Transforming a Neurodivergent diagnosis into an opportunity for self-discovery

When my oldest son received a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome at 7 yrs of age (now 25), you’d think he was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
The majority of folks responded by saying, “I’m so sorry.” I imagine they envisioned a worst case scenario or didn’t know what else to say.
I’ve worked with hundreds of families over the years, and a main determinant of how they responded to the diagnosis, was whether their thinking was predominantly problem-focused or solution-focused.
It’s crucial the diagnosis lead to a more empowered approach. So you can become the captain of the ship instead of floating aimlessly at the mercy of the waves.
It’s understandable to feel shell-shocked, if the diagnosis comes out of the blue as it did for us. Our son’s reaction to the school environment is what sounded the alarms.
Being a social worker, I immersed myself in books and research so I’d know exactly how to support him.
Not everyone responds as proactively. I’ve met parents where one was angry, in denial, and cursing the professionals for labeling their child. While the other took a more compassionate, curious approach.
When you aren’t sure where they land on the continuum of acceptance? You could ask, “Now that you know, how are you feeling about it?”
Allow them to tell you how they see it, versus defaulting to seeing it as a loss. Remember, you want to support them from where they are, versus where you think they ‘should’ be.
For many adults receiving a late diagnosis, it can be interpreted as confirmation they’re broken. I’ve encountered this many times.
Or its experienced as the liberation and validation that there’s an explanation for why life has been so difficult. “It isn’t me, I’M not the problem! Now I have a better idea where to look for strategies to help make life easier.”
The latter is a more empowered approach. Empowered meaning a lens focused on seeking opportunities to take action, to improve the outcomes you experience.
Point of transparency, when I received my own diagnoses of Asperger’s at age 35 (now 53), I had an identity crisis.
I’d created a perception of myself as a father and professional that helped protect me from my plethora of insecurities. The psychologist who diagnosed me was a calming, compassionate woman who helped me feel safe while I took it all in.
She helped me reframe the news as an opportunity to better understand and care for my own needs. It also provided an opportunity to learn how to connect with and advocate for my son.
The lens you choose determines whether you even believe options exist to create a happier, more fulfilling life. For you and for your child.
The good news is, even when you do begin with a feeling of helplessness or overwhelm. That can be a temporary experience as you begin to realize there are things you can do, books you can read and people like me who can guide you.
The more you understand, that the diagnosis isn’t a wall to spend your life banging your head against. It’s a new door, that once opened. Gives you a place to begin again.
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