How Families can Create Safe Spaces for Neurodivergent Children

The term ‘neurodiversity’ was first coined in the 1990s by Judy Singer, a sociologist and disability studies advocate. Her research proposed that conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, and dyslexia – which had previously been regarded as neurodevelopmental disorders – were in fact naturally occurring variations in the brain. These variations offer individuals unique insights and perspectives into the world, and only surface as challenges in environments designed with the ‘neurotypical’ majority in mind.

It is estimated that approximately 1 in every 5 children exhibits neurodiverse traits. This encompasses a wide variety of ways to think, learn, and process information that are different from the prevailing norm. While being neurodivergent can impact the progress of a child’s educational journey, they are not a true reflection or measure of their IQ. Rather, they simply mean that learning is best achieved in ways that differ from the traditional baseline.

Globally, there has been a 178% rise in autism in the past 20 years. This is especially important from an Indian context - a 2019 study estimated that 1 in every 100 children below the age of 10 has autism. Rise in diagnoses indicates that we are becoming more aware of neurodiversity in the population. While awareness is important, it is equally critical for families and society as a whole to understand, accept, and support neurodiverse children. These differences are a natural variation and below are the ways to enable them to reach their full potential however best suits them.

Reinforce a Positive Sense of Identity

Neurodiverse children are made to navigate a world that isn’t built to account for their differences. Many struggle with tasks that come naturally to other children, from reading and writing to interacting with their peers and seniors. The difficulties they face with these tasks can often result in negative emotions and severely undermine their self-image and self-esteem.

Parents must be aware of this pattern and take active steps to address it, starting in the home. A neurodiverse child’s differences should be acknowledged and celebrated. Children should be encouraged to take pride in their uniqueness – the little victories should be cheered on and their unique perspectives encouraged. Include them in family activities that are designed to bring out everyone’s strengths and make sure their contributions are valued.

Create a Personalised Care Plan

The involvement of the entire family is an essential component of any comprehensive support model for neurodivergent children. When families are actively involved in meeting their child’s unique needs, it can lead to an improved quality of life for everyone. An essential component of this approach is closely collaborating with healthcare professionals. Seeking advice and support from experts such as therapists, psychologists, or special education teachers establish a secure environment for children. These professionals can offer valuable insights, personalized approaches, and a range of resources that cater to your child's unique requirements. Providing families with the necessary support and guidance empowers them to become advocates and champions for their child's development.

Eliminate the Burden of Conformity

One of the key benefits of embracing neurodiversity is removing the pressure on neurodivergent children to conform to society’s neurotypical standards. The pressure of meeting these expectations can force them to engage in patterns of behaviour that are harmful to their well-being. If a child finds it difficult to focus for extended periods due to ADHD, let them study in short bursts. For children who are dyslexic, focus on reading material in small and manageable chunks. Adopting these methods reduces the mental and physical exhaustion that comes with masking or suppressing their true selves, ultimately leading to happier children.

Navigate Sensory Overstimulation

One of the most frequent expressions of neurodiversity is the struggle with sensory overstimulation. Everyday situations that neurotypical individuals may encounter, from crowded places to loud noises or bright lights, can prove overwhelming for neurodiverse children. These situations trigger physical and emotional stress and are perceived as sensory assault, often resulting in outbursts and tantrums. Parents can help their children acclimatise to these triggers in the home through a variety of methods, before gradually expanding this to wider social settings. Families can employ various strategies to minimise sensory triggers. Some including noise-cancelling headphones, dedicated quiet areas within the home, the use of sensory toys, and self-calming techniques. Over time, neurodivergent children can better cope with stimuli and engage with their peers in a healthier manner.

Creating a safe space is an ongoing process. Each child is unique, so it's essential to continuously adapt and modify your approach based on their evolving needs and preferences.

This article was authored by Nitin Bindlish, Founder and CEO, Mom’s Belief

( Source : Guest Post )
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