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Navigating the New Normal: Life After a Child Neurodivergent Diagnosis

Updated: Apr 14

by Dr. David A Palmer

Mom comforting her child

When your child receives a neurodivergent diagnosis, you will probably find yourself in unfamiliar (and maybe scary) territory. Mixed emotions, including confusion, concern, relief, and even grief, are common responses among parents. It's natural to feel a wave of uncertainty and fear regarding what lies ahead in the unknown.

Yet, it's important to understand that this diagnosis is but one facet of who your child is—it does not define them. It can be seen as a stepping-stone towards equipping yourself with the necessary knowledge and resources to support your child as they thrive in who they are.

Educating yourself about your child's neurodivergence is crucial. While doing so, remember that neurodivergence manifests in different ways in different children. As one famous saying reminds us, if you've met one neurodivergent individual, you’ve met one neurodivergent individual. Celebrating your child's distinct abilities becomes just as important as navigating their challenges and areas of stretch.

Our Diagnosis Story

In our adventure of raising five adopted children, we've sailed through murky and often confusing waters to find ways of supporting each one's specific needs. We’ve been frustrated in getting straight answers, angry at rigid diagnosis criteria, impatient waiting for answers, and spent many hours researching and learning as much as we could about how to best nurture our kids.

We’ve also had and continue to build many amazing memories together. We love to see their talents blossom, watch them respond to others with empathy and understanding, and value who they are individually and as a family.

Here, I hope to impart some wisdom and provide a practical guide for parents and caregivers adjusting to a neurodivergent diagnosis. Each point is short and will allow you to read and process them individually or together.

Understanding the Child Diagnosis

A diagnosis will profoundly affect the child and family. Entailing “labels” can pave the way for specialized assistance and services, whether medically, therapeutically, and/or educationally. In our experience, recognizing the challenges led us to seek out diagnoses, which proved instrumental in determining support and advocating for their needs. For example, 504 accommodation plans have allowed our children to access their education and demonstrate their true ability to learn and grow. They have also been able to receive occupational therapy and other supports that they have needed to thrive.

Focusing on Strengths

Approaching neurodiversity with a positive lens helps recognize the inherent 'superpowers' of neurological differences. Healthy nurturing emphasizes seeing your child as a whole being, where their diagnosis is a single component. Often, the terms used in the diagnosis will indicate otherwise, like deficit or disorder. Because your child is unique, you must celebrate their individual traits and show discretion when navigating negative terms while realistically acknowledging potential hurdles.

Superhero Kids

Navigating Challenges

Challenges are inevitable, yet adopting a positive mindset matters. Viewing neurodivergence as a path to growth rather than a condition to "fix," underscores your child's unique abilities, lending opportunities to nurture their many strengths. One way to do this is to notice and applaud your child's small wins, emphasizing effort over outcomes. This reflects their resilience and should be met with pride. Joy is integral to the experience of raising a neurodivergent child and an emotion they should feel often.

Embracing Neurodiversity

Understanding and respecting neurodiversity enriches our culture, much like diversity in ethnicity and orientation. Promoting inclusivity advances a society accepting of all individuals. This means we are going to be required to combat the detrimental stereotypes that label neurodivergent individuals as "abnormal" by celebrating their diversity and standing for societal inclusivity.

Within the family unit, connecting in unity around neurodiversity cement strength and empathy, forging a nurturing environment for all. Reflecting upon our narrative, building supportive networks, laying the foundations of empathy, and acknowledging each unique route was intrinsic to our family dynamics. Empathy stands as a universal solvent.

The Thriving Resilience Model (TRM)

The Thriving Resilience Model (TRM), which I created out of my experience as a dad and teacher and my training in neurodivergence and trauma, integrates seamlessly into the fabric of parenting a child with a neurodivergent diagnosis, offering support and practical strategies. At the heart of TRM lies the principle of resilience—not just surviving but thriving amidst challenges. This model encourages parents to view neurodivergence through a lens of potential and growth, much like the perspectives we’ve encountered in this article.

TRM provides a structured approach to foster resilience within the family unit, equipping parents and caregivers with tools to nurture their child's unique strengths, advocate effectively, and build a supportive community. By adopting TRM, parents can transform their approach to challenges, focusing on progress and celebrating the diversity and resilience inherent in neurodivergence. In essence, TRM complements and amplifies the strategies we’ve discussed and many more, empowering parents and caregivers to lead their families with confidence and compassion.

The TRM inspires a parent-focused strategy for guiding neurodivergent children holistically:

  • Head: Understand your child's profile thoroughly.

  • Heart: Forge emotional connections, foster empathy, and deeply appreciate your child's perspective and gifts.

  • Hands: Engage in actions that respect their uniqueness and cultivate independence and thriving.

Consider the scenario of a parent navigating their child's educational needs in a mainstream school setting. Using the principles of TRM, a parent begins with Head by discovering through their relationship and additional research a detailed knowledge about their child's neurodivergent profile—understanding their sensory sensitivities, learning preferences, and social challenges. This detailed understanding opens the door for informed discussions with educators about necessary accommodations and services, like a quiet space for exams or permission to use sensory tools in class.

Next, with Heart, the parent empathizes with their child's school experience, acknowledging the emotional toll of feeling different and reinforcing their worth and capabilities at home. This emotional support is crucial for the child's self-esteem and motivation.

Finally, Hands involves the practical step of implementing strategies. The parent may work with teachers to adjust educational approaches or set up a peer support system, fostering an environment where the child can thrive. They also encourage independence by allowing the child to have a say in their learning methods, promoting autonomy and self-advocacy.

We will delve more into TRM in the coming months. Suffice it to say that by implementing TRM, parents can offer comprehensive support and connection that addresses the multifaceted needs of their neurodivergent child, fostering an environment where the child not only survives but thrives. Understanding and applying TRM equips parents with a holistic strategy, making it an essential model for navigating the complexities of neurodivergence with confidence and empathy. Again, we will have much more to share on this in the coming weeks.


In Conclusion

Owning a neurodivergent diagnosis melds challenges with triumphs. It's a collaborative voyage where love, empathy, and encouragement chart the course, where connections are strengthened, and growth and flourishing happen.

For parents at the start of this path, I give this bit of wisdom: permit yourself to grieve, harbor more hope than fear, and walk with your child in openness and relentless support. Together, you'll establish your footing and illuminate a future defined by understanding, acceptance, and resilience.

Every child harbors a cosmos of possibilities—help them charter their constellation. With empathy and community as your compass, rest assured you're not alone. Celebrate your child's progress and delight in their unique qualities as they thrive in a neurodiverse world.


Want to learn more about how to be empowered as a parent to guide, nurture, and support your neurodivergent child or teen?

Are you:

  1. Unsure how to support your child at home and school?

  2. Struggling to know how to help them regulate their emotions?

  3. Desiring a greater connection with your child built on empathy and trust?

As your coach and guide, I would love to work with you to develop greater understanding and confidence in your parenting journey.

Our 1:1 coaching times are valuable as we create personalized goals, supports, and strategies to empower you to raise a child full of thriving resilience for life. Receive personalized, empathetic, experience-based, and expert insight to lead your child in reaching their full potential.

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