By: Laura Petix, MS OTR/LEPISODE 89


We’re continuing the conversation about neurodivergence and neurodiversity, and looking at it with a broader lens. I shared a more in-depth view of my personal opinions in the previous episode as I considered my own neurodivergence, so give that a listen as well.

When I asked you all about this topic in my Instagram stories weeks ago and got so many DMs from many of you, I realized how nuanced this topic was. Inspired by those conversations, I wanted to bring this discussion to a larger platform and to include different voices on the topic.

So I reached out to some of my most respected peers in this space who all have some personal and professional tie to neurodiversity:

What you’ll hear in this episode:

First, a few important definitions.

Even though the primary driving force for this episode was focused on anxiety and neurodiversity, it led us to all sorts of places. I asked them some pretty big questions to hear their opinion, and we even talk about some pretty big picture “where do we see the world down the line” kinds of questions. 

The guiding questions for this talk:

I’m so proud of this episode all about neurodiversity, and I hope you’ll share this with anyone who needs to hear it. It’s such an important conversation to have.

Please also follow Dr. Cassidy Freitas (@drcassidy), Andi Putt (@mrsspeechiep) and Mr. Chazz (@mrchazz)on Instagram, and check out the episodes I did with each of them below.

Neurodiversity in Society: Embracing Differences for a Better Future
Cassidy (00:00): My brain just exploded when you said that. So I was like, oh, that's a perspective that I hadn't considered. And I love those moments of wonder of where I'm just like, wow, I love when my brain gets to shift in that way. Who then is neurotypical, who is neuro? And then...

Cassidy (00:00): My brain just exploded when you said that. So I was like, oh, that’s a perspective that I hadn’t considered. And I love those moments of wonder of where I’m just like, wow, I love when my brain gets to shift in that way. Who then is neurotypical, who is neuro? And then why is the world and the systems around us built in the way that it is? Right? 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. Okay, mom, enough about me. Let’s start the podcast. Speaker 2 (01:03): Welcome everyone back to the podcast. So I recently had an open discussion with my Instagram audience on whether or not someone with a clinical diagnosis of anxiety would be considered neurodivergent. This stemmed from an inner conflict that I was experiencing and trying to decide, am I neurodivergent or am I neurotypical? And I actually already shared a more in depth view of where I stand on this topic personally, and it’s in the previous episode, episode 88, if you want to go back and listen to that after this one. But when I brought this question to Instagram, I had wonderful conversations in my dms and it made me realize how nuanced this topic was and how much I needed to bring this discussion to a larger platform and to include different voices on this topic. So I reached out to some of my most respected peers in this space who I have had interviews with in the past and who all have some personal and professional ties to neurodiversity. (02:13)So I invited Dr. Cassidy Freis, who is A-L-M-F-T. I invited Andy Putt, who is a speech therapist, and I invited Mr. Chaz, who is a conscious discipline teacher of teachers and parenting coach. And all of them joined me for this round table episode, and it is so good. So even though the driving the primary question and force for this episode was focused on whether or not anxiety counts as someone, whether or not anxiety can make someone identify as neurodivergent, this question just opened up so many more other questions and led us to a lot of different places. So I asked them some pretty big questions. I wanted to hear their opinion. And we even talk about some pretty big picture. Where do we see the world down the line? What would happen if this happened? Kind of questions. And it was a very engaging conversation and I’m excited for you to hear it. (03:17)So in the episode, I ask questions like, what does the label of neurodivergent or neurotypical do for people in society? If we classified all mental health diagnoses as neurodivergent, would that dilute the label of neurodivergent if we included mental health diagnoses? And then this opened up the neurodivergent label to a majority of the population. What does that mean for a neurotypical label if they are then in the minority? Another question I asked was, should you tell your child’s teacher about their neurodiversity at the beginning of the school year? And then I asked them to weigh in on a thought that someone had shared with me on Instagram that said something along the lines of, is anyone really neurotypical? Like what is the term neurotypical? Anyway, and so you’ll hear all of their responses to that. I am so, so proud of this episode. I hope that this is the one that gets shared over and over and over again because it really is an important conversation to have. (04:25)So please, please share this with anyone you think who would enjoy this conversation. Remember, this podcast is on all podcast players, or you could direct them directly to my website just to hear it wherever they are. And it’s always going to be the ot then the number of the episode. So this is 89, so you can direct them to the ot 89 to share this episode. Please follow at Dr. Cassidy at Mrs Speech ep and at Mr. Chaz on Instagram. I’m going to put all of those links below along with the episodes that I did with all of them separately in the links below as well. They are all full of wonderful insights and wisdom, and I hope you enjoy it. So I’m just going to jump right in. FYI, this was my first time moderating a round table discussion, so bear with me if there are some pauses. I tried to edit them out so it goes smoothly, but it’s a little tricky with four people on the mic, but it turned out great. Laura (05:25): Alright, Speaker 2 (05:25): Enjoy. Laura (05:27): We’ll start with Andy. I would love if everyone could introduce themselves and share your professional experience with neurodiversity and your personal experience with neurodiversity. So go ahead, Andy. Andi (05:40): Sure. So I am Andy, better known as Mrs. Beachy P on social media, and I am a speech language pathologist. I specialize in autism evaluations, and that was really where my interest in neurodiversity came into play. And then personally, I realized that I was neurodivergent after I had a child. Everything was really easy for me up until that point, and then it was almost like I didn’t have that time to reset. I could go to work and then I could go home and reset and having a child took that coping mechanism away from me. There’s no resetting now. And so that was kind of a realization of, wow, I am really having to give myself a lot of accommodations that I wasn’t really needing before after I became a parent. And now we know everyone in my family is neurodivergent. So it’s like our normal, it’s normal. Neurodivergence is normal for us, and we all have different things that make us neurodivergent, but it’s definitely everybody. It’s really cool to see how we can work together and our differing needs that we figure out on a daily basis and change frequently. But that is us and we are just everything in our life now, work and home. My husband’s a special education teacher, and so it’s kind of just like everything is all wrapped around neurodiversity for us. Cassidy (07:27): Awesome. Thanks for your intro. Andy Cassidy. Thank you so much for having me, Laura. So my name’s Dr. Cassidy Freis. I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, and in my practice I specialize in working with moms parents and the focus tends to be around anxiety and trauma. And within my client population, there are some folks who they themselves experience neuro divergence, ADHD, as well as sensory processing challenges and have children who are neurodivergent. And personally, my husband is neurodivergent, he has ADHD. And we also more recently identified his sensory processing disorder through the diagnosis of our two ELSs who went through occupational therapy and assessment because we were noticing and experiencing how they navigated the systems in the world around us in a way that was different and was divergent. And so through their diagnoses, I remember sitting with my husband when we were hearing and learning about sensory processing disorder, and I looked at him and I was like, I waited for him though. I was like, I want him to name this if this feels like it’s relatable, but I’m like, whoa, yes. This sounds like so much of what he’s described in terms of how he experiences the world around him. And he looked at me and he was like, yeah, it would’ve really helped understand this part about myself. Over the years I’ve been existing, so, and I myself experienced postpartum anxiety. And so I’m really excited to explore the ways way in which these dance with each other anxiety and neurodivergence today. So thank you for having me. Laura (09:28): Yes, lovely to have you, Cassidy. All right, Chaz. Chazz (09:33): Hello. Hello. My name is Mr. Chaz. I grew up with ADHD back when it didn’t exist, and I have since become a teacher. Started off as a Montessori teacher, then became an education specialist. So my role was to go around to eight to 10 different early childhood centers and support teachers and families and directors. A lot of the kids I was working with often, some of the most the kids who challenged the teachers the most often were ADHD kids. I started to share my message online around 2020 and just kind of all the things I had learned along my journey, making mistakes, figuring it out, just trying to figure out what I can do to better understand and guide children. And that really resonated with a lot of people. And now I do a lot of podcasting because although the TikTok and Instagram videos, the short little one three minute videos are great, it’s always great when we can have a platform like this where we can do deeper dives because there’s always going to be some kind of nuance missed in a one minute TikTok. So yeah, that is me. Laura (11:08): Awesome. I have so many questions to ask you all, and I just want to start out, I think for people who maybe be new to neurodiversity in general, the definitions out there can be, it can sound different depending on who’s saying it, but I want to start out by saying that this was the term neurodivergent, and neurodiversity was coined by a woman named Judy Singer, who was a sociologist, I believe, from what I read in the late nineties. And from what I read, it sounds like she intended it Cassidy (11:43): To Laura (11:43): Refer to autistic individuals, specifically Asperger’s syndrome at that Cassidy (11:48): Time. Laura (11:49): And so I was catching up on some of her interviews, and even she jumps into the debate a little bit about how the neurodiversity movement has evolved and grown so much and become a bigger wide umbrella and how that sort of changes from what her initial intent and was. But so for me, the way that I define neurodiversity is that as a human species, we are considered neurodiverse. It is made up of multiple neuro types. So as a group, we are a neurodiverse group when there are multiple neuro types in this panel right now, we have people with ADHD, we have people who are neurotypical, we have people who are neurodivergent. So we are a neurodiverse panel. If we were all autistic individuals, we would not be neurodiverse because we would all be made up of the same neuro type. And an individual who diverges, who has a different, more different way of seeing the world communicating, experiencing the world, learning and needs a lot more accommodation and modifications in order to just exist and function in the world is neurodivergent. (13:04)And that’s the way that I define it, and that’s how I have realized I relate more to neurodivergent individuals than neurotypical based on how much I have had to modify and accommodate. So I think that it’s very interesting that the theme that I’m hearing here from Cassidy and Chaz’s story and Andy, is that we all maybe experienced, or for Cassidy, maybe your husband, we all had experienced these challenges growing up, but not until later in life where we fully identified or assessed for or figured out how our brain works. So my first question for you, and we’ll just kind of go around is what do you think that the label of being neurodivergent or having being able to call yourself, what do you think that does for people and for society, Andy? Andi (14:06): Sure. So I think a huge benefit of that is having a sense of belonging. I’m not alone. I think so many neurodivergent people feel like they’re alone, especially when they were diagnosed later. And here, other people have some of the same difficulties or differences even as others. But I also think that just knowing that can increase that and even your self-confidence, for me, the accommodations that I need are very different than yours. I could go to a new city and I don’t really need a lot of help there because it’s busy and there’s lots going on, and I really thrive in that kind of environment. But I do have very direct communication style, and so sometimes I have to be very clear about what my needs are for that. I’m going to be blunt, there’s no hidden meanings here, and I’m going to tell you exactly what I think. (15:02)And just kind of knowing that now I can tell people that, so they’re not thinking I have a hidden meaning. A lot of neurotypical people might. And I can also say, Hey, I need you to just tell me because I’m not paying attention to any nuances in your facial expressions or your tone. I’m just listening. And so it kind of helps me to have that accommodation and understanding and like, oh, I can just tell people what I need. And then also there’s other people who need that too, and it’s not just me. So I think that’s probably one of the biggest things for a lot of people that’s access to services and access to accommodations as well. That’s a huge game changer. Laura (15:46): Playing devil’s advocate, because I hear this often from parents, and feel free to chime in and unmute anyone at this point, is people who use that then as an excuse, oh, well, you can’t just pull the neurodivergent card and say that’s why you were rude to your friend. So there’s a lot of, like you said, different communication style. Someone who’s just more blunt and direct might come off as rude to someone who’s not used to that communication style or to someone who is more sensitive to tone or a different way of communicating, and there’s a mismatch in those communication styles. How would you advocate for someone who is being told that they’re using their neurodiversity as an excuse in terms of those kinds of nuanced social interactions like you explained? Andi (16:43): So usually I say that this is something that both the people need to work on. So for me, I need to know that people can understand that that’s rude. They may take offense more effectively. My child is super sensitive to if I use any kind of tone that can be loud or my mean tone is what he calls it. And I’m like, I told you three times nicely. And so we just have to work together to figure out, and it’s not just the one person. So everybody’s kind of working together to come to a meeting place in the middle. And it’s not really an excuse, but it is something that we need to do together and not just on the weight of one person or the other person to kind of understand. And so I usually tell my kids, if you say something and it hurt somebody’s feelings, it doesn’t really matter. Your intention does matter. You didn’t mean to hurt their feelings, but you did. And so we need to come to a way that we can work that out together. And sometimes that’s an apology if they’re sorry, sometimes they’re not sorry. And don’t apologize if you’re not sorry. But we do need to come out and really understand that there’s multiple perspectives here. I love that. Chaz, do you want to add to that? Chazz (17:57): Yeah, I think it also helps to just know when you’re in one of those situations and maybe you are a little more blunt, or maybe someone is talking to you and you zone out, you start thinking about something else that it’s, it doesn’t make you a bad person, that you just have maybe a different challenge and understanding your neurotype and helps you understand, oh, there’s some things that I might need to work on a little bit more to be successful in certain situations. And on the other side, there’s some things, there’s some maybe strengths that I might have that I can kind of lean into that might help me in other situations. I think about how I even got on this journey of sharing online and going on TikTok and making videos where for a lot of people now, I tell people, if you’re passionate about something, go out, make videos, share with the world. (19:07)You don’t know what can happen. At least you might have one or two, one or two people. At most, he might change the world. And so I tell people to kind do things like this all the time, but yeah, just go, just make a video. And for some people it is so difficult to just start to record and then to post. For me, I didn’t really feel that because my impulsiveness, which can also be a challenge in a lot of situations, is also what led me to just start posting videos on TikTok and learning and just continue to do that. Without that impulsiveness that can be harmful in other situations, I would not have helped me get to this point of helping so many people what I’m doing right now. So it’s just helpful to know. It doesn’t mean these, I think we have a tendency to really judge everything. (20:14)We’re such a judgy society that we will judge our individual characteristics as opposed to just seeing them as they are and just knowing about them and leaning into them. And also, I also know that I need to be really on it with a schedule. I need to put everything on my calendar. I’m not going to remember anything, even if it’s really important to me. I know this about myself, so I have to put it on my calendar. It just allows you to one, know yourself and yeah, you understand, okay, that’s my ADHD, but you don’t stop there. That’s my ADH, adhd. What can I do to kind of mitigate the harm and lean into the helpfulness that I could create from whatever this characteristic is? Laura (21:07): Oh, I love that. So not playing the card to get out of it, but saying, yeah, this is one of the areas I need support in. This is my ADHD part, so that means I need these supports on the side. I love that. Cassidy. Cassidy (21:23): Yeah, I would say that context leads to compassion, and it makes me think about that postpartum year. I’d had a traumatic birth. I was experiencing PTSD from that birth and postpartum anxiety all under the umbrella of anxiety disorders. My husband who has ADHD and sensory processing disorder, which we didn’t have diagnosed at that time. And what our healing and work ended up looking like with each other was understanding the context of what we were both experiencing. That was leading to a lot of disconnect, a lot of conflict. And that supported us in having compassion for each other’s lived experience. So for him, having a child, having a baby, similar to what Andy had said, there were no more margins in his day that he had really relied on to help him kind of regulate his nervous system. And so he found himself feeling really overloaded from a sensory experience with everything from the mess to the sounds, to the smells, to the touches, to all of it. And he also, impulse control is difficult. So he would just say something really blunt. (22:55)And there was also difficulty with him in just being able to stay in a conversation with me when I was trying to talk to him about something. His eyes were wandering and he would need to make the conversation end because of how overloaded he was. And so he would say things that would make me stop because it was hurtful or because it would make me pull away. And in my experience of all of that, I am experiencing a response to a traumatic birth and anxiety. And so I have a really sensitive struggle response. I have a lot of intrusive thoughts coming in that I’m feeling really afraid by. So everything now feels like more of a threat. My whole body are on more high alert for a potential threat. And so when you combine those two things together, it’s a hot mess. (23:55)But if we begin to understand the context of what’s going on for both of us and how we are experiencing the world around us, communication, relationships, our environment, there’s compassion that comes. It’s so much easier to give him a generous interpretation. Now when he goes and he puts his headphones on and he goes into the garage to get a moment, now that I understand his lived experience, whereas before it would’ve been like, dude, you’re just going to tune us out and ignore us while I’m feeling overwhelmed and anxious and feeling like I’m carrying too much. And then he becomes the threat. So I think that context leads to compassion and how we can all as humans take a moment to pause and be curious about context. I think the world would be better off, but we don’t always have access to that context because a lot of these things are invisible challenges, right? Laura (25:03): Yes. Oh, that’s exactly it. So on that topic, and Cassidy, you might be the one to start us off here because I want to talk more technical about the DSM, which for people listening, is it the Diagnostic Statistical (25:20)Manual? Manual Manual, right. We’re on the fifth edition, still have not moved on to the sixth. So the DSM five, which is the book that holds all of the mental health disorder and cognitive and behavioral disorder diagnoses, and the criteria for making those diagnoses. So that’s where autism is in ADHD, anxiety, OCD, bipolar, all of that all is in there. And so there’s this argument that, well, if it’s in the DSM, then it should be, then you can be called neurodivergent. It is a differently wired. Then there’s other people who say, well, some of those are curable. So if it’s curable, is it not neurodivergent? Because then your brain is not wired differently. Then there’s some who say, well, I acquired my mental health. I did not have bipolar as a child. I did not have depression as a child. So was I a neurotypical child or a neurodivergent adult? And so this is where it gets messy because there is no binary list of this is neurodivergent, this is not, but people want clarity. And so this is why I’m having the conversation, and I just want to hear everyone’s opinion, but I’ll start with you, Cassidy, if you want to jump us off, and then Chaz or Andy can jump in as well. Cassidy (26:44): Yeah, I think that what you’re naming here that there isn’t clarity and there isn’t consensus. And I think that that’s really a piece that we have to name here first and foremost, when we’re talking to the general public and the general listener. What I will say is that when I am in conversation with my clients and within the DSM and within the diagnostic criteria, and people don’t always check off all the boxes, and yet they can still experience things that like, well, I don’t check off all these boxes, but this is my lived experience and in the intimacy and the protected space of my sessions with my clients, I’m like, yes, we have this DSM, which I think is so helpful for so many in validating their experiences. Wow, there’s a name for this thing, and if you don’t fit into a perfect box, that’s because we were never meant to fit into perfect boxes. (27:43)And so with my clients, with my eldest, my 12 year old who recently had a panic attack at the Taylor Swift concert because we didn’t bring her headphones, she didn’t think that she need them and felt completely sensory overloaded and ended up having a panic attack, and we had to leave in my conversations with these people that I care deeply for in various ways, it’s what you experience matters and is valid whether or not Emmanuel says that you are X, Y, or Z or are not X, Y, or Z. And regardless of whether or not we’ve made the decision of what falls under the umbrella of divergence, if your experience is that when you walk into the world and the way in which the world is built and it feels really hard to navigate those systems and there has to be some accommodations and the context of that really matters to you, then that is valid, that is real, and we are going to spend some time now in making sure that you feel that validation so that you don’t feel alone, and so that you can begin to bridge being able to advocate for your needs with the people around you and your providers. Chazz (29:10): This kind of makes me think about, I mentioned I was a Montessori teacher at the beginning of all this, and I had a child who was, you have him for two years, and he came in and he was three, and you could already tell that was his brain was different than the other kids. He came into my classroom already able to read, and I honestly didn’t believe it at first. I was reading a book and then he started to read it with me, and I was like, okay, you memorized this book. And then I pointed to a little poster that I had that had the word, it was like a weather chart. I had the word weather on it, and then he read the word weather. I was like, this kid can read. (29:59)But it also came with some other challenges that he had where someone would turn on the faucet and he would immediately cover his ears and run around the classroom trying to hide away from the sink, the sound. And it was a child who was also really reactive and had a hard time socializing with the other children. And a lot of my colleagues, they were very adamant about this child’s autistic and telling the parent, you need to your child’s autistic. And the parent was very resistant. I don’t want to label my child. This is too early. And I was just like, it doesn’t really matter what the label is. I’m just going to meet your child where they are at. And that’s what I did. He spent two years in my classroom and without a diagnosis, I was accommodating him. I was seeing him where he was at and just trying to understand him and trying to help him regardless of he could have been autistic, ADHD, gifted, anxious, a mix between all five. (31:13)It was really just a process of seeing this person as they are regardless of label and helping them be successful in the classroom. And I wish that we had more of that perspective with not just children in the classroom. I mean, we don’t really have that perspective of children in the classroom because you have to have a diagnosis to get the accommodations, but with just people in general to really just accept people as they are, regardless of if they have a diagnosis or if they don’t formally diagnosed self-diagnosed, but really see them as they are. I think that speaks to the whole, everyone trying their best with the skills, knowledge and resources they have access to in that moment. People are showing up as they are, and I believe the approach we should take with people is accept them as they are and meet them where they’re at regardless whether you’re anxious or diagnosed or not. And so that’s where the diagnosis can be helpful because it can kind of be a shortcut to understanding people and meeting people where they’re at. But if you don’t have that, you can still take the time to have empathy for that person, know that they’re trying their best and meet them where they’re at. Laura (32:35): I think that that’s the perfect example of the difference between though that’s that middle of, we don’t necessarily need a specific label of diagnosis, but you were the kind of educator that already had the intuition to know whatever is going on here, I can see this child’s strength. I can also see where he needs support, and I’m going to focus on that versus someone who does not labels, but is still expecting that child to perform a certain way based on neurotypical standards. So I’m not going to label them. I don’t know if they’re autistic or they’re not, but he’s three, he should be able to sit in this circle with the other kids. The other three year old are doing that. That’s when that’s the extreme of not taking the labels. If we could all take that approach that Chaz just talked about, where it’s like, I don’t know what’s going on. We don’t have a diagnosis, not interested in pursuing a diagnosis, but here are my child’s skills, here are their areas where they need more support. Here are some, and you can start there without a specific label. Yeah, Andy, Andi (33:37): Great. Yeah. And so I think in an ideal world, teachers will be like that, but we know that that’s not going to happen. And I’m willing to bet that you made a lot of assumptions to support him based on the fact as if he were autistic. And so you were able to provide some of those accommodations that perhaps other people either would not offer at all or would not know to make those connections to offer. And then that child could be labeled a bad kid or a behavior problem rather than I need this support or these changes that when you don’t tell me they happen are really overwhelming. But the simple accommodation of just telling him the changes are there could make a difference. So I definitely think there’s a lot of cases where kids don’t necessarily need a label when they’re in an environment where they can be accepted for who they are and given those accommodations. But kind of like Laura said, there is an opposite side that’s not going to carry them all the way through school. And so that’s when having that diagnosis and having that label, that’s correct. You’re autistic, you’re not a behavior problem, you’re not a bad kid, or you’re not weird. Whatever other label they get in place of that diagnostic label, I think that’s where that can help carry it through. And then the more people who have those diagnoses and accurate labels and understanding of neurodiversity, the less stigmatizing it is. (35:10)So I am really big in the disability community, and so it’s really comfortable for me. And it’s not like that for so many parents that I think just laying that early groundwork is important to where I do tell parents a lot, you don’t need this label right now. I do think that this will be a thing for this child in the future. I think you need to prepare yourself for this. You need to really think about it. I would encourage you to learn more because it can help them later on, and especially when it comes time for them to realize I’m different. I need different supports, or no matter how hard I try, I’m not like those kids. And I want the kids to know you’re not broken. There’s nothing wrong with you, you’re just different. And that’s why you’re not like the other kids. It’s not trying hard or it’s not because you’re stupid and all the other labels that kids give themselves when they can’t succeed as a neurotypical child. Laura (36:05): Andy, you reminded me, and I think we had this conversation on Instagram. I think I asked you about this, but how does the term disability fall into place with neurodiversity? Because I know some people then say, well, autism isn’t a disability, but then some people identify certain learning disorders and mental health disorders as a disability. So are you able to talk to speak to that for us and see how that kind of falls in with neurodiversity? Andi (36:31): Sure. So I think it’s more of an individual identity. I have A-D-H-D-I really teeter on if I identify as disabled, because sometimes I think it really impact, I stopped working at the schools and I’m doing Mrs. Speech and there’s not the structure built in for me. And so I’m really feeling it now because I don’t have that in place and I’m in charge of myself, which is great for some things and not so great. I haven’t made a product which I was supposed to be doing. And there’s a lot of things that have come into play this year that have made it hard. But yeah, I just think it’s a difference for how each person views it. So a lot of autistic people will say, why would you say this is a disability? It’s not a disability for me. And I’m like, okay, then that’s your identity, more so than me saying you are definitely disabled. But personally, I do consider autism to be a disability for most. Laura (37:40): Thank you. Thanks for clearing that up. Okay. So I want to share what else was coming up in the community about this. So people were saying, well, if we do, right, because reminding everyone, this stemmed from me saying, does anxiety, does clinical anxiety count as neurodivergent label? And the thing that kept coming up was people were like, well, they were saying everything from, well, I feel it. Everybody gets anxious sometimes. So are we all neurodivergent? Which was very, very minimizing of what clinical anxiety is. But then there was other people who said, actually, I do know a lot of people who have mental health disorders and anxiety. And then what if we come to the place where the majority are actually neurodivergent when we combine all of the different neurodivergent neuro types, and then the minority is neurotypical. Are they still the typical ones? And then I said, well, that’s an interesting way to think about it, and I’m curious to see what you think. If it does come to a place where the majority identifies as neurodivergent, how does Cassidy (38:49): That Laura (38:50): Change the society, the world, how we function? What would either of you think of that? Cassidy (38:58): Well, my brain just exploded when you said that. So I was like, oh, that’s a perspective that I hadn’t considered. And I love those moments of wonder of where I’m just like, wow, I love when my brain gets to shift in that way. Who then is neurotypical and who is Laura (39:16): Neurotypical? Cassidy (39:19): And then why is the world and the systems around us built in the way that it is? It just makes me then wonder about the people who are in positions of power and privilege to create the systems that we have. Anyway, so I don’t feel like I have an answer to that because right now I’m just in this space of awe of just like, whoa, mind shift there. So that’s all. Laura (39:46): That’s exactly where I thought I said, well, if we’re talking about if we often say the world was built by neurotypicals for neurotypical brains. If generations down the line, if majority of people understand neurodiversity and more of them come into power and they change rules and regulations and the way systems are set up and all of that and just accommodations are just a way of life and no one even second guesses it and we’re able, how does that change things? Yeah, I don’t think there’s a right answer, but it’s definitely that kind of reaction that I had for myself. Chaz, Chazz (40:26): I guess as you were talking, what was going through my mind was what do we have to lose? You were just talking now about accommodations could change, systems could change. My mind was thinking, why would it matter if there were less neurotypicals, right? It would just mean that the maybe label is a little bit inaccurate, maybe, maybe not. But that label is just the, it’s this outer shelling of what’s really happening and I get is what we use to kind of function in the systems that we created, but systems one can change. And two, if we saw the world more like we all, and really to really appreciate the neurodiversity that does exist and how we all think differently in different ways, in different ways of the sphere spectrum. And that’s something I think that we need to appreciate a little bit more because we’re talking about why we talked about anxiety and ADHD and autism and anxiousness, but there’s also people with all sorts of different kinds of trauma that can create all different kinds of behavior too. (42:07)And to me, I mean, I’m kind of going back to this and maybe I’m thinking a little utopian ideal world, but this is the kind of world that I want to create where we can really just see people as just trying their best and we can support everyone. We can create a world where we are more orientated towards supporting everyone to be successful no matter where they’re at. Neurotypical trauma, anxious, ADHD. And for me, that seems like a better world than the world we live in now where you have to get a diagnosis and there’s so many barriers to diagnosis for you to get any kind of support. And then once you get the support, there’s all these other hurdles and stigma and judgment that comes with it. So that’s where my mind goes. Laura (43:10): I love the way that you described that. Andy, do you want to add to it? Andi (43:14): Yeah, no, I agree. I think that would be an amazing world. I think even within that world, having those labels to help you identify other people who are in the same situation would still be beneficial, of course. But I think that mean would be wonderful. And now we do, in my mind, which has no research supporting this, I think it probably is like 50 50 neurodivergent and neurotypical because is if we took every single label, it would look like more. But there’s so much intersection that I think that it’s probably a little bit smaller over there on that. (43:55)But I do think that as people become more aware about neurodiversity and neurodivergence, I think that the systems can change. But I do think it’s systematic. So we have to instill this in the next generation and maybe even the next generation before it can be an actual world change, especially in the United States, the way that everything is structured around work and having a full-time job and doing this in this order, which is very different from a lot of countries. I think that that will be a little bit slower for us, even though we tend to be ahead in identifying and diagnosing here. Just from what I’ve heard from people in other countries, I think that that would amazing to be able to just accept people and expect people to need accommodations rather than thinking that that’s a pain, or I’m having to go out of my way to give you this accommodation when really it’s not even, I always say neurotypical people are so structured and inflexible when we tend to label autistic people that we tend to get set in our ways and accommodations is not okay. And the educational system has many, many, many flaws, of course. But teachers are so overwhelmed that having to give those accommodations really is a lot on them. And so there’s tons of systematic change that needs to happen in order for us to support kids and then eventually, hopefully adults as they get older. But I think that would be beautiful if we could. Laura (45:41): I think that just how you were talking about generations and another generation before that, thinking of finally now in people’s sign offs on their email, people are putting their pronouns. That’s just brand new. What if we got to a place where people were just knowing, Hey, I identify as this and this is how I tend to communicate. And we just knew that about ourselves, which really does start in childhood so that we can teach them how they best learn. And this can move to workplace relationships and what they can advocate for. Can I? Yeah. Chazz (46:16): It’s already happening. The change is already happening with children. I see a big difference then when I was young, when we went to virtual learning, all the school ages came or worked in an early childhood center, and we were supporting the school ages who were doing their virtual learning. So we were with them, there’d be like a room of kids sitting at their own little desk doing their own kind of work, and we’d be walking around trying to support them and with whatever they needed, right? Hard time pandemic, we’re here, right? Bring you back. And there was this moment that probably wasn’t a big deal for this child, but I will always probably remember this moment because of the light bulb for me where she raised her hand and I was like, oh, yep, I’m coming over to go help you before I can even, I get over there and pretty loudly and proudly without any sense of hesitation or sense of I’m judgment or trying to hide or make herself smaller. (47:21)She said, I need help reading this. I’m dyslexic. Just said it very matter of factly and very loud enough for other people to hear. And of course, and there was a moment where I, yeah, of course, and I helped her, but I just remember how even, like I said, I grew with ADH, ADHD and how much shame and stigma was around that, and I didn’t feel comfortable at all to share. That was a secret almost to share that I had ADH ADHD and I took medication for it. And now for this child to just without hesitation to be like, I’m dyslexic, can I have some help with this? And she knews exactly what she needs help with, didn’t even really know. I didn’t really even know what I needed help with. I just knew I needed medication, and that was really it. And so I think the change is happening, and I do agree that I do think it will take time, and we’re definitely not there yet, but I have so much hope. Cassidy (48:25): Can I jump in there too, just to follow on the heels of the hope? I see it in this generation coming up as well. I see it when my daughter says to her friends bluntly after they went on a little school camping trip, and she was very blunt about it. Just like, Hey guys, this has been fun. Please nobody call me or FaceTime me or try to talk to me for the next 72 hours because I have had enough. That’s me. I was like, wait, wait, hold on, wait, be kind, be gentle. And then I didn’t say anything, but inside I was just like, whoa. That was nothing I’ve ever, I could never, the people pleaser in me was just like, wait, what? And her friends were like, one of them was just like, we get it ri, we know that you need your space. (49:23)And it was just like that was the end of it. And it was like, what? And here’s the thing is that at home, even though the people pleaser me was just like, ah, at home, what we have done is given, we have given her language around these things and being able to know what it is that she needs, how it is that others might not need those same things. And that’s not because there’s something wrong with her, but this is because this is just the way that her body and her brain takes in information, makes sense of the world and experiences the world around her. And now she’s in sixth grade, and this is the first year where they’re getting grades. And I can start to see the pressure of our western education system starting to set in. And the message I keep trying to give her, which I really wish someone had said to me, and I think my husband would agree with this, is the world needs all sorts of brains and thinking and ways of describing things in ways and skill sets and part of you and learning here, it’s not so much about the grades, it’s about you figuring out where those passions lie. (50:45)And it’s also, right now, while we’re trying to not focus so much on the grades, but on things like other skills, being able to ask for help, being able to advocate for herself because at the end of the day when she’s done with school and those report cards are sitting in some cabinet or some filing something in the garage, or maybe they’ve been burned, I don’t know. Those are the things that she’s going to bring out into the world. And the world needs her. The world needs her just at the way that she is, of course, with accommodations and support. But it’s not because anything wrong with her, this is who she is. And sometimes the systems around us need to be unplugged and unplugged, but there’ll be time for that. It’ll take time. Laura (51:34): I think that just, again, that wraps up sort of what Chaz was saying and what we’ve kind of been talking about where it’s like whatever their label is, if we talk about, we help them with their self-identity and their awareness of what they need and put a name to it so they can ask for it at whatever stage of life their needs are going to change with or without a label, maybe they learn a new skill and then they don’t have so many needs in that area, but they have something else. But they learn that it’s okay to have needs that are different from whatever, and that it’s okay to ask for them. But they do need teachers, educators, parents to tell them what they need. Because this is like Chaz grew up not knowing that he had ADHD and how hard that must have been in school. (52:17)I don’t know Andy if you were early diagnosed as a child or not. Yeah, I don’t know. And I’ve always talked about this how I don’t think I had anxiety as a child, but I was definitely sensory sensitive, but I was always just the shy, the scaredy cat, the timid one. That’s just was my personality style. But then when I became a parent, realized how much I had been kept in a bubble and not put out of my comfort zone to ever really truly be anxious and how much I controlled my lifestyle. And then once I had a child, was out of control, and that’s when everything got so much harder and my anxiety almost magnified. But we have to give our kids the language and the tools and to know what to ask for. They’re not going to just know that we don’t know what we need when we’re growing up. It comes out as behavior is what happens. And then how the people around you react to that is what starts creating these myth labels. Andi (53:16): And I was going to add to that, all of these stories, it’s so beautiful because each of these kids had somebody in their life who taught them to self-advocate, right? If everybody had access to that, it would be amazing. But not everybody views disability the same. So there’s a lot of kids who are ADHD autistic and nobody will tell them because it’s hush hush, something’s wrong with you. And if your parents think that something’s wrong with you and your teachers think something’s wrong with you, you’re going to think something’s wrong with you. And I would hate that for anybody. There’s nothing wrong with kids, especially if you’re autistic, there’s a difference. And so it’s so beautiful that some kids can have that. So I have a autism self-advocacy group that I started, and we were all autistic in the group, and we got to just talk about autism and what needs we have. And it was so cool to see kids be like, oh my gosh, how did you know that about me? And I’m like, I’m talking about autism. I’m not talking about you. Or when they could make little connections about how they were like, oh, me too. So it was really cool to have that, but then also to be able to advocate what, this is what I need. I can’t learn when this is going on, but I can learn when this is happening. So yeah, I think that we’re getting there. We’re getting there, Cassidy (54:41): Getting there. And I think that it takes more than one person, but one person can make a huge difference. When I think about my husband and what he’s shared with me about his childhood growing up and school, he did feel like there was something wrong with him, and his parents didn’t want him to do too many sports because they thought it was going to distract him from school. A lot of teachers saw him as problematic. And then there was this one teacher that he still talks about to this day who made him feel and told him that you are so capable. And just because the way that your brain works doesn’t fit x, Y, or Z in these different systems, you’re so capable of doing really great things. And he saw that in him. And he still talks about that teacher making such a huge difference in his self-concept and his identity. And even in moments when he’s had hardship throughout his life and he’s gone back to therapy, it almost always comes back to this one person who said these things and held this really safe space for him to feel like he was enough and capable. Capable was big. And I think that, I’m trying to think of your listeners, Laura, their parents, their speech therapists, their occupational therapists, their mental health therapists, their educators, and just the power that that person has in being able to be Laura (56:24): That place that a child is able to come back to, even when they’re an adult, when they’re struggling with something and they’re trying to access, where in my life have I ever heard that I’m capable? Right? That voice can be so, so powerful. Obviously if a child hears that over and over again from multiple sources, even more protective. But yeah, I really literally like that. That’s a good reminder on the topic of labels and in classrooms and being advocating for our needs. I want to ask Chaz, since you are a teacher in the classrooms, I always get asked the question from parents at the beginning of the school year, how much should I share with my child’s teacher before they even meet my child? I don’t want to create this picture and have a magnifying glass on my child’s behavior, but should I tell them in advance? And when I posted this to my Instagram, I think a couple of summers ago, I put a poll and majority of teachers said, yes, absolutely tell us. It helps us. But there’s still a lot of parents who are a little hesitant to already paint this picture of their child before the teacher gets to meet them for the first time or anything like that. So I’m curious your perspective. Chazz (57:36): Yes. Tell them Laura (57:38): Easy Chazz (57:40): Answer. I have more to say, more to say, but that’s the answer. Definitely tell them because as a teacher in the classroom, think about it, right? You are sitting in the classroom and you have, you’re meeting all these 20, 25, 30 human beings who are all different and unique and have their own little quirks to them, their strengths, their weaknesses. And really in the beginning of the year as a teacher, you’re just kind of figuring all that out. And it’s inevitable. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to do things one way, but then you’re going to recognize, okay, maybe the way I communicated this is not helpful for this person. I may need to adjust the way I communicate. And it’s a learning process every year at the beginning of the year, and there’s a huge learning curve to where I always say the first really month, you’re doing a lot of just relationship building with the kids and really just getting to know them so that the rest of the year you can plan more tactically, more efficiently. (59:01)And parents, a huge can be a huge help in this because we might be the expert in our curriculum, or maybe even the expert in conscious discipline or whatever program we’re using, but we’re not the experts of your child. You are, right? You’re the expert, your child. And those things need to come together and you can kind of reduce the curve of that learning curve by telling us who your child is and their tendencies, what their interests are, what their strengths are, where they have a tendency to struggle. Because it’s likely, especially if this has been something like you’ve seen and it’s happened for years in the past, it’s going to show up. And when that behavior shows up or the situation that triggers your child to do whatever that they end up doing, that doesn’t meet the expectation of the adults. What has the tendency that teachers tend to have is to make judgments, not per my recommendation, but just that is kind of the reality. (01:00:11)And where most teachers are at, they’re going to make judgments. And sometimes maybe coupled with all the other stress that puts the teacher in a survival state or an emotional state, they’re going to be more likely to see the child through a negative lens and then treat them more negatively and be like, oh, you’re just not trying enough. There’s just something you just don’t care. Or I tell teachers to Q-tip, but it can be hard. Q-tip stands for quit taking it personally and look, take as a personal attack on the teacher. And the teacher starts to now they’re like their worthiness is being questioned internally, maybe externally, but maybe internally too. Am I a good teacher or is it just this child? And to protect ourselves, we got to then blame the child as opposed to seeing what it really is. This child has a hard time, has a hard time sitting for long periods of time, or visuals are how really help this child learn. (01:01:11)Or this child is a kinesthetic learner, they to move around. This child likes to really talk and engage, and the child is very hands-on to really see the behavior for what it really is. It’s helpful to know already what the strengths and weaknesses of the child so that when that comes up, we can see we are in a better position as a teacher to see that behavior differently. And it automatically puts us in a better position to be helpful towards this child as opposed to harmful. So see that now, could you tell, there’s also the possibility that you could tell the teacher that they are, my child’s ADHD, or they’re autistic or whatever, and they’re like, whatever. That doesn’t exist nowadays. That’s what everyone’s got and blah, blah, blah. And they could just be dismissive. That very well could happen. And if that is their response or their reaction, regardless if you told them or not, it was probably going to be their reaction anyways. (01:02:18)And then when you tell them later after you come to them where they come to you with the behavior thing and they say, well, they’re actually ADHD, or they actually, and I’m telling you this because I’ve had so many conversations with teachers, I’m telling you the inside that a lot of times teachers look, oh, they’re just making an excuse because they don’t want to deal with behavior or whatever the case is. So you’re doing everyone a favor by being upfront about it and hoping and build a relationship with the teacher and really hope that they are in a position to receive. And if they’re not, they probably wouldn’t have been anyways. And then I would say if you are in one of those kinds of situations, I think there’s merit to explore what is the philosophy of the school? What does the school believe in? And is this just one teacher or is this the culture of the school? And really start to try to understand that with curiosity. And then I would say the next step is advocacy. And that can look like a lot of different things, but really talk to other people. Are you seeing the same thing? If this is the culture of the school, how are other people perceiving it? How are other people being treated and work towards change? Laura (01:03:45): Yes. So yes, let’s advocate for our kids and be as clear as we can with the teachers, and also give them a headstart that we know that they have challenges here and these are the things that work for them at home. So you can give them sort of a cheat. I call ’em like a cheat sheet. Here’s the cheat sheet about my child. Let me help you to have a better school day with my child because I, these things might show up and these are what work for ’em. I’m going to end with a sort of not well sort of controversial. Someone wrote this into my question box when I was saying, what are your thoughts on this whole quote debate about whether anxiety is neurodivergent and what this would look like for the label of neurodiversity or neurodivergent versus neurotypicals. Someone wrote in, I don’t think anyone is neurotypical. Everyone has some issues they’re dealing with, and I just want to leave that out there and see who wants to respond first and see what your response is to that. Cassidy (01:04:46): I’ll take a lean into this for a moment. I think the first thought that came up for me was who decides what’s typical? How do we define what it is to be typical? And everything from, I know we have research, but who led the research? How diverse were the participants? How do we define what is typical and who has the power that is defining that? And I think that that’s a really important piece for us as a whole to always be taking a closer look at. And I know for me, in my role where I have agency and power is sitting with people, human beings, some of whom find the labels really validating, some who find labels not validating or have a tricky relationship with the labels and sitting with people and identifying feels, how they experience the world around them, where those challenges are in terms of a specific label or diagnosis. Some folks meet certain criteria, some folks don’t. But yeah, being a human comes with challenges. And I think that everybody deserves support if they find that navigating the world, navigating relationships, navigating systems is difficult for them. They deserve nuanced, compassionate support that really supports them in understanding their experience in being able to advocate for themselves. And so I think that’s the best answer I can give to that. Andi (01:06:35): I’ll add to everybody does have struggles because there’s a whole lot of things that intersect in life that can cause these, but when we’re talking about neurodivergence, we’re talking about neurobiological causes for struggles. And so not everybody is going to have a brain that is wired as autistic or anxious or anything else. And so that’s where that fine line is. And you can have a neurotypical brain, but different thing. You could have a traumatic life and then you’re going to need accommodations based off of your trauma. So there’s different things. It’s not just nature and we’ve got the environment to consider as well. So I think that that’s important to talk about with that when we’re talking about the differences there as well. Chazz (01:07:33): I don’t really know if I have much to add. I don’t know if I really have much to add there. I think I agree with what Dr. Cassidy and Andy just said, so I’m just going to leave it there. Laura (01:07:47): I will be honest that I think when I first read this, I was such in an emotional state that I think I was more triggered than where I’m at now. And I think at that time I may had, it felt like a different version of, aren’t we all a little bit autistic when people say that? Right? And again, this followed a comment of, well, we all get anxious. And that again, to me at that moment when I was coming off a time of having a lot of anxiety was like, well, but this is very different. It felt minimizing to me. So I think it’s so interesting how obviously the state of mind that you are in at that time and your own emotions around a certain topic can lead you to see in a different way. But that’s why I love having this round table because I feel like maybe that person’s sentiment intention behind that statement is probably different now than now that I hear you all talk about it at a neutral time. Cassidy (01:08:43): And this is why context Laura (01:08:45): Is so important, the context for where you Cassidy (01:08:47): Were in that moment when you received Laura (01:08:49): Information and your brain tried to process it and make sense of it and figure out where to store that piece and what it’s connected to, right? That’s why the context is so, and there’s no context in social media, barely any context. We all know this. Chazz (01:09:04): Yeah. Or rather, I would maybe say that there is so much contact in social media that is not communicated through the comment or the screen a lot of times because for them that comment came after maybe a whole day of who knows what and they felt like they were late to work and they forgot something. And so there was probably so much context that happened for that person that led to that comment and then also for you in your state. And I think that kind of almost brings us full circle to how our different brains can perceive things differently at different times. They saw a lot of different variables Laura (01:09:52): And Chazz (01:09:52): It’s helpful to know that so that when you do see that comment and maybe, okay, maybe I have rejection sensitivity and I know that, am I perceiving them? Am I taking this more personally than what might be warranted for the words that are in this comment section? Am I going to be quick to snap back and impulsive about how I react and respond and are these tendencies that I have? And being able to be aware of that every, I mean in school, at work, on social media, helps you better navigate the world and to better, to reduce the amount of harm that we potentially can do and increase the amount of help that we could potentially do. And I think that’s why these conversations are so important and this awareness around these conversations is so important. And I really thank you for bringing us on here to have these conversations. Laura (01:11:07): You gave the very best summary transition to the end podcast episode that I could have ever done. So thank you, Chaz. It’s like you have your own podcast, Cassidy (01:11:18): Chas Leadership, parenting and Teaching podcast. Laura (01:11:21): Speaking of, yes, this was a great, great conversation and I hope that this is almost a conversation starter for other people listening and take this as a call to action to reflect on the way that you think about neurodiversity, the way that you see it in yourself, in your child, in the people around you, reflect back on your childhood. When I think about the kids that I saw in my classroom at that time, I have a whole different view of who that person was, and I have very specific times and situations and I’m like, oh, that person was probably neurodivergent. Once you start seeing the world through a neurodiversity lens, it changes things in the best possible way and gives you the most, gives you an infinite amount of compassion towards people like road rage. And when there’s someone rude to me at the store, I am so much quicker to pause and say, maybe they’re neurodivergent. I’m going to assume that I’m going to give them the most generous interpretation as our friend, Dr. Becky would say. Well, thank you Andy and Cassidy and Chaz for joining us. I hope everyone enjoyed this conversation and I’m going to link each episode that I’ve done with them. I have a podcast episode with them. I’ll put that all in the show notes as well as their social so you can continue learning from them in their respective roles. And yeah, I will be back next week. Thanks everybody. Cassidy (01:12:43): Thank you. Laura (01:12:45): 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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