No Pressure Engagement for your Neurodivergent Child
Engagement is critical to successful regulation! Building a wide array of interests or ways to engage in the words supports all of us humans in our pursuit of joy independently and in groups with others. The engagement of a neurodivergent child can be as unique as their brain! If you find your kid isn't interested in many things, there's no need to force them. Instead, focus on what they are interested in and explore that with them! As the adult in their world, we can put on our own flexible thinking cap and find new activities to share with them in a no pressure way that can support our goal of regulation and joy!
What is a No-Pressure engagement?
A no-pressure engagement is a way to help your child learn, develop and grow. It is not a way to get them to do what you want them to do (or think they should do). It's also not about forcing them into activities that are difficult for them or take up too much time.
No-Pressure Engagement is about discovering the unique passions that are part of their neurodivergence; finding engagement activities that support their ability to regulate themselves; and activities that bring joy for them and foster connection with you!
Let them dig in and learn veraciously around their special interest
You can help your child by letting them dig in and learn veraciously around their special interest. There are many ways to do this, but here are a few suggestions:
Let them play with their special interest. If they love dinosaurs or trains or dragons or whatever, let them play with toys related to those things as much as possible!
Find related streams of learning to leave around their favorite play areas.
Get your flexible thinking cap on! What is related to their special interest in looks, sound, time period, medium, or how you engage. Maybe you can find something similar.
Allow self-guided discoverer moments
Allow self-guided discoverer moments.
Let them explore new things on their terms.
Let them learn at their own pace.
Allow them to try things on that might not fit with social norms. Let them move towards things that bring them joy!
Give opportunities for them to explore new things without using language
Give opportunities for them to explore new things without using language to direct them. So often we use language as a way to introduce a topic, but for some neurodivergents no matter what the words are or how kindly they are spoken, they are pressurized to the max. Whether that is historic pressure, pressure from outside or pressure from themselves. It is pressure nonetheless.
Let them choose what they want to explore, rather than trying to convince them using suggesting or questions like, "do you want to try this?" or even "you might like this if you try it."
Don't try to force them into doing something they don't want to do by saying things like "but everyone else is doing it". This kind of pressure can make someone feel bad about themselves and lead them down a path of self-doubt and anxiety. Instead, offer support and encouragement by showing them how to engage! Bring the activity out and just start playing. Don't introduce it with language, literally just start playing. Yes, we know this is counterintuitive and not how we engage with children, but it's helpful!!
Lean in with curiosity and follow their lead on their level of engagement. It might be just watching you play with something new. Or maybe they will ask a few questions that you can answer. They will show you the way, but just make sure you are there to listen and learn what works best for them!
Hear them when they say, "no, I am not interested."
As a parent, it can be difficult to know when to push your child and when to let them explore at their own pace. If you have a child who is neurodivergent , this may be especially true. They may have differences in processing sensory information and communicating their needs effectively, so they may not be able to tell you when they are overwhelmed or super anxious--even though they are experiencing these things.
When it comes down to it, respecting your child's availability and willingness is important no matter what happens next: if he decides not go along with something because he doesn't like it--or because he doesn't feel safe doing so--then that's okay! You've done nothing wrong by respecting his wishes; in fact, you've helped him learn about himself by allowing him autonomy over his body and mind. There will be another opportunity, and new engagement activities are absolutely no hill to die on. The only hill we want to die on are the hills of health and safety (and I mean true live and die moments).
Move at the speed of them
Be patient. Your child may need multiple attempts before they are able to try something new, or they might not be able to do it at all. If this happens, don't get discouraged! It's okay for them to take as long as they need! A neutral encounter is way better than a negative encounter!
Allow for flexibility in approach. If your child isn't interested in doing a particular activity because of how it is presented or structured, try changing up some aspects of your approach until you find something that works better for them--for example:
Embrace the process instead of focusing on results! You may feel frustrated when your child makes little progress while working on stepping into their discoverer space (or even regressing), but remember that each step forward is an opportunity for growth and improvement--even if it doesn't seem like much at first glance!
Building engagement to support regulation is a lifelong learning process. There are ups and downs. Hyperfocuses and times of no interest at all. Our goal is to build enough areas of engagement that we can sustain regulation for ourselves and those we care to invite into our world! Children and adults alike have the power to grow and change, no matter how stuck we are in our ways. Get creative and provide opportunities for your child to guide the way to a wide array of engagement activities!
PS Here are some ideas where you might find something related to your child's special interest!