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Does your neurodiverse child make you feel judged by others?

Neurodivergence is the term used when someone’s brain processes, learns, and/or behaves differently from what is considered “typical!”.

Neurodiversity includes conditions like autism, ADHD, Down syndrome and epilepsy, as well as chronic mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, or depression.

Parents of these children may feel embarrassed by their child’s behavior, or fear that others are judging them as bad parents who cannot control their children, especially when there are outbursts in public. These parents have demanding roles twenty-four seven. While all children can present challenges to parents at times, neurotypical children can more easily gain control over their behaviors. There are many strategies that are proven to work with them.

With neurodiverse children, their brains process differently, affecting learning and/or behavior. A child with autism, or one with sensory processing challenges, may become overwhelmed with the sights and sounds of a grocery store. The parent watches and tries to distract the child, just hoping to get out of the store before there is a meltdown.

Sometimes the meltdown happens and expresses itself as tantrum-like behavior. The parent is trying to calm the child but, at the same time, is dealing with whispers, dirty looks, glaring, and even outright rude comments.

These parents may also feel judged by friends and family, who feel the answer is stricter discipline; being harder on the child. These people, although likely well-intentioned, clearly have no idea about the complexity of the child’s issues and the parents’ challenges.

Some, sadly, have been judged by others, even physicians, for not just “making” the child behave as desired. David Reynolds wrote a book on Japanese psychotherapy called Playing Ball on Running Water. There are times when it feels like that is what we are doing. Nothing is certain, nothing is predictable, it is hard to say balanced, and simply is not fun. It is not how we thought the game of life would be played.

It never feels good to be judged or misunderstood. Judgment of others can lead us to feel frustration, anger, hate, insecurity, or despair. Judgment can trigger our own insecurities, and negatively impact the confidence we are trying to maintain as a parent.

We try to stay positive for our family, and one judgmental comment can cause us distress that can last long beyond the actual incident. If it comes from someone we know, it can affect the level of trust we have in that person.

Self-care is often at the bottom of our to do list, and consequently our emotional resilience might be low.

What thoughts can help us to keep these situations in perspective? Remind yourself that those judging do not know you or your child. They do not know that you are doing the best you can, every day. We cannot control what others say or do. We know that everyone has their own beliefs and opinions, and some have no desire to hold back on voicing them. We cannot always avoid judgmental people, so we are better to accept that it happens, and equip ourselves with perspectives that allow us to deal with it in a conscious, calm, and detached way.

When someone confronts you directly, or gives unsolicited advice, you have two options. You can calmly brush it off, saying something like, “thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” Or, simply smile and say nothing, hard as that might be. 

The second option is to actually engage and try to educate someone - not to try to change their opinions, but to share your knowledge and perspectives.

However, it is not your job to educate everyone. You might want to do that only with people who really matter to you.

Wisdom tells us that we should not take judgments personally. They say more about the one judging than they do about you. Clients often tell me it is hard to not take things personally. They are right; however, it is a skill we can, and should, develop. Don’t let toxic words go to your heart; those comments have little or nothing to do with who you are.

Finally, treat everyone with respect, love, and compassion. Getting angry does not help. It only increases the level of stress chemicals in our bodies. 

My mother used to say that “acid eats away at the container holding it!”

Knowing people who judge are uninformed or unhappy, we can sidestep their comments so we do not become judgmental in return.

Gwen is an author and award-winning psychologist. For permission to reprint this article, or to obtain books, CDs or MP3s, visit gwen.ca. Follow Gwen on Facebook for inspiration. 

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