How To Build Resilience In Neurodiverse Children


How To Build Resilience In Neurodiverse Children

A smooth sea never made a skilled sailor. And if there is no struggle, there is no progress. So, building resilience in children with neurodiversity is not easy but is very much attainable.

In this article, I’ve shared some simple, easy-to-implement, and both evidence-backed and experience-backed strategies to build resilience in neurodiverse children, who often face more challenges than neurotypical children. To name a few, these challenges can include difficulties with sensory processing, emotional regulation, executive functioning, and both physical and mental health. Thanks to some of these strategies and many others that I have shared in my previous articles, my daughter who couldn’t speak till aged 5, is on path to soon becoming a qualified medical doctor.


Sometimes, I lay awake at night, unable to sleep. Worry, anxiety, and overthinking consumed me as I stewed over my child’s progress, their wellbeing, and how they will function as they get older, and I can no longer slay their dragons for them as much as I once did. I’m a parent of a child with disability and I have experienced all the emotions that come with it. On many occasions, I have wondered if I’m a good parent, if it’s meant to be this hard, and if I’m equipping my child with the skills they need for the future.

The research shows I’m not alone in worrying about this. Anecdotally, too, I’ve heard from a countless number of parents in my clinical practice that fear for their child’s future sometimes keeps them up at night as well. What, then, is the solution? The answer I keep coming back to, the core principle on which I believe everything else can be built upon is…resilience.


Resilience (noun): the ability to recover after adversity. Many will feel resentment towards this word, and no wonder; so often resilience has been portrayed as if it’s just a matter of sheer willpower, and that if you can’t “cope,” it’s some sort of moral failing. Not only is this depiction of resilience the farthest thing from the truth, but it also interferes with a true understanding of what resilience actually means. Resilience is not about burying or never experiencing any negative emotion. Resilience is not about being cool as a cucumber in any situation, regardless of how stressful it is. Resilience is not something you do alone, without help. It’s the opposite of that.

Building resilience is a lifelong journey, not an inherited trait. It’s about reaching out for help if needed. It’s about learning how to ride out the bad days and celebrating the good ones. The truth is, no matter how much money or power one has, no one can insulate their child from pain, or the challenges life will inevitably throw their way. But if we can build resilience in our children, we can empower them to navigate these challenges with confidence and strength, help them bounce back from setbacks, and thrive in the face of adversity.  Though any time of the year is a perfect time to implement these suggestions in your family, it’s even more pertinent as we bid adieu to the end of one year and greet the beginning of another. It’s a fresh start. A new beginning.


1. Adopt a growth mindset

Those with a growth mindset believe that their abilities can be developed and improved over time. In contrast, people with fixed mindsets believe their abilities are innate and cannot be improved upon. Research has shown that people with growth mindsets tend to be more resilient.  An example of a fixed mindset in a child might be: “I suck at Maths. I’m never going to get better.” A child with a growth mindset might instead say: “I’ll give Maths another go, and I might get better. I’ll do some more practice problems and seek help from my teacher.”

Both children and adults can default to a fixed mindset; a growth one requires active nurturing and awareness. But once it becomes a part of your natural way of thinking, resilience will improve as children will learn that effort and perseverance are key factors in achieving success. Aim for progress, not perfection.

2. Improve emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence is a term used to describe the ability to recognise emotions in yourself and others, and react appropriately, and is crucial for healthy relationships and coping skills. A strategy you can use to build this skill is ‘Name the Emotion.’ Start by telling your child, “I am feeling…,” before asking them how they feel. You can offer options such as happy, angry, frustrated, sad, to help them identify their emotions.

Modelling self-regulation can also help deepen a child’s emotional intelligence. For example, if you’re upset, you could say, “I feel really upset, but instead of screaming, I’m going to take a few deep breaths.” At the dinner table, or before bed, you could take it in turns to practice narrative-telling, which can help children identify emotions. You could model it first by starting with your day: “Today, my friend Laura gave me a cupcake at work, which made me feel happy,” and so on. Fictional books, Social Stories, and workbooks can also be a helpful tool to build emotional intelligence. By increasing understanding of oneself and emotional intelligence, resilience follows.

3. Create a safe environment

Accommodate your child’s physical needs as much as possible in their home and school environments. For example, at home, you could use comfortable lighting, soothing colours, and ‘visual reminders’ of their schedule that give them a sense of structure and routine they can easily follow. At school, you could speak to your child’s teachers about giving them a fixed seat and being allowed to use headphones to block out noise if needed during sensory overload . A predictable physical environment can help create a sense of safety, reduce stress levels, and allow neurodiverse children to manage their emotions better, ultimately building resilience.

4. What is within my control? Problem-solve together

If your child is worried about something, purposefully analyse together ‘what is and what isn’t in their control.’ For example, if they’re worried about an exam, try to generate what might not be in their control. This could be what questions are asked, and how well everyone else does. Factors in your child’s control might be how prepared they are and whether they’re on time for the exam.

Another similar approach you could take is thinking of ‘what is the best or worst’ that could happen? For example, if your child is anxious about a new experience like a play date, you can talk through their worries such as missing their parents or not liking the food at the friend’s house and discuss plans on how to deal with them e.g. that you’ll inform the friend’s parents of your child’s food preferences. But also focus on the good things that could happen e.g., they might have more fun than they expected and want to do it again. Focusing on factors within your control can reduce the intensity of emotions a challenging situation might generate, and help your child feel more able to tackle the situation.

5. Practice gratitude

Gratitude builds resilience by encouraging us to focus on the positive aspects of a situation or day, instead of ruminating on the negative ones, thus boosting our mood and self-esteem, and reducing our stress levels. This could be put into practice with a ‘Hunt the Good’ game at the dinner-table or during car rides, where you each take it in turns to share something nice that happened that day or that you did well e.g. a lovely meal, a sunny day, a walk, completing a hard homework. Gratitude diaries can also be a good way of instilling this wonderful habit.

6. Reframe ‘thinking traps’

Our thoughts create our reality. You can encourage gentle shifts in thinking by reframing a thinking trap your child may be falling into and reframing the situation in a more positive and/or accurate light. An example of a thinking trap is catastrophising: dwelling on the worst possible outcome e.g. “If I fail this test, I’ll be kicked out of school.” Another example is fortune-telling e.g. “I just know I’m going to fail my exam.” In this thinking trap, by believing that the future is negative and set in stone, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

7. Build self-belief in a positive and supportive environment

In combination with the growth mindset, build self-belief in your children with ‘positive affirmations’ and reminding them of times they’ve faced similar challenging situations in the past and made it through. It can also be helpful to share your own examples of difficult times so that they know that they’re not the only one who’ve faced difficulties and have come out on the other side. Offer unconditional love and understanding. By doing so, children feel that their parents are a safe place, and feel more secure in their relationships, hence helping build resilience.

8. Build upon your child’s strengths

‘Identify your child’s strengths and passions,’ and nurture them whenever possible, as this builds your child’s confidence and sense of purpose. Moreover, learning to deal with challenges they encounter during the pursuit of their passion can help them apply the same learning points to challenges in other areas of their life.

9. Teach them to advocate for themselves

Teach your child about their condition, and together, learn what works best for them—do they thrive with structure? Do they need additional tools to cope with sensory overload? etc. And using role-play scenarios, practice various situations in which they might need to advocate for themselves and communicate their needs effectively. Self-advocacy skills are crucial for self-confidence, and subsequently, resilience.

10. Practice, practice, practice

Building resilience comes with practice. Create a series of small challenges that your child can complete (start small), and then up the challenge in small increments. With each successful completion of a challenge, your child will gain a new sense of confidence and belief in themselves, which can translate into a confidence that they can tackle other challenges that may come their way.



I’ve listed below some behaviours that, even though they may be done unintentionally, can hinder the development of your child’s resilience. 

1. Overprotection

Although well-intentioned, parents can sometimes accidentally inhibit their child’s development as they want to protect them from any difficulty or challenge. This can cause a child to lose confidence in their ability to accomplish things and can create a barrier to resilience.

2. Negative messages

Unfortunately, neurodiverse people often receive repeated messaging from individuals and society, more generally, that they are less capable, or somehow less than those who are neurotypical. Though, this is totally false—all neurodiverse children have strengths and weaknesses just like neurotypical children, and neurodiverse children often have a unique perspective to offer—this messaging can be pervasive at times and can inhibit the building of resilience.

But sometimes, the negative messages can come from within; children can sometimes ruminate on past failures. In such cases, encourage your child to see failures as a learning opportunity. You could also emphasise, with examples from your own life, how everyone faces setbacks, and even how these events have helped you be where you are now. By putting these perceived negative events into perspective, and adopting a neutral, non-judgement, or positive tone, it can create a more positive environment, and hence, build resilience.

3. Assuming incompetence

Take care to not make assumptions, such as assuming neurodiverse children will not be able to live independently, have a career, and have meaningful relationships. Such assumptions can be damaging, and can create a self-fulfilling prophecy, robbing your child of the opportunity to build confidence and take advantage of new opportunities.

4. Invalidation

When a child’s sense of self and safety, their identity, experiences, and beliefs are consistently invalidated by others, this can have lasting consequences on their development. Invalidating language looks like “You can’t do this” instead of “You’re learning how to do this.” It’s saying, “I don’t know why you’re upset, this isn’t a big deal,” instead of responding with “Clearly, this is a big deal to you. How can I best support you?” Validating your child doesn’t mean agreeing with everything they say or do; it’s about making them feel heard. This subsequently builds trust and connection in the parent-child relationship, which is essential for building resilience.

5. Perfectionism

Neurodiverse children many a times struggle with perfectionism; wanting something, such as their environment or an activity to be perfect or go perfectly. The fear of failure or the distress caused when something doesn’t meet their standards can cause great anxiety. Perfectionism sometimes manifests as avoidance, or challenging behaviour, when it comes to trying something new. It can also manifest as rigid and ‘black-and-white’ thinking, and self-criticism and self-flagellation. The antidote to this is to focus on progress, not perfection. Highlight the things that go well. In response to phrases such as “It’s too hard,” use language such as “You’re stretching your brain and helping it get stronger.”


I have seen these strategies be used to great effect in my own case and with many families i have served. The wonderful thing about resilience is, that it’s a self-replicating skill: once your child has successfully managed a challenging situation, they’ll feel more confident about their ability to overcome such situations in the future. As their confidence grows, so will their resilience.

Remember a good diet, regular physical activity, good sleep hygiene and a consistent routine can act as bedrock for building resilience. Consider seeking professional help, such as from a child psychologist, if you feel you need extra guidance and to take care of yourself. Your wellbeing is essential to your child’s success and for your own physical and mental health. Therefore, be kind to yourself.

As they say, you only fail when you stop trying. Hence, keep practising and re-visiting these techniques.  I still do. You will agree that the past cannot be changed, but the future is still in your control. Celebrate each win, big or small, and more will come your way.


Dr Srinivas Gada MBBS, DCH, MRCP, FRCPCH

Consultant Paediatrician in

Neurodevelopment and Neurodisability

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