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  • Writer's pictureLisa Wilson, LPC

Parenting Neurodivergent Kids

When my first child was 3 years old, our pediatrician referred us for an evaluation at the Children’s Developmental Unit at our local Children’s Hospital.  Although I was a therapist at the time, I knew little of how my life would change during this evaluation.  My child was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD.  And then the referrals started – speech therapy, occupational therapy, early intervention, wraparound services and nutritional services.  We started on a whirlwind of services.  Suddenly there was so much to schedule, to monitor and to worry about. 

A year later, my second child received the same diagnoses and suddenly I was a mom to neurodivergent children.  That became my focus and my identity.  I threw myself into making sure I was following every recommendation and every type of therapy to ensure the best outcomes.  Parenting in general is challenging in the best of circumstances.   But parenting neurodivergent children would test my ability to cope and challenge my identity at the very core.  Despite all of these services, no one checked to see if I was okay and if I was coping.  Today, my children are 19 and 20 years old.  I want to tell all of the parents of neurodivergent children that I see YOU and care about YOU.  You are not alone.  I believe self-compassion is a key component to emotional well-being.

Not only can parenting a neurodivergent child be exhausting, but the stress, the worry, the ongoing lists of extra things to monitor can seem endless.  According to Kraybill (2021), feelings of inadequacy, shame, and guilt are common for neurodivergent parents.  This article will give some strategies to address these emotions.

The best strategy for living with these feelings is somewhat counterintuitive: Don’t try to change how you feel.  Trying to change how we feel creates a signal that something needs to be changed or fixed in us. This signal is itself so stressful that it can activate our own survival mechanism and add to the stress we carry.

Most people want to avoid discomfort, fear, or pain. But these come with life.  The determination to make them go away only keeps them in the center of our awareness. For most people, it works better to focus instead on expanding what is good and positive, rather than trying to increase our ability to endure that which is difficult.

Practicing self-compassion and self-care is perhaps just as important as all of the other things we need to do.   It does not require you to be grateful for what life has brought you, nor does it mean pitying yourself for your difficulties. Rather it means simply getting in touch with your feelings and honoring them without self-judgment.

Notice what you are experiencing. Notice what you feel stuck about and how you experience the sense of stuckness. Same with tearfulness, anxiety, sadness, discouragement. Pay equal attention to good moments. When do things feel better and lighter?  How and where do you experience relaxation, hope, joy? 

Along with practicing self-compassion and self-care, it is important to build a support system.  Join a support group.  Seek your own therapy.  Savor those moments where you experience hope and relaxation.  Remind yourself that you are always doing the best that you can at any given moment.  Give yourself time to rest and recharge.  Your emotions are important and valid.  Be kind to yourself.

Kraybill, O. (2021).  Parenting a Neurodivergent Child is Hard! Psychology Today.

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