The term neurodiversity describes the natural diversity of human brains and minds. Just as there is natural diversity in other physical and biological traits, there are variances in the way individuals think, learn, and process information, too. And these differences impact how they function when it comes to learning, concentration, memory, and more. Here it is significant to understand that the idea of neurodiversity is often applied to conditions such as autism, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), and some learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and dyspraxia, as well as other mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and anxiety disorders.
The concept of neurodiversity emphasizes that these differences should be recognized and respected, rather than stigmatized or anthologized. This means creating inclusive environments, policies, and practices that take into account the needs and strengths of people with a wide range of neurological conditions. This can include things like providing accommodations in the classroom or workplace (into mainstream systems), or designing products and services that are accessible to people with a range of abilities.
Strategies and Resources that Help
Addressing the needs of a neurodiverse child can pose challenges, but fortunately, there is a range of effective strategies and resources available to assist parents, caregivers, educators, friends, and family members in this endeavor. Parents and caregivers can create nurturing and supportive environments at home, while educators can implement specialized techniques within educational settings to facilitate learning and inclusion. Friends and family members can also play a significant role by embracing these strategies to promote understanding, acceptance, and meaningful interactions with the neurodiverse child.
1. Understand and accept the child's unique strengths and challenges.
Understanding and meeting the needs of a neurodiverse child begins with recognizing the unique composition of their personality and abilities which includes their strengths, challenges, and the characteristics associated with their specific condition. To help with this, the first step is to show acceptance towards promoting a culture of respect, and empathy, and promote active listening in their lives.
Oftentimes, we tend to assume that a child has behavioral issues, whereas once we recognize and become aware of the underlying conditions, we realize that these challenging behaviors are in actuality shreds of evidence of the child’s frustration, stress, and distress. Likewise, addressing a child's needs should always be the first priority and that means letting go of the urge to control their behaviors and shifting our focus to supporting their individual requirements. As Michelle Swan, a disability rights advocate and mother of six neurodivergent children, beautifully puts it, "There is a different way to support change in a child's behavior than imposing our own will over theirs. It begins with letting go of the temptation to manage behaviors and replace it with the goal of meeting needs."
Here, it is also crucial to understand that progress and development among neurodiverse children typically occur at different paces. This is why, practicing patience and flexibility helps not only to foster an environment that allows the child to learn and grow at their own pace but it also helps to celebrate and nurture their strengths, talents, and interests.
2. Encourage and value the child's communication style.
Neurodivergent individuals exhibit distinct differences in their communication abilities and preferences. These differences can manifest in various ways, such as challenges in using spoken language, a preference for written communication even when verbal communication is possible, difficulty understanding nonverbal cues, a strong aversion to social situations with large groups, and other unique traits that make engaging with "typical" society more challenging.
By embracing and acknowledging the diverse ways in which information is received and expressed, parents, caregivers and educators can create an inclusive environment that encourages communication through multiple channels; including verbal speech, nonverbal communication such as gestures (both informal and using sign language when applicable), and various forms of written language like handwritten words, typed messages, and even visual images. For example, to cater to individual needs, caregivers could explore and utilize assistive technologies such as screen readers and speech-to-text programs to enhance communication for neurodivergent children.
This goes on to suggest that by understanding and respecting these differences, we can create an inclusive environment that not only supports diverse communication needs but also enhances understanding and ensures that every child's unique way of processing information is valued and accommodated.
3. Provide a structured and predictable environment.
Neurodivergent children thrive when their surroundings are tailored to meet their needs, making it essential to consider key elements within their environment. One important aspect to address is sensory sensitivities as these are commonly experienced by neurodiverse children. Creating a sensory-friendly environment involves thoughtful considerations with respect to lighting, noise levels, textures, and smells that align with the child's comfort level. By minimizing sensory overload and providing appropriate alternatives like quiet spaces or fidget tools, we can help neurodivergent children feel more at ease and regulated.
Another crucial aspect to take into consideration is, infusing a sense of predictability into the environment. This can be done by establishing clear and consistent routines that offer structure and predictability to the child. Consistency reduces anxiety and provides a sense of stability, enabling children to navigate their daily activities more effectively. Moreover, it also encourages and creates opportunities for the child to take up responsibilities by developing a sense of autonomy and ownership.
By incorporating routines that they can rely on, parents and teachers can empower neurodiverse children to regulate their emotions and encourage positive behaviors within the school and home environment.
4. Engage in dialogue as a family.
Here, it might be a good idea to talk to the child about their diagnosis, while engaging in an open and positive conversation. It's essential to also acknowledge the challenges that they face and reassure them that everyone has areas where they struggle or succeed, but more importantly, by knowing how their brain functions, those around them can offer them the necessary support and resources that they need.
An important reminder for parents, practitioners and others involved in the lives of neurodiverse children is to focus more on their strengths rather than the deficits. It is only natural that when a child (or even adults for that matter) feels secure in their self-identity, it strengthens their confidence and sense of belonging, which has a direct impact on their physical and mental well-being.
Secondly, in order to achieve this, it's crucial to tailor our expectations to match the child's capabilities, rather than expecting them to conform to standardized practices and milestones. For example, considering matters which require attention and feedback from the child, rather than demanding immediate responses (unless it's an emergency), respect and accommodate the varying processing speeds within the family. Offer the necessary time for reflection and deliberation, allowing for thoughtful and meaningful exchanges. In cases where important conversations require extended discussions, schedule multiple sessions over several days to ensure everyone feels comfortable and supported throughout the dialogue. And this is sure to help foster a sense of understanding, acceptance, and effective communication within the family unit.
5. Practice self-care
When caring for our children and striving to meet their explicit needs, it can be emotionally and physically challenging, often leading to burnout. That's why parents and caregivers must prioritize self-care and discover effective ways to unwind and address their own needs too. By engaging in self-care, adults experience a range of benefits that have a profound impact. It not only helps clear and destress the mind but also provides fresh insights, perspectives, and creative solutions to face everyday challenges. This, in turn, fosters a more balanced approach to addressing the needs of others, resulting in better outcomes for both the caregiver and the child.
Furthermore, when caregivers model self-care behaviors, they impart valuable lessons to neurodiverse children. They learn the importance of self-compassion, self-prioritization, and managing emotions in a healthy way. By witnessing caregivers prioritize their own well-being, neurodiverse children gain a deeper understanding of the significance of self-care and its positive impact on overall physical and emotional health.
In conclusion, there is no best way to confront the challenges that arise on a day-to-day basis when meeting the needs of a neurodivergent child. Some days may seem to bring about a greater sense of satisfaction and achievement while contrastingly there may be days at a stretch where parents, educators and caregivers feel helpless. The important thing to understand is to take things easy and not overwhelm yourself with the idea of perfectionism and instead continue to reflect on good practices and create a conducive environment where individuals feel safe rather than stressed or frustrated.
Additionally, in the midst of the challenges that arise, it is important to remember that it is precisely through these challenges that you grow and learn as individuals and as families. There is a reason that Allah, in His infinite wisdom, has entrusted you with these precious souls. He has chosen you to be their guides, advocates, and sources of love and support because He sees the beauty and potential in these children, even when the world fails to understand their unique gifts. And, it is in the Quran itself that Allah reminds us that He never burdens a soul beyond its capacity to bear. So, as you face these challenges, hold onto the thought of finding solace in the knowledge that Allah has chosen you for this noble task. He believes in your ability to nurture, guide, and cherish these remarkable individuals, so trust in Allah's Divine plan. Seek His guidance and blessings as you navigate the ups and downs, knowing that every step you take is guided by His love and mercy.
Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and mother of three boys. Always on the quest to learn, she is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it on to others. A writer in the making, she draws inspiration through deep conversations, laws of nature, and her own children. She and her family are currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.