Mental health and its importance for neurodiversity
Every parent wants the best for their child. And all parents feel it’s their job, and their privilege, to give their little ones the healthiest and happiest future possible. But when your child is neurodiverse, the tremendous responsibilities of parenting can feel even more profound, even more perplexing.
Why It Matters
Every day, you are likely to see your child facing challenges that neurotypical children rarely have to. And every day, you are likely to navigate difficulties that parents of neurotypical children may never imagine. But even as you embrace the immense joys and the unexpected challenges of parenting a neurodiverse child, it can be easy to fail to put yourself on your own priorities list, particularly when it comes to nurturing your mental health.
The reality, though, is that, as the parent of a neurodiverse child, seeing to your mental well-being isn’t just good for you, it is also good for your little one. Caring for your own mental health can open up important opportunities to teach your child, on their level, about emotional and psychological self-care, something that is particularly important in helping neurodiverse children cope with the daily challenges they face in their own lives.
Consider a Hybrid School Schedule
Neurodiverse children have a range of needs, and those needs can fluctuate widely not only from day to day but even from hour to hour. Because of this, it may not be possible for your child to attend school on campus following a traditional schedule of 7-8 hours per day, five days per week.
Nevertheless, both the child and the parents can benefit from a hybrid school schedule. This strategy blends in-person with remote learning to enable students to benefit from the social interaction afforded in the traditional classroom while at the same time attending to particular learning needs best served through remote learning. For example, while studying remotely, children can take frequent rest periods, intermittent breaks to enable the child to move around and release pent-up stress or energy, or one-on-one, individualized instruction,
A hybrid school schedule can be beneficial for the parents’ mental health because it provides windows of time for the parent to decompress and to practice self-care while their child is at school. This can be instrumental in avoiding caregiver burnout because those school hours give parents time to rest and recharge, without having to worry that their child is not being cared for.
Additionally, having this regular routine of a few hours per week spent at school is not only socially and psychologically beneficial for the child, but it can also help parents cope on the most difficult days. To protect their mental health, parents of neurodivergent children must have the opportunity and the willingness to practice self-compassion, and that includes the chance to be alone with their feelings and their needs and to use journaling, meditation, exercise, or whatever method works best for them in combating the anxiety and depression that caregivers may experience.
Pursue What You Love
When you are the parent of a neurodivergent child, it can be easy to lose yourself in the responsibility of caring for your little one. After all, no one loves your child more or knows them better than you do.
But, for your sake and for the sake of your child, you must cultivate a life and interests outside of the parenting role. That in no way means that parenting isn’t your most important job. It does not mean that you love your child one jot less. What it does mean, though, is that you love your kid enough to take care of their parent.
A great way to do this is to remember the things you love, the things you have always enjoyed doing or learning about, and then pursue that to the hilt. This is all about owning the “next play” of your life, building a future that you and your child can be excited about, a future that can help you ride the rapids of uncertainty.
You might, for example, decide to return to school as the first step toward a career you have always dreamed of. Online degree programs can be ideal for this, allowing you to tailor your academic schedule around your needs and those of your child. When you are actively pursuing interests that excite and motivate you, you are inevitably going to feel more optimistic, more empowered, and more self-confident. And there is perhaps no better way to nurture your own mental health while providing a superb model for your child to emulate to the best of their abilities.
Your child is your whole world. Being a parent is like having your heart walking around on the outside of your body. And there are few things more painful to a parent than to see their child struggle. When your child is neurodiverse, though, struggle is all too often a part of daily life. And that means that parents can experience anxiety, depression, and related mental health challenges that may easily go unrecognized and unaddressed. For parents of neurodiverse children, though, attending to mental health is essential, both for their own well-being and for the well-being of the child who looks up to and depends on them.
Guest post by Luke Smith
Tags: behavioral health, Creating a Healthy Lifestyle in Recovery, crossroads health, lake county, mental health, mental health awareness, mental health treatment, Mentor Ohio, neurodiverse, neurodiversity, Ohio, self care, teen development, youth mental health, youth treatment