By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 81


I am officially a children’s book author. And I can’t imagine a topic I stand behind more than neurodiversity, or a publishing company that I believe in more than A Kids Co.

I wanted to create a kids book about neurodiversity not only to help our neurodivergent kids feel seen and represented in a positive light, BUT also to help educate the greater population, the neurotypical population about what neurodiversity means- to foster more inclusion, to take control of the narrative about neurodiversity and change it more from a conversation centered around ableism and make it more about just differences- having a different brain is not bad; it’s just different. My vision is for this book to be on shelves of classrooms, clinics, bedrooms, libraries…. All over the world so we can take the pressure off of making neurodivergent individuals act more neurotypical, and instead create opportunities for neurotypical individuals to learn to accommodate and live alongside neurodivergent individuals just as they are. 

Jelani Memory

Jelani Memory is the founder and CEO of A Kids Co., a media company that creates books and podcasts to help kids and their grownups have meaningful conversations about things that matter.  He is also the author of the bestselling book A Kids Book About Racism.  Mr. Memory is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion.  He believes that all kids deserve to see themselves represented in the stories they read and hear, and that books can be a powerful tool for starting important conversations about race, identity, and social justice.  He has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and NPR.  He lives in his hometown Portland, Oregon with his wife and six children.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

Episode Links

Kids are ready, with A Kids Co founder: Jelani Memory
Jelani (00:00): Okay, so I never asked myself, are they ready? This is a necessary conversation because it's already a part of their lives, and I felt it was incumbent upon me to share my experience with them so they could know me as their father better, but they could also know the experience of...

Jelani (00:00): Okay, so I never asked myself, are they ready? This is a necessary conversation because it’s already a part of their lives, and I felt it was incumbent upon me to share my experience with them so they could know me as their father better, but they could also know the experience of people of color and how they move through the world, both for their siblings, my kids who are black kids, and for my white kids to have empathy and allyship and understanding and not just be blissfully ignorant, I suppose. Laura (00:37): Welcome to the Sensory Wise Solutions podcast for parents where parents can get real actionable strategies to support kids with sensory processing disorder. I’m Laura OT and Mom to Liliana, a sensory sensitive kid who inherited my anxiety and my love for all things Disney. Consider me your new OT mom, bestie. I know my stuff, but I also know what it’s really like in the trenches of parenting a child with sensory processing disorder. Speaker 3 (01:07): Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s start the podcast. Laura (01:12): Hello everyone. Welcome for a bonus episode on the podcast. If you can’t hear how big I’m smiling, then turn the volume up because I am so excited, so excited, so thrilled to finally get to say Utter out loud. I am a published author and my book is now available to purchase. If you have not been following me on Instagram or on my email list, then you might not know. But I wrote a children’s book called a kid’s book about neurodiversity, and I have no words. I cannot believe I did this. This is a huge pinch me moment, and this is also something that I never dreamt of doing. This was never a lifelong goal of mine. I just knew this message needed to get out there, and it was very timely because this was at the time when my daughter and I really started getting into a kids’ co book, which if you’ve never heard of them, that is who I published this book with. (02:21)They are a kids’ book about, and then they make all of these wonderful topics. They publish books basically for kids, but you read it alongside them as the adult on topics that you want them to learn about, but you don’t really know how to talk to them about it. So these are conversation starters. So on this episode today, I am interviewing Alani Memory. He is the founder and c e O of A Kids Co, which is a media company that creates books and podcasts to help kids and their grownups have meaningful conversations about things that matter. He is also the author of the bestselling a Kids’ book about Racism. Mr. Memory is a passionate advocate for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and he believes that all kids deserve to see themselves represented in the stories they read and hear, and that books can be a powerful tool for starting important conversations about race, identity, and social justice. (03:20)He’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post and npr. He lives in his hometown, Portland, Oregon with his wife and six children, and he has a fabulous Ted Talk, which I’m going to link in the show notes. You have to go listen to it after you listen to this episode. So I published a book with them and it’s called a Kids’ book about neurodiversity. And really I wanted to create this book about neurodiversity, not only to help our neurodivergent kids feel seen and represented like Jelani talks about how they could be represented in a positive light, but also to really, really do the legwork and help educate the greater population, the neurotypical population about what neurodiversity means to foster more inclusion, to take control of the narrative about neurodiversity and change it more from a conversation centered around ableism and make it more about just differences. (04:17)Having a different brain is not bad, it’s just different. So my vision is for this book to be on the shelves of classrooms, of clinics, bedrooms, libraries, all over the world so that we can take the pressure off of neurodivergent people to make them act more neurotypical, and instead create more opportunities for neurotypical individuals to learn to accommodate and live alongside neurodivergent individuals just as they are. So I want to add one little fun fact that I didn’t get to share in the episode, but right after we got off, I was like, Ooh, I forgot to share it. So I’m going to share this tidbit with you, which if you get the book, this will help you appreciate the little little Easter eggs of butterflies everywhere. Obviously, as the OT butterfly, butterflies are not just a pretty little thing, and it just didn’t sound cute, which is why I added it to my name. (05:16)Butterflies actually have a personal meaning to my family. And then of course, symbolically butterflies represent transformation. The metamorphosis. I consider it the transformation that I help families go through when they are trying to help support their neurodivergent child. It represents independence, it represents unique beauty and diversity among everyone. But when we were in the middle of the design process for the book, the design of the cover and the little illustrations inside the book, the tiny ones that there are, and they were asking for my input, I wanted to give background to why I wanted butterflies in the book. I didn’t want to just be this author that was like, can you put cute little butterflies everywhere? I wanted to explain the meaning of butterflies to me so that could be represented and illustrated throughout the book. But I also wanted them to understand that it has a deeper meaning to neurodiversity and what we’re doing here with this mission of having these books. (06:19)And I came across the actual definition of the butterfly effect, which I knew to some extent was the idea of a ripple effect. You do something and then it has changed. But when I read the definition, it gave me chills and added just an extra layer to my love and appreciation for butterflies. So the definition of the butterfly effect is the idea that small barely perceptible changes in things can have big nonlinear impacts on a complex system. And really that is what we’re doing here. You might think you’re just reading a book to your child or just having a simple conversation in your house, and how much change can that have, but you are truly helping create a huge impact on the world by reading to them about neurodiversity, especially when you’re reading it with a neurotypical child. You are doing your part to have a wonderful, huge positive impact on humanity really, and you’re helping us make this world a more inclusive, neurodiverse affirming place for everybody. That was a long intro, but as you could tell, I’m so excited. I wanted to set you up for this. So here’s a podcast. Enjoy this interview with Jelani memory, and please go check out my book. There is a link to it in the show notes underneath this episode, and let me know what you think. Hey, Ani, how are you? Jelani (07:54): I’m doing well. So good to be on. Laura (07:56): I am so excited that you accepted my invitation to be on this podcast. I had this idea to interview the minute I turned off the TED Talk that I watched you on because that whole presentation just spoke to so many things, and so I’m going to link that talk for people to watch in the show notes if they want to. But it’s really an honor to have you on here, and I would love if you could tell everybody a little bit more about how a kid’s co got started. Jelani (08:32): Yeah. Well, gosh, in some ways that story starts all the way back to my childhood. The youngest of four kids raised by a single mother, dad left when I was four, and I had a traumatic, chaotic, trauma filled childhood that my mom did the best she could, but wasn’t always emotionally available, and dad was nowhere to be seen. And I would witness abuse, domestic violence, you name it, neglect. And one thing that I swore to myself when I had my own kids is that I was going to talk to them about everything because we never had answers from the guilts around us when we were kids. And I wanted my kids to have that peace of mind, that clarity, that knowledge, that sort of inside track, I suppose, on just what was happening to satiate their curiosity and to do the one thing that I wish I had. (09:35)So as a father of six, now, I have practiced that quite thoroughly, and in trying to practice at the best I could, I wrote a boat, a book back in 2018 titled The Kids Book about racism. And this might seem totally ridiculous, but at the time, it made the most sense in the world. I made it just for my kids. I printed one copy because two didn’t make any sense, and it was about being as blunt, straightforward, candid as I could be with my kids so that they could grow into really good humans and so that we could have the most meaningful and amazing and important conversations. And as kids do, when you try and do that, they surprise you with what they come back with. And that was my kids. They were like, dad, this is incredible. You should go make more books on other important topics. And I was like, what? Divorce, anxiety, depression, love, hate. I was like, whoa. Literally Mike is that light bulb sort of brain exploding emoji. And that was the birth of this amazing kids book publisher that talked up to kids and not down to them and made books on the most challenging, empowering, and important topics around. So that’s the origin story of a Kids Go. Laura (11:05): I love that. And so I want to understand more when you decided to write them or to tell them about this topic of racism, had you already been seeing signs of them asking questions about it? Had you kind of witnessed things around and said, oh, I should probably get ahead of it? How did you know that was the right time to have that talk with them? Jelani (11:29): Yeah, so I got married, I had a kid and then got divorced and then got remarried to a wonderful woman. Now my wife who brought along four stepkids, four very white stepkids. And so the conversation around race, culture, color, and specifically racism started right away because now these kids had a black dad and a black sibling, and my wife had a black husband. So it was already immediate, and the book was a way to solidify the conversation to carry it forward, and really just to give my kids permission to go, you can always talk to me about it. You can always use this word and ask me uncomfortable questions. I wanted them to get comfortable being uncomfortable. And it sparked new conversations because you’d think, right, if I was already having the conversation and I wrote the book, that would be sort of the end of it. But it sparked all sorts of new ideas, conversations, thoughts and feelings and experiences that I was not privy to before. And I still don’t know what that is about our books and my book that does the magic of a children’s book where instead of that top down grown up to kids sort of learning, it’s this third thing that levels the playing field. And I did that with my kids in a really remarkable way. So I never asked myself, are they ready? (13:04)This is a necessary conversation because it’s already a part of their lives. And I felt it was incumbent upon me to share my experience with them so they could know me as their father better, but they could also know the experience of people of color and how they move through the world both for their siblings, my kids who are black kids, and for my white kids to have empathy and allyship and understanding and not just be blissfully ignorant, I suppose. Laura (13:38): I love what you said about how to teach them how to be comfortable with discomfort because that is so, that’s a really hard thing for a lot of parents, especially in our generation to deal with. Because I grew up, I’m lucky enough that I did not grow up with a lot of adversity. My parents were immigrants, but I never experienced racism particular to me or my family. I never felt any of it. If it was, I didn’t know. But everything outside of that, my parents always sheltered me and made sure I was always happy and distracted me from my feelings and made sure I had everything. And it’s not to say that they were bad parents, but I did not know how to have an uncomfortable feeling or to sit with that. I always waited for someone to make it better for me. And then we surely did not have any conversations about topics that didn’t particularly affect me directly. (14:38)And so what I love about the books I own, I think probably 10 of them now, is that what I know your initial starting was to educate your kids and your particular nuclear family about what’s going on with their transition in their life and what they might experience and what you have experienced. But I love that you can read these books to kids who don’t experience that, but can then grow compassion and empathy and learn how to include other people in their personal lives without it, you don’t have to be affected by racism to talk about it or these other topics. That is huge. And I think parents, caregivers don’t think about talking to your kids about those things. If it doesn’t affect them, why bring it up if they aret aware of it? So what do you say to parents who are thinking, should I talk to my kids if they’re not bringing it up and I don’t see it affecting them? Do I need to talk to them about racism, about divorce, about gender, about all these things? If they don’t see it permeating their lives, what would you say to them? Jelani (15:44): Yeah, well, we teach our kids a lot of things as they grow up and things that often don’t immediately come up right away. We teach them how to speak, how we teach them the ABCs we teach them. When I was a kid, it was about writing and cursive vitalic. We also teach them how to share and not be mean, and we don’t hid and we teach them values. And it would seem to me that not teaching kids about racism doesn’t isolate them from the effects of racism or even being racist themselves. It just creates a context where they’re unaware of its existence and thus more likely to perpetrate or to continue it. So I think that’s the first thing. And I think the second thing is because I get this criticism a lot, is let kids be kids. Just teach ’em how to respect everyone and it’ll never be an issue. (16:47)And I go, well, yeah, let’s let kids be kids, which means teaching them things. But I hold that as a high value when it comes to kids. And the second thing is one way to respect people is to not be racist, which requires the learning about racism to know how not to be that. Because there are elements and dynamics historically, socially, culturally, that are at play when it comes to racism because turns out kids do see color and seeing color is actually okay. It is not a virtue to not see color, and it doesn’t come with all the baggage that we as grownups come with the conversation about racism or gender or all those things. Kids don’t have that baggage. And so they’re totally fine and comfortable to talk about it, and they have a much better compass and sense of fairness and rightness when it comes to identity, when it comes to race, when it comes to country of origin, language, you name it, it’s us who really get in the way and sort of make it problematic. And then I guess I suppose last is to ask parents sort of back, what are you so afraid of? What are you worried about? Exactly? You’re worried about your kid learning about other people and other ideas. That’s it. You’re not going to shatter their vision of the world. You’re going to help them be more thoughtful, inclusive, empathetic, and loving. Laura (18:17): Yeah, it’s almost that thing you are create adding to the problem or the stigma by keeping it this thing outside of your house that we don’t talk about because you’re adding more to it. And yeah, I think like 90% if not more of parenthood is really reflecting back on how I was brought up and what does that matter to me? Why is that so triggering to me? I do a lot of work in therapy. Again, I say, again, I did not really grow up with a lot of adversity, but it’s still interesting to think of the cycles I’m breaking in terms of how I was raised and how I want to do things differently. And realizing why something she does or doesn’t do triggers me. And why is this so important? I’ve been in a really big phase of why things are important to me. (19:02)Why do I care that she is still using her Halloween jammies in June? Why is that such a big deal? Why do we force ourselves to give presents around Mother’s Day? Does it mean something to me or would I rather just have this? So I’ve just been reflecting a lot. And then of course nowadays a lot of these conversations are happening whether or not we are ready to make our kids ready because of social media and everything that’s out there. So I think it’s even more important for them to hear it from us first, which kindergarten I was not ready for. How much things she would talk about to me from at kindergarten, no one else. You’re in kindergarten, no one’s talking to you. And then she would say things and I would think about it, and I’m like, okay, so you’re hearing that from that family. Maybe they have older siblings or they have a certain family member who’s bringing this in their house and she hears that or they’re watching something. I cannot protect you in this bubble. I cannot control what other people say to you. I cannot control really how she even acts. I can teach her, but the best thing I can do is to give her the knowledge about what this is so she can feel more equipped, I feel like, to handle these things and to open those conversations. Jelani (20:20): Yeah. Yeah, 100%. Laura (20:26): One thing that I love about the books and that we talked about early on when we were working on the kids’ book about neurodiversity was how all of the books are limited in their illustration. You really, really tell the story through the different design and the wording and how, you know, emphasize certain words in bold or big colors. There’s little Easter eggs of design throughout the book that still make it engaging but not distracting. Can you talk about already when you wrote your book about the kid’s book about racism, did you do that intentionally or was it just like, I don’t have the rumor space to illustrate, I just want to get the words out there and read it to them. How intentional was this in terms of differentiating it from other children’s books? Jelani (21:13): Yeah, well I’ll give you three parts to this answer and then I’ll give you something new that I haven’t really ever told anybody. I think the first part was it wasn’t about differentiating anything because there was no idea of my book in the context of other books. It was just a thing I was making for my kids. So it’s like you’re not comparing a pizza you make at home to any other pizza, it’s just the pizza you’re making. And so much of it was made out of convenience for what’s the thing that I know how to do. The second thing was it was a very serious topic and I wanted my kids to take it seriously, which means we were going to use the words about the actual thing, and I was going to speak in a way that was clear and concise and frank with my kids, which alternately then sort of meant as soon as you start to throw in characters or silly illustrations or try and make it fun children’s books, it starts to take away from the seriousness and the thoughtfulness that I think can come when you really engage kids respectfully around the topic. (22:20)I just thought I’m not only it more work to do illustrations, it’s the wrong idea for this book. I was hugely inspired by BJ Novak’s, the book with no pictures, wonderful book, amazing book. In fact, I was reading it nonstop to my kids at the time, and both delighted and bemoaning this fact that the book doesn’t say anything. It offers this. You can make a thing in a different way. But I was like, if only this book said something, my kids would have an idea every time I read it, but all it is I can make my dad say silly things with this book. Cool, fun. And so that inspired part of the making of the book. And then here’s the new part, and really just like this is kind of just getting discovered in my mind right now is I was trying to simulate that thing that I was already doing with my kids when it comes to kind of almost like a kind of candor and frankness that almost seems inappropriate. (23:27)And here’s what I mean. When I do the kind of frankness that I do with kids around other adults, I can see them visibly gasp. They’re like, you said that to a kid. It’s almost like, are you allowed to do that? Right? Yeah. And then in turn they watch the kid respond and they go, oh my God, the kid’s, okay, how is this possible? Because what happens is we cover over the discomfort. We cover over the honesty and the truth and the candor and sometimes the painful realities with all this window dressing. So much so that we’ve lost the very thing we’re trying to talk about. There’s a reason why we call a sex conversation with kids, the birds and the bees. We are unwilling to tell each other the thing we are about to talk about, which is mind boggling. So it’s no wonder kids are confused going, what are you talking about? (24:28)Right? And so part of the very few words per page, this ability to keep sweeping through and these very clear ideas getting communicated was me simulating this very thoughtful conversation that I wanted to have with my kids as straightforward as possible. Using the axle words, begging the question a number of times with kids to force them to go, well, what about that? Which the books pre anticipate that to go, oh, you might be wondering about this. And they answer those very clear questions. And somehow I did that with my first book for my kids, if only totally being driven by this idea of going, I need to get this right, which means I need to be clear with my kids. I can’t have them coming back and going, so is it really that blue dinosaurs don’t like red dinosaurs, but wait, dinosaurs don’t exist? So I guess that’s it, right? (25:25)It’s like we absolutely all the window dressing, it’s not helpful. And so our books try and do something very different, which turns out is really novel in the children’s book industry. And yet I have talked with professional after professional who is so thankful for the existence of our books, who works with kids who works in therapeutic context, who works as physicians, who works as counselors. And that’s the work they do is engaging with kids in this very clear and respectful way. And I think I accidented into it in so much as my trauma filled childhood. The work that I did to get out of that and to heal from that caused me to go, I will never repeat that with my kids, which means I can’t just not do trauma to them. I need to do something else. I need to engage with them in a different way. Laura (26:23): What do you think it is about books that give us this ability, like this comfort? Because every time I talk to a parent and they’re like, well, I want to talk to my kid about this. Is there a good book about it? My first, before I had kids, my first thought was like, oh, you mean an informational book? The parent to understand it? They’re like, no, no, no, to read it to my kid. And then now I have a child. I understand books are just part of life. It’s like a bedtime story and they see themselves in the character. But I’m curious what you think it is, why? Yeah, it’s almost like we rely on the books to do the talking for us as parents when we’re uncomfortable, give me the script to talk to my kid. But why do you think we rely on that rather than just sit down, let’s talk about racism. Yeah, Jelani (27:10): Right. Oh, well I think there’s probably a handful of factors. Lemme see if I can get through all of them. I think the first thing is we didn’t get those talks when we were kids, so we don’t know how to do it. No, yeah, there’s no simulation that we’ve already gone through. Or I go, oh, I think I have a pattern of how to do this. We are, we’re totally inept when it comes to it. It’s always the first time. The second thing is we do need that script because the biggest fear parents have is I don’t want to say the wrong thing. I don’t want my kid to have this half cocked idea that this is true. And really that’s true. And that comes back to this. We never had it done for us. And also we’re not really sure what to say cause we’ve never been forced to describe it as specifically as you need to a kid. (27:51)I also think on the positive end, there’s something really important about having a third thing in that context. It’s not just a book saying it to your kid instead of you. It’s about showing that you are willing to learn alongside with your kid that they’re hearing the words just as much as you are hearing the words, which then means you are not telling them, here’s the way the world works. You’re learning together from a third thing and now you’re on the same playing field. It’s not top down anymore. And then the last thing, and this is the magic of children’s books, is the context around the reading of the thing and what it facilitates. So let’s take it off. It’s typically at bedtime. It typically represents really intimate one-on-one time, which kids crave all the time. Undivided attention stories, which kids are really interested in. (28:49)And it just elongates just enough that time when parents are like, they’re tired. Kid knows they’re tired, they want to put them to bed, but kids, they don’t want to go to bed. They want that one-on-one time and they sort of want to stretch out this connection they have with parents as long as they can if they’re getting it. And so this book, by virtue of it just being 64 pages and talking about something important, maybe begging a conversation just stretches out that time a little more. And we were really intentional about co-opting that moment to create something more meaningful than just quality time, but a quality conversation. So I think those are all the factors that are at play. And I suppose last but not least is parents walk away going, oh wow, I kind of learned something like that’s new to me. Which kids? (29:42)It’s like, and this is just tip for every parent listening is not know some stuff. Parents like yes, show your kids that you’re learning. Show your kids that you don’t know stuff that you’re unsure, that you have questions like kids, they love that right interest. It doesn’t scare them and makes ’em go, my parents human and just like me. And maybe I’m okay if I have questions and I don’t know stuff. And then the most amazing thing that could happen is you facilitate a learning together. I don’t have the answer, I just learn something. Let’s go learn more together. And there is no parent in existence today who doesn’t wish that happened when they were a kid. So transport yourself back to seven year old, you like, oh my God, how amazing would that have felt to get that from a safe grownup in your life? I mean, God, that would be zero times. I can count that zero times I got it. So it’s like anytime would be amazing and magical. And that was it. Fred Rogers said, the biggest mistake we make is we forget that we used to be kids. We forget our own childhoods. And thus we lose that connection to understanding our children really deeply. Laura (30:59): Oh, I have chills. That’s so true. It’s so true. I talk about this a lot with my therapist that I feel like I grew up, I have this idea in my mind, I call them sitcom moments that I’m always driving to have that sitcom moment that I wish I had growing up, which was the full house seventh heaven, the end of the show. They tie it all together, the parent sits on the bed and they’re like, so today? And I’m like, I want that sitcom moment with my daughter. And my husband calls it out. He’s like, not every moment is going to be sitcom moment. I’m almost like overcompensating. I make everything a learning opportunity. So sometimes I have those very sit on the edge of the bed talk about things, but sometimes it’s through a book. And what you said a hundred percent true is specifically I’m looking at the one, the kids’ book about gender. (31:45)I learned a lot with her as I was reading. I was like, I did not know there were that many pronouns I’m going to practice. And we were sitting through that and I was like, that’s so cool. I didn’t know that. And I love how the books have, a lot of them have natural pauses where it’s sit and think about a time where you noticed a person had X, Y, Z or looked X, Y, Z or did X, Y, z. And it really, really does the reflection along the lines. I’m curious, cause I know I’ve seen you visit schools and essentially probably do read alongs with the schools. How is it reading this to a group of, a larger group of teachers were to read these in their classroom? How does that look with so many kids taking in at once with the pausing the conversation? How does the discussion look afterwards if you could share some of that? Jelani (32:35): Sure. Well, it’s amazing because it’s the same every time. So I visit this, I visited a school almost every other week, typically two, back-to-back assemblies, the first assemblies with K through two and then third through fifth, which is totally different. And I found kids are really interested in the idea of being an author. What does it mean to be an author? How much money do you make as an author? How do you write the books? How long does it take? Where do the books sell? How do you get them? How much do they cost? They’re really fascinated by that because they interact with so many books. But I think so few get to interact directly with authors. And for many of them, I am the first author that they meet, which blows my mind for the younger kids. They’re squirrely and they’re the most engaged when I’m reading my book. (33:22)And they will like unashamed, they will raise their hand right in the middle, right? Cause they have a thought or a question they want to share, which is so cool. And for them, it’s very easy to embrace the ideas of the book because it’s structured obviously in a traditional sort of children’s book format. Just a lot more frank and candid. And what I find is when I ask the K through two, anybody have any questions? Hands, all the hands go up. Okay, yes. What’s your question? I want to write a book about cats. Right? It’s always statements. It’s never questions. Yes. Cause they never want to share what they care about, what they know about themselves. A hundred Speaker 4 (33:59): Percent, Jelani (34:00): Which I love. Now, third through fifth, they’ll ask really challenging questions and dig into certain parts. Have you ever faced backlash for your book? Do you write all of the books or do you, do other people write the books? I had a high schooler tell me, is there a too far early and too far with some topics? Are they some too scary? And I thought that’s a a brave question to ask, right? Yeah. I end my time in the same way every time. And this happened organically because kids will just do this. I’ll have them pitch me books because as soon as they see my book, and as soon as they hear it, they go, it’s sort of like this. Oh, I can do that. I know about some stuff. It makes it very accessible. And so I’ll end my time with going Now I want you to pitch me a book of a thing that you care a lot about that, a lot about that you’re really close to. (35:01)And you’d think it would be pitches like a kid’s book about Minecraft or a kid’s book about Roblox or a kid’s book about candy or a kids’ book about going to Disneyland, whatever. Just fun, frivolous things. Yeah, no, far from it. I have heard pitches from 6, 7, 8, 9 year olds for a kid’s book about homophobia, a kid’s book about toxic relationships, a kid’s book about losing a parent, a kid’s book about, I mean, you name it. And for me, what’s highlighted there is not that I’ve done some magic trick on kids to make them engage with serious topics, is these things occupy their minds a lot. And I as a safe adult have just walked in and said, it’s okay to bring them up now it’s okay to just mention it aloud. And I watch around the room, the teachers who are flanked on the side typically, who are just putting out fires, trying to get some kids to be quiet, stop fidgeting, sit down, stop bugging him or her. (36:00)And I watched them go, oh, I’m watching my kids behave in a different way. And oftentimes some of the most problematic trouble making kids in class who’s just trying to manage, are coming up with some of the most thoughtful pitches. And what I hope happens there is a new dimension of what it means to be at school and be a person and be able to contribute and be a good student is opened up for the teachers. Because I was that kid. I was always drawing in class. I was super disruptive. I never did my homework. Every teacher I ever had was like, you have so much potential Jelani. And I just thought none of this stuff is really for me. We really got to read this thing or write this thing. I got to work on this thing and I wanted some of these other parts to be able to be highlighted and to come out. (36:47)And it wasn’t till I became an adult that I sort of found those superpowers and figured out how to make learning and schooling work for me. But that’s typically the response that happens from kids. And that’s ultimately, that’s what happens with my kids. It unlocked all these new conversations that we weren’t having, all these new ideas, all these new thoughts. And I just thought what happened? I thought I was making a book about racism for them, but now we’re talking about everything. And it was two things. It was the vulnerability in sharing my story gave them the permission to be vulnerable. And two, they had their own hard stuff. So if it wasn’t racism for them, it was something else that now they have the vulnerability and the courage to share. And my hope is my book is not special and really any way at all, other than it gives kids permission to be vulnerable and have the courage to do it. (37:47)And my hope is it continues to do that. My hope is all of our books continue to do that. And for a select few and I meet these kids, it makes them feel seen. So biracial, mixed race kids, they feel seen because for the very first time, somebody that looks like them is in front and a book about their experience, they just had read to them. I mean, it’s like, it’s palpable. You can see it on their faces. And I hope all of our books represent that for a specific kid who hears that story and goes, that’s me, that’s my story. Laura (38:21): And I think it also takes the load off of them to see that they’re peers who are not mixed race or biracial or anything to hear them, to know, witness them, learning about them without myself always having to advocate or feel like, okay, now yeah, so my neighbors know about this. They must be wondering this. And now they have the answer. That must feel liberating for some kids. Maybe aside from that, also that whole identity and seeing themselves in that person, which I think if we can segue talking to kids, kids’ book about neurodiversity is one of the things that I’m so excited about is hearing is being able to take the pressure off, or at least I envision sharing some of the load for, because we expect a lot of parents of neurodivergent kids to talk to their neurodivergent kids about what neurodiversity is, why your brain works differently. (39:20)But then the bigger issue is that majority of the world are people who are neurotypical and they don’t understand neurodivergent brains. And we need them to understand neurodiversity and to accept neurodiversity so that neurodivergent individuals are not always the ones that are trying to conform to society. And all of the things that we expect. Eye contact, sitting still for listening, clapping when you’re excited instead of flapping your hands or shaking around all of those things that neurotypical people expect. I want neurotypical kids to understand that that’s not the only way to communicate, that’s not the only way that people think or that’s not the only way that people learn. So while most of my work, all of my work is dedicated to teaching, to supporting parents of neurodivergent kids, I think it is so impactful and powerful to know that there is this piece of literature out there, this book that can reach the masses and educate neuro-typical people on how we can accept neurodiversity. And so I’m so grateful for that opportunity to do this book. I’m really excited about it. Jelani (40:33): Well, we were so glad to make it with you. And when I heard your pitch, it just made so much sense to me. And as a dad to neurodivergent kids, the thing that I was looking most forward to was two things. One is that having my kids feel seen inside of a book to go to take that breath and go, that’s to me, and to feel represented and to feel understood, seen, known, and hear from somebody else who understood them. And the second thing is for them to watch me be on that journey, to understand them, to make sense of them, and for them to point out stuff and go see. That’s why, (41:20)Because for someone like me who’s neurotypical, there can be a frustration in raising my children when they do something that doesn’t make sense to me. And of course, what do I do as a tired dad of six kids? Just go, oh, well just do what I say because I’m saying it because I’m your dad. And there’s that pressure. And it took me far too long to figure out, I don’t know if my kid’s going to do this. And it’s not because they’re not trying. It’s not because they don’t want to. In fact, I can see my kid desperately wants to do this thing. It’s because they’re built different. And so I actually need to change my expectation and the way that I look at them and perceive them. And so I say all that to go. I think just personally, this book means a lot to me and its existence and what I think it’ll do for families. And it’s another step further in our mission to create more inclusivity. More inclusivity in classrooms, more inclusivity in the workplace, more inclusivity in homes for all the ways that people are built and all the different ways that brains can work to be validated and accepted. And for there to be curiosity instead of criticism when it comes to that. Laura (42:41): Yes, absolutely. The curiosity piece is something that we know is inherently in kids, they’re curious, but then if you as a parent don’t have the language around it and the kids start becoming curious and asking questions, but then we shoot them down, don’t ask that. Don’t talk about it because, oh, don’t look, that person is in a wheelchair. Or they are using head point, don’t stare. And then we don’t talk about it. Versus in the book we talk about saying, if you see someone who has a different behavior than you or learns differently than you, that’s neurodiversity. And we can ask them about it or we can think that it’s something different than the way that you do things. But what I want all kids to know and parents know is that we all have different brains. There’s no right brain, there’s no wrong brain. (43:29)There’s no one correct things to do things. The reality is that our society is created by neurotypical people for neurotypical people. And so if you don’t conform to those social behaviors and the unspoken cultural norms and all of those things, then you’re automatically othered than or weird. And we need to rehab you or treat you to talk more like us and to become so we are comfortable. That’s really where the harsh reality is, is why do we want our kids to act like this? Because we are uncomfortable? Because no, if you think about when we grew up, the word neurodiversity, I don’t think was coined when we grew up. And yeah, it was not anything we talked about. There was always, I could visualize a couple kids that were more obviously divergent, but now knowing what I know about neurodiversity, I’m like, huh, I think that person was divergent the entire time. (44:27)Maybe that’s why they did this or they did that. And I hear so many adults who see my content on Instagram and say, I one, either I didn’t know there was a name for it. I didn’t know I was sensory sensitive the entire time. This post speaks volumes. Or some people just coming around and saying, I didn’t find out I was neurodivergent until I was 35, 36. And I sobbed when I heard the words because it put everything into place. So I like sharing those stories because I think, again, it comes back to parents feeling uncomfortable, especially when we’re talking about neurodiversity, when if you’re looking at it from a disability perspective. And I don’t want my child to think there’s anything wrong with them, and different means bad in the parents’ eyes, or if we haven’t learned otherwise, when we can just normalize that different is different and different is great, and it’s not good or bad. I see that theme throughout so many of the books that I get excited thinking that this is really, really going to move the needle in terms of generation after us becoming more inclusive. I hope we have so much room to grow. But I feel like this movement that you’ve created is such a really, really, it’s a really good catalyst for all of that inclusive inclusivity with the kids. Jelani (45:53): Yeah. I mean, that’s at the heart of it. And a phrase that often appears in one of our books is this idea that it’s okay to be you and that you are totally normal the way that you are. And that’s in part to push back at this idea, the defensive normal as white, straight, neurotypical, upper middle class, whatever those things are, is so harmful and so absurd that normal is so many things. And we don’t have to erase all the different bits and pieces of the cultures and the way folks brain work and not seeing color and gender that we can actually go, no, let’s see it all. And let’s embrace it as being normal and and cool, and all the good things as a way for folks to just be able to get to be their whole self. And this book, I think it it’ll be a cornerstone in our collection of representing so many individuals who are so underrepresented when it comes to feeling understood and known and seen and considered normal, if you will. Laura (47:16): Yeah. Oh, I love it. So before we end, I want to ask you where, so now that we know, how many books now does a kids have? Do you have Jelani (47:25): That off the top of your head? Honestly, I lose count somewhere around 10, 1 20. Oh Laura (47:30): My goodness. Where do you see this going in the next five, 10 years? Is there a limit? Is there a bigger vision that you have now that you’re like in it? And it’s not just the first book? What’s the plan if you can share with us or give us a teaser? Yeah. Jelani (47:44): Well, my hope is there are a few media brands shows, institutions that I really look up to that I think have shaped whole generations of children. So the Mr. Rogers show, of course, reading Rainbow Sesame Street, I’d say to some extent Bluey. I mean, God, that show just, it’s so good. It’s like, let’s just keep that show around for let’s keep it forever, Laura (48:16): 50 years. I’ll watch that. Even without my daughter near me, I will just keep watching it Jelani (48:21): 100%. And so I want us to be able to be named in the same sentence as those brands as being foundational to childhood for a whole generation of kids. So that 20, 30 years from now will have a whole gaggle of parents and educators and policy people and baristas and you name it, who grew up on these books. And they are more loving, thoughtful, empathetic, inclusive activists because these, these conversations were introduced when they were five instead of 25. So that’s the big mission. And I still feel like we’re scratching the surface when it comes to the topics that we have tackled. There’s so many more. So I don’t know if that’s 500, a thousand or more, but I, I’m really on a mission to make sure every niche, every people group, every topic, subject matter, whether it’s challenging, empowering, or important is represented in our collection. Cause we like to say that our books aren’t for everybody. They’re for somebody, somebody who needs it most. I mean, I don’t know, what do you only plan on having 200 conversations with your kids that are important? You probably intend on having so many more. And so that for me is I don’t think I’ll quit on this work and building this collection. And we’ve really, we’ve tried to take a very long-term sort of mindset on it and try and trying to almost put it out of time so it feels enduring and classic. And it could have existed 40 years ago and should exist 50 years from now. Laura (50:16): Do you think your kids will take over or be part of it or become their own authors of their own book? Or have they already? Jelani (50:23): Honestly, I, I’d love that. And I don’t know what that would look like, but I’ve, I’ve long held the belief that I think anyone can do one of our books. Yeah. I think the question is, is what’s that topic? What’s that thing? Yeah. That they are an expert on because they’ve lived the experience. And yeah, that’s just back to the dignity and the value of each person. Publishing has been considered this thing for special, unique, remarkable people that only a select few get to do. And they’re gatekeepers making sure only the select few, which has turned out to be like, do you have a lot of Twitter followers? And can you sell a book really well? Not do you have something to say? And so for us, we just fundamentally believe everyone has something to say. Yeah. And we’ve curated this diverse and amazing group of authors to share about some of the most important stories that we think exist. Laura (51:16): Well, you are definitely doing that, and thank you again for having that, for this opportunity. I have to say, whenever I talk to a parent of who I’m coaching and they ask about something, I’m more often reaching towards a kid’s co library to be like, there must be a book about this, and I’ll search it up. And hopefully eventually that will cover every single topic instead of having to sift through Google Post or social media and things like that. So thank you so much for everything that you do, and it was a pleasure to have you on this podcast today. Jelani (51:49): Oh, thanks for having me on. This is great. Laura (51:51): All right, everybody, go get the book. The link is in the show notes. I’m so excited to see what you think of at Kids’ Book about neurodiversity. Thank you. If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider rating it and leaving a review, which helps other parents find me as well, want to learn more from me. I share tons more over on Instagram at the OT Butterfly. See you next time.




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Laura Petix, MS OTR/L

I’m an enneagram 6, so my brain is constantly moving. My OT lenses never turn off and I can’t “un-see” the sensory and other developmental skills that go in to literally every activity. I love taking what I see and breaking it down into simple terms so parents can understand what goes into their child’s behavior and skills.

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