Updated: Jul 30
There are a growing number of courses and books discussing the benefits of low demand parenting strategies. The low demand parenting approach has been adopted many professionals such as Dr. Naomi Fisher who are supporting families. It is becoming increasingly popular amongst parents, especially in neurodivergent communities or in communities where children are struggling with mental health. Many of the low demand parenting courses and books aim to support families with neurodivergent children (those who may be autistic, adhd or have sensory processing difficulties). However, the benefits of applying this same strategy to yourself as a parent are often not discussed. Allowing yourself flexibility, giving yourself permission to lower stress in what ever way is manageable for you and your family is as important for you as a parent as it is for your children.
What is low demand parenting? A low demand parenting approach can help lower children's anxiety, it provides greater flexibility to meet sensory, social and communication needs. Low demand parenting means working collaboratively and deepening connections with your children as individuals to create an environment so your children can thrive at home and achieve their potential. The aim is to work out ways to meet the unique needs of YOUR family; giving time and space to explore options and find what works best for YOU as a family with all the differences and wonderfulness (and stress!) that may bring as a neurodivergent family.
The PDA society summarise this as; "A partnership based on trust, flexibility, collaboration, careful use of language and balancing of demands works best." A low demand approach is not about 'giving in' to your children, rather, it means changing your mindset about what you think you 'should' or 'need' to be doing as a parent. It does not mean there are no boundaries, instead those boundaries may look different to another family. To meet the fluid, fluctuating needs of children (see my article: Autism is fluid ), it may help to see low arousal parenting approach as being fluid too, it is flexible, in constant flux, always having a plan b, c, or x, y, z! How this may look in your home If your children have sensory needs and difficulties with eating / sleeping, they may feel more comfortable and their sensory system may be more regulated eating in their den or being distracted by watching tv. If your children are anxious they may sleep better being in the same room as you so they feel safe, even if they are no-longer babies or toddlers. It is about being flexible and not feeling you have to live up to expectations of the 'right way' to parent based on what some other parents may be doing. If your children are neurodivergent their needs will be different to those that are not neurodivergent, this means you may need a different approach to parenting to what you expected or may have experienced yourself. There is no 'right way' to parent There is not a single 'right way' to parent, every family is different and will have their own unique dynamics and needs. Low demand parenting helps children develop autonomy and learn ways to stay out of fight, flight, freeze or fawn responses. Low demand parenting is a way to promote good mental health, especially for children that may already be struggling. If your children are autistic it may provide more opportunity to meet their sensory needs and also be a way of working in more time to develop their special interests which will also help manage anxiety. Low demand parenting for parents You can apply a low demand approach to yourself as a parent, it may be more beneficial to parents who are also neurodivergent themselves. Think about what you can change to give you more flexibility as an adult, what can you change to meet your own needs and lower your own anxiety and stress. A less stressed, anxious and overwhelmed parent will benefit the whole family.
Modelling positive ways to manage your own sensory, social and mental health needs will also support your children. It will set the scaffolding foundations so your children learn effective ways to support their own mental health and advocate for themselves. Low Demand for Parents It can be exhausting juggling everyone's needs in the family, it is important to recognise your own capacity so you don't head towards burnout. Taking little moments to rest and re-charge when you can helps, it all adds up. Even if that may just be 5 mins in the bathroom or an extra 10 minutes sat in the car before you go shopping. Low demand approach for the whole family
Social & Communication - it's ok to to stay at home, watch tv and have pyjama days (lots of them if needed!). Playing and working alongside your children can be a really good way for everyone to get a bit of time to do what they want but all still be together in a shared space. Sensory - it's hard juggling everyone's sensory needs in a neurodivergent family. Lighting, sound and scents and food can all be difficult to manage if there is more than just you at home. Executive functioning There are lots of homelife hacks on social media and a recent surge of autistic / adhd living hacks which include tips from batch cooking to cleaning and home organisation ideas. There are also various online groups which offer specific support for neurodivergent adults who need support with managing household and family related tasks to help your family get through the days, even when they are really difficult! Low demand approach supports the whole family
Parenting is really hard, if you are also autistic and have neurodivergent children it can feel even more overwhelming at times. Low demand parenting approaches may help you and your children have a more balanced family life. Autistic Burnout: A Family Guide is available here: Shop | Autisticrealms
Signposting & more relevant reading: Autistic Parents UK Autistic Burnout in Parenthood (autisticparentsuk.org) Reconsidering Parenting through an Autism Lens (autisticparentsuk.org) PDA Society Resources Dr Naomi Fisher Think Again | Dr Naomi Fisher | Substack
**Article written from my lived experience as a parent and teacher. Knowledge gained through various personal research and neurodivergent communities. Autistic Realms is a space for parent support and teacher guidance. I am not a medical professional or therapist**