211: My 6 Biggest Aha’s in 6 Years of the Podcast, with Penny Williams

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

Listen on Apple Podcasts  |  Google Podcasts  |  Spreaker  |  Spotify  |  iHeart Radio

It’s the 6 year anniversary of the Beautifully Complex podcast so I’m looking back at some of the most pivotal lessons I’ve had about parenting neurodivergent kids. I’ve interviewed nearly 150 experts and also parented my son from young teen to young adult during that time. I’ve learned a lot!

Listen in as I explain my six biggest aha’s and what they could mean for you and your child — the interconnectedness of biology and behavior, pressure is actually a demotivator, rejection sensitive dysphoria, giving kids control, compassionate parenting, and asking for help.


Some of the resources may be affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission (at no cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.

Subscribe to Clarity — my weekly newsletter on what’s working in business right now, delivered free, straight to your inbox.

Work with me to level up your parenting — online parent training and coaching  for neurodiverse families.


Penny Williams 0:00

In that traditional parenting and even educating approach have put pressure on kids and they will perform doesn't work for most of our neurodivergent kids, it actually makes them less able, physiologically less able to perform to do what you're asking them to do. 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.

I'm your host, Penny Williams. And I want to welcome all of you carrying adults to the show. This episode actually marks six years of the podcast six years I've been podcasting. For all of you now it's so hard to believe time has gone by so quickly. And I thought for this episode, it would be really fun to name six of my biggest aha was over the last six years of podcasting. Of course, I started with the parenting ADHD podcast. That's how I started out because I knew more about ADHD because my son's original diagnosis was ADHD. And that's all that we knew, for the first six years. So he wasn't given the additional diagnosis of autism spectrum until age 12.

But he was diagnosed with ADHD at age six. And so for a long time I work was really focused on ADHD because of that. And what I kept finding is that almost everything that we talk about, when we talk about parenting, interacting with educating kids with ADHD, it also goes for kids on the autism spectrum, level one level two kids who are speaking. And so I've been able to pivot in my work to really focusing on these foundational principles that are going to help us help our kids that are applicable to both ADHD and autism spectrum. And so, several months ago, back in 2022, I actually revamped the podcast to call it beautifully complex, so that I could also bring in all of you who are looking for information to support kids who are on the spectrum. So now we're really talking about neurodivergent kids in general, which is mostly what I was already talking about.

So I've just kind of opened that door wider, to invite more caring adults into our community, to help kids who are neurodivergent. And along this journey, because it is a journey for me, right. I am a parent, like a lot of you listening, I learned by doing my son's diagnosis was in 2008. So as I record this, it was 14 and a half years ago, that he was diagnosed with ADHD. There wasn't a lot out there to tell parents what to do. There was pretty much nothing, which is why I do the work that I do. We had attitude magazine, we had some books, Dr. Halliwell was doing great work. But there wasn't kind of a guide that said, Hey, your kid's been diagnosed with this or that ADHD or autism. Here's what you need to know. Here's how you need to pivot.

Here's the mindset shifts you need to make. And so I've learned along the way, by reading and researching and working with families and doing in my own family to find some really pivotal truths about the parenting work that we're doing, or the educating work. If you're a teacher or your work as a counselor or a therapist with kids and families. It's all a very similar approach in what we're doing. So let's dive into some of my aha hours, I think they're going to be really helpful for you. At least one or two of these, I've had a request to cover in the podcast. So we're going to be able to do that as well. And so I hope it's really going to help you to maybe have a light bulb go off for yourself as I review some of these learning moments for myself. The first one I want to talk about is the interconnectedness of biology and behavior. Number one, because it really is the number one driving force in In all of the work that I'm doing with parents, and it also really was pivotal for me in my parenting in understanding minor diversion kid, understanding that a lot of times behavior isn't intentional, it's instinctual. It's the fact that we're wired that way, that our child's brain is wired in that way, or in a different way, that their nervous system might be much more hypersensitive, to be triggered to being dysregulated.

And the fact that that really drives so much of the behavior that we see. And when we understand behavior in that way, now we're coming at it from a place of compassion and helpfulness, versus judging the behavior and getting upset with our kid, getting upset with our parenting sometimes as well blaming ourselves, none of that doesn't mean good, punitive punishments don't do any good. What does good is to understand where that behavior came from what's going on for your kid in their mind, their body, their brain, and then being able to address that. Because if you're not addressing those underlying issues, and you're not coming at it with compassion, and empathy, you're not going to change the behavior, you're not going to make improvement. And you know, we do a monthly episode here at beautifully complex on behavior, with my partner in the behavior revolution, Sarah Wayland. So we've talked a lot over the last year to two years about behavior, and really drilling down and doing a real deep dive on that. So there's lots of other episodes that you can watch to get more information on that.

But I just wanted to touch on the fact that that was a real turning point. For me, it was a huge aha moment to say, oh, my gosh, when my kids started yelling at me and screaming that he doesn't love me in the middle of the grocery store. He didn't sit back and go, Hmm, how can I really embarrass my mom? How can I really make her feel unloved right now, maybe if I make her feel really bad, I'll get what I want. That doesn't happen. It just doesn't happen. What happens is, our kids nervous systems get triggered their brains and their lagging skills and lagging development, make it really hard for them to manage what's happening in that situation, and to manage and cope with being triggered. That is a place where you can kind of make that your cornerstone, and work from there, and it will change everything for you.

My number two, and these are not in priority order is pressure causes avoidance and shut down. My kid who I've called a serial avoider many times on this podcast, is really wired to avoid first, because that is his protective instinct, right? It's kind of that flight instinct. So he gets triggered, he gets dysregulated. Now he is in that yellow activated zone, fight or flight. And his body is just automatically going, flee, flee, danger, danger, you must run, you must get away from this, right. And what I wasn't recognizing is that that traditional parenting and even educating approach have put pressure on kids and they will perform doesn't work for most of our neurodivergent kids, it actually makes them less able, physiologically less able to perform to do what you're asking them to do. And when my son became a teen, I would say around age 14 or 15, he was finally able to start verbalizing this for me, saying you're putting too much pressure on me. When you put this pressure on me. I am not at all capable of doing what you ask. And I don't even want to do it. Right. I'm not even motivated to do it. Because you're pestering me. And you're making me feel bad. Because we know when we feel good, we're able to do good, right?

We don't feel good, we're not able to do so good. So when we pressure our kids are making them feel really crappy, and then they cannot do what we need them to do. And we've kind of sucked any motivation that was there right out of the situation. And that was a big again, a big aha for me in my own parenting with Luke. And he has talked about this some and some of the podcasts episodes he's done here. He talked about it in the school struggles summit episode that he and I did together on school refusal avoidance, that is a really key ingredient for him in not being able to get things done in avoiding and shutting down and I know that Many of you listening are shaking your head in agreement. You're nodding and nodding and nodding because you recognize this in your own kid to maybe the light bulb just went off for you. Because Wow, that sounds just like my kid. Now I understand, I'm putting pressure on my kid. Because I really, really want him to get things done. I really want her to excel, I really want them to be able to succeed. But we don't parent and educate our neurodivergent kids in traditional ways, because it's not effective. So we have to let go of that traditional approach of cranking up the pressure. It's just like a pressure cooker, you crank that pressure up, and there's nowhere for it to go. Eventually, it will explode. It will. And so a strategy for you is to one, pivot.

And try something different than pressure to be really mindful, be aware, be curious about when your child is feeling pressured, figure out how you can help them to manage that feeling, to work through that feeling. So that we can relieve some of that pressure. Because inside that pressure cooker, nothing is doable. I mean, if you think about cooking lobster, and all of you who cook lobster, are going to be really upset with me right now, because I've never cooked a lobster. And I'm pretty sure you don't put them in a pressure cooker. But I'm just thinking you put a live thing in a pressure cooker, what is going to happen to it? You know, the evil witch in Hansel and Gretel. You know, she puts the kids in the pot, the boiling pot, what's going to happen? It's kind of a shutdown, right? It's a really crude example of that I know. But what I'm trying to get at is that any type of pressure makes things less doable, we're less able to perform, think about it for yourself, maybe at work, you've been under extreme pressure at times, was it harder to get your work done? It is for me, the more stressed I get, the less cognitive capability I have, the less efficient I am.

And so we have to stop putting pressure on our kids and ourselves. Let's just have permission to stop putting pressure on yourself to there's absolutely no benefit to putting pressure on yourself. Because it's going to make things harder for you as well understand that things take time, and that your kid will get there just in their own time. Number three, and this is a request that I've had to cover here on the podcast. And I can't believe that in 200. And some episodes, I haven't covered it yet, but it's rejection sensitive dysphoria, also referred to as RSD. And it's mostly talked about in the ADHD community. But it really does overlap with the autism spectrum as well. I have family members who really struggle with rejection sensitive dysphoria. And here's what it is. It's basically a hypersensitivity, to rejection and criticism. But it's not even real rejection and real criticism. It's also perceiving it everywhere, constantly thinking that others are or will reject you, constantly thinking that others are or are going to criticize you. Feeling like everything someone says to you is a criticism. And again, I know some of you are nodding your heads with extreme vigor at this point, because you're recognizing your kid or maybe another adult in your life, or both. It is very difficult to navigate rejection sensitive dysphoria, when you're say working with a kid who every time you say something, they feel judged, criticized, rejected, and that leads them to shut down.

It's really hard to work with them. It's really hard to get things done right. One example might be your kid does their writing homework, they had to write about the wonderful things they did on spring break, and they had to write maybe a few paragraphs and you review it and ask them to make some edits. And they fall apart, completely fall apart. Maybe even get angry because anger is also a protective mechanism and they just can't handle it. And that is constructive criticism Um, but not even that, you know, kids are taught at school that they must review and edit what they write, that there's multiple steps to that process. And sometimes they do peer reviews, sometimes they do teacher reviews. And that ends up feeling like criticism and rejection of the work that that child did. And what we have to do for rejection sensitive dysphoria is really help them feel successful, as much as possible, we have to drown out that nagging voice that they have, that everything is critical that they can't do anything, right? That no one wants to be with them or around them. And we do that by counterbalancing. For the most part, rejection sensitive dysphoria is a term that Dr. William Dodson came up with.

There are several articles on attitude magazine's website, from him about rejection sensitive dysphoria, he does talk a little bit about medication and how it can help sometimes with this. And so if you're interested in that, take a look at those articles at attitude mag.com. And you can read a lot more about that. Number four, in my list of all halls from the last six years, is that it is best to relinquish control to your kids. I'm just giving you a moment to let that sink in. Because it's the opposite of what we're taught as parents, we are taught that we control our kids, good parents control their kids, they control them so much that their little angels and they have great behavior, right? That is ridiculous. We are trying to raise healthy, happy adults. How do we do that? If we micromanage them? How do we do that if we try to control everything that they think do say and feel, we can't, we just can't when you're not controlling, you don't have healthy people around you.

It's just damaging. And so this also really ties into my strong belief that we need to raise individuals. So often we look at our kids, as many versions of ourselves, we feel like they should have the same values, the same beliefs, the same interests, right. If you were an athlete, as a kid, you think your kid shouldn't be athletes in their childhood as well. And that just isn't necessarily the case, your child is an individual. And you need to let them guide you about their interests, about how they do things about what they want to do, and what they're not interested in, and how they get things done. This is something that really touches a lot of aspects of daily life and learning and education. For instance, if a teacher assigns an essay for a science project, and your child struggles with writing, my son, Luke has dysgraphia, and also written expression disorder. essays were a nightmare for him really, really, really hard. And of course, he tried to avoid as much as possible because of that. And so I would ask teachers, or I would facilitate with him to ask his teachers, if he could show what he was learning in that project in another way.

Could he do a PowerPoint? Could he do a video? Could he do a poster? You know, what else can he do to show what he had learned? Because that's the goal. The goal is to find information and learn it. And so often, there are other ways to do that. And we just have to ask, we just have to ask. And in those instances, we're letting our kids guide. They're telling us what they need. They're telling us how they can succeed. And we have to listen, I know that writing essays, in this example, is something that is very common in education. People feel very strongly everyone should know how to write an essay. But I promise you, you can be a successful adult without really knowing how to write a great essay. Now, I just want to add here, I'm not talking about, you know, kids gone wild here. I'm not saying you shouldn't have any rules or boundaries or values. I'm not saying that, you know, kids should make up the rules, or do whatever they want to do. What I'm saying is that you can allow your kids to guide their experience, and to help you help them and still hold fast to boundaries, and values. So we're not talking about just throwing your hands up and letting kids do whatever they want. We're talking about being very aware and open to getting cues from our kids on what they need, and what they're interested in.

Okay, number five, kind and compassionate parenting is not permissive. You can be a kind, compassionate, empathetic understanding parent, educator. And that doesn't mean that you're permissive. Again, we're not talking about kids gone wild. We're talking about seeing the kid that you have in front of you. And parenting that kid with compassion and grace. It's loving the kid you have not being permissive, and letting your kid run all over you. It's two very different things. And finally, number six, my six, the biggest aha, of the last six years of podcasting is get help, ask for help. You may not need it, but you need it. If that makes any sense at all, you may be getting things done, you may be managing and juggling. But that doesn't mean that you wouldn't feel a lot better. And feel like more of yourself, if you asked for some help. And if you're having a really hard time, ask for help. self care is really, really crucial. And I have talked about this for years, we started the happy mama retreat over 10 years ago. And it was all about moms self care. When you're raising neurodivergent kids, I've given many a presentation on self care. And yet I find myself lately over the last year, really not taking care of myself. And I finally had to reach out and ask for help in the form of some therapy. And my therapist is also really helping me to ask for help from others, as well.

And, you know, sometimes we feel like we shouldn't have to ask for help. This is the trap that I fall into, people should see that I don't like doing this, they should see that I'm having a hard time, they should see that I'm always the one who cooks are always the one who does the dishes. And they should want to help me. And it's not that they don't want to help me, it's often that we're not really open to the help. Here's what I mean by that. No one in my house wants to load the dishwasher. Because I have a very particular way that I load the dishwasher. And I get as much as I possibly can in there while still getting everything clean. So I'm very, very particular, because I've been doing it this way for a very, very long time. And so when someone else in my house loads the dishwasher, they have found that I end up either hovering and telling them what to do, and where to put things. Or I go back and I move things around. And so they feel like I don't appreciate the help that they're giving. So why bother? And I'm having to learn and remind myself because I already know this, I already know, there's more than one way to get to a goal. I already know that there's more than one way to do the dishes and have clean dishes in our house.

And yet I get really stuck on my way. Right. And I think we find this in a lot of ways in our parenting, we get really stuck on our way because maybe we feel it's more efficient, maybe it's faster. Maybe it's easier, less stressful. But we have to honor the fact that other people do things in other ways. And that's okay, especially for our neurodivergent kids, because they do things in different ways. And they totally need somebody to be telling them that their way is okay too. And so I'm really working on that. Really trying not to, you know, hover and micromanage. But I'm a type A personality, that's very hard for me. But it's a work in progress, right? But I'm finding that I'm having to be very, very mindful of my self care. And I've been very aware of the lack of self care for a while. And it's really important for me because of health and some health conditions that run in our family. I must be taking better care of my physical health, my body, and I'm not doing it and I want to do it, but then I can't bring myself to do it. And that's where I said, you know, it's time for some therapy, I have to get some help with us, because it's really, really important.

And I encourage everyone on the planet, honestly, having a therapist is just great. It's somebody to talk to you about things who isn't emotionally invested, it's someone to see things from a completely outside perspective, it's someone who understands the human condition, and can help you get over barriers, like I'm talking about, it's just amazing. And for raising kids who are neurodivergent, oh, my gosh, we need that support. And so I encourage you, if it is at all possible and feasible for you get some help, find some help. If it's not therapy, Ask a neighbor, ask a parent or grandparent, you know, ask your significant other to do a little more, or, you know, whatever your kids and build those habits. And I, you know, have found recently that not having as much structure in our lives anymore, now that my kids are out of school has made it really difficult to kind of have those habits of self care, the habits of getting things done, that may not be preferred tasks, but have to happen. And when we had the structure in the schedule of school, you know, I would drop the kids off at school, I would come home, and I would go for a walk and listen to music around the neighborhood, for really only like 15 minutes, it wasn't long. But I did it three, four or five times a week sometimes.

And it helped so much. Working at home makes it even harder to have a schedule, right? I mean, I work in my pajamas a lot. And I don't have to go anywhere most days. And that can be really hard. Because you sort of get stuck in just not having any thing that sort of pushing you if you're not leaving the house, then maybe you won't be out to do something fun for yourself, right, or whatever it is that sort of a roadblock or a mental hurdle for getting things done. I'm finding how much I should have appreciated more structure when we had it. Because now I'm seeing that it really is part of the sort of deterioration of how I'm been caring for myself, and how much we've been out in the world. And some of that has to do with a pandemic, right. In two years of not going anywhere, we didn't have to go, we spend a lot more time not going anywhere. Now that created habit. And now we're working to undo that. But it's really crucial for our mental health and our mental health as the caring adult, for the child matters a great deal, it affects these kids. If you're the parent, it affects your child, if you're the teacher, how you're feeling and managing your stress affects your students. It's really, really important that we prioritize our own health too. And I've said this many times on this podcast before I know.

But you cannot be the best parent and the parent you want to be. If you're sacrificing yourself for your kids, I know that you're taught that you should sacrifice yourself entirely in order to be a good parent. But that actually makes you less capable of being the parent you want to be. You have to feel good to do good. Also, we're not just saying that for our kids, every human being has to feel good to do good. Every human being has to feel good to do good. And that's really the crux of all of it right? When you look back at that list of six things that I've learned over six years, they all really revolve around helping people, others and ourselves feel good, because that makes everybody happier. And it makes everything more doable. So I hope that maybe you've had a light bulb or to go off during this discussion, and that you'll sit with some of these ideas. Do you see some rejection sensitive dysphoria in your kid? Or you know, your significant other or a parent even like anyone? Do you see that you're putting too much pressure on your kid? Do you now understand, can you now see some of the behavior as instinctual instead of intentional? Do you feel more like you have permission now to take care of yourself and to parent with kids? kindness and compassion and empathy instead of with control.

These are things that we practice, right? I used to be much better at practicing good self care. Now I'm finding my way back to that slowly but surely, sometimes it's just about your awareness. Sometimes it's about curiosity, and what's really going on for your kid. But all of these things are things that we have to practice and be mindful of, and continue to bring to the forefront of our thoughts, to make sure that we're doing the best that we can right for ourselves and for our kids. So I've given you so much now. So many things to take, and go forward with, and really think about, and chew on and share with others, right? Help others understand your kid in these ways, as well. Help others be able to do their best for your child as well. I would love to hear from you. You can go to the show notes at parentingADHDandautism.com/211. For episode 211. Leave me a comment there. I read every one of them I reply, when it's called for if you have a question, I will reply and answer your question. Let me know some topics you'd like to hear on the podcast. Let me know how something you heard today or in another episode has been remarkable for you or for your child. And of course, you help me to reach and help others by reviewing the podcast on Apple podcasts or Google podcasts or wherever you're listening. And I really hope for you a fantastic week going forward. Thanks for joining me on the eautifully 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 at thebehaviorrevolution.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!

Pinpoint the
Help You Need
right now

Take my free quiz to cut through the overwhelm and get focused on the information and resources that will help you and your child RIGHT NOW.

free video series
Quick Start: 3 High-Impact Actions to Transform Behavior

Transforming negative or unwanted behavior is a long and complex process. HOWEVER, there are a few actions you can take right now that will provide a big impact. These 3 high-impact strategies address foundational aspects of behavior, empowering you to help your child feel better so they can do better.



Makes time visual for those with time blindness.


Blends gaming with off-screen activities to teach coping skills through play.


Manage chores and routines while building self-confidence and independence.


A chair that gives kids a sensory hug.

About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

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…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

Listen on Apple Podcasts  |  Google Podcasts  |  Spotify  |  iHeart Radio

Share your thoughts.

  • Hi Penny! I’m a BIG fan of yours.

    I was loading the dishwasher while listening to #211, precisely during the moment you shared your struggles. I was about to move a dish my husband had just put in there. I stopped myself because of your story. You save the day! But, do you avoid hovering/rearranging all together, or just don’t do it as often? What about when they’re placed in a way that is guaranteed to collect water?? LOL. This is an almost daily, ridiculous frustration, but it’s bearable knowing I’m not alone. <3

    I first started this journey of understanding my neurodivergent son (5) last summer when he began OT with Greg Santucci. Feeling overwhelmed by the new concepts he was introducing, such as co-regulation (wait….. this is about the kid, you’re saying I have to change??) I whined about the absence of a manual for this, and asked for recommendations on books, podcasts, etc. As I recall, your name was the first of many he mentioned. I’ve been fascinated with learning more ever since.

    IDK where we would be today if not for all the incredible insight from people like you, Sarah and Mr. Greg. Thanks for all you do!

    • Hi Rose! I'm so happy to read this! That not going behind them and re-doing the dishwasher thing is a real THING! LOL! It's very hard and I'm still working on it. Right now I'm still doing it 99% of the time, but I'm about to put up a schedule of help for me from the family so I shall be tested a lot more. And I'll bite my tongue every time and appreciate the help.

Leave a Reply

Start Typing