Parenting is relentless. Parenting a neurodivergent child is a whole other level of intensity. Parenting a neurodivergent child while also being neurodivergent is just beyond words.
I have two daughters. One has sensory processing difficulties and is most likely on the autism spectrum, while the other is most likely neurotypical. The birth of my second child helped me realise how there was something else going on with my firstborn. Since birth, my first daughter nursed intensely throughout the days and nights. It was very difficult to wean her as a toddler. Even while I was pregnant with my second, or maybe because I was pregnant, she needed so much comfort through nursing. There were comments galore from well-meaning relatives, and many a raised eyebrow.
My second daughter self-weaned before she turned 18 months. She just wasn’t interested anymore. Even when I offered her my breast when she was upset, she pushed it away. I didn’t believe that was even possible!
There are the advantages to my first daughter’s sensory challenges. She learned how to use the potty from a young age because she hated the sensation of a soiled diaper.
There are the advantages to my first daughter’s sensory challenges. She learned how to use the potty from a young age because she hated the sensation of a soiled diaper. On the other hand, my second daughter is perfectly content to stand, sit and play in a soiled diaper. My eldest, with her sensitive sense of smell, is the first to tell me! My nose is almost numbed from all the diapers I’ve changed over the years.
After the age of two, there were times when my eldest daughter would wake up in the middle of the night and just scream at the top of her lungs. Nothing would soothe her. My husband and I would take turns holding her while she howled for up to an hour. She had no memory of any of this the following day. It was terrifying, frustrating, and mystifying. After she turned four, it stopped.
These night terrors rarely happened to my second daughter. The first time it happened, I was genuinely surprised. I had forgotten what it was like.
My eldest is five now. Now that she’s finally been diagnosed, we’ve been able to give her the support she needs.
My eldest is five now. Now that she’s finally been diagnosed, we’ve been able to give her the support she needs. Occupational therapy, a daily sensory diet and understanding her triggers has helped so much. Most of all, it helps so much to understand that she isn’t being difficult on purpose. She is just wired differently to most other children. She feels deeply, and is often overwhelmed.
And yet. I struggle. There is a part of me that clenches when I think of picking her up from preschool. I remember a time when she was younger and I failed to produce her favourite lollipop at pickup. She had a meltdown huge enough to cause the neighbours to stop and stare. My body remembers the rage and helplessness that flooded me when I simply did not understand why my daughter had that extreme reaction. Now I know better. She is exhausted from hours of masking at preschool. She unfurls with me. I am her safe space. Her rigidity, especially when she was younger, gives her extreme anxiety when things don’t work out the way she wants.
I try to exercise self-compassion when I think of how hard the past few years have been for all of us, as a family. And this touches upon a deeper wound. I was that ‘difficult’ child for my parents. Back then, there wasn’t as much awareness or education about neurodivergence. My parents did the best they could, with what they knew. That is precisely why I try so hard with my own children.
My daughter’s challenging behaviour is a signal for connection, and a sign that she needs help.
My daughter’s challenging behaviour is a signal for connection, and a sign that she needs help. She is just being a child, with a differently wired brain. Her wiring is not her fault. It’s not my fault. Her spiritedness as a five year old will serve her well when she is 15, 25, 35, and beyond. She has stretched me to tremendous heights of patience, compassion and creativity. I’ve learned to meditate, to make space for big feelings, and to forgive myself for messing up.
I feel guilty sometimes, when I relax in the company of my second girl. She is easier. Cheerful. Her temperament is so much like my husband’s. Both my younger daughter and my husband are calm, content in their own space, and so easily pleased. She loves cuddles, eats a wide variety of food and can play independently while I’m doing my own thing. My eldest daughter’s sensory challenges cause her to be very particular about the kinds of food she eats, her anxiety makes her hate being alone, and her tactile sensitivities make cuddling her a rare occurrence. She is also fiercely protective, loyal, and knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to express it. In other words, she’s very similar to me.
I feel guilty sometimes, when I relax in the company of my second girl.
Accepting my neurodivergent daughter mirrors accepting my own self. She is, in so many ways, the little differently wired girl I once was. I was not permitted to express how I felt, and I didn’t feel safe and accepted at home. This time, I’m able to be the parent I wish I had. I make space for my feelings of guilt over sometimes preferring the company of my younger daughter. Now that she’s hit her 'terrible twos', she’s starting to have her own meltdowns too. Nowhere near as intense as her older sister’s, but still. I cherish the good days and moments with my oldest daughter and look forward to many more to come. Hopefully, with less meltdowns in between.
The author has used a pseudonym.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.
If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.
SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.