HomeParentingParenting Differently Wired Kids (with Debbie Reber)

Parenting Differently Wired Kids (with Debbie Reber)

Tilt Parenting founder Debbie Reber joins Janet to discuss the unique challenges families face as they learn to understand and support a child with ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, giftedness, processing challenges, twice-exceptionality, or other neurodifferences. While Debbie’s advice is especially powerful for parents of neurodivergent kids, her insights will resonate with every parent. As she says, “None of us are parenting the kid that we expected.” Later in this episode, Debbie responds to a note from a parent who is concerned about her son yelling “Stop!” when adults ask him seemingly benign questions. The parent wants to help him be more comfortable in the world but doesn’t know how.

Transcript of “Parenting Differently Wired Kids (with Debbie Reber)”

Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled.

I’m happy to introduce my guest, Debbie Reber. She’s a parenting author, a podcast host, and an activist who founded Tilt Parenting to guide, support, and create a community for parents of kids who are neurodivergent, or what Debbie calls “differently wired.” More than 20% of children today have these differences, which include ADHD, learning disabilities, autism, giftedness, processing challenges, and more. And it’s common for parents to feel overwhelmed, depleted, misunderstood, alone, and lost without any kind of roadmap, no clear path. Debbie has loads of help and resources and hope for you. I’m grateful to have her here to share with all of us.

Hi, Debbie. Welcome to Unruffled.

Debbie Reber: Hey, Janet. I’m so happy to be here.

Janet Lansbury: I’m so glad to have you here. I’ve been looking forward to this for many reasons. First of all, because sometimes when I’m offering feedback or advice, or maybe oftentimes when I’m offering the resources that I offer, I can tend to neglect to consider the additional challenges that parents with neurodivergent kids face and what works to help neurotypical kids can sometimes be too little or too much to help children who are wired differently. So I’m appreciating so much that you’re going to be able to share your perspective.

Debbie Reber: I’m happy to bring this perspective. And it always excites me to get to expand understanding among parents who have neurotypical kids or parents who might have kids that they’re like, Hmm, I don’t know, is something going on here or not? So I love talking about this. I’m really excited.

Janet Lansbury: Wonderful. Also, I just finished your book, Differently Wired. I love it, and I was struck by how relatable everything you share is for parents. Everything you share, really, I can’t think of anything that isn’t relatable on some level to every parent. I saw myself and my children in actually many of the examples that you offer. Also, I think some of us are on certain spectrums for some of these differences, so I had a lot of aha moments. I just wasn’t expecting this so much. Anyway, I just appreciated it more personally than I thought I would.

Debbie Reber: Thank you. I’m so happy to hear that.

Janet Lansbury: Well, you’re so generous in your sharing and you just have such powerful insights that can help reframe and just shift perspectives in such a positive way. I feel like your advice would be welcome and helpful to any parent, and for parents of neurodivergent kids, your book is a godsend.

Debbie Reber: Thank you, that really means a lot. And I have gotten that feedback from people early on that, actually, this all applies to me, too. I always say, none of us are parenting the kid that we expected. They’re always going to challenge us in ways we could never have anticipated. With the neurodivergent child, I often say we’re like the wingsuit flyers of parenting, it’s just a little bit more of an extreme sport. But I think all the principles, all the reframes, absolutely they apply across the board.

Janet Lansbury: Can you share some of the ways that you realized, you share this eloquently in your book, how your son was operating on a different frequency and had different wiring?

Debbie Reber: Yeah. I think from the very beginning, really, we knew that this was a more intense human being. If you actually look at my bookshelf, there was this journey of the books I was relying on, Setting Limits for Your Spirited Child, The Intense Child. Just even from infancy, there was colic, there was this kind of inability to settle. And the sense that this kid was very just uncomfortable from a sensory perspective, which I didn’t even know what that meant, but I just knew this was a little baby who couldn’t be calmed down easily with the strategies all my friends were successfully using with their kids. So it was from very early on.

And it was really in the preschool years that we started getting more feedback from teachers and from friends, just about the intensity of the emotional dysregulation and the meltdowns. Everything seemed to be bigger, the sensitivity was more sensitive. The meltdowns or tantrums were on a whole other level and lasted longer. And so everything just seemed to be, again, that word more. Everything was more. And that’s when we started realizing maybe it’s not us, that we’re doing something wrong. Maybe there’s something happening with my child and his needs aren’t being met.

Janet Lansbury: And that period before you realized that, where you were feeling so vulnerable as a parent and that you’re doing it wrong and that nobody understood you and why weren’t you measuring up, and that was very powerful the way that you shared that. I could relate to it with even my own experience and so many parents that I’ve worked with that feel that nobody else can really understand what they’re going through, that feeling of being alone.

Debbie Reber: Yeah, I mean it lasted a long time. I think the way I just summarized it made it sound like, Yeah, and then we learned this and everything was fine! But I would say really, again, since the beginning and through preschool and then those first couple years of early elementary, it was all a time of my husband Darren and I just feeling like, What are we doing wrong? Scrambling to buy all the books and talk to all the people and getting advice—sometimes solicited, sometimes unsolicited advice—getting evaluations. Trying to figure out, What do we need to do here? And feeling, as you said, very kind of alone in that journey, because I’m used to being able to figure things out and never imagined that I was going to struggle in the way that I did in terms of being a good parent. And I felt very judged a lot of times, especially in school communities, sometimes in our own neighborhood, when those play dates weren’t reciprocated or I knew that my kid was “that kid” in the class or I was “that parent” in the school. So there were a couple of years there that were really painful for those reasons.

Janet Lansbury: And this is one of the other things that your book really brings to light, is how we really can’t judge what another parent is doing. That we have no idea what’s going on beyond the behavior, we don’t know what challenges those children have and that family has. And it’s a good reminder to really just do our own work and not compare ourselves to what other people are doing or compare other people to what we think they should be doing. It’s not helpful.

Debbie Reber: Yeah, and it’s also normal, right? It’s a natural thing to judge. I still catch myself doing it, and I know this stuff. In some ways, I think comparing how we’re doing to how other people are doing is a way to make ourselves feel better about things that we’re afraid of or things that are hard. So those comparisons can serve us. But it is really important—and when I give talks to groups of parents raising neurotypical kids, that’s one of my big asks of them when we leave and I say, here’s how you can be an ally to neurodivergent kids and families with neurodivergent kids is to check yourself when you notice you’re judging. To really pause and realize that this is a child having a hard time, and just notice and try to reframe that judgment that’s happening.

Janet Lansbury: And through your book, you’re giving permission to parents to talk about all these things. Yes, I do judge that, or I am frightened of this. So you’re actually starting with not judging yourself. You’re putting it out there that all of these things, if they’re in you, it’s okay to feel them. And the more you actually look at them, the less powerful they become in your life. They’re not steering the ship anymore.

Debbie Reber: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And I’m sure we’ll get into it, but we all have our internalized ableism too. So that’s something I invite parents to explore when they know they’re on this journey, is to really just get real about the ideas we have about what it means to be neurodivergent. What does it mean for someone to have ADHD or to be autistic? We have to examine all of that and not judge ourselves for the thoughts or beliefs that we might have.

Janet Lansbury: The second section in your book is called “How Everything Can Change,” and you offer what you call “tilts,” which are reframes, mindshifts that you recommend. I’d like to share a few that I especially appreciated and stuck out for me. Tilt four: stop fighting with who your child is and lean in.

Debbie Reber: Yeah, that’s a biggie.

Janet Lansbury: It reminded me of what my mentor taught us and what we’re able to teach people in the classes that I do, the parent-infant classes, and that is to value what a baby is doing—we start with a baby—what your child is doing right now. Rather than getting caught up in what they’re not doing yet and therefore missing out on appreciating what our child is doing, who they are, and giving them the message, without meaning to, that they’re not quite enough. Even babies can feel the difference in our vibe when we do this.

One of the things we’re able to do as facilitators in these classes, because most of the class is spent in observation of the children, we have this safe area, we’re all sitting there. So we’re available to our children and they’re able to go and explore or just sit with us or do whatever they want to do. And we’re able to point out to parents, Oh, look. They’re worried, My child isn’t crawling yet, or My child isn’t rolling yet. And we say, Well, look how fast they’re going on their tummy with that army crawl and how able they are to do that. Look at how many ways they used that one little object, instead of Why are they still interested in the same thing? Or, They’re interested in too many different things. We can say, Well, they’re learning something from each of them and maybe they’re making connections. Anyway, we’re able to point that out in person with parents so that they can see, but it is a big one.

Debbie Reber: It’s so hard, so many of us operate from this place of fear. And the fear or the most pain, I think, comes from that space in between what we’re expecting, what we think this should look like, where we think our child should be, and then reality and what’s actually happening. And when we’re stuck in the middle of that, we can’t notice all the things you just mentioned. We can’t notice how capable that child is or how fast that kid is on their tummy. We can’t appreciate their own unique developmental timeline. And so it is really important that we start to pay attention to this vision we had of what we thought this was going to look like, and really identify those pain points so that we can then actively and intentionally pivot and decide, okay, I’m going to lean in. I’m going to do the work. And it’s not like a once-and-done decision, Okay, great! I’m leaned in, I’m in acceptance. Let’s move on. It’s a practice. It’s a choice that we make every day to notice where there’s tension there and then to make the choice to focus on where my child is right now and embrace all of who they are, right in this moment.

Janet Lansbury: Yes, you’re right about it being a practice. It’s not a one and done.

Debbie Reber: Unfortunately not.

Janet Lansbury: Unfortunately. I mean, none of parenting is. I don’t think anything about raising another person, another human being, or being in any kind of relationship with anyone. It’s always progressing and regressing and progressing again and has stuck places. So knowing what is getting in our way of doing that, making peace with that so that we can find a place of calm to be able to notice those things. Because like you said, the fear is a place that’s not helping us see much of anything. It’s closing us off.

Debbie Reber: Yeah, absolutely.

Janet Lansbury: Another one, tilt seven, I love this one: become fluent in your child’s language and help them become fluent in it too. The importance of this is not only to connect with your child, but to help your child connect with themselves and understand their needs better.

Debbie Reber: Yeah, I love this idea of fluency. And I’m sure I wrote about how at the time I was living in the Netherlands and trying to learn Dutch, which felt, for my mid-40-something brain, quite the challenge. But all those things that I noticed I was doing, getting curious, being willing to make mistakes, fully immersing myself in the language, all of that I realized was what I was doing with my child, who I was homeschooling at the time. And I was really doing an intensive Asher 101, becoming fluent in who he is and how he experiences and expresses everything about his life.

That’s something that I talk about all the time with parents, it’s really the key to being able to read where they are in any given moment. And the work of Mona Delahooke, her powerful work on understanding nervous system regulation, I think the fluency is really tied to that. Because if we can become really aware of even the nonverbal messages that our kids are sending and we can become fluent in how they are in any given moment, then we can respond in a way that would support them in any given moment or know how to scaffold. So it’s really a key skill.

Janet Lansbury: Can you give some examples of how that went with Asher?

Debbie Reber: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that—again, I’m sure I talk about this in the book—there’s something that Asher would say to me maybe at three in the afternoon. The question was very simple, it was like, “Oh, are we going out tonight?” Seems like an innocuous question. But I was like, Oh, okay, this has been a hard day. My kid wants to know can he get in pajamas and get cozy and not have to worry about any stressors for the rest of the night? So when I got that question in the middle of the day, it was an indicator that my kid was overwhelmed and needed some quiet time. And then I could respond by supporting that, maybe making some tea. Do you want to get cozy on the couch together and read? So I was just able to interpret that.

One other example: when he’s deeply interested in something, he really likes to share deeply and talk about it. So my way of saying I’m interested and I care would be, “Let’s go for a walk.” And I would just make myself available to hear about the nuances of whatever very complex, random, outlier idea my kid was interested in. I would just listen. And that was a way that I could show my love and that was a way that Asher could receive that message that my mom cares about me and thinks that I’m important.

Janet Lansbury: How did you listen when it got too much or too long?

Debbie Reber: Yeah, for sure. I would listen, I ask questions. I mean, I could get really curious. And sometimes I would just say, “I actually have no idea what you’re talking about right now and my brain is not computing. So I’m happy to listen, but I just need you to know that I’m not fully getting it. Maybe we could talk about it another time.” Sometimes if I’d reached my tipping point where my brain was full, I’d say, “I’ve got about five more minutes where I can listen to this, and then I’d love to change the subject.” And usually that was great. It was like, “Okay, sure, no problem. Let me just say this one more thing.” It looked different all the time, and certainly again, I would read the room, right? What does my child need in this moment? And sometimes it was just to info-dump as a way to process things. And sometimes I’d see an opening to talk about my needs in that moment too, and see if we can get a little bit of that interpersonal, social emotional learning happening. Like, Oh, actually I’m a part of this conversation too and I need a break now.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah, I feel like that honesty has got to be really important, because of how tuned-in children are. Maybe especially if they have different wiring, they tend to be, in some ways, more in tune with the unconscious messages and things like that.

Debbie Reber: If we’re phoning it in, if we’re fake-listening, they usually know that too. So it is important to just be real about it.

Janet Lansbury: Another one, tilt eight: create a world where your child can be secure. So that’s something that every parent wants to do on some level, I think, or might consider doing. It’s not about trying to mold our child to fit into something. It’s about cultivating an environment where they can flourish, as best we can.

Debbie Reber: And I think this one is so important. We know that being a neurodivergent person, moving through a world that wasn’t really designed for how they experience it, whether that’s from a sensory perspective or just the demands and expectations in the classroom or for adults in the workplace, it can be a constant assault on the senses, on the nervous system. It can also put, especially our young kids, in environments where their deficits or their relative weaknesses are really being highlighted. So in a classroom with an expectation that this is how you show you’re paying attention and a child with ADHD really struggles to do that, they’re often getting the message over and over again that they’re doing it wrong, they’re flawed in some way, they’re a bad kid. And that builds up.

So it’s so important that we find ways, especially at home, to make sure that they feel fully seen for who they are, that they feel safe. Think about Tina Payne Bryson’s work, right? Safe, seen, soothed, and secure. We want to make sure our kids feel that at home. And that might be taking demands off of their plate, it might be anticipating their needs, removing triggers that we know are hard for them. And then, over time, working to really help them have strategies to navigate things that are stressful or that emotionally dysregulate them.

Janet Lansbury: Yes, that idea of their home with us being a refuge and not another place of stress where we’re asking them questions, Why did you do this? Because every child needs somewhere. And if they can’t get that from us, where are they going to get it? What’s going to help them balance the challenges that they face?

Debbie Reber: Looking back at when Asher was in first grade and second grade, there were so many behavioral intervention plans in place at school, and we had them connected to things at home. And I really wish we had made different choices. If I could go back and do it over, I wouldn’t do that, because what happened at home was then dependent on how good of a day Ash had at school. And I really do think it’s important, separation of church and state, separation of school and home. Because we want our kids, especially if they’ve been working so hard—many of them work so hard to keep it together while they’re at school to deal with all of those demands on their systems—and then to come home, we just want them to feel loved. We want them to see our face light up when they walk in the door. We want them to really be able to give their whole body, their brain and their body a break, so that they can restore. Because it’s hard to, again, be a neurodivergent person in so many environments.

Janet Lansbury: I feel like also this is not just helpful for our kids, but it’s easier for us, ultimately, when we commit to it. Because rather than, again, trying to mold our child, we’re working on providing the environment where they will feel more successful and therefore we’ll feel more successful because we’re not trying to do something that’s pretty much impossible. Which is, like you say in the beginning of your book, make a square peg fit into a round hole. So it’s better for our peace of mind when we consider that it’s up to us to be that balancer, to be that environment, and not try to make them fit. Especially when they’re already having to do that in school.

Debbie Reber: It does feel better, and it prioritizes connection. And that is the most important thing of all of this, is that we are deeply connected with our child and they feel that deep love and, again, that sense of being seen. So when we get caught up in these external things, that absolutely interferes. And I know your audience is parents of younger children primarily, but I’ll just say this continues and it can intensify as kids get older. And I’m always having to remind myself that my job right now, again, as the parent of a 19-year-old, my job is just to be a safe place for my child when he needs me. And to be that kind of steady rock. Not to try to force or will anything or push my agenda, I just want to be that safe place. I have to remind myself of that every day, but it’s such an important job and I think it’s an honor to be that person for another human.

Janet Lansbury: I love that you see it that way because that will help us to be able to do it, I think. To see that this is us rising up into the role, it’s not giving up or not being willing to engage or make it better. It’s actually what does make it better. I also love, I think you included it in this tilt, but it might also be coming from some of the others—as you say, they do overlap, as all relationship advice overlaps in helping people to thrive. But you talked about something I actually talk about a lot, which is preparing them and problem-solving together. You help them to know what a new situation is going to be like, or maybe a situation that you haven’t succeeded in so well before. What could we do to make this work? What could we do to make this easier for you?

Debbie Reber: Yes. I am a big fan of doing everything in collaboration with our kids, even from a very, very young age. And getting their buy-in and their perspective and getting curious and experimental about what might work. I’m sure I talk about Dr. Ross Greene in that chapter. I’m a big fan of his collaborative and proactive solutions model, it’s been a steady part of my life as a parent. And I think it is really key to help our kids know themselves really well so that they can start learning how to get what they need in a way that gives them that agency and that they can actually feel good about it.

Janet Lansbury: Yes, to be their own advocates, because we can’t always be the one. And it’s so much better when they start to learn what they really need and can tell us. And you really show this unfolding with Asher in the book, how he’s realizing things and how he’s just so spot on in what he needs a lot of the time. Because children do know, really, inside them, what’s not working and what could make it better. They do have a sense of that.

Okay, tilt 15. I love this because it’s one of my favorite topics to talk about: recognize how your energy affects your child.

Debbie Reber: I feel like when I wrote this book, no one was really talking, I shouldn’t say no one, but everyone was not talking about co-regulation, which is really what this chapter is about. It’s about understanding the impact that the way we show up and the energy we have in any interaction, it’s going to impact our kids. Because they’re so attuned to us.

And I know that I wrote about an experience I had that made me realize the power of this. I had come home from a weekend retreat and I was super zen, blissed out, I felt like I was exuding love as I was walking through the airport. And I walked in the door after it had been months of just really, really, really difficult intense behaviors and explosions and calls from school and just a hard time. And I walked in the door with this totally different energy, and it was like the biggest superpower. It instantly defused what was happening, it shifted things. And I remember thinking, Oh, this is pretty cool. I’ll just do this every day and we’ll be good to go. Of course that’s not realistic, but it really did help me understand the power that I can have to at least support myself so that I can be that calm presence and help de-escalate situations and help co-regulate with my child. That continues to be probably the most important thing that I do as a parent now. And it’s still a lot of work, but it’s a game-changer when you start noticing this.

Janet Lansbury: Yes, that makes sense for all of us.

Okay, tilt 17: help your kids embrace self-discovery. I love this one too, I guess we’ve sort of been talking about it a little bit or talking around it. But one thing that you bring up in there that I think is really important is this idea that when they have differences, there’s a tendency that we might have to want to be protective around that and not even talk to them about it. And as you point out, they know something’s up. And if we don’t share about it, then they’re going to create their own theories, as you say: they’re defective or they’re broken, they’re just disappointments to us and therefore to everybody. And then when you did bring this up, or it sort of came up through a book with Asher, one of the characters had ADHD and their behavior was described as energetic, impulsive, and distracted. And he totally got it right away. I mean, he was the one that pointed it out, right? Is this me? Do I have this?

Debbie Reber: Yep. I was like, hmm, interesting. I was like, “Yup, we’re pretty sure that’s what’s going on with you.” I think this is a tough one for a lot of people, and I get asked this question all the time: Should I tell my child? When should I tell my child? When is too young to let them know they’re autistic? I’m afraid it’s going to impact their self-esteem. They’re going to feel bad about themselves, it’ll put a target on their back at school. There’s so much fear around it. And I understand it, I’m not judging it at all. I totally get it. And that is, again, work that we really want to unpack ourselves, to understand what am I making it mean that my child has this diagnosis or that label or has this going on?

Because what we really want to do is normalize all of this, because it is normal. It’s who our child is, it’s the way their brain is wired. It’s not a defect that they have, it’s not a disease. It is just who they are. And so we want our kids to really deeply know how they’re wired, to understand what their strengths are and their incredible gifts, and they all have incredible strengths and gifts. And we also want them to know what’s hard for them, just like we all do. I could list 20 things right now that are really hard for me and that I have to accommodate myself for. We want our kids to know that about themselves so that as they get older, they can get what they need to create the life that they want.

So I think this one is—well, I think they’re all really important, but I think this one is so important. Because we want our kids to know who they are and not feel any shame about it. We want them to embrace, ultimately, who they are, so that they can go out and rock their lives.

Janet Lansbury: Right. It comes back again to number 15 that we were talking about: recognize how your energy affects your child. Because if we’re feeling tentative, I don’t want to tell them, or I’m not sure, this is scary, then our child feels like there’s something wrong. Why am I a minefield? What’s going on here? And that’s scary for them.

Debbie Reber: Yeah. I think of the parent who’s talking with their sister, their relative on the phone, and they lower their voice. Well, we just found this out about . . . That instantly makes it like, What? What’s going on? I heard my name. This must be a problem. My mom went into the other room. There must be something really wrong here. So this is just an invitation for parents who notice they have some discomfort around labels and diagnoses and neurotypes that their child might have, and it’s an invitation to unpack that and what’s that all about? And then ultimately work to embrace it. And going back to tilt, I don’t remember, maybe four, but how can we lean into this, instead of trying to fight it?

Janet Lansbury: Exactly. That even happens with things like the parent is expecting another baby and they don’t talk about it, but then they’re whispering on the phone or they’re whispering to someone, or everyone’s looking and winking and being excited. It’s disconcerting for any child when there are secrets. I mean, you can imagine how that feels when you’re basically judging everything by how the adults are in the room.

Debbie Reber: Yeah, and feeling it all. And not even understanding the feelings, but you know something’s going on.

Janet Lansbury: So you were willing, you said, to talk with me about a question that I got from a parent. Is that okay? Could I read something to you and you can share your thoughts?

Debbie Reber: Yeah.

Janet Lansbury: Great. This parent reached out to me:

I’ve been following you for several years. I have not found a direct answer to my problem yet. I have a nine-year-old that consistently yells “Stop!” when he doesn’t like what someone is saying. If he feels threatened or bothered in any way, he will say “Stop!” Even if it’s a small thing and just a normal conversation, he still does it. The problem is that this is rude. He does it no matter where we are and no matter who the person is. He’s old enough that I can’t really use the fact that he’s a child as an excuse if he does this to my parents or in-laws or a pastor, for example.

Is there a way that I can help him break the habit? It’s really embarrassing for me, but more importantly, it is not healthy for him. It also makes other adults upset. I don’t get as upset because I understand his struggle, but other adults see it as disrespectful. I mean it is, but at the same time, I know he doesn’t have any other way to express his discomfort.

Here’s an example:

Parent: Hey, we’re going to the store soon. Can you please make sure your socks and shoes are at the door?

Child: I know where they are.

Parent: That’s good. In the past, we have forgotten them when they weren’t at the door. Could you please bring them to the door today?

Child: Stop!

I assume it’s some kind of control issue. I do not mean in the parental control way, I mean that I think he does not feel like he has any. His dad isn’t very nice. The child has gone through a lot of negative experiences. I need help with this one habit. It has been happening for years. That’s why I’m asking now, because it is a habit. It needs to be broken, and I do not know how to help him.

I wrote back to this parent:

Thank you for reaching out. I’m thinking I might be able to respond to your questions via a podcast episode. Would you mind answering a couple of follow-up questions?

    1. Can you give an example of two specific situations with other adults where he does this “stop” behavior?
    1. Is he neurotypical, as far as you know?
    2. What are your thoughts about his discomfort? You mentioned his dad is sometimes unkind and that he’s had negative experiences. Is there more you can share about that?

And she wrote back:

  1. Can you give an example of two specific situations with other adults?

An adult is asking the child why he didn’t eat his food. They ask questions like, Was it not good? He will say, “Stop.” It seems like he says stop whenever he does not like the conversation or feels uncomfortable. If someone is talking about him and he hears his name, he says, “Stop.” If someone asks him to help with something and he doesn’t want to, he says no. If they say anything else to inquire why not, he will say, “Stop.” It’s not all the time, but it is at least once per day.

  1. Is he neurotypical as far as you know?


  1. What are your thoughts about his discomfort? You mentioned his dad is sometimes unkind.

My thoughts are that he feels unsupported. He doesn’t have authority or control, and he feels like people are always mean. I feel like he had a lot of trauma when he was younger and that shaped his brain and reactions and beliefs.

When he was a baby, he was moved around babysitters. I was nursing him, but had to leave a lot for meetings. He was circumcised as an infant, and his demeanor changed after that for sure. We moved to a new country when he was two. His dad had angry outbursts, yelling and throwing things. His dad locked him in rooms as discipline when he was a toddler. His dad dragged him by his shirt before. He’s been physically carried to time out. He’s been spanked. Mostly now, though, since all that was dealt with by law enforcement, dad just uses his mean voice. I think the damage had been done, and my child doesn’t feel safe or heard. He doesn’t have the skills to express discomfort, so he just yells “Stop!” It might also just be a habit, I don’t know.

I just need something that I can do to help. We can’t afford therapy even though we barely buy anything to begin with. It’s really tight right now. I’m trying to use the resources I can to get help.

And then she pasted the summary of his neuropsychological evaluation, and that is:

    1. Higher-functioning autistic spectrum disorder without accompanying intellectual or language impairment and associated with a probable genetic condition.
    2. Specific learning disorder.
    3. Developmental coordination disorder.
    4. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

He has excellent abilities in overall reading dynamics and mathematics and has the ability to use memory learning and overall information processing and problem solving as well as executive skills. The confounding variable is that the child chose a combination pattern of higher-functioning autism in addition to ADHD symptomatology. He’s inattentive and distractible with a high level of overactivity and impulsivity, as well as being scattered and disorganized. Child’s affect tends to be odd, unusual, rigid, and inflexible when dealing with social situations or more common-sense practices when dealing with problems. Child can be rigid, perseverative, and idiosyncratic, as well as odd and unusual in his language. When he feels emotionally overwhelmed, he becomes very defensive and defiant, which is his way of coping with stressful situations that are beyond his social emotional capabilities.

Debbie Reber: Yeah. Okay, I have a lot of thoughts. I’m not sure where the best place to start is. First of all, before I heard the neuropsych, my hunch was what we would call AuDHD, like autistic with ADHD. So that was not surprising to me.

The first thing that I’ll say jumped out at me is the high need for control. And that is for an autistic kid, and an ADHD kid for that matter, having demands placed on them can be very confronting and it can trigger a threat response. And in fact, there is a subset of autism that is gaining more awareness in the US, it’s much more recognized in the UK and Australia, but it’s called PDA. Technically it stands for “pathological demand avoidance,” but that’s a really medicalized, negative term. So people with PDA have changed it to “persistent desire for autonomy.”

And a human, a child, with a persistent demand for autonomy, even if this isn’t a PDA child, but someone who has a higher need for control, is going to likely respond even to questions as a demand. It’s going to feel like a demand. So even those follow-up questions, “Well, didn’t you like this?” or, “Can you do this? Can you put on your shoes?” can feel like a demand. And then the reaction is fight or flight. It sounds like this child has more of a fight response, because they’re like, No! They’re very clear, they’re communicating, This is too much. I can’t take this. I need this to stop. I guess the good thing is that this child is clearly communicating what he needs in that moment. So I’m happy to share a different way of phrasing things that might be helpful.

Janet Lansbury: I think that would be really helpful, because this parent is looking for help. And I appreciate how she is, on one hand, seeing very much beyond this behavior. She seems to really understand him and know that this is not in his control, that it’s an expression of his discomfort. And she really nails it, but maybe needs more encouragement and support to respond to it for what it is, and to maybe help him with the environment and putting him in those positions.

Debbie Reber: Yes. So a strategy that could be really helpful—and this is not just for a child with this kind of PDA profile, but really this can be really helpful with any neurodivergent child—is something called declarative language. There’s a book called The Declarative Language Handbook that Linda Murphy wrote, and she kind of breaks it down, but to summarize it, it’s rephrasing things so they’re not questions. We’re giving our kids more a sense of autonomy and control in the moment, and taking away the demand of a question. So an example: “Would you put your shoes on?” or, “Can you put your shoes on?” could feel like a demand. Saying, “We’re heading out the door. Time to put shoes on,” it’s just a declaration. It’s a statement, and it can take away that threat response. It’s actually very subtle, and even listening to this, it might sound like it’s the same thing, but it’s actually a very different experience to receive that. Or, “We’re putting shoes on. I’ll tie this one, you tie that one.” So you can make games out of things, you can enlist help, but without saying, “Would you do this? Could you do this? We need to do this. Can you do this?”

Janet Lansbury: It’s non-confrontational, is what it is. Because in the examples that she gave, putting myself in the child’s shoes, I could feel the confrontation in some of that. I felt I was on the spot to give an answer. And I also sense that there was some intention behind those questions that was judgmental.

Debbie Reber: Yeah. I’m thinking of an example I shared in my book too, just as a reframe. Because when we have a child who is not doing the things that we expect and their external behavior seems counterproductive to the end goal, and we get frustrated, as the adults in the room, they’ll feel that from us. Just as you said, it can feel confrontational. And so an example that I shared in Differently Wired was a group of people sitting around a table and a child with ADHD reached over and knocked the gravy all over the table. And the dad’s instinct was to say, “Why did you do that? What were you thinking?” And so instantly we’re assuming there was malintent. We’re making it clear from the get-go that this was a bad thing to do, this was a problem, you messed up.

And another person at the table said, with a very different tone of voice, “What were you trying to do?” And when she asked that, he said, “I saw that so-and-so had just dished up mashed potatoes and they needed the gravy. I was trying to pass it to them.” So just being asked that question, there’s always a reason behind something. I think that assuming the best intent, knowing that our kids aren’t willfully trying to challenge us or make our lives miserable. There’s always a reason why they’re behaving the way they are, and if we can get curious about that, that can also help us and help them.

Janet Lansbury: I loved that example when you shared it in your book. And also what comes to mind for me is the difference between a loaded question and an innocent question. When we’re saying, “Do you have your shoes?” we’ve got history behind it, we’ve got all these things. It’s not just an innocent, genuine question. So I think we do that with children. We tend to sometimes not realize how much of our loaded-ness is coming through the question and how off-putting that is.

Debbie Reber: I think that language too of “I’m wondering,” or “I’m curious.” So, “I’m wondering where your shoes are. I’m really curious about what’s going on.” If we can put it on us, too. “I’m wondering if we could do this together” feels very different than, “Would you do this together?” Those little, subtle language tweaks can make a big difference.

Janet Lansbury: I totally see that.

Debbie Reber: I think the other thing that I just want to offer this parent too is, as you said earlier, Janet, this parent is aware of the underlying need and knows that. And I heard in the email she said, “I’m embarrassed for him. It’s not healthy for him.” Yet at the same time, acknowledging he doesn’t have any other way to express this. So I would challenge those thoughts a little bit: Is it embarrassing for him, or is he a child who has needs that aren’t being met right now? Right now he doesn’t have the skills to do differently in this moment. It’s a lagging skill, as a raw screen would say.

“It’s not healthy for him.” I would challenge that. I think we have very fixed ideas often about what a well-behaved child looks like, what is necessary to be a successful, thriving human, and we can move along without questioning those things. So when we find ourselves feeling the kind of stress and fear behind behaviors that seem to be unacceptable or rude or those things, it’s really worth it for us to do our own work around, What is so hard about this for me? Is it because of the judgment of other people? Is it because people are going to think this? Am I worried that other people are going to not like my child? Get clear on that, and then try to rewrite the story internally. Actually for the way my child is wired, this actually makes total sense that this is a hard situation. And right now he doesn’t have the skills. His nervous system is wired in such a way that these types of situations are hard for him.

And then of course, we could do a whole other conversation on collaboratively, proactively problem-solving around those and trying to get more granular about what is the need or what is the unsolved problem in this situation and how can we work together to create more ease around it?

Janet Lansbury: And also, it’s un-ignorable the trauma that he experienced, as the parent knows. And I was just wondering if you know, are there therapists that work through the state that provide services for children that don’t cost a lot of money?

Debbie Reber: I think going through school systems tends to be the best way. Because if a school has done a neuropsych because there are learning disabilities or things that are interfering with learning, you can get services through the school that would support for things that are showing up in the classroom and that are getting in the way of learning. So that’s where I would start. It is hard to navigate all the systems and the insurance, but with an autism diagnosis especially, that should open up some doors, because there are some very predictable skill sets that will need some support. Starting with the school would be what I would do.

Janet Lansbury: Yeah, I feel for this family.

Debbie Reber: Yeah, I do too. And I have so much compassion for that little boy who has been through trauma and has probably received the message a lot that he’s not okay the way that he is. And then I feel so much empathy for the mother who sent in this very thoughtful question.

Janet Lansbury: And has also had her own trauma there, with that situation too.

Debbie Reber: Absolutely. I think ultimately, we talked about connection before. I would put so much focus on, how can I foster connection with my child and make sure that my child feels that I have his back no matter what? And feels, really feels, experiences love from me on a cellular level to try to counteract some of the other experiences that he’s had. That’s where I would also be putting a lot of my personal energy.

Janet Lansbury: That’s really helpful. Okay, one more tilt I want to bring up. The last one, tilt 18: if it doesn’t exist, create it. And this is what you have done so beautifully with your Tilt Parenting community, that you’ve created from nothing, right? How did you do this? You created a revolution.

Debbie Reber: I really did it from nothing. I started with a Facebook group that included my sister, my mom, and my husband. I had nothing in the parenting space. I’ve always been someone who’s created what I needed in the world or what I wish I had had. I spent a good year talking to other parents like me, just to kind of confirm that my experience was what other people were feeling and experiencing as well. It was a different landscape, I’ll just say. I did that research in 2015, and the word “neurodivergence” was not even part of the vernacular. No one was talking about this stuff. And things have changed so much, which is really exciting.

But I think for so many of us, we do have to get creative. And oftentimes it’s not going to be as easy as sending our kid to the school down at the end of the block and just assuming, Okay, K through 8, they’re good to go for the next nine years. It often doesn’t work that way. And it often requires that we do get creative and start questioning, going back to the first tilt, questioning everything you thought you knew about parenting. And start thinking about, if I could create anything that would support my family and my child, what would it be? And then looking for ways to bring some of that into our daily life.

Janet Lansbury: Wow. Well, you’ve really been a big part of that change that’s happened. I feel it too, in the time that I’ve been in this space of sharing online. I really feel that, yes, all these issues of differences, it’s becoming, for lack of a better word, normalized and just more accessible to everyone, so we can feel less shame or judgment. I mean, it’s still out there, but there’s less. And know that there are many people going through what we’re going through as parents.

Debbie Reber: Yeah, it’s exciting.

Janet Lansbury: Congratulations, and thank you for being such a hero to so many parents. You’ve been very brave.

Debbie Reber: Oh my goodness. Thank you. I so enjoyed this conversation, and thank you for everything that you do. I’m so grateful that our paths have crossed and that we can be elevating each other’s messages too. Thank you.

Janet Lansbury: Me too. Thank you so much, Debbie.

You can benefit from all Debbie has to offer via her website, tiltparenting.com.

Thanks so much for listening. We can do this.

Source link



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments