Is Your Child
Neurodivergent?

5 signs to look out for so you can support them best!

by | Mar 8, 2024 | Kids and parenting

A thought cloud with a castle in front of a rainbow

5 years ago, one of my bonus kids was struggling in school. His parents got him to see a school psychologist. The verdict: probably autism. I remember my response to my partner telling me about this. “Autism? That’s ridiculous. He isn’t autistic. He’s super social and empathetic. Besides, he’s exactly like I was that age. That’s not autism!”

Then, I started reading on neurodivergence. Autism, ADHD, giftedness… And although I’m still not thrilled with the labels, I recognize their value and… I recognize the ones I have. In hindsight, it’s glaringly obvious.

I used to be a peculiar child. It’s remarkable how a kid can instantly become an outsider, and I have been one in every school I’ve been in. I didn’t understand social norms and as a teen couldn’t care less about make-up and fashion. Instead, I spent my primary school breaks reading, and throughout high school, I played chess. I was chaotic and awkward, but not quite problematic. So the label I got was just that: weird.

Understanding your (kid’s) brain helps

Now, I know I am the way I am because of my brain wiring. I know chess meets both my dopamine craving and my need for structure. I know it’s okay that I struggle being on time and end up forgetting stuff. Diving into the wide spectrum of neurodivergence (most commonly known for the labels autism and ADHD) has helped me understand why I am the way I am.

Once you know you’re wired differently, you can start shaping your own world in a way that fits with your needs. For me, running my own business is meeting my craving for novelty. No longer socializing with people who want me to be “normal” has been a huge help for my confidence.

Signs of neurodivergence

If you’re parenting a kid, here are some tell-tale signs your kid might be wired differently/neurodivergent/neurospicy/a hyperlinker.

  1. Your kid questions social conventions.
    Yes, all kids ask questions. Why do planes fly and people don’t? Why are veggies healthier than pizza? And why can’t they have more screen time? But kids who are wired differently might question why it’s polite to smile when greeting someone, or correct their teacher when they feel the teacher has made a mistake.
  2. Your kid has specific hobbies or passions, different from most other kids their age. And again, sure, every kid is unique (in the end, technically every single one of us is wired differently), but there are some trends. These trends are often gendered and/or culturally enforced. Like girls playing with dolls and caring about make-up, and boys enjoying cars and sports. Meanwhile, neurodivergent kids often enjoy hobbies unrelated to whether that’s accepted. So your kid might be all into Egypt, rocks or something entirely obscure. The interest might be all-consuming, or your kid might have a different passion every week.
  3. Your kid gets in trouble with authority.
    See, it’s not that neurospicy kids don’t accept authority. Authority just works differently for them. First of all, they don’t base authority on position or age. So they won’t automatically take someone’s word for it, just because this person is an adult, or even a teacher. The person will have to prove themselves as knowledgeable to be seen as an authority. Even then, neurodivergent kids tend to ask tons of questions. This isn’t because they don’t respect authority, it’s because they want to understand why things are the way they are.
  4. Your kid might struggle with imposed rules.
    Okay, so you know how many people say autistic kids need structure? Here’s what I’ve noticed about neurodivergent folks – kids and adults alike. We are very attached to our mental models of the world. We pay more attention to what’s going on in our heads – ranging from cool new ideas to crippling overthinking – than the outside world. What’s more, we use our mental models to make sense of the outside world. So in order for us to actually follow rules, we need to internalize those rules first. They need to make sense in our model of the world. If they don’t… well, we might try to follow rules, but it won’t be easy.
  5. Your kid might dress differently from their peers. Again, this is because neurodivergent kids don’t intuitively care about social conventions. So they might choose clothing that fits them. In more ways than one.

Understanding the (lack of) signs

A few parting tips for working with the above signs.

First of all, most signs are most noticeable in young kids. That’s because kids care about being loved and accepted. As a kid grows older, they might learn to hide parts of themselves in order to fit in. That’s not them overcoming their neurodivergence. It’s called “masking” and it’s much like to gay people pretending they are straight to avoid being shunned. So if you think “my kid used to do this, but not anymore”, you might want to dive deeper into the world of neurodivergence.

Second, neurodivergence is (at least partly) genetic. So if you’re reading this and, like me, your initial response is “that’s not neurodivergence, I do this too”, have I got news for you…

Finally, neurodivergence doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your kid. I often compare it to being right-handed vs being left-handed. Being left-handed in a world designed for right-handed people certainly is hard. You’ll have to work much harder to perform at even a similar level. Even though you’d do perfectly great in a left-handed world. Likewise, being neurospicy is just being… different from who the world is designed for. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with your kid. It certainly doesn’t mean your kid needs fixing. Or that your kid can’t thrive.

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