When you have a child who’s neurodivergent, should you talk to them about their neurodiversity?
When should you talk to them about their neurodiversity?
And most importantly, HOW do you talk to them about it? Keep reading to find out.
What is Neurodiversity?
Humans as a species are considered neurodiverse. Neuro means neurons (which are the wires in our brains) and diverse means different. We all have differently wired brains, and we all process the world, learn, behave and communicate differently and in our own ways.
However, within the human species, there is a more common, typical pattern of brain wiring that follows a certain sequence and predictable pattern in development, we consider this pattern of brain wiring to be called neurotypical. There are other people who have brain patterns that diverge even more than the regular variety of brain wiring, and they may communicate differently, they may behave or learn differently, and they’re called neurodivergent.
Sensory processing disorder falls under the definition of neurodivergent thinking.
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Why it’s important to talk to your child about their neurodiversity:
Now, every family is going to be different of course, but for many of the families I coach in 1:1 or work within person, there comes a time in our working relationship when it’s clear that some sort of conversation or discussion is important to have at home.
When you talk to your child about neurodiversity in general, you open up the world to them in a way that lets them further know who they are and have a stronger sense of identity and maybe even fills in some gaps that they were already thinking about on their own.
When is the right time to talk to your child about their neurodiversity?
It’ll always be up to you when you think the right time is to talk to your child, but here are some common examples that usually prompt the conversation to be started:
When they show resistance or push back against sensory strategies or accommodations.
When they start to show insecurities about skills that they haven’t mastered yet.
If they are asking questions such as “why is it so hard for me to wear socks?” or “why do I have to go to therapy, but Max doesn’t?”
It can feel really easy and comfortable and a sort of mama-bear knee jerk reaction to jump in with shielding them from all things bad and wanting them to feel like nothing’s wrong with them.
You’re right, nothing’s wrong with them, but if they’re showing curiosity with the way their body and brain works differently than others, then it’s your job to validate that for them.
Do I have to talk to my child about their neurodiversity?
If your child seems completely unaware or unaffected by interventions/strategies you try, doesn’t really ask questions, doesn’t seem to be impacted socially or internally about differences, you may not need to bring it up yet.
But it’s a good idea to be prepared for the day they do ask!
An OT’s tips for talking to your child about their neurodiversity:
It doesn’t have to be a formal sit-down lecture, make the conversation work into your family style of communication, it could be little 1-minute conversations sprinkled through the day or week.
Use a lot of neutral/objective terms and lead with strengths (e.g., your brain can hear whispers from the other room vs. you’re sensitive to sound)
Relate to them with your own differences (you notice whispers really easily, mommy doesn’t. Sometimes i can’t even hear you from the other room! Or Your ears notice voices easily and my eyes notice when there’s dirt on the table)
Tell them everyone is different from each other, not just them different from you and them different than friends.
Point out their strengths and how their differences make them special!
Have You Heard of the Sensory Cup Analogy?
Need an easy-to-use example? I also love using the sensory cup analogy to help educate other family/friends or teachers about your child’s sensory needs in a way that’s inclusive and easy to understand. It’s also a great opportunity to teach your child about your own sensory quirks, because we all have them, right?
13:08:29 Hey, everyone, and welcome back to the podcast today’s. episode is how to talk to your child about their neurodiversity.13:08:41 I get a lot of questions from parents asking me how they should talk to their child about their sensory needs, about their learning differences about why they go to therapy, and I’m going to share all of those tips.13:08:53 With you in this episode. And first, I want to start out with defining neurodiversity, or at least the way that I define neurodiversity.13:09:02 And how I think about it. So here’s my spiel humans as a species are considered neur diverse.13:09:12 So neuro means neurons which are the wires within our brains and diverse means different.13:09:20 So we all have differently wired brains, and we all process the world.13:09:28 Learn, behave, and communicate differently, and in our own ways.13:09:33 However, within the human species there’s a more common more dominant, more typical pattern of brain wiring that follows a certain sequence or predictable pattern in development. and We consider that pattern of brain wiring to be called13:09:50 neurotypical. Now there are other people who have brain patterns that diverge even more than the typical variety of brain wiring, and these people might communicate differently.13:10:04 They may behave or learn differently, and they are called neurod divergent. neur.13:10:11 Divergent brains can include people with sensory processing disorder, anxiety, oCD autism, adHD, and so many more cognitive and developmental diagnoses, or even non-diagnoses.13:10:24 So you don’t have to have a diagnosis to be neurod divergent.13:10:27 So again, we are a neurodivers species. We celebrate the fact that everyone has a different brain.13:10:35 So we celebrate neurodiversity. There is no impairment, or less than when we are talking about neurodiversity or neural divergence.13:10:45 Now I want to tell you why it’s. important to talk to your child about their neurodiversity.13:10:53 Now, some of you already understand the importance or the question has come up at home.13:10:55 Some of you are wondering. Will I ever have to have this talk?13:10:59 Is it important? Why should I do this? Something to know about me is I am always of the mindset that transparency is key in all facets of life? I’m.13:11:12 The kind of person who shares tmi like all the time, and I don’t think i’ve ever truly regretted sharing too much, information, especially with my daughter specifically like of course there’s certain things i’m not going to13:11:26 share with her about myself, but in general, with our relationship she’s not even 5 yet.13:11:30 But I I keep it truthful and honest with her that in a way that’s age appropriate and developmentally appropriate for her.13:11:41 Now every family, of course, is going to be different, but for most of the families that I coach in my one-on-one sessions, or the ones that I work with in person.13:11:53 There typically comes a time in our ruler working relationship when it’s clear that some sort of conversation or discussion is important for them to have at home with their child.13:12:07 So when you talk to your child about neurodiversity in general, just what neurodiversity is. you open up the world to them in a way that really lets them further know who they are and have a stronger sense of13:12:21 identity, and maybe even fill in some of the gaps that they were already thinking about on their own.13:12:27 So maybe they’ve already been aware of some of their differences and they haven’t brought it up to you, And when you have this conversation it sort of opens up this potential this new door something that has unlocked in them13:12:39 that they now can explore and feel confident about, and might even help them understand themselves a little better.13:12:47 And as parents. We, of course, want to be our child’s biggest, best, loudest advocate. but for a lot of aspects of neurodiversity.13:12:58 Our children will continue to need accommodations to their lifestyle, and we need to teach them the tools and give them the confidence to self-advocate, and they can’t self-acticate.13:13:12 If they don’t know what they need or why they need it13:13:29 So now let’s talk about when is the right time to talk to your child about their neurodiversity.13:13:37 So it’s probably a good time to start talking about your child’s brain development and wiring with them when you start implementing sensory strategies or accommodations or interventions that they might be resisting or pushing13:13:52 back against like. Why do I have to do this or if they bring up other questions like, Why do I go to ot?13:13:59 But, Max doesn’t have to go to ot when they start asking those questions, and they’re starting to really bring it out to the world in your relationship, as they ask you these things.13:14:10 Another sign that it might be time to talk about it is if you see your child having insecurities about skills that they haven’t mastered yet.13:14:17 Now this will probably come up as they play with other kids as they go to school, and they start noticing that things that are not hard for their classmates are harder for them, or that they play with things differently or maybe they’re having a hard13:14:29 time making friends, and they are having a hard time understanding what it is that they need more support with.13:14:38 Sometimes the kids are just very straightforward, and ask, Why is it hard for me to wear socks?13:14:43 But other kids won’t know explicitly the things that are hard for them, and they just feel different or less than without really understanding that their brain is just differently wired.13:14:57 So it can feel really easy and comfortable, sort of Mama bearer, knee-jerk, reaction to jump in with shielding them from all these, quote bad things, and wanting them to feel like there’s nothing wrong with13:15:13 them, so we might deny it, and say no no no you’re just a imagining it.13:15:17 Everybody loves you everyone’s playing with you you’re you’re really great at that.13:15:20 It’s just you’re learning you’re practicing all of those things are right.13:15:23 There is nothing wrong with your child; but if your child is showing curiosity with the way that their body and brain works differently than others, it is your job to validate for that for to validate that for them and to fill13:15:37 in the pieces for them your child is different. but this is where you get to reframe.13:15:43 What different. and that different doesn’t. mean so when piece that’s really important is to emphasize the fact that, like I mentioned in the beginning neurodiverse, we are all different.13:15:58 Everybody’s brain is different from each other. It is not just your child who is different from the rest of the class, or from all of their friends.13:16:05 Different does not mean bad. different is just different, and you can explain it like Mom and dad.13:16:10 And you are all wearing different t-shirts today.13:16:12 They’re all t-shirts they’re all clothes that we wear, so that we can go outside and to stay warm.13:16:19 They’re all different. my shirt is not better than yours you’re sure it’s not better than mine.13:16:23 They’re just different shirts you can make it as simple as that. there’s nothing wrong with being different, and everybody has a different brain.13:16:31 There might be a time when it’s not even necessary to talk about neurodiversity.13:16:38 So if i’m talking about the times when it makes sense to talk about it, which is when they start bringing it up.13:16:46 If you start noticing it, impact self-confidence and the way that they act around friends, then that might be a good time.13:16:50 But if your child seems completely, completely, unaware or unaffected by interventions or strategies, you try they’re cooperative.13:16:57 They want to learn something or they just kind of go with the flow, and they don’t really ask a lot of questions.13:17:03 They don’t seem to be impacted socially or internally about the differences.13:17:06 Then you might not need to bring it up yet. but I would definitely be ready for the day that they might ask.13:17:14 So let’s jump into tips. for talking to your child about their neurodiversity. I first want to start out by saying that this whole like this quote Talk doesn’t have to be a formal Sit down talk you don’t have to13:17:25 like, sit on the edge of their bed or sit at the table and have a lecture with eye contact about how the brain works, and that doesn’t have to be so formal and Sit down.13:17:33 This can look different for every family, every child. This can be like several.13:17:39 1 min little chats like sprinkled out throughout the month, or you could talk it out through dolls while you’re playing.13:17:45 Pretend it doesn’t you don’t have to show them a picture of a brain.13:17:49 It doesn’t have to be super sciencey unless your child is interested in science and anatomy.13:17:54 Then show them the brain, and how the brain is wired.13:17:57 So tailor, this to your child’s specific development and interest and engagement level. The other thing i’ll say, is this talk could also be very big picture.13:18:07 You could just say, Brains work differently. Yours works different than mine.13:18:10 Mine works different than dads. However, you want to make it just big picture about the brain, or it can be very zoomed in, and you can tailor it and talk about specific skills or specific social relationships that they’re having whatever13:18:25 you think your child can handle or process, and something that you think will resonate with your child best.13:18:32 My daughter really really has to have specifics, and she thinks still pretty concretely.13:18:36 So I have to give her very relatable and relevant examples for her to be able to resonate with anything that i’m talking to her about.13:18:44 So here are some like general tips or points that you might want to emphasize and include.13:18:51 Whenever you do have these talks with your kid and then i’m going to share some specific examples for some common scenarios that that have come up a lot in my one-on-one consultations or on instagram so i’ll13:19:04 share those in a second. But my first tip is to use neutral and objective terms in the conversation, and lead with strengths.13:19:15 So, for example, your brain can hear, whistle from the other room versus you’re so sensitive to sound being objective and like the things your child can do, but saying it in a way that’s not like.13:19:26 You’re so sensitive to sound or your body can’t stop moving, or you don’t like touching messy things.13:19:32 I would say it in objective terms. what their brain is noticing in their environment.13:19:40 And what that makes their body do again. i’m going to give specific examples.13:19:43 In a second. My other tip is to relate to them.13:19:48 Relate to your child with your own sensory differences or your own learning differences.13:19:53 So remember everybody has sensory quirks. So maybe you could say to your child, You know your brain makes you notice, whispers really, really, easily, and you could hear them from the other. room.13:20:03 My brain doesn’t sometimes I can’t even hear you from the other room.13:20:09 You could say your ears. notice voices easily. and my eyes notice when there’s dirt on the table really easily.13:20:17 So you could just point out things that are hard or different for you and your brain as well.13:20:22 Then I would emphasize the point that I mentioned earlier.13:20:24 Tell them that everybody is different from each other, not just them different than you or them, different from friends, and talk about how difference does not mean bad.13:20:34 I would definitely emphasize that, and then I would point out their strengths.13:20:39 I kind of said this in the first point, but point out their strength. So not only how these sensory differences can be a tool for them like Wow!13:20:47 Your ears are so good at hearing sounds you can tell me. when you hear dad coming home, and I don’t even hear the car so you could talk about it specific to their sensory strengths.13:20:56 But you could also just point out other strengths that they have like you are so kind to your sister, and you’re so creative.13:21:03 And you are really good at making mommy laugh like point out a lot of their strengths here.13:21:07 So now i’m going to give you some examples for specific scenarios.13:21:13 So let’s talk about sensory sensitivity so maybe your daughter is really sensitive to the way that socks feel, and you’re trying to get her to do some strategies and try on new socks at home because you’re13:21:24 practicing a home program. Maybe that your ot gave you or you’re trying a new strategy. So you might say, Hey, remember how Mom told you the other day that our brains work differently from each other.13:21:35 Your brain notices details in so many things, and it has such a strong memory.13:21:40 Guess what your skin and brain talk together, and they both have a good memory for what socks feel like.13:21:52 And I think your skin keeps telling your brain but these socks don’t feel good.13:21:56 Is that what’s happening? And so you would let your child in on that conversation, to make sure that they’re hearing you and this and you can cross-reference with them like?13:22:07 Is that, am I hearing you right then, I would say yeah remember all our braids work differently, and my skin doesn’t notice the fuzzy and socks like your skin. does but my skin definitely notices when it’s.13:22:19 Wet and sticky the thing is there’s sometimes when we really do need to wear socks like when we go to the snow, and you have to wear your snow boots.13:22:29 So I know your fear uncomfortable and most days we don’t have to wear socks, but for those days that we do.13:22:36 I really want to help your skin feel safe and comfortable wearing socks.13:22:41 And then I would say, Talk about the strategies that You’re going to try, or things that you can work on together.13:22:44 That’s just again to start the conversation when you notice. that your child might be resistant to certain strategies or things that you’re trying at home to help them with their sensory needs.13:22:55 Okay, So maybe you have a child who is sensory seeking.13:22:57 Maybe your child has a hard time with body, awareness and they keep getting in trouble at school for hurting others on the playground, even though they don’t mean it.13:23:04 They just have have this need for movement, and they’re resistant to any strategies or boundaries that you’re setting.13:23:10 You might have a talk that’s sounds like hey? remember the other day when we were both sharing things.13:23:17 Our body and brains love to do, and we both came up with different things like I said, I love really slow side to side swings in our hammock.13:23:27 It makes me feel so calm. And you said you love super tight bear hugs, and you love rolling and spinning that makes my head feel dizzy cool.13:23:38 How we have different bodies and brains well it’s the same at school.13:23:43 Obviously you would pause in between this but i’m just reading you the whole script of just so you can get this general sense of it.13:23:48 Let me jump back into it. Well, it’s the same at school. you have a brain and body that loves jumping and running super duper fast.13:23:58 Sometimes it might be hard to control how fast you move does that sound right again.13:24:01 You’re checking in with them. Well, I noticed that the past few times on the playground.13:24:05 It’s been even harder to slow down especially at real recess it’s important to allow your body to have the movement it needs, and also keep other kids safe.13:24:13 Does that make sense? So we’re going to practice what different safe movements and not safe movements?13:24:19 Look like again. This might be too many words this might be.13:24:22 You might change up the wording for your child specifically you might do this in little tiny chats on the way home from school or in the bath time.13:24:31 It doesn’t, have to look just like this but this is the language. And this is the way that you would approach your child with these kinds of talks, and how you would integrate the neurodiverse affirming language into how you talk to your13:24:43 child. Okay, what about emotional regulation challenges? Maybe you have a child who is having a hard time staying calm and managing emotions around social situations like playing games.13:24:54 Maybe they have a hard time losing your conversation might sound like.13:24:58 Did you know that your brain has different parts. to it and it’s like a muscle that you can practice and make stronger.13:25:05 When I was little I really did not like losing and I would throw the game across the room and stop upstairs and the parts of my brain that controlled my emotions and my action still needed a lot of practice and now i’ve13:25:20 practiced so much I can lose a game and still feel disappointed.13:25:25 But I don’t stop my feet anymore. Some kids are still practicing that part of their brain, too kind of like you.13:25:30 The parts of your brain that control things like painting and singing and dancing are so strong.13:25:38 My brain is not as strong at sea and dancing like yours. is but your brain is still practicing how to feel disappointed and fresh frustrated in a safe way.13:25:45 We’re practicing that together by reading books and practicing deep breaths.13:25:50 Everyone has a brain that still needs to practice something. Again, Change that to fit your child and their needs.13:25:56 But the idea is that you are saying everyone has things they’re good at everyone has things they need to practice on.13:26:02 This is why we’re practicing it for you and this is what we’re going to be doing as we practice.13:26:09 Okay, So what about if they go to a specific therapy i’m going to talk about ot Because obviously ot so like Sometimes parents will ask me what they should tell their child about going to a particular therapy let’s13:26:24 talk about before you bring your child to an ot evaluation for censoring stuff.13:26:29 So I would say something like you know how at home we’ve been having a hard time getting out of the house on time, because socks just don’t feel right.13:26:37 Or the pants on your skin skin feels so itchy There’s a special teacher sort of like a teacher.13:26:44 You have it. school, except this is your own teacher. Just you and one teacher, and you are going to explore ways to make your brain and feel more comfortable with those things.13:26:57 On Wednesday we’re gonna go meet her for the first time, and at that meeting she might ask you some questions.13:27:03 She’ll play some games with you you’ll probably move your body try some swings and explore the way things feel with your hands.13:27:11 After that you might get to go back there a few times to play with her more, and learn new things about your body, so it can feel safer and more comfortable at home with socks and clothes.13:27:21 Do you have any questions? so always leave an option for your child to ask questions.13:27:25 I also will say here it’s important for you to call the ot clinic and ask what their procedure and like sequence of events, are for the evaluation, like, ask if you’re staying with the child or if the13:27:37 child has to stay there by themselves. Ask all of that so you can also include that in like pairing them for for the evaluation.13:27:48 But that’s it. i hope that this episode gives you a starting point. and some of the language to use with your neurodivers, child with your neurod divergent child and i’m gonna also put this here that even if13:28:00 you have a child who’s not narrowed divergent.13:28:03 If you have a neurotypical child, these conversations are still really helpful for you to have with them. so you can. So you can help us create a more inclusive classroom and inclusive community for our neurod13:28:15 divergent kids. We should not be spending all the time just teaching neurod divergent kids how to be accepting of other neurod divergent kids.13:28:22 We should be teaching neurotypical children that everybody has different brains as well.