I was recently talking with someone about issues plaguing their life She was sharing that she feels that her child is stubborn and doesn’t listen to advice. She’d been talking to her kid about switching high schools for several months. There was a high school not too far from them that she felt had some programs that would benefit her child more. The child, according to her, was very stubborn to the idea stating that they were quite fine at their current school. As she was talking to me, my mind shifted to thinking of the situation from the kid’s stand point. Since getting into the fields of special education and psychology, I’ve heard countless adults (both teachers and parents) describe kids with learning disorders in negative terms. It’s overlooked that there are reasons for kids’ “bad” behavior, and much of the time it’s because they don’t have the skills.
I proceeded to ask this lady if she knew of her kid’s reasons for staying at their current school. She told me she was unsure. I then asked her if she’d considered if her child was afraid to move schools. Again, this wasn’t something she’d thought of. I asked if her kid may experience some anxiety. This led to her becoming adamant that her child didn’t have any mental problems and that the kid is just very stubborn. After a little bit more of back and forth between us, the parent finally came to the realization that her kid may have some other issues in their life.
This got thinking. Why is it easier for some people to figure out effective parenting strategies for neurodiverse kids? And why do some people struggle to help their neurodiverse offspring to the gateway of adulthood? I’ve worked with many parents and there are always some who are more receptive of information I give them than others. I thought about the patterns in the parents themselves and realized it comes down to one thing: their own philosophies.
Everyone has different philosophies for most areas in life. Whether you’re conscious of it or not, you respond to certain situations based on your own preconceived notions and values. That’s what I’m referring to when I mention philosophy. You philosophies about education, and travel, and the environment, and parenting. Knowing your own philosophy as a parent is important as it affects your choices. Most people have already established what their parental philosophy is. Some parents are adamant that kids need to respect authority figures. For others, they may believe in creating a democratic household. Your parental philosophy will determine your decisions about discipline and providing guidance for your children.
Identifying your own parental philosophy isn’t as simple as knowing how you want to discipline your kids; it weaves together personal feelings about religion, education, mental health, and human existence. I wanted to touch on ideas surrounding mental illnesses and disorders. Mental disorders and developmental differences are accepted as part of human existence for most people I’ve talked to. While disorders aren’t desirable, many people choose to embrace those who have them. These people are more likely to accept that their child may have a certain disorder, under the circumstances that their kid is exceptionally “off.” Other people, though, believe that mental disorders are exaggerated in kids, or that disorders are a sign of lesser intelligence. They are more likely to not pursue any evaluation of potential learning disorders for their offspring that are wierd, stubborn, or lazy.
I’ve spoken to some people who believe that everyone is unique and the odd behaviors that neurodiverse kids exhibit are nothing more than quirks. In this case, those people are not likely to pursue a diagnosis for their child since they believe there is nothing particularly different about their kid’s way of life. The odd behaviors are passed off as a phase that the kid will grow out of. From my observations, this group of parents will generally talk to their kids the exact same way you would talk to a neurotypical child (a kid without a disorder). Since many mental disorders come with some amount socially awkward behavior, this group of adults may feel uncomfortable with their kid’s awkward behavior. They believe that their kid needs to be disciplined and educated the same way other kids are. These people are likely to try to force their kid to learn desirable skill-sets.
One person who stands out in my memory is someone who believed that kids grow at their own rate. Their personal philosophy is that therapy for kids forces kids to grow at a rate unnatural to the child. They felt that adults need to respect the personal development of every child without forcing them to become someone they are not. Some kids figure out social skills at a young age, and some kids grow into themselves during high school or college. To them, the kids/adults that figure out social and other life skills later in life are late bloomers.
I’ve run into many individuals who choose a different approach. When it comes to their kids that have neurological differences, their answer is simply to accept their child the way they are and meet their kid where s/he is at. These people provide support in the form of therapy or school accommodations for what their kids.
I hope you get the picture. Whether or not you know it, you already have beliefs regarding many issues. I’d like to take this idea of philosophy a little bit further. I noticed, as I was thinking about this, that these philosophies weren’t just about parenting or mental disorders. They’re about ourselves and our role in supporting other people. In my head, I divided the people according to their philosophy into three camps: parents who expect their kids adapt to them and parents who adapt their parenting style to fit their kids’ needs. It’s really about change. The question is, who should be the one to change? To some, it’s the kids. To others, it’s the parents.
I’m not here to tell you what to believe. But I would caution you to do is to think carefully about what you expect of your child; especially the ones that are a little bit “off.” Every kid has a growing brain inside them, one that is not yet fully developed. We know, as a society, that the brain fully matures at around age 25. Is it, therefore, reasonable to expect a child to change if they are the ones in need of skills? I would also ask you to consider parenting from a logical standpoint. If you are running into the same problems month after month, year after year and relying on the same strategies, are those strategies effective? I’ll leave you with the following idea: While your beliefs determine the way you parent, your parenting will determine how your kids are set up for adult life. If the goal is to prepare kids for life, then maybe we should try understanding what skillsets they lack as we guide them.