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Neurodivergence- Moving from grief to affirming and celebrating my child's neurotype.

Updated: Jan 15

Happy Autistic Toddler Painting

I had never considered the possibility that my child might not follow a typical pattern of development. Maybe it was wildly naive, but as a first-time parent, following milestone charts really never crossed my mind. She was being followed by her pediatrician and I assumed my child's development would track typically as it had during pregnancy and in her early infancy. It wasn't until about 18 months that I noticed some differences in her behavior and communication compared to peers her age. I felt consumed with trying to find an answer. I felt crushed by the words " atypical" and " disorder" that popped up in my late-night Google searches. The grief came specifically when realizing the parenting journey and experience I thought I would have was not aligning with what I was actually experiencing and living. My two-year-old wasn't running to greet me at the door when I came home from work, she didn't seem as interested in her birthday party or family members as I would have expected, and she wasn't looking for my reaction when she went down the slide or asking me to push her faster on the swing. This grief felt even heavier when I noticed a regression in skills and some social engagement. She stopped smiling in response to our smile, lost interest in playing with her baby doll, and stopped following instructions consistently. Lacing beads became frustrating and no longer interesting, smiling for the camera and laughing as we all clanked our cups together to "cheers" became a thing of the past. I sat with these feelings mostly privately- confiding in one close friend. I remember looking at baby videos and crying while thinking, where did my girl go?

After allowing myself some time to process these feelings, It dawned on me- She didn't go anywhere. She was right there, right in front of me. She always was, and always will be the little girl she was supposed to be. Nothing happened to her to change her. She was born autistic, just as I had also been born neurodivergent- ADHD. These are our neurotypes, or neurological hardwiring that were predetermined prior to our births.

I looked at her and I thought to myself, I have two options- Option 1- I can spend this time perseverating on our differences, the struggles she might face, or grieve the parenting experience I thought I might have. Option 2- I can choose to learn more about autism, embrace the parenting journey I'm actually on, and affirm the way my child processes the world and celebrate her exactly as she is. I chose the latter.

Part of this process, moving from grief to celebration, was acknowledging that it is not my child's job to meet the expectations of what I thought parenting or childhood would be like. It's my child's job to experience and process the world in their own unique way. My job as a parent is to support and provide opportunities to encourage growth and skills that help my child live their happiest, most fulfilled life.

Another part of this process was unlearning a lot of the harmful stereotypes perpetuated about autism, and relearning how to best support R from neurodiversity-affirming speech and occupational therapists, autistic advocates, and the autistic community.

The first change we made while learning how to best support R was to decrease our demands. We prioritized connecting with her and her interests over any type of teaching. We listened to and worked to understand the unique ways autistic individuals process and experience the world. The whole past year we primarily focused on building a foundation of trust by supporting her speech and language development, balancing sensory regulation, and teaching self-advocacy skills and co-regulation strategies with a child-led, strengths-based approach. Currently, I'm happy to say R has an incredibly strong foundation of trust and safety with our family, her teachers, her speech therapist, and her environment. We are no longer in a place of just surviving- we're thriving as a family. Most importantly, she's thriving!

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