What an honour to have the words of the wise and so-full-of-love Michelle Sutton here. Michelle is joining other families for my blog series about neurodiverse families. Hooray!
If you haven’t met Michelle yet, she writes about neurodiversity, advocacy, respectful parenting, neurodivergent identity and lots more at Michelle Sutton Writes (and she’s awesome!).
Hello! Thanks for participating. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family, however you’d like to introduce yourselves.
We are a neurodiverse family of 8: mum, dad and 6 kids. We are intense, messy, anxious, tired, inquisitive, happy, both unstructured and reliant on micro-routines, sensorily challenged, protective of each other, lovers of ‘screen time’, eclectic learners and educators, defenders of human rights. Some of us are restless and some adverse to change. Some are night owls and some early birds. We are a mix of sensory seeking and sensory avoidant. We are sometimes outgoing, sometimes overwhelmed.We challenge the idea of normal every day, in the ways we choose to live, and simply by determinedly being ourselves.
What do you value and love about your family?
I love that we defy expectations, statistics and assumptions of normality. I am proud that we do things the way that works for us, even if it looks unconventional or may be frowned on by others. I value this immensely because it was not always easy to do, and requires ongoing conscious decisions. It became easier as we went along though, because we could see how much more content we all are now compared to when we were trying to do things the way we were expected to by others.
What does acceptance of neurodivergence look like in your home and extended family?
We do our best to make decisions that allow each of us to live well as our best selves. This means that there is no such thing as a one size fits all approach to anything we do. We offer options as much as we can, so each person can choose what works best for them, including meal times, menus, bed times, education arrangements, outings … everything, really! In our home we ensure a variety of textures, temperatures, lighting and volume levels are available. We wear noise cancelling headphones and sunglasses inside. As much as we can everyone chooses their own schedules and activities for the day. We accept that we all communicate slightly differently. Typed and drawn communication is often used. We try to be open minded and avoid doing things just because we do it that way, but instead look for the best current option.
How can others in the community support and include you and your family?
At this stage in our journey, the thing I want most is for my family to be heard when we say what we need. By that I mean, we want to join you in the community, but there are things we need to make that possible that aren’t usually provided. When we ask for those things it would be nice to have people listen and then provide those things without questioning the validity of the request or drilling for more information (often with barely veiled criticism disguised as ‘concern’) before grudgingly agreeing. Sometimes we bring our own coping strategies with us, and feel the heat of the stares as we do what we need to in order to be present. It often feels like we have to fight for everything, or just put up with coping with the overwhelm of doing things the way society expects. It would be nice to be heard and have our needs acknowledged and to feel we are important enough to others that they support us willingly.
How are families like ours contributing to the neurodiversity movement, disability Pride, culture, and community?
We speak openly with people we share space with about our neurodivergence and what that means to how we live. This gives people who are open to hearing us the opportunity to learn that disability and neurodiversity are not the tragedy and dilemma the media and mainstream society present it as. I don’t know if it really makes that much difference, but I like to think it does. I also like to think that just by being ourselves people can see that diversity is valuable.
What else do you want to tell people?
If you are thinking that you might be neurodivergent- just jump on in and explore. Get into neurodivergent community spaces(there are lots of good ones online to start with) and ask questions. Start living your life as if you are neurodivergent and find out what changes you can make to help life feel better for you. Give up on expecting yourself to be “normal” and just be yourself, unapologetically. Be gracious to yourself, learn to do things differently and see where it takes you.
* You can find all of the couples and families featured so far here – Neurodiverse Families
* Want to add your story? Here’s how – Invitation to share your story