Parenting Special needs children
If you are a parent to a child with neurodiversity or trauma, you know it can be a hard road. You deal with challenges other parents do not need to face. You know typical parenting does not work, but you may not know what you should do instead. Parenting special needs children requires special parenting. With a a little observation and work you parenting can become easier.
4 Tips for parenting your child who has neurodiversity or trauma
1. View neurodiversity and trauma as a culture
You would not travel to another part of the world and expect them to act like an American. Nor would you be surprised when the people in another country acted in very different ways. You would automatically assume the difference was due to culture. In fact, you you might even adopt some of the behaviors and language to try to fit in or show respect.
Neurodiversity and trauma are the same as visiting a new country. They should be treated as a culture. Neurodiversity and trauma both come with their own way of doing things. Both behave in a way to meet their needs.
And just as you would try to learn about a country's culture, you should learn more about your child's culture. Each neurodiverse child and child who has trauma is unique. How they react in different circumstances and their personal challenges are unique. But it does not mean that you cannot learn how to best interact with them. Learn what accommodations are the most helpful to them and what their limits are.
Often our children who are neurodiverse or have trauma are expected to fit in to our typical culture. Challenge yourself to meet your child half way. You will both be a lot more successful and you will have less behavior problems from your child.
2. Learn how your child communicates
Get curious and find out what is their why. Why do they act the way they do? It may seem like quirkiness or out of the blue, but all behavior has a reason why it occurs. Here are some examples for why behavior occurs.
Many children with neurodiversity or trauma struggle with eye contact. For children with neurodiversity it may be too distracting or intense. For children with trauma eye contact can feel too vulnerable.
Does your child have repetitive movements? Remember, these are things children do to cope and self-regulate in their environment. It's what they do when they are feeling overwhelmed. If you want your child to reduce their repetitive movements you must first understand what is causing them stress. Changing the environment to better meet their needs can lead to less of a need to self-regulate.
Does your child have an intense need for movement? Movement and learning are intertwined in all of us, but especially in children. When we try to separate them, some children can’t figure out how to stop the motion while keeping their brain engaged. So they either need regular movement breaks or a way to stay moving while engaging.
By figuring out the why for your child's behavior, you can better adjust your expectations. This will lead you to understand what your child can or cannot do. You can also plan in advance to help your child be more successful.
3. Learn how your child shows you their love
Neurodiverse kids and kids with trauma may have big and extreme behaviors. This makes parenting especially difficult because we tend to take the behavior personally. Especially when their behavior is extreme and includes physical violence or destruction.
But when things are calm, do you know all the ways your child shows they care for you? Take this week to write down when you notice your child being kind to yourself or another family member. Did they do something without being asked? Did they climb into your lap to be close? Did they do something that made your life a little easier?
Their big behaviors may eclipse the good times. They may not show their love in neurotypical or non-trauma ways. But that does not mean it is not there. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves to look at their love from their eyes.
4. Understand your child’s need for rest & recovery
When a child with neurodiversity or trauma experiences an intense or prolonged activity it can be exhausting. And this exhaustion can lead to meltdowns or withdrawal. Even if they enjoyed the activity.
This result is because participation in the activity required them to use a lot of mental effort. They may have been masking, dealing with sensory input & overload, having to do more manual processing of data and emotions because of how their brain is wired, or navigating a heightened state of stress, just to name a few.
So this may mean your child needs lots of breaks or they need big resting periods after an activity. It might also mean that there are some activities that your child cannot do because they are too taxing. Not knowing the mental effort needed for an activity or the need for rest can result in meltdowns and withdrawal.
Keep a record of what activities your child can handle and which ones are a no go. If it is a no go, don’t try to force your child to do it. If you absolutely need to do it, then have a plan for bailing when your child indicates they are done.
It is also important to find your child’s activity to rest ratio. This will keep you from over scheduling your child and help prevent behavior issues. You can also help your older child take notice of what they respond well to and what they do not. This will help them learn to advocate for their needs.