135 Transcript: Celebrating Your Child’s Neurodiversity (with Debbie Reber)

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J: You're listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, episode number 135. Today, we're talking about celebrating your child or your children's neurodiversity, the things that make them unique. 20% of children are neuro-diverse these days and that means we don't have to pressure our kids to conform or be quote-unquote ‘normal.’ Maybe it's time that we let our kids be the people they're born to be. If you have kids or even if you have a spouse or a friend or know any human beings at all, this episode is for you; stay tuned.

Intro: Welcome to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast, stories of vibrant women living happy lives. And now, your host, Jen Riday.

J: Hey, ladies, what's shaking? I'm Jen Riday and welcome back to another episode of the Vibrant Happy Women podcast. How is it going? I hope the sun is shining wherever you are. If it's not, I hope you have a little sun shining in your heart or your soul, doing a few things that help you to feel amazing and vibrant and happy. Thanks for listening and let me tell you, I love you guys and I appreciate you listening and being a part of this movement of taking care of yourselves, doing more things you love, slowing down, spending more time loving the people that are in your life and just enjoying the journey; thank you so much for being here. We have another great episode today. I'm bringing on Debbie Reber and we're talking about her book ‘Differently Wired’; whoa, right? As soon as I picked up this book and read the title, I knew I had to have her on the show because many, if not all of my kids are differently wired. And even if you don't think your children fit that mold, you're going to learn a lot in this episode about nonconformity, non-compliance. Instead of pushing your kids toward a vision of what you think they should be based on social expectations, to step back step back from those expectations and discover who your child is, who they really are and how you can support them to be that person. Imagine what it would have been like for you growing up, having your parents do this for you. Instead of them ‘should-ing’ all over you, “You should get good grades and you should behave and you should play sports and you need to get a job…” Those things are all great and important and helpful, but maybe doing it with a different approach where they help you to discover your unique talents and abilities. I know that, for me, getting out of the shoulds of being that perfect stay-at-home mom (and I was never perfect at it, but I sure tried to be), getting out of that mold, ending my attempt to push my square peg into a round hole, wow, my happiness skyrocketed when I learned to get in touch with who I am, what I enjoy, and doing what lights me up. And what a gift if we could do that same thing for our kids; I'm going to be talking all about that in this episode today.

But first, I want to give a shout out to Maria in Madison who left our review of the week. She wrote, “I was looking to start listening to podcasts, but I was struggling to find one that really spoke to me until I found Vibrant Happy Women. Thank you, Jen, for finding amazing women that share relevant topics that leave my heart full every time. Plus, I live in Madison, Wisconsin, so right down the road from you.” Hi, Maria, I think we have to meet for hot chocolate or something sometime. “Also, thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your own personal struggles. It makes my connection with you and your podcast even stronger, knowing that we all go through tough times and these struggles make us better people and parents.” You said it perfectly, Maria, and I'm not joking, we have to meet. Maria in Madison, so glad to know you and that you're listening, and now I'm going to imagine you out there, neighbor, listening to the show. Thank you so much for leaving that review. And everyone else out there, your reviews mean the world to me. I do put a lot of time into this podcast and sometimes I really love that validation to know that it's helping you. So if this podcast has improved your life in any way or brought any value to your day, please take a moment to leave us a review by going to jenriday.com/itunes.

Well, I want to tell you a story related to this episode today. A long time ago in my stay-at-home mom days when I had…. I don't know how many kids I had at the time, I lose track of these things, but I know I was home with a couple of kids and 3 or more kids were in school, and I received a call from the principal. Imagine my embarrassment to learn that all 3 of my elementary school kids had been in his office that day for various forms of misbehavior, boredom in the classroom, acting up, trying to get attention, inability to sit still. I hung up the phone and I just cried. I was trying so hard to do it right. Ever since I got my degree in human development and family studies I thought, “Oh yeah, I'm going to have a leg up, I'm going to do this right,” and then I had my kids and realized, “Whoa, this was way different than people were describing in all those books I had read.” Well, long story short, I really do believe my children are neurologically diverse. They have elements of ADHD, elements of high functioning autism, some of them face anxiety, and as you'll learn in this episode, Debbie Reber, the author of ‘Differently Wired’, explains that all of these things form what she calls the picture of neurodiversity where we're differently wired. And, wow, it's so liberating, first of all, to recognize you're not alone when your kids don't fit the mold, and honestly, maybe, just maybe, there isn't a mold. Maybe there is no quote-unquote ‘normal’, maybe it's all just a lie presented through TV and social media, and that's what I think. And the more I embrace this idea, the more I can truly celebrate the unique things about my kids and celebrate that, “Hey, they know what they want, they're super smart, and they're strong, they're leaders, and they're not going to conform.” And as much as I hate that sometimes, I think, as adults, I'm going to be really proud of all the things they're going to accomplish in their lives.

It's my job, as Debbie says in this interview (and you'll hear it in a moment), to kind of to help them face and cope with some of the shame and messages they receive from their teachers or other adults about them not being good enough because they can't sit as well as other kids or they're not as quiet as other kids; my job to help bring down that fight-or-flight response and help them to feel safe and admired and special and adored. And really, in the end, that's what all of us want from our parents. So there's so many great nuggets of wisdom in this interview, and first, let me tell you just a little bit more about Debbie Reber. She's a New York Times bestselling author and she founded TiLt Parenting which is a website and a top podcast for parents who are raising differently wired children. Her newest book, ‘Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World’, came out in June of this year and it's fantastic. It made me nearly cry on every paragraph for most of the whole book. She's American, but she lives now in the Netherlands and she homeschools her child, Asher, and it's a brilliant and beautiful interview and I can't wait for you to listen. Now. if your kids are not neurologically diverse, listen anyway because I think all of us can do better at discovering what makes our children special and helping them to live their truth. So without further ado, let's dive into this episode.

Debbie Reber is a New York Times bestselling author and the founder of TiLt Parenting, a website, top podcast, and social media community for parents who are raising differently wired children. Her newest book, ‘Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World’, came out in June, 2018. An American, she's lived with her husband and son in the Netherlands since 2013. Welcome to the show, Debbie.

D: Thanks for having me, Jen.

J: So let's dive in with your favorite quote, and I can't wait to discuss this topic because I have a few differently wired kids as well. So let's just go in with your quote first.

D: My favorite quote at the moment, and this has been for the past maybe 4 or 5 years, is by Neale Donald Walsch, and it is that, “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” And I love that quote, I feel I live that quote and I feel like I've tested it, it's turned out to be true time and time again. And I really do believe that all the good juicy stuff happens when we're in that uncomfortable space.

J: Hmm, so give us some examples of when you've seen that in your life because I love this idea.

D: Well, you know, and I write about this in my book, this idea that raising a differently wired kid, there's nothing comfortable about it. And so I think even, for me, learning how to lean into that feeling of feeling incompetent or feeling like a failure or feeling like I don't know what I'm doing here or how to support this child, but I'm willing to be curious about it and see where it leads and just be curious about the journey. And whenever I'm able to do that and really lean in, that's when the big discoveries, for me, have happened; the big learning. You know, even you mentioned that we live in the Netherlands, that was a huge leap of faith that was probably one of these scariest things that we've ever done. You know, we just sold our house in Seattle and left and came here and it was incredibly uncomfortable, and it turned out to be the best thing we could have done for our family. So, again, it just keeps being proven time and time again that that is a truth for me.

J: Mm, the kind of finding the thing you're most afraid of and going there a little bit.

D: Yeah, I mean, that's living, you know, that is when you're in that space, I always say, “I just live the heck out of life, you know, every day, and being uncomfortable as part of that.”

J: Mm-hmm, I love that, “Live the heck out of life,” that's a great one.


J: I'm going to quote you, I'm going to make a quotable for you.


D: That’s awesome.

J: Well, let's hear your story. Well, I'm going to preface this by saying I picked up a book this week, ‘Differently Wired’, and I was really drawn in because I can relate to so much of what you wrote about. And I told a friend, almost every single paragraph made me want to cry because I guess I finally thought, “Oh, I'm not alone feeling like this with my kids, there are people out there who get it I just haven't made the effort to connect with the exceptional child type of movement,” but it meant the world to me that you wrote this book. So tell us your story and hopefully we can convey some of that emotion you experienced along the way because it really touched me.

D: Thank you. Yeah, so I am the mother of a 14 year old differently wired son and, you know, I think when I started out parenting this kid, I thought I was going to rock it, you know, I was like, “I read all the books, I'm really competent, I'm super organized.”

J: Mm-hmm.

D: And…. and we very consciously brought him into the worlds and, you know, we were… I was 35, it was just great timing. And… and of course then, you know, like most parents, even if your kid isn't differently wired, it doesn't unfold the way you expect. We had this picture in our head of what it’s going to look like and then our child reveals who they are to us and that was the case for us. And, you know, my son's name is Asher, as he grew up, and we started just noticing that he was a little more intense in some areas, he was very precocious and just a little MORE. I always say he was just more of a lot of things than our friends’ kids seemed to be. But we didn't think anything really outside the norm was going on because our pediatrician and other people just said, “Oh, this is pretty… this falls within the range of typical toddler behavior or whatever.” But then when we got into preschool years, that's when, you know, we started just getting feedback from teachers and school administrators that, “You know, there are some things we’re noticing that we need to kind of address, intensities and big emotions,” and just other things that that weren't kind of, I guess, complying or conforming in the way that they would hope. And so we kind of squeezed by in our preschool years and then it was really when we started elementary school, we started to think, “Okay, there's probably something going on in terms of a neuro-difference,” and we started exploring that and it was just this like… as I write in the book, it's like it felt like peeling off a Band-Aid because it was a slow discovery of trying to piece together this puzzle like, “What actually is going on here?” and, “Is he a neuro-divergent?” and, “What does that mean?” and, “Will we ever find a school for him?” And we just kind of went through a couple of rough years where we were just trying to figure out how to meet this kid’s needs, being politely asked to leave 2 elementary schools in 2 years and over the course of that, you know, getting a provisional diagnosis of something called pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified in ADHD and finding out he was profoundly gifted. And so we just kind of have been through quite a journey in trying to adapt, you know, our expectations and realizing that we're going down a path we’re not prepared for and we didn't know what to do, you know, we didn't know… we felt perpetually overwhelmed, you know, and alone as you said.

J: Right, right. Well, paint the picture for us a little more, like tell us the worst day with him as a preschooler. And I realized were going to kind of your rock-bottom moments or the worst day as an elementary schooler, those moments when you're like, “Whoa, I cannot do this,” you know?

D: Yeah, I would say the kind of darkest period of, you know, this journey for me personally was, you know, the year that he was in 1st grade. And he had kind of gotten by kindergarten and this… we were in a private kind of elitist private school for highly gifted kids in the Seattle area which he… I don't know how he got in, but he must have… I say, he must have had a really good day, on that visit day. But, you know, it was pretty clear from the start of 1st grade that his teacher didn't really appreciate him and wasn't interested in trying to figure out how to support him. He had had a good kindergarten teacher, but this first grade teacher wasn't a fit. And, you know, it just kind of, over the months of that fall, it went very quickly from, you know, “We're working through things and we understand gifted kids and he'll get there,” and then things turn very quickly to, “This is the most intense kid we've ever seen,” like someone and a school administrator actually said those words to me. And, you know, I think, for me personally, and I wrote about this as well, my darkest moment was getting called in for a meeting which I thought was a meeting to kind of problem-solve, and I had come in with all these strategies and plans and I was always providing them with tools and this is, you know, from our therapist and our parent coach is like, “This is what we're doing, this is the language we use, this has been really successful,” and trying to support them. And so I came to this meeting thinking that this is what we would be doing, like figuring out a plan to help my son have a better experience and to help the classroom work better. And I showed up alone, you know, my husband, we didn't realize what this meeting was going to end up being. So I was there alone and I was… I walked into a room of like 8 teachers; it was every teacher that he had.

J: (Gasps) Oh no!

D: Like, the art teacher, the gym teacher, the computer lab, like everyone.

J: Wow, wow.

D: Spanish, music, yeah.

J: That's so intense! To get all those teachers in one room, oh my gosh.

D: Yes. Yeah, and I started… you know, I know how important it is to a build an alliance, you know, with the educators and I wanted to have a positive problem-solving attitude, but it turned out, I write about it as if it was an ambush because that's what it felt like. Literally, one by one, each teacher basically told me about this incident or that incident or, you know, how much problems or how disruptive Asher's behavior was being to the entire class, and it just went on; it was like I just had to sit there and listen to all of it.

J: Mm.

D: And I kind of… I was so… I just, you know, was just that sinking feeling in your gut and I felt angry and embarrassed and I remember my face was just red. Like, I didn't know what to do and I'm really not great at hiding my emotions, I am not great at communicating thoughtfully when I'm upset. And I don't know how I got through that meeting, but I left that meeting just kind of a complete wreck and called my husband and I was like, “We’ve got to get out of here.” You know, I just realized this… not only is this not going to work, but it's not an emotionally safe place for my son. And I think, you know, the reason it was such a dark period for me is because it was handled with so little compassion and it just felt so painful to be so misunderstood and to realize that there just wasn't a lot of care about how, as a human, you know, we were feeling as a family; so it was really painful.

J: So essentially in the meeting, they were venting their frustrations to you and there wasn't a lot of positive happening?

D: There was no positive. I mean, it became clear that they weren't interested in trying to make a plan, they weren't interested in making this work, they were basically trying to let me know that we should be looking for another school; I mean, that was the bottom line, you know?

J: Wow, wow.

D: And they said that, you know, “Unless things change, you know, dramatically, this isn't going to work.” And, you know, I think that meeting was in November, and initially, I was thinking, “Well, we’ll hang in… you know, we'll stick through the rest of the school year,” but within another week, I was like, “This isn't a good place for my son, I don't… we’ve got to get out of here.”

J: Mm-hmm.

D: So we ended up pulling him out by, you know, before the Christmas break, that was his last day.

J: Whoa, that's great, you took action really fast. Well, before we get into what you did next, I want to dive a little deeper into what you felt after that meeting, did you go into that energy of shame for a little bit? And then also, what do you think your son was experiencing from his end through all of this?

D: I think I felt humiliated, I felt so judged, and, you know, I pride myself on being someone who does try to really consider all perspectives and I'm thoughtful about the way that I move through the world. And I do my research, I always am looking for alignment and… and I believe in compassion as a value; compassion and kindness. And so I just felt like I wasn't being seen at all or respected, and I was embarrassed and I felt… yeah, and angry, I was going through a lot of different emotions, but I think hurt and betrayed like all of those feelings that it did seem like getting dumped in a really unkind way. And, yeah, I think just incompetence, like a failure, and also wondering like, “What does this mean?” you know? I definitely spiraled to that dark place. It's like, “Oh my god, like he's going to kick kicked out of this school and in first grade, like what does this mean? Will we ever find a place?” So that kind of despair setting. And in terms of my son, he was relieved when we told him we were leaving.

J: Aww, poor little guy.

D: Like…I know. I mean, he… I feel… you know, I feel for him so much for what he experienced because he loves to learn. He's an incredibly bright human and he's interested in everything, and he was being publicly shamed by the teacher and by other kids in the classroom who were constantly correcting him or telling him, you know, “You're not doing this the right way,” and very type-A personality kids he was with, and he's a nonconformist so I think he was probably pretty traumatized, you know, from that. He definitely had high anxiety and he was relieved when we said, “You don't need to come back here anymore.”

J: Wow.

D: Yeah.

J: How did you handle that? He was so relieved to get out of that depressing, negative environment, so tell us what you did next.

D: Well, after that, I had a friend who tried to convince me to homeschool him, but I was not open to that idea at all. It was like, “That is not happening.” And so she happened to be the assistant head at another private school that was really kind of a small, lovely place; I knew it very well. It has a social justice mission and just a complete different vibe, and she said, “Yeah, we'll take him. He'll be loved and appreciated,” you know? So we ended up spending the rest of that first grade year with him attending there, and he… he was loved. He had really lovely teachers who really worked hard with him and I think it was helpful in terms of at least connecting with some other kids and being treated with respect. We probably would have continued there, but at the end of that school year, we had a meeting with the head of school who said, “We love Asher and…”

J: Really?

D: Yeah, they said, “We loved him and…” you know, I was like, “Oh, okay.”

J: Oh no! (Laughs)

D: You know, they said, “There's 2 things. One, honestly, we can't meet his intellectual needs, you know, we're just… we're not on that level in terms of being able to challenge him in the way he needs to be challenged. And he's also someone who can… he can create disruptions that take a lot of teacher time and that is hurting the rest of the class, so we would need to bring in a paraprofessional or someone to be with him for at least part of the day where he'd continue.” And we just decided, “Okay, it's time to try another school then,” because…

J: Whoa.

D: … that just wasn't in the plan for us.

J: So did your stomach just sink? I mean, you're thinking, “Really? Again? Oh my gosh!”

D: Yeah. Yeah, because my husband and I had talked, you know, we knew it wasn't a perfect fit, but we were so relieved that he was being treated with respect because that's really important to him; he knows when people don't respect him. And so we had decided, “Well, let's just stay here. It's not a perfect fit, but it'll work for now.” And so, yeah, to hear that in the meeting, I wasn't expecting it. And I actually had a meeting with his teacher prior to that and she kind of casually mentioned, you know, “We're not sure this is a good long-term fit,” and I thought it was kind of an off-the-cuff remark, and that I realized it was actually not, she was planting the seed so we wouldn't feel blindsided…

J: Aww.

D: … during that other meeting, yeah.

J: Wow.

D: So it was just disappointing.

J: Crazy, wow.

D: Yeah.

J: Well, so what next? My goodness, you’re running out of options.


D: So then, we decided that we would go to the public school. And, you know, in Seattle, there is a full-time gifted program that we knew he would qualify for… and I also knew he would qualify for an IEP so I started that process of getting him, you know, an IEP with some accommodations. And so he did all of second grade in that public school system with some support even some therapy and within school. And, you know, overall, I think it was the best fit, I also knew they couldn't kick him out, so that, for me personally, I felt less anxious than I had in the previous 2 years. But I knew it wasn't… he still wasn't thriving, like he was really bored. He spent a lot of time not in the classroom because he could get dysregulated and act in ways that don't work in a classroom. And so it still wasn't a great fit, but had we not had this opportunity to move abroad, which came up at the end of that year, we probably would have kept in that system, you know? I think we would have just kept kind of trying to push him through.

J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. So you went to the Netherlands, and what have you done with him educationally there? What have you done to help him thrive? Because it's not easy.

D: It's not easy, you know, and when we first decided to move here, I started calling all the international schools because I just assumed he continued going to school. And my girlfriend was like, “Debbie, Debbie, Debbie,” like I'll never forget, she's like, “No, if you couldn't find a good fit in Seattle, you're not going to find it in Amsterdam, like this kid needs to be homeschooled.” And for whatever reason, I really heard her that time and I said, “You know what? Alright, let's give it a shot.” And so that was… you know, we just started our 6th year of homeschooling, so that's what we've been doing ever since and it has been an education for both of us, and it's ever evolving, you know? As he grows and develops and… you know, and I have changed, I've had to really learn to let go of control and, you know, I think I started that first year thinking homeschool was going to look super organized and this and we're going to do that, you know?

J: Yeah.

D: I had all these plans which he let me know where that wasn't part of the program for him.

J: Mm-hmm.

D: And over time, I've just kind of continued to learn about what he needs and really focus our school on his interests. And a lot of my work as his homeschooling teacher has been about helping him kind of almost recover, you know, from…

J: Yeah.

D: I mean, he's over it now, but… but there was a couple of years of, I think, just getting out of that fight-or-flight mode and that anxiety and just learning…

J: Aww, yeah.

D: … to feel safe and good about who you are, you know?

J: Wow, that's amazing. So how's he doing now and what's he interested in?

D: He's doing so good. Yeah, we just officially started in 8th grade yesterday.

J: Mm-hmm.

D: He is interested in so many things. He's really into design right now, he's been, working on designing some fonts, he loves typography and that's been a special passion of his for a year now. He's also really into physics and astrophysics, he… for many, years he's wanted to be an astronaut, and that's still something he's super interested in.

J: Really?

D: So he's kind of like the design, half design, half engineering; those are kind of his 2 passions. But he's someone actually who's interested in everything. Like, he's interested in politics and history, you know, anything that kind of stimulate same philosophy, he gets really engaged in.

J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. And so how's life socially for him these days as well?

D: Well, it was really good except, being an expat, a lot of expats come and go and so we actually… he's lost most of his close friends, they’ve moved back to the UK and to the US.

J: Mm.


D: So a lot of his relationships at the moment are virtual, he Skypes with people, you know, almost every day.

J: Mm-hmm.

D: And you know, we have some connections here, but his best friend still lives in Seattle and they talk every week. Socially he's doing… you know, other than the virtual piece, he's doing great. He's someone who's a good friend to his friends.

J: Aww.

D: And he’s really become someone who is really, you know, kind and caring and empathetic to his friends. It's been really cool to see.

J: Aww, that's great. And what do you hope or imagine for his future?

D: I hope it is whatever he wants it to be. You know, he has so much potential and so many interest so I really just… you know, I know that he wants to go to university and has some big schools in mind and I feel like my job is really just to help give him all the tools as many tools, as tools as I can, so that every option is open to him when we get to that point. You know, I think that is something, honestly I used to worry a lot about, especially being responsible for his education, that we're making a decision that could limit him in some way.

J: Hmm.

D: So I just want him to have every possibility open to him, whatever he decides. You know, whatever direction he wants to go in, that's what I want for him.

J: I love that. I love how you said you worked really hard to get him out of fight-or-flight and helping him to feel safe; I think that's so beautiful. And I love what your book says about, you know, “We need that educational diversity and opportunities for all kinds of different kids.” But let's have a quick break for our sponsor and then come back and talk about more about what it means to be neuro-divergent and twice exceptional and what parents can do for any type of child to make sure that their life and their education system is a good fit for them.

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(Interview resumes) []

J: Okay, welcome back. And I wanted to ask you, Debbie, more about what exactly does it mean to be neuro-divergent these days. I love that term, and what was the old term you think was used maybe 20 years ago and how is it different from this term, neuro-divergent?

D: Yeah, I don't know that there was a predecessor, you know, that would be an exact synonym for a neuro-divergent. I think it was special needs, special education were kind of like the buckets that anyone who is learning differently fit into. And, you know, the neuro-divergence movement really stems from the autistic community and it's gaining just more recognition and awareness. But, you know, neuro-divergence, in my definition (and I'm… this isn't my… that I've made up, but just kind of the people that I read and follow) is really this idea that, within the human brain and the variances in the brain, there are many different ways for brains to be wired, you know, that there isn't one kind of normal and then everything else is abnormal, but there's actually this natural variance. And within that and the way that I use it and the way I use ‘Differently Wired’, can be anything from ADHD, to being highly gifted, to being on the autism spectrum, to having dyscalculia or dysgraphia, dyslexia, sensory processing issues, anxiety disorders. So, you know, I really kind of include in that bucket kids or people who are in some way the way their brain is wired and often they're invisible differences, you wouldn't know it from the outside, but it makes kind of some aspect of their life more challenging because they have symptoms that can get in the way of what's expected or what's considered socially acceptable or typical, especially in a classroom setting.

J: And that phrase, ‘twice exceptional’, can you explain that one as well?

D: Sure, yeah, that's one a lot of people ask me about and because there seem to be a different… a couple different definitions floating around. So twice exceptional, which is sometimes shortened to 2e, is the term for people who are both academically or intellectually gifted, meaning they have a high IQ, and that is something else that people debate, but, you know, they have that high intellect and they have some secondary or multiple learning differences. So actually, a lot of the community and in TiLt Parenting, the organization that I run, have twice exceptional kids. So a lot of them are gifted with dyslexia or gifted with ADHD. And the reason that it's such a important kind of distinction to recognize is because twice exceptional kids are especially stuck. Often the giftedness might mask the learning difference and so they don't get the support that they need…

J: Mm-hmm.

D: … in other areas or the learning difference masks the giftedness and so they are never challenged. And they may even be assumed to be slow or unintelligent and so they have a whole side of them that isn't being recognized; so it's a really tricky spot for a lot of kids.

J: Wow, wow, that's… I haven't ever heard of put that way, but that the giftedness can mask the learning difference or the learning difference can mask the giftedness.

D: Yeah.

J: Huh.

D: Yeah.

J: What percentage of kids are neuro-divergent these days?

D: Well, the statistic that I use is 1 in 5, you know, 20% of kids. I get that from understood.org which supports specifically kids with learning and attention issues. There's no good data because so many of these kids also have multiple things going on, but if you were to ask me personally, I would say it's, if you include anxiety and mood disorders and sensory issues and giftedness, ADHD, all the things, in fact, the CDC just came out last week is saying 10% of kids in the US have ADHD alone. So I think that number’s got to be close to 50%, I mean, I think it's way up there if we really start looking at kids who are, in some way, have a neuro-difference that makes an aspect of their life more challenging.

J: Hmm, wow. So then if 20% of kids are neuro-divergent, then how do you look at that word, ‘normal’? (Laughs)

D: Yeah, right?

J: Tell us more about your thoughts on that, right.

D: Yeah, I mean, I always say that, you know, these differently wired kids are the new normal, you know?

J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

D: I think we're doing society such a disservice when we continue to assume that there's one right way of being and thinking and learning, and that people who do things differently are outliers and they therefore don't deserve the same opportunities or, you know, they have to adapt who they are to fit into this quote-unquote ‘normal bucket’. So, yeah, I like to say differently wired is the new normal. I think there's definitely evidence that, whether there are actually more neuro-divergent people now or we're just recognizing it more, either way, I think it's becoming more and more clear that there is no one way to be in this world.

J: Yeah. And, you know, the Myers-Briggs profile for example is so popular at the workplace where we recognize, “Oh, there's all these different types.”

D: Mm-hmm.

J: And I feel like we need to get that into the school setting where we recognize, “Oh he's talented at this and she's more artistic,” and just meet all of those needs, it would be so beautiful. It sounds challenging, and obviously, it is for teachers, but it would be beautiful. (Laughs)

D: Yeah, I mean, it's… you know, I don't know if you read Susan Cain's book, ‘Quiet’, about the power of introversion, but if it's that same idea, you know, we value extraversion, or the traditional educational model values being someone who speaks up in class or who works really well in groups, and you're completely denying this whole other, you know, component of society that actually really thrives on being alone and being more introspective and inverted and that's part of their creativity. So I think we have a lot of work to do to recognize all these different learning styles and then figure out, “How can we support them all?”

J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, I agree. I'm hoping you can speak to maybe a couple of people in history who you believe were neuro-divergent, maybe Einstein or Edison. But I've read a few things, but I assume you can tell the story better than me, but how they were perceived by their teachers and as a child and then went on to do amazing things, so just speak to that a little bit.

D: Yeah, I think that there's definitely… there's a track record of people like Einstein and… and Elon Musk and, you know, these people who were terrible students. I mean, the… Einstein was told he'll never succeed of anything, you know? These kids these differently wired people are disruptors and they're nonconformist and they question everything. And, again, in a society, you know, I don't know if it's less now than it was back in Einstein's day or Henry Cavendish is another one, in their day, but non-compliance is not something that has ever really been appreciated in children at least.

J: Yes. (Laughs)

D: Yeah, so… yeah, I love that. I mean, I love that there are all these kind of, you know, the greatest thinkers of our time, many of them, you know, we didn't… there's no way to test and know for sure that Einstein was on the spectrum, most people believe that he was, and same with Henry Cavendish she's one of Asher’s favorite scientists. But there's definitely a long list of thinkers and people who shook up history and inventors, the greatest inventors of our time, that they were the kids who… who were often kicked out of school we're told they'll never amount to anything.

J: Yes, it's so true. Well, as a parent, how do you support and celebrate that nonconformity, that… and that non-compliance? I mean, it's so hard (Laughs), you know?

D: Yeah.

J: Sometimes you just want them to unload the dishwasher. (Laughs)

D: Yeah.

J: You know, what does that look like for you? You said Asher is a nonconformist, right?

D: Yeah, definitely. You know, I think we have a lot of work as parents to uncover our own, you know, ideas about, you know, what we want for our kids in the long run. So I've been thinking about this a lot lately, I just interviewed Alfie Kohn, and I don't know if you're familiar with him, he wrote a book called ‘Unconditional Parenting’ which I read years ago and kind of blew my mind open about this idea of compliance and that, that's not really what we're trying to do is raise compliant humans, we're trying to raise ethical, responsible humans who know how to be autonomous and think for themselves and… and feel good about who they are. And I think that especially in US society, there is a high value on, you know, quote unquote ‘good behavior’ on… you know, and that makes the parent feel really good if they're told their child is so well behaved and so then that means we're really doing a great job as a parent and so we crave that. And, you know, that mindset is going to get us in trouble.

J: Oh yes, for sure. (Laughs)

D: Yeah, right.

J: I'm laughing because… I'm laughing because, yes, I have super smart, super stubborn and opinionated kids, and it looks like I'm a horrible parent, it does if I believe that model, which I am finally starting to reject; thank heavens (Laughs). But go on.

J: But it takes a while, right? I mean, I in the same way, you know, I hated the thought that people would think I was doing a bad job, you know, because I'm like, “No, no, no, no, I'm actually doing a great job. I'm reading all the same books as you are, they're just not working,” you know? And it's a work in progress for me, but I'm really becoming much more comfortable with this idea that, you know, and noncompliance is great. Like, I want someone who's going to question things and think critically. And my job isn't to raise someone who's going to do what I say because they feel it's the only way they'll earn my love or it's the only way they'll feel that like they had value. I want them to do the right thing because it feels really good for them, you know, that they feel that sense of self-control and self-responsibility. So it's a long process and it takes a lot of just rewiring and reframing of, I think what so many of us have been taught is what's expected as a parent and what's expected as a child. And of course that's reinforced in, you know, those articles that trend on… you know, that you see in your Facebook news feed that your child should be behaving this way or ‘5 ways or not disciplining your child enough’ or whatever. And then the feedback we're getting from a lot of schools, it's hard to maintain that bigger picture of, “Our goal here is to raise thoughtful humans who feel a sense of autonomy and confidence and really are ready to share their gifts with the world because it's kind of who they are and they own that, as opposed to it's gotten them a good grade or they're trying to please someone.”

J: Hmm, I love that; I really love that. And also, helping them to recognize there is no normal, that there's diversity in nature, all the species of birds and trees and plants, and maybe having this idea that society can just welcome all kinds of things, rather than conformity.

D: Mm-hmm.

J: But I love this part in your book, ‘Differently Wired’, where you're talking with Asher, he'd been studying the Holocaust and he'd read a book and he said, “There was this awesome quote in the book from an autistic writer about, ‘What if things were totally reversed and we were the normal ones and everybody else was wrong?’” and then you knew the quote, but it said… let's see, you said, “Oh really? What was the quote?” and he said, “Neurotypical syndrome is a neurobiological disorder characterized by preoccupation with social concerns, delusions of superiority and obsession with conformity, there is no known cure.”


J: I thought, “That is hilarious, because what if it is an evolutionary advantage to be less obsessed with conformity and social concerns and wondering what everyone else thinks and this constant need to compare?” it kind of like opened my eyes to a new way of thinking.

D: Mm-hmm.

J: I love that.

D: Yeah. How freeing is that to imagine going through your life, not doing things for other people, right, you know, and not doing it because you, you know, it's going to make you look a certain way or other people will perceive you in a certain way, but just because it's who you are. I mean, that, to me, is a huge gift that many differently wired people have is, you know, Asher could care less what other people think of him and I really love that, I'm a little jealous of it, but…

J: Yeah.

D: Yeah, and I definitely… I love that quote because I agree, like it is true, you know, why should differently wired people have to change who they are so that other people feel more comfortable in their presence? That's not their job. Why aren't they just perfect exactly as they are?

J: Yes, I agree. And I think there's more social acceptance for that in society, it's shifting. I think Big Bang Theory, I don't know if you've ever watched that show…

D: Mm-hmm.

J: … but kind of helps, and so many people approach me and say, “Your husband is like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory.”


J: And I’m like, “Well, good I’m glad that’s popular now.” (Laughs) That’s so funny. Well, and any final thoughts about the book and about being neuro-divergent and twice exceptional? Maybe advice for anyone out there listening who thinks their child might be like this.

D: Yeah, I think one of the things I would just encourage people if they do have a differently wired child or they're suspecting that something is going on, to not look at it as a problem or, you know, something that needs to be fixed. I think, or I know, I spent many years trying to figure out, “How can I right this train? Like, how can I get us back on this other path?” that's the one I envisioned, that's the one all my friends are on, you know? And I kept trying to like address behaviors or other things that we could get back on that path, that journey. And what a waste of time that was and it didn't serve anybody in my family. And, you know, had I instead, at that point, just kind of leaned in and started getting really curious about who Asher was, I would have saved myself a lot of pain, we would have figure things out a little sooner. So I think that being curious about who our kid is and thinking, “Okay, how can I really like discover what this child needs and then do what I can to get that for him or her?” is the best gift that we could give her, no matter how they're wired, you know?

J: Mm-hmm, exactly. Oh, wouldn't we all have loved that as a child from our own parents? (Laughs)

D: Yes. (Laughs)

J: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Well, in our last couple of minutes, Debbie, we love to hear about a few of your favorite things. So what is your favorite book?

D: Yeah, that's such a good question. My favorite book, you know, that's stuck with me for a long time is Shonda Rhimes’ book, the ‘Year of Yes’. I don't know if you've read that book.

J: Mm, love that one… I love it, I loved it.

D: Yeah, it definitely left an impression. I mean, I read a ton of books and I have some Kurt Vonnegut favorites from… from many, many years ago. But that's one that it kind of transformed me and stayed with me.

J: Mm-hmm, it's a great one. What is your favorite happiness hack?

D: Well, I'm a reality TV junkie so that, watching of reality TV, and then consuming podcasts, recapping said reality television shows while I'm running is really something that gives me great pleasure. It's a little embarrassing, but it's true.

J: (Laughs). Yeah, so there are podcasts about… which reality TV shows are we talking about?

D: Ugh, do I have to say this, Jen? It’s so embarrassing.

J: (Laughs). Yup, now you have to. (Laughs)

D: Okay, so I will just say that, for 20 years, I have been a consumer of The Bachelor franchise; or 18 years, however it's… long it's been on. And The Bachelor franchise in all its glory, so that's… (Laughs)

J: Uh-huh, there you go.

D: And there are… there are many podcasts that recap that, and I listen… I will say, the one I listen to it's a feminist take on it, so I feel like it's… you know, it's not as trashy as it sounds.

J: (Laughs). I’m so glad you shared it. I mean, we all have our guilty pleasures, right? There you go. (Laughs)

D: Yes. (Laughs)

J: And I know I have a lot of friends who watch The Bachelor, so you're very much not alone.

D: Okay, good. (Laughs)

J: What does your morning routine look like?

D: Well, right now (and it's been about a year that I've been doing it), I get up and of course, I spent a few minutes on my phone, which I shouldn't do, but I check in with the news that I missed because I'm 6 hours ahead of East Coast Time in the US and I was want to see if I missed anything big. And then I do yoga every morning, I do it in my living room with YouTube. I have an awesome yoga instructor on YouTube.

J: Is it Yoga With Adriene?

D: You better know it!

J: (Laughs)

D: Yes, you do that too?

J: Everyone loves her.

D: Yeah.

J: I've looked at it, yes. I have so many friends telling me about her, Yoga With Adriene. (Laughs)

D: She’s awesome. Yes, so I do that every day and then Asher and I always go for a walk, and we live very close to the Vondelpark, which is like the Central Park of Amsterdam. We go for a walk through the park and then we get on with our homeschooling day.

J: Oh, nice.

D: Yeah.

J: I like that you start the day with the walk, just get the juices flowing.

D: It's for both of us, yes. (Laughs)

J: Exactly, exactly. What's your favorite easy meal?

D: Well, I have a Crock-Pot and I love my Crock-Pot. And my favorite Crock-Pot meal at the moment is a Thai chicken curry that I make, and then you roast some red peppers with it and serve it over rice, and it's amazing. And I get 2… 2 days out of it, so that's great.

J: So give us the kind of the scoop on that recipe, or do you mind sharing it with us?

D: Well, I will email you the recipe, it's on my Pinterest board. But, yeah, it's basically, you know, just a couple chicken breasts in there with some red curry paste, some coconut milk, and a couple of seasonings, like not much at all, and I just let it… let it cook in there all day whatever, you know, on low for 5 hours or something. And then I sauté red peppers separately…

J: Mm.

D: … when it's time, you know, when it's…

J: Yeah.

D: … when it's closer and then I just chop the chicken up into little slices, cook some white rice for the side and, yeah… oh, and then you chop some peanuts that you can serve over it too. It's… in Dutch, we would say, “It’s super lekker,” it's very tasty.

J: “Super lekker,” I speak…

D: Lekker. (Laughs)

J: I speak German and they also say lekker.

D: Oh, they do? Oh, that’s so funny.

J: With less of an ‘r’. I've heard… let’s see, Dutch is a mix between English and German, is that accurate?

D: Yeah, pretty much. It's not as harsh as German, it's a little softer and then it has that guttural g sound, like, you know, it's …

J: Yeah.

D: … just rolls off the tongue.


J: Yes, my daughter's taking a German class and we spent 5 minutes talking about how to pronounce the word, Madchen, you know, that h, g, c, h, g sound in German? So similar, so funny.

D: Similar, yeah, yeah.

J: Cool. Well, let's have your thoughts on what it means to be a vibrant happy woman.

D: Well, for me, to be a vibrant happy woman, it has to start with self-care. I am an unapologetic health care practitioner, I have been for forever, you know? When I met my husband, I was still like, “Hey, man, I need time for myself. I like to run alone,” so self-care is a big piece of that. And taking leaps, you know, I talked about that quote in the beginning, taking leaps that feel really scary, I think is a really, again, where all the good stuff is on the other side of those leaps. So that, to me, is a constant part of my life and it will always be. And then just staying present. So staying present in those leaps and all the uncomfortableness, because if you do that, you’re also there for all the good stuff, you know, you notice all the little bright spots along the way. So that would be my recipe.

J: Mm, I love your recipe. I think yours might be the recipe that's closest to my recipe, so thank you; I feel so connected to you now.


D: Awesome.

J: Self-care, do the scary things and be present in that uncomfortableness; I love that.

D: Yeah.

J: Well, let's have a challenge from you to our listeners and we'll say goodbye.

D: Yeah. I would say (such a great question too), I'm really big into this idea that we really get to be in choice about our lives, and I hear from so many parents and so many moms that they feel like they can't, you know, do what they really want to do, where they feel stuck or that they have all these responsibilities so they need to do this or that and therefore, they can't do this. And I really want to challenge people to question that and to think about areas where you might feel stuck and that you're not in choice, and recognize that actually, you're in choice about everything. And… and if there is an area of your life like that, how might you be able to… to create a little wiggle room there to bring in a little bit more of what you would actually want if you could change a situation that you feel you have no control over?

J: Wow, I love this; oh man. We need to start the Vibrant Happy Women commune where we all just have complete choice about our lives.

D: Mm, yes.

J: “I'm going to cook and…”

D: (Laughs)

J: “… so-and-so is going to the homeschooling and…” (Laughs)

D: And I’ll be watching The Bachelor. (Laughs)

J: Yes, yes, and only neuro-divergent students welcome. (Laughs)

D: Yeah, there you go. (Laughs)

J: That's great. Well, thank you so much for sharing. Everyone, definitely read her book whether you have a neuro-divergent child or not because she has so many great ideas about what it means to accept that nonconformity and accepting and celebrating all the differences in kids. Thank you so much for writing that, Debbie, and for being here on the show.

D: Thank you so much for having me, I really enjoyed this conversation.

J: Yeah, it was fun. Have a great evening in the Netherlands. (Laughs)

D: Thank you, you too.

J: So many great thoughts I have after that interview, and I hope it's going to give you food for thought all day, “How can you help to discover and celebrate all the unique things about your child; unique ways of thinking, unique things they want to learn and do and discover?” I appreciate you listening, thank you so much for being here. I'll be back later this week with a happy bit, and until then, make it a phenomenal week. Take care.

Outro: Thanks for listening to the Vibrant Happy Women podcast at www.jenriday.com.