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Navigating the World with Neurodiverse Children

little girl sitting down outside
My Amazing Child

Deciding how to discipline our children is a difficult thing for Moms to navigate as our children grow, and it varies as they move through different stages. Depending on how we ourselves were raised, there are many varying views on the proper way to execute the raising of a respectful, upstanding citizen. One parent may have one idea of how to discipline a toddler, versus how to discipline a teenager. Also, in the same household there may be differing opinions, which can often be a cause of many family disagreements.

One factor that many families don’t expect is suddenly being faced with the task of raising a neurodiverse child. Now all the methods that may have worked for you and your family for generations, or even for another child, are thrown out the window and you have to start fresh and figure out the best way that works to get through to your very individual child. As Moms, we need to try to block out the judgement and sometimes unwanted advice from others, and focus on what our child needs in every unique moment.

“Sounds Like That Kid Needs a Butt Whoopin”

This is a phrase that is spoken too often without thought or consideration; a phrase I have been told too many times; a phrase I'm sure we have all been told in our lives. Depending on where in the country you live, the phrases may vary. Where I live in Southern Alabama, I hear the phrase “butt whoopin” too often. Maybe in your area you’ll hear, “That kid needs to learn to behave” or the typical, “Why don't you discipline your kid.” I have noticed more and more these days that people are too quick to judge a child’s behaviors as “bad” or disobedient.

More often than not, the people throwing around this saying are not even parents themselves, or they are new parents, still living in the "my child would never” phase. Why is a “butt whoopin” the solution that so many jump to? Is it because they were spanked as children? Or maybe they are saying it as a joke? Neither of these reasons is acceptable. These reactions from people may stem from older generations being more strict. If one generation was disciplined with force, it gets passed down to the next generation, and now we have grandparents who think their grandchildren aren’t being disciplined properly or enough.

Another thing that has changed since then is a knowledge of various psychological and neurological differences in children. Neurodiverse wasn’t a term regularly used forty years ago, but these days it is recognized widely and many of us 40-year-olds even recognize that we ourselves were neurodiverse all along. Now that we recognize these differences in our children, we recognize that the old thoughts of how to discipline children no longer apply to all children across the board. What works for one child won’t work for another.

As a Mom of an Over-sensory Kid...

girl laying on ground

I have found myself in many situations where my child was over-stimulated due to excessive noise, or faced with an unexpected change, or simply needing something they didn't know how to express to me, and the result was a public meltdown, often embarrassing. As their Mom, we learn to not be embarrassed, and to simply take care of our child’s needs. We learn to ignore the stares, not care what people think, and focus on how we can help our child in that moment. This has left me many times sitting on the ground with my child, or sitting on the floor of a store, waiting for the meltdown to subside. The judgement that follows is what often leads us to not have anyone to talk to about what our child, and ourselves in that situation, went through. We have nobody safe to confide in, because even those close to us will judge or even say, “Sounds like that kid needs a butt whoopin.”

Many families of neurodiverse children are forced to separate themselves from family members because the family doesn’t understand why the child can’t be disciplined in the traditional way they were raised. The things said become insulting to the family, without them even realizing what they’re saying. It is implied that we don’t know how to discipline our child, or that we are too easy on our child, or that we let our child get away with bad behaviors. Instead of looking to what is causing the child to react that way, they see only an unwanted behavior and they think you should stop it any way you can, even resorting to force.

Learning How To Navigate The World With Neurodiverse Children

girl and dog hiking
Navigating the World Together

Through learning how to navigate my child’s unique world, I’ve found myself in many situations now, that I don’t ever want to judge why a fellow parent is parenting their child a certain way, or why a child is acting a certain way. I have found myself in numerous situations that would have been very embarrassing, receiving many stares, but now I’m not even phased by what people think. When you have a child that is so over-focused on how things should be planned out, but then something changes and they are forced to just deal with the change, the resulting meltdown isn’t due to an ill-behaved child, it’s due to the child not processing that something unexpected has happened.

I’m reminded of an event we attended where the children were to go from one station to the next, completing activities, and we came upon a station where the child could complete a piece of artwork. My very artsy daughter was thrilled to know she would be completing a craft. After about 20 minutes, the kids were told they had to switch and move on to the next station. Well my over-focused child was not finished with her art, and this unexpected change put her in a position of not knowing how to simply stop and transition to something else. This resulted in a meltdown along with all the stares that come with it. I had to let her know that we would take all the art with us to finish at home, and we had to walk away and leave the group. We walked around the center, following her lead, until she calmed herself down and we were able to rejoin the group.

People might question, What is wrong with that child, Why is she acting that way, Why isn’t she being disciplined for that bad behavior? But we are the ones who know what is best for our child, what they are going through, and what they need to get through their unexpected change that they didn’t know how to process. We also know that over-stimulating them more, with yelling, or physicality, would just exacerbate the situation even more. It would have the opposite effect and make the meltdown even worse. We as parents of over-sensory kids have learned what works and what doesn’t work at all. Many parents feel this way; like the parent who still needs to put their big kid inside a shopping cart, for their safety, because they tend to elope. Or the parent who has to use the Caroline’s Cart for their bigger kid who may appear neurotypical, yet simply will not walk in a store without sitting on the ground or running away too fast.

I no longer wonder why I see someone using the carts for a disability, just like I wouldn’t judge someone parking in a handicap parking space. We just don’t know the reason why it is needed, but if that parent needs their child contained for their safety, they shouldn’t get stares or judgement for doing what their child needs in that moment. My hope for everyone is that we are moving toward a more accepting society where we don’t judge a parent or their child, but rather accept that the parent is doing the best for their own child. Frankly I hope people in the future will learn to mind their own business.

Why I Lead Sixx Cool Moms of Children With Disabilities

family photo mom dad daughter
My Little Family

This is one of the reasons I was led to join our national group, Sixx Cool Moms of Children with Disabilities. I needed people who understood that I didn't have a “bad kid” but instead that I had an amazing, sweet, caring, and considerate, struggling kid. Many fellow Moms don’t have that judgement-free place to talk about these sensitive situations we find ourselves in. The group is so important for the Moms in our community, which is why when it came time that a new Admin was needed, I knew I had to fill the position to keep this niche in the community available for my fellow Moms. Nobody should be judged for how they discipline their child, especially those who are here to care for unique individuals who think and react outside the box.

I hope the people who are so quick to judge will never end up in the situations that we have found ourselves in, because I don't think they would know how to deal with it in the appropriate way that is best for the child. A “butt whoopin” is never the answer for an unwanted behavior exhibited by a child, especially a struggling child.

Author: Kristen Kelley is a homeschooling mama living in Alabama with her partner and their daughter, exploring nature and enjoying country living. Kristen is also the Market Director for Sixx Cool Moms of Southern Alabama and NWFL, Sixx Cool Moms of Children with Disabilities, and the Sixx Cool Moms Book Club.


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