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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

Parenting Neurodivergent Youth: Navigating Adulthood Transitions with Confidence

Calling all parents of neurodivergent youth! 🌟 In today’s episode Michelle unravels the unique challenges of guiding your child from adolescence into adulthood. Society's norms may not fit their journey, but CanGap has got your back! 

Michelle shares valuable insights and practical advice to empower you on this journey. Discover the support and understanding you've been seeking, as this episode is your roadmap to navigating the complexities with confidence and compassion. 

Topics Discussed

  1. Navigating Unique Challenges: We discuss the distinct challenges faced by parents of neurodivergent youth transitioning into adulthood, shedding light on the fears and uncertainties of this journey.

  2. Empowering Dialogue: It is so important to embrace open communication and understanding between parents and their neurodivergent children, fostering a supportive environment where needs and goals are openly discussed.

  3. Community Support: Explore the importance of building a network of caregivers of neurodivergent youth, offering mutual understanding, shared resources, and invaluable tips for navigating this phase of life.

  4. Celebrating Resilience: Celebrate the resilience and strengths of neurodiverse individuals, emphasising their worthiness of acceptance, happiness, and fulfillment in a world not always designed for them.

  5. Practical Advice: Gain practical advice and recommendations for supporting neurodivergent youth through the transition from adolescence to adulthood, empowering parents to advocate for their children's needs and aspirations.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Connect With The Canadian Gap Year Association


Today's episode is written for parents of neurodivergent youth who are transitioning from teenage from adolescence into adulthood and it speaks to the challenges that are unique to parents of neurodivergent kiddos because of the way that society has put neurodivergent kids at a disadvantage and built markers of success that don't necessarily apply to neurodivergent youth.

So if you are a parent of a neurodivergent kiddo, today's episode is all for you.

Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

Hey there and welcome to the gap year podcast my name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and gap year expert on today's show we're going to be talking about parenting a neurodivergent young person but before we even get started I think I have a really big concern or fear in releasing this episode that it will perhaps be misinterpreted or add more burden to the actual neurodiverse youth who might listen to this podcast.So I just want to make sure I provide the proper framing so that our widely diverse audience can really understand the context in which this episode is intended. So I want to acknowledge that all of the things I'm going to discuss here about parenting a neurodivergent youth are secondary to the actual lived experiences that our neurodiverse youth feel and are experiencing.

So I'm going to be speaking to the parenting side of things. The young person's reality may be very different. They might experience things to a greater degree or a lesser degree.And this episode is not to say that the caregiver experience is harder than the lived experience of the neurodivergent youth. It's just very, very different.We worry about different things, we experience this world from a different perspective as a parent. So if you are a neurodivergent youth, I'm going to be releasing another episode specifically for you.

But feel free to listen to this particular episode but what I really don't want you to do is I don't want you to internalize the challenges that parents feel as something that's your fault or your responsibility to address.

Parenting any teen is challenging but it's not the quote-unquote fault of the teen that it's challenging in the same way that the challenges expressed in this episode of parenting a neurodiverse youth isn't the quote-unquote fault of being neurodivergent. Does that make sense?

So I want you to, if you are a young person, proceed with caution. You may be interested, you may be curious. And if you can make that distinction between your experience and your parents experience without internalizing the challenges that parents experience, by all means, go ahead. If you're gonna find that difficult to do, I would encourage you to just hit stop on this episode and wait for the next episode to come out and pick us up right there.Cause I think it's really important that we protect ourselves and we know what we can and can't handle. So are we all good on that? All right, great.

Michelle Dittmer - 04:28

So this episode was actually inspired by Megan of an organisation called mothers together. She has a fabulous instagram and podcast and her handle is “On the Hard Days”, will link to it in the shownotes as always. She has done this phenomenal series, she has 75 different posts on it, called “Why mothers of neurodivergent kids are struggling” and I'm going to give you a moment of vulnerability here, I cry when I watch just about each and every one of them.

Now, while Megan and myself have younger neurodivergent kiddos, the power of naming what makes each stage hard can bring lots of relief when we have that awareness that we're not the only ones experiencing this. It truly validates us and our experiences and it can give us the strength to continue with all the love and patience It takes to raise a teen into adulthood. So I really want to take that idea that Megan has started with this series and I want to pay that forward.

Now like I said my youngest or my young kid is not necessarily a teenager so I'm not speaking to this from first-hand experience yet it will come one day but I have worked with dozens of parents and youth that are living this stage of life right now so I'm very familiar with the patterns that are showing up in these particular situations so I am not an expert in this field but I do think I can provide some valuable context here and I would encourage you, I'll get into it a little bit later, but to find other content creators that have this lived experience or are experiencing it right now. It can be very powerful to hear directly but here we are and I want to support you in the journey that you are on right now.

Michelle Dittmer - 06:45

So the universal truth is that parents want what is best for their kid. Period. Full stop. There's nothing more to that. Whether they're neurodivergent or neurotypical, parents want what is best for their kid.Now, not only do we want what's best for them, but we want to help them get the best of all the things. The best education, the best friendships, the best jobs, the best romantic partners and the challenge with best is that it's a really tricky word because society has this definition of best and it's kind of rooted in that American dream, this idea of money and success and popularity and bigger houses being better or being best and we can often get swept into this as kind of the penultimate goal of life is to achieve these things and that's the measure of best.

When we discover that we have a neurodivergent kid, best can still mean all those other things, but we broaden our definition to mean acceptance and happiness and being respected for their unique gifts and talents and finding their place in the world and finding a fulfilling place in the world. So like I said in the last podcast episode, now if you haven't listened to it, go back and take a listen about neurodivergent youth and gap years. Take a listen. But the world has been built for neurotypical people to excel.That's just a fact. It's the dominant brain type, the way of patterns of thinking, so it was designed for that particular profile to excel. And as parents of neurodivergent teens, we can look forward and we can use our lived experience in this neurotypical designed world And pair that with our profound knowledge of our kid. And we can foresee the challenges that lie ahead and those specific challenges to their neurodiversity.

Now, we have experienced this at all stages of life, from fitting in middle school to being identified and needing some unique support in high school. To perhaps concerns about consent and flirting in the dating world when social cues aren't being picked up on. But when most neurotypical kids are launching into independence and adulthood, we can see that our kids path is not quite as clear-cut.And when things are not clear cut, as parents, we want to step in and we want to be those bulldozer parents, the ones that are going to be the ones who clear cuts the obstacles or the barriers that exist. All those things that might cause our kid to feel pain or rejection because of their neurodiversity. And as parents with peers going through a similar stage of life with their neurotypical kids, we can see our friends stepping back from their parenting responsibility because the world at large knows how to support a neurotypical kid.

Their kid doesn't need the same levels of advocacy and support and accommodations. No one knows more about what your kid needs than you, you're their parent. Well, that's not entirely true. Your kid, they know what they need, but often neurodivergent traits prevent them from being the best advocates for their needs. Their teenage brain is also wired to prevent them from asking for supports because it will highlight how they're different and at this time of life fitting in is such an important component to that teenage brain.

It really is an ongoing dance really, figuring out when to let go and launch them or figuring out even if you can let go, if it's safe to release them out into the wild, to let them flee the nest. So we fear at the same time letting go and seeing the challenges that occur but we also fear not letting go and not allowing them to develop that sense of independence and that underlying fear as somebody who's always been there as the support and the provider of the things that they need, their advocate, This fear of if they remain dependent on me and something happens to me, what's going to happen to them?

As we all get older, as our kids get older, that can be a really strong fear that we hold. We want them to be successful even after we're long gone, which hopefully, fingers crossed, is going to be many, many decades from now. But it's still a thought that exists there and in this transition into adulthood, it can really bring that forward and put that at the forefront of our minds.

Now, while I don't have the answers to all of these fears and concerns and realities that you're going through as a parent, I hope that I can provide you with at least the reassurance that all of these feelings and experiences are shared amongst parents of neurodivergent youth.

You are not alone in this experience and I hope that brings you some comfort that this is not just you. It is not just your kid. It is not you as a parent judging themselves. This is a shared experience. 

Michelle Dittmer - 13:06 

All throughout our kids life their needs have grown and shifted and changed, sometimes daily, sometimes seasonally, sometimes alongside their developmental growth.Their needs are always changing and now that they're becoming adults we might start to lose touch with really understanding what their needs are.

And it's not because we're becoming worse parents, it's not because we're becoming lazy, it's because as they start to assert their independence, like all teenagers do, and as they start spending more time away from the family home, it can become harder to stay connected and stay in tune with all of those specific tells that we see from our young people about what they may need in that moment.

So it can be harder to know even what supports are needed and after they leave high school figuring out what supports are still available to them but most importantly figuring out what supports our kids actually want. Losing touch or losing quote-unquote control of this doesn't make you a bad parent. This transfer of responsibility from advocacy to self-advocacy and awareness that we hold as a parent to self-awareness that they're going to own, it's a very bumpy transition. And it just has to be one of those natural transitions, one of those natural shifts in life. And it's not going to be easy but we've got to just learn to roll with that a little bit.We can feel grief about some of the increased challenges that our young people are going to experience compared to their neurotypical peers. Or we can fear that they may never find success or happiness. It's not true, these neurodiverse kids are already successful, they're already navigating a world that wasn't designed for them and they are growing and learning every day about how they can thrive.

Sometimes unfortunately that's through painful lessons. Sometimes it's amazing discoveries about themselves or fantastic friendships that develop. But there is a hopeful path forward. And as always, it might not look like the same thing as their peers. Success might look different, but it is all possible. And this is really important. It is not less than a neurotypical person. It just might look different and that is okay. But all of this is not easy. By no definition of easy is this easy.

So what I've done is I've put together a few recommendations for you to try out as you work through this transition from teenager to adulthood and parenting through that transition.Michelle Dittmer - 16:26

So first and foremost, I want you for yourself, for your personal mental health, for your circle of care, I want you to connect with other caregivers of neurodivergent youth at the same age and stage. This mutual understanding, the sharing of resources, of tips, of tricks, of techniques, of specialists, whatever it is, This group of people where you don't have to explain all of the jargon that goes along with the neurodivergent lifestyle, this is a powerful community to find.

Or if you can't find it, create one. There are people in your neighborhood that would really benefit from this. Now somewhere to start might be the Mother's Together community that inspired this podcast episode. Also the Neurodivergent Mom is another creator who also has a community and she is Canadian and we'll talk about her in a second. But finding that circle, that place where you are understood as a parent and as a parent of a neurodiverse young adult Is a really great thing to do to take care of your mental health and to be able to find community amongst that is very powerful.Now something that you may not have considered but I have found so helpful is encouraging. I want to encourage you to follow neurodiverse content creators. I want you to follow Teens that are the same age as your kid, I want you to follow young adults that are just a step beyond and I want you to follow 30 year old, 40 year old folks who are neurodivergent. I think this really gives us all wonderful insight to what a life with a neurodiverse profile can actually look like. A list of keywords that may occur during the meeting are profile.

I'm going to recommend a couple of folks that I really enjoy and I have on all of my accounts. So I mentioned just a second ago the Neurodiversity Mom. Again, we'll link all of these accounts in the show notes. She is the one who has a community, is Canadian, she also has a really cool clothing line, that is supporting neurodivergent awareness, and she is a late diagnosed autistic, ADHD I believe, and she talks about her life and her little who has been diagnosed as neurodivergent, the neurodiversity mom.

Next up on my list of folks that I think you should follow is a young 22 year old autistic ADHD-er who has low support needs and shares a lot about her experience and her handle is Morgan Foley, again, linked in the show notes. Really, really transparent with what's going on with her and I find it so insightful to understand some of the brain patterns, the thought patterns about what's going on.

Next, Autistic Thrifter is a late diagnosed autistic woman. Her posts are very informative and very vulnerable and gives us a really great insight to that. 

Moving into a little bit of an older account, I really enjoy ADHD underscore love underscore.

This is a couple from the UK and it's a little tongue in cheek. It's a little bit funny.  They definitely dramatize versions of real life situations and the account is hosted by a neurotypical husband. And a wife with ADHD. And I think it's a really great account to follow and see how some of these things present later in life.An older person to follow, his handle is Digital Stem Cell. He is a phenomenal black man, he's a black father, he's a speaker, he's an author and he has an AU-DHD diagnosis and speaks very, very candidly, I guess is probably the best word about his experiences and some of the superpowers he has in the community of fellow neurodivergence that then make up his Life. So really great account to follow.

And I'm going to jump back actually to one other account. I forgot to include a male content creator. This is Thomas Henley, his handle is thomashenleyuk. He posts a lot of content on fitness and self-improvement through an autistic lens.

So again those are some really great ones and also don't forget to follow Megan who I mentioned at the beginning of this episode who is on the hard days as her handle. Again all of these folks will be listed In the show notes, but I just wanted to give you a couple to take a look at and to follow because it might be helpful for you as you are understanding this journey a little bit.

Michelle Dittmer - 22:46 

Now my last recommendation here is 100% not to be overlooked and is so central to this experience for your young person. You need to talk openly with your kids. You need to be open to learning about what they are experiencing at this stage in their life, learn about what fears they have, what goals they have for their adult life, and don't assume that these fears and goals are the same as your own. Figuring out with their, from their own words, from their own brains what these things are, Can help you figure out how to help them achieve those goals or how to overcome those fears or how to just exist with those fears and know what those triggers might be for them or when they call you crying on the phone do you know what that trigger might have been.

So having these really vulnerable open conversations with your young person so helpful. You should also be asking them what type of support they want and where they want to get that support from. So definitely you, you are there to support them but as a parent and at the stage of asserting independence they may not necessarily want you to be that primary support for everything.

But figuring out how they're gonna perhaps tap into their peers or tap into other professionals in their lives. Maybe they're therapists or they're counselors, teachers. Looking at their school, what sort of supports exist from the disability or student success center or the disability center? Check out those resources and see what's there. 

All of these things really come down to the fact that raising a teen and supporting an adult, it's all about this community of care. And you need to be okay with that community of care might not be just you like it was when they were much younger. They are taking on that independence and they are broadening that circle of care which is a very healthy place to be. 

Michelle Dittmer - 25:16

 I think in these conversations also really coming together and understanding what success looks like. So what are those goals? But what does success look like?How do you know you're going to be living your best life? What are the things that are important to you? And when I say you, I mean the child. And really having that shared understanding of where we're heading, what are we striving for? Because without that knowledge we might be striving for something that's not actually the direction that they want to be heading. So that shared understanding of what success looks like can be very helpful. But what can you do at this stage in life to help with that transition?Really, at this stage when they are pushing away from that central family unit, you need to help empower your young person To own their needs, to not be shy about their needs. This is just a fact of life. This is who they are. This is how their brain works. The world is not set up for people whose brain works like this.

So you need, you deserve, you should be granted those supports so that you can be successful. So really having them own those needs, but not only own them, but also advocate for what they need.Help them to get the language and get the confidence to be able to step in and say, no, I actually need this additional support or that's not going to work for me because X, Y and Z, this is actually what's going to be beneficial to me. And teaching them how to showcase their strengths and not coming at this completely from a deficit perspective, but really pumping up those strengths and identifying ways that they can leverage those strengths as they experience new things as an older teen or an early adult.

Michelle Dittmer - 27:25

Now parenting is 100% no joke. It's a big job, a big responsibility and it's something you've been practicing for 18 years maybe and you probably feel like you have not even mastered it yet even after 18 years and I think the truth is that you never really can master parenting.But I want you to give yourself a big hug or a big huge pat on the back because you have raised an amazing kid. You have shown them love and acceptance and modeled a world that you want them to find for themselves in this next chapter of their life. You've shown them what is possible, what they deserve and what they should be looking for.Whether that's in a romantic partner, in friendships, in a safe environment to work in, in friendship groups that they develop, in a place where they can unmask and be 100% themselves, you've shown them what's possible. And now they know that that's possible and they are gonna have to work to get there. And I think that may be the greatest gift that you can give your kid At this stage in their life, just showing them what it means to be worthy of all of these amazing things.

So reinforce that they are worthy, they're worthy of safety and they're worthy of happiness and fulfillment and love. So you're still mom or dad or whatever other caregiving identity that you have to that young person and your relationship will continue to evolve. But please, if nothing else, I want you to leave this podcast feeling proud of the work that you've done and quite frankly, the work that your kid has done in developing and reaching this monumental phase in a way that feels good to you and to them.

I also want you to walk away from this feeling hopeful for the next steps for their future. Because while the world wasn't created for them, we are making leaps and bounds in understanding how our young people still lead fulfilling, meaningful, purposeful, happy lives.And I think that is something If the future of your child includes a gap year, pivot it back to the gap year. But seriously, if a gap year does make sense for your young person, please make sure to get on the list for all of our neurodivergent resources that we are developing and the programs that we're working on bringing you.

The link is in the show notes, so please get yourself signed up for that. Or as always, of course, you can book a call with our team, more than happy to walk you through what a gap year might look like in that transition period from adolescence into adulthood. We are not done with talking about neurodivergence, so stay tuned for our other upcoming podcasts for more information.

And my friends, as always, just keep on adventuring.

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