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The Divergent Conversations Podcast is hosted by Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals and entrepreneurs, as well as features other well-known leaders in the mental health, neurodivergent, and neurodivergent-affirming community. Listeners know, like, and trust the content and professionals on this podcast, so when they hear a recommendation on the podcast, they take action.

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Episode 42: Let The People Feel What They Need To Feel [featuring Tiffany Hammond]

Feb 22, 2024
Divergent Conversations Podcast

Show Notes

Navigating the world of autism advocacy can be an emotional and complex journey, filled with deeply personal conversations about identity, representation, and systemic change.

In this episode, Patrick Casale and Dr. Megan Anna Neff, two AuDHD mental health professionals, talk with Tiffany Hammond, mother, storyteller, and the creator of Fidgets and Fries, about the intricate landscape of autism advocacy, especially done through stories, which Tiffany says are the best teachers, to create relatability and allow space for people to feel how they feel.

Top 3 reasons to listen to the entire episode:

  1. Gain insight into the debate over autism symbols, like the puzzle piece, and explore who decides what represents a community—a conversation that extends beyond iconography to embody the true essence of representation and inclusion.
  2. Listen to Tiffany Hammond as she explores the diverse spectrum of Autistic experiences with an intersectional lens. She delves into the lives of non-speaking individuals and those in the offline community, broadening our understanding of advocacy and highlighting the urgent need for genuine societal change.
  3. Learn about Tiffany's journey through advocacy as she bridges the gap between storytelling and education, challenging academic approaches, and embracing raw, emotional realities, paving the way for authentic conversations on race, disability, and privilege.

For many within the autism community, advocacy is not just about raising awareness. It's about challenging deeply ingrained beliefs and constructs, fighting for a space where a diversity of voices, especially those often overlooked or marginalized, are heard and appreciated, acknowledging the diversity of experiences, and working toward a future that honors all. Whether online or off, it’s important to work toward a future that embraces every piece of the spectrum.

More about Tiffany Hammond:

Tiffany Hammond is the voice behind Fidgets and Fries. She is an Autistic mother and advocate. Tiffany is a storyteller, using her own personal experiences with Autism and parenting two Autistic boys to guide others on their journey. Her activism is rooted in challenging the current perception of Autism as being a lifelong burden, cultivating a community that explores the concept of Intersectionality and Autism, and inspiring thought leaders through storytelling, education, and critical discourse. She has a Masters in Developmental Psychology from Liberty University.

Pre-Order Self-Care For Autistic People: 

Dr. Neff is running a promotional this month. If you pre-order Self-Care for Autistic People you will also get a free digital workbook through Neurodivergent Insights. To learn more about this sign up here: newsletter.neurodivergentinsights.com/self-care

 


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Transcript

MEGAN NEFF: Well, Tiff, I/we are really excited to have you on today. We've actually been talking about it and wanting to have you on for a long time. And I was really happy when you said yes.

So, first, I'll give a little bit of context for who you are, then you can fill in what I've missed. So, Tiff Hammond, you are the voice behind Fidgets and Fries, which is a popular social media… Do you call it an advocacy education account?

TIFFANY HAMMOND: No, no, no.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: I don't really like advocacy, like, so-

MEGAN NEFF: I know.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: I haven't really figured it out. I just kind of let people just like you, however, this space makes you feel. And whatever you feel like it is then, you know, that's what it is for you. And if I don't, actually, like how you've interpreted it, that's okay. I don't have to respond to it. You know, just how you feel the space and what it looks like.

MEGAN NEFF: I love that.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: I haven't like thought it out for me.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, actually, you sent out a Substack newsletter a while back where you were talking about, like, what to call yourself. And I just was nodding my head the whole time I was like, "Yep, I have the same struggle. Like, is this advocacy? Is this education? Is this a business? Like, what is this we do?"

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah, you know, and the longer you're at it, the bigger you grow, like, the more confusing it gets, even when you kind of, like, define a little bit more of, you know, what it is you share, what it is you do, it still gets a little bit difficult to like figure.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: What are you going to call yourself? And how are you going to be? So, that's probably where I'm at?

MEGAN NEFF: What are you going to call yourself? And how are you going to be? I love those two questions so much.

Well, one thing… I love that we're already diverging, so back to your bio, we're bringing my brain back. One thing you do say in your bio that I love is that… so you're a mother, an advocate, and a storyteller. And I feel like storyteller captures what you do so well. I would even call a lot of it poetry. You're a storyteller and a poet. And it's, I think exactly what you describe. It's like, if you find something helpful here, then here you are. But you're showing up with your story.

And then you do a lot in the kind of disability justice and you are an author. Your book, A Day With No Words has been on, I think, multiple top-seller list.

Yeah, so you have done a lot in the space, I think, especially, within black autistic space and intersectionality. I know, personally, I've learned so much from you over the last couple of years and so. Also, I just want to extend like a thank you for-

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Thank you.

MEGAN NEFF: … yeah, all labor and the work you do. I know it's not easy and it's really important what you do.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Thank you. I have been doing this for a little bit [INDISCERNIBLE 00:04:58] till I was like, "I feel I've been here." Like, yeah, it's been a little while. Like, I don't like advocate. Like, I don't like that, like, to describe myself, or activist, or like any of those things that just like when you share it you just show social justice warrior? Like, I don't like those. I like storyteller more. I like to tell stories. I feel like they're the best teachers we have, the greatest educator that we have is storytelling, story.

Like, the biggest way that we know about our history, from whatever culture it is, it's because the stories have been passed down generation to generation to generation. Whether they're writing them, or telling them, the oral histories, I just feel like they're our greatest teachers.

And I don't want to be like everyone else that's in these advocacy spaces, because they're all kind of the same. And I feel like I put a lot of that on social media, like culture and stuff where everything has to be quick, and cute, and pretty, and easily digestible. And I feel like it's just kind of like, we're like a whole lot of advocates that kind of, like, put up same stuff over and over, and over, and over, again.

And I was like, "Ugh." I mean, it's pretty, but I don't relate to it. So, I was like, what is it that I can do to not only, like, fight for myself, but for my children, and for others like us, and have people actually read it, or like sit in this space, and like, take it in and soak it in?

Because I'm not giving you graphics. I'm not giving you infographics. I'm not going to give you, like, cute words, and pretty pictures, and drawings, and things like that. I'm not doing that. That's not me.

So, what can I do to, like, get people to read it, get it, and then stay? Like, I need you to stay in it. You know, I didn't want to have, you know, one post, and it goes viral. And then they come in, and then they read that, "Oh my gosh, she writes books over here." And then they want to leave. Like, I want to pull you in, draw you in, and have you, you stay.

So, I felt like the best way for me to do that is to tell stories. I love stories. I tell stories. I grew up in a family of storytellers. I like what we do. And I was like. "I'm going to tap into that." That's what I did.

MEGAN NEFF: You did. You have so well. There's like an embodiedness, an earthiness to stories. And I think there's a like an embodied wisdom whenever I encounter your work that it feels really different. And I think because it is really different in the way that you show up.

And, as soon as you said it, I was like, "Yeah, I get that, I get how advocate… there's like a sterileness to it that misses that embodiedness and that wisdom."

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah. Too academic for me. Like, it's too like, "This is autism, and here's the stat, and here's the trait. And this is what a meltdown is, this is what a tantrum, this is what this is."

And like, no. Like, I feel like by the time you reach me because, for some reason, I feel like there's like this long list of people that new families come to or newly diagnosed people come to. And I feel like by the time you get to me, for some reason, I'm always putting myself at the bottom of this list or something. But by the time you get to me, you should already know what autism is. That's kind of like how I feel. Like, you know what it is. I'm not going to tell you what it is. I'll pass that, you know?

Like, I'm almost 40. I'm 38, I have teenagers. I'm like, I'm not about to sit here, I'm not explaining this to you. I'm not explaining what a tantrum is, what a meltdown is. A lot of other accounts going to do that for you. I'm not going to do that. I'm going share it to you. You can go to the next account. They're going to say the same thing. There's going to be a different color, and a different font, and a different picture, you know?

Some might be Venn diagrams; those are big now. They're going to be up there. You're going to find that. And that's going to be for you. And it's going to help you.

And [INDISCERNIBLE 00:09:59] those because I still follow a few of those people that do that. But, you know, throw them out, throw them out, I don't relate to them. But I like the pictures, they're pretty.

And you know what? It gives me, you know, someone to, like, refer other people out to. Like, hey, you know. So, I do follow those accounts. I just don't share like those accounts. And I'm not going to teach you what autism is. I'm not going to teach you how to be autistic, either. I'm going to teach you any of that stuff. Biggest goal for me is I'm trying to make myself more human to people. I'm trying [INDISCERNIBLE 00:10:37] working with people, and the biggest reason for why they treat us the way that they treat us, and they don't treat us well, that's because they can't be themselves enough.

And we act, actually, fully real to them. Like, they don't understand the thoughts that we have and feelings that we have. I have lived in areas of Texas where I am the first real-life, in my family, first real-life black person they've met. They see it on TV, they might hear it on radio. And it's really like, we're still living in that kind of world. I'm living in a world where nobody's come across, not nobody, but we've lived in areas where they haven't met anyone like my son.

My son went to every school district. Every school district he was in, he was the only one of him. Two school districts, they had to create programs based on who he was and add kids to it, so he wasn't the only one in it.

So, that's the biggest goal for me is I'm trying to make myself more human. I'm trying to share stories, trying to get you to see just a piece of yourself in that story. And then I feel like I got you hooked, you're there, you're me, you're mine now. And I want you to feel the things that we feel. And I want you to relate to those things. And I want you to feel like, "Wow, I might not go through the exact same things that she's going through or that her family's going through. But I have a similar story, I have a similar situation, I have a similar thing that has happened to me."

And like, "Wow." So, I want to challenge your thinking and have people connect the experiences that we have with experiences that they might have. I'm like, "Now I have you, now I got you."

And I got, like, the whole community or an army of people who love my kids just as much as I do. And so it's incredible. And I'm just trying to lean into the story. Occasionally, I'll do the academic stuff because it's necessary. And occasionally, I'll drop essays, and participate with different research journals, and things like that because I feel like that's still very necessary. I'm not going to, like, completely abandon, you know, that. Heck, yeah, I'm all in that because I'm trying to talk to legislators, I'm trying to be in police departments, which I am now. Then I always, they hear your stories, but they always want the other things too. They want the stats. We need the numbers. We need to do this. You know, like it's still got to be part of you, part of your thing. It's not my favorite part of the thing.

I want to share the breadth of our experience, I want to put it in your face, and you see it. Anything that makes you uncomfortable, makes you squirm in your seat, where're you're kind of like [INDISCERNIBLE 00:14:07] those things that make people want to turn their eyes kind of like [INDISCERNIBLE 00:14:10] they want to look at, that's what I'm trying [INDISCERNIBLE 00:14:14]. I'm trying to push people to the edge of their comfort zone.

Like, I used to, when I first started, I was, like, I'm trying to push you all over the edge. Well, you know, that's when I started, that was like, "What did you do? Oh my God." Then I kind of grew up a little bit. I was like, no. I'll push you to the edge of your comfort. I'll give you what you need. For you to take the step over it, I'm trying to push you. You are going to do it yourself, push you all over to the edge. And you can decide from there if you need to jump off. You know, crossover. What you're going to do in and out. Like, so that's what I'm trying to do, push them to the edge of their comfort. [INDISCERNIBLE 00:14:51] gets you there.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, you do that really well. I hadn't thought about that before. So, back when I was in education, teaching, like that was something I was really interested in this idea of as a teacher, and an educator, which I think could parallel with a lot of these spaces, what do you do or not do to invoke student's psychological defenses? Because once those defenses come on, it's like, I'm actually going to get more rigid in my original belief versus open to rethinking it.

And yeah, I haven't talked about that. But you do that incredibly well. And again, I think, partly, by sticking with story of like, here's my experience.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: One that I'm thinking of that I quote you on sometimes when I'm talking about, yes, so, ABA, the conversation that comes up a lot, and why autistic spaces, and when I'm trying to, or so like, there's kind of those, what do I say like stump speeches of advocacy, like pain points, so like ABA, puzzle pieces, identity-first language, right? If we clump those together.

So, there's something you shared. Now, I can't remember if it's Instagram or your Substack. But it was about how you intentionally put your son in a shirt with a puzzle piece on it because law enforcement were more likely to understand what that meant. And it was a safety issue.

And then you had people, I think, specifically, why advocates like criticizing a picture of him in a puzzle piece, you sharing that story, like, yeah, that pushes people to the edge to go like, "Huh, there's more to the story than just puzzle pieces are assigned of ableism. And puzzle pieces are bad. Let's think about this more thoroughly.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah, and this was wise. Like, that feels like this, like, the autistic advocates like starter pack, let's start there. Because you have, like, all you need is like, you know, beliefs against symbols, colors, groups, therapy, you know, and strong Wi-Fi. And like, that's your starter pack, right?

And, you know, if you've been at it as long as I have, like, I feel weird because I feel like I'm just aging myself, but you see that as they come in, you know, waves, right? Because I've been doing this for a little bit in different ways. Like, it dies down a little bit. And then you're like, all sorts of waves of autistic guys coming in, you know? Or it's the autism bomb, you know, ally, a starter pack to what they feel like they've seen the light, you know, come to glory, and now they're here, right?

So, that comes into play as you [INDISCERNIBLE 00:17:54] the same thing, like over and over. Like no to this. This is how you stay who you are, you know? I did it first, because [INDISCERNIBLE 00:18:02] kind of like all the time, waves comes and goes. And you're just seeing the same stuff. Or you're seeing it in the same way. Majority prefers this, majority… Who's the majority? I wonder who the majority is? Who is the majority? Nobody asked me? Nobody asked my friends. There's no polls that's done. I'm not getting the letters in the mail. So, what are we…

Like, when you look at it, there's a whole lot of families that are like mine with a non-speaking teenager or adult. They're not even online, not at all. I found those families. You know, they don't come online just like they don't go outside. So, if they're not, and then you have all these people, like, people don't really understand like the internet is a privilege. Like, to have this online community that we have, that is a privilege to have.

There are so many people in this country who have poor access to internet or no access to internet. They're not even add in the world, and is like whole countries who feels like they're cut off from the world. Parents, I'm like, who are we asking when we're thinking and we're talking about majority prefers? The community prefers? This, and this. Like, I mean, smile to me. So, I'm not going to do that. I'm sorry. I was just like, "I'm not going to argue of a puzzle piece. But you're framing it the same way. Like, no, I'm going to come at you in a different way for it because it means something different to me, you know?"

And I don't care about symbols, I really don't. I say this so many times. I don't care about symbols. I don't care about colors. I don't care about none of that. Like, I don't care about blue. I look good in blue. So, I'm really not, that's not with me, I'm not puzzles. But I'm like, I live in a state where you have whole police departments, fire departments, and they have squad cars with puzzle pieces on it for, you know, April.

And I'm going on probably the third month after my son almost had a firearm withdrawn because his iPad was like a weapon. Like, and I just got in it. It was like situation and situation adding up, adding up, adding up. And you get tired. You just put them in a puzzle piece circle. Emphasize, like, maybe it's one less thing I have to explain.

And when you sit in spaces that we designate as space for us, so like black autism parent's spaces, [INDISCERNIBLE 00:21:02] that, you hear that story, like, over and over and over again. It isn't always because they like the puzzle piece, they are really thinking about what it means really. Like, it's one less thing they have to explain, right? And this was similar to when I was explaining like the blue pumpkins and stuff. And trying to, like, relate to the where the parents are coming. That's one less thing you have to explain to somebody, or you're hoping you have to explain to somebody. And you're hoping that they get it. Like, they just see that and they just know.

And we know it's not always true. We know it's not magic. And they're just going to know. But we just kind of hope they do. We kind of hope they get it. We kind of hope they be like, "Oh, it's a puzzle piece. All this must be…" You know, and you hope it's just one little, like, layer of protection. And you sit in those groups. And you hear their stories, and they're walking around, putting their kids in these shirts, and hoping that it's like a bulletproof vest. It's just a T-shirt that's made of cotton, you know? But you're just hoping that you're grabbing on anything that you can.

And what prompted me to write that, again, and share it there was that there's an organization that gives iPads to those who need them. And there was a little boy. And he got an iPad. There's a little black boy, so cute. Gets his iPad, and they were, like, sharing about the iPad that they just gave it to him. And he had on a puzzle piece shirt.

And instead of focusing on the fact that this little boy has finally got access to communication or a way to share his thoughts, the comment section was just erupting, "Why is he in a puzzle piece? [INDISCERNIBLE 00:23:00] should know." This and that. I'm even [INDISCERNIBLE 00:23:03] into like CPS claims, and things like that. And I'm like, "For a shirt?" Like, he looks really clean, he looked really fed, well-fed, is taken care of, he is smiling, he's loving life right now. And he has this iPad that's going to help open his world even further. And we focused on the puzzle piece. And so that's what kind of made me think back to, you know, the situation that we were in when my kids were a little bit younger. And, you know, that made me want to, like, share that.

So, I just was [INDISCERNIBLE 00:23:42] in groups, and I just read, and I listen, and I absorb things, and then I just try to find a story in my life that I can try and pull from and see if it's the way that I can share. So, I'm never going to share somebody else's story. But I try to, like, find something that's within our lives and things that I can pull from. And I just share pieces of us because I never want to speak for anybody else, because I don't really like to speak for others. So, that's kind of like how I like it. And so, stories, more stories, more stories, make people think. That's what I'm trying to do, yeah.

PATRICK CASALE: It's a protective thing, right? Like, that's what I'm hearing too, is there's a lot of privilege in picking apart the puzzle piece photo or story when you don't have to think about the implications of not wearing that shirt in a situation where your skin could get you killed.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Right. Yeah, it's about thinking about all of that. Like, if you're just sitting there and you're thinking, "Oh, the symbol was just horrible." And I mean, you know that we have missing pieces then all of a sudden, okay, that's one side of it. I can get that. Out of respect, I can even be like, I agree with that. I don't even know if I do agree with that or not, but just, hey, I get it, I see your sign, I see that's how you feel about that.

There's like so many other stories, and thoughts, and things that surround that. So, whether I could have put him an infinity symbol, if I felt that it had the same, like, impact that it would… the puzzle piece would have had. If the cop cars is riding around with infinity symbols, I will put that on.

Like, you know, I would have did that, you know? But they're connecting this symbol with autism. So, we do a lot of things where we pull from that we feel that can help us. And there are a lot of us that don't know the thoughts or the controversies behind the symbols either.

So, I try to, like, have a lot of grace for people [INDISCERNIBLE 00:26:13] are new, and then they come on. And then I think that because a lot of us, it almost feels like we live online, that we don't understand that the world is bigger than being online. So, like, yeah, everybody doesn't know the puzzle piece is bad because it's still pretty big out by the internet. But it's pretty dumb on you. And you come on here and have a lot of people that's just like, "You should know, you're supposed to know." Like, "I don't know." [INDISCERNIBLE 00:26:51] going to know.

The fire truck down the street got the puzzle pieces going big everywhere. Like, it's big. There's still light in the White House, that blue. Every April 2, they lighten it up blue. Around the world, you know, in London, in France stuff. Like, so, no, they don't know. So, you try to be open to where everyone is at on their journey. Everybody's not in the same place. And I think that that's what also makes being an advocate, even though I don't like to be called an advocate challenging and difficult.

And I think that for a lot of advocates, I think, being online, I think they lean into the content creation more than they lean into advocacy. So, it feels like you're just creating to create. Like, you're just creating as, you know, engagement, but you're not creating in a way that will lead towards, like, meaningful, tangible change, not even for yourself, but for others.

And I think that a lot of people don't actually know what advocacy is. They might know what it is [INDISCERNIBLE 00:28:28]. But when you enter into a space where you're feeling like you're trying to do it for other people, then that means you're doing it for other people. So, you're like you're holding on to the stories that they tell and you're fighting for the things that they're telling you that you need.

So, if I'm telling you that I need more safety, more protection, more resources, and accommodations, and things that will help us to live in a world where I don't have to wear a puzzle piece shirt, that doesn't mean try and ban puzzle piece shirts because you don't like them. No, it means, I need you to listen to what I'm saying. And I need you to help me acquire what it is that I need. And that's what advocacy is, on behalf of other people. And I think that's where a lot of creators mess up. And they don't look at. And they don't see. Like, you're not fighting for what it is you need, what you want. That's self, that's self. But don't present yourself as an advocate for all of us if you are not listening to the things that these people need.

There's a lot of things that I've fought for for people that I don't actually need. And I was actually like, this is going to actually help you. But this is what you're saying you need, this is what you're saying your require. And this is what I'm saying it's going to help you. So, I'm going to use whatever I can, whatever approaches, I am a writer. So, I'm going to help you create something that is going to help you get what you…

So, it's about leveraging the privileges and the skills that you have to help other people acquire what it is they're telling you they need. And that's advocacy. And we're living in a social media culture where that's not really happening. Like, I don't really see that. And I think that's why part of the reason why I don't like to be lumped in like with that.

MEGAN NEFF: That makes so much sense. Because yeah, that's not what… and you're doing something really different.

First of all, I just love that idea of like flipping the script instead of making another post about like, why not puzzle piece? Like, how to create a world where the puzzle pieces isn't needed, right? Like, I love that way of flipping it.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Another thought I had as you were talking is, there's this really unfortunate kind of parallel experience happening. So, I guess another part of the starter pack autistic advocacy. And I say this all the time as a psychologist talking about, like, why we aren't identifying all autistic people, is how like early autism research really focused on white cis affluent boys. And so there's this kind of conversation of like, we've focused on a really small group. And now we're opening up the conversation and focusing on a diverse experience.

But even that, right? This idea that we're now spotlighting a more diverse experience of autism, we're doing the same thing, essentially. Like with what you were saying, where there's so many people aren't who aren't online, who aren't part of this conversation. So, the temptation would be to fall into that same pitfall of we're saying this is the autistic experience. And by this, it typically means someone who is speaking, someone who has access to internet. And so it's just interesting to see how we're really playing the thing that we criticize when we're not being thoughtful about how we engage [CROSSTALK 00:32:08]-

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: …space.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: We're always going to fall into that trap if we do not have the most historically excluded people at the head of what we do. Then we're always [INDISCERNIBLE 00:32:24]. Because right now it looks like we're equating liberation with that of white cis men. Like, that's what we feel like liberation is, if we're able to have the privileges that they have. Like white cis, straight, non-disabled men. We have the privileges and the things that they have. That's freedom for us. And that's how they're looking at it. But they're not actually seeing that the reason that they are in the positions that they are and they have the privileges that they have is because they're drawing their power from other people.

And so when you're trying to get there to where they're at, that means you're going to have to push somebody's over and walk over us as you get there. So, we're not getting equal. And if we're equating liberation with equal footing with white men, white straight men, like non-disabled men, we are always going to lose, like, in that.

And I think that's what's happening when we're looking at the advocacy that we see online. And that's like, we're not like relating to, like, when I'm sitting with like my friend, I'm relating to this quite well. I'm not seeing how this even helps us. And even when… It's so weird because I was talking about this last week this was with Sandra. I don't know if you know Sandra Coral of-

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Neurodivergent Narratives?

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, we had her on a couple weeks ago.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: That's my friend. We sit there and kind of, we look at the content that comes out from a lot of white autistic advocates, and we just sit there and we kind of scratch our heads because a lot of things that they describe as their experiences, and as their traits of autism, and as their [INDISCERNIBLE 00:34:27]. And I'm just sitting there and I'm like, "Sandra, you know what they describe? It literally makes me feel like everybody in the world is a little bit autistic."

It's what it feels like. It's like I don't know if they don't know how to articulate their experience or if it's because we live in this climate where everything needs to be watered down, short, cute, tweeted, bony graphic thing, and you aren't allowing yourself to explain the experience any more deep than that. But when you just look at it, I'm just like, "You know a lot of neurotypicals do this, too." Like, they're kind of experiencing this as well. Like, how is this exclusive you know-

MEGAN NEFF: Autism, yeah.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: …to autism? I'm like, "You know I'm not really sure I do. I'm not relating to it quite well. I'm so at a loss. So, you're just like, and you're seeing that like, it's not a dig on them. I think it's just like, it's how weird is the thing in the social media world? And how we're not expanding on our experiences. We're not growing, we're not evolving. And I think that that hurts us a lot.

MEGAN NEFF: I think, yeah, absolutely. I think it can create kind of a scarecrow-like version of autism. And also, I think part of it is, and I felt my intention around this being anchored in the neurodiversity paradigm of it can feel you can be shamed when you talk about the hard parts of being autistic. And so then it's like, we get kind of, I think, a thinned down version of what autism is, but also focusing on the positives and the strengths, which, A, is a really good corrective. But it's not the whole story. And so then you get this picture of autism, where it's like, "Yeah, everyone's autistic."

And it's so interesting, I was just having a conversation with another clinician on this. So, I'm, obviously a huge proponent of self-identification, self-diagnosis, because of all the barriers. I'm starting to get a little bit nervous, though. Like, I almost feel like we're seeing a pendulum swing of I am wondering, with this more simplified version of autism that's out there if maybe we're going to see an influx of people self-identifying where it's like, no, actually, that's social anxiety, or like, that's something else that explains that experience. But I see why you relate to it based on how it's been described.

And that's a weird space for me to be in because I've always been such a fierce advocate of self-diagnosis. But I am starting to kind of, like, scratch my head here, of like, okay, I see where this is going and I'm curious, yeah, what's going to happen there?

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah, it is an interesting thing to think about. I think that's also one of the things that, I'm not going to say it's going to be solved. But I also think that that is one of the reasons why we need more voices from those who are multiple marginalized, that have to be at the top, and their voices will be given a lot of weight, and they need to be heard.

I think that, like, what you were saying earlier with, I believe that is why there are so many groups and parent advocates that a lot of autistic adults with labor as [INDISCERNIBLE 00:38:29] parents. I feel like it's part of the reason why it's kind of popular is because those families don't feel represented in the whole of autistic advocacy. Like, they're not seeing their family.

And what's wild is I feel like those families want to see their family [PH 00:39:00] numbers. I think that they're in those spaces where those parents that kind of like market trauma, and pain, and tragedy, and things. I feel like they wouldn't share as those parents do. And they might not always relate to some of the things that they do share. But they're finding those pieces of their experiences within those spaces, and so they stay, but I feel like they really want to be somewhere else. And we got to bridge.

MEGAN NEFF: [CROSSTALK 00:39:30].

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah, not that you're either trying to, like, sift through some of the bad stuff you see from some of the parents, and some of the organizations, and things like that. But then when you come, like, over here, the other side it's like, I don't see my family, I don't see my experiences, I don't see the things that we are going through. I don't know actually see it. I don't actually, like, relate to it, I don't, like, feel it.

And I felt like what I was, like, sometimes too, so I'm like, but no down ABA, go do this as an alternative [INDISCERNIBLE 00:40:06] like, my insurance doesn't cover that. My insurance covers 12 speech therapy sessions a year. After that, I'm paying for that as [PH 00:40:20] OT-2. Well, I live in a resource desert, there's nothing over here, where it's good. Like, so there's a lot of things that they're not even talking about or addressing, but other parents would get that, navigating that, and going through those systems, or seeing those things.

I would never force my child to brush their teeth. Sometimes I have to. It's a dental surgery, every time he has a cavity. Like, I have to put him under anesthesia. I got to hold him down to do that. Like, so it's like, you want to have those talks with those people and those families that get it. But you want to have to have it in a way where they, you know, respect their child, and respect, you know, their story, and things like that. And there's not a lot of that, like you said, there's a bridge. And you're kind of like, it's here or here. Like, you're over here, he's over here.

And I think that's what makes those parent advocates who do share way too much about their children, I want to say it's not 90… okay, 90% of the parents do share about their family. It's awesome, beautiful people, you know? It's those others, the little small percentage they be like, "Whoa." You know?

But they're popular because they speak to these experiences that families like mine have. Like, there's those parents that I've just described that share in a way that I will never ever, ever, ever share. They have pieces in their stories that I connect with, that I see, that I feel, that I know, that I cry about, that I, you know, and that's how I'm like, that's why they have follow-ups, that's why they have people they have.

And I wanted to create a space where I'm like, I want their followers. Like, I want to be in their spaces and I want them to like come over here, come hang out with me. And let's try and make a beautiful world for our family. Like, you know, and share in a way that's going to, you know, help reduce the trauma that we have and not like add to it.

So, even though I understand where they're coming from, and the pain that they feel, and the isolation that they're going through because a lot of them are on their own, they are alone, and they're isolated, and they don't have no respite. And they don't have resources, and they don't have a lot of things. And then they come online always like, 'Oh, you know, just love your child to happier days. It'll come." And you start, you know, and you're just like, this isn't helping, you know. Like, you have those parents that you want to help them, and we need that bridge.

MEGAN NEFF: It's like, can we perpetuate the shame.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Can we perpetuate the shame if it's like, oh, just like, do these things. But if you're not seeing yourself in that, and then you're, you know, yeah, do these five things. It's like, well, that's actually not going to help with, like, when meltdowns become more aggressive, right? That's something that comes up a lot in some of the spaces I'm in of, like, that's not talked about with, yeah, like, so that's the kind of thing that [CROSSTALK 00:43:55]-

TIFFANY HAMMOND: …a lot. And it should be, and then you're trying to figure out what's the correct balance, sharing it though. Like, you're alone, and you hold a lot of things in because you don't know what you could share, what you should share. And this isn't just reserved for the parents of autistic children, there's autistic adults who feel afraid to share about the things that they're going through. But they don't want to be labeled as internally ablest which they are often are, you know? And you know, they don't want to be made to feel bad for feeling bad about how they're experiencing autism at this time.

Last week, I couldn't stand up for myself. I hated it. I didn't want to be it. I didn't want to see it. I didn't want to know it. I didn't want to like, and I hated it. Because it was like causing me pain. It was like causing me to, like, rip out pieces of my hair. It was like, I wasn't functioning in the way that I felt that I should be. My head didn't want [INDISCERNIBLE 00:45:07] it. [CROSSTALK 00:45:06]-

MEGAN NEFF: I love that you can say that, yeah. Yeah, I actually saw a post where someone was saying, "Sometimes I hate my autism." And I just dipped into the comments briefly, but it was really interesting. Their response was like, "It sounds like you're depressed or it sounds like you're in burnout." So, it was like, "We need pathologize you not liking your autism at the moment." And I was like, "This is interesting."

TIFFANY HAMMOND: [CROSSTALK 00:45:33]. I feel that way sometimes. It was that that did feel dismissive to what they were feeling. Like, I feel like there was a better way for them to like, approach that person in that conversation, instead of, you know, trying to, you know, tell him it was something like [INDISCERNIBLE 00:45:54], you know? Because sometimes I don't like to say that I don't like my autism. I don't like to say that sometimes. I feel like sometimes it's kind of harsh, you know? If it was a feeling that I felt, and [INDISCERNIBLE 00:46:06] and I need to walk myself through it, I need to go on so bad, if someone like came and said, "I just feel like you're depressed."

No, I just feel, like, this is what I feel right right now. Like, and I know, it's the wrong thing for me to feel right now. Like, I can't change it. I can't cut it out. I can't calm it out. It's not going anywhere. But I need to feel my way through it. I need to go into it. I need you to help me feel my way through it not block me from feeling my way through it.

Like, talk me through it, help me through it, help me navigate these challenges, and these feelings, and these obstacles, and these things that I'm having right now. Don't tell me it's something else. Because I know it's not fucking ill. I know that I'm pulling my hair out because I am having a sensory issue right now. And I know that it's caused by this trigger. And I know it's triggering because it's autism, right?

So, like, I am already drawing my map to where it's going, it's landing right here. And I know that it's something that is within me, and I know it's something that I can get through, it is a challenge that I can get through. But right now in the moment that I'm feeling it, it's how I feel, feeling weighed down by it. You know, I can get through it. Just help me through it. I know I don't hate myself. It's just I hate the struggle that I'm in right now.

But when you're in it, you're feeling like you hate it right now. And you're just, like, not seeing all that stuff. You see that stuff when you're outside of it. Like, when you're out of it.

Like, sometimes, like, I hated when I was growing up and I was growing up with, like, I wasn't just black, I was dark-skinned. And then, like, you go through it, like, you know, we can't see you on the pictures. Or you know, like, you know, you make fun of your skin or your… and you're like, "I hate being black. I don't like this." You know, they make fun of me because of this and this. But why did they make fun of me because of this? Why am I not cute? Because of this. It's because I'm black. And not just regular black. I'm like dark-skinned black. Like black, you can't see on pictures. When they take the picture it's black. And then they make fun of you for that. And now I'm midnight black. And I'm this and this.

So, you're, "I hate black." And I know it's not right. [INDISCERNIBLE 00:48:27] just feeling my way through this. Don't tell me I'm just feeling depressed about myself. No, I'm feeling this way because of what I've experienced, because of what has gone on, because of what, you know… And after I come out of it, then I can look at it with better eyes, softer thoughts, and kinder things, and then figure out, you know, a better way to cope with it so I have less of those experiences and less of those things. I can't change being black, I can't change the tone of my blackness. And I can't change the amount of... But like little things I can't change, you know?

Yeah, a lot of growing and I'm learning. And there's a lot of days I love the heck out of myself to the point of annoyance of people that are around me. And there are other days when I don't feel as loving towards myself. Am I going through a bout of depression or anything? I don't think so. I just feel like this is what happened. And this is what I'm feeling right now.

And I think that a lot of times we don't allow each other the space to feel the things that we're feeling. And we need that. And when you're telling people don't feel this way or you feel this way, they're telling you what you're feeling. You know, that's hurting them even more because they're not allowing themselves to work through those feelings. Because they're being, "Oh, well, maybe I am feeling this way. Oh my gosh, I'm a bad person because I hate myself right now. I hate my [INDISCERNIBLE 00:50:15]." And I don't know [INDISCERNIBLE 00:50:16]. I can't tell if they really are or not. But this is what they're feeling right now. Let's talk to them to… let's see where they're at.

So, I think that a lot of times we don't give people that… we don't allow them to space to do that. Because we take everything personally and not seriously. Like, listen to them. Like, how they're feeling about themselves is not a reflection or how you're going to feel about you. So, because you feel this way about, you know, like, you wouldn't do this, you wouldn't say this, that's you, but this is them. So, just take what they're saying seriously and not personally. Like, it's not about you. Like, tick that off. It's not about you.

Let's help this person through. Don't diagnose them in the middle of a comic session. That's so weird to me. Like, talk to them [INDISCERNIBLE 00:51:12]. Like, just, you know, let's talk it out. I don't think we give enough people the space to feel what they need to. And we have to do that. We have to respect people enough to allow them to feel what they're feeling.

A lot of times, it's not that they seriously, you know, hate themselves, and they're wanting to go do something. So, they just need to feel it. Let them feel it. And you talk to them. And you help them to get it out. And you have to obviously get to the bottom of what it is that they're feeling, you help them through that. But just come in there and be like, "Oh, you need rest or you're burnt out. Or is this [INDISCERNIBLE 00:51:50]?"

I'm telling you, in my experience, no amount of burnt-out made me feel like I hated autism. I was too tired to feel that. Like, I was too tired to want to like detect that I was hating something. No, I was feeling those feelings, but I was very much alert in it and on it, you know? So, just let the people feel what they need to feel. And you don't have to like it. It's not for you, you know? And I think that's what hurts a lot of people, too. They have to hold a lot in. And they don't want to be looked at as, you know, hurting other people for the feelings that they have about themselves. And I'm like, "Man, we can't even feel what we feel about us because that's hurting somebody else." Like, "What?" Okay, so you try to do like a math there of like, "Okay."

MEGAN NEFF: I think that should be our quote for the episode. Let the people feel what they need to feel. I love that.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Yeah, [INDISCERNIBLE 00:52:54] so write that down.

MEGAN NEFF: Yeah, I should. That's a good [CROSSTALK 00:52:59]. Yeah, you've dropped some good quotes. I've like been scribbling. You've dropped some poetry here. But that being one of them-

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Thank you.

MEGAN NEFF: …let the people feel what they need to feel.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: That's love because I'm like, I'm writing a book right now, right? Like, so I'm writing a proposal for a non-fiction adult book because, like, a few publishers is like, "When you go and write an adult book, write about you, and stuff."

So, like, I'm writing it, so as I'm writing it, or it's making it hard for me to share a new post. So, like, when I'm writing a new post I'm like, "Dang, that needs to go on the book." [INDISCERNIBLE 00:53:36]. So, like, I can't share that thing because I'm like that would be so good in here. This felt like that's love, like, sit here thinking about, like, while I'm talking I'm like thinking in my head I'm like, "That might be good on the book." So, like, thinking, like, edit out, cut, like, it's hard for me to produce thing new, because it's just like, I feel like I'm, like, already like [INDISCERNIBLE 00:54:01] like, a book that I don't know how it's going to look at the end of it, or anything like that. But it's just like anything. It's different, it's interesting to feel like you have a lot of things to say that would actually be enough to fill a book and hope that people will want to read it.

MEGAN NEFF: Oh, people would absolutely… I know I would. And I don't have much time for reading right now. And so I don't read a whole lot, but like I would read it, absolutely.

Well, like, just thank you so much. I have loved this conversation, and loved having you on, and finally getting to meet you. Where can people find you? I know we've talked about a couple other places already, but where can people find you if they're wanting to…

TIFFANY HAMMOND: I am at Fidgets and Fries, Facebook. I'm on Instagram fidget.and. fries. I'm on TikTok at Fidgets and Fries. I'm trying there. So, I'm learning it, it's videos. I'm trying but I'm there. I have a Patreon which is also Fidgets and Fries. And I have a Substack, which is also Fidgets and Fries. So, I'm there, I'm in those spaces.

I will say that in the upcoming year, I'm trying to do some like major shifts, and kind of like shift the Patreon and the Substack into one space that is under mine, in my own site, in my own websites. So, a lot of things I've been learning this past year that I want to own more of what I do, what I to share, what I put out, and not be at the mercy of these sites, of all these different like platforms and things like that. So, that's the goal. But for now, I'm there on all those places, so [INDISCERNIBLE 00:56:20].

PATRICK CASALE: That's awesome. We'll have all of that in the show notes and all the links so that you have easy access-

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Thank you.

PATRICK CASALE: …to this information. And thank you so much for coming on and just sharing some of your-

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Thank you.

PATRICK CASALE: …insights. Really wonderful.

TIFFANY HAMMOND: Thank you so much for having me. This was great.

PATRICK CASALE: And to everyone listening to the Divergent Conversations podcast, new episodes are out every single Friday on all major platforms and YouTube. And we will see you next week. Bye.

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