Neurodivergent Parenting: Struggles and Superpowers

Your unique way of processing the world brings with it challenges and rewards that color your parenting journey.

Emily Veno
July 14, 2023

Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community.

Imagine standing in front of a painting at a bustling art gallery, where everyone else seems to see a simple, abstract array of colors. But you - you see a complex tapestry of shapes, shades, and textures that tells a rich, intricate story. This unique perspective isn't wrong or deficient; it's simply different. This difference, in essence, is the heart of neurodivergence.

As a neurodivergent parent, you engage with the complex artwork that is life - and parenting - with a unique depth of understanding and a palette of experiences that are distinctively yours. If you are the parent of a neurodivergent child, you are likely drowning in guides, resources, and webinars providing support & advice for parenting neurodivergent kids. But there’s few parent’s guides to parenting while neurodivergent yourself.

How might your brain differences impact your ability to parent? How do you keep your nervous system regulated when parenting gets overwhelming? What does it look like when you have multiple neurodivergent people in your family, including caregivers and kids?

Prisma is a virtual school that specializes in serving families who march to the beat of their own drum and think about learning differently. It should come as no surprise that we have many neurodivergent kids and parents in our community. In this post, we’ll share some of the most common insights parents report in our virtual parent community, as well as resources and ideas from neurodiversity experts all over the internet.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a way of thinking about how people's brains work. This idea suggests that conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), mental health conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and even learning disabilities like dyslexia aren't problems that need to be fixed. Instead, they are just different ways that brains can function, and these differences are normal and valuable parts of human life.

According to this theory, ‘neurodivergent’ individuals, including those with conditions like ADHD, autism, or dyslexia, perceive and interact with the world in a way that diverges from the 'neurotypical' norm. This idea started to become popular in the late 1990s and encourages people to understand and accept these brain differences, rather than trying to change them.

This way of thinking is quite different from how people used to see brain differences. The old view, often called the medical or deficit model, treated these brain differences as problems that needed to be solved. But the idea of neurodiversity changes this. It says we shouldn't just focus on trying to 'cure' or reduce these differences. Instead, we should accept them as a normal part of human diversity. This means we should also recognize the unique strengths that can come with these differences.

This idea of neurodiversity can also be applied to parenting! Your unique way of processing the world brings with it challenges and rewards that color your parenting journey in unique hues.


Challenges of Neurodivergent Parenting

The Struggles of Self-Discovery

Our society’s growing understanding of neurodiversity means many parents are learning about the ways in which they’re differently wired alongside their children. Conditions like ADHD and autism are under-diagnosed in girls, meaning it’s especially common for mothers to only discover their diagnoses when their own child receives one. Receiving a late-in-life diagnosis can further influence your parenting experience. This new understanding of your neurodivergence can bring relief, but may also prompt you to reevaluate past parenting decisions and ponder their potential impact on your child (“Was that time I yelled and lost my temper a meltdown due to an unregulated nervous system?”).

Executive Functioning

Juggling responsibilities like work, childcare, and self-care can feel like a high-wire act, particularly if you have ADHD, or other conditions that impact executive functioning. Remembering school pick-up times, managing work deadlines, organizing the house - each task can feel like another plate to spin. Many neurodiverse people benefit from having a clear, structured routine and systems. Consider adopting one as a family and having regular meetings to refine the system, while also remembering that it’s okay to be a little disorganized as long as your child is fed, loved, and learning!

Sensory Challenges

Sensory overwhelm, which can affect many neurodivergent individuals, especially autistic people and those with sensory processing disorder, presents its own challenges. Kids are often loud, messy, and unpredictable, which can be challenging for neurodiverse parents to deal with. Everyday activities, like a trip to the supermarket or attending a school function, can trigger a sensory overload, demanding coping strategies to manage these situations.

Whitney Storey suggests that parents can intentionally learn about what sensory experiences stress & calm then, then “take the time to consider your tendencies, when you are over- or under-stimulated and plan ahead to provide the same kind of environment for yourself during times when you know things are likely to become difficult.”

Emotional Regulation

Many neurodivergent people struggle to handle big emotions, and stress can trigger outbursts, anxiety, or inappropriate reactions that can negatively impact your child. Emotional regulation can be an uphill battle for both you and your child (whether they’re neurodivergent or neurotypical), requiring proactive strategies during periods of high stress.

Practice being mindful and identifying how you are feeling in the present moment, and identify concrete strategies you can put into practice when you feel tough emotions creeping to the surface. Therapeutic techniques such as CBT and DBT can be extremely helpful in this process.

Family & Social Relationships

The dynamics of co-parenting and maintaining relationships can add another layer of complexity, as expressing your sensory needs or explaining your unique approach to problem-solving might be met with misunderstanding or confusion. And if your co-parent is also neurodivergent, that can compound these issues, while in an ideal world, also leading to greater understanding between you.

Social situations, too, come with their hurdles. Let's take a Parent-Teacher Association meeting. For an autistic parent, the expected small talk, the necessity to interpret non-verbal cues, and the need to conform to unwritten social norms can be quite challenging and draining. You might find yourself spending extra energy decoding these social expectations instead of focusing on the meeting's content.


Burnout is an unfortunate but common occurrence, given the constant navigation of neurotypical norms coupled with managing your own and your child's needs. Be sure you can recognize the signs of burnout and know how to prevent it and address it when it arises.

Superpowers of Neurodivergent Parents

However, within these challenges lie remarkable strengths:

Raising a Neurodivergent Child with Empathy

Neurodivergence often has a genetic component, increasing the likelihood of raising a child who is also neurodivergent. This shared experience can deepen the bond between you and your child, enabling you to anticipate their needs and create a comforting environment for them. Acceptance and appreciation of your child's unique traits come more naturally, fostering an environment where your child can unapologetically be themselves. Plus, you can model for them how you design your own life, manage your emotions & challenges, and accept your idiosyncrasies. They will learn by your example!

Your Wellness Strategies are Good for All Kids

As an autistic parent, you might naturally create a predictable environment for your child, anticipating their need for routine. Of course, this is great for a child with autism, but guess what? All kids benefit from structure and routine. Similarly, although neurodiverse kids may struggle more with emotional regulation, all kids need practice being mindful and handling their emotions productively. If you work hard to accept and manage your neurodiversity, you’ll be a pro at passing down these essential skills that even neurotypical kids desperately need.

Owning Your Weird through ‘Tilt Parenting’

Hopefully, you had wonderful parents who celebrated your unique interests, delighted in your silliness, and didn’t shame you for going against the norm. Sadly, many neurodivergent people grow up feeling ashamed of their quirks due to family or peer criticism. As a person who thinks differently yourself, you’ll be much less likely to react negatively to a child who marches to the beat of their own drum.

The concept of 'tilt parenting,' as introduced by Debbie Reber, encourages parents to lean into their unique differences, offering a supportive framework to navigate these complexities. Reber argues that instead of forcing themselves to fit into the neurotypical mold, neurodivergent families should design a life that works for them.

Many families at Prisma have done just that, breaking away from the traditional school system to pursue homeschooling, worldschooling, or virtual school that better fits their needs.

Resources to Explore

Sadly, while there is an abundance of resources for parenting neurodivergent children, there's a significant lack of support specifically for neurodivergent parents. Here are some resources to check out:

  1. Subreddits like r/AutisticParents, r/AspieMoms, r/parentingADHD, and r/neurodiversity
  2. Facebook Groups like Neurodivergent Parents Parenting, Autism Inclusivity, or Progressive Neurodivergent Parents Raising Neurodivergent Children
  3. Auteach (@auteach on Tiktok) offers resources for parents around honoring neurodiversity and supporting people with autism
  4. Podcasts, such as this episode of Your Parenting Mojo with Dr. Rahimeh Andalibian

Being a neurodivergent parent means navigating a unique path teeming with challenges, but it's also an opportunity to foster profound understanding and connection. By embracing your unique strengths, drawing on available resources, and adopting supportive approaches like tilt parenting, you're shaping a new narrative for parenting, demonstrating to your children that it's not only okay to be different, it's a strength worth embracing.

Join our community of families all over the world doing school differently.

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