“How are you?” A simple enough question, with a complex answer. I have a neuro-diverse family. The brains of my children were wired differently from birth, with invisible conditions, ranging from depression and anxiety, to autism, to brain differences related to prenatal drug or alcohol exposure.

My days are filled setting my children up for success. In our home: with nutrition and medications for the brain, clarifying expectations, providing consistency and mediation. In school: educating teachers on learning strategies that work, on brain-based reasons for specific behaviors, on prevention and de-escalation methods. In the community: supervising teens whose peers are independent, and educating librarians, police officers, and employers as to why things seem “off.”

The needs of my children are so intense that I do this full-time now.

The world is not yet supportive of neuro-diversity. Educators, physicians, judges, sales clerks, and others have certain expectations of young people. When my children can't meet those expectations, bad things happen.

On the mild side, my kids are verbally reprimanded or shunned for their actions — too loud, too close, too happy, too rude. On the extreme end, my children are suspended or jailed — for scary words, for ripping classroom posters, for throwing things.

Through it all I am judged. In the eyes of many, the issues of my children stem from something I've done or not done as a parent, because my kids look identical to their neurotypical peers. You can't see brain differences that cause impulsivity, or sensory issues, or emotional outbursts.

“How am I?”

“Drained. Frustrated. Uncertain. Isolated. Grieving.”

Sometimes I feel I've lost myself. Every ounce of my energy directed toward someone else's well-being.

I make conscious efforts to care for myself. To literally feed and clothe and clean my own body. To do things that bring me joy. To connect with other adults and nurture family relationships. To seek communities where parents share my experiences. Most importantly, to celebrate the characteristics of my children that delight me and motivate me to continue.

I care for the children and I care for the caregiver. To survive long term, I need to re-define “success.” If my hopes are truly unattainable, I'll be discouraged and quit, which serves no one.

Not college-bound? Maybe food photography earns a living wage.

Not able to get through a whole school day? Maybe online classes can make up the difference.

Not launching independently? Maybe I have help with yard work for a few more years.
Each re-definition could signify a loss — for a dream of mine, for a potential of my child. But each re- set also involves hope. A future that might be different from what I envisioned, but that represents my evolving perception of success.

“How am I?”

“Determined. Hopeful. Loving. Joyous. Satisfied.”

"How are you?"

I save the too-complex-for-the- grocery-store explanation for another day, and simply answer, "Fine."