One is Not Like the Other
For a long time now, our culture has supported the social norm that people should strive to be more like everyone else. I think human nature plays a part in it (longing to belong), but it is certainly encouraged and strengthened by the messages we are bombarded with on a daily (hourly, really) basis. No doubt. We get these messages from peers, media, advertising, government, and even teachers.
So what are those with differences to do when they just cannot meet this expectation to be more like everyone else? Feel bad about themselves? That’s exactly what happens. And it happens to all of us at one point or another; too many times to count for most. It’s our culture. It has become part of the American way of life.
But it happens to those with disabilities at an overwhelming rate. Add in special needs like ADHD, autism, or other developmental disorders and you are adding a whole list of additional inequities — above and beyond the typical focus of brains, beauty, stuff, and wealth. Those individuals are constantly reminded that they are different. Constantly! Most take it to mean they are less.
The last thing parents want is to perpetuate this societal tug-of-war for our children, yet comparison to others is a commonplace trap, and one that can sabotage your parenting completely.
Different, Not Less
Kids with ADHD and/or autism are different. Disabled technically. No one is disputing that here. But that doesn’t mean they are of less value than anyone else. Nor does it make them broken or bad.
We parents naturally focus on weaknesses when raising a child with ADHD and/or autism, because we want to help our kids “fit in.” All we want in the world is to fix what causes them pain. You have to focus on something to fix it, and that constant focus on their differences is just another reminder to your child that they don’t measure up. It’s a nagging breath of negativity, and it’s truly detrimental.
Intentional or not, it gives your child the feeling that they are less, bad, or broken.
ADHD and autism are not problems to solve. They can’t be “fixed.” Focusing on ADHD or focusing on autism is undoubtedly sabotaging your parenting goals. You want to raise a capable, happy child, right? You are likely sabotaging your efforts and you don’t even know it. I did for a long time. I still do sometimes. It’s an easy trap to fall into.
Turn it Around
As special needs parents, the unique requirement of our parenthood is to encourage and build joy in individuality. We do that by focusing on our child’s strengths and interests. What is it that boosts their confidence? What brings them joy? Praise, support, nurture, and encourage those things. Make that the focus of daily conversation, not ADHD and not autism. Not that they can’t remember to turn their homework in or that their emotional regulation needs improvement.
I hear ya! “How am I supposed to control the messages my child gets from others?” you’re asking.
Yeah — advertising, media, teachers, and peers are still going to perpetuate the myth that sameness is better, at least for the foreseeable future. We don’t each have the power to change that. What we can do is add a filter to those messages.
That’s why encouraging and praising individuality, strengths, and interests is so vitally important for kids like ours. It fills their cup with the message that individuality is good, overwhelming the negative perspectives on sameness they hear from others. They’ll grow to rest solidly on the positivity you’ve nurtured and question the validity of sameness.
That’s when they hang the parenting gold medal around your neck!
Now, I am not saying that you shouldn’t pay any attention at all to ADHD and/or autism struggles. Yes, we have to work on weaknesses. Just do it in a way that is about their individual goals and achievement, not about being like everyone else.
Don’t let a focus on differences sabotage your parenting! Grab a pen and paper and list your child’s strengths, interests, talents, and passions. Brainstorm all the ways you can encourage and praise those positive characteristics. Make a plan to start taking action on that list today. Make sure praise and positivity are part of your parenting message right now.