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Neurodivergent Resilience

Traditional views of resilience can be harmful for neurodivergent kids

Standard beliefs about how to foster a child’s resilience often go something like this:

  • Teach them that mistakes are part of learning

  • Teach them how to cope with setbacks in “healthy” ways

  • Encourage persistence when things are tough

  • Encourage independent problem-solving

Unfortunately, I don’t think these standard approaches work well with most intense gifted/2e kids. Why?

Many “low resilience” moments for intense gifted/2e kids aren’t about a deficit in their character or motivation. They often don't give up or get overwhelmed because they cognitively think that mistakes are "wrong" or because they don't use deep breathing or positive self-talk. Instead, these kids often feel like giving up because they're in a situation that feels truly terrible or that is not a good fit with their capacity.

For example:

  • A kid who is highly self-conscious or hyper-aware of subtle errors may find mistakes distressing or intolerable.

  • A kid with sensory sensitivities may want to give up when their hairbrush hits a snag.

  • A kid whose hand feels exhausted after writing a sentence may refuse to attempt any assignment that requires a full paragraph.

  • A kid who understands 4th-grade math likely won’t see a purpose in completing a 2nd-grade math worksheet.

To help our intense gifted/2e kids develop resilience, we need to encourage the key ingredients of neurodivergent resilience.

To be resilient, neurodivergent kids need to know:

  • Their distress, annoyance, boredom, anger, and frustration are valid.

  • Important adults in their life will understand and support them.

  • Their challenges are not their fault, and there is nothing wrong with them. Their brain works differently, and their body may work differently too.

  • How to help their brain and body feel comfortable and safe.

  • How to accommodate and care for themselves.

  • How to advocate for themselves to make situations more manageable.

How can you foster your child’s neurodivergent resilience?

When your child is upset by a setback or mistake, try these approaches:


Validate their feelings and perspective.


In the moment, don’t try to teach them the benefit of a mistake or how they can use the situation to learn. (For more about what to avoid in an upset moment, read this.)

Let them cope in a way that works for them.


Some kids need a break from the activity, some kids engage in equalizing behavior to restore equilibrium, and some kids want to persist until they’ve figured out the problem in front of them. There’s no one right way to cope, and they can’t learn a new way when they’re emotionally activated.

Don’t reflexively encourage persistence.

Instead, help your child understand what makes the situation tough for them specifically. Then, help them figure out whether they can change the situation, accommodate themselves, or advocate to make the situation a better fit with their needs and abilities.

Persistence can build resilience when the level of challenge is appropriate. Persistence in a task that’s a poor fit with your kid's capacity or needs may actually encourage hopelessness (if the task is too difficult) or disengagement (if the task is too easy).

Emphasize support, not independence.

Encourage your child to connect with you and others for co-regulation, support, and advocacy help.

Can you think of other ways you encourage your child’s resilience in a way that works for them and their brain? 

If you want more ideas like this directly to your inbox, sign up for Gifted Lab Notes, my weekly email with tips and information for supporting your intense or sensitive gifted or twice-exceptional (2e) kid.

In my 8-week coaching program for parents, I help you understand your child more clearly so you can support them better in neurodivergent-affirming ways. After the first week of the program, you'll have a better sense of why certain situations overwhelm your child or undermine their resilience. In the following weeks, you'll learn how to support your child when they're overwhelmed or upset - such as moments when they feel like giving up on something challenging. You'll also learn strategies to make challenging situations more manageable and enjoyable, so your child is less overwhelmed and you all feel more resilient.

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