The #1 Priority for Successfully Parenting Kids with ADHD/Autism

The #1 Priority for Successfully Parenting Kids with ADHD/Autism

We have a lot of duties as parents in general. Adding in ADHD and/or autism increases the number of responsibilities that must be on our radars, by a lot. Parents of neurotypical kids don’t have to think much about teaching basic skills that typically develop innately, managing treatments and therapies, and close and frequent communications with teachers… but we do. Let’s face it, when we break it all down, we need a mighty large plate to carry all our (special) parenting responsibilities.

This special brand of parenthood is a massive undertaking. Yet, it can (and should) be simplified for less overwhelm and easier implementation. It can really be boiled down to a few basic principles, #1 being to set your kids up for successes. (Well, I guess this may be priority #2, actually — right behind the first credo for all parents: keeping our kids alive and safe.) Setting your child with ADHD and/or autism up for successes may seem monumentally hard, or even impossible given all our kids’ challenges, but, it’s not. I promise. I’ll show you how right now.


The #1 Priority for Successfully Parenting Kids with ADHD/Autism: Setting Kids Up for Successes

The first step in setting kids with ADHD and/or autism up for successes is to determine what your child’s strengths, interests, and talents are. Then, use those in everyday life to adapt situations so your child has an opportunity for success. An attainable opportunity for success, given his disabilities and developmental age — that’s a crucial element.

This can include several different strategies. It might be accommodations for your child, skills boosting and preparation, or the environment you choose. Let’s look at some examples…


How kids with disabilities can participate in all childhood activities

My son enjoys the visual beauty of fireworks. However, he hates the loud booms and crackles, and he finds the crowds that usually accompany a 4th of July fireworks display downright unnerving. With that in mind, we made two accommodations so he can enjoy fireworks events: he wears noise-cancelling headphones and we go to a tiny, neighboring town so the crowd is a lot smaller.

Accommodations at school can set kids with ADHD and/or autism up for successes, as well. For instance, modified assignments make success at completing school work more attainable for kids with slow processing speeds or who take a lot longer due to frequent distraction. Assistive technology is another great accommodation for challenged learners. My son has severe executive functioning deficits, so he uses an iPad to do his worksheets digitally, where the papers can’t get lost.

If your child likes playing a team sport, but isn’t up for the competitive nature of mainstream athletics, consider intramural teams who simply play for fun, or even Special Olympics. Offer the environment where your child can succeed.

Most kids with ADHD and/or autism struggle with social skills. Before a playdate or activity with friends, talk about some social aspects where your child flounders. Use if-then/when-then rules whenever possible, to play on their concrete thinking. Here are some I use with my son:

  • When a friend comes to our house, that means they’re our guest. Guests get to choose the first activity or game.” This helps him to seem less bossy and not monopolize the time together, something that often happens since he’s a very black-and-white thinker and only sees one way. Giving him this social rule lessens the impact of lagging social skills.
  • If someone asks, ‘How are you?’ then you reply with ‘good,’ (or however you’re feeling) and then ‘how are you?'” This helps kids with ADHD and/or autism learn social reciprocity, which is often a lagging skill for them.
  • If you get in an argument with your friend or feel angry, then come get mom or dad to help.” This can help kids who are very sensitive or highly emotionally reactive, and potentially ward off emotional outbursts that could damage their relationship with that peer.
  • If you feel overwhelmed or need a break to have some quiet, alone time, then say, ‘Excuse me for a few minutes,’ and go take your break.”

Social stories, like those from Michelle Garcia Winner, are fantastic for teaching kids the social skills they need to succeed, as well. The Superflex series is great for elementary kids and the Social Fortune or Social Fate book is good for preteens and teens.

You also have the opportunity to set your child up for successes in the way you react, talk to, and interact with him. If a parent has an emotional, intense, or inflexible response, the child will too. If the parent remains calm, the child will be more calm than when everyone is emotionally charged. This applies to what you say to your child, as well, not just attitude and demeanor. For instance, if my son marches in the door from school grumbling, throwing his backpack down, and kicking off his shoes across the room, I could react emotionally and possibly raise my voice and say, “stop acting that way right now.” However, there’s a lot of ambiguity in what exactly “that way” is, and my anger or frustration will definitely add fuel to his fire. If, instead, I say, “I can see that you’re frustrated or angry about something. Did you have a rough day? Rough days are so hard for me too!” I’m diffusing the situation through showing empathy and validating his feelings. I could even take it a step further and use the magic phrase, “How can I help you?” Rather than fuel the very behavior I’m trying to change, how I react can set my son up to react more appropriately himself.

—> In what other ways can you set your child up for successes in everything they do? Share situations in which you’re not sure how to implement this strategy in the comments below, and I’ll reply with some helpful ideas.