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Supporting the Emotional Development of Neurodivergent Children: Strategies for Caregivers

Updated: Jan 19

by Elizabeth Sautter, M.A. CCC-SLP


The emotional development of neurodivergent children requires a compassionate and understanding approach. In a world filled with sensory overwhelm, transitions, and confusing social situations, children with unique neurological development can face challenges in understanding and expressing their emotions. As caregivers and trusted adults, it's our role to support their developmental process, meeting them where they are and fostering growth. Below are some typical daily challenges and practical strategies to help.


1. Mindful Moments for Emotional Grounding

  • Situation: Your child is agitated after a busy day at school.

  • Strategy: Introduce a 'Mindful Moment' with activities like deep breathing, coloring, or drinking something refreshing. Guide your child to focus on their five senses, one at a time. This can help transition from agitation to a state of awareness and understanding of what their body needs at that moment.


2. Emotional Check-Ins with Visual Aids

  • Situation: Your child struggles to articulate feelings during a sibling disagreement.

  • Strategy: Use a mood meter or have your child draw the situation with talking and thinking bubbles. This helps them point out their feelings and understand that all emotions are valid. Remember, meltdowns are not the time for new strategies; use these supports regularly for familiarity.


3. Co-Regulation Through Shared Activities

  • Situation: A sudden change in plans causes anxiety and upset.

  • Strategy: Validate your child’s feelings, ensure them of their safety, and suggest a calming activity like a walk or listening to music. This can help in regaining emotional balance. More on this can be found in Sautter's blog: The Ultimate Guide to Helping Your Child Manage Big Emotions.


4. Structured Routines for Basic Needs

  • Situation: Disruptions in evening routines, especially at bedtime, lead to restlessness.

  • Strategy: Establish a predictable routine with activities like reading or a warm bath. A consistent schedule can provide control and security, aiding in better sleep. Learn more in Sautter’s course: Make it Stick Parenting.


5. Supporting Sensory Regulation

  • Situation: Your child is overwhelmed by sensory input in a crowded environment.

  • Strategy: Create a sensory-safe space or provide sensory tools like headphones or a fidget toy. Discuss with your child in advance about using these tools when they start feeling overwhelmed. This proactive approach can help manage sensory challenges effectively.


The Importance of a Nurturing Approach and the Role of Parents as Social-Emotional Coaches


As a mother of two neurodivergent children myself, I know firsthand the challenges and joys of this journey. Parents and caregivers are the primary social-emotional coaches for their children, a role that can sometimes feel overwhelming. However, with knowledge, strategies, and support, navigating this path becomes more manageable and rewarding. Utilizing these resources benefits not just the child, but also the entire family, bringing a sense of accomplishment, relief, and harmony. Embracing the role of a social-emotional coach with expert guidance transforms the journey into one of growth, connection, and joy for the whole family.


Elizabeth Sautter, a mother of two neurodivergent children and an expert in the field of social communication, provides invaluable guidance through resources such as her book, "Make Social and Emotional Learning Stick, Practical activities to help your child manage emotions, navigate social situations and reduce anxiety" her course "Make it Stick Parenting," and her blog.


For more information about Elizabeth Sautter and her work, please visit her website: https://www.elizabethsautter.com/




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