neurodivergent behavior, DEI resources for parents

The purpose of this article is to help your child understand why people with mental differences sometimes exhibit unusual behaviors.

The ultimate goal is to teach them to react to those behaviors with kindness instead of bullying. In most cases, the best way to get your message across is to explain why the behavior is happening and then relate it to something from their world.

Here's a list of common neurodivergent behaviors and how to help your child understand why they’re happening.


Fidgeting or “stimming” (shorthand for self-stimulation) is displayed in a wide array of movements. It’s really individual how these ‘explosions of energy’ are exhibited.

How to help: Help your child understand stimming by talking about how energetic and uncomfortable they feel after eating too much candy, or cookies, or some other sugar-filled food. Ideally, have the conversation when they’re in the midst of a sugar high. Relate that feeling to stimming.

Conversation issues

Some people with mental differences interrupt, don’t listen, and dominate conversations. Most often, they do this because it feels safe and soothing to them.

How to help: Help your child understand this concept by explaining that people with conversation issues aren’t doing it to be intentionally annoying. Rather, they’re doing it because they don’t comprehend the concept of back-and-forth conversations.

Conversations, to them, are for communicating their own ideas; they’re not for integrating new information and letting other people contribute their thoughts based on the new information. Monologues feel more comfortable and safer to them than back-and-forth conversations.

Sensory sensitivity

Sensory sensitivity can display itself in numerous ways. It can be visual, auditory, olfactory, tactical, gustatory, or all of the above.

How to help: Help your child understand why someone reacts so strongly to certain sensations. Try to use a simple example like the sound of metal scratching on a chalkboard.

If possible, physically replicate the sound. Explain that when someone with a mental difference covers their ears, it’s because they’re trying to soften the intensity of the sound.

Motor clumsiness

Some people with mental differences are awkward at group sports. They might enjoy participating on a sports team from a mathematical perspective (i.e., baseball statistics or score keeping), or in an individual sport (i.e., martial arts or cycling) but due to lack of coordination and/or focus, participating successfully as an athlete in group sports is not common.

How to help: Help your child understand this concept by letting them talk about their thoughts on the subject. Have them tell you how someone’s clumsiness affects them.

For example, they might disclose that their school sports team consistently loses because of a certain player. Discuss together the thoughts and feelings they’ve revealed to you.


People with a mental difference are sometimes hyperactive. Hyperactivity is often characterized by a short attention span and/or impulsiveness.

How to help: Help your child understand this type of behavior by explaining that someone with a mental difference is hyperactive because a part of their brain works differently than other people’s brains.

Suppose your child tells you they have a classmate who constantly leaves their seat when they’re supposed to stay seated. Explain to your child that their classmate most likely does this because a part of their brain works differently, and their body responds with excessive activity. It’s not intentional.

Let your child contribute to the conversation. The idea of being kind to someone who shows an unusual behavior will sink in much more effectively if your child takes part in verbalizing the concept. Encourage them to participate.


If you found this article helpful, please check out How to Respond to Disability Curiosity from Kids. It's a concise guidebook for parents that's full of more suggestions about how to respond to kids' disability curiosity including instructions for discovering (subtly) how your child truly feels about disability, explaining special needs basics, and teaching manners for adaptive tools (service dogs, wheelchairs, etc.). 
DEI for Parents