By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 18

As an anxious person, I know how much of a difference mindset can make on outcomes, especially when I’m always focusing on the wrong things. When I shift what I focus on, or reframe certain things, it brings down my anxiety wall and I start having a better outlook and perception of things. 

And as a parent to a neurodivergent child with sensory needs & anxiety, it is extremely important for me to keep a few “big picture” things in mind, and I need constant reminders. 

Don’t be afraid of meltdowns.

Accept them for now. The more that you fight it or wish that it wasn’t a thing, or spend any energy stressing about them, the more the meltdowns are going to impact your regulation around them. I understand firsthand how hard this is, though. 

The need to stop meltdowns is more about us (as parents) than it is about our kids. No one wants to see our kids so dysregulated and I agree we should help them find more moments of regulation, but the need for us to want to calm them down or to stop the meltdown is more about our own agenda.

We don’t want to be late for work.

We have to finish breakfast.

We can’t stand the sound of their screaming voice.

They will wake up the baby. It all comes back to making it more convenient for us

But remember… it’s not our job to stop those meltdowns and just because sitting through a meltdown makes us feel uncomfortable or inconveniences us, it doesn’t make us responsible for stopping them. It’s also a more disservice to our kids if we continue to focus on stopping the meltdowns rather than giving them the tools to be able to sit through the meltdowns, because we’re not always going to be there to stop the meltdowns for them. 

Neurodivergence is not bad.

Neurodivergence is just the idea that a brain works and processes things differently. We don’t need to say it’s bad or assign any kind of value to it, it’s just a matter of fact. 

Whether your child is Autistic or has sensory processing disorder or anxiety, or adhd or any other way that makes their brain process things and information differently, that’s just what it is. It’s different than how your brain works. 

These kinds of neurodiverse affirming lessons should be taught often in schools, and in your own homes whether you have Neurotypical or Neurodivergent children.

Teaching kids that brains are wired differently helps neurotypical children be more inclusive in their play and interactions with other kids, and it helps neurodivergent children self advocate and be more confident in their skin. 

It also helps parents of ND children feel less of a burden and less isolated if overall as a society we can help take the load off by also doing our own work in normalizing neurodivergent learning. 

The world we live in was built by and for neurotypical brains. We have to start changing that and it can start at home with our mindset and acceptance of our own neurodivergent children. We can accommodate environments and tasks for ND children without it being a bad thing. 

Redefine what it means for something to work.

When you’re trying all of the strategies and methods to support your child, you need to redefine what it looks like for those things to “work”. Most tips for parenting that we find in books or on instagram are geared towards parents of neurotypical kids. 

It’s not to say that those strategies don’t “work” for us, but it does look different. This means it may take longer to see effects or, the definition of “work” is not necessarily the same measurement as what it means to work for neurotypical kids.

For example, for a long time I thought that gentle parenting and conscious discipline didn’’t work for my kid. She still has meltdowns, she still hits, she still screams.

But, (like tip number 1), I finally accepted meltdowns as part of our picture – for now and realized that conscious discipline is more about the relationship between us as mother and child rather than about how much my child could obey me or stop crying or whining. 

Once I made that realization, I noticed it was “working” all along, I was just measuring the wrong outcomes.

Now, there are some programs or methods that definitely do not work at all for you and your child, but my suggestion is to give a technique or method a good try and a good chance before you decide it doesn’t work.

This is because, most neurodivergent kids will push back at any new method or strategy you try just because it’s a routine change. But even after a few weeks, if you still think it’s not “working”, take a good look at what your definition is of “working” and if that goal you’re looking forward to is something that is actually attainable and within reason for your child specifically. Is this more for you, or more for your child? 

Sensory is behavior.

Next  time you try to put your child’s behavior under a microscope, don’t ask “is this sensory or is it behavior?” What you really are asking is, “is this out of my child’s control (a sensory trigger” or “is my child doing this on purpose for some other goal”.

Instead, ask yourself “what is my child trying to tell me?” or “What is it that my child needs?” or “what skill does my child need help with”? 

Sometimes, the answer is that they need help with sensory processing, sometimes it’s something else. 

Remember, behavior is anything your body does in an environment that anyone can see (e.g. hitting, screaming, crying, laughing). Sometimes kids do these behaviors because they’re driven by sensory triggers (like needing to get more sensory input, or trying to protect themselves from a sensory trigger). Sometimes, kids do these behaviors because they lack a skill like communication or knowing how to share. 

Every behavior is communicating a skill they are lacking, or a need that’s unmet (whether it’s sensory needs or something else).

All sensory is behavior, but not all behavior is driven by a sensory trigger.

Learn how to look at behavior through an OT lens and start decoding your child’s behavior into sensory and non sensory triggers, so you can start supporting them more effectively. Check out the Sensory IS Behavior mini course.


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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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