We are a large family, with 8 people, and the majority of us are neurodivergent. Aside from the fact that in a family of 8 there is bound to be a fair bit of “wait your turn” happening anyway, adding in neurodivergence and the need for help with self regulation and managing sensory overload and anxiety (the kids and the adults!), often means that the kids who are a bit more self sufficient end up doing a lot of waiting for attention.
I rememebr when I was young and my sister got sick and lost her hearing in one ear…. everything was all about her. Or so I thought. I was angry with her for taking all the attention. These days I would have much more compassion for her, but then I was a child and I could only see my need for reassurance that everything was OK. Now as a parent, I remember my feelings from that time, and I think it gives me compassion for all my kids.
It is so hard growing up in a world that communicates and behaves a particular way and expects everyone to conform. It is also hard growing up in a household where people have extra challenges and extra support needs when you don’t.
But here’s the thing, growing up in a family will always result in some jealousy. You don’t need to have siblings with disabilities for that to happen. Human beings intrinsically desire attention, validation and to have someone else affirm them. All of us at one time or another have resented someone else because they were noticed and we weren’t, they we rewarded and we weren’t, they were more appreciated than we were. It is human nature.
So I tell my kids, all my kids, that everyone is different. That we all have different needs. When they feel “it’s not fair”, I remind them that fair is not everyone getting the same thing…. it is everyone getting what they need to succeed.
I teach my kids to advocate for themselves by telling them that if they feel overlooked or hard done by they should speak up and let me know. I might not be able to change things for them every time, but I will always listen and try to help them find a solution. Sometimes that may be a change in what I am doing, a change in what someone else is doing, or they may think about a change in their own attitude.
I tell my kids that if they approach me with a concern and I realise I’ve made a mistake, I’ll apologise and try to fix it.
I try to model these things to them so that when I tell them they should be doing them in their interactions with others, including their siblings, they will believe that I mean what I say. And so they will trust me because they see consistency in my words and my actions.
I talk sometimes about how we all like to feel that we are supported, and that someone else has “got our back”. I talk about how if we can do things to help each other out and each show compassion and tolerance, offering to lighten someone else’s load when they are struggling, that when we need help others will want to be there for us. We acknowledge that sometimes the kind thing to do is for everyone to be quiet for a while so someone can recover from a sensory overload. We are careful to listen when someone says they need some time alone and to give it to them. Basically I am trying to help my kids learn that being kind to others is always appreciated, and that it is always worth being kind to others.
And I compliment them. I tell them that they are all growing up to be amazing people, full of compassion for those who need help, and mature beyond their years in the way they interact with their peers. Because it is true. And because I want them know know it is true and that I am proud of them.
This article has been translated into Russian on the Neurodiversity in Russia website. To read >> click here << (link will open in a new window)