Isn’t it amazing how many people seem to know what is best for your child? And even more amazing that they’re so willing and confident to share their knowledge with us? Of course, advice from experts is welcome and intentionally sought, however it’s the armchair experts that can be difficult to contend with. It might be your own parents or in-laws, your siblings, friends or just a passer-by on the street.
Parenting neurodiverse kids is a bit like childbirth, you really can’t explain it to anyone who has not gone through it. It’s highly personal and ultimately something that no one else can do for you. Like childbirth, you might go in with a plan of calming music and scented candles, but your plan quickly goes out the window when things get real. And, when you are in the throes of crisis, panic and fear, people are telling you what you should do. But unlike childbirth, this goes on and on for years. So, it’s important to have a plan for how to deal with unsolicited advice.
Define your position
It can be hard to have a clear position about the best approach for your child, especially when you are still working it out for yourself. But you can define some broad principles, including, how you respond to certain behaviours, what routines you choose to follow, what you do in a crisis, how you speak to your child, and how you share (or don’t share) information about their diagnosis. Of course, if you are parenting with a partner it’s preferable to have an agreed approach here (see Your Family Unit for more on this), but once you have set your approach, it’s yours to protect.
Find your voice
You are your child’s parent and you have final say on how you raise them, but grandparents, your siblings, close family members and friends often also play a role. You may find yourself on the receiving end of advice, criticism or other commentary and it’s important you find a way to share your approach and politely request it to be factored in. Do any of the following sound familiar? When you encounter these types of comments, it can be hard to know what to say. It’s helpful to assume that most people are well-intentioned, and if they are playing a role in raising your child you want to keep things amicable. Some comments are better left alone, but if they relate to any actions towards your child, like discipline or how the person speaks to or about your child you are entitled to step in. If you choose to keep your child’s diagnosis mostly private, it’s important you ask others around you to do the same. If someone else disciplines your child in a way that you would not, you can let them know and share your preferred approach. If you feel that the people around you are simply uninformed, you can share information that helps them to understand your child more accurately. Turn the conversation to a positive one. There are many wonderful strengths that come with seeing the world in a different way and these should be celebrated and communicated.
Comments you may receive & Possible Responses
“There are so many diagnoses these days – we never had any of that in our day and we are fine.” (often older generations)”
“Yes – we have come a long way. A lot of research has been done. It’s great we can help our kids with meaningful information”
“The child is fine, there is nothing wrong with them”
“Thanks. It’s true nothing is wrong. They are just different and our medical team and therapists are experts. We are grateful to have them”
“You really need to be more strict. Discipline is what you need to get that behaviour under control”
“Discipline is really important for kids to learn. We have had some wonderful advice from experts and they have explained to us the best strategies for discipline that suit the way our kids brains work”
“Everyone is a bit on the spectrum/ADHD, aren’t they?”
“All personality traits are on a spectrum. But there is a formal spectrum of autistic/ADHD traits and that spectrum does not apply to everyone. Some individual characteristics might though”
“Have you tried removing gluten/preservatives/dairy…?”
“ There are so many theories out there and like anything, different things work for different people. We are following the advice of our medical and therapy experts. It feels sensible given they know all the research really well”
“They will grow out of it”
“ Things will definitely change as they become more mature and the therapies are really helpful to assist them. But some things will always be hard”
“Things could be worse; your child could be in hospital”
“Yes – that is true. We try really hard to be grateful for what we have, but some days are still really hard for us”
“All parenting is hard”
“Yes, it is. Every family has different versions of hard”
Pick your battles and take control
Like anything, there are some battles you’ll never win. If you find you are unable to shift attitudes it’s sometimes best to just take a deep breath and smile and nod. Turning the conversation to other things is a gentle way of demonstrating your unwillingness to go there. It’s also in your hands to decide which situations you put you and your family in in the first place. If you know a certain event is going to be hard, plan to be there for only a short time, when your child is well-rested, or when there will be fewer people around. Let people know ahead of time and don’t take on negative responses, you know what will be best in the end. It’s also ok to sometimes just decline an invitation or pull out if things are going awry. It’s better to have less, but more positive experiences, than constantly trying to keep up with the demands of neurotypical situations.
Coping with judgement
We all like to say that it doesn’t matter what people think, but, in reality, it’s not that simple. We do care what our loved ones think, and sometimes even dirty looks from a stranger can hurt. Neurodiverse kids can have a tough time coping with the world around them and when they are tired, overwhelmed or confused the last thing on their minds is what others around them think. Unfortunately, some of their behaviours can be confronting. Screaming, kicking, spitting, swearing, throwing things are frowned upon, understandably, but when things get genuinely beyond control, they happen. Unless you set an intentional mindset not to take on judgement from others, it can be emotionally draining and adds to the already immense pressure you are under. You are doing your best and that’s all you can do and there is no shame in being neurodiverse. We can’t change everyone’s minds and it’s impossible to stop and explain what’s going on every time an issue happens in public. You can train yourself to notice when you feel embarrassed or ashamed and shut it down. It doesn’t help you or your child and it only makes you feel worse, when you show signs of embarrassment or shame. In fact, we actually have no idea what people are thinking (unless they tell us of course). Some people may just feel concerned for you, they may know exactly what’s going on, or they may not be thinking about you at all. Letting go of worrying what others think is liberating in all aspects of life and once you have mastered it, you’ll have more energy for whatever comes next.
This article was written by Grace Papers Coach – Anna Oxley Rintoul – who specialises in supporting families & carers with children with hidden challenges.
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