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Parenting a neuro-divergent child from infancy to teenhood

Parenting a neuro-divergent child from infancy to teenhood

Understanding the journey of a mother as a caregiver
happy child
Representational image | Shutterstock

Brilliant audio-visual memory, friendly interactions with peers, and love for the outdoors are some of the unique traits of Samarth, a Bengaluru-based teenager. Recently, he ran in a marathon.  

That would read like a routine description of an adolescent if the boy were not a neuro-divergent child diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and mild autism.  

“Neurodiversity, or ND, refers to differences in a person’s brain and cognition, for instance in the person’s atypical sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions.” 

“I did not know about ADHD and had to read about it,” says Samarth’s mother Arti R. From not knowing about neurodivergence to being his support system at every step, Arti has come a long way. Here is an account of their journey through the mother’s eyes, as she shares it with Happiest Health. 

Overcoming obstacles, nurturing support 

During Samarth’s early childhood, Arti recalls, she would often wonder `why me’.  For him, she had to do things differently than other parents. For instance, “I was the only parent running along with my son during a race.”  

“One of the initial signs that I observed in Samarth was delayed speech, It was my main concern, because he stopped talking altogether after his second birthday, leaving all of us shocked and worried,” says Arti.  

Samarth was enrolled for sessions with a speech therapist. Arti breathed a sigh of relief only after he started showing progress because of the sessions. 

“My husband has always been my pillar of strength, without whom my journey with Samarth would have been impossible,” she says. The other heartening aspect was that her parents accepted Samarth’s situation and fully supported Arti in all her efforts for the child.  

Acceptance [of the condition]  is the key aspect [in any therapy] and everybody in the child’s family should give unconditional care and love to [a suffering] child,” says Dr Sugami Ramesh, clinical psychologist and Senior Consultant, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru.  

Samarth’s teachers also played a vital role in guiding him. His kindergarten teacher, Beena Ravi, is credited with going the extra mile to support Samarth. She identified early that Samarth had trouble sitting in one place and could not follow instructions. “I used to play with him extensively to keep him engaged,” she says adding that he was a vibrant child and fun to teach.  

Teachers in his subsequent classes also observed a gradual progress in him: from having concentration issues and not sitting for long durations to attending classes till 5 p.m. at present.  

“But the challenges keep changing along with his growth,” says Arti.  

A more aware teenager now, Samarth poses a different set of issues. For instance, he now asks her why he is different from the rest.  

Challenges of social interaction 

Arti says she has always ensured that Samarth has routine social interactions. “Perhaps our shift to a gated apartment complex helped him because his social interactions with his peers are quite promising now,” she says. Samarth enjoys the outdoors, activities like playing games and skating.  

There were also awkward situations in public; other people would question Arti about Samarth and make comparisons. “I did not bother about comparisons because all I wanted to ensure was my son’s holistic growth and happiness by being patient with him,” says Arti.  

Advice to parents 

Dr H Chandrashekar, professor and Head of the Department at East Point College of Medical Sciences and former professor and Head, Department of Psychiatry, Bangalore Medical College and Research Institute (BMCRI), concurs with Arti. He feels that parents should have lots of patience, and not worry about competition with the outside world.  

Language development, social interaction, and stimulation levels are the key indicators of autism and neuro-divergence. He says parents should wait for their child to reach three years of age and then consult a paediatrician if they spot any prominent signs. “Enjoy the time with your children, instead of worrying, because the developmental milestones vary from child to child,” he says.  

About mental health of caregivers, Dr Ramesh states that the parents as caregivers should take care of their health and follow a regular routine. They should be able to express their feelings in support groups to prevent burnout. They should always remember that the diagnosis is not their fault or the child’s fault and they should be there for their child. 

She further adds, “Parents should be updated about latest aspects and news on autism. They should get involved in all the activities of the child and keep their eyes open and learn to do their best to help their child.” 

Having learnt a lot from Samarth’s journey, Arti wishes to spread awareness about neurodivergence. She has a message for parents of other children like Samarth. “Be patient with your child and facilitate early intervention upon diagnosis,” she says. Providing enough stimulation for children and giving them sufficient attention are vital to ensure a happy childhood for neurodivergent children. 

A ray of hope  

“Samarth will have a bright future, and his varied interests will keep him motivated,” says Arti confidently, immensely proud of her son. The recent marathon has brought the mother and son special joy: from requiring her to run in a race with her young son to see him participate independently in a race means a lot to them. 

Support system, backbone, motivator – Arti has played all critical roles in hand holding Samarth and ensuring that he navigates the milestones of life. She sees herself as constant cheerleader in his life.  

Key indicators of autism and ADHD

Delayed speech and language development with poor social interaction, little eye contact, sensitivity to noise, inability to concentrate, low motor skills.

When to act

* Wait until your child reaches the age of three years; then consult a pediatrician if you spot any prominent signs.
* After a professional diagnosis, parents should be patient, accept their children for what they are; and not worry about competition with other children or public opinion.
* Parents as caretaker should take care of their health and follow a regular routine. They should be able to express their feelings and not become burnouts. Also, they should not suppress their emotions but instead, share their experiences with support groups. They should feel free to express emotions.
* Parents should keep themselves updated of latest news about autism. They should get involved in all activities of the child; be alert, learn new ways and do their best to help the child.

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