Connection-Focused Parenting is a parenting style that focuses on establishing a mutually trusting, respectful and reciprocal relationship with your teen. The upside of this approach is your teenager is more likely to let down their guard around you and see you as an ally.
This is important for all teen-parent relationships. However, even more so for our neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ teens as they may feel ‘othered’ by peers and society. Our neurodivergent teens are more likely to be affected by conditions such as RSD (rejection-sensitive dysphoria), PDA (pervasive drive for autonomy) and sensory overwhelm which can put their nervous systems into defence mode. Our neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ teens need a safe place to land with us as a vital protection factor.
Download My FREE PDF Guide With 5 Powerful Ways To Connect With Your Teen HERE
Connection-Focused Parenting for Neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ Teenagers Prioritises Four Things:
- Secure attachment with a significant adult.
- Accepting and affirming your teen’s Neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ identities.
- Connection before correction.
- Adapting your parenting approach to your teen’s needs, strengths and difficulties.
Many parents understand what connection-focused parenting is in theory. However, parents struggle to know how to be a connection-focused parent in practice. That is why I have created this blog series for you. Please make sure to go back and read the other blogs in this series. You can do this HERE.
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Principle Three – No One Is ‘Broken’ Or Needs To Be ‘Fixed’
This principle, which is closely linked to Principle One – Parent The Child You Have, is an important one especially if you are parenting a teen who is Neurodivergent or part of the LGBTQ+ community. Read this blog HERE.
As someone who has tried her best (personally and professionally) to live by the wisdom of Dr Emmi Pikler’s philosophy of respect for all beings – even the youngest babies – this principle can seem like a no-brainer. However, I see the opposite of this principle of Connection-Focused Parenting everywhere, especially with regard to neurodiversity, sexuality and gender identity.
As a neurodivergent person and the mother of neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ teens I often get the feeling that the perception of us is that we are ‘different’, ‘weak’ or ‘defective’.
As mentioned in one of my earlier blogs there is a lot of pressure on neurodivergent people and also those who are part of the LGBTQ+ community to conform to the neurotypical and heteronormative way of doing things. Somedays it can seem like the world is shouting at you with a million reasons why you or your children are ‘broken’ and need to be ‘fixed’.
Here is a common scenario that often happens when a family finds out that their child is Autistic:
Carl recently found out that his son Max is Autistic. He is really worried for him.
“How will Max cope in this world? Will he make friends? Will he be bullied or beaten up?”, Carl worries as he tosses and turns in bed at 2 am in the morning. “If only I can make him seem more ‘normal’ so that he will fit in, then I know he will be okay.”
I want to preface here that I don’t think that Carl is a bad parent. Carl, like so many parents, is acting from a place of love, fear and anxiety perpetuated by the culture in which he has been raised. Carl may have even been bullied at school or found it difficult to make friends because of being ‘different’ and he is projecting this experience on his son’s situation. Incidentally, this scenario can equally be applied to a teen who came out to their parent as gay or transgender.
There has been a long history in many cultures of seeing neurodiversity and even being queer as a ‘defect’ that needs to be cured (conversion therapy anyone!). For so many years the prevailing thought has been – ‘If only we made neurodivergent and or queer folks seem more ‘normal’ then we can all feel comfortable and get on.’ A myth that I am passionate about debunking.
However, here is the thing though. As long as Carl sees Max’s autism as something that needs to be ‘cured’ he will never accept Max for who is. When we focus on ‘fixing’ our children we run the risk of missing the mark with what they really need from us as parents. ‘Fixing’ our children or even rushing to help them solve their problems without validating them and their experience is one of the biggest ‘connection fails’. We cannot connect with someone who sees us (even if it is unconsciously) as ‘defective’ and in need of ‘fixing’.
Going back to our example above, Max will mistake Carl’s worry and subsequent attempts to ‘fix him’ as his Dad not loving or approving of him. This will lead to a disconnection in their relationship and a lot of conflicts. Max may develop anxiety and even depression as a result.
Download My FREE PDF Guide With 5 Powerful Ways To Connect With Your Teen HERE
Where Does This Perception Of Neurodiversity And The LGBTQ+ Community Come From?
The medical profession has long seen Autism and ADHD as ‘disorders’. It’s in the name – Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. We commonly refer to these differing neurotypes with deficit, ‘disease’ type language. We get diagnosed with Autism… The symptoms of ADHD are… The treatments are… When you take into account all this negatively biased language it is easy to see how we might see how we as parents might want to ‘fix’ our children. After all, diseases are something we fear. As loving parents, we don’t want to see our children suffer.
Autism, ADHD and other neurodiversity are not disorders, we just have different brains. In order for our society to thrive and advance we need diversity.
Now don’t get me wrong, as a neurodivergent person I am disabled. However, as Dr Jac den Houting, an autistic person herself, a medical professional, researcher and advocate for autistic people, said in her 2019 TEDX talk:
“Disablity isn’t something I carry around with me like luggage. Instead, we use the word ‘disabled’ as a verb. Disability is being done to me. I’m actively being ‘dis-abled’ by the society around me.”Dr Jac den Houting
There has been a lot of misrepresentation in films and other media as to what an Autistic person ‘looks like’. There is also so much misinformation out there from seemingly ‘Autistic Friendly’ organisations.
A good example of this is the horrendous ad campaign “I Am Autism” by a so-called ‘Autism Advocacy’ company that was very damaging for Autistic people. You can read a transcript of it HERE.
This video scared a lot of well-meaning and loving parents.
Families are still given advice and funding to subject their children to therapies such as ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis) ‘therapy’ and PBS (Positive Behavioural Support) ‘therapy’. Both so-called ‘therapies’ which teach Autistics to mask their Autistic traits so that they can appear to be more neurotypical.
Here is what Ivar Lovaas, the founder of ABA believed about Autistics:
“You see, you start pretty much from scratch when you work with an autistic child. You have a person in the physical sense — they have hair, a nose and a mouth — but they are not people in the psychological sense.”Ivar Lovaas, ABA founder
This ‘othering’ or portraying minorities as less than human does not only apply to neurodiverse people. People have been and are still ‘othered’ for their race, religion, culture, gender, sexual orientation and for being transgender.
As a society, our answer historically has been to disadvantage ‘othered’ people by looking down at them and segregating them.
Points For Reflection:
I invite you to reflect on how your thinking about neurodiversity and being part of the LGBTQ+ community was shaped by your culture:
- How did your family, teachers or peers speak about neurodiversity such as Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia etc when you were growing up?
- How was neurodiversity portrayed in books, on television, and in movies? (Or did you even see it represented?)
- What conclusions did these early experiences cause you to make about neurodiversity?
- How does this show up in your parenting?
- How did your family, teachers or peers speak about being gay, lesbian or transgender when you were growing up?
- How was being gay, lesbian or transgender portrayed in books, on television, and in movies? (Or did you even see it represented?)
- What conclusions did these early experiences cause you to make about the LGBTQ+ community?
- How does this show up in your parenting?
What We As Parents Can Do
Part of the ‘control’ narrative of many parenting approaches is that there is something wrong with us.
In other words, there is something wrong with our kids and we did something wrong as parents for them to be this way.
Growing up wit the belief that their is something ‘wrong’ with you or that you are somehow ‘not worthy’ can lead to a lifetime of denying your own needs as you pursue proving to everyone else just how ‘unbroken’ you are.
Let me assure you, there is nothing bad or wrong with your teen and there is nothing wrong with you as a loving and supportive parent to your child.
However, I know that it is so easy to allow ourselves to be caught up in this narrative as parents. Our need for acceptance, belonging and safety for ourselves and our children can cause us to behave in a way that seeks out control over how others perceive us and our children. This need can lead us to try to modify our children which ultimately disconnects us from them. And gives them the internal dialogue that there is something shameful about them being themselves.
Connection-focused parenting sees everyone as ‘whole’ and complete, worthy of love, acceptance and respect for being who they are.
In order to break this cycle we must learn to focus on changing the environment our children live in, not the child.
Yes, I am aware of the complexities and inherent difficulties surrounding this idea! Changing cultural perceptions takes time and a lot of work. However, there are things that we can do, as parents.
Here are some ideas:
- Firstly, we must start with ourselves. It is essential for us to transform our world from the inside out. This looks like, we as parents becoming aware of and working on our own unconscious biases regarding neurodiversity, and sexual and gender orientations.
- Changing your own language from ‘disease’, and ‘deficit’ vocabulary towards neurodiversity to more affirming vocabulary and challenging others to do the same.
- Adopting a Connection-Focused Parenting approach that will help your teen to feel safe, accepted and supported by you.
- Educating friends, and family about how to be inclusive of all neurotypes, sexualities and genders.
- Advocating wherever possible for your child’s rights with teachers and medical professionals.
- Sometimes you just have to listen. As parents, we can’t fix everything for our children. Often holding space for their experiences and feelings is the best way to make them feel seen, heard and accepted.
Don’t ever forget that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world, it’s the only thing that ever hasAaron Sorkin.
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Meet The Person Who Wrote This Blog
Tanya Valentin is a Parenting Coach, Author, Podcaster and Allyship Advocate for Families of Neurodiverse and LGBTQ+ Teens.
As a Neurodivergent person herself and a proud Mama of 3 Neurodivergent and LGBTQ+ teens, she works to support, educate and spread awareness and acceptance.
Tanya lives with her family in beautiful Northland, New Zealand. She has authored several books and blogs. She is committed to making a difference in the world by equipping parents and families of Neurodivergent and LGBTQ+teens and young people with the tools they need to connect with and empower their children to feel safe being who they are so that they can take up the space they were born to fill.
Need personalised support for yourself and your family? Book your FREE 30-minute call with Tanya