Let the Neurodivergent Children Come to Me

Gentle parenting is one tool to train up children who have disabilities with love and wisdom.

As a toddler, my son would often lash out at other kids for no apparent reason, causing incidents at daycare, at home, and in the church nursery. At times, he would even hurt himself in his distress. After more than a year of trying to encourage the “right” behavior, I felt like this was more than age-appropriate tantrums.

We sought an evaluation, and our son received multiple diagnoses that confirmed he’s neurodivergent, a term that commonly encompasses brain-based differences such as ADHD, autism, learning difficulties, and more.

One way to consider how my son experiences the world is to think of his brain like a highly sensitive smoke detector. A typical smoke detector on your kitchen ceiling will alert you to a potential emergency in the room. However, one that is highly sensitive might alert you to a neighbor smoking a cigarette as he walks by your window on his way to the store.

My son’s nervous system makes him similarly sensitive. He’s hyper-attuned to potential threats in the world around him, and sometimes the most typical everyday interactions can become extremely distressing for him, even resulting in acute anxiety attacks.

As first-time parents, we did our best to follow conventional advice about establishing routines and maintaining authority. We disciplined him with consequences, withheld privileges, and rewarded any display of self-control. Any physical discipline only succeeded in making us seem like a threat and triggering his fight-or-flight response.

Traditional forms of discipline were not working, and my husband and I knew we needed to change the way we parented. Yet I still wondered if this was compatible with my faith. I could not escape the maxim “Spare the rod, spoil …

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