Mother and daughter are hugging as they lie on a bed

Challenges and Rewards of Raising a Neurodivergent Child as a Single Mom

Raising a neurodivergent child as a single mother can be a roller coaster, full of unique challenges and rewarding moments. As a single mom to a child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and generalized anxiety, I’ve had more than my fair share of struggles. Keep reading for a few examples of the unexpected twists and turns you might encounter on this journey.


Challenges of Raising a Neurodivergent Child

Let’s look at the difficulties of raising a neurodivergent child as a single mom first. As much as I’d love to say it’s all sunshine and flowers, it’s not, and you will find some obstacles you both have to overcome. Here are a few I’ve found:

Your child’s special interest becomes your special interest

As a neurodivergent child, your little one might have a deep passion for a particular subject or activity. And as a single mom, you’re the primary source of support and encouragement. So get ready to become an expert on everything from Pokémon to medieval history, even if it’s not your usual jam.

My daughter’s special interests to date have been:

  • Dinosaurs
  • Geisha girls (she was young, so I made sure to describe them as, ahem, party planners)
  • The Titanic (please don’t ask me how many times I’ve seen the movie!)
  • Henry VIII and his wives
  • Six the Musical (guess she never left Henry and his wives behind)
  • Fashion and make-up trends through each decade
  • MUSIC!!!!

I’ve found that if you tie special interests into the learning process for school, or daily activities, it helps keep kids interested in the activity and more excited about learning.

Unexpected meltdowns in public

Neurodivergent children can sometimes react intensely to sensory stimuli or changes in routine. And as the only parent present, you’re the one there to help them through it. In other words, it’s alllllll you, mama!  So be prepared for some interesting looks from strangers as you calmly–or not so calmly, who are we kidding–talk your child down from a meltdown in the middle of the grocery store.

Judgment from, well, everybody

Let’s face it, people will judge you. I wish it were otherwise, but you will discover that everyone and their dog will have an opinion–usually an uneducated one–about how you should discipline your child. From well-meaning teachers who have a few days’ worths of training and think themselves an expert to parents stuck in the more traditional child-rearing path, you will feel their criticism, which will cut to the bone. I wish it were otherwise, believe me, but better to be prepared for it than not.

Everything is a masterclass in psychological strategy

From anxiety to school avoidance to demand avoidance, these are terms you will get intimately familiar with. You will also have to throw everything you know or think you know about parenting out the window. Parenting a child who isn’t physically or mentally able to regulate their attention or emotions, follow instructions, or plan ahead is another level of parenting. 

You will have suggestions and strategies thrown at you from every corner. From ABA therapy to reward charts to visual prompts, you’ll become an expert at it all. Some of these suggested techniques may take a LOT of your time and energy. Not a word of a lie, but one specialist gave me a 14-page set of instructions to implement a reward system for my child. 

14 @#$% pages! 

Clearly, he is not a single parent and doesn’t understand the first thing about our struggles or level of overwhelm! So mama, when this happens to you–and I guarantee it will–take a breath and remember that you can choose the right strategy for you and your child, so-called experts be damned.


Rewards of Raising a Neuroatypical Kiddo

Okay, now the doom and gloom part is over, I’ve got good news. You will have many feel-good moments raising your special needs child, and the best advice I can give you is to cherish every accomplishment, no matter how big or how small. 

Those moments of success, whether they are finally brushing their teeth by themselves, or making a new friend at school, will make all the difference in your ability to cope with the struggle. Here are a few more perks I’ve encountered:

Your child’s unique perspective enriches your life 

Neurodiversity is beautiful, and your child’s unique way of thinking and experiencing the world can open your eyes to new possibilities. You might find yourself laughing at their quirky sense of humor, being inspired by their creative ideas, or simply enjoying their unique perspective on life. 

And don’t forget the embarrassment that comes from them announcing loudly to perfect strangers that you need to fix your roots. I promise you will laugh about it later, much later.

You become a fierce advocate for your child

As a single mom, you’re the only one standing up for your child regarding their education, healthcare, and overall well-being. And that means you become a social justice warrior for their rights and needs, learning everything there is to know about neurodiversity and fighting to ensure they have the support they need to thrive. 

So be prepared to be “that” parent, and don’t stress if others see you as “that” parent. Sometimes we have to be “that” parent to get any help, and to hell with what anyone else thinks.

Your child teaches you resilience and flexibility

Raising a neurodivergent child as a single mom can be tough, but it can also teach you valuable lessons about picking your battles and not sweating the small stuff. They don’t want to wear a coat today even though you’re freezing? No problem, pack it in their backpack in case they need it.

They only eat chicken fingers morning, noon, and night? (I’m convinced this is the universal symbol for autism btw) No sweat, search for the healthiest brand you can find and try to balance out their meal with less processed foods too. (A good multivitamin and probiotic yogurt also help to keep things even keel). 

You might find yourself adapting to unexpected challenges, learning to roll with the punches, and ultimately becoming a stronger, more open-minded person.

You will find a new tribe

Help is out there, I promise. You don’t have to do this alone. Search on social media for groups of other single parents and parents of children with special needs. As much as we like to rely on our neurotypical friends for support, sometimes we need to find people who are living our experience. These people will understand what you and your child are going through and will likely have some advice to share. 

Likewise, don’t be afraid to reach out for resources and funding; if you’re unsure where to start, ask someone who’s already been there. There is aid available to you; it’s not always easy to find, but if you search hard enough–I know, one more thing to add to your already overflowing plate–you will find it!

Be Prepared for the Roller Coaster

In short, raising a neurodivergent child as a single mother can be challenging, but it can also be gratifying. You’ll have to navigate some unique obstacles, but you’ll also have the opportunity to experience the world in a whole new way and become your child’s ride-or-die, so you may as well buckle up and enjoy the ride!

What’s your experience been like as a single mom to a neurodivergent child? Did I miss anything? Make sure to like, share and comment so we can support each other!


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