Personal Experience: Parenting Neurodiverse Children
January 11, 2023
It’s often not easy raising children and, when you throw neurodiversity into the mix it can bring extra challenges. My children are now aged 23 and 19 so I’m writing this from hindsight and from the point of view of how things could have been better.
My daughter has dyspraxia and dyslexia and my son has autism. I myself also have dyspraxia along with a bunch of other conditions that it’s probably best not to go into. I love my son and daughter and I wouldn’t change them for anything but I would change a lot of other things if it made life easier for them.
The first things I noticed quite early on were that my children were behind in their development. Both of them were slow to reach milestones such as sitting up, crawling, walking, talking and toilet training. A health visitor was concerned that my daughter wasn’t engaging in pretend play, playing with dolls and teddies, when she was 18 months old. We were referred to a child development specialist who initially diagnosed a global development delay. My daughter was then diagnosed with dyspraxia when she was five, and then later with dyslexia. She is currently awaiting assessment for autism. My son followed a similar pattern of being slow to reach development milestones. Only with him he also exceeded developmental milestones in other areas. He was reading and doing maths before he went to school. At ten he was tutoring in Maths and he is currently studying a Mathematics degree.
Looking back now I think the biggest problem we faced wasn't autism, dyspraxia, and dyslexia as much as the attitudes of other people. For instance it is typical of neurodiverse children to have sensory issues and this can cause problems with hygiene. My daughter used to scream any time her hair was brushed because she didn’t like how it felt. Both my children were scruffy and had poor hygiene no matter what I did. Unfortunately teachers, health visitors, and other professionals often lack understanding in this respect and start insinuating stuff. I blame a lack of training in neurodiversity.
Equally, just as professionals who work with can often lack training in understanding neurodiverse children, I noticed a lack of information and resources for parents. I was advised by those same untrained professionals to do parenting courses, as though the problem was me, and not that they didn’t understand neurodiverse children. The first course I went on seemed to be aimed at people who struggled with basic life skills. We were taught babycare, how to change nappies. We were not taught how to handle a neurodiverse child feeling overwhelmed to the point where they completely break down. The second time they tried to send me on a course I put my foot down and said I’d only participate in a course that was specifically aimed at parenting children with autism. Unsurprisingly they stopped talking about parenting courses. That was in 2017. It wasn’t all the fault of professionals.
Are there things I wish I’d done differently? Of course. For a start I wish I’d known other parents in a similar situation. Although my brother has autism and I have dyspraxia we did not know this until well into adulthood so my own parents had even less idea of parenting neurodiverse children than I did. Support can be a lifeline for parents in this situation and this just wasn’t there for me. Part of that was my own fault. Somehow I got the idea that my own needs weren’t as important as my children’s needs. To anyone who might be thinking that right now I assure you that your needs do matter. Your children need you. They need you to look after yourself. So your needs are as important as theirs.
In summary my advice to parents of neurodiverse children is the following:
- Look after yourself and your needs, especially emotional and psychological. You cannot pour from an empty jug.
- Get as informed as you possibly can. Whether your child has autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, or ADHD, you need to know as much about it as possible.
- If you have access to support groups then join them. Trust me it is very hard to go through it alone.