mother hugging child
mother hugging child

Lived experience: tips for neurodivergent parents

Parenting is challenging for most people, but for someone who is neurodivergent, the challenges are much more complex.

Parenting is challenging for most people, but for someone who is neurodivergent, the challenges are much more complex. Not only do you have to attend to your child’s wellbeing, you have to also attend to your needs, and in some cases both overlap.

Tips & strategies

Neurodivergent families are all different, so don’t forget that you have the best insight into yourself and your children. Use and adapt the tips below to help your family.

Your own diagnosis and support – If you suspect that you are autistic, ADHD, OCD or have a mood disorder, it is crucial that you get properly assessed so that you can find the right support for yourself. Your medical care team may recommend medication, therapy or a combination of both. Left unmanaged, some things can create crippling effects on someone caring for children.

Find your triggers – get to know yourself by observing your responses and ability to cope with day-to-day demands. Sensory triggers can quickly turn into sensory overload. The good news is that some of these can be managed, for example auditory hypersensitivities can be reduced with ear defenders or similar.  Read more on how to identify your triggers 

Identify your child’s triggers early  – observe and record events that are of concern using the Keywell app so that you can find your child’s triggers. The key is to understand your child’s needs so that you can adjust your expectations or make accommodations. When you meet your child where they are at, it is amazing what changes you will see.

Regulation favourites – getting to know your child’s triggers, but also what helps them regulate, is important in avoiding meltdowns. Some kids love to sit in a bath with bubbles, others enjoy fidgets or sensory toys. Ensuring your child has regular access to the things that help them stay calm will in turn help you stay regulated. Read more on how to help your child during a meltdown 

Teach self-advocacy – it is perfectly reasonable to have sensory and self-regulation needs as an adult. By self-advocating, and telling your child that you need to have 15 minutes to calm your body and brain, you are teaching them how to advocate for themselves. You can say something like “I think I need to have some quiet time. I’ll be back in a few minutes, I will be in the bedroom”.

Give your child options – often when a parent needs to take five, a child decides that they really need you right now. Depending on your child’s age, you can give them options so that they feel like they are connected to you even if you are not in the room. A piece of paper or a voice recorder are great options when a child really wants to talk to you. Suggest that they leave you a note or a recording that you can listen to.

Be prepared – create a special box that comes out only when you need to have some time to yourself. The box can contain whatever captures your child’s interest: art supplies, puzzles, books, etc. Include a visual timer in the box that you can set and that they can refer to while you are not there.

Be kind to yourself – there are days that will test your limits. On these days, adjust your expectations and reduce demands on yourself. Not everything is important, but some things are more important than others. Drop the nice to haves and keep only the things that are necessary.

Improve your capacity to deal with challenges – prioritise yourself by “habit stacking” self-care strategies. Habit stacking just means that you attach your self-care moments to your existing habits. For example you might “habit stack” eating breakfast and scrolling through funny videos. There are no rules on what self-care looks like. Self-care includes all the things that help you regulate and relax. 

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