What Not To Say To Parents Of Neurodivergent Children

Neurodiversity is meant to describe brains that may not work the same way as others, or what has been deemed as "normal." The term, which was created in 1990, describes a gauntlet of different children who may learn differently than their neurotypical peers, per the Child Mind Institute. This can be in the form of autism, learning disorders, or ADHD, but also encompasses any child who may need to shift away from typical learning practices.

While we as a society are working hard to get rid of the negative stigma surrounding neurodiverse people, it doesn't make it any less difficult to be a parent of a neurodivergent child. According to Psychology Today, parenting a neurodivergent child can be rough and many parents report having more bad days than good. While all young children are prone to screaming fits, tantrums, or whining from time to time, children with autism, ADHD, or similar disorders are more likely to have these episodes on a regular basis. They can be extra sensitive and often unable to be calmed like neurotypical children. Because of the difficulties for these parents, it's important that others remain sensitive to their situation and avoid saying anything that could upset them or be taken the wrong way.

Avoid saying anything negative about their situation

Parents of neurodivergent children are aware of their situation. According to Psychology Today, many parents know they face bigger challenges when it comes to parenting and many admit to having a hard time coping. If you do come into contact with a parent of a neurodivergent child, it can be hard to know the "right” thing to say. The most important thing to do is avoid any negativity. According to Living on the Spectrum, avoid saying "sorry" or calling the situation awful, devastating, or unfortunate. While having a neurodivergent child definitely brings challenges, it is not something we as outsiders should look at as negative or less-than.

It's also important not to interject with your own parenting advice. Even if you have raised five children of your own, no one will quite understand what it's like to parent a neurodivergent child until they have had one themselves. You may be tempted to give tips on getting a child to eat, say certain words, or even discipline, but the "normal" way of teaching these things will not work on a child who is not neurotypical, per The Mighty.

Try not to praise a parent too much, either

You may think it's common sense not to tell a parent of a neurodivergent child that their life is over (please don't do this, as it so isn't), but you should also think about your words when you are praising them. According to Scary Mommy, saying things like "you're my hero" or cliché things like "special kids for special parents" is not something neurodivergent parents want to hear. At the end of the day, parents of neurodivergent children are just that — parents. They are not better equipped to handle this situation than anyone else and assuming that can only bring about more stress.

Some people may also think that telling parents their child doesn't act like they have ADHD or look like they are autistic is a compliment. But, according to Parents, it is anything but. Neurodivergent kids often have what is known as invisible disabilities, and just because you can't see them, doesn't mean they aren't there. Plus, there is nothing wrong with children who have special needs and saying they look "normal" only insinuates that they aren't. According to The Mighty, this also takes away their child's true identity, so avoid saying it even if you are trying to be nice.

What to say to parents of neurodivergent children

If you are left feeling unsure of what to say to a parent of a neurodivergent child, don't fret. According to Scary Mommy, you shouldn't be afraid to interact with these parents and in fact, many of them love it when other parents or adults show an interest in their child. Instead of saying that a child doesn't look or act like they have a special need, ask about it instead, saying something like, "Can you tell me more about your child?"

If you do know the child personally, don't be afraid to comment on their progress or point out positive aspects of their personality or skill set. According to The Mighty, commenting on something they are great at — no matter how small — can make a big impact on not just the parents, but the child as well. It's also nice to tell stories of people you may know who have dealt with neurodiversity and went on to lead successful, happy lives. But, over everything, the best thing you can say to a parent of a neurodivergent child is, "How can I help?" At the end of the day, even something as simple as bringing over their child's favorite meal or simply being a shoulder to lean on makes a world of difference.