Neurodiversity At Home

by Katrina Martin on July 27, 2022

Neurodiversity is a concept that is important for all people to understand and meld into their worldview. Historically, society has placed the onus of change on Autistic and neurodivergent folks to socialize, communicate, and behave more “normally.”

Neurodiversity allows us to understand different ways of socializing, communicating, and being as simply the natural and normal diversity present in the human experience. When we follow the tenants of neurodiversity, we stop trying to change Autistic and neurodivergent people to become more “normal” (or neurotypical) and instead seek to create understanding across all neurotypes. Using this frame, it becomes the job of all people to validate and accept unique ways of being.

There is no environment that is more impactful to a child’s growing-up experience than their home. So, this month we are going to give you 5 tips to make your home more neurodiversity-affirming. As we’ve said, this is the job of everyone, so whether you are neurotypical or neurodivergent and regardless of the neurotype of your child(ren), these tips are for you!

1. Create a safe space for your child to be themselves

When at home, children should feel like they are able to simply be themselves. There is a lot of pressure in the outside world to conform to different standards of communicating, thinking, and being. For neurodivergent children, this can lead to masking or taking on behaviors that aren’t true to who they are for the benefit of making others happy or comfortable. For neurotypical children, this can often lead to a feeling that there are superior ways of communicating, socializing, and being, which are often taught through social pressure or explicit education.

To build neurodiversity-affirming practices into your home, allow children to explore different parts of themselves that they may typically feel pressured to hide from the rest of the world. If your child is Autistic or neurodivergent, validate that is okay to stim freely at home. Additionally, you can use our free resource to create sensory-friendly spaces in your home.

2. Learn to recognize your child’s needs

Needs go beyond those that are often discussed in the classroom setting as basic needs for survival.  Needs include our basic needs (e.g. things like food, water, and shelter) and sensory needs and activity and interest needs. Your child’s sensory needs and activity and interest needs are likely not the same as your own.

Regardless of neurotype, everyone has different experiences of sensory stimulation. This can include things like lights, sounds, or the way clothing feels. Getting to know what feels comfortable for your child’s senses will allow you to modify the environment to meet their needs.

Activity and interest needs also vary between people. For many neurotypical people, a healthy life balance includes lots of time around other people. Alternatively, for some neurotypical folks and many neurodivergent folks, activity and interest needs revolve around more solo activities.

3. Recognize that your child’s needs may be different from your expectations

If your neurotype is different from your child’s, it’s important to recognize that their needs may be different from your expectations. Most people are exposed to the idea that there are set of needs that are “normal,” and that what many other people express as needs aren’t needs, but wants. It is important to challenge this idea in yourself (eg. why wouldn’t we see all people’s needs as valid) and expose your child to the reality that different people have different needs.

  • If your child is neurotypical, this might look like helping them understand that no, they don’t get to have a fidget toy in class even though their neurodivergent peer does, because their peer needs that fidget toy to be able to listen to the teacher’s lesson, and they do not.
  • If your child is neurodivergent, this might look like helping them recognize it’s okay to need a fidget toy during class even though their peer doesn’t. That is a need that they have, and all needs are valid.

4. Let your child communicate in the ways that are most comfortable for them

Without a doubt, society places a gold star on certain types of communication. “Types” includes both the form of communication (e.g. expressive speech, gesture, ASL, AAC, etc.), as well as the style of communication (e.g. direct, indirect, tangential, etc).

Affirming a child’s specific communication form and style is as simple as honoring the type of communication that they use as perfectly acceptable and valid, and not in need of remediation.

If you have a traditionally-speaking child, how many times have you said to your child, “Use your words”? Why? If your child is communicating by pushing away something they don’t want or reaching towards something they do want, why are words necessary? Their communication is effective and clear!

To support your child in a neurodiversity-affirming way, let your child communicate using the forms of communication that are most comfortable, natural, and effective for them.

5. Build bridges of understanding across family members

Knowing yourself and understanding your child are key to creating a home that is neurodiversity-affirming. When you can recognize the similarities and differences in the needs and ways of being within your family, you can approach those differences with openness and curiosity.

When we stop seeing neurotypical as right and neurodivergent as wrong, we are given the gift of acceptance. No longer fighting to change our children from who they are, but rather learning to understand them and helping them understand other ways of communicating, socializing, and being, as equal.

If you would like to learn more about how to create a neurodiversity-affirming home, check out the HAVEN Bridge, Home Allies Validating and Empowering Neurodiversity. This neurodiversity-affirming product was designed for use by families within the home environment. It provides on-demand video education for both adult and child family members as they learn all about different ways of communicating, socializing, and being. We look forward to a world in which the tenants of neurodiversity are truly understood as the responsibility of all!

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