Do you have a child who is strangely smart and uniquely different (aka rather difficult at times as well)? I certainly do. He’s the one who watches YouTube videos to figure out how to build the perfect candy dispenser. He also is fascinated with the human anatomy and bodily functions, and follows a physician youtuber who refutes health remedies that are not scientifically backed. And he’s in 4th grade! One evening point blank, he asked me how female menstruation works. To his credit, he listened intently to about ⅔ of my explanation until his 9 year old boy self kicked in and he asked me to stop talking.
Often I find my son with some of my husband’s tools in hand–he’s mid-project and immersed in creating a structure of some kind to test a theory. Personally, he can be rigid and testy with his temper. He can also be witty and hilarious. He’s likeable, yet can be socially intense and emotionally reactive. So do I caste him as a child with autism? We’ve consulted with our family’s professionals to make sure we aren’t missing anything yet. So, no I don’t. Yet, I do have much to learn from the current literature on neurodivergent kids in order to support him maximally. Why? Because the skills that are taught to kids on the spectrum are exactly what every child needs to grow up into a whole human being. Kids on the spectrum just need these interventions and strategies more often and more intensely.
As of late, I’ve been reading new literature on the changing perspective in the field of Autism treatment. And, the cutting edge books are trying to level the playing field for persons with Autism. Deb Reber wrote her book, “Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World,” to explain how kids with autism actually present with issues AND STRENGTHS that challenge our school systems and work environments to do better, to be better, and to evolve alongside these impressive individuals. She notes that 20% of children are neurodivergent in some way. So why not create a suitable play space in learning and work for almost a quarter of our emerging adults?!
First, we have to change our perspective in how we relate overall to these kids. Barry Prizant writes a book about just how to do so–Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism.” Yes, we need to help kids alter or shift behaviors that aren’t working for them in school, with friends, and in life. Yet, we must first understand that “behaviors are often strategies to help a person feel better emotionally.” It’s better to ask first why that behavior is occurring and what purpose it serves for the child. In doing so, we can help the child cope better and perhaps grow into a better solution.
Loving Your Quirky Child
Here are a few points from Dr. Prizant’s books to help parents who are supporting their neurodivergent child.
- The opposite of anxiety isn’t calm, it is trust. Trust comes from feeling and being understood. Work to understand your child’s intent and address “the purpose or function behind the behavior” in your response.
- Take note of the 5 senses [i.e. sound, light, smell, touch, sight, and taste, if applicable] and your child’s specific sensitivities. You can then respond in a way that aids regulation or prevents further dysregulation in your child (worsening behaviors.
- Build on your child’s enthusiasm and specific interests—to build and strengthen connections, to promote new learning or healthy risk taking, to teach him/her about time and place within social demands, and to create trust (in his body, world around him, and with other people), which is often inhibited.
- Honor your child’s controlling behaviors as attempts to communicate, as signs of his/her emotional state, as a need for reliable and clear responses from others, and as an invitation to grow confidence and agency.
- Kids with Autism (and actually most all kids) can have skewed emotional memories (too little, too much) when it comes to triggers and associations. Be prepared for unexpected experiences and unbalanced expressions to occur, which may often result in amplified emotions.
- Learn how to translate social mishaps into moments for social understanding. Teach rules, cues and limits directly and honor the emotions and assumptions that are hard to read.
- For parents, listen, listen, listen and trust your gut in getting what you need for yourself and your child.
What do you notice about these tips? Yes, I know! These are great strategies for parents of all kids. Why? Because neurodivergence is a developmental issue and all children progress through development. They grow up! And these strategies and this mindset can help all parents to support all children with unique traits and personalities. Stay tuned for our next two posts on Loving Your Quirks and Working Through Your Kinks and Crafting Your Unique Love Map with A Neurotypical Partner.