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Radical Acceptance: Empowering Parents & Caregivers of Neurodivergent Kids and Teens

Parent

Kid

Teen

January 24, 2023

Parenting is hard work, and being a caregiver to a neurodivergent child or teen can come with its own set of unique challenges. In fact, it’s completely normal to regularly experience things like isolation, overwhelm, or confusion. 

But you know as well as we do that being a parent to a neurodivergent kid can also be incredibly rewarding, and worth celebrating too! And having the right intervention tools at your disposal can make all the difference. Luckily, research and mental health professionals have made tremendous strides in finding effective early clinical interventions, including the concept of radical acceptance. 

Our team of experts at Bend Health are specially trained to support families like yours across a range of needs, from everyday obstacles to more acute conditions. And we’re here to champion neurodiversity in all its forms, including diagnoses or symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), ADHD, and other related learning and behavioral differences. 

What is radical acceptance? 

Wouldn’t it be a relief to let go of how society tells us our child “should” learn or behave, and instead begin to focus on letting them be exactly who they are at every stage of life? In this ideal scenario, we could finally drop the labels and begin to focus on connecting and communicating with empathy and authenticity. 

Sounds pretty great, right? That’s where the concept of radical acceptance comes in. It’s a more resilient approach to parenting that helps relieve stress, increase quality time as a family, and create sustainable, lasting positive change in your home. It involves embracing life as it is, and making the decision to accept realities that cannot (or choose not to) change. 

Through radical acceptance, parents can begin to feel more empowered and confident thanks to tools that make everyday tasks easier, and strengthen the child/caregiver bond through high-quality interactions. 

5 realistic ways to incorporate radical acceptance into your life 

You’re probably thinking, okay, but how do I realistically begin to let go of preconceived ideas and incorporate radical acceptance into my hectic daily life? Here are a few ideas to get you started…

  1. Let meltdowns happen. We know how hard this one can be, but trust us that it’s highly effective. A fit, tantrum, or meltdown can throw your entire day off track, and it can be deeply painful to see your child highly dysregulated. So of course your first instinct is to give them the candy, turn on the television, or lose your cool — anything to MAKE IT STOP. But try to remember that this type of behavior is just another form of communication for them. And when we’re able to simply sit with our child through these inconvenient or uncomfortable moments with a level of acceptance, we’re actually giving them tools to move through complicated emotions. You can work with a coach to understand your triggers and to come up with a plan for when meltdowns happen. Maybe you tap into focused breathing or a mantra, and you model it for your child so that they can learn to develop their own coping techniques too.

  2. Check the comparisons. It’s tempting to compare our messiest moments to other parents’ highlight reels on social media, but it isn’t helpful and it isn’t true. All caregivers struggle sometimes, and simply seeing the perfectly curated versions of other people’s lives can quickly make us feel like we’re doing something wrong. When you notice yourself deep in comparisons, take a step back and connect with other parents in real life or talk to a mental health professional. You may also consider finding a support group for parents of neurodivergent kids or teens to connect with when you’re feeling isolated or overwhelmed.

  3. Celebrate individuality. Chances are there are things about your child that you have trouble fully relating to or understanding. Maybe they have a highly disorganized room or they insist on wearing the wildest outfits to school. Try to remember that you don’t have to personally “get it” to accept (and celebrate!) them for who they are. To build this habit, try noticing the little, unique things that make up their personality and praise them for it. For example, saying, “Wow, your outfit is so creative!” or “I admire how hard you worked on decorating your room.” Sincere praise will go a long way in building your child’s confidence, and will also help you to focus on and make space for their most wonderful qualities. 
  4. Practice accepting yourself. While it’s important to lift up our child, it’s also crucial to notice how we support and talk to ourselves as parents. When’s the last time you stopped to acknowledge what a phenomenal job you’re doing? Just by taking the time to read this article shows how much you care as a parent, and that deserves to be noted. When things get challenging at home, what is the dialogue like in your head? Are you putting unrealistic expectations on yourself? Are you saying things like, “You should be doing this better.” Try simply noticing that critical voice in your head when it pops up, and fully removing “should '' from your parenting vocabulary ( being a parent does not come with a manual!). Then, offer yourself a little compassion in the moment, like you would a friend who was struggling. Maybe try incorporating an affirmation like, “I am a good parent” or “I know this is hard, and I am doing my best right now.”
  5. Seek out support. When parenting feels too hard, remember that you don’t have to do it alone. Ask a co-parent for support when you need to cool off, arrange for another parent to host a playdate so that you can get some time to yourself, or reach out to a mental health professional to help you out. Bend Health has specialized care programs that are based on the DSM-5 TR classification of autism and target areas of need based on level of functioning (not age), resulting in optimal support for the entire family. We have appointments available right now! 

By taking steps towards radical acceptance, you can begin to focus on what you can control, rather than what you can’t. And by tapping into this therapeutic tool, you’ll be able to approach those inevitable “are you kidding me” parenting moments with more tolerance and less distress. So the next time you find yourself seeking perfection, try turning to a more gentle approach of radical acceptance and remember that the Bend Health team will be here for you when you need us.