205: Honoring Our Kids’ Individuality, with Kayla Taylor

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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The challenge of raising a child with differences in a mostly intolerant world is very real. There’s both joy and heartache, as Kaylor Taylor illustrates in her book, “Canaries Among Us.” At stake in this quest to honor our kids’ individuality, is the mental and emotional health of an ever-growing population of neurodivergent children.  

In this episode, Kayla and I discuss the injurious nature of being a misunderstood and different kid in rigid societal systems, such as education, including the lifelong impact on mental health, the ability to hold down a job, and even physical health. You’ll also learn what to do to advocate for neurodiversity and help the world celebrate differences rather than condemn them.


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Canaries Among Us, by Kayla Taylor

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My Guest

Kayla Taylor writes to address important issues plaguing families, and she uses a pseudonym to protect the identities of minors and other vulnerable individuals. She supports organizations that promote mental health, neurodiversity, and bullying prevention.



Kayla Taylor 0:03

Two studies have been done one in 2000 in a Texas prison and in 2018 in Louisiana prison system, and they found that half of the prisoners are likely dyslexic. And that is only one form of learning difference. So think if you piled all the different types of learning differences on top of that, and when I read that statistic, I thought, oh my gosh, are we essentially criminalizing learning differences?

Penny Williams 0:29

Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the beautifully complex Podcast. Today I have with me Kayla Taylor. And we're going to talk about her book, canaries among us and her experience with raising kids who have differences and those struggles that come along with that. I think we'll be infusing some talk about bullying as well in this episode, but I want to first start by letting Kayla introduce herself while you let everyone know who you are and what you do.

Kayla Taylor 1:23

Hi, thanks so much for having me, Penny. So my name is Kayla Taylor. And my background is in business and Strategy and Finance. I actually have no business being a writer at least I never felt like one. But I had an experience. My family had an experience that rocked our world, which had to deal with bullying, learning differences and anxiety all intertwined. And the conflation of all of these issues was really confusing to me and to my family, we felt like we were underwater, we felt isolated, we felt all alone, I had a hard time getting people to believe me when I was trying to ask for help more advice. And to get people to believe that what was happening was in fact happening. So I found myself journaling, I like to say I don't like to say but to me, it felt like I was literally bleeding onto paper, I just had so much emotion in me and nowhere to put it. So I became a writer really out of happenstance that have a need for some sort of finding some sort of solution to my confusion.

And it ended up being a little bit of a catharsis in the end. Also, while I was writing and emotive with all my emotions and confusion, I also simultaneously was doing a lot of research to support my child. You know, I was the big nerd who read all the self help books, and then went to the back of the book and looked up all the research articles and paid 2995 In the medical journals to try and understand and get backed up for what was happening. Because I really felt like when I tried to advocate for my child, I was gaslighted a lot and and people didn't believe me. And so I felt like well, if I have the facts, if the experts are saying that this is a common outcome, then maybe people will believe me more. And I found that by doing those two different types of writing, you know, the note taking, and the journaling, that my thoughts often intertwine. So one night, I would be, you know, spilling some very emotive experience. And then the next day, I would find some research finding that related to that. And so the writing really helped me understand what was going on around me.

And after a few years, I'll say, you know, I started to get my kids under better footing. And I came out of this deep dark hole of isolation and started looking around a little bit. And I saw so many other families dealing with these exact same issues. And they too, all looked and acted and felt isolated and alone. And it was such a surreal experience, because I could see from, you know, third party point of view that they weren't alone. In fact, they're all right next to each other. But they're all just dealing with issues that are so stigmatized that it's hard to talk. And so then a few of them, you know, I would share ideas or the research or even a journal entry in very private settings, but they would come back to me several of them almost crying, say how did you know I was feeling this? How did you know is experiencing this? Oh, my gosh, you mean I'm not alone.

And a few of them asked me to write a book, which again, I'm not a writer, I have no business doing. I did not get an MFA. But with enough prodding, I realized I could probably morph my journal into a book. And I started to feel somewhat of a moral obligation to pay it forward. Because there's so much I would have done to have someone else's story when I was in my deep dark hole to know that I wasn't alone. And so I really felt the need to offer that and just combat the stigma and just deal with it. But as I think some of what you're doing on your show, right, like, let's not wallow in the shame that people put on us, let's talk about these issues and not own the shame, and therefore help our kids and hopefully make the next generation more able to be exactly who they are. Which is wonderful, right? Why? Why are we the ones who are ashamed?

Penny Williams 5:19

Totally agree. And I've a very similar story myself, ended up writing a book and sharing my experience, because I got to a point where we were doing a little better, and I could look back and go, Wow, there's some things that if somebody had told me would have been really helpful, right, if I didn't have to figure all this out on my own.

Kayla Taylor 5:37

Each parent shouldn't have to recreate the wheel.

Penny Williams 5:39

Yeah, exactly. That's exactly why I do what I do.

Kayla Taylor 5:41

Because you're so overwhelmed, right at the time, when you need the most support. It's not the time where you're feeling your strongest right to be doing all the research. So I love what you're doing. Thank you so much.

Penny Williams 5:52

I'm so glad you shared your story as well, because I think we need more stories that make us feel less alone. And, you know, I get feedback all the time. Oh, it was like you wrote about my family. You know, how did you know? And I'm like, I didn't know, right? Like, I was just putting it out there. And going, Wow, this was hard. I hope it helps somebody else. And the more that we all can do that the more help we're going to provide to each other and support and community and all the things we need because it is so isolating. Right? Without that it is so isolating.

Kayla Taylor 6:29

Right? And the huge irony here is that these issues are treated like one off issues and that their problems over there. And yes, we know bullying is bad. And yes, we know learning differences exist. But they're treated generally like they're happening over there. Yet 20% of all kids, one out of every five has a diagnosable learning difference. 20 to 30% of all kids experienced bullying, though most don't report it. And we can get into that if you want. Before COVID, one in three adolescents was predicted to experience anxiety, you can only imagine that skyrocket and right. And that learning difference statistic includes a lot of the big ones like ADHD and dyslexia, but it really doesn't include all of the challenges that affect kids in the classroom. And if you start piling the statistics on top of each other, I realized, oh, my gosh, this means basically, every other family is affected or every family's affected. Why do we all feel so alone? Why aren't people talking? Why isn't this a mainstream topic?

Penny Williams 7:33

It's cultural. Right? It's that shame really of not being perfect of your parenting being different than what people expect. I think that, you know, our society really holds itself back in those ways, and makes it more challenging.

Kayla Taylor 7:49

I agree. And I'd like to hit on that word you just used of not being perfect. But it's such a socially contrived notion of what perfect is, you know, there's this box, and it's so limiting. And it's so doesn't capture the beautiful variety of our humanity. And so this effort to be perfect to stuffed children and adults in boxes, really just strips us of our perfection. I mean, I would actually like to say like, the interesting things are in the details, the things that are a little gritty, a little interesting, not like this perfect sheen. This lacquer we put on things like To me that's not perfect. But yeah, I think our very definition of the ideal really stripped us of agency of our creativity of our humanity, of all the beautiful things that make us wonderful and unique.

Penny Williams 8:39

Yeah, there's a reason this podcast is called beautifully complex. And you've just given us that reason so eloquently, it really is about the fact that nobody is perfect. Everybody has challenges. Everybody has differences from each other. But that's what makes the beautiful fabric of community, right. That's what makes it interesting. Without that, we would just all be robots, and it would be so boring. And that's why I love this neurodiversity movement that's been happening, because we're getting that narrative out there that we all have our strengths. And we all have something to contribute. But we all also are different. And that different is actually good, that neurodiversity is actually a good thing for our society. And we just need more and more push in that direction.

Kayla Taylor 9:32

Right. And I think it's easier said than done. You know, I can't imagine any listener in the world would listen to what you just said and disagree with you. But if you look around in everyday practice, look what's happening in our schools. You know, look what's happening after school, look at the expectation for kids to sign up for certain sports, to get into certain schools to have certain jobs. You know, we aren't starting from the outset saying, Oh, wow, that kid has that amazing Creativity, what kind of what do they do with that? Artistry? Right? We're not encouraging kids to be artists, which, you know, is mind blowing to me, because that is some of the most intelligent, creative, expressive ways, and that some of the best contributions people can make to society. But for whatever reason, it has been deemed, you know, not as worthy, say, as a math career or being a doctor or a lawyer, or a business person. So I do think we all know, creativity is good, and diversity is good. But if we look at where we are funneling our kids and what we're encouraging them to do, I think, in practice, where we're missing the mark a fair amount.

Penny Williams 10:39

Way more than a fair amount, in my opinion, we're missing it completely. And we just have not been able to put it into practice in these really systemic pieces of society. Right, we have not changed our schools, our society has changed, our culture has changed, or people change, what we appreciate and each other I think, is changing. But we haven't changed our schools in, you know, nearly 100 years.

Kayla Taylor 11:08

Basically, from when they were were informed during the Industrial Revolution. Yeah, height of Taylorism, where we were trying to feed kids into assembly lines, right, yeah, we really have not changed much. And that whole goal was all built around bell shaped curves and averages, standardized testing, which, you know, we could get into that, and how that fails. us and our kids. I'm sure you've done it on another podcast. But yeah, my family has also concurrently had some medical issues, and some friends close to us have had some medical issues. And in that process, I've noticed, I think the whole world has noticed how we are really pushing for personalized medicine. You know, you can't just say this person who was diagnosed with cancer, maybe that's what happened a few years ago, when they would get you know, the one treatment out there, right. But these days, you're saying, Oh no, colon cancer is different from breast cancer is different from skin cancer. And not only that, but you're saying not all colon cancers are the same, right? Not all breast cancers are the same, you're getting to the exact cell and really personalizing that mess. And for that exact person, that exact cell even right. And so it's interesting that we're able to do this in medicine, but we have a really hard time doing this for our children and personalizing education for children. And we have the technology now, right? It's, people will say, Oh, it's cost prohibitive. But I would say it's cost prohibitive to not for education, because the consequences can be quite drastic, if we don't help kids feel worthy in schools.

Penny Williams 12:38

Yes, yes. And if we don't start talking about feelings, and emotions and mental health in school, this whole assembly line sort of system actually kind of says to kids, you know, your feelings don't matter. You just get in the line, and you keep moving right, your feelings don't matter, your interests don't matter. And then kids come out of it, or even in the thick of it still, they're suffering, they're struggling, they're not able to manage how they're feeling, because they've been taught that it must be bad, right? If I'm feeling anything negative, it must be that there's something wrong with me. Because in the absence of information, we fill in the gaps by guessing a lot of judgment. And we blame ourselves when we're doing that. And that goes for our kids, and we're really doing it to serve us to put it very mildly.

Kayla Taylor 13:39

Right? I would say not only are we not teaching about and validating emotions, but we're not really truly teaching empathy and compassion, you know, if you can't even acknowledge those feelings, and how do you identify them and other people? And how do you support other people? So I would like to layer on the need for more compassion in schools as well.

Penny Williams 14:01

Absolutely. And that comes from, you know, first accepting the mindset and the perspective that everyone is different, and they have different needs. Absolutely. And then, you know, that just opens the door right for empathy and compassion right there by itself.

Kayla Taylor 14:15

Right? Because the consequences are quite high. If you don't know, you know, 45% of kids with learning differences report being bullied each year. So you know, to your point, if you're seen as different instead of being celebrated, you are shamed, right. And not only are your peers judging you, but the system frequently because we aren't supplying teachers with the resources they need to help children. Teachers are amazing, but they can't work in a vacuum, right? They need the understanding and the tools to help support kids who learn differently and when they're not given those. As we mentioned, the default often is to judge people. So these kids who've learned differently who by definition, I think you've probably covered This, you know, the diagnoses aren't given to kids who are stupid, right? In order to get a diagnosis, you have to actually be smarter than your classroom performance suggests. So these are smart kids, but they are assumed in the system to be lazy and stupid. And so it's no surprise that 29% of kids who are diagnosed with a learning difference also have an anxiety disorder. Yep. And then there's higher incidence of substance abuse delinquency, school dropout, higher rates of employment.

But what really got me Penny is when I was reading these statistics, and when I started learning about the effects later in life, like on incarceration, yes, so 55% of kids with learning differences experience, the criminal system within eight years of high school, and 43% of juvenile delinquents have an identified learning difference that arguably just wasn't addressed properly in the first place. Again, these are capable, intelligent kids. Yeah. But now they're in the juvenile delinquent system. And of course, it doesn't stop there. Not too many studies have taken place. Because you know, our society puts money into things we care about, I would argue that we probably haven't cared about this area enough.

But two studies have been done one in 2000, in a Texas prison, and in 2018, in Louisiana prison system, and they found that half of the prisoners are likely dyslexic. And that is only one form of learning difference. So think if you piled all the different types of learning differences on top of that, and when I read that statistic, I thought, oh, my gosh, are we essentially criminalizing learning differences? Yeah. I mean, how else do you explain this overweighting of learning differences. I mean, I knew that prisons are overweighted, towards racial minorities and people with mental health concerns, which is all obviously tragic and wrong. But I had not understood that we're also doing this to children with learning differences.

Penny Williams 16:52

Yeah. And the statistics for ADHD, which I don't have in front of me, and I haven't looked up in probably a few years, but the percentage of people incarcerated who have undiagnosed ADHD is astronomical, we are definitely criminalizing behavior.

Kayla Taylor 17:12

My understanding is a lot of those kids actually have suffered, not all of them, but there's often an over diagnosis where they actually have also, they've been dealt with trauma. And so they're labeled as odd, you know, acting out in poor behaviors, when, when really they have some trauma, and they need our compassion and understanding. They don't need to be pathologized. And then on this route into our prison system, right? And yes, some kids do have ADHD and are in the system. But I would argue even the kids who are legitimately ADHD did not have their deeds addressed properly.

Penny Williams 17:44

Exactly. No one understood what was going on. And so they were judged, and they were criminalized. And if we had just looked deeper, if we had said, Okay, well, kids do well, if they can, they want to please us, they don't go out of their way to torture us. They really want to do well, then what is happening? Why is this kid not able to do well? And we don't do that. Instead, we say, well, this kid never does his homework. He's so lazy, it has no motivation. And then he starts feeling really bad about himself. What does he do? He starts, you know, acting out or doing something that ends up being criminalized, and then he's in the system. And once you get in the system, right, you know, so many people are in and out for life, right? Because it's not helping them. It's just criminalizing behavior that was due to something else, you know, I have a strong belief that every kid who struggles in school, whether it's showing up or being belligerent to teachers, or you know, truancy, whatever it is refusing to do work, there's a reason for all of that, and they need our understanding and compassion on our help. They're not just choosing not to succeed.

Kayla Taylor 19:02

I had an assistant teacher, which I think speaks to the fact that even young people who are empathetic, can really be amazing helps to children in great support advocates, but she said, You know, I always like to use the ABCs. You know, when I see a behavior that I find troubling, before rushing to a consequence, I first tried to figure out the antecedent yet what caused that behavior. And I just found that so compassionate and understanding and really more likely to solve any problem that existed, then the quick rush to judgment and quick punishment.

Penny Williams 19:37

Absolutely. And Dr. Ross Green has done some research and studies in this area to about the criminalization of behavior and how addressing behavior differently in schools changes everything right. And you know, more kids are graduating more kids are going on to be successful, less kids are ending up in the system and You know, there's numbers to back that right. And yet we don't implement it. We're still stuck.

Kayla Taylor 20:07

Everything you're talking about is completely consistent with theories around restorative justice, which is just in my mind, just a much kinder, more constructive way to run our communities, instead of just being so punitive trying to restore the communities in the environments and help each individual be their best self and be pro social. In schools. This is important, obviously, for the school itself. But when you teach the kids in schools, how to be pro social, then they become adults who know how to be pro social. And when you don't, you don't. So yeah, there's a huge benefit.

Penny Williams 20:42

I don't know if you've read the book, what happened to you by Bruce Perry? And Oprah? Such an eye opener. And I already was, you know, well down this path, but just the idea of taking a breath, and asking what happened to you, or asking yourself, what could have happened to this individual to result in this behavior is just so transformative if we were approaching it in that way. And they do in that book, some talk about the school to prison pipeline, and you know, how we not just for learning differences, but we criminalize poverty, you know, and so often, it's that trauma in there that you were talking about, it's what happened in the past that has created this response to your environment and the world around you and people around you. And there's always something there's just always a reason. And we don't ask why. nearly enough,

Kayla Taylor 21:42

Right. I agree with that. In fact, reading that book made me want to go be a trauma counterweight in schools. Yeah, you know, my heart bled for all these kids who are hurting so much, and to see how just being curious and trying to understand them, the effect it had on those children was so huge, and it just so inspiring. I mean, I know the work is hard, but how meaningful, you know, what people like Bruce Perry and others are doing, I just, you know, I commend them.

Penny Williams 22:09

And the other thing that we haven't really mentioned in this conversation about trauma is that the experience of being neurodiverse, in our neurotypical society is traumatizing. Right. Our kids are being traumatized, because they're a marginalized population in that way. Right. And we have to remember that.

Kayla Taylor 22:32

I agree. I think, you know, when I was going through my process, I imagine you had the same thing. I got a neuro psych report, and there was a lot of pathology in this report a lot of disorders, disabilities, deficits, dysfunction, it definitely lead with all the weaknesses, which which was confounding to me because my child, it when people run into my child on the street, they say things like, Whoa, she is gifted, she's brilliant. I mean, it's the opposite experience. And I'm hesitant to take those words, because I actually think every child has their own way of being gifted. I don't love having one child, you know, being put on any sort of spectrum as being higher than another. But I did find it interesting how a child who could be pathologized, in one context is considered resilient in another. And I ran across this, in my studies, this idea of the social model of disability, which holds that people's well being is affected by their environment, and they've used of what's normal.

So sometimes people are disabled more, by the way society treats them then by any deficiency they have in and of themselves. Yeah. And I think we do that quite regularly. But on the flip side, if we could not just tolerate, you know, people talk about tolerance a lot. And I think that sounds like a good thing. But do we really just want to be tolerating one another? What if we celebrated one another, and celebrated these differences and created environments that truly treasured the vast array of our humanity? I mean, wouldn't that just be thrilling and fun and interesting place to live? And then we wouldn't be dealing with a social model of disability where kids become disabled simply for being different, but you know, in and of themselves, they're exactly who they're supposed to be?

Penny Williams 24:19

Yes, they are. They're exactly who they're supposed to be. And they have a lot to teach us, we are a very different person, because of the kiddo that I had, then I would have been otherwise in remarkable ways, not in really sad, negative ways, right in remarkable ways. And we need to do more celebrating of so many things, including that, you know, we have people who show us a different viewpoint who shows a different path right that we may not have otherwise seen ourselves. And I I want to put on my skeptic hat for a second. because I can hear many of our listeners kind of thinking, Well, you know, that all sounds great, that sounds totally ideal, and also completely not realistic. And I want to say to that, that it starts with one person, it starts with one step one thing, if we all just did one little thing,

Kayla Taylor 25:28

I have one for you. And back to your point earlier about your children teaching you, I'm going to make myself sound not too nice and a little ugly here. But in a previous life before my children, it was not beyond me to notice, at least in my head, you know, I like likely when it verbalized it, but you know, how people were different. And I would consider them strange or weird or odd, or, you know, we can put any number of adjectives on that, right. And, you know, when I'm just around town and coffee shops, I hear teenagers use those words regularly, right, strange or weird. And I have banned those from my vocabulary. You know, because of my children, my children have really made me think about how I want to regard others.

And it's been a humbling process to realize I wasn't always, you know, the kind, tolerant person I believed myself to be. And I think, you know, just doing that one little thing of banning those words from your vocabulary, and when you're hearing your children, use them towards other people, maybe using that as an opportunity to educate your children, about how we don't strip people of their dignity and their humanity, which those words do, right how we instead, look to value one another. And that one little move of really considering the language we use to regard one another, I think it'd be very helpful.

Penny Williams 26:53

My example of that would be how we judge other drivers when we're driving. People make mistakes, but we do not allow other people on the road to make mistakes, right? If they cut us off, we get irate often our instinct is to, you know, idiot, or whatever, right? We're judging them. And I realized, at some point, when my kids were young, that they were learning from me to judge people they didn't know, right, and I made this huge effort. And I still it's effort, some days, it still takes mindfulness and practice, but to say, you know, I am not going to judge that person, I can be frustrated that they put me in danger. I can, you know, have a reaction. But I'm not going to call them idiot or stupid or judge them, because I don't know them. And just having that conversation with my kids frequently.

Kayla Taylor 27:44

Right? And that doesn't just benefit the person that you're trying to judge less it benefits your kids. Yep. But it also benefits you. I mean, you walk around with less anger. Yeah. And right, the world is just a better, happier place. When you are appreciating the quirky little things people do and health, you know, people don't color in the lines, life gets more fun, a lot more fun.

Penny Williams 28:06

You're making room for joy. Really? Yes, you know, you're not fighting against what is, and you're making room for joy, you're making room for things to be lighter. That's what I would call it, you know, it just lightens things up. You know, because if you're really irate at that other driver, you're going to ruminate for hours, it's going to cloud your entire day, it's going to cloud every interaction you have with anyone around you. Like you've let that one thing rob, you have any joy for that day? And many other people?

Why don't we do that? You know, when we talk about it in that way, it makes no sense. And just that judgment in general of other people, you're judging one tiny thing, you don't know their story. And I think I really became much more sensitive to that, because I have this kid who has differences, who, as you were talking about is also very highly intelligent. So he was often judged for his intelligence. And his struggles were dismissed. Well, he's smart enough to do X Y and Z smart enough to get his homework turned in. He's smart enough, right? And so we do kids a disservice in that way to in the school system of only focusing on one aspect, or of judging other people, we focus on one action, and then we think we know them, right, we flatten them. It's such a good way to put it.

Kayla Taylor 29:32

So it actually this leads me to think about how I came up with a title of my book canaries. So early on in my journey, I realized my child is highly sensitive, but you've maybe have read about this trade. It's studied by scientists like Elaine urine, and people and children who are highly sensitive or more in touch with their environments and more aware of various sensory stimuli like smell, touch, and so often You know, for example, they noticed smells, other people don't smell. And people can find that annoying, right? Like, they just need to chill out, they need to stop being so sensitive. But I liked the analogy of the Canary.

Because you might be aware that until not too long ago, at the end of the 1900s, canaries were taken down into coal mines, because they, too, are highly sensitive, in this case to smelling toxins in the air. I'm not exactly sure, I wish I figured out exactly how they smelled them, or how they sensed them, but they are highly sensitive. And in this case, there are great benefits to that. Because when canaries could smell the toxins, they would stop singing, and then the coal miners knew they needed to flee the mind, or they would likely be poisoned with carbon monoxide. So in this case, that sensitivity not only helped the Canary, but it helped those associated with this Canary. And I really love that analogy, especially in the face of how we treat sensitivity today. So if we've come across someone who we deemed to be sensitive, we often consider them weak or overly emotional, or even pathetic.

But really, this trait can be life saving, and wouldn't it be so much more fun to go back to our earlier conversation about wouldn't be fun to appreciate and celebrate these differences? Versus deem them pathetic? or weird? Yeah, exactly. As I kept moving on I, I realized I liked the idea of a canary not just in terms of sensitivity. But for me the idea more of to encapsulate any child who thinks or learns differently, you know, the neurodiverse, what we've been discussing. So for example, kids with dyslexia have a wider visual perception mode, which yes, makes reading harder for them more often than not, but kids with dyslexia also have a higher incidence of creativity, have an ability to connect dots and see patterns, others don't see to have high reasoning to have strong social skills.

And if we only focus on the negative thing, we've missed a huge amount about that child that not just benefits a child, but all of those associated with a child. Yeah, you could say the same about autism. So people with autism, of course, all kids with autism are not the same, just like all kids with dyslexia are not the same. So I don't want to stereotype people with autism. But it is believed that people with autism in general have more difficulty in social situations. But they also have, and again, they're not all the same. But there is a higher incidence of noticing patterns that others don't notice, of being more direct and honest, of having a greater ability to focus on areas of interest and being aware of the senses. So again, as with a canary, I really liked how it allows people to be their full selves, if we instead of just pathologizing. And looking at the weakness, if we look at the whole being, we can really appreciate the vast variety for humanity.

Penny Williams 32:58

And I do want to talk about your book for a few minutes before we close, because I think it's really powerful for other parents out there to help them to feel less alone, like we were talking about, sort of toward the beginning of our conversation, and sharing your story and those struggles. But also the joy is right that went along with it is really powerful. And I wanted to read just a couple of things that I have here about the book, that I think people will really understand how relatable this would probably be for them to read. And I love to that someone said it encourages us to reconsider and appreciate kids who don't fit in a box. We talk all the time on this podcast, about how our kids don't fit in the box.

And how problematic that is, in these situations like school that are predetermined of how you have to be right. But that also, being outside of the box can be beautiful and wonderful and a real strength as well. And then also throughout this heart rendering Chronicle, Taylor reveals with Stark vulnerability, the joy and heartache inherent in raising a unique child in an often intolerant world. When I read that, I felt that in my core, I have lived that right. It almost feels like a bond between us that, you know, we just met on this podcast 30 minutes ago, right? Right. But still like, your book is going to be so valuable to help other parents feel less alone. And I know you cover a lot of other things, different research and statistics and there's that aspect of it too. And bullying which we haven't talked about yet. So if you want to maybe give us a little information about your experience and what you learned about that bullying experience, I think that would be a good In addition to our conversation.

Kayla Taylor 35:02

Sure, but first, I'd love to touch on your point about parents relating to one another. And what this book has done, you know, my whole goal was if just one parent could read this and feel less alone, then I've reached my goal. And the outpouring that I have received has just been so moving. So I appreciate penny that you relate to what I'm saying. And you know, for example, just the other day, I got a message through my website, Kayla Taylor writes.com, from a woman who said something along the lines of I am a bus driver of a special needs bust in my community. I grew up ADHD and was treated poorly. And my child who's now an adult, also has ADHD and was also treated poorly in school. And she said, I am telling every single parent on my bus route about this book. Thank you so much. And I love the idea that it felt like it for her. It validated her Yeah, but it also she's building community.

She's using the book as a tool to say, look, you're not alone here. Let's talk about it and to reach out, you know, she probably someday sees parents with deep fear on their faces. They put their kid on that bus just praying that that kid comes home feeling good about themselves, right? And here, she's, you know, found another way. I mean, just a beautiful woman, right, who's using her opportunity in life to reach out to other people, a by driving this bus as someone who relates, but also just supporting other families in her community. I just thought that was so beautiful.

And you wanted me to touch on bullying? Well, I mean, I think you know, there's a high incidence of bullying among kids with learning differences, right? I think we said something like every year, like 40% of kids who have learning differences are bullied. And that number is actually 45%. So what I have found, what's interesting is that, and maybe you can talk about this, that there really just isn't enough understanding of how to identify bullying when it happens. So it's probably worth saying the definition of bullying, which is the act of repeatedly and intentionally causing physical and or emotional harm to another person with less power. And I think often the power dynamic is missed, often the fact that emotional harm counts very much like social harm, like exclusion, or humiliation, and verbal Taunton threads very much count is bullying, as we know, physical does. And there's a lot of talk about cyber bullying too.

But you know, 20 to 30% of kids, and much higher percent of kids with learning differences are bullied every year. And I do think it's interesting that most don't report bowling, and they state it's because they're fearful that the adults won't handle the situation in a way that actually helps them. And again, this is probably a whole nother conversation to be had. But one of the big things I've learned is, it's really important, I think we're learning generally in society, it's very important to center the person who has been injured. So if you can not strip that person, including that child of their autonomy, and figure out what that child needs, to feel whole and safe in that community. Again, I think you have done a lot to not just help that child, but help your whole community be a kinder, more caring place. There's a lot of talk about, we don't allow bowling here, the lot of posters on the wall.

But if your experience isn't authentic in that school, none of that matters in the effort needs to be pervasive, you know, not a one off assembly once a year about how we don't like bullying. It needs to be role modeled from on top, and pervasive throughout the community, to really create the kind of environment where children can be upstanders. If they see a child being hurt, they actually that's one of the biggest deterrents to bullying because kids are smart, they don't bully in front of adults, right. But if kids can feel empowered to stand up for their friends, then the dynamic changes a lot unfortunate what happens is if kids realize if they stick up for their friends, then they'll be the next target. So they duck their heads. But if we celebrate if we create cultures that celebrate kids who speak up, then we can do a lot to create safer environments for everybody involved. And I do say everybody involved because probably an important thing to note is that kids who are bullied are not the only ones who are affected.

We know that kids who are bullied deal with social isolation, low self esteem, stress related ailments, mental health issues like anxiety and depression, academic impairments, substance abuse, and you know, it ends up affecting them their entire life. Absolutely. There is an argument to be made that the stress of bullying causes inflammation, which can lead to long term health effects like diabetes and heart disease. I mean, the effects are significant. But what I found is interesting is the bystanders are also affected they to deal with a lot of these mental health issues and stress related outcomes. I think, you know, when kids see that there's no community Get Code, they feel unsafe. And even though they're not targeted, they too, are affected. And they can also have a sense of moral failure, you know, if they didn't feel safe enough to speak up and support someone who's been injured, they feel bad about themselves.

Yeah. And maybe what's most interesting to me is, the kids who actually seemed to have the worst outcomes are the kids who do the bullying, they to experience mental health issues, but later in life, if they haven't been guided to repair the damage they've done, and to have more pro social relationships, they end up having trouble maintaining relationships later in life, they have a harder time holding down jobs, there's a higher incidence of spousal or child abuse, and even criminal behavior. So this affects everybody in the community, you're not doing anybody any favors by letting people off the hook. But I do think you need to handle things compassionately for all involved. Again, I like the idea of social justice. But it's really important to help all the kids and again, it doesn't just affect the kids in the school, because then they go home. And they are not their best selves with their siblings.

And adults are stressed when they see their kids being injured and hurt. And then they go to the work environment, and they're not their best selves, and they're anxious and they're stressed. So the spillover effect. I mean, it just doesn't stop. Yeah. Whereas if we handle things compassionately from the outset, we can have a whole other set of outcomes and a kinder community. I mean, I imagine it's a community everybody would like to be a part of. But overlooking bowling definitely doesn't mean the bullying just goes away. In fact, I'll say one last thing, I read a researcher say something like, I would be more worried about a school that reports no incidents of bullying, than one that reports a lot. Yeah. And the reason being, is bullying happens everywhere, especially with kids who are testing boundaries with power and maybe you know, are dealing with their own troubles at home, bullying is going to happen. So just ignoring it is not the answer, acknowledging it, and then having policies and procedures in place for dealing with it is really the most humane way to proceed.

Penny Williams 42:06

Yeah. I love that you use the word entered. And I noticed that you used it multiple times and talking about bullying. And I think it's important that we use bold language like that to describe bullying because we're so often dismissive of it.

Kayla Taylor 42:24

Well, then I've got another one for you. I've got another word for you. The scientists actually frequently used the word victimization, yeah. Bullying is a form of victimization that has huge social justice implications. And I remember when my child was first, you know, couldn't get out of bed because she was crying and just so depressed over her treatment at school. I remember thinking, oh, gosh, this feels bad. But if I use words like victimization, you know, then people will say I'm histrionic, and they won't take me seriously as a mother. So to have the experts say, No, this is a form of victimization, especially since bullying usually happens with a power dynamic. And this threatening behavior literally activates the brain's fight or flight response, the stress response. So if you feel you're not in a safe environment, your brain shuts down. And there's no way you can possibly learn Yep. Which means you can't achieve your academic or social development potential. And as we mentioned, four huge lifelong impacts. So it's very important that we acknowledge bullying for what it is, and that is a form of victimization.

Penny Williams 43:32

Yeah, absolutely. And to really look at everyone in the situation, you know, we think, Oh, well, bullying isn't okay, we're going to give you a punishment. and on we go. And it comes back to asking, like, what happened to you? Right? What's going on underneath the surface that you feel like you need power over people that you feel like, you need to hurt them or embarrass them? Right? You know, it's about everybody involved, right? Yes, we have more compassion for the victim, which I think is just instinctual. And we should also have some compassion for the bully because there's something going on there.

Kayla Taylor 44:09

Right there different reason kids bully, some are dealing with their own sense of inadequacy. But scientists have also shown that some actually have a heightened sense of superiority, they actually don't feel guilty. When injuring others. There's that word again, right? But if we can then use this as an opportunity to come together as a community, and teach children about our social codes, our moral values and teach them about repair and how to be constructive members of a community, then we have not just helped the child who has hurt, but we've helped the child who is hurting others, and they will be better off later in life as well.

Penny Williams 44:51

I think that community is where we need to focus building community, because those kids who are outcasts are isolated. They are suffering in one way or another, and they could become the bully, they could be the victim. And I think it would just, it would really help to heal some of what's going on. And it has to be inclusive community, you know, we have to be accepting of differences, as we started talking about the very beginning comes back to that, but I think it's so very important. I think it has to be one of our priorities, personally, is building that community and building relationships and making sure that everyone's included in that.

Kayla Taylor 45:34

Right, right. I couldn't agree with you more. And that harkens back to your talk earlier about not just teaching children how to identify their feelings, but maybe also the social and emotional and how to interact with one another how to be a kind person, how to, you know, understand your civic duty to be, you know, constructive member of society. All of it.

Penny Williams 45:55

How to manage your anger, what to do when you're sad, like, all these things that say, Oh, you shouldn't be sad or angry.

Kayla Taylor 46:03

Also be able to acknowledge your anger, you know, anger is often not allowed. But I see anger is a healthier emotion than shame, for example, and so many kids who are mistreated, end up internalizing and feel shame, when really, the shame isn't theirs. They didn't do anything wrong. They were mistreated, right. So in that case, I think anger is the more healthy response. But then you want to figure out a constructive way to express your anger.

Penny Williams 46:29

Right, right. But as long as we talk, and so it's not okay to be angry, it's not okay to be sad, you shouldn't have these feelings. They're stuffing them down, and they're becoming harmed by that. But they're also becoming a pressure cooker, right? You can only take so much of holding everything in before you explode. Right?

You can only take so much stress in that environment, like the school environment before it impacts a lot of things you had mentioned being available to learn physiologically, when we're stressed, we're not really and we just had the school struggles summit a month ago, and that was a recurring theme. And most of the conversations I had with experts was, you know, if your biological, you know, your nervous system is stressed and triggered, then your thinking brain is not as available, right? So when we're sending kids to school where people don't understand, it's not okay to be different, they might be getting bullied, all of these things are just multiplying the stress that they're under, and making them less available to do what we want them to be in the building to do in the first place.

Kayla Taylor 47:40

Right? I mean, brain imaging shows there's physiological responses, right? What you're talking about is the part of the brain that deals with stress, the amygdala goes into overdrive, and that reacts in about 50 milliseconds. So that's going in the prefrontal cortex, the reading part of the brain takes about 10 times as long to get going. So it basically doesn't stand a chance. Yeah, without some very hard fought for tools. It's very hard to learn to reengage the prefrontal cortex, once the amygdala is stressed. Yeah. And you know, I mean, it just makes basic sense. If you're worried for your basic survival and safety. And if you're feeling humiliated, of course, all your energy needs to go towards that, right. You can't learn what four plus three is. Right? You need to stay safe. So yeah, it is interesting to understand that there are serious neurological and physiological things that are happening in our schools every day when kids don't feel safe.

Penny Williams 48:41

Yeah, totally agree. And I think that, you know, it really illustrates why it's so important to address bullying. Because we want kids to go to school to learn, the whole goal is to learn. If we ignore what's happening to them socially, emotionally, then that potentially makes them unavailable to learn. So we're actually bringing them in and saying, Okay, well, I'm okay if they don't learn, which we're not okay with that. Right. So right, ignoring what's going on in other aspects other than academics is just ridiculous.

Kayla Taylor 49:19

It's so right and helpful. And I would argue that it's not just academics that we're learning, right? We're learning how to be a decent person, right? Because then these kids are going out into the world and they're our next leaders. Yes. So we're inhibiting their ability to know that they can be effective, compassionate leaders one day.

Penny Williams 49:36

And that they have value. You know, I am a very educated parent, because I was desperate to help my kid and I made myself learn a lot of things as you did with your research. And I sent 1000s Probably of emails in his school career, and I called probably hundreds of meetings. I worked very, very hard to get what he needed. Hmm. And yet he still graduated from high school thinking that he was incapable and unworthy.

Kayla Taylor 50:06

Right? Which is so sad. I mean, a how exhausting for you, right? I mean, there's so many other things going on your world and the fact that you had to do that. But think of all of the parents out there who maybe are single parents and have to work two jobs. Yeah. And don't have the time to be emailing, researching and doing everything else that this child needs to be okay. We're putting too much on the families. When I think, you know, the research, and the effort could be better spent in terms of making our systems kinder and more compassionate and more inclusive and understanding to help all these children learn.

Penny Williams 50:43

Yeah, and it's a matter of educating our educators, right? You know, I talk frequently about the fact that you can get a degree and be a certified teacher, without ever learning about learning disabilities, ADHD, autism, any of it.

Kayla Taylor 50:58

Isn't that fascinating.

Penny Williams 50:59

You have to learn one thing about it.

Kayla Taylor 51:02

Even for a special education classroom, teachers in some programs only need to take one class on learning differences. Which means right now, there's this great report, I'm guessing you've read it forward together, which was released by understood and NCLD. So they found that only 17% of teachers feel very well prepared to teach students with mild to moderate learning differences, most feel overwhelmed and unsupported. And, you know, to say that they need more information in their curriculums and their accreditation processes to be able to support these kids. And it's not the one off kid we're talking about. I'm talking about 20, at least 20% of the classroom, which makes it harder for the teachers.

Penny Williams 51:41

What we're talking about is beneficial to all kids. Absolutely. We don't need to do it differently for our kids, we need to do it differently for all candidates. And so we're not asking for teachers to have to have sort of two different systems or six different systems, if they have five kids who have different needs, we're just talking about things that we should be doing in education. Regardless, we should be seeing individuals and teaching individuals, we should be more compassionate and empathetic, we should be asking what's going on here. And that benefits everyone?

Kayla Taylor 52:14

I think so especially I think most teachers go into the field because they are hugely empathetic people, right? They care about students, they're not going into this for the money. But when we put them through these, you know, graduate programs of education and accreditation processes, where they're not given the tools they need, we are letting down our teachers, we're failing them. And these are the people we should be praising, arguably, above almost anybody else in society.

Penny Williams 52:41

Yeah, it's tough. We have to have better education for our educators, for the people who are caregivers in our kids lives. Because too, you know, the statistics are on the rise, we have more and more ADHD, we have more and more autism, you know, it's becoming more likely that every teacher is going to encounter kids with neurological differences and learning differences. And so it's needed across the board, just from that standpoint, alone. But really, we just need a whole system change for education for every kid.

Kayla Taylor 53:18

Probably get to a point you just made, it probably depends on the certain diagnoses. But for some of these, you have to wonder if the incidence is really going up? Or if we're just acknowledging that more kids are different, right? You know, when we were in school, those kids were just the weird ones, right? But now, unfortunately, I think we're using pathology, to identify kids differences. But no two kids are alike. Not even twins, like twins don't have the same brain and they think differently. So, you know, we are now giving more labels out. Yes. But we're not giving teachers more tools in terms of how to manage those differences.

Penny Williams 53:54

Yeah, there's so much more we can talk about. We've both had a variety of differences, right? Or a little live. And any Yeah, could go on and on and on. Unfortunately, we are way out of time, because I want everybody to be able to listen. And I hope that the listeners have sort of pause this and come back to it and been able to take in the whole hour, because we've touched on so many super important things. And I really do believe that if we all just try to make a little bit of change. If we affect the heart or mind of one other person, we will have this cumulative effect to make things a little better and a little more accepting for our kids. And for us as parents who have gone through a different journey that was you know, in some ways more of a struggle. We just need to see each other for who we really are. And we can push that boundary forward. It feels daunting, but I really I have to believe that we can, for my own sanity, right, I have to believe that we can but I really do.

Kayla Taylor 54:54

For our kids kids, right? That's why I published this book because I've helped my kids It's but that's not enough. There's a whole generation of kids, including ones that will be related to me and to every listener right now who need things to be better. Yes, right. Yeah. So and we can do that, yeah, we can do that.

Penny Williams 55:15

Thank you so much for sharing so much of of yourself, you know, sharing your story is personal. And it can be really a journey in and of itself. It can be hard, but it's so valuable and powerful to so many other people. So I just want to thank you for that, first of all, but also just all of your insights and wisdom and the things that you've learned and sharing them far and wide is going to help so many people, I want to make sure that everyone knows where to find you online and get linked up to the book and social. All of that is available at the show notes for this episode, which is found at parentingADHDandautism.com/205 for episode 205. And I really encourage you pick up the book, take a read, I think you'll feel less alone, I think you'll also get some valuable insights that are going to help you and your child and connect with Kayla and other ways to and learn more from her. Because I think it's going to be a real benefit to you and your family. And with that, we're gonna sign off and I will see everyone on the next episode.

Kayla Taylor 56:30

Thanks so much Penny. It was great to be here.

Penny Williams 56:32

Thank you. Take good care guys. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingADHDandautism.com and behaviorrevolution.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

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