The day a family first learns about their child being diagnosed with Autism or ADHD can be one of mixed emotions, ranging from anxiety to sadness over the implications this news has for the child and the family. Amid the overwhelm, you may even experience relief in finally “knowing” what’s happening with your child’s social and emotional development. By adopting a mindful perspective and following a few essential tips, you can help empower everyone in your family to learn how to manage and live with a special needs behavioral diagnosis.
- The diagnosis does not define your child. Your child is the sum of more than his or her behavior. Your child is more than the diagnosis and it is up to all those who love a special needs child to separate who the child is from the challenging behaviors he or she displays. As your family learns what triggers bring on your child symptoms, you will be able to have more moments that emphasize your child’s amazing qualities. Your child may be funny, creative, compassionate, skilled with their hands. These are the qualities that define a person, not the diagnoses.
- You must take care of yourself. Parenting a typically developing child is tough as it is; raising a child with special needs can be even more exhausting. You can experience guilt, doubt, frustration, and feel overly-committed to your child’s needs. The best way to manage your emotions is to make time each day to take care of your emotional and physical health. This can include exercise, journaling, art, yoga, going to a support group, eating healthfully, getting quality sleep, and maintaining open lines of communication with family and the healthcare team.
- Slow Down. Everything about the world we live in is immediate. We don’t even realize the speed of our own thoughts, speech, and emotions. We mindlessly multitask ourselves into exhaustion. When caring for a child on the spectrum, you need to slow way down. Once you start to pay attention to the pace at which you are doing things, you will become more mindful of how the “rush” affects you and your child. Out of that awareness, you can make changes that will benefit both of you.
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach to caring for a special needs child. As you attend support groups, read, and observe other families who have a special needs child, you will hear about many types of therapies that ‘work.’ This illustrates the unique needs of different children even though they may have the same diagnosis. Always work with your child’s healthcare team to discover and implement the treatment approaches that will best suit your child and your family.
- Learn how to advocate for your child. You will not be able to escape the stereotypes that exist about Autism or attention deficit disorders. By educating yourself and coming to know and appreciate your child’s strengths and weaknesses, you will be in a position to advocate for your child. Many support groups offer workshops that can help you develop confidence and the skills necessary to engage with counselors, teachers, and even public figures on behalf of your child.
- Look for the positive, the up-lifiting, and the inspiring in every day. When you focus on what is going well, you can see the great potential that exists within your child and you can help them express that potential. When they sense your positive expectations of them, your child will feel empowered to bring out their very best. Also, focusing on the positive can help you better navigate challenges and get through the days when everything is going according to Murphy’s Law.
- Observe and embrace what motivates your child. Rather than imparting what you think your child should be interested in, identify what interests her and explore the topic from different angles. For example, if your child is interested in animals, you can explore different groups of animals through books, video, apps, and a trip to the pet store or the zoo. Narrow that broad interest to specific types of animals that captivate your child and help them create projects that will teach them in more in depth ways. Your keen observations and intuition about your child is the best guide for helping them unearth their talents and abilities.
- Communicate on their level, and mindfully. It’s important with all children, but even more so for a child with ADHD or Autism that you make eye contact when you communicate with them. This ensures that you are both paying attention to one another. And, because many kids on the spectrum tend to be visually and feeling-oriented, getting “on their level” to communicate conveys a sense of safety and structure to them. Also, be mindful of your tone and body language. Your child is likely to be sensitive to even subtle changes in your emotional tone and gestures. By making changes in how you communicate, you can help your child thrive in how they communicate.
- Minimize the complexity of how you communicate. Simple instruction may allow your child to better follow directions. Focus your instructions on immediate tasks, delivered in an even tone (not hastily), and use simple phrases. Rather than, “After you eat, brush teeth, brush your hair and get your shoes on” you will need to go step-by-step: “Eat breakfast, when you’re done let me know.” When that task is done, “Please brush teeth now.” And, so on.
- Show your child love and acceptance every day. When you are with your child, speak and act intentionally and from the heart. This conveys acceptance and love that your child will sense.
Special needs children are special not just because their behavior or development makes them different. They are special because of what they are capable of teaching us about ourselves, about how we view the world, and ultimately about how we behave.
Advice of Parents of Newly Diagnosed Children with Autism (2014) Psychology Today
Advice for Parents of Young Autistic Children (2012, Part 1 & 2) Autism Research Institute
Helping Your Child with Autism Thrive
100 Day Kit for Families of Children Newly Diagnosed with Autism
Your ADHD Child: Easy Parenting Techniques
My Child was just Diagnosed with ADHD. Now What?