Bernadette Rhoden
Published On: 30 May 2023Tags: ,


In a Strengthening Families Strengthening Communities (SFSC) programme in South East London some years ago, I met a couple who had two children under the age of seven, and an unsympathetic extended family. Their youngest child had a diagnosis of developmental delay and moderate learning disability, speech and language and mobility difficulties. A few years after the programme had ended their son had a further diagnosis of autism which had long been suspected. At the time of completing their 13-week SFSC journey, both parents shared how valuable the experience had been in enabling them to meet the needs of both their children and cope with their wider family.  

All agree that parenting children can be challenging, and that parenting children who are born with brains that think, learn and process information differently to others – often described as being neurodiverse – brings additional complexities. This has led many commissioners and referrers to ask us if a universal programme like SFSC is a useful intervention for these families, and to raise the question as to whether it is necessary to have a separate targeted parenting programme to meet the needs of families parenting children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or a broad range of differences. 

We know little about the experience of neurodiverse children from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups which can make it even more difficult for families from these communities to receive appropriate support.  

SFSC has always had a culturally sensitive strengths-based approach.  From its inception in the UK in 2000, SFSC has sought to be inclusive, and at the beginning of this year we committed to an overhaul of the curriculum to better meet the needs of parents with neurodivergent children with a specific focus on ASD and ADHD.  We plan to review the entire curriculum with expert partners and to produce a new supplement and develop an advanced training programme for facilitators. 

To date we have created other specific supplements to the main 13-week curriculum to address parenting children under five, issues relating to serious youth violence, radicalisation and extremism, employment and training, improved sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing, and most recently, reducing parental conflict.  

The new supplement and accompanying training will support facilitators to deliver SFSC to targeted groups of parents with neurodivergent children as well as universal groups which assume the presence of one or more families of a child with ASD and/or ADHD.

Importantly, the SFSC Facilitator Manual, Parent Manual and other resources will be revised to be more inclusive in language and approach in the belief that when we meet the needs of neurodiverse children, we are likely to meet the needs of all children.  As such, SFSC’s Five Day Core Training, Two Day Refresher and other courses will also reflect this change in approach to support facilitators in addressing parenting concerns across a much broader spectrum of families utilising existing SFSC strategies.

All children should be afforded a violence free healthy outcome, but we know neurodivergent children are more likely to experience violence or difficult outcomes as their difference may make them a target for others or that their alternative perception of situations may create vulnerabilities that others exploit.  

SFSC’s violence prevention ethos promotes key childhood characteristics important and relevant to neurotypical and neurodivergent children in enabling better outcomes. Supporting parents to focus on strengths, celebrating difference and natural talents in areas such as music, dance, managing emotions, compassion, decision making, memory, or the completion of everyday activities that an ASD child succeeds in, can promote positive self-esteem, self-discipline, and social competence.

The culturally sensitive process will provide opportunities for parents themselves to consider and amend their parenting style and to try new things, build stronger relationships with their children, improve verbal and nonverbal communication skills, and their emotional intelligence, learn practical strategies to put effective boundaries in place, find out about community resources and not least benefit from the support and camaraderie of other parents with similar experiences. 

We are working with the North London based charity Markfield, established in 1979 by parents of disabled children with a vision to create an inclusive place for disabled and non-disabled children to play.

Markfield have five trained SFSC facilitators and have been delivering the 13-week programme successfully to parents for over 10 years and attest to the programme’s effectiveness for the families they work with. 

The programme revision will also benefit from the experience of our Trustee, Reena Anand, speaker, writer, and trainer on autism, who completed the core training earlier this year and has specific lived experience of parenting neurodivergent children.

We aim to have the first revised draft resources available to be piloted in September 2023 by the Race Equality Foundation and Markfield facilitators, and introduced nationally in 2024.