Neurodivergent people are at risk of mental health issues, partially because of the rejection they encounter in neurotypical society. Or the need to always go the extra mile to accommodate neurotypical feelings/customs/ideas. And even that is not enough. They continue to feel misunderstood and at fault for everything—for more on whose fault it is, read this great post by Autistic Not Weird.
We, parents, shape our children’s first experiences. We are also the people who are closer to them for the longest periods of time. We have an outsized influence in how they see themselves—we are their first mirror. What will they see through us? Will they see someone worthy of love, full of potential? Or a defective, damaged being?
Beverly Tatum wrote in “The Complexity of Identity: ‘Who Am I?’”:
“Who am I? The answer depends in large part on who the world around me says I am. Who do my parents say I am? Who do my peers say I am? What message is reflected back to me in the faces and voices of my teachers, my neighbors, store clerks? What do I learn from the media about myself? How am I represented in the cultural images around me? Or am I missing from the picture altogether? As social scientist Charles Cooley pointed out long ago, other people are the mirror in which we see ourselves.”
As Tatum mentions, it is not only parents who influence the self-image of a person. Peers, teachers, neighbors, store clerks, the media and other cultural images matter. We can directly monitor our own voice, expressions and behavior toward our children. But those teachers, peers, neighbors… they will base their reactions to our children on our behavior. We set the tone that determines how others relate to our children. If we’re disdainful, demeaning, hurtful… they will follow suit. If we show love and respect to our children, they will know our children are valuable to us. If we speak to their teachers and peers and neighbors in a way that shows understanding, patience and hope, they will see our children through the light we turn on. We filter their view.
What are we going to do? How will we behave?