S06|09 - De-stigmatizing Neurodivergence (creating inclusion and changing our world)Apr 10, 2023
Neurodivergent kids (and people) are often looked as “outside the norm” and often treated in behaviourist ways to “change them” or modify their behaviours to be more in the “norm”. We do this because we think the neurotypical way of thinking and being is SO much better. I think we’re wrong about this. As we think more outside the box, and create a more inclusive world… we’ll drive innovation, growth and peace. Let’s stop trying to TEACH (change) each other… and instead, learn FROM each other.
In today’s episode you’ll hear:
- Neurodiversity, neurodivergent and neurocontrast defined
- Experiences I’ve had with my ND kids that have opened up my eyes to more inclusive ways of thinking and being- and more freedom in my own life
- How innovation is driven by, and only exists thanks to, neurodiversity
- Making our churches, schools, communities and homes safe and inclusive spaces for ND humans
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Episode Title: De-stigmatizing Neurodivergence (creating inclusion and changing our world)
Episode Link: https://www.coachcrystal.ca/blog/s06-e09
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Hi, and welcome to today's episode. I really wanted to talk about de-stigmatizing is not even a word; I think it's a word, I might have just made it up, but de-stigmatizing neurodivergence.
I'm going to talk about those words for a little bit, and then I'm going to talk about why this is so important to do; and also, how it ends up blessing us in our lives in so many ways when we can actually do this.
Neurodiversity, neurodivergent, and neurocontrast defined
So, I want to explain a little bit about neurodivergence, some people call it neurodiversity.
I found a definition on Pinterest and it said, "Neurodiversity: the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways. There is no one right way of thinking, learning, and behaving; and differences are not viewed as deficits".
I love this description because it already is an inclusive description of what neurodiversity is; and is understanding of how everybody's brains think differently and act differently and behave differently, and that's okay.
But most of the time when we talk about neurodivergence or neurodivergent, we're talking about people in the world that are not typical. So, typical being what the average is, what most people do.
And we've kind of defined our rules and societal structures around what this is, and anything that falls outside of that norm we feel like is neurodivergence. So, a lot of people on the ADHD spectrum or ASD, which is Autism Spectrum Disorder, would fit in this neurodivergence.
So, that's kind of just an example of what that wording or that terminology means. And what I've noticed is so many times because we have this like structure of how we think the world should work, we wake up and we're like, 'This is what should happen today and this is what life should be like, and this is what school should be like.'
We set things up in these boxes and then we put these neurodivergent kids in these boxes that are not meant for them, and in fact are often harming them.
So, I'm going to use an example from public school. If you think about a child going to public school, they're often…what you're "supposed to do" is--
Listening would look like, you know, sitting quietly and paying attention and having your eyes look at the teacher, and stuff like that; and that's kind of what we've decided-- what we've decided listening means.
But for a kiddo that is neurodivergent, that might not actually be the most potent way for them to listen; and they might not be able to actually physically even do that.
So, instead of like looking closely and paying attention and focusing, being listening; they might actually need to fidget, they might not be looking at you or not looking at you straight in the eyes…those things might be really difficult for them.
There might be some movement. They might be moving their body or stemming or whatever; and it doesn't mean that they're not learning and it doesn't mean that they're not listening, it just might look differently. So, that's just one example.
But I have been seeing a lot of this go around on Facebook a lot lately. And one of the quotes that I came across was by Dr. Nicole Beurkens, and she says, "We create a lot of behavior problems when we waste, when we then--" Sorry, I'm going to say that again, "We create a lot of behavior problems that we then waste a lot of time managing in order to get kids to comply with things that actually don't matter."
And that's what I love about this idea. We've come up with these societal structures that we feel like are best, and then we also think they're like morally best – that it's just like a better way to live, that it's a better way to be, that it's just the best way.
And think about even like hundreds of years ago in colonization and how, you know, the colonizers came over and they were like, 'This is a better way to think, you should have this religion, you should act this way…we're better people, we're morally higher because we act and think this way, and this is how everybody else should act and think also.'
And, you know, totally destroyed culture and all of these things from other people that they felt like were less than. But there's no hierarchy of humanity.
There's no hierarchy of like; I'm better than you, she's better than her, he's better than him, they're better than them. That doesn't exist; humans or humans or humans are humans.
And when we start to make these behaviors that don't have anything to do with morality, mean morality, then we get into those modes of thinking that we're better than others and our way is better than others' ways.
Experiences I’ve had with my ND kids that have opened up my eyes to more inclusive ways of thinking and being- and more freedom in my own life
So, what got me thinking about this is that we do markets at-- My kids all sell things; they're all little entrepreneurs and they're really creative. And we go to these markets; and we went to this market and one of my sons makes these really cool fantasy maps, and they're just so incredible.
And every single person that came up to him was like, 'What is this a map of?'
And he was like, 'Oh, it's not a map of anything; it's fantasy, I made it up in my mind.'
And they're like, 'Well, how did you make that up in your mind? What do you mean? You just like came up with it?'
And he was like, 'Yeah.'
They're like, 'Wow, what an amazing brain you must have.'
And he was like, 'Oh, thanks, thanks.'
But it was like literally time after time after time after time, people talking to him about how incredible and amazing his brain is; and it's true. His brain is so incredible and amazing.
But if they were judging him based on maybe his writing abilities or maybe some basic arithmetic abilities or maybe some other sort of behavior that we feel like people should have, they would be like, 'Oh no, he needs to learn that'…or, 'Oh no, that's not good enough'…or whatever we decide is better versus not.
When in reality we're all, it's so much more of a neurocontrast. Right? This idea of neurodiversity where all of our brains do work differently. There's not just like one type, one typical way of being that is the best way that everybody should be.
How innovation is driven by, and only exists thanks to, neurodiversity
I like to think about times in the past where innovation happened. So, you know, moving into like the industrial age or the technology age, the information age, and all of these, it was really innovation and creativity that spurned each of those ages.
And when you start studying historical figures, you'll realize that a lot of them were likely, or for sure not even likely, neurodivergent people that created new innovations and started to think about things in a different way that was against the norm, that wasn't what was happening; that is what creates innovation.
That is what creates growth; yet, we don't often as a society look at it like that. We're like, 'Well, you should dress this way…you should act this way, you should wake up this time, you should sleep this time, you should have your waking hours be this, you should have a nine-to-five days, you should have a job, you should have stability.'
And even though on the outset, we're like, 'Well, no, it's okay if people are different,' we don't really act as if that's true, right? We put them in school and we're like; this is what quiet looks like, or this is what listening looks like, this is what learning looks like.
And we try to change them. We try to modify their behavior so that they fit in these boxes. Behaviorism is based in this. Behaviorism is, this is how we want you to behave, and now we're going to try all the different ways that we can modify your behavior so that your behavior is more like this.
Behaviorism is how most schools are set up right now. It's very like rewards and punishments and consequences-based; as in…if you do this, you get a sticker. If you do the-- You know; this is what sitting still looks like, this is what being quiet looks like…this is what we expect in our classroom, and it's all about expectations and behaviors.
And maybe you're listening to this and you're like, 'Oh, our school's not like that.'
Well, awesome, I'm glad your school's not like that. But for the majority of schools, they are like this.
I would encourage you to go follow Dr. Mona Delahooke on Facebook or Instagram. She talks all about this; and about how behaviorism is, how it's been for decades and decades and decades…and it's not actually how our brain works, and it's not what's best for our kids.
And we know that now, but it takes a really long time for huge changes like this to come to pass. And because our educational system has been one-way for so long, it's not just going to change instantly now that we have more research and more knowledge available to us; it's going to definitely take some time.
So, going back to this experience that I had with my son where we're at the market and everybody's saying how amazing he is; and I just kept thinking in my mind, 'He is amazing, he's genius, he's awesome, he's incredible.'
And I believe that about each one of my kids; I believe that all children have their own inner genius and their own-- They're all amazing, they're all wonderful, they're all just awesome kids.
But when we see the behaviors that we don't like or we don't support, or we don't feel like fit in this box of what we think is acceptable, then we focus so much more on that than on who they are; and we focus so much more on changing them instead of changing the world for them. And I think that is so powerful.
Making our churches, schools, communities and homes safe and inclusive spaces for ND humans
When I learned a little bit more about prejudice and discrimination; I've been doing some anti-racism work and just reading and listening and learning from others, and it's been a great experience for me.
One of the examples that they use is how the world is created for abled people, not disabled people or differently-abled people; and it's not them that's the problem; it's the way the world is, right?
So, if somebody has a wheelchair and they go to a building and they want to get to the second floor and there's only stairs and there's not an elevator…how are reviewing it? Are viewing it as, 'Oh, that's because they're in a wheelchair and they just can't get up there and it's kind of a them problem – and them and their situation problem,'?
Or is it we're looking at, 'Oh, what is wrong with this building? Why is this building made so that it's not easy for them? Why is it not made in an accessible way so that everybody can get in and out equally?'
My sister-in-law goes to college; and she was taking a class one time and they were talking about the same idea, and they just said, "Who in here is left-handed?" And she was.
The lady said, "Okay, I want you to tell me a little bit about your experience being left-handed in a right-handed school."
And so, she said, "Oh, well--" You know, she was talking about vending machines and chairs and scissors and all these things that are meant to be right-handed, and they don't often have accommodations for left-handed people; and she's made it work, obviously, it's not been a huge deal, but how all of those tiny little differences take extra energy and effort on her part because the world is based on right-handed people because right-handedness is more typical.
And I thought that was such a great example of what I'm trying to get at here in that it's not that the neural-divergent person is a problem or shouldn't be that way or anything like that, it's that our world is not set up in a way to best support those people.
Our world is set up in a way to support the neurotypical people because that's been average, that's been what "most people" have been for a long time. And when we can change our view on these kinds of things, it is so eye-opening and world-changing for us.
How my kids motivated me to de-stigmatize neurodivergence
So, I'm going to go back to my own kids for a minute. And I used to think I was a pretty out-of-the-box thinker until I had kiddos with these NeuroD divergences and things that I think are just, you know, I just take for granted.
Like I change my clothes every day into fresh, clean clothes…I brush my hair every day…I brush my teeth every day. There's lots of things I just typically do because that's like the norm.
Well, these kids push against the norm every single day; 'Well, why? Why is brushed hair better than messy hair? Well, why does it matter if I'm okay with it? I don't care how I physically look, why do you care so much how I physically look? If my clothes don't smell or if there's not an obvious reason for me to change them, why do I need to change them? Why do I need to wear pajamas at night versus just wearing the clothes that I was wearing all day?'
Like questioning every single thing? And the more that my kids question these things, the more that I start to question these things; 'Well, who told me that I had to do it this way? Well, why do I do it this way? Do I want to do it this way? Is it actually a better way or is it I'm just used to doing it this way because that's the way that the world is structured?'
And it's helped me to start questioning so many different areas of my life and why I do the things that I do, and dropping other people's expectations and other people's shoulds about the way that I should live or think or believe or behave; and intentionally choosing to take on what I want to take on, and behave how I want to behave, and do what I want to do, and choose what I want to choose away from somebody else.
And maybe I still choose to do that. I mean, personally, I still do choose to brush my hair each day because I still care about that, but it's now coming from me picking up that choice and choosing it instead of it coming from outside me or just like a habit that somehow I've been given and just been taken on.
And I think that it's an amazing blessing and opportunity for us to think about things in different ways; to think about things in ways that maybe our kids think about and be like, 'Wait, wait a second, why do I do this? And how do we think this? And do I have a stigma around this?'
If I'm an ADHD person and I have a hard time with being organized; and maybe I run late often, and maybe I have a hard time deciphering how long something's going to take time-wise, why is that worse? Why is it better to be scheduled, structured, rigid and on time all the time? What makes that way of living better than my way of living?
Maybe there is no better or worse. Maybe it goes back to, there's no hierarchy of humanity. Maybe we can decide that this is the way that I want to live and it's okay to live that way too – but it doesn't mean anything about me and my worth and my value as a person if I'm late, and if I don't choose to organize, and if I, you know, a more cluttered or whatever.
We have just decided that there's this one best way of being and that everybody should fit in that; and that's where behaviorism is coined.
It's coined from this idea that everybody should fit in that box. And so, we have to modify their behavior to fit in that box also, instead of just letting everybody out of the box and having it be so much more individualized, which I have to point out I know is really difficult to do in a school classroom where there's one teacher and maybe a teacher to eight or two, if you're lucky – and multiple children, it would be really hard to give them the individualized attention and learning that they might need.
So, I'm not saying it's the teacher's fault or even the principal or even the school division; I think it's public school in general, and how can we change things? How can we create more innovation?
Public school has not changed in years. I don't know if you have watched that YouTube video, but I loved it. It was like a rap YouTube video, and he was talking about all the different things that have changed over the last 200 years and how schooling has essentially stayed exactly the same.
Like, it's just always been the same with only tiny little changes when there's been innovations to internet and phones, and homes and just all of these other technologies and changes that have happened when the educational system has not grown or innovated a lot.
So, my goal in this podcast, even though it might be coming out a little bit rumbly, is to help us understand that when there's neurodivergent people around us, that their way of being, behaving, and acting is not a problem; it is who they are, it is how they think.
And when we can think more about that and about what comes up for us when we think about other people's behaviors, we can actually learn from it.
We can also start to question ours and question our ideas and our beliefs around behavior and all the structures that society has set up for us. And it can actually help to open us up more to a more free and open way of being and living. And maybe listening could look different than what we think it looks like. And maybe learning can look different than what we think it should look like.
And I'm going to use a quick church example because me and my kids go to church; and oftentimes, they use the word reverence. So, they're like, 'Oh, let's be reverent kids.' Right?
And reverence is always supposed to be sitting still not moving your body and like quietness; and that's kind of how we've evolved to describe that word. But reverence is really like holiness and sacredness, and the stillness is more of an inner stillness and peace.
And if we look at childhood behavior, like our kids aren't-- most of them aren't emotionally or physically capable of just sitting still and quiet for long extended periods of time.
And it's not that we can't still teach that, but how are we teaching it? Are we teaching it like something that's expected and we need to have and we're demanding? And also, that that's what listening and quietness and reverence and all of those things look like?
Or is a child who's still fidgeting around and moving around a lot, are they still listening? Are they still learning?
And I know that they are because I have the awesome volunteer opportunity in my church to teach these little kiddos that are four. And one of the kids that's in there, well, there's a few kids that are in there that are pretty hyper, move-aroundy wiggly kids which is, you know, four, very four of them.
One of the kids that's more so this way, we were asking a question about-- We were talking to them about Jesus, and we're like, 'What do you know and what do you-- you know, what do you want to tell us about Jesus?'
And she like mentioned this entire phrase, like word by word, that she had gotten from a song that she'd obviously learned from church; and she knew exactly what it was.
If you had seen her in learning these songs, you probably wouldn't have thought she was actually listening, right? Because she moves around a lot, she talks a lot. Like, there's just a lot of movement, and sometimes chaos happening there, but it actually was still getting through. There actually was still learning.
And when I think about my kids, they're often doodling or they're pacing back and forth or they're moving their body in some way, and they still learn. In fact, I think that they retain it even more because of that…versus learning, listening, quiet reverence – having to be like, you know, sitting still and not moving your body and looking at the teacher and all these things that we think listening is.
So anyways, that is all I have to say about that. And I just wanted to do this episode to hopefully open up our minds around what we feel societal structure, what societal structure is; and deconstructing a little bit of that for ourselves and allowing ourselves to be a little bit more open and a little bit more mindful of these rules and structures that we have that might actually be harming our neurodivergent kids.
And I would venture to say are harming them in our homes and in our schools and in our communities and our churches; and how can we deconstruct our ideas around what behavior should be and open it up just to more possibilities around what it can be…and open up our minds to just be so much more inclusive to people of all abilities and realize that there is no hierarchy of humanity.
There is no; I'm better than you, you're better than them, they're better than them. And there's just different ways of being that it's so much more about neurodiversity and neuro-contrast.
And I might be really good at some things and not so good at other things, and that doesn't mean anything about me and my worth and my value as a human.
And how can we be more inclusive and not just the buildings that we're creating, but the metaphorical buildings we're creating in our homes and our churches and our communities and our classrooms to make our kiddos feel so much more welcome and so much more at home.
So that they don't leave school, church, community, whatever, thinking that they're dumb – thinking that they think differently than others and they shouldn't think that way, but realizing that the ways of thinking and being are actually a huge gift and a benefit and can create some amazing innovations and ideas and growth and learning for us and for the world and how we can learn so much from them.
So, that's all I have to say about that. And I would love to hear your thoughts on this. If you want to shoot me an Instagram message and if you feel like this resonated with you, I would love for you to share it on social media. And as always, tag me. And, thank you so much for being here, and listening to my podcast.
Thanks for listening. If you'd like to help spread this work to the world, share this episode on social media and tag me – send it to a friend, or leave a quick rating and review below so more people can find me. If you'd like more guidance on your own parenting journey, reach out.