Here’s why neurodivergent kids aren’t lazy or naughty

by Adina Levy

I wanted to share some thoughts and insights from my podcast episode ‘Why neurodivergint kids aren’t naughty or lazy. This is for you if you’re a parent, therapist, teacher, or anyone who has ever wondered about the behaviour of neurodivergent kids.

I often hear the words ‘naughty’ and ‘lazy’ when adults are talking about the behaviour and actions of neurodivergent children, and I truly can’t stand these terms. I just don’t think they apply.

Imagine being a child who’s consistently trying to make sense of the world, using all their ‘spoons’ just to do regular things, and then being called ‘lazy’. Or picture a child who hears “put on your thinking cap” and genuinely goes looking for a cap, only to be labelled ‘naughty’ for not following instructions. These kids are doing their very best in a world that sometimes sends confusing signals.

Let’s dive into why these labels might not be a great fit for neurodivergent kids in your world (or truly, ANY kid or ANY person!).

Firstly, let’s talk about why neurodivergent kids aren’t ‘lazy’:

  1. They’re using constant hidden efforts to just get by, (e.g. keeping themselves somewhat sensory-regulated, or from the effort of masking, and many more ‘below the surface’ factors).
  2. Executive functioning differences – many neurodivergent kids need to spend a lot more effort thinking about planning, executing plans, focusing attention on what they are ‘supposed’ to be attending to.
  3. Co-occurring physical differences and conditions.

Now, why neurodivergent kids aren’t ‘naughty’:

  1. Differences in communication skills including difficulty interpreting non-literal communication, can lead to misunderstandings (rather than wilful defiance).
  2. Many neurodivergent kids have difficulty controlling their responses and actions due to sensory challenges – when you’re in a constant state of sensory overwhelm or precarious sensory regulation, it’s hard or even impossible to do what others ask of us, like school work, following daily routines, or following instructions.
  3. Lack of control due to impulsivity – Many neurodivergent kids (especially those with ADHD, but not only) can experience impulsivity as a feature of how their brain works, meaning that even if they intend or plan to do something different, their neurotype makes this especially challenging.

So, what can we do? There’s never harm in seeing the best in people before we jump to assuming the worst. Let’s all work on catching ourselves jumping to conclusions about the reasons why a child doesn’t seem to be meeting our expectations. Let’s work on assuming that they’re working darn hard to be little humans meeting your approval, and they are doing the best with the skills and support they have.

I delve deeper into all of these ideas and more, in my recent podcast episodeWhy Neurodivergent Kids aren’t ‘Lazy’ or ‘Naughty’!I’d love for you to listen and share your thoughts!

If you’re an Allied Health Professional and you’re keen to learn more with me, I hope you’ll join me for a free webinar – Neurodiversity Affirming Practice Kickstart: 3 Actionable Tips to do Today.

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