“’Your Brain Is Amazing!’ 5 Things All Neurodivergent Teens Need to Hear”

A student came to me feeling angry and frustrated. “I can’t help it!” she cried, “My brain is awful.” These words pierced my heart. She felt like her ADHD was a problem. And she isn’t alone. I’ve heard far too many neurodivergent kids say similar things about themselves.

The path to learning and embracing who you are isn’t always smoothly paved, especially when a learning difference, condition, or disability is involved. When your child or student feels down or discouraged, here are some things they need to hear about their perfect neurodivergent selves:

1. Your brain is amazing! If your brain is to blame for this one thing that happened (or sometimes many things that happened) that you didn’t like, your brain is also to blame for the other millions of things about you that you do like, and that are part of you.

[Get This Free Download: How to Teach Self-Advocacy Skills to Children with ADHD]

Your condition is only one part of you. A big part? Absolutely. But still just one. I’m not asking you to separate yourself from your condition but to see yourself as a whole. Think about the things that are going (or went) well for you, like the beautiful art project that you made, the really cool LEGO display you designed and built, or that funny joke you told that left your friends and teachers laughing from their bellies. Your brain does those things because all parts of it are amazing.

2. You are not alone. Being different can feel isolating, especially when you have an invisible disability or difference. You might think you’re the only one with your experiences, and that no one else gets it because they don’t have to work through life in the same way you do. Your dad doesn’t get it because he knows everything. Your best friend doesn’t get it because she always gets good grades. Though your experiences are uniquely yours, everyone knows what it’s like to feel sad, angry, annoyed, or confused. You’re not as alone as you think you are. Maybe your dad or best friend actually get it more than you think they do. Maybe ADHD or another form of neurodivergence is an untold (or yet-to-be-discovered) part of their story, or maybe they had something happen to them that you can relate to.

3. Hard and Capable are frenemies. Whenever Hard makes an appearance, bring out Capable, who always asks Hard, “What do you want?”

Sometimes Hard likes to distract us from figuring out why it even made an appearance. Hard may appear, for example, when you’re reading a paragraph and lose your place for the third time. If you’re only focused on Hard’s presence, then you won’t be able to bring out Capable, who will help you notice that you’re losing your place because someone else is rummaging through their desk and distracting you from your reading. Capable knows that we can do hard things by adjusting, like moving to a different spot in the room to read or putting on some headphones to drown out sounds. With Capable’s help, you’ll be able to figure out what you need to do to say to Hard, “Thank you, now you can go.”

[Read: Shake Loose of Your Limiting Beliefs — a Guide for Teens with ADHD]

4. Learn from it and keep going. Maybe dyscalculia makes it difficult to concentrate in math class (and all the numbers look like Jell-O). It’s possible that hyperactivity made you jump on your chair, then another chair, until you fell. In all these situations, you may be able to trace challenges back to your condition, but you can also reflect on the experience to learn how to do things differently next time. (Remember, a reason is not an excuse.) You deserve to learn math and get extra help if you need it. You deserve to advocate for yourself and say, “I need a break” when your body feels like it really, really needs to move.

5. It’s not your fault that the world was built around neurotypical individuals. However, it is your responsibility to decide what to do about it. You deserve to be the best version of yourself, so let’s figure out how your world can be easier for you to navigate to reach your goals and aspirations.

Words of Encouragement for Neurodivergent Teens: Next Steps

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