Search
  • Brad Eck

Raising Neuro-both!

I wanted to zoom in on some of the items one might run into raising not just an autistic kid, but them being in the mix of neuro-typical (NT) or other special needs.


As a reminder (detailed in my book), my middle son was diagnosed autistic (HFA) at age 5 (he's 23 now). My oldest (26) is NT (and advanced - skipped seventh grade), and my youngest (21) was diagnosed ADHD in high school (even though there's not a hyperactive bone in his body but they don't diagnose ADD anymore).


Some new parents wonder whether they should have more kids if they have one that is diagnosed special needs and I would encourage you in three ways:

  1. There's no evidence to suggest that having one neuro-divergent (ND) kid will lead to having another.

  2. Commit to raising your children, together, irrespective of their health needs.

  3. Recognize that you are the right parent for your child - your child was given to YOU, specifically, because YOU have been prepared to raise them. It may not feel like it now, but when you look back over your life, you will see it. And, additional to number three, they are the right child for you.

I'd also add that it's so beneficial to be a team in this. Raising kids is difficult. Raising ND kids can be brutal. Get on the same page with your spouse and row the boat together. Communicate well and don't let disagreements be long-term - work to get back aligned.


Having said the above, there are some real issues you will need to consider:

  • Intelligence If there's one thing we know about autistic kids is that they are smart. So why are we so prone undermine their intelligence when it comes to their behavior? They understand "no." They also understand your inability to apply it consistently and fairly. And they will struggle to understand the simple differences of age-based approvals for their older siblings. You will need to work through this with them. Lay out simple rules and apply them strictly - that's what your ASD child needs - strict adherence to the rules. And be very careful when creating new rules. You need to be aligned with your spouse on these and be very communicative of the rule and the consequences.

  • Consistency Most would agree that every child is unique, and therefore what works for one won't work for the other. While there is nothing easy about raising an NT child, when it comes to ND, the effort is exponential. But, it can be done, and believe it or not, the majority of standard parenting principals apply - but consistency is exponentially important. Want some sleep? Get them on a schedule. Easy to say, but exponentially difficult to implement. Issues with food? You are the parent - always - and therefore you make the rules. Etc.

  • Consequences I've mentioned this in other posts, but consequences are an absolute necessity in raising both an NT and ND child. Unfortunately many in the autism community seem to believe only in positive reinforcement. So let me be clear - there is no one way to raise a child. And consequences are an absolute necessity. This is why helicopter parenting doesn't work. It's also why we have more pretentious and entitled kids and adults in modern society than ever before. Consequences create humility. Humility creates empathy. The best consequences are natural - make sure your child is safe, but let the natural consequence play out. And if there isn't a natural consequence available, you need to establish a consequence. This is best done in advance (see first bullet) and must be applied consistently. But they must know the behavior is not acceptable. For example, we all know our ND children have meltdowns - this is NOT something that is misbehavior. But a tantrum is - empathize and help your child in the former, and discipline them (establish consequence) for the latter.

  • Sensory issues We all have experienced the meltdown scenario and so it's vital that you work with your child in these times. Dealing with the over-stimulation of your ND child is one of the most difficult problems you will have to manage. Helping him work through this is SO important, however. First, identify the source of the meltdown. This is super difficult with a non-verbal child, but this will not get better until YOU help them through it. If it's audible, get him a headset. Similarly, with any sensory issue - start with identification and then address it in a safe place. Help your child work through it by adding in other stimulation slowly and help them learn to manage it. And implement a safety plan - a way your child can safely and confidently exit the situation.

  • Social skills Your ND child will likely struggle in social situations. That does NOT mean you need to keep him away from them. In fact, all the more reason to have him engaged early and often in these very scenarios. This is usually intricately linked to the sensory issues mentioned above. But there's also an interactivity discomfort and a misunderstanding of social cues. YOU need to be working with your child through these. Learning these subtleties is difficult but it's YOUR responsibility to get them there.

There's plenty of other areas to consider, but know that the approach to these differences is more dedication to the fundamental principles of parenting. That's not to say that new ideas and ways to approach problems don't work, but the fundamentals are the foundation, and the others can support the overall efforts.


Of course, the more severe the ASD, the more difficult all of this will be to do. Dedication to the principles and consistency in their implementation are so vital - and their power is severely underestimated by many in the autism community. It's not easy - the right way never is. But it is absolutely the most rewarding - for them and for you.