Moving Past No: Parenting Neurodivergent Kids When They Push Back | Sharon Saline, Psy.D. | 7 Min Read

May 11, 2022

Recently, I was in my office with Kieran, an eighth-grade boy who was complaining about being bored after school to his mom and me. “There’s nothing to do except gaming and you only let me do that for an hour. What else am I supposed to do?” His mom gently suggested going back to some activities that had previously interested him—guitar lessons, indoor soccer, swim team, improvisational theater classes. “No, no, no.” His mom turned to me and said: “I used to do this to my mom. She called it ‘Shoot ‘em up, and knock ‘em down.’ There’s never a right answer.”

I instantly wondered if ‘No’ meant Forget about it or I’m not sure and need to think about it. Indoor soccer and theater were hard ‘No’s.’ Guitar and swimming were more of an ‘I’ll think about it.” I asked Kieran why he doesn’t just say that and he shrugged, “I don’t know… I just can’t think about all that stuff at once.“ Saying ‘No’ flat out like that gives him space to think about something without any pressure.

With working memory and/or processing speed challenges, kids with ADHD, LD, ASD, or 2E often feel overwhelmed—emotionally, cognitively, or socially. Biologically, they lack adequate amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine in their brains to help them process and recall information efficiently and keep up with all of the activity around them. They frequently struggle to articulate these mostly unconscious cognitive processes. Instead, what most kids tell me is that they simply feel flooded and agitated. While they try to muddle through and manage these feelings at school or with friends, by the time they arrive home, they don’t feel obligated to hold it together anymore. As Kieran once told me, “I’m not going to be suspended from my family.” He feels safe enough with his caring parents to shut down, push boundaries, and create whatever space he needs to process information at a pace that works for his uniquely wired brain.

What does NO mean to your son or daughter? The ‘No’ might be a response to what they grasp as a demand rather than a request. Before you investigate what ‘NO’ really means, reflect on how you ask your child to do something or engage them in a task. Invitations, doing something alongside them (being a body double), and noticing their efforts contribute to better cooperation.…

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Sharon Saline, Psy.D.

Sharon Saline, Psy.D. is a top expert in ADHD and neurodiversity. Dr. Saline specializes in an integrative approach to managing ADHD, anxiety, executive functioning skills, learning differences and mental health issues in neurodiverse and 2e children, teens, college-age adults and families. With over 25 years of clinical experience, she brings a positive, strength-based approach to improving the challenges related to attention, learning and behavior. As a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Northampton, MA, Dr. Saline helps people reduce frustration, develop daily living skills, communicate better and feel closer. An internationally sought-after lecturer, workshop facilitator, and educator/clinician trainer, she adeptly addresses topics ranging from making sense of ADHD and executive functioning skills to managing anxiety to understanding the teen brain. You may contact Dr. Sharon Saline at