“I Think I Might Be Neurodivergent.” If You Have An Autistic Child, You Might Be! 

A few years after my daughter’s autism spectrum diagnosis at age 5, her dad mumbled to me one day, “I think I may be neurodivergent, too.” Although I had been a licensed counselor for close to a decade, I had no idea that autism was possible in adults like him – a college-educated, father of two, a little-league coach, and a successful career man. The thought drifted away from both of us like a feather in the wind…neither of us understood how much neurodiversity was affecting our entire family and our marriage! It would be years before that clarity came.

FAMILY PATTERNS TO LOOK FOR IF YOU THINK YOU MIGHT BE NEURODIVERGENT

In addition to an autism diagnosis, our daughter, and also our son, were identified as having sensory processing disorder. Our son was eventually diagnosed with ADHD, at age 16. Like many ADHD adults who were never identified, he was a smart kid who didn’t struggle academically, so his executive dysfunction went largely unnoticed – there was no connection made when he struggled with depressive symptoms and social anxiety as a young boy.  

Their father and I also recognized some sensory differences in ourselves as we learned about how to help our children to regulate their sensory system. He needs constant sound or music to stay focused and I need silence. He loves theme park “spinning” rides with the kids and I hate them. My throat hurts if I’m exposed to chemical scents and he loves potpourri, candles, and air fresheners.  My body can’t tolerate heat whereas he basks in the hot sunshine like a lizard on a rock. You get the point!

We knew all of these things, but we never made the connection that our brain’s sensory processing differences were somehow related to our communication difficulties and perceptions of one another (and ourselves). The answer eventually came to me, but not until after a painful divorce: we were a neurodiverse couple.  He is autistic and I am ADHD. None of our many therapists ever recognized it in either of us. Now, my own clients tell me similar stories over and over. 

“My son is autistic, and I’ve been realizing he is a lot like me as a kid.” 

“Both of our children are on the spectrum, and I see some real similarities in my husband.” 

“They tested my daughter and the psychologist told me I’m ADHD, too.”

“My granddaughter just got diagnosed with autism at school, and I didn’t realize all her little quirks had a name. I’m quirky too.” 

“My whole family is kinda different. We don’t talk about emotions really at all and none of us are big into friendships. I didn’t think anything of it until my nephew was diagnosed as autistic.”

In my own extended family, I now recognize neurodivergence in many other family members, as well. I understand why my grandmother was very blunt and “set in her ways.” I realize why my uncle, a brilliant engineer, won’t go to a restaurant unless he can look up the menu online beforehand. It now makes sense to me why the harsh winter sunshine will give me a migraine, and why the constant hum of the fish tank pump makes me tired and irritable.

AUTISM RATES AND CONTRIBUTING FACTORS 

Historically, most research has focused on identifying autism and other neurodiversity in children. The documented rate of autism in children has risen over time, and a 2020 study estimated that 1 in 36 children are diagnosed as autistic by the age of 8 (Maenner, Warren, and Williams, et al., 2020).  

More recently, studies have sought to identify factors that contribute to autism, such as hereditary and environmental influences. One study estimated that 80% of these factors are genetic (Bai, Yip, Windham, et al., 2019). Another study concluded that parents of autistic children are more likely to have neurodivergent traits – fathers more than mothers (Sadegi & Khanjani, n.d.). 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU IF YOU HAVE AN AUTISTIC CHILD? 

Statistically, the probability is high that at least one parent of an autistic child will have neurodivergent traits. Other children, and extended family, may also be autistic or have neurodivergent traits, as well. If you have a child, an adult sibling, a niece/nephew, a grandchild, or any other blood relative diagnosed with autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, dyslexia, or some other kind of learning challenge, it is likely that you (and your children) will have some form of neurodivergence. 

I encourage you to seek clarity, education, and guidance about adult neurodiversity and how traits can vary significantly from person to person. There are an infinite number of combinations of neurodivergent traits to show up in any one person. 

The framework of neurodiversity is incredibly helpful for couples who struggle with confusion and conflict due to misunderstandings in communication, and interpersonal interactions. Even though my own 19-year marriage ended before we had this framework to help us understand our different brains, I have made it my mission to help other partners and couples understand their own marriages before it is too late to be saved. Even if your marriage is too damaged and the hurt is too great, you will still benefit tremendously from learning about neurodiversity. 

If you think you may be neurodivergent (autistic, ADHD, etc.), find a therapist or relationship coach who specializes in neurodiversity to help you with insight and clarity.

About ME

Although my professional training and experience have provided tremendous insight, my own neurodiverse relationships have been my personal training ground for understanding and embracing neurodiversity. In over two decades, I  have helped thousands of individuals, couples, families, students, and colleagues in over 13 countries as a THERAPIST, PROFESSOR, COACH, and GLOBAL EDUCATOR