A study conducted by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) found that 17 percent of kids in America, aged 3 to 17 years, have a developmental disability like autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, and others.
Another noteworthy finding from the study is that this percentage grew over the two time periods the researchers compared, which are the periods from 2009–2011 and 2015–2017; and increases were also found for certain developmental disabilities in the same age group.
The point is that neurodiversity is growing more common as time goes on, and we need to advocate for the truth that people’s brains are all wired differently and that everyone, regardless of diagnosis or non-diagnosis, deserves to be treated equally by society.
With your help, your child can reach their full potential and live the best life they can, regardless of their diagnosis. Here are some tips and pointers for raising and supporting a neurodivergent child.
Validate the hardship
If your child is having a hard time coping with school and their social life, don’t invalidate their feelings. Be there to listen, nod, and repeat to them what they just said, so they know that you are present. Avoid falling for the comfortable trap of toxic positivity, or always forcing them to see the good in the situation. Fight the urge to give an opinion because giving too many tips or advice can be overwhelming or overstimulating to a neurodiverse child. Just empathize and listen.
Provide healthy outlets for their sensory sensitivities
Many kids, even those who may be neurotypical, can be oversensitive to various sensory inputs (sights, sounds, smells, flavors, and textures). This is the part where we must help them regulate their responses and stay in their window of tolerance, and there are plenty of tools and strategies to do this. Here are some of them. Create a sensory tool kit or a box or bag filled with sensory toys and tools that can help your kid calm their nervous system. Some examples include a squeezy ball, noise-reducing earmuffs, and a fidget toy. Make sure that whatever toy or tool you place in there is something that is specific to your child’s needs and has been proven to help them in the past.
Know your child’s rights
While we may have come a long way in terms of supporting people with disabilities in this country, we also can’t deny that there is still a lot of stigma and false notions that need to be combated for this to be a safe place for our children to live and grow up.
Thankfully, The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed to ensure that discrimination against people with disabilities in various areas is prohibited. This means that your child must live a life where they are not excluded or discriminated against in terms of employment, education, communications, access to government services and programs, public accommodations, transportation, and others. Consider consulting with a trusted lawyer who handles social security disability matters to learn more about your child’s rights and privileges under the law, and to help protect them if needed.
Extend support in social situations
One thing you can expect is that your child will likely struggle in specific social environments. This means it’s never too early to prepare them by providing them with resources that can help them grow more comfortable and happy when integrating themselves into society. What may be simple interaction for neurotypical kids may take the wind out of your child, so don’t be surprised when it happens. Even the simple act of going to school may be a trigger.
To support your child through social settings, here are some steps you can take:
- Help them write some script cards to help them when they need to talk to other people.
- Provide them with their sensory tools like a fidget spinner to help them redirect their anxiety, or to increase their level of concentration.
- Give them plenty of positive reinforcement. Even something as simple as making a new friend can take them out of their comfort zone, so be encouraging, gentle, and kind as they do so. And don’t hesitate to encourage and praise them when they do it.
There will be challenges along the way, but there will also be plenty of rewards—namely, seeing your child thrive. Pave the way for them so that they can live the life they were meant to live, regardless of the hurdles.