5 Tips for Parenting Neurodiverse Kids on the Same Page

Two parents in a disagreement with their arms crossed and looking away while sitting next to each other on a couch

Parenting with a former or current partner who doesn’t share your views about neurodiversity, including ADHD, learning disabilities, twice-exceptionality or autism, can be very challenging–for you and for your child or teen. Neurodiverse kids really need consistent messages, similar schedules and clear expectations. If they are moving from one household to another, this regularity becomes essential. This can be difficult enough when parents live together and even tougher when they don’t. Perhaps your parents or in-laws help with childcare but don’t believe in neurodiverse diagnoses or understand them. In these situation, parenting neurodiverse kids on the same page as other caregivers can seem nearly impossible.

Aiming to be steady, not perfect, when parenting neurodiverse kids

Your goal isn’t perfection–being consistent at all times–but rather steadiness. Steady household routines and steady parenting help children and teens learn what to expect. Because of this, cooperation improves and anxiety is reduced. Being able to predict what’s coming, more or less, helps them manage their emotions. In addition, it helps them organize their stuff and plan for the transitions.

Shifting from one thing to another and demonstrating flexibility are tough for many neurodiverse kids. They can make these adjustments more readily if there is a repetitive pattern along with helpful checklists. This goes for working on similar executive functioning skills at school and home, too.

When parents are separated or divorced, you’re not with with your ex for a number of reasons. However, you are still connected through your child(ren). You may not like each other, and you might not want to be friendly. That’s up to you. You may live with a partner who has totally separate ideas about parenting from you. Either way, you’ve got to find ways to work together when it comes to parenting your neurodiverse kids – it’s in the best interest of your children. Research has found that the best measure of a child’s well-being after divorce is how the parents can get along. What can you do to coordinate care across multiple households with less stress and more cooperation?

Follow these tips for more effective partnership parenting:

1. Finding a way to work together:

Two people hitting elbows with each other for teamwork of parenting neurodiverse kids

If you are unable to have civil conversations, find mutual ground or discuss delicate subjects without major arguments, determine how you will communicate about touchy subjects. Practice reflective listening so each person feels heard and understood as a first step towards compromise.

If talking is difficult, agree to send fact-based emails about your child or teen with updates about what’s happened at your house this week, issues with school or friends or any concerns. Perhaps create a general daily routine which can be adapted to the needs of each household and share it online. For some people, even these steps are difficult. I would strongly recommend that you seek counseling with someone who is educated in parenting neurodiverse kids.

2. Prioritize your neurodiverse kid’s needs:

Decide what issues are the main priority for your child based on information from school, extracurricular activities and/or medical needs. Identify your child’s strengths and challenges and find a place of agreement or overlap. Lean into the challenges that you both perceive first. Pick something small to address that can span both households. Then, outline how you’re going to address this. If you are unable to figure this out on your own, seek some help from your PCP or pediatrician, or consider counseling. Remember, your child’s welfare is the center of the story not your issues with your (ex) partner. 

3. Create similar routines:

Someone looking at their online calendar on a tablet

Things don’t have to be identical at each household or between each partner in the same household, but they need to resemble each other. When it comes to parenting neurodiverse kids, it doesn’t help your child to play ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop.’ Supporting routines and collaborating as adults isn’t about control or who’s got the power in the family. Rather, it’s about what serves the best interest of your child. Perhaps your son has different sets of chores at each house, but you agree that he has chores. Maybe your daughter does her homework at different times but has comparable bedtimes. Setting related guidelines about screen usage is also important.

4. Parenting neurodiverse kids with a unified treatment approach:

Many parents don’t agree on medication, counseling, coaching or tutors. What do you agree on when it comes to parenting your neurodiverse kids? You may have different opinions because you have different knowledge bases. How can you meet in the middle? Who could assist you with this? I encourage you to talk to your PCP or pediatrician about this or maybe take a webinar together that focuses on parenting neurodiverse kids.

5. Set logical consequences:

We know that punishment is ineffective. Punishment won’t help for parenting neurodiverse kids, and it doesn’t teach any skills. Learning effective self-management skills is critically important for them so then can eventually move into self-reliant adulthood. What do consequences look like in each house, and for what offenses?

When there is similarity in how parents deal with issues, and when the adults come together on big issues based on shared values and morals, children and teens respond with more cooperation. Make a collaborative plan as a family for what you are going to do to manage misbehaviors, backtalk, aggression, lying etc. Consider creating a contract that everybody signs so your child sees that you are taking this seriously.

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