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Parenting The Spectrum: Understanding Neurodivergence

In today’s connected world, it’s more important than ever to work towards understanding each other. Understanding neurodiversity helps us to better engage and relate to one another and empowers parents to support neurodivergent children. An estimated 15-20% of individuals worldwide exhibit some form of neurodivergence.

Neurodivergence encompasses a broad spectrum of neurological variations, including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other developmental differences. Embracing neurodiversity means recognizing and celebrating the unique strengths, perspectives, and abilities of neurodivergent individuals.

The term ‘neurodivergence’ is just a way of saying that there is no one “perfect” way that people are wired to think, feel, and behave. People have different abilities, needs, and vulnerabilities. Some children are given a label (such as autistic spectrum disorder) for educational purposes, but that label often does not adequately reflect their abilities.

Understanding and embracing neurodiversity opens doors to a wealth of resources, support networks, and opportunities that can enrich the lives of both children and families. Let’s explore some practical insights and strategies to help parents navigate the joys and challenges of raising neurodivergent children with love, understanding, and resilience.

Neurodivergence As a Continuum

Think about neurodivergence as a continuum. For example, on one end of the continuum a child might be sensitive to noise or light. They will tend to react strongly to situations in which those stimuli are overwhelming for them. With time and practice, they can learn ways to manage or avoid those situations.

On another part of the neurodivergent continuum, a different child may be extremely sensitive to changes in their routine, food, or sleep. They may gravitate toward objects rather than people. Perhaps, they may experience delays in speech or communication skills and generally have a very restricted range of interests. They may need more accommodations in their environments and cannot learn to cope on their own.

Exposure as Support

All of these children can benefit from being slowly introduced to situations and behaviors that are challenging to them. For example, if a child becomes overstimulated in large crowds, it’s a good idea to help them practice navigating social situations starting with small gatherings where they might feel more at ease. Gradually, you can increase exposure by accompanying them to more crowded places, always making sure they feel safe with you and have an easy way out of the situation.

In some circumstances, children will develop ways to cope with their environments and communicate when they have reached their limits. Other children need greater assistance and may need more of the environment adapted to their needs because they will be unable to adapt or cope.

Avoiding Stigma

Additionally, some neurodivergent children appear to be quite different than their peers in their ways of communicating, socializing, and behaving. To many children (and adults) behaviors such as acting out, ignoring others, throwing tantrums when frustrated, etc. are off putting. We have to be mindful of our reaction to behaviors that are different and then help our children to learn to be accepting as well. Never unnecessarily stigmatize behaviors that appear odd or label other children when they are not acting the way you expect them to.

It Takes a Village

A neurodivergent child may experience a great deal of peer and adult negative feedback. It is important to help them deal with the pressure to the best of their ability and provide a safe and accepting environment whenever possible. Neurodivergent children have different skills and abilities. Some may be completely independent while others may need support their entire adult lives. There is no one right formula to supporting neurodivergent people, so it is important to have an educational, social, and family team behind them to ensure that they can achieve the happiest and most productive life possible.

If you or a family member needs behavioral and/or mental health treatment, but aren’t sure where to start, read more here or call 888-764-4161. We’re here to support!

About the Expert

janet scolaro

Janet Kahn-Scolaro, LCSWR, PhD Is the Vice President of Behavioral Health for PM Pediatric Care. Dr. Kahn-Scolaro has 30 years of experience working with families and children in crisis, as well as those managing ADHD, anxiety, and depression. She received her MSW from Hunter College School of Social Work and PhD from Adelphi University, where her research focused on engagement in child welfare.