mindful of what we are bringing into the world is a crucial part of being a more attuned parent.
One of the great ironies of life is that very often the answers we seek are already inside of us - we sometimes just need a way of unearthing them. Spend time tending our inner world, your subconscious wisdom, and seek therapy if you feel you may have some troubles that are not yielding to your earnest efforts to overcome them. There is no shame whatsoever in seeking guidance - every culture has the tradition of seeking the wisdom of a shaman or Oracle. In this culture, we often call them therapists, yogis, gurus, priests or even our own parents.
Asking for help is a sign of tremendous courage. Ignorance and complacency is a far easier path, so if you're out there beating the bushes for answers or opening yourself up to the advice of others you're already doing an amazing job just by showing up. Give yourself a cookie and a hug for passing good parenting 101: Showing up.
Give them a voice
Carl Jung wrote, "Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their children than the unlived live of the parent." Often our own priorities as parents are not actually what is in the best interest of our children. Being able to hold space for our own anxieties and fears, both for ourselves and for their future but then returning to be present with the experience of reality is key to preventing our own agendas from dominating the lives of our children.
Furthermore, the relationship with our children needs to be divested of power struggles and violence even in it's subtlest forms such as manipulation and passive aggression, and it needs to be radically accepting of differences between you as individuals so that the vast freedom we are all born with is not constrained by the will of our parents for our lives or their ways of doing for themselves.
The more intimate and yet accepting your bond, and the less of your own ego you bring to your parenting, the more you will discover you are making headway with them. You may discover that your perception of what their problems are may not always reflect their experience and the best guide to what path is best will come from your child themselves.
Learning to hear their voices in a million ways is the most powerful thing you can do to raise them well. for many children, this may actually require some very active listening and some very active interventions such as augmentative communication strategies but in those cases, this becomes even MORE important as often the only person willing to hear them will be YOU.
Welcome to the revolution
Society projects an enormous number of expectations onto every living being. We are trained from our first to practice conformity. Especially for a generation of parents raised in institutions - schools, or universities, or churches or clubs - our agency was often denied from a young age. We were taught to passively accept a path that was proscribed for us. Walk in line. Sit here. Listen, do not speak. Obey your elders without argument.
In a culture of conformity, being an outlier is a radical act. Being willing to refuse to be conformed is a form of defiance in a culture that values people falling into line and sticking with the program. Neurodiversity is an involuntary form of defiance in the face of pressures of conformity.
We are not able to conform because we are not wired for it. We cannot fall into line without harming ourselves. We must be radical or die to self either literally or metaphorically. Our nonconformity isn't a choice, it is our nature and we cannot hide it without paying a devastating cost.
That cost is one that we frequently pay with by forfeiting our mental and physical health. The average lifespan on an autistic person is less than 40 years old. The suicide rate is 28 times higher than the average. It is obvious that the way that we have been caring for autistic people up to now has been causing them to die young. Similar statistics exist in other forms of neurodiversity like ADHD also. Protecting a neurodivergent child from the force of conformity that society is placing on us is the most powerful gift a parent can give.
To do so you must be willing to be a nonconformist yourself...and that can be terrifically hard and scary. But if our parents will not take on this challenge, who will? It is crucial to our survival that they find the courage. I believe that in the heart of every parent is a fire of love strong enough to fuel that courage if they let it, sometimes they just need a bit of help getting it going or directing that heat in the right way. We can never fail so long as we continue to try.
Give them somewhere to belong
As a child reared by radically nonconforming people who ended up being pretty messed up people themselves, I can say this: Even if you screw up terrifically as a parent, if you do so while trying to hold a space for me to thrive I will thank you for it anyway, from personal experience.
My parents were a pair of hot messes....but the one thing they nailed was making sure I knew that being neurodivergent wasn't something I needed to fear or feel ashamed about, or some curse or divine blessing or a calling or a duty or anything holy or unholy. It was natural, right, good and just as the world ought to be (When the world is as it ought to be - diverse and comfortable with difference. I was helped to understand that this was a world I would be called to BUILD).
My parents praised my gifts and achievements while reminding me I still poop like everyone else and that even if I need certain supports or accommodations to solve these problems, I could not avoid the necessities of life like eating, sleeping and keeping clean. To them, I was just like every other kid everywhere and that was AWESOME. I BELONGED to my parents. I wasn't a freak at home. Everywhere else, but never in my own home. Be that safe place for your kid.
Never forget that your child is a sentient being
Something radical you may need to consider is that some of the truth of what you need to do for your child lies ONLY WITHIN YOUR CHILD. Even while they are only able to wail and suckle, they are a sentient being. Even when they can only gurgle and eat things off the floor, they are a sentient being. Even when they are unable to speak or cannot regulate their emotions, they are a sentient being. Even when they are not engaging with you in the way you'd hope and expect, they are always a sentient being. Sentience takes MANY forms.
Don't miss out on seeing the truth of that because society has conditioned us to respect certain sentient beings over others. Don't underestimate their intelligence, their capacity, and do your utmost not to undermine their agency. Give them a chance to show you what they can do before you do it for them. Give them choices as often as you can and let them bear the consequences so far as you can bear to do so without harming their young and trusting souls. Be there, ready to assist, but always assume the possibility exists that they will do it themselves one day given time, patience, tutelage and when needed accommodations or interventions that support the independence they are capable of.
What specific tools you use to educate them, or healing you seek for them will be right for you at the time given what you observe and what you know and what you have to give. We do the best job we know how to do. Be sure you know as much as you can - not just in terms of outside education - but in terms of truly knowing the will of your child for their OWN lives. Parenting shouldn't be about a power struggle or parochial care or patronage. It should be a partnership.
Children are people too
Never desecrate that bond of partnership with cruelty, cowardice or needlessly controlling behaviour. Be able to apologize when inevitably do because you are human. Model that ability for them so they know how it looks and can learn by example to be kind and humble in turn. Having the courage to be vulnerable is a superpower. Be vulnerable, most of all, with your children. They want to see you. You are the center of their universe. The most powerful things my parents ever taught me were things they taught me in moments where I could see their inner selves and they were teaching me from their hearts.
Lessons about who we were as a family. Lessons about how we were. Lovesongs they sang to me in my crib as an infant, over and over, became the mantras that soothed my deepest fears. Those lessons became my religion during times that I lost my religion. Your words and actions are written on the tablet of your child's soul. Mind what you write there.
Show them how it's done
Learn to be deeply, profoundly honest both with them and with yourself. Don't create a division between parents and children when none need exists. You are people. Be consistent in how you treat PEOPLE, don't have dual standards for kids and adults. Do unto children as you would have done unto yourself. Your kids are going to notice your bullshit and it will never fly. Don't play games with your kids, try to be real. Often neurodivergent kids have an uncanny ability to unmask our subterfuge as parents. Be able to deal when they do.
If their behavior affects you, let them know. If you need space, say so. If you need something from them because you are scared or vulnerable, don't hide behind bluster or authority. Often a straight and honest explanation of the need for something, especially if it is personal for you, will be all they need to hear to comply. Give them all the information it is safe for them to have about why things are necessary to be done, and let them decide how to work with you to resolve the problems you face as a family and as individuals in that family.
Parents can negotiate with their children just like with anyone else. The older they get the easier and more effective this strategy becomes. Keep on trying to implement it as soon as possible until it starts working.
Know yourself, and embrace your roots
Knowing where you come from is as important as knowing where you are going. In fact, the one cannot proceed without the other. Understanding yourself, and your family roots help you make better decisions about how to go forward. Children without roots cannot anchor themselves and stand tall. Learn about your past and your history.
Share your culture and your identity with your child from a young age. Always remember that your child will be the maker of the new world you will spend your old age in. Teach them about the beautiful things you want to preserve in your world, and how to build beautiful worlds, and how to be beautiful people. You do so by teaching yourself first, and then showing them what you've learned by example. Learn first to be an ambassador for your own people, a leader, and do them proud, then teach your child about the sort of people they come from with pride.
I have been taught that success is a combination of Chutzpah and Humility: Having the nerve to speak your truth, the humility to know you don't hold the whole truth in yourself. As a parent, you're going to need to find the Chutzpah to stand up to the whole wide world and draw a ring around your child's mental, emotional and physical safety. But you will also have to bring the humility to know that the only person who knows your child through and through is YOUR CHILD.
Get them in on this whole endeavor of rearing them. they are the primary stakeholder in this project after all, and they deserve a voice about the goals and outcomes the project aims to achieve. Even if the only decision they can make right now is whether or not to let their carrots touch their mash, let them have those decisions as far as it is possible to do so. They need that practice to learn to trust themselves in making decisions in the future.
Being given that freedom (and the opportunity to learn from our consequences) teaches us to be wiser and smarter. So give them that freedom as soon as you can. And never forget to give that freedom to yourself. Like. NOW. Start now to decide to make your OWN way going forward. The choice is YOURS.