The Importance of Self-Discovery: Why Your Child Needs to Probe Her Neurodiversity

Give your child the self-esteem and skills to become a self-actualized adult who embraces self-discovery. That is every parent’s goal, but it is especially challenging — and important — when your child is neurodivergent. Use these four steps to help your child on that journey.

A differently wired child embraces neurodiversity.

This is article 4 in a 5-part series on how shifts in daily perspectives can help a parent embrace and support her child’s neurodifferences. Click here to read the introductory article, “Stop Fighting Your Child’s Neurodiversity.”

Help Your Child Explore His or Her Neurodiversity

One of the greatest gifts you can give your “differently wired” child is an understanding of:

  • Who he is
  • How his brain works
  • What he needs to do to create the life that he wants

When you can do this, and guide your child along the path of self-discovery, he can start to develop self-esteem and the self-advocacy skills needed to thrive in adulthood.

Reflection Questions for Parents of Neurodivergent Kids

Find out how well you are supporting your child on this journey by asking yourself:

  1. Am I actively fostering and modeling a culture of discovery in our family?
  2. Am I regularly sharing insights for my child about her neurodifferences in a way that encourages reflection and self-awareness?
  3. Do I handle difficult situations or challenges in a way that focuses on helping my child learn more about who she is rather than punishing her or addressing her behavior only?

Then, take the following steps to improve.

[Free Download: 10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child]

Support Your Child’s Self-Discovery

Use language that supports not shames. Many of our children self-identify as the “bad kid.” They may have low self-esteem and be really sensitive to perceived criticism. As a parent, you need to walk the fine line of addressing weak areas honestly, respectfully, and logically — but in a way that emphasizes that your child did nothing wrong. Stress that you are working with him toward a solution.

Do this by validating your child’s emotions and by empathizing. Say, “I can see you’re feeling embarrassed by this conversation. I know how that feels. That can be really uncomfortable.” Give your child space, and don’t force the issue. Say, “I can tell you’re not in the mood to talk about this right now. That’s totally fine. Let’s circle back when you’re ready.”

Don’t bring up challenges in difficult moments. Wait until the storm has calmed, and you and your child can both think clearly. The consistent message you want your child to hear is, “There is nothing wrong with you. We are all working on things. That’s part of being human, and the great thing is that once we know how our brains operate, we can support ourselves in making things easier.”

Try saying, “This behavior is something that could create some challenges for you in the world because there are certain expectations that people have around this particular situation. You should be aware that if you choose to do it this way, you may have a hard time achieving your goals.” The message is that this is the society we live in, and there are some things you’ll want to consider to make your biggest mark on this world.

[Never Punish a Child for Behavior Outside His Control]

Remember that everything is an opportunity for growth. That means everything, even the really hard stuff – the bad days, the screw-ups, and the fights. Your job as a parent is to look for opportunities to help your child make connections between his thoughts, feelings, and actions by regularly asking questions or making observations about what you’re seeing.

When you do that, your child will start to recognize the value in reflecting and identifying personal roadblocks, and will learn his own strategies. This might sound like, “You know, I noticed your homework went more smoothly when you had a snack before you started.” Or, “Have you noticed getting out the door for school on Friday is much harder than it is on Monday? Do you have any ideas why that might be?”

Model self-discovery. Do this by being curious about yourself, and doing the work in your own life to figure out your own processes, strengths, and weaknesses – then talk about them out loud. Let kids know what you’re working on, and what you’re doing to work toward your goal. Kids are watching everything you do, and paying attention even when you think they’re not.

[Explaining an ADHD Diagnosis to a Child]

This advice came from “Accepting Your Child’s Diagnosis: Transform Your Mindset, Thoughts, and Actions,” an ADDitude webinar lead by Deborah Reber in June 2018 that is now available for free replay.