I remember the first day we realised something was “wrong”. With the benefit of hindsight, I cringe when I remember this was what we felt all those years ago. What I didn’t realise was that my child experienced the world differently, yet we were trying to force her into that box called “normal”. Like many others, my only view of autism was from Rain Man. I had no idea that autistic people have “spiky profiles” with areas of real strength and areas of real challenge.
I also learned that autism in girls is very hard to identify, as girls can be quite adept at “masking”. In fact, when I started questioning whether my child was autistic, her school teacher said “I’ll eat my hat if she is”! My girl was a magnificent masker. It wasn’t until year 5 when the social world for girls becomes tricky. That’s when the wheels began to fall off.
The parental change
Life was so hard for her, and as a family, we really struggled. We didn’t understand how to parent differently, how to see things from her perspective, and why we couldn’t just be like other “happy” families.
I knew things had to change, so I embarked on learning as much as I could.
I’ve had 5 years of deep learning. At first, viewing autism through the medical lens, which tends to speak about autism in deficit terms. Then moving to the social paradigm, wherein autism is recognised as part of a person’s identity and integral to how their world is perceived and processed.
There are several other things that can occur with, or separately to, autism. For example, the term “Neurodivergent” has also been coined for ADHD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, Tourette’s, and others.
Our neurodivergent family
Things started to change for our family when instead of viewing our daughter as a “problem” to be solved, we turned the mirror on ourselves.
What we found was enlightening.
Neurodivergence has a large genetic link. We reviewed our history with new eyes and realised that the whole family is neurodivergent in different ways. The conversations about how we experienced the world as individuals, slowly increased our self-awareness. Our words became gentle and the conversations more open.
I realised when I was a child, I found certain things to be difficult. So why on earth was I expecting my daughters to be able to do them?
The beauty, intelligence, and unique views of our girls are things that I truly love and admire. I also love our shared (often inappropriate) humour, silly words, and interesting conversations. Both my girls inspire me every day with their knowledge and world views.
When I see my girls enjoying their strengths and beginning to develop strategies to help with the challenges, I am so grateful for the insights that we have gained as a family. We continue to learn every day.
I now recognise how my neurodivergence has played out through my life. Things that didn’t make sense are now fitting into place. I’m proud that I’ve navigated through some hard experiences, and have developed a business where I get to use my strengths every day.
During this time, it has been interesting to see that close friends have also been travelling similar paths with children’s diagnoses and recognition of their own neurodivergence. I’ve recognised that like attracts like, and I love the close connections we have.
For those among us who may be navigating new information about their children, may I offer some thoughts about the next steps that you take?
I’ve made many mistakes through the years (and struggle with the old faithful “mother guilt” because of it). In the beginning, there was so much learning to do and I didn’t know where to start.
So, here’s a short cut for where you are right now.
Walking with your child
You may be on a path in life that you hadn’t expected. It may have a few more thistles and rocks to navigate, but the journey will still be filled with love, learning, and wonderful adventures.
Watch your child and listen to them. Join in their games and the things that bring them joy. Make every effort to see the world from their perspective. Encourage, don’t shame, and meet their escalations with calm and safety.
Recognise what challenges they have that make life tricky, and seek supportive therapies to help them be the happiest and best “them” possible. Steer clear of professionals attempting to change your child’s behaviour to meet the “normative” expectations (what is “normal” anyway?). Encourage and promote your child’s strengths, as it’s their confidence in these that will help them navigate their challenges.
I believe the world is a better place because of the different strengths and perspectives of neurodivergent individuals. As a community, we can help to create awareness, to trample stigma and misunderstanding, and help to create a world for everyone to be recognised and valued as their authentic selves.
Audir | people
Nicci Richman – Owner
Nicci is an Organisational Development Consultant who works with businesses and individuals to foster the strengths of neurodivergence in the workplace. Nicci provides one-on-one and group coaching to individuals who may be struggling in the workplace. Through coaching, individuals can develop their self-awareness, identify strengths and job-fit, develop strategies for dealing with work challenges, and learn to advocate for their needs in the workplace.
Phone: 0417 373 351