Is It Neurodiversity or Bad Parenting?

Is it neurodiversity or bad parenting? SavvyMom

As parents, we often find ourselves navigating through uncertainties and questions about our children’s behaviour, especially when they are no longer toddlers but not quite tweens. It’s a crucial developmental stage where distinct personalities, unique abilities, and sometimes challenging behaviors become more pronounced. And a big fear is often not knowing if their behaviour is due to our parenting or the possibility of neurodiversity. So is it “bad parenting” or neurodiversity?

Understanding Neurodiversity: ADHD and ASD

Neurodiversity is a term that’s more commonly used to classify conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Neurodiversity is not viewed as a deficit, but as natural variations of the human brain.

ADHD is characterized by differences in attention, impulsivity, and sometimes hyperactivity. Children with ADHD might struggle with focusing on tasks, sitting still, or waiting their turn, which can be mistaken for behavioral issues rather than neurodivergent traits.

ASD encompasses a range of developmental differences that can affect communication, behaviour, and social interaction. Children on the Autism spectrum might have unique ways of learning, moving, or communicating, and they often thrive in structured, predictable environments.

Comorbidities, such as anxiety and emotional dysregulation, are common among neurodiverse children. Anxiety often manifests due to struggles in navigating social situations or sensory issues, particularly in ASD. Emotional dysregulation, often seen in ADHD, involves challenges in controlling emotional responses, leading to intense reactions to stress or frustration.

Recognizing these signs is crucial for understanding and supporting neurodiverse children. Research shows the importance of early identification and support. With the right understanding and environment, these children can flourish.

The Role of Parenting in Child Behaviour and Development

Parenting undeniably plays a significant role in shaping a child’s behaviour and development. However, the notion that all behavioral challenges stem from “bad” parenting is a myth that needs dispelling, particularly in the context of neurodiversity.

We often judge other parents and ourselves harshly and unfairly. Before suspecting neurodiversity, it’s likely we’ll blame our (or others’) parenting. Understandably, this can lead to feelings of guilt, frustration, and shame. And while parenting styles do influence children’s development, they are not the sole determinant of a child’s behaviour, especially in cases of ADHD and ASD.

Children with ADHD or ASD often act in ways that are intrinsic to their neurodiversity that is not a direct result of bad (or even good) parenting practices. A child with ADHD might struggle with impulse control, which is a symptom of their condition and not necessarily an example of a lack of discipline. And a child on the Autism spectrum might have challenges in social interactions that are related to their neurological makeup and not the social opportunities provided by their parents.

Understanding the distinction between neurodiversity and behaviour influenced by parenting is crucial. Awareness and education for parents is key, especially for seeking appropriate support and strategies instead of questioning their parenting skills (or lack thereof).

How to Tell the Difference Between Neurodiversity in Children and Parenting Effects

In order to differentiate the behaviour of neurodiverse children from those as a result of by permissive parenting, it’s essential to understanding and address the root causes.

Permissive Parenting: Children raised with permissive parenting, with few rules and boundaries, might seem to lack self-discipline, struggle with authority and rules, or show increased egocentrism. They might have difficulty in structured environments because they are not accustomed to limits. They might have tantrums or show frustration when they don’t get their way, because they aren’t used to experiencing denials or restrictions.

Neurodiverse Behaviors: Children who are neurodiverse, like with ADHD or ASD, display behaviour stemming from their neurological makeup that’s not solely from their parents’ style. For example, a child with ADHD might struggle waiting their turn or sitting still for long periods. This is related to impulse control and attention challenges that are inherent to ADHD. A child on the Autism spectrum might be overwhelmed by sensory input in certain situations, leading to behaviour that is actually a coping mechanism and not acts of defiance or a lack of discipline.

Neurodiverse behaviour often persists despite consistent parenting styles. So, regardless of how structured or disciplined the home environment is, a child with ASD may still have significant difficulties in social interactions and communication.

Parents should not blame themselves for their child’s neurodiverse traits. They need support and understanding. This perspective helps to access the right resources and interventions and alleviates the guilt and stigma associated with perceptions of permissive parenting.

Support and Resources in Canada for Neurodiverse Children

If parents suspect their child might be neurodiverse, navigating the path to evaluation and diagnosis can be daunting. Wait times are long and the costs can be very high.

1. Consult with a Pediatrician or Family Doctor: The first step is often to discuss your concerns with a healthcare professional. In many provinces, a referral from a family doctor is necessary to access specialized assessments.

2. Explore Public Health Resources: Across Canada, there are publicly funded programs and services for child development. For instance, in Ontario, OHIP will cover some assessment costs, though wait times can be very long.

3. Consider Provincial Programs: Each province offers different resources. In British Columbia, for instance, the Ministry of Children and Family Development provides support for autism assessments.

4. School Involvement: Schools can play a significant role. Many Canadian school districts have resources to help identify children who might need further evaluation. Educators can refer parents to school psychologists or special education programs, which might expedite the process.

Distinguishing between neurodiversity and the effects of parenting is essential for understanding and supporting our kids. Recognizing the signs of ADHD, ASD, and their comorbidities like anxiety and emotional dysregulation can assist parents in finding the right programs. It’s important to debunk the notion that challenging behaviour is solely a result of parenting. Canadian families have diverse experiences in navigating these paths, but the common ground is through support from healthcare professionals, schools, and community resources. By staying informed and advocating for our children, we can ensure they receive the understanding and assistance they deserve.


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