Over the past 12 years, I’ve learned so much about children, family, and youth. I was the director of a licensed childcare facility in my hometown of East Vancouver. I held a position on the advisory committee for Children, Family, and Youth in the City of Vancouver. I’m also a proud parent of 2 neurodivergent children, and I am working on an audiobook called Reframe: A Guide for Caregivers and Parents for Neurodivergent Children. From all my experience, I can tell you that parenting children who are autistic is unique, rewarding, and insightful.
As a parent of 2 neurodivergent children, I love advocating for neurodivergence. What is it exactly? Simply put, Neurodivergence is having a brain that processes information, learns, and expresses differently from what is considered “typical.” Examples of neurodivergence include Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, FASD, ODD, Dyslexia, and language delays.
Parenting on the Spectrum*, or rather parenting Autistic children, is different for every parent because each child is unique. Some children speak while others do not. Some experience seizures. Some are sensitive to textures or smells, and other children are sensitive to sounds or lights. They may not eat enough or only eat limited foods. Some children are elopers/flight risks, while others may be violent or aggressive towards themselves while frustrated. Do these characteristics sound familiar? There are so many combinations of behaviour that keep us as parents up at night. Whatever your concerns may be, I want to reassure you that they are valid, and every parent needs support on their parenting journey on the spectrum.
Here are some parenting tips that helped me create agency, community, and appreciation to help families thrive with an Autism Diagnosis.
1. Get connected in the community with like-minded parents and caregivers.
As the parent of a newly diagnosed child, you may feel broken, torn, vindicated, validated, bittersweet, or relieved. Adjusting to the diagnosis and the realities of life can feel overwhelming. We must rearrange our schedules and our daily lives to fit in assessments, meetings, and different therapy sessions.
You may think, “Who can do all of this on their own?”
When you find a group of parents who are in the same position as you, you will realize you aren’t alone! There are many community support groups for parents and caregivers of Autistic children. Join one! Advice and support are truly meaningful when they come from someone with the lived experience of navigating this parenting labyrinth, and many parents of Autistic children enjoy a life with less stress and anxiety through experience. You can learn from them. Find those that understand the beauty in neurodivergence or at least have an openness to the idea of it. As parents and caregivers, we are stronger together.
2. Reframe the diagnosis out of pathology into abilities.
The diagnosis is not all that your child is! What makes your child unique and what are their strengths? Make note of their special abilities. It can help you down the road when you need to advocate for them. Also, if a child knows their strengths, they can truly reach the heights they’ll set for themselves. Here are a few examples: the ability to hyperfocus, resiliency, good memory, hyperlexia, creativity, curiosity, honesty, logical thinking, alternative strategizing, alternative problem solving, productivity, efficiency, and the ability to spot patterns and trends.
3. Advocate at school.
Get ready to speak up! You are not in for a life of burden, but you will have to advocate at times for your child when they can’t. As a parent to elementary-aged or older children who are Autistic, you may have to advocate during Individualized Education Plans, also known as IEPs. IEP meetings are usually offered by schools to collaborate with teachers, support personnel, and parents who work together as a team to meet the needs of individual students. You may also have to advocate to gain support through Education Assistants or EAs, for teacher support, changes in environment or equipment to name a few situations. Being a strong and knowledgeable voice for your child will help them get the most out of their school experience. (Just a thought – how can they advocate? Talk about what helps and triggers their child? Not sure if there is room for this…?)
Many parents with children on the spectrum report feeling anxiety and depression. Gratitude is a simple, low-cost/no-cost solution to help you deal with the stressors of parenting a neurodivergent child. Robert Emmons, a key researcher in gratitude, found that practicing gratitude decreases high blood pressure, results in stronger immune systems, increases joy and pleasure, and decreases feelings of loneliness and isolation. I’ve found that writing in a gratitude journal has significantly decreased my anxiety and depression. A gratitude journal can’t be written in just once and then left; gratitude is a muscle that needs to be flexed to see true results. What are you thankful for? Write something down every day and watch your perspective transform.
With this knowledge, you can safely thrive and advocate for your child. Moving away from fear is hard when we are arrested by pathological outcomes, so let’s work together to be the tide that lifts all boats.
*Important to note that in the Autism community, many self-advocates and their allies prefer terminology such as “Autistic,” because they understand Autism as an inherent part of an individual’s identity.
Priya Tronsgard is a Local Mom of 2 Neurodivergent Children, Founder of Edify Learning Spaces, Author of Soon-to-Be released Audiobook, “Reframe: A Guide for Parents & Caregivers for Neurodivergent Kids.”, Former Director of a Childcare, and Life-Long Learner.
Looking for more articles? Enjoy the Fall Education 2021 issue of BC Parent here.