Girl playing with bubbles outside

Embracing Gratitude: Finding Joy Parenting a Neurodiverse Child

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Embracing gratitude and finding joy as a parent to a neurodiverse child may be challenging. As a result, it’s easy to overlook the simple joys around us, but by embracing autism and neurodiversity, you can find joy. With a neurodiverse child, you can have extreme highs and extreme lows, which can make it challenging to be grateful when it seems like nobody else in the world understands your daily struggles.

Being Grateful for Tiny Triumphs

Our daughter Elizabeth was diagnosed with autism at age two and ADHD at age five. We have experienced tragedy and trauma during our parenting journey. It is hard some days to find simple joy in life. Cultivating gratitude can profoundly impact our well-being, bringing a sense of peace and fulfillment to our lives.

Gratitude is more than just saying “thank you.” It’s about actively appreciating and acknowledging the goodness in our lives, no matter how small. Before we had Elizabeth, it never occurred to me that I would cheer for every new word she said. Also, when she responds to a simple request, it is fantastic. Even cutting with adaptive scissors and holding a crayon is a big deal in our home! Sometimes, when she looks you in the eye, and you know you made a connection, it can make your entire day.

Elizabeth playing in our backyard

Why We Celebrate the Little Things!

For example, when these moments happen in public or around people who don’t fully understand your journey, they have no idea why you are so happy. Small victories may seem trivial, but they are not insignificant in our world!

Sometimes, developing speech and communication has been years in the making. Every specialist always asked if our child was pointing at items. I always said “no” and wondered why this was a big deal. She is doing a thousand other things.  

Dealing with Criticism

As a result, it is hard to listen to the judgment of therapists and medical professionals. Some of these professionals go into the field of working with neurodiverse children, but it is clear they never spend any time with children like ours outside of a therapeutic setting. Getting them safely to the appointment is a monumental challenge, and you are being judged for not reaching some arbitrary milestone.

“As we express our gratitude, we must never forget
that the highest appreciation is not to utter words,
but to live by them.” – John F. Kennedy.


Tracking Developmental Milestones

We celebrate the smallest achievements because they are not small at all. They are HUGE milestones! They can represent years of hard work and thousands of dollars in therapy. I wish I could tell myself five to six years ago, when Elizabeth was first diagnosed, to start keeping a journal or perhaps two journals.

Here’s why: I wish I had kept a journal tracking her milestones and achievements to help me remember how far we have come. This would help me on the difficult days and give me the mental boost to keep trying. It would be such a helpful reminder that the things we are doing are, in fact, working. I need those reminders a lot! The second journal I wish I had done sooner and what I am doing now is writing in a gratitude journal.

Taking just a few minutes each day to jot down a few things we’re thankful for can shift our perspective and give us a sense of positivity. It can be for simple things you are grateful for and does not have to be for anything profound.

An example can be, “I am grateful that my child tried to put on their sock today.” There are some really tough days when parenting a neurodiverse child, and anything you can do to help yourself find contentment and joy is a win!

Finding Your Joy

Simply practicing gratitude can also involve finding beauty and joy in everyday moments. Something as simple as peacefully playing in the backyard with bubbles or a water table is enough to reset our mood.

Your life probably looks much different than you envisioned, and you never thought performing simple tasks would be monumental challenges. Still, you can find happiness if you look at all the small achievements because one day, they will add up to significant victories.

Remember to slow down, savor the present moment, and appreciate all the good around us. This reminder will help enrich our lives with a sense of appreciation and gratitude.

Person Writing On A Notebook Beside Macbook

10 Journal Prompt Categories to Get You Started

  1. Feelings and Emotions:
    • “Think about a recent time when you felt overwhelmed. What triggered these feelings, and how did you manage them?”
    • “Write about a joyful moment you shared with your child this month. How did it affect your relationship?”
    • “Reflect on your emotional journey since your child’s diagnosis. How have your feelings evolved over time?”
  2. Milestones:
    • “Describe a small, everyday achievement your child accomplished. Why was it significant to you?”
    • “Write about a milestone you’re eagerly anticipating. How are you preparing to support your child in reaching it?”
    • “Reflect on a past milestone that took longer to achieve than expected. How did you and your child persevere?”
  3. Behavioral Challenges:
    • “Detail a specific strategy you’ve used to address a behavioral challenge. What was the outcome, and what did you learn?”
    • “Write about a behavior that has improved over time. What factors contributed to this progress?”
    • “Reflect on a time when you felt unsure how to handle a particular behavior. What resources or support did you seek out?”
  4. Support Systems:
    • “Write a letter of gratitude to someone who has been a significant support in your journey. What would you like to say to them?”
    • “Reflect on a time when you felt isolated. How did you find support, and what advice would you give others in a similar situation?”
    • “Describe a support group or community resource that has been helpful. How has it impacted your life and your child’s?”
  5. Self-Care:
    • “List three self-care activities you enjoy. How can you incorporate them more regularly into your routine?”
    • “Reflect on a day when you prioritized self-care. How did it affect your mood and energy levels?”
    • “Write about the challenges you face in finding time for self-care. What small steps can you take to overcome these obstacles?”
  6. Advocacy and Learning:
    • “Describe a resource or piece of information that has been invaluable in advocating for your child. How did you discover it?”
    • “Write about a time when you successfully advocated for your child’s needs. What made this experience positive?”
    • “Reflect on a challenging advocacy experience. What would you do differently next time?”
  7. Daily Routine:
    • “Detail a part of your daily routine that works particularly well for your child. Why do you think it’s effective?”
    • “Write about a part of the routine that is difficult. What adjustments could you try to make it smoother?”
    • “Reflect on a recent change in your routine. How did your child adapt, and what did you learn from the experience?”
  8. Hopes and Dreams:
    • “Describe a long-term goal you have for your child. How are you working towards it now?”
    • “Write about a dream you had for your child before their diagnosis. How has that dream changed or evolved?”
    • “Reflect on a hope you have for your child’s social life. What steps are you taking to help them build meaningful relationships?”
  9. Sensory Experiences:
    • “Describe a sensory activity your child enjoys. How does it benefit them?”
    • “Write about a sensory challenge your child faced recently. How did you help them cope?”
    • “Reflect on how your understanding of sensory processing has changed. What strategies have you found most helpful?”
  10. Celebrating Differences:
    • “Write about a time when you felt proud of your child’s unique abilities. How did you celebrate this moment?”
    • “Reflect on a lesson your child has taught you about embracing differences. How has it impacted your perspective?”
    • “Describe a moment when someone else recognized and appreciated your child’s uniqueness. How did it make you feel?”

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