As we normalize conversations about mental health, how do we support neurodiverse kids?
I love watching T and kids play tag. I’m amused by how they apply “TO” (timeout) – whenever they don’t want to be tagged or need a rest.
As I thought about this more, kids should be encouraged to take a TO whenever they need.
During our recent roadtrip, T asked to listen to Shawn Mendes’ “When You’re Gone.”
Mendes made headlines recently when he cancelled his world tour, citing the need to focus on his mental health struggles.
In the past, this would’ve been a career-ending move, but he’s getting praise and support.
I think it’s fantastic he’s sending a message to his young fans that normalizes mental wellbeing.
Growing up, I seldom heard mental health discussed – at least, not in positive ways.
As T’s parent, I often think about how mental health issues can affect people with FASD.
This Edmonton Fetal Alcohol Network post provides sobering facts:
- 90% of people with FASD experience an additional mental health diagnosis.
- Individuals with FASD may be at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts.
- A disproportionate number of people in conflict with the law have FASD.
I firmly believe T is on his own journey. Nonetheless, these stats sometimes make it feel like the odds are stacked against him.
A few weeks ago, T started telling us that “everyone in the world doesn’t like him.”
T is often a happy and happy-go-lucky kid. So it made me sad hearing this.
The hubby and I since observed T makes this comment when he is told not to do something – e.g. getting in personal space – or when someone he wants to play with wants to be left alone, because he is so intense.
We try to explain to T that many people like and love him – but they do not like being talked to rudely, him getting into their personal space or repeatedly doing something after being asked not to, and that people sometimes need peace and quiet – especially when he’s disregulated.
It’s a message we need to keep repeating, because it’s important for him to distinguish between people liking him for who he is and him needing to build social and regulation skills.
I understand and empathize deeply with how kids like T can develop low self esteem and negative self talk when they feel treated as a “problem child.”
We can’t shield T from feeling hurt, misunderstood or sad. It’s a part of life, neurodiverse or not.
We can, however, help him develop skills to build mental and emotional resiliency – to help him live his best life, despite the ups and downs.
I don’t pretend to be an expert – I am getting lots of hands on learning though! – and this is too complex of a topic to cover in one post.
So I’ll share a few recent ways the hubby and I are approaching this:
- Be clear of why we correct/redirect him or take away privileges (e.g. tablet time) and it’s never because we don’t like him.
- Talk to him – at bedtime, post meltdown, car rides, etc. – and try to coach him about social situations, as this is where he struggles and ends up alienating others.
- Advocate and raise awareness with family, friends, school and daycare staff about FASD to create understanding and empathy about T’s exhibited behaviour.
- Encourage T to express his emotions (T is a kid who’ll tell you what’s on his mind whether you want to hear it or not!) and tell him it’s ok to not feel ok sometimes and that feeling bored, sad, or angry are normal.
- Encourage T to find calmer ways to express his anger, such as walking away to his room for “peace and quiet” – and preferably without slamming doors!
- Find ways to create fun and joyful moments every day – as simple as playground time to more complex plans like a roadtrip – as I genuinely believe happy memories help us get through stormy times.
- All of us, especially kids, need reassurance. We try to start and end each day on a positive note – and remind T he is loved.
- We still haven’t shared T’s FASD diagnosis with him yet. We hope to do so soon and I believe this will help him understand himself better.
We try to be kind with each other and ourselves when we don’t get it right – we often don’t! – because the FASD journey is unbelievably hard!
How do you build emotional resiliency? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
As mental health matters become normalized, it will build awareness and empathy, increase advocacy and resources, and reduce stigma.
In turn, I hope those distressing aforementioned stats will decrease over time.
As T’s parent – and “external brain” – it is essential I also prioritize my mental health.
There are many ways I do this – self care, hiking, setting boundaries with people, not taking on things I don’t have capacity for, counseling, blogging – that I’ll write about in a future post.
I started this post on the last day of our three-week vacation and I felt thankful for the rest and recharge – and the fun times we had with T.
On Friday afternoon, I took T to the outdoor pool. He loves it there and enjoys splashing, jumping into the water, doing front and back flips, and playing “shark chase.”
As I “chased” him in the water (a parent moves slowly like Michael Myers in Halloween when playing tag with kids), T made his way as fast as he could to the side of the pool, laughing excitedly.
As his hand touched the pavement deck, and I was inches away, he screamed, “T-O!”
I don’t wanna know what it’s like when you’re gone
I don’t wanna move on
I don’t wanna know what it’s like when you’re gone for good
You’re slipping through my fingertips
A little bit by a little bit
I didn’t know that loving you was the happiest I’ve ever been
So I’m just trying to hold on…”– Shawn Mendes, “When You’re Gone”