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Episode 40: Bridging the Gap: Empowering Neurodivergent Families [featuring Dayna Abraham]

Feb 08, 2024
Divergent Conversations Podcast

Show Notes

Many neurodivergent people grew up with the feeling of being different, not belonging, and some even feeling like the world was against them. They may have also received painful labels like, “challenging,” “too much,” and “not enough,” among others.

In this episode, Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals, talk with Dayna Abraham, ADHDer, national board educator, author, and parenting specialist for neurodivergent children, about how to bridge the gap between parents and children who don’t yet understand neurodivergence by meeting parents where they are with language and narrative so that they can access the information they need to start to see their kids for who they are.

Top 3 reasons to listen to the entire episode:

  1. Understand the importance of bridging gaps in awareness and education, as well as the need for compassion, understanding, and advocacy for neurodivergent individuals to challenge and change conventional attitudes and systems.
  2. Learn how to shift from fault to needs and values when parenting a neurodivergent child so that parents can recognize and understand children's needs, as well as foster a support-based approach instead of fault-based parenting.
  3. Hear the personal experiences of Patrick, Dr. Neff, and Dayna as they highlight their own experiences as children who were given the label of “challenging,” as well as the perspective of Dayna and Dr. Neff who now fill the role of the parent.

It’s only in more recent years that people have started to talk about and explore neurodiversity, so the gap that we now have to bridge to educate and advocate is still large. It’s important to offer parents of neurodivergent children the resources they need to challenge themselves to view and approach their children differently.

Pre-Order Self-Care For Autistic People: 

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Transcript

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, welcome. Dayna, welcome. Welcome to Divergent Conversations.

PATRICK CASALE: We pre-recorded the welcome thing, so [CROSSTALK 00:01:42].

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, that's right, thanks. It's been a while. I am so excited, Dayna, to have you here. I mean, I've read your bio, actually, probably several times, but I was re-skimming it before today and like TLDR you're a big deal. Does that feel like that captures your bio?

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Well, I guess. I mean, I just think that I'm a parent, and I'm a person who's been in the trenches come out on the other side, and still living it every day. I think that sums it up. I don't like to think of myself as a [CROSSTALK 00:02:15]-

MEGAN NEFF: Well, you're very humble. You're very humble. Well, I think that's actually why I really am drawn to you is you are anchoring in your experience. And like when I read your book, it's like you're not coming out as an expert. You're coming out as like, you're one of us, you're with us. Well, yeah, it is kind of awkward to toot our own horn. So, I will share on your behalf. You are like a national board educator, you've won multiple awards, you have a really successful site… Lemon? Remind me.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Lemon Lime Adventures.

MEGAN NEFF: Lemon Lime Adventures. And you have a program, Calm the Chaos, which then you have turned into your most recent book, that is a fantastic book. I've really appreciated it. Okay, was that a more authentic-

PATRICK CASALE: Oh, I also [CROSSTALK 00:03:12]-

MEGAN NEFF: …summary of what you do?

PATRICK CASALE: …Megan had reached out to me months ago, I think when you were originally going to come on, Dayna, and was like, "Hey, Dayna Abraham's going to come on. And I don't know if you know this, but she's a big deal like Peter Levine big deal." And I was like, "Oh, shit, that's really cool." I also am so ignorant to like the research here, so really happy to have you on here.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Well, I feel honored. You guys, I'm like blushing. I know if people are listening to this, they can't see that. But-

MEGAN NEFF: We have a track record of like making our guests really uncomfortable every time.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: You're doing a great job.

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, I'm so glad. I'm so glad that we're leaving our tradition intact. Okay, I actually do want to share how we got connected, because I think it's pretty… I like it.

So, you just published this book, Calm the Chaos with Simon and Schuster. I have a book coming out with them in March. And I got like a kind of pre-order, that's not the name of the book. I got an early copy of the book, which publishers do for people who have audiences. And I was like, "Urgh, it's a parenting book." And like my body kind of shut down. I've read a lot of parenting books. I always walk away feeling like the demands are just stacking. And typically, with advice that doesn't actually work very well for my family. So, I didn't open it.

And then a couple weeks later, a second book came. I was like, "That's weird." And then a couple of weeks later, a third book came. I think maybe the publisher maybe messed up a little bit. And I was like, "Okay, universe, I think you're telling me something." So, I opened it up. And I was like, "Oh my gosh. Like, this is someone who's one of us. This isn't like a parenting advice book."

And then I started reading, and I was like, "This person's ADHD. Do they know they're ADHD?" Because there's so many visuals and you break it up into chunks. And then I read the back which was like, "Oh, good. She knows she's ADHD. I don't have to go tell her."

DAYNA ABRAHAM: It took a long time for me to realize that, though.

MEGAN NEFF: When did you learn that about yourself?

DAYNA ABRAHAM: I would say, like, helping my son, and then working with parents online, I always knew, like, "Oh, I really resonate with a lot of this ADHD stuff." So, I used to say, and you know, "If ADHD had been as prevalent when I was a kid, I most likely would have been diagnosed." I would say that forever and ever.

And finally, I was just like, "Okay, let's just be honest, I am ADHD. It's very clear. There's no way around this in any other shape or form." So, it's really pretty recent, like, maybe I think I like fully owned it in like the last three years, maybe.

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, yeah. I didn't realize it was that recent for you.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, like, and obviously, it's always been there. I mean, I didn't read a book, like a real book. My husband's like, "I can't believe you tell people this." But I didn't read a book until I was a junior in college, not one book. But yet, I still graduated with honors, and, like, did all the things I was supposed to do. And I just thought, I used to say like, "I love the idea of reading, but I just can't make myself do it."

MEGAN NEFF: I get that, I get that.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: And it took me a long time to realize, "Hey, that's your ADHD friend." A little [INDISCERNIBLE 00:06:45].

MEGAN NEFF: Yes, yes, that is. I love that you are an author who did not read a full book until you were like 21.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Yeah, very much so. And I wrote a pretty substantially thick book at this point, which is also pretty surprising.

MEGAN NEFF: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I had something I wanted to kind of dive into today. One of the things I really liked about your book, and just like, first of all, I could feel who you are when I read your book, which I don't know, that takes a special kind of author where it's like you are sharing of yourself through your pages.

But one of the things I was really drawn to is, I think you do paradox and nuance really well. And the both ends. And there's something you said that really caught my attention. So, you talk a lot about that kid? Well, I guess first, do you want to unpack what you mean when you say, "That kid." I think many of us were that kid. But what do you mean when you use the language of that kid.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: So, the name of the book is Calm the Chaos, a parenting roadmap for even the most challenging kids. And I know that that causes a lot of frustration in people, because they believe that I'm calling a kid a challenge in a bad way.

But one of the things that I think or the way I see it, is that in every aspect of our life, a challenge is a good thing. We're recording this right before the end of the year, and a lot of people are going to challenge themselves to set new year's resolutions, and to maybe next year challenge themselves to run a marathon or they're going to challenge themselves to write a book, they're going to challenge themselves to try something they've never done before.

And so to me, I think of that kid, before I dive in a little more, I think of that kid as a challenge to people around them to think differently, to do things differently, to try things that maybe they wouldn't try otherwise. And I think that a lot of times parents, and teachers, therapists, they're handed these kids that don't fit any of the checkboxes, and they don't fit in this nice pretty box and labels. And so they don't know what to do with them. And a lot of times, they're then left for nothing. The parents are blamed, the kids are left shamed and feeling like somehow they're broken.

And I think that the kids that see are able to like be seen as I'm not broken, nothing's wrong with you, you don't fit a mold. And that's actually beautiful. You're here to kind of change the way things are done and help people be aware. And the parents that actually take that on and say, "You know what, I'm here for the challenge. I'm here to look at things differently. I'm here to change the way I do things, because I can't keep doing things, you know, the way I have been."

Because these kids it's obvious that if you try to do things, the way that, as you just said, like, when you read most parenting books the advice just doesn't work for your family. And at the end of most books, it then says, if this didn't work for you, you're either A doing it wrong or B, you need to see a professional because something's wrong with your kid.

And that's what I'm talking about when I talk about these kids. They're the kids that other people see as too much or not enough in some shape or form. They're either too loud, they're too quiet, they're too rambunctious, they're too shy, they're too talkative.

I was talking to my daughter last night, she's now homeschooled. And I said, "Yeah, I used to always get, 'She has great potential, but she talks too much.'" Like, that was what I always got. I also got grounded when I was younger for being too emotional. I cried too much at movies and I like really, really just took on everyone else's emotions. And so I got grounded for movies, because I cried too much. [CROSSTALK 00:10:47]-

MEGAN NEFF: …just I've never heard that kid [CROSSTALK 00:10:49]. Yeah, like, that's a new one for me, I've never heard that getting, grounded for being too emotional.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: I think my mom was trying to protect me, because I would get so sad. I mean, there was a movie, I don't know if you remember it? And it's probably, if I go back and watch it, it probably didn't age well. But the movie, The Mask? Did you ever watch it? It was just good.

PATRICK CASALE: Jim Carrey movie?

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Not Jim Carrey. Go even further back. I'm aging myself now. So, I'm in my 40s. And there was this movie about… it had Share in it, Share was the mom, and then the kid had a facial difference. And this is back in the 80s.

So, I mean, just like the way the world saw kids that were different back then. And I remember, I mean, it was one of my favorite movies back as like a five-year-old. But I would sob at the movie, because it was just so heartbreaking to me, the way he was treated, and what happened, and my mom was like, "I ground you from watching TV on your own, because you're going to find that movie, and you're going to watch it." And you know, things like My Girl, or Mask like, that's the things that I would get grounded from.

MEGAN NEFF: My Girl, that was my first existential crisis and I was five. I sobbed and sobbed for hours afterwards. And I remember I actually had a visualization of like, you know, roller coasters when you're like getting to the top and you see the first cart go over, and then the next cart, and I was like, that's what death is. And I was talking to my mom, I was like, "Grandma and Grandpa are going to die, and then you, and then me." And yeah, My Girl wrecked me.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Yeah, so you get it [CROSSTALK 00:12:28]-

MEGAN NEFF: I get it.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: But my parents didn't ground me. They like walked me through my existential crisis. So, I'm so sorry that-

DAYNA ABRAHAM: That's beautiful.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, you have that experience.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: I think, yeah, and I always say that everyone is doing the best they can with what they've been given. I have to believe that just because there's so many things that have happened in my life, I have to say, I think it gets me through a lot. But I know my mom was doing the best she could. And I also know why she struggled to give me the support I needed then because she was also one of those kids in a family where everyone was high achieving. And she was the creative soul that struggled, you know, with school, she struggled with math, she struggled with all the things that she was expected to do. And so she didn't want that for me. And so I know that that's part of why she was so hard on me.

MEGAN NEFF: I was actually just talking with a colleague, and we were talking about how, I don't know if we'll take this project up or someone, but there really needs to be a book on neurodiverse families. And I think like this multi-generational process you're describing happens a lot with typically limited awareness into what's happening, where like, if I haven't worked through my… well, I'll ground it, in my experience, when I didn't know my daughter was autistic, when I didn't know I was autistic, I would see an experience like in early childhood meltdowns or sensitivity, and those are things I've repressed in myself. So, of course, then I'm going to want to repress them in my daughter as an extension of repressing them in myself.

And so there's a lot that gets transferred because our shit gets kicked up by our kid's stuff, especially, if we don't have awareness and we haven't worked through it.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Yeah, and, you know, I do want to put kind of a warning out there. My book is meant to be a bridge for people who don't have any awareness yet at all, and then bring them to a side where they have more awareness by the end of the book. You know, and that has been some of the kind of feedback that I've gotten is that if you're fully aware of, you know, neuro-affirming practices, and you know, live in this world every single day, then hearing someone call a kid challenging can be really hard to hear. But there's a lot of parents that the first time they come to me, they say my kid is hard, my kid is challenging. I don't know what else to do. I love them to death, but I don't know what to do.

And if I just said, "Oh, love them for who they are." They get a lot of that messaging and they don't know what to do with it. And so the book is meant to kind of bridge that gap and get them to a more aware, and understanding, and in tune place by the end.

MEGAN NEFF: So, I think that's part of what I really, actually, like about your book and your work is, I think you have to honor the parent's subjective experience to get them on board. If they feel… and I think that can happen of like, when you describe your parenting is hard, you're being ableist, right? It's like, it is hard. And it's okay, that it's hard. Like, we're creating new patterns here. We're trying to fit into systems that, like, there's no template, like, this is hard.

You know, someone whose work I also really admire, Amanda Diekman, we had her on the podcast a while back, she talks really openly about having parental PTSD. And from a like, similar in which [INDISCERNIBLE 00:16:13] PDA in children, and like the whole family can be locked in kind of fight/flight mode, and it can be really stressful for the whole family. So, how do we not pick like the parents versus the kid? But how do we support the whole family? I think that becomes such an important part of the conversation.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Yeah, until recently. I mean, 10 years ago, when I first started kind of on this journey of sharing what I was going through, and what I was learning as I was going through it, none of this really was easy to find. And within the last couple of years, it's become easier to find information. And parents have become more educated and more aware. But there's still a slew of parents, and especially, educators who don't know this information. And so they need someone there to be that bridge.

And a lot of times the people who, like my son, he's not going to be the one that has the capacity to be that bridge, yet. And so if I can have the capacity to be that bridge, I'm willing to do that. And so that's kind of where I find myself in this weird space where, you know, when people pick up the book, they're not quite ready, they are struggling with their behavior, because they don't know any other way to describe it.

And then as we kind of go through, and I know that's what caused most of the problems with my mom and I, when I was growing up, is just how different I was from her. And my behavior came out as what I described in the book as like that fierce kid who is, you know, very, and I don't like this term, but it's the term that everybody knows is strong-willed, right? The one that is just, like, knows what they want, isn't going to back down.

My mom and I had like such a volatile relationship for most of our relationship. And I think she wouldn't have picked up a book about neurodiversity, because she didn't understand it. Whereas she would have picked up a book about raising challenging kids, because my brother was bipolar, and was in and out of every school that she had ever tried to put him, in any service she had tried with him. And she had done all the suggestions.

And then myself who even though I like achieved all the things she wanted me to achieve, I still was a challenge. I definitely pushed her and you know, like my mom wanted me, she put me in ballet, and she like made my hair all pretty and curly all the time. And she wanted me to wear pink pretty dresses and wear makeup. She put me in… we have something here in the south called cotillion, where you learn how to like dance properly with a partner. And she put me in manners classes where I had to learn how to, like, set a table and do curtsies. I mean, really, like all, the proper things that a young lady should learn how to do.

And I had a black bedroom as a 15-year-old, and wore only black and brown, and wanted to dye my hair with glade, and wanted to just get away from anything, you know, systemically female as I was growing up. So, we were polar opposites. And so she needed something that met her where she was and then allowed her to see me for who I am. And so that's kind of where I think my work falls.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: I think that's the beauty though. And writing from that perspective as an author, and an educator, and a researcher of like, really sharing the in-depth day-to-day, the moments that are actually happening, because those are the things that people are looking for when they want support and affirmation. And just to know, like, okay, someone else gets it, right? Like someone else has experienced something similarly and now I don't feel as alone in this. And I think that's really beautiful to be able to be vulnerable in that way and to kind of highlight both sides of the bridge as you kind of mentioned.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, so I'm going to actually ask the question that I set out to ask 15 minutes ago. This is definitely why it's called Divergent Conversations. And we love it, the organic trails.

So, right at the beginning of the book you talk about how you had two goals for your son. And again, I think you're anchoring this in your experience and your brother's experience of kind of the trajectories you saw. But you say, one, I wanted my son to stop blaming himself for not fitting in. And two, I do not want him have to blame the world for not understanding him. I love this, that these were your two goals. I have thoughts about it. But first, just why did you write that?

DAYNA ABRAHAM: I think for me, from my personal experience growing up feeling like I never… I just didn't understand why I didn't fit. I didn't know if I was adopted, I didn't know if I was born to the wrong family, I didn't know if I was born in the wrong body. Something didn't feel right as I was growing up. And from a very young age, I took that on myself. And I was really hard on myself. And I think that's why I did achieve the things that I did. But on the inside, behind closed doors, I thought terrible things about myself, I hurt myself, I thought about not being part of this world anymore from a very young age.

And I had friends who that same thing happened, but they weren't as lucky. And they ended up not staying in this world. And a lot was because they didn't feel like they fit. They didn't feel like others understood them. They felt like something was wrong with them. And they couldn't be who they were. And I know this is really heavy, but I think that's why this goal was so important to me.

And then with the other side, I feel like my brother very strongly fits into that category, because he never was able, I mean, he had a very real struggle and a very real difference that not many people knew much about, especially, in the 70s and 80s when he was growing up. But he was given lots of opportunities of help. And he wasn't able to access that help. And he wasn't able to take the ownership. And he blamed my mom. My mom worked so hard to be the absolute best mom she could be for him. And my mom's no longer here. And he still, to this day, I believe, blames her I don't know, because I don't speak to him.

But he took it upon blaming everyone else and that anger came out as really aggressive, really damaging behaviors where he ended up damaging his relationship with everyone that loved him most. And I just didn't want that for my son. I didn't want him to end up growing up feeling like he wasn't worthy of being in this world. And I didn't want him to grow up and feel like everyone was out to get him and there was no hope. And the only hope was to put that anger out towards others and hurt others. And so that was where that goal initially came from.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, first of all, thank you for sharing that. It is heavy. And also our lives tend to be heavy. I also took the first way with you and had a lot of self-harm, had a lot of thoughts of not wanting to be here. And similar to you, I was taking on the badness. And that's something, you know, in psychotherapy, especially, from kind of the psychoanalytic tradition, we talk a lot about of, like, well, like when someone from an early age, when there's some injection of like bad objects, and then it can become this like, I'm the bad object where or others are the bad object, there's this almost splitting that can happen where seeing any other way becomes really difficult.

And I think it makes sense that neurodivergent people would be more vulnerable to this split, because of our early experiences. I'm curious, like, what is the third way in your mind? So, if not falling into these, these are two like ditches on the side of a road? Like, what's the third way?

DAYNA ABRAHAM: So, I think that we're, especially, neurodivergent people are very prone to look at all or nothing. There is just these like very linear ways of thinking. It's all everybody else's fault or it's all my fault. And the option that I'm kind of presenting is let's remove fault and let's impose some understanding and compassion, because the other, like, for ourselves, first of all, why do I do what I do? What makes me tick? How does my brain work? How do I work best? What are systems that help me be successful? And then why are other people struggling with this?

Like, I knew that I couldn't like put my son in a bubble, and be like, "I understand why you have these very big aggressive meltdowns. And yes, you can go to Walmart, and have this very big, aggressive meltdown when you're 18, and it will be totally fine." Right? I couldn't put him in that bubble. Like, I needed him to know that this is what the world might think when this happens. And so, you know, I need you to be aware of that, that they don't have the understanding, they don't have the awareness yet to know what's going on to support you. And so they might respond this way. And just kind of giving them that awareness.

And then, as he got older, giving him the skills to be able to advocate, and being able to set boundaries, and being able to set up certain parameters. So, like, this is a really weird random example. This is a silly example, actually. Here's what happens, right? I said earlier, I have word retrieval, and if I, like, struggles, and so if I don't have any sort of notes, I just come up with weird examples.

But my daughter is in the Nutcracker and has been in the Nutcracker since she was three. And so it's Nutcracker week, so that's probably why it's top of mind. And there was one Nutcracker performance where my son had a… he's now 18, and he had a really big meltdown right before we went in, and started running in the streets. And, you know, before I knew what best ways to support him, I kind of held him, right, and didn't know what the best way. And the police were called by people on the inside, because they were worried I was hurting him. And then the police came and he ran from the police. And he was only like eight at the time.

And once he settled, we were able to find out he was so afraid of having a meltdown inside with all the noises and with all of the people. He didn't want to have a meltdown in front of people, so he ended up having one outside. So, we knew that, right? And much later.

And, you know, he could potentially from that be mad at himself for, "Ruining his sister's performance or my ability to see his sister." Whatever, he could blame himself. Or he could blame the performance hall for not understanding, or me for not understanding, or the police for not understanding.

And one of the things that has come out of this is it's Nutcracker week, this week, we have no meltdowns, we have no stress over it, because he's able to, I say, "It's Nutcracker, I'm going to be working with your sister, there's a performance, I assume you don't want to go, but I'm happy to get you tickets if you would like." And some years he'll go, and he'll put on headphones, and he'll watch on his phone just so he can be there with his sister. And some years he says, "No, thank you, I'm feeling overwhelmed this year." And he doesn't go. And so he stays at home. And we all go to the Nutcracker. And he is not mad at us that we don't include him. And he's not mad at Nutcracker for not understanding, you know, and the rest of the world for not understanding. And it's a small example. Like, I don't know if it like [CROSSTALK 00:28:57]-

MEGAN NEFF: It's a beautiful example. It makes so much sense. Absolutely.

PATRICK CASALE: I'm actually like-

DAYNA ABRAHAM: So, just one moment, and those moments throughout his whole life, right? Like, they build up. And I want that kind of thing for my son. Sorry, I interrupted.

PATRICK CASALE: Oh, no, totally fine. It's a beautiful moment, too. And I felt myself getting emotional as you were describing that, because it feels so validating and it feels so affirming. And like everyone's seeing each other's needs.

And one thing you didn't mention in that, and I assume, and I don't want to put words in your mouth you said, "He's not mad at us, he's not mad at the venue." But it also sounds like you're not mad at him, right? For not going. And that's a full circle moment right there where it's like, that's the beauty in all of this. And I think that's just a wonderful, wonderful example.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: And my daughter's not mad at him, right? I hear this all the time, I hear from parents, even just friends, they'll say, "Well, it's so and so's performance." And so they have to go. And I'm like, "But do they have to go? Why do they have to go?" You know, or parents who have a value of a certain religion, and they go to church, and their kid really struggles at church, I'm like, "But do they have to go to church?" Right? T

here are other ways you can share that value with your kid without making it really hard for them to navigate this, because it's just, if they go to church, and they have a terrible experience every time they go, it's going to be much harder for you to teach them that value if the only thing they connect with it is, I go, and I get in trouble for not sitting, for not being quiet, for making too many noises, for running away, for taking the microphone from someone, whatever it is that they have done, they're not going to be able to hear or learn the lesson that you're actually wanting them to learn, which is that, you know, if you believe in this, then, you know, there's a higher power that's here to support us, and help us, and we can learn good lessons from. You know, we can do that without exposing them to having to sit and having to have painful experiences.

MEGAN NEFF: So, I wrote down, because I liked it so much, let's remove faults. And then one thing I'm hearing it's like, and I don't know if I'm putting words in your mouth. I'm curious if you think this works, like let's remove fault and let's shift to talk about needs and value, perhaps, and where, like, needs and values can sometimes conflict and family, but it's like, let's have a conversation. How do we get people's needs met in a way that works?

So, I love this shift from fault to needs, which is also, like that's bedrock of nonviolent communication. I don't know how you feel like that theory. But that is like, let's talk about what people need to hear, because it's often unmet needs that aren't recognized that escalate situations.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Absolutely. Yeah. And that's where I've always kind of lean towards is understanding the needs under the surface and how do we help parents understand that and simplify it so much, that then they can help their kids understand it at a young age, at a very young age.

So, you know, my daughter, she's 10 and we now homeschool her, because dance is so important to her, that she's able to explain that, you know, and share her needs and say, "I don't have capacity to do school at school and also do dance. So, I can only handle one at a time. And dance is really important to me."

And so this week, during Nutcracker, our homeschool looks like her, you know, she's making Google Slides with her Christmas list and she's, you know, writing letters to the elf, which is self-inflicted, this is not my plan, right? And she's, you know, doing things. And that's all the capacity she has, because outside of that she's going to be surrounded by so many humans this week, and she's going to be on stage, and she's going to be putting on very uncomfortable costumes and makeup.

And so I think if we can have that understanding, and that compassion for what are her needs? But if I forced her to go to school, she would be unhappy, she would be frustrated, and I would be unhappy, and I'd be frustrated.

And so when we can look at it from a needs perspective, it can really open up a lot of that connection and relationship, and also the things that I think a lot of parents want most, which is eventually for their kids to feel independent, successful in whatever way that that looks for your kid. It just doesn't look like what most parenting books make you feel like it should look like.

MEGAN NEFF: Yes, absolutely. So, one thing Patrick and I talk about a bit on this podcast, and I talk about a lot on my website is like misdiagnosis, the importance of diagnosis. I think this is one of the reasons why, like, early identification, whether it's a medical diagnosis or identity identification is so important. Most of my guilt I have around parenting is those early years before I understood what was happening with my children. And we were more locked into a fault mode because we didn't have the language to understand what the needs were. And I think this is partly why it's so tragic that so many children, especially, girls do go unidentified, because then the parents don't have the accurate lens to, like, let's explore needs, let's explore what's happening here, let's understand what a sensory meltdown is.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Yeah, I think that's why I wanted so badly to write and do the work that I do is because I think there's a majority of parents was… unless it's just so almost so obvious where they have an experience like I might have had with my son, where they're led down the path of diagnosis and trying to figure out answers. They might never, ever become aware of these other needs and what could be, you know, this different way of looking at interacting with kids.

And so that's why I wanted it to be such a bridge is because I want parents who just think their kid is strong-willed, who just think that their kid is being difficult, who just think that their kid is manipulating them. I want them to have a place to come, and then be like, "Oh, wait a second, there is so much more here."

And if it leads to a diagnosis or an identity, then more power to them and to their kids, because then they're going to have even more resources, and supports, and understanding. But if it doesn't, at least, they'll still have more resources, and support, and understanding, and compassion than they would have if they just thought, "Well, my, my kid is neurotypical." Which they wouldn't even have that word, let's be honest. They will say, "Nothing's wrong with my kid." That's the one that I hear all the time.

MEGAN NEFF: [CROSSTALK 00:36:07]-

DAYNA ABRAHAM: [INDISCERNIBLE 00:36:07].

MEGAN NEFF: What they have is character labels. My kid is strong-willed. My kid is manipulative. They have these character labels, which are so like, the kid feels that, right? Like that is so… I'm sure all of us grew up with labels that we have for ourselves and that our parents had for us.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Absolutely.

PATRICK CASALE: Just thinking about this, I'm like, "Man, I wish my parents, one, had more awareness when I was growing up. Two, had a resource like this." Because I'm thinking about myself in like, when? From 10 to 16, I never went to school, but I got straight A's. So, I never understood why I got in so much trouble to have to go somewhere where I got so overwhelmed so easily if I was, you know, just performing, like you said, Dayna, in a way that felt okay to me.

And it just felt like every time I had to go to school, I got sick, I had no energy, I was even more depressed, even more isolated, self-soothing in my room even more. And to my parents outside, I was like, "Everything's fine, he's got straight A's, he plays soccer, everything's good." And it's just so amazing when we start to look at this from a needs-based perspective and having clear communication and curiosity, too.

MEGAN NEFF: So, I have a really silly messed up story. I don't even know if this is going to add to the conversation, but I just associated to it. This is more about just, yeah, school is so sensory overwhelming for kids. And I begged my mom to homeschool. Both of my parents were professors, so that wasn't really an option back then. But I got pneumonia when I was 13. And I think I stayed home from school for like three weeks.

So, in high school, I hated going to school. This is really messed up. And I don't know if I'm smiling, because it's so messed up or if this is a defense, but like it was middle of winter. I got on like wet clothes and open the windows. I was trying to give myself pneumonia so that I could get out of going to school.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Oh, my goodness, I think it's way more common than you think it is. You know, of like, what are the ways I can get out of this? Whether it's conscious or unconscious, I think a lot of our kids even now are doing that. Whether it's getting in trouble. So, for my son, it was he was getting in tons of trouble so he wouldn't have to go to school, you know.

MEGAN NEFF: That's clever, yeah.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Because he would he would get suspended, you know? And then go back to school and he gets suspended again. And it was just suspension after suspension.

And my middle now, he's the only one in a traditional school setting, because he still wants to be in one. Even though I don't think it's the best placement for him, but we're still working on that one. So, he is at a traditional high school. He's 16. And because he wants that experience of being, you know, at a high school. And he's dyslexic, and he gets sick every once in a while, and he actually wants to go to school or he says he does. And when he gets sick, he's out for like two weeks.

Well, it just so happened it happened the beginning of the school year. And so he was out for two straight weeks. He missed the whole first two weeks. And once he's missed a day, that's all it takes for him to not be… because he has to pay attention every day. And during that two weeks he was like, "Mom, I have to work so hard just to get C's." And I was like, "I know hun and that's why I'm okay with us doing an alternative version of school. Like, you know, this isn't about you, this is about the system, and the way that it's set up, it's not set up for you." But he still wants to go.

So, he ends up at the end of the two weeks going back. And obviously, he's so far behind in all his classes. So, he figures out this elaborate way that he can go, they have three lunch periods, because it's a huge school. So, he figures out that he can go… his lunch period was lunch period one, he could go to lunch period one, and then he could go hide out in this little space after lunch period one and wait for the bells to pass. And then he could go to lunch period two with his friends that were at lunch period two. And they could hide out for a second, he'd go to lunch period three. And because my 16-year-old has facial hair, he looks like he's 18. So, he looks like he's a senior, and seniors don't have classes in the afternoon. So, then he could just stay in the courtyard for the rest of the afternoon and no one would ask him a single question.

So, my son successfully skipped class from the time that he got back. And I knew about most of this, because he's really honest with me. He'll tell me what's happening. And I was trying my hardest from home to get him to, like, find alternative ways to get the learning or to get to class. And I said like, "Again, if they find you, this is what's going to happen. If they find out you've been skipping, this is what could happen."

But he was finding every way to not go to class because it was so uncomfortable for him. And now we finally got to a point where they finally figured it out. And I just went to them like, "He's been not going to class for 10 weeks and you just figured it out because I brought it to you." Right? Like, this is a bigger [INDISCERNIBLE 00:41:43].

But once he did get into these classes the teachers were like, "I get that you have accommodations, but you still have to show up to classes and you didn't show up to class, you still have F's." And I'm just like, we're just putting this kid in a place where he literally cannot climb out.

And so he had two teachers who just stuck by that all the way, we're at the end of the semester, and I just got an email, and he was like, "Mom, she wouldn't help me, so I just decided I was going to sit in class and do nothing." And he's super honest about it. But he's like, "I did all the other classes. I made up all my work. But this teacher, if she doesn't care, why should I care?" And I think that message right there is what so many kids are getting. And my kid's not acting out, but he's just shutting down. Like, that's not a place where we want any of our kids, I don't think.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely, absolutely.

PATRICK CASALE: I'm just smiling, because that's like, that was my entire existence and experience [INDISCERNIBLE 00:42:42] like. But you're right. I mean, that's not where we want them to be. And that's such a challenging place mentally, because if we're such black-and-white thinkers, then it's like, yeah, this person is not going to meet me halfway or support my needs, and why am I going to meet them at all?

DAYNA ABRAHAM: So, I think it's that change little by little, right? By having these conversations, by helping more people, the understanding. But again, I don't want… it goes back to those same two goals. I think they're the same goals I have for each of my kids. Like, I don't want my daughter feeling that something's wrong with her that she doesn't have capacity to go to school. I don't want her mad at the teachers or at the way that the school system is set up so that she's like, "Well, it's their fault. I can't do X, Y, Z." And I don't want my middle son blaming, you know? There's definitely some fault there. But the more that we can understand that you know, they're operating under, you know, 2700 kids, and they don't have the knowledge, or the understanding of how to differentiate instruction yet, you know, unfortunately, but that he knows that he's not either broken, right? And so what systems do work for him, and what can he do in the classes where he's going to get the support.

And he's proven that that does work for him, because the other classes he's taken his grades from an F all the way up to like B's. And so I think it shows what is possible when kids have that awareness and understanding for themselves. And then they also are given the permission that other people are going to mess up around them. I think that they need to know that the others don't have that information yet. And it doesn't have to be their job to give them that information. But I think those of us with capacity can be the ones that are sharing that information and hoping to spread that compassion.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, it really helps like kind of contextualize their experience in a empathetic way, in a way that, again, builds bridges. I really am drawn to this metaphor, you're using or building bridges, because I think they actually came up on a recent podcast we recorded of, it feels like the bridge between like, the mental health world, and the neurodiversity movement is getting further apart and like, so we need so many bridges.

And I think just in a society, in general, we're very polarized right now. Like, there's a Pew Research study that came out about five years ago that we're more polarized than we've ever been, that was like five or six years ago. And so we need a lot of bridges, especially, as we're navigating these systems that haven't yet adapted to be neuro-inclusive, to be neuro-affirming, yeah.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: And I think, I just had this like, picture come up, I don't know if it's going to add to it or not. And I've not ever said this out loud, so it might not work. But I run a company and I used to have 13 employees. And when I had 13 employees, making a change was like trying to move a Freightliner, it took so much time and effort to make one small change, because you're moving so many systems, and processes, and things that are happening.

And we've taken our company down to like bare minimum. And it's just me, my husband, and one other person now. And change is possible so much faster. And so if we think about the system, the school system, like society, all these things that are still very, very broken, if we can picture them as that Freightliner that's just maybe there's movement, but it's going to take a really, really long time for us to see it change direction, maybe it'll give us a little bit more compassion and a little bit understanding and realizing why we need to have more of those bridges, like you're saying, because I think it's so easy to throw stones and be like, "Well, if the school just changed. Well, if society would quit wanting so much out of parents and so much out of neurodivergent people." And it's like, yes. And that's not going to happen overnight. So, I think that's, you know, where this comes up a lot in everyday conversation.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely. Like, these things are so complex. So, I'm in Oregon, and right now, Portland Public Schools, like they're going through a teacher strike, and a lot of the things they're are bringing up are really like important issues. And it's interesting, my spouse worked as a district-level employee for a long time. So, he understands the systems and the state level, like processes around education really well. And so we've been having conversations, he's like, "Like this is the request, this is what would need to happen at the state level, but it can only happen during this window of time, which is not this window."

So, as soon as he was unpacking for me, like, why it's so complicated, I was like, whoa, I don't think people realize like how complex it is to change systems. Like, there's often systems above the system you're trying to change that need to change. So, yeah, like freight train is right, like a very, very slow freight train, yeah.

Well, I was just looking at you, Patrick, because I was like, I think we're at the time where you do the thing where you transition us, because-

MEGAN NEFF: I was looking at [CROSSTALK 00:48:12]-

PATRICK CASALE: I'm always absorbing like the silences to determine whether or not like, are we in silence, because we're all being introspective and thinking about what comes next? Or are we in silence, because we're kind of like, "We're done." So, I can go either way.

I've really enjoyed this conversation, even kind of predominantly as a wallflower right now, because it just feels really helpful. And I think this is, like you said, Dayna, something that just needs to be talked about over and over and over again and spoken about in public forum, too. So, I really appreciate you just sharing your own experience, and your family history, and everything that's going on behind the scenes, too. I really do appreciate that a lot.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Thank you. I appreciate just being able to talk openly. I think that, especially, I mean, I'm honored to be here and the work that you guys do, it inspires me. And I remember when you posted about the book coming… like that you were going to interview and the book came out, and the comments, and so there is that, like, trepidation of how openly can I speak? Am I going to say the wrong thing? And am I going to hurt people's feelings? Or am I going to…? And so I just feel like we were able to have such a great conversation. And I might have said things wrong, I don't know. But it feels good to have this safe place to just speak, and have a back-and-forth open conversation. So, thank you guys for holding that space.

MEGAN NEFF: Absolutely. We could do a whole other conversation about public learning. I know that's something Patrick and I think have both done a bit of and that's, gosh, that's anxiety-inducing as a person with RSD, and so important, so yeah.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Yes.

PATRICK CASALE: All right, and I think we are at the awkward transition points. So, Dayna, thank you so much for coming on. Please share with the audience where they can find your book and find more of what you've got going on.

DAYNA ABRAHAM: Yeah, so you can find my book anywhere where books are sold. And after you do that, you can go to calmthechaosbook.com. And I've got some goodies and some bonuses for you when you do that. And you can find me on my podcast at Calm the Chaos Parenting, and then any social channel at Calm the Chaos Parenting as well.

MEGAN NEFF: And you also have a like a course for parents, right?

DAYNA ABRAHAM: I do have a course. We have a membership and then a full-blown course with coaching accountability. The best way to get into any of those things is to go through the book.

MEGAN NEFF: Okay, okay.

PATRICK CASALE: And we'll have all of that linked in the show notes for all of you to have easy access to all of Dayna's information. And for everyone that's listening to the Divergent Conversation podcast, new episodes are out every single Friday on all major platforms and YouTube. Like, download, subscribe, and share. And, goodbye.

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