autism awareness
autism awareness

Navigating Neurodiversity: Reflections on Parent-Educator Collaboration in Early Childhood Education

Picture of Stephanie Phillips
Stephanie Phillips

Stephanie Phillips was a practising paediatric dentist in America until seven years
ago, when her husband's work moved their family to Sydney. She is the mother to
two boys, one in high school and one in primary school, one neurodivergent and one
neurotypical. She has co-written a memoir, writes for various websites, and is
currently working on an academic paper in the hope of becoming a linguist and
creating a more inclusive world for people with all types of brains.

When I look back on the first few years after my son’s diagnosis, I see a mother struggling to do everything exactly right. Such an approach is doomed to fail. 

Knowledge in the field of neurodivergence is growing daily, and both parents and professionals need to look at this journey not as a sprint, but a marathon. Hindsight provides an opportunity to recognise how we did it wrong, and I can fall into a pattern of beating myself up for every mistake I made. 

Just like there is no one autistic profile, there is no one way to do everything right. So much of it comes down to what works for the child and their family on an individual basis. But distance and time do provide wisdom, and if I were to pass on what I’ve learned since those early days, it would be in an effort to help neurodivergent kids and their families navigate a smoother path. 

My son spent time both in a mainstream daycare setting and a special-needs preschool class. Both had their advantages and disadvantages, and the one thing I can say with certainty is that we all have much to learn when it comes to educating neurodivergent kids–who are completely worthy of an education that focuses on their strengths, helps them reach their potential, and recognises their unique contributions. 


Parents and educators alike have indispensable roles to play, and in future posts I’ll be addressing each group individually. For now, I’d like to share some general thoughts about how my son’s educators and I could have engaged with each other in ways that would have made those years better for us all.

  1. No apologies necessary. As a people-pleaser, I often approached teachers in an apologetic fashion. I don’t think such a posture benefits anyone. Some brains process information differently, and this requires no apology. Likewise, educators need not apologise for seeking clarity or guidance from parents–more information helps everyone, and curiosity is key!
  1. Accommodations are not preferences but needs. When a neurodivergent child requires a change or tweaking of the standard curriculum/approach, this is to help guarantee both their future success and current well-being. More often than not, such accommodations benefit the entire class.
  1. Early diagnosis is life changing. I hear so many adult autistics talk about how their diagnosis saved their life because it explained why they feel out of place in a world that is clearly not geared toward their differences. Parents need not run from a diagnosis out of fear of “labels” or the unknown; and if an educator suspects a child might qualify for a diagnosis, then a conversation with a parent is warranted.
  1. Following from the above point, open, two-way communication between parents and educators is vital. Omitting information to avoid confrontation or hurt feelings serves no one, least of all the child. If there are concerns on either side, from the parent or educator, they need to be addressed.

Though general in nature, the above points are a starting place where early childhood educators and parents can meet to acknowledge a common goal: the well-being and success of the child in their care. 

In future articles I’ll delve into the specifics of what accommodations can look like, how to advocate for a neurodivergent child, and best practices for neurodivergent children in ECEC, along with everything I wish I’d known a decade ago when it came to my own child.  

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