Last month was suicide awareness month. People who are neurodiverse are at high risk for anxiety, depression and suicide. I have written this blog in part to help you and others understand the prevalence and impact that unmet expectations and shame have for neurodiverse people, their parents and family members. I have experienced and seen firsthand the impact of using the wrong approach with a neurodiverse child and teen, and I have also experienced and seen the positive impact and turnaround that is possible when the right approach is used. Thank you for reading this important information and sharing it widely with others. You never know who may need this information and whose life you may save by taking the time to read it and share it with others.

I don’t know about you but when I think about the majority of interactions I had with my son when he was in middle and high school, so many of them were questions of him related to things that were important, but typically they were things for which he had absolutely no personal interest or motivation: homework, brushing his teeth, family get-togethers, going to school, going to church, going to certain after school activities, etc. In effect, many of my interactions with him involved questions about things that were not priorities for him and required him to transition away from or think about transitioning away from the things he preferred to be doing. To be sure, I did share time with him doing things that he enjoyed and ensured that he had plenty of downtime to do what he enjoyed, but as you know, when raising children, working, and running a household, there are many things that need attending and unfortunately, I didn’t think that in middle or high school my otherwise highly capable son needed a lot of 1:1 attention or hand holding to do typical tasks expected of him like homework, hygiene, cleaning his room, chores, or transitioning from home to regularly scheduled activities. I was wrong.

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We all may be familiar with people who have ADHD, anxiety, autism, dyslexia and other learning disabilities, but not as many people are as familiar with the term executive function skills even though these skills are at the heart of the challenges that people with these diagnoses have. These skills, as the Harvard University Center on the Developing Child , Thomas Brown, Ph.DRussell Barkley, Ph.D., Ross Greene, Ph. D., Eye to EyeSeth PerlerCHADD, and so many others describe, are like the air traffic controller of our brains and allow us to do many things:

  • set short-term and long-term goals,
  • remember to do things,
  • focus our attention to get things done,
  • manage distractions and impulsiveness,
  • make decisions, manage our emotions,
  • be flexibile in our thinking so that we can adjust on the fly or prioritize what needs to get done (or even know what needs to be done),
  • execute and take action to complete tasks, whether they are enjoyable tasks for us or simply something we have to do.

Can you imagine life without these skills?

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Most parents experience exhaustion from sleepless nights, endless tasks, and balancing work, life and kid activities, but when you add a neurodivergent child to the mix, the exhaustion can be extreme - and sometimes it feels like there is no end in sight. In addition to the extra physical energy that is required to keep our kids’ safe from their own impulsive decisions, all of appointments they have, providing that extra layer of support they need to follow through with what they said they would do (but we know they may not be able to do without some extra accountability), and managing medications, there is also the additional mental energy that we expend, whether consciously or subconsciously:

  • learning about their disability and how to support them (and working hard to implement what we learn)
  • looking for and reaching out to professionals and specialists who can help,
  • advocating to and working with teachers and the school system,
  • thinking about their future and what it might be like,
  • wondering if we have or will have the financial resources to afford the support and help they need,
  • wondering if they will actually do what they say they will do,
  • wondering if they will have friends,
  • wondering if they will actually fall asleep or if they will sneak out of their bedroom,
  • wondering if they will keep themselves safe and have a strong enough sense of self and circle of social support to endure the obstacles that they undoubtedly face on a daily basis.

All of these things that we hold in our heads cost energy and result in a level of exhaustion that is extreme, and it is sometimes hard to know if, how or when we will ever get the rest that we will need, and if this extreme exhaustion will ever end!

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