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When I Realized Being Neurodiverse Doesn't Make Me a Bad Parent

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If I find parenthood far more exhausting than my friends do, does that make me a bad mum?

This question has gone round and round in my head for years. I see my friends with neurotypical children and think, “Yep, they’re exhausted.” Yet they can still manage to stay up until 10 p.m., hold down a job, hold a conversation and find time to exercise.

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Then I look at my friends with neurodiverse children. They look more tired than those other parents are, for sure. Yet over the years, I’ve seen people still manage to hold down a job or regularly exercise while being a parent carer. I can’t do that.

I always thought it was because I was less of a mum. That I wasn’t naturally built to be able to find parenthood easy. It was only when I realized I’m autistic and have ADHD earlier this year that things clicked into place. I understood why I was so much more tired than everyone else.

• What is ADHD?

Kiddo’s sleep issues aside (because many friends have children with similar issues), I am pretty much permanently exhausted. My ADHD brain goes at a million miles an hour. The more information it needs to process, the faster it goes and for longer. Before I became a mum, I had maybe a quarter of the information I had to process compared to what I have now. My brain has been working quadruple overtime just to keep up with everyone else. It leaves me shattered, and that’s OK.

I have my own autism to manage as well as someone else’s. I’m lucky in that my and my kiddo’s profiles are quite similar, but there are many areas where we clash. Of course, I put my child first, but when I’m desperate for downtime and he is insisting I work out some math for him (math really stresses me out), I have to stop myself from going into meltdown so that kiddo doesn’t go into meltdown. I wish I could explain the inner strength that takes. I’m left feeling completely empty afterward, like I need to fill up with petrol in order to survive, and that’s OK.

When I realized these were the main reasons I was so exhausted all the time, I was so relieved. I wasn’t worse at parenting. It wasn’t that I didn’t haven’t a natural talent for it. I just needed to recognize that I have a neurodiverse brain that needs so much more maintenance than most people’s brains. It needs the extra sleep, it needs the extra quiet, it needs the extra talking! If you drive a car on a long journey every day, you have to get it serviced much more often than a car that only does a small journey every day.

My brain just requires extra servicing. And that’s OK.

Originally published: February 1, 2021
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