Positively Parenting your Neurodivergent Child

Positive psychology offers parents of children with ADHD, autism and other neurodiverse challenges a toolkit for a thriving home and school environment. By integrating positive psychology principles into their parenting journey, parents can create a positive and fulfilling experience for themselves and their child.

Zeena Hicks

6/14/20237 min read


As a parent of two school-age neurodiverse children with dyslexia and ADHD (and potential ASD, although I stopped labelling them after ADHD!), I know first-hand the effects of approaching parenting with positivity, warmth, and consistency. It also helps that I am a positive psychologist, so I have a fairly broad toolkit at my disposal to dive into during those challenging times. This week’s blog centres around supporting neurodivergent young people in and outside the school environment and offers tips to positively parent in the good and not-so-great times.

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a term that describes the natural variations in human brain function and behaviour (1). It was coined back in the late 90s to recognise that no two brains are the same and that people experience and interact with the world in different ways. Ordinarily, these differences refer to all the human population, but the concept of neurodiversity is more commonly associated with a range of neurodevelopmental differences such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD and dyslexia, among others (2). This concept has helped reduce stigma around learning and thinking differences and promotes the idea that everyone has unique strengths and abilities (3).

What is Positive Psychology?

Positive psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on understanding and promoting wellbeing, happiness, and optimal human functioning. It shifts the traditional emphasis on pathology and mental illness to a more proactive approach that highlights strengths, positive emotions, resilience, and personal growth (4).

Positive Psychology Benefits for Parents

Positive psychology has a multitude of benefits for all parents. These include:

A Focus on Strengths: Positive psychology encourages parents to identify and grow their own strengths, as well as those of their children. By recognising and building upon their strengths, parents can enhance their wellbeing, increase patience and parenting efficacy, and build an overall positive atmosphere in the family.

Promotes Positive Parent-Child Relationships: Positive psychology emphasises the importance of positive parent-child interactions. It helps parents to recognise the different lenses in which adults and children see the world. This encourages parents to establish sustainable, warm, supportive, and nurturing relationships with their children, fostering emotional connection and mutual understanding.

Enhances Resilience: Parenting can be challenging, and positive psychology provides tools to enhance resilience. It helps parents develop coping strategies, manage stress effectively, and bounce back from difficulties. This resilience enables parents to handle parenting challenges with greater ease and maintain a positive mindset.

Encourages Mindfulness and Presence: Positive psychology highlights the value of being present and mindful in the parenting journey. It enables parents to savour joyful moments, practice gratitude, and foster a sense of appreciation for the small joys of parenting. This mindfulness supports a more positive and meaningful parenting experience.

Emphasises Positive Emotions: Positive psychology focuses on promoting positive emotions, such as joy, love, gratitude, and kindness. By understanding the impact of hidden stresses and intentionally nurturing positive emotions in their parenting practices, parents can create a loving and nurturing environment for their children, which promotes their wellbeing and overall positive development.

Strengthens Parental Self-Care: Positive psychology highlights the importance of self-care for parents. It encourages parents to prioritise their own wellbeing and engage in self-care activities. By taking care of their own physical, emotional, and mental health, parents can show up as their ‘best selves’ and be more effective in caring for their children.

Promotes Growth Mindset: Positive psychology embraces a growth mindset, which emphasises the belief that abilities can be developed through effort, learning, and practice. This mindset encourages parents to view challenges as opportunities for growth and learning, supporting their own personal development and modelling a positive approach to their children.

Understanding Your Neurodivergent Child

Raising a neurodivergent child can be a journey filled with both joys and challenges. As parents, it is essential to understand and appreciate the unique strengths and challenges that your child may encounter at home and in school. By embracing their individuality and providing the necessary support, you can empower your child to thrive and reach their full potential (5). Let's explore some of the strengths and challenges that neurodivergent children may exhibit in these environments.

Strengths at Home: Neurodivergent children often possess a diverse range of strengths that make them remarkable individuals. They might display exceptional focus and intense interests, allowing them to delve deeply into subjects that captivate their curiosity. Their unique perspectives and out-of-the-box thinking can foster creativity and problem-solving skills that surprise and inspire those around them. Neurodivergent children often exhibit deep empathy and compassion, enabling them to connect deeply with others and offer a fresh outlook on the world. Celebrating and nurturing these strengths at home provides a solid foundation for their overall development.

Challenges at Home: While neurodivergent children bring extraordinary strengths, they also face unique challenges within the home environment. Sensory sensitivities might make certain sounds, textures, or environments overwhelming and distressing for them. Establishing a sensory-friendly home environment with quiet spaces or using sensory tools can help alleviate these challenges. Communication difficulties can also present hurdles, as some neurodivergent children may struggle with expressive language or understanding social cues. Encouraging open and patient communication while providing visual supports or alternative communication methods can help bridge these gaps.

Strengths in School: In the school setting, neurodivergent children often exhibit remarkable talents and abilities. Their intense focus and attention to detail may lead to exceptional performance in specific subjects such as math, science, or creative arts. Their divergent thinking and unique problem-solving skills can contribute fresh perspectives to group projects and classroom discussions. Additionally, their strong memory and pattern recognition abilities may result in impressive academic achievements. Recognising and encouraging these strengths can foster a sense of accomplishment and motivation in their educational journey.

Challenges in School: Neurodivergent children may face certain challenges within the school environment. Difficulties with executive functioning skills, such as organising tasks, managing time, or transitioning between activities, can impact their academic performance. Providing visual schedules, breaking tasks into smaller steps, and offering clear instructions and expectations can support their executive functioning. Social interactions and communication can be complex, leading to potential challenges in forming friendships and understanding social nuances. Implementing social skills training, fostering inclusive environments, and promoting peer understanding can help navigate these challenges.

Positively Parenting Your Neurodivergent Child

Positive parenting becomes even more important for parents with neurodivergent children, as often they can have a higher-than-average need for undivided attention, reassurance, acceptance and visible unconditional love. There is clear evidence that the wellbeing of parents heavily influences the wellbeing and psychological safety of their children, so understanding how you, and those others around your child, ‘show up’ in the good and not-so-great times may be key to your child thriving, rather than surviving (6).

Here are some tips on how to weave positive psychology strategies into your parenting:

Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn about your child's neurodivergent condition. Understanding their strengths, challenges, and needs will enable you to provide better support and become a more effective positive parent.

Self-parent: This refers to the practice of nurturing and caring for yourself as if you are your own parent. It involves adopting a compassionate and supportive inner dialogue (how do you talk to yourself – is it mostly uplifting and positive, or is it critical?), meeting one's emotional needs, and providing oneself with guidance, love, and understanding. Take breaks, engage in activities you enjoy, and recharge your energy.

Practice Self-Compassion: Parenting a neurodivergent child can be emotionally demanding. Be gentle with yourself and acknowledge that you are doing your best. Give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them. Treat yourself with the same understanding and compassion you extend to your child or others close to you.

Celebrate Small Victories: Recognise and celebrate both your own accomplishments and your child's milestones, no matter how small. Celebrating progress, growth, and resilience helps foster a positive mindset and boosts your confidence as a parent.

One to One time: This cannot be underestimated. Spend quality time alone with your neurodivergent child, without any distractions. No phone, no interruptions, just undivided, focused time with your child. Endeavour to do this often. Also, ensure that it is you that instigates the alone time, with something you know they’ll enjoy, so, “Mummy can you play football with me” doesn’t count! “Son, would you like to kick a ball around with me?” does! 😊

Practice Mindfulness: Cultivate mindfulness practices to stay present and reduce stress. Engage in activities such as meditation, deep breathing exercises, or simply take a moment to observe and appreciate the present moment. Mindfulness can help you respond to challenges with greater clarity and composure.

Set Realistic Expectations: Avoid placing unrealistic expectations on yourself or your child. Embrace the uniqueness of your child's journey and recognise that progress may happen at its own pace. Adjusting your expectations can alleviate unnecessary stress and promote a more positive parenting experience.

Celebrate Your Strengths: Discover and acknowledge your own character strengths as a parent. Recognise the efforts and love you pour into supporting your child. Embrace your own abilities and trust in your intuition. Celebrating your strengths helps build confidence and resilience in your parenting journey.

Seek Support: Reach out to support networks, such as parent support groups, online communities, or engage in coaching. Connecting with other parents who have similar experiences can provide validation, guidance, and a sense of belonging. Don't hesitate to ask for help when needed.


Neurodivergent children possess unique strengths and face specific challenges that require a compassionate and understanding approach. Recognising and nurturing their strengths, such as creativity, attention to detail, or divergent thinking, can empower them to embrace their individuality and reach their full potential. However, it is crucial to acknowledge the challenges they may encounter in areas like social interactions, sensory sensitivities, or executive functioning.

Positive psychology supports parents in cultivating mindfulness, managing stress, and practising self-care, through evidence-based strategies and perspectives, which are essential for maintaining their own wellbeing while positively parenting their neurodivergent child. By embracing positive psychology principles, parents can create a psychologically safe and supportive environment that enhances their child's wellbeing and development. It also promotes positive parent-child relationships, emphasising warmth, understanding, and open communication. By integrating positive psychology principles into their parenting journey, parents can truly create a positive and fulfilling experience for their neurodivergent child and foster their child's growth, happiness, and individual success.


  1. Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, November 24). What is neurodiversity? [Blog post]. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-neurodiversity-202111232645

  1. Neurodiversity Association. (n.d.). What is neurodiversity? https://neurodiversityassociation.com/what-is-neurodiversity/

  2. Understood. (n.d.). Neurodiversity: What you need to know. https://www.understood.org/en/articles/neurodiversity-what-you-need-to-know

  1. Seligman, M. E. P., & Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2014). Positive psychology: An introduction. In Flow and the foundations of positive psychology (pp. 279-298). Springer Netherlands. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9088-8_18

  2. Milton, D. E. (2014). Autistic expertise: A critical reflection on the production of knowledge in autism studies. Autism, 18(7), 794-802. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362361314525281

  3. McLeod, B. D., Wood, J. J., & Weisz, J. R. (2007). Examining the association between parenting and childhood depression: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 27(8), 986-1003. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2007.03.001