A MOTHER'S THOUGHTS ON THE POWER OF NEURODIVERSITY AND POSITIVE PARENTING
Language holds power. We see this every day on our social media feeds, whether it’s a viral tweet or a meme on Instagram that resonates perfectly with our current mood. This is why I was so captivated by the term “neurodiversity”.
Neurodiversity is a scientific concept positing that brain and learning differences, such as Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, etc., are biologically normal or mainstream. It presents the challenges that accompany neurodiversity as differences rather than deficits. For me, this was a major revelation. This one word conveyed to me that there was nothing “wrong” with my brain; it was simply different – and that was perfectly okay. Different is normal, not erroneous, not broken, and not in need of fixing. I can work with different.
As a mother of two neurodivergent children, it was essential that my boys grew up feeling the same sense of pride about their brain differences. It was not enough for me alone to feel this way. After all, why should they perceive themselves as broken when they are not? Their brains can accomplish remarkable things. They perceive the world differently. Given the many strengths in brain differences, I wanted them to recognize these strengths within themselves and nurture them. The challenge, as a mother, was figuring out how to accomplish this.
Like many parents, I turned to stories – I turned to books when seeking ways to educate my children. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that there weren’t many picture books showcasing neurodivergent characters. (To be clear, there are some incredible stories out there, but they are significantly outnumbered.) I sought books that could reflect my children’s experiences – wearing headphones, chewing gum, playing with fidget toys, and finding comfort in routines and schedules. I aimed to provide these relatable depictions to normalize their experiences, allowing them to see characters just like them in picture books. I wanted them to understand that their experiences, while different, were also normal.
I never initially intended to be an author/illustrator, but I became one to fill a gap that I noticed. I created the Super Fun Day Books series to depict neurodivergent children facing challenges and overcoming them. My books are structured like social stories, a tool used in special education to help teach children about complex concepts. The illustrations in the books are intentionally simple to maintain focus on the story, and the font is dyslexic-friendly. All the books are also available as audiobooks to cater to all types of learners. (I happen to best consume books in audio format myself, and I’m so thankful for this technology).
There are days when my children are proud of their neurodiversity, and there are days, like all children, when they just want to fit in. I hope that my books assist other parents, educators, and therapists in supporting children so they have more days when they feel proud of their brain differences.
But it cannot be just about neurodivergent kids learning about themselves – neurodiversity should be understood by everyone, children and adults alike. Other children notice the headphones, the gum chewing, the weighted vests, and wobble seats. Books also provide a glimpse into someone else’s life, and I love hearing how my books initiate conversations among neurotypical kids about the differences they may observe in their neurodivergent peers. After all, as a mother, I can help change how my kids feel about themselves, but the world around them must also reinforce this positive message. It will take all of us to effect that kind of change.