Growing Up Neurodiverse: What Young Adults Want You to Know

By Giulia Travostino
July 12, 2023

In Learnfully’s latest webinar, “Growing up Neurodiverse: What young adults want you to know,” we discussed in and out-of-school supports, our struggles, and our successes working within various institutions. 

As a neurodivergent adult, I appreciate being given a platform where we are not only listened to, but viewed as experts. Not only do neurodivergent folks get silenced in conversations about them, but when we are given a platform, our knowledge about our own experiences is not valued. Having the space to speak about our experiences is an incredible testament to the strength of neurodiverse families. Our voices are beginning to be heard and respected. 

The full webinar can be viewed here:

Furthering the Conversation

What does socio-emotional support for young neurodiverse people look like?

Giulia: In my experience, developing metacognition, or the ability for your child to identify their own emotions, is essential in providing emotional support. By practicing identifying emotions (through conversation, art, journaling, etc.), your child will be able to better understand their frustrations, and grow towards articulating their needs. 

Sheila:  Being very intentional on specific SEL skills.  Do research and determine an area you want to work on based on your student’s struggles.  Find some activities and strategies that make sense for your family and your student. Provide honest and open feedback to your child along with modeling and discussions about real life situations you have been in or seen.  

How can I find a therapist that can support my child?

Giulia: Finding a therapist is often a trial and error process. A way to streamline this is to specifically search for a therapist who is skilled and experienced with neurodiversity. If there is not much information about the therapist online, try to call the office and ask them directly to see if they have what you are looking for. Starting a therapy relationship with clear communication is the best way to find a good fit and ensure that the person working with your child is well-equipped to support their specific needs. 

Sheila:  Recognize that your child has a voice in the process.  They can tell you either verbally or non-verbally when they are connecting with someone.  When my son was seeing a therapist he was open and honest with me about things they talked about.  I could tell by the way he talked about her that they had a genuine connection and had built a trusting relationship.

How can I get teachers to recognize my child’s disability?

Sheila:  You will always have to be your student’s advocate.  Do not assume the teachers have experience or knowledge of how to best teach your student.  Do your own research and/or hire an advocate to help you navigate your rights and the accommodations that your student needs.  Call a meeting early in the year to talk about your child and the ways they learn best.  Connect with your student’s teacher throughout the year in formal and informal ways to keep track of small wins and build on them as a team.

How can I support my child who is performing well academically but struggling socio-emotionally?

Sheila:  Set small goals for your child that are in alignment with challenges they are having.  Talk to them about ways they would like to improve their social skills and relationships.  Model behaviors and discuss frustrations you have in your own life and how you have resolved them.  Use games and fun activities to practice the skills with family then help them transition their new learning to friends and peers. Talk to your child about expectations and non-negotiable behaviors.  Ensure you are modeling these expectations yourself. 

How can I advocate for my learner without damaging my relationship with the school?

Sheila:  Create a two way communication line by supporting the teacher, offering to help in the classroom and listening to their expert advice.  If you disagree with something they are telling you, ask to observe in the classroom.  It will give you insight into some behaviors you might not see at home.  If it feels like the teacher isn’t open to your concerns, ask for another educator or administrator to give ideas and feedback into some accommodations or opportunities for learning.  Don’t demand accommodations or modifications that aren’t necessary or helpful to your learner.  Just because something is listed in a report doesn’t mean it is needed.  Ask your child what things help them learn and make those your priority.  Include your student in the meetings so the teacher can hear their perspective.  Remember it takes a village to raise a child, so ensure your school and teacher are part of the village!

What is task initiation?

Giulia: Task initiation is the ability to start tasks independently. Neurodiverse learners often struggle with this, as the tasks might seem overwhelming for various reasons. When this is the case, learners may find themselves unable to start a task their peers engage in without many challenges. They may also experience choice paralysis, which occurs when one is unable to initiate a task due to the variety of options available. Not being able to see a clear path toward completing the task can create blocks. To assist with this, I always have my students break down overwhelming assignments into specific steps. For example, it is much easier to get started on a task such as “set aside clothes that need to be washed” versus a broader task such as “clean your room.” In a learning context, this can look like a detailed essay outline or a step by step to-do list for a complex project. Long story short, just try to make starting tasks easier to approach–whether it be a straw in a water bottle or a filled planner, beginning to overcome task initiation barriers is entirely possible.

“It is much easier to get started on a task such as ‘set aside clothes that need to be washed’ versus a broader task such as ‘clean your room.'”

Giulia Travostino

Tips for encouraging flexibility?

Giulia: I believe that flexibility and task initiation are dependent on each other! Flexibility is a common challenge for neurodiverse children, as we sometimes rely on rigid systems to carry us through unexpected events and new challenges. Changing a system is a lot of emotional work and processing, so ensuring that your child is aware of why they need to change a system or procedure can be helpful. For example, if they are switching to a virtual planner, explain the benefits and let them know that you will assist them with adapting to it until they are ready to proceed independently. The task of changing rigid ways will be easier to initiate if they are knowledgeable about the change, its importance, and your support. 

What is an IEP? What is an IEP meeting and how can I best prepare?

An IEP is an individualized education plan created for a student who needs specialized services to find learning success. For more on how to prepare and what to expect check out this overview of the IEP process.

Additional articles:

If You Have Neurodivergent Kids, Calls from School are Inevitable–Here’s How to Handle Them

10 Things I wish I knew as a neurodiverse parent

Our Favorite Neurodiverse Black Influencers

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