Wired Differently: Parenting Kids with Special-Needs

We are just beginning to understand how amazingly complex the human brain is. While each brain is completely unique to its owner, brains share general commonalities and similar functions. Some children, however, are born with brains that are wired differently from those of most kids. Not better or worse, just different.

Wired Differently

Kids with brains that are wired differently can have a challenging time in settings designed for the average child.  For some of these kids, self-regulation can be a real challenge. Teaching them limits and how to manage their emotions require some special techniques. Professionals have a handful of categories for different brains including ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Anxiety Disorder. These don't begin to cover all the possibilities but help us start to better understand what our kids need and what they are going through.

Here are first steps you can take if your child came into the world with a brain that makes self-regulation a challenge:

  1. Intervene early. Don't wait years to address challenges and get your child the support they need. Pay attention to signs that your child may be wired differently and talk to professionals early.
  2. Don't take it personally. The more that we learn about explosive behavior and regulation challenges the more we understand that lots of times these behaviors are brain-based and not the result of parenting mistakes. It doesn't help to blame yourself.
  3. Seek the help of competent professionals. The strategies that fill many parenting books aren't going to work the same way for kids who are wired differently. Professionals can help you develop special approaches and tactics that work for your family.
  4. Find professionals who have a wide scope of experience with special needs children. There's an old saying: If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. You want a professional flexible enough to try different approaches. 
  5. Be a patient but persistent advocate for your child. I know a couple who consulted professionals for over two years until they finally came up with a diagnosis for their son.
  6. Get support. Parent a child with a brain that makes her explosive, rigid, and easily frustrated is hard work. Ask family and friends to help out so you can get a break.
  7. Avoid know-it-alls. These folks can send you down the wrong path and leave you questioning why their "guaranteed" techniques didn't work for you.
  8. Don't tolerate out-of-bounds behavior. Parents of kids who have difficulty with self-regulation have to redefine "normal" and recalibrate expectations. Nevertheless, life will be a lot better for these kids when they build the level of self-control they are capable of.
  9. Nurture your relationship with your partner. Separation and divorce rates are much higher for parents of special-needs kids. Take time for yourselves and avoid taking out your frustrations on each other. 
  10. Support your other kids. Special-needs children demand a lot of attention and energy. Try not to leave your other kids lost in the chaos. Do what you can to make sure each child's needs are met. Bring in family and friends to give you time along with each child.