by Rayni Brindley McMahon , M.Ed., BCBA
Do you have a friend or family member with a neurodivergent child and want to know how you can help? There are many ways you can provide support.
Provide a judgment-free zone.
Parents/caregivers of neurodivergent children are used to getting stares, and even comments, when their child engages in behaviors around others. A study showed when parents ranked their challenges parenting a child with autism, dealing with judgment from other adults was second only to challenging behaviors. Providing acceptance and a safe, judgment-free space is a key way to show your love and support. Knowing that people won't react or critique their parenting or their child, if behaviors occur, goes a long way in making a caregiver feel comfortable.
Understand when they need to cancel plans
Forgive plan cancellations as some days are harder than others. Between therapies, school meetings, doctor appointments and rough days behaviorally, it is easy to run out of steam. Sometimes they can’t make it because they know their child will have a rough time. Sometimes they can’t make it because they know THEY will be the ones who are struggling.
BUT DON'T STOP INVITING THEM!
Parenting a child with differing needs can be incredibly isolating at times, and it is nice to feel included, even if they can't make every event. Playdates with a “safe” person’s neurotypical children are also much appreciated.
Be there to listen.
Be a good listener, even if you don't fully understand what they are experiencing or know what they should do. Parents are not always looking for advice -- sometimes they just need to vent. They also don’t expect you to “get it”. Before their child’s diagnosis, they didn’t “get it” either. Lived experience isn’t necessary to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on.
At the same time, try not to give unsolicited advice or compare their child to your typically developing child/children. This can sometimes be perceived as downplaying their concerns, even if that is not the intention. For example, when a parent talks about physically aggressive behaviors their child is displaying, rather than saying "Oh, Johnny hits his brother sometimes too!", a better response may be "That must be tough. Is there anything I can do to help?"
Offer childcare if and when you can.
It is often difficult for families to find caregivers they trust or who can handle their child’s routine, medical care or behaviors, so they very rarely get time alone. If you feel comfortable in doing so, offer to take their child for an hour or two while they take care of other things for themselves/the family or even go out to dinner for a date night. Every parent needs a break now and then, and this can be the greatest gift you give to your loved one.
Since 1948, Envision Unlimited has been dedicated to helping people with disabilities live happy, fulfilled lives in their communities. Our offerings, which include day programs for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities; mental health, residential, and employment services; specialized foster care; and accredited applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy for children, are designed to address the unique needs of each of our clients—regardless of age, background, or ability.
Our services are grounded in a spirit of advocacy and empowerment. We believe that all individuals are capable of living successful lives if given the right opportunities. Contact us today to see how we can help you!
Rayni Brindley McMahon is Managing Principal for Consulting For Human Services and consults for Envision Unlimited Autism Program. She has 25 years experience in behavioral health/IDD services and is a mother to a neurodivergent child.