By Judith E. Lipson, M.A., LPC
Do you have a child (of any age) who is not like you?
I have worked with a number of families. Sometimes the client is the parent while other times the client is the child, or an adult child. Regardless, our conversations are often about scenarios that show how the child is wired differently from the parent; yet frequently neither really understands this. Here are the main topics that come up.
I see a number of individuals who avoid social scenarios. They may only have a few friends, and may even avoid time with their family. This can be very disconcerting for a parent, and this is what I often hear:
“My child seems lonely, and I don’t want him/her to grow up alone.”
“Why is his/her school/college experience so drab? Why can’t s/he enjoy it? Why doesn’t my child go to school games and parties? College, tailgating, and parties were an amazing experience for me, and s/he is not participating!”
“Friends are important, and my child is missing out on social opportunities and experiences!”
If your child is a Sensitive (neuro-diverse) and experiences sensory overload, s/he will want more alone time and may seem more anxious, moody, or intolerant of others and their environment. It’s also possible that s/he misunderstands social scenarios and communication.
This child is not wired like you and does not receive the same pleasures in social company as you. As a matter of fact, I hear these individuals describe social activities as anything but fun. Let’s remember that they are very sensitive to the energies, the sounds, and the people in their environments. In addition to the sensory challenges they usually don’t have the social skill set that you (a neuro-typical) do, and they find every social or communication encounter as a potential landmine: “What do I say/do in this situation? Will it be right? Will they approve? Will they make fun of me (again)?”
Teaching these individuals the nuances of conversation, and developing their confidence and self-worth will significantly help, but they are still not wired like you. As a result, they will likely prefer more isolated experiences than you do. This does not mean it’s bad. They’re just different.
Parents hope and expect that their children will grow up to have amazing and prominent careers. Many families expect their children to go to college and study finance, business, law, medicine, etc. Graduate school is often an expectation. Yet, the academic experience of these different kids may not provide them successful college (or K-12) experiences.
For your student, school may be boring or confusing, or both. Educators have known for decades that children learn best via different preferred methods. Your child may learn best visually (books and worksheets), by listening (lecture/discussion), or kinesthetically (movement and hands-on). Some prefer to learn in groups, while others (see the social issues above) learn best when they work alone. Unfortunately, our schools don’t fully allow for these differences. In order to successfully navigate the school years your child probably requires a lot of your help.
College can be a more positive experience for your different child. Encourage the selection of classes that are enjoyable and interesting that are offered at times that match their sleep/wake rhythms: this may be one class per day, avoiding morning classes, etc. S/he may need to live at home initially to continue to benefit from your supports or might do best in a single dorm or even an apartment.
College students are often expected to take a very large credit load to be considered full time. Your child may only be able to handle 1-3 courses. The needs of each child are unique. Regardless, your child may still require your guidance for executive functioning skills (organization, lists, time management, etc), which you have been providing since it is not their strength.
This child may be incredibly wise and academically brilliant, but not be best suited for the career choices that you dream of for your child. I recently had a college student explain that the traditional liberal arts classes became boring much too quickly and this student failed to find the purpose in attending and learning. This same student realized that a course like Computer Design (CAD) provides more immediate feedback of progress and accomplishment, and with this information has renewed interest in pursuing a college education and degree.
If you were the parent of this student would you be able to release your own dream for this child’s career? What if the child’s preferred interest was something like culinary? If you find yourself living your own dreams vicariously through your child, you are cheating both of you of a full life experience.
HELPING YOU FIND PEACE WITH IT ALL
HAVE APPROPRIATE EXPECTATIONS – What does your child need to develop to his or her fullest potential? This might not be what you needed as a child, teen or young adult; and it may not be what your child’s siblings or other family members need(ed).
ACCEPTANCE – When you have complete acceptance of your child, as they really are, then you can better provide them with what they need. (Please note that most neuro-diverse kids have a built-in radar detector for being judged and will be more apt to reach their potential when you can truly accept them for who they are.)
BOUNDARIES – Just because you fully accept your child as s/he is doesn’t mean that there are no rules or expectations. Make sure that your rules are appropriate for your child’s age and developmental level, and recognize the difference between willful disregard and sensory overload. The latter might draw your child into acting-out behaviors or withdrawal, but your child is being self-protective rather than being manipulative. Then follow up with….
CONSISTENCY – Sometimes it’s appropriate to be flexible, but also remember that your child may require or appreciate knowing what to expect. Without being rigid about your rules, be sure that you follow through. All children appreciate knowing the expectations and the possible consequences. Don’t threaten a consequence that you can’t, or shouldn’t, follow.
Hopefully this guide to understanding and accepting your different child provided insights. I welcome hearing about your own experiences.
Judy Lipson is a Licensed Professional Counselor and educational strategist in West Bloomfield, MI. She helps clients of all ages who have learning difficulties, work or school related anxiety, ADHD, Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Spectrum Disorders, and those who wish to Remember and Become ‘Who You Really Are’. Contact Judy at 248.568.8665 and email@example.com, and visit www.SpiralWisdom.net for more information.
This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to replace medical care.