Before they are born, most parents have visions about how their children might turn out one day, indulging these expectations even while they know parenthood comes with its challenges. Who has not had the thought that their child might become a famous sportsperson, musician, academic or artist? All over the world, parents look forward to raising their children and helping them develop their potential to the best of their ability.
However, often unexpected challenges arise, and the natural instinct then is for parents to try and ‘fix’ whatever they might perceive to be wrong. That, however, is a misguided approach when confronted with neurodiversity in children, which should be celebrated and supported instead of corrected, an educational and psychology expert says.
Dr Greg Pienaar, Educational Psychologist, academic and Principal at The Bridge School for Assisted Learning, says the concept of Neurodiversity is defined as “The range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population”.
“The idea is that we are not inferior because we can’t read as fast, or as well as others, or manipulate numbers well. We are just different. And we definitely don’t need to be ‘fixed’. Imagine if we felt that our child was broken because he or she wasn’t academically inclined, rather than supporting them and discovering that they were hugely creative and could draw or paint or run or jump or have a huge emotional EQ or are an amazingly ethical person or something else which we (as parents) weren’t expecting,” says Dr Pienaar.
“We are all very different and that’s what makes life and the world interesting. We have to encourage our children based on effort made, rather than any predisposition to greatness.”
Dr Pienaar says there are a number of common presentations of neurodiversity in children, which often cause concern or anxiety to parents. Below, he provides examples and approaches.
· ADD OR ADHD
A very common situation is that of concentration and focus issues (ADD or ADHD). How can we as parents help? Here are several possible solutions: Firstly, choose the correct school for your child – a school with smaller numbers in a class will definitely be of benefit, as well as teachers who are trained to assist and support a child with this barrier. Secondly, pharmacological intervention (especially if it is a serious situation) may be required, so it might be necessary to seek the advice of a respected Paediatric Neurologist, Paediatric Psychiatrist or Paediatrician.
· DYSLEXIA OR DYSCALCULIA
Dyslexia is where the child faces learning struggles related to words, and dyscalculia is where they struggle with numbers. Again, the first avenue would be to find the correct educational environment and support for children facing these particular challenges. Secondly, as Dyslexia is likely to exist for a lifetime, it would be essential to implement all strategies such as: explicit direct instruction in phonological and phonemic skills; consistent font style where necessary; building reliance and self-esteem; very little clutter in terms of work and workspace, acceptance that although Dyslexia is a learning barrier, it is not a solid blockage with all the related negativities.
Dyspraxia (also called developmental coordination disorder) relates to children who seem to be particularly ‘clumsy’ or possibly faced initial delays in sitting, walking, jumping or any physical activity which requires coordination.
It is very important here that parents should not “force” a child to practise and therefore become proficient. It is unlikely that a child with this barrier will completely master a world of physical ability. However, there is no doubt that with the correct interventions and support, a child will improve.
A challenge which has always been present, but is increasing globally, is the issue of anxiety particularly when it influences performance. The golden rule for parents of anxious children is to support them completely, and provide loving guidance at all times.
Anxious children have feelings of not knowing what to expect, and fearing the worst, which impacts on their self-actualisation. As parents we need to have and grow confidence in our children – letting them tackle progressively more difficult tasks, until they can achieve mastery or competency.
“As parents, we always hope that our children will get dealt a good hand of cards at the start of their lives from which to develop their abilities. There are however a wide range of neurodiversity challenges which impact a great number of children worldwide, which may initially prove to be a stumbling block in the eyes of parents,” says Dr Pienaar.
“However the key, when faced with neurodiversity in your own child, is not to consider this a problem, but rather to accept your child and their unique nature completely, and nurture and develop those unique gifts they possess.
“No matter who you are, there will be many things you can’t do in life. However, that doesn’t make you inferior, it just makes you different. We should recognise this and value our children so that they are able to value themselves. We must encourage them to be the best they can be – even if this is not exactly who we first imagined they might have been.”