Burn Your Parenting Books: Why Traditional Parenting Won’t Work With Children With Developmental Disabilities

Amy describes how liberating it was for her when she stopped reading parenting books and started parenting her son the way he needed to be parented.

Have I gotten your attention?  I don’t really mean burn them, but what I do mean is stop reading them and here’s why.  Children with developmental disabilities like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are not going to be successful using the same parenting strategies used on typically developing children.   It will not work.

My son, Barclay, was my fourth child.  His older siblings are neurotypical. When they were growing up I spent a ton of time educating myself on how to be an effective parent.  I took parenting classes, read parenting books and my mailbox was stuffed with parenting magazines.  For the most part, what I learned helped.  They are all very happy and successful.  When Barclay came along I started down the same path.  For a while, that worked.  That is until we found out Barclay had a trio of disabilities: Childhood Apraxia of Speech, ADHD and ASD.  I had no idea what to do in this new-to-me parenting role.  I actually remember this “aha moment” I had about a year ago as I was reading one of my parenting books. I was reading the chapter for his chronological age and realized it was absolutely useless to me.

Children with developmental disabilities are on average around 20-30 percent delayed behind their same-age peers.  But that doesn’t mean that I can just expect out of my 3 year old what would be normal for a neurotypical 2 year old.  It’s not that simple.  Because of his multiple diagnoses, he has a plethora of symptoms besides developmental delays.  Barclay has a severe communication disorder.  He is super impulsive. He is fearless to the point of it being a safety concern.  He has sensory seeking and sensory avoiding issues, and that’s just a few of the daily struggles our family faces.

That being said, when I decided to stop reading the parenting books and starting finding resources to help me find what worked for my son, it was so liberating!  It has made our family so much happier!  ADHD/ASD parenting expert, Penny Williams calls this “throwing out the parenting rule book.”  She says parents need to realize the traditional methods of parenting aren’t going to help their child be successful, but rather will set them up for failure and frustration.

For our family, this shift in viewpoint has been life-changing.  We approach each issue with our son as what does success look like for him in this situation, at this time, given these circumstances.  Are you currently following a “traditional” parenting plan in raising your child?  Is it working?  Is it time to burn your parenting books and start fresh?  If you do, I promise your home will be so much happier!

Once you recognize and accept that your child doesn’t fit that “typical” mold, you automatically look for what is specifically true for your child. You automatically start setting expectations based on that information, instead of the more traditional parenting ideas. Something beautiful happens when you set expectations for your child based on who they are and where they are today, in this moment: success, achievement, and happiness come flooding in. – Penny Williams


Author: bigabilities

Amy Nielsen lives in Orlando, Florida. She is the proud mother of four children ranging in age from 3-30! She and her husband, Brent enjoy sports and traveling. Amy is a former teacher with 20 years experience, a freelance writer, and special needs advocate. Her mission is to help educate and empower families of children with disabilities to focus on their child's interests and strengths.

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