How to Be a Neuro-Affirming Parent or Teacher

with Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.ED., LPC

In today’s episode, Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.ED., LPC is back and we’re unpacking what it means to be a neuro-affirmative parent or teacher.

We explore the pressures that neurodivergent kids face, especially the expectation to camouflage their true selves. Emily, with her dual expertise in education and counseling, is sharing invaluable insights, including her CARE acronym, which stands for cultivating authenticity, recognizing strengths, empathy, and creating safety.

We discuss the intricacies of masking and the importance of authentic self-representation for these amazing kids and adults. We also address the negative impacts of non-affirming environments that can lead to stress and school avoidance.

Our chat is laced with discussions on embracing rather than merely accepting diverse communication styles, and how this can transform a child’s experience. Emily also sheds light on the ‘double empathy problem,’ the disconnect that can happen in communication between neurodivergent individuals and the neurotypical majority.

Together, Emily and I are rethinking communication norms and advocating for the celebration of individuality, particularly within the neurodiverse community. As we speak, we’re delving into self-advocacy for neurodivergent children and the importance of making that a communicative priority. Let’s talk about the significance of recognizing and leveraging the strengths of these amazing humans.

3 key takeaways:
    1. Neuroaffirming Approaches: Neuroaffirming parenting and teaching involves recognizing, supporting, and encouraging neurodivergent individuals for who they are, including an understanding of diverse communication styles and a rejection of the pressure to conform to rigid social norms.
    2. The CARE Model: Emily Kircher-Morris introduces the CARE acronym to support neurodiversity: Cultivating authenticity, Recognizing strengths, Empathy, and creating safety. These tenets provide a guideline for creating environments that allow neurodivergent kids and teens to thrive and feel validated in their experiences.
    3. Self-Advocacy and Embracing Strengths: Coach neurodivergent kids in self-advocacy, encouraging them to communicate their needs and make their own decisions. Additionally, focusing on the unique strengths and interests of neurodivergent children is crucial for their confidence and success, instead of solely trying to remedy their challenges.

You’ll Learn

  • How to cultivate authenticity in your child by encouraging them to embrace their unique neurodivergent traits and interests.

  • The value of recognizing and building on your kid’s strengths to empower them and build their self-esteem.

  • Strategies for showing empathy and creating safety, ensuring your kid feels understood and secure in their environment.

  • Tips on coaching your child in self-advocacy, giving them the tools and permission to communicate their needs effectively.

  • Ways to refine environments and embrace the “weird” to celebrate individuality within the neurodiverse community, fostering an inclusive and supportive atmosphere at home and school.


  • Subscribe to Clarity — my weekly newsletter to help you get clear on how to be the parent your neurodivergent kid needs.

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

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.

Today’s Guest

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.ED., LPC

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC, inspired by her own experiences as a neurodivergent person, is dedicated to destigmatizing neurodiversity and supporting neurodivergent people of all ages. She started her career in education and is now in private practice near St. Louis, Missouri as a licensed professional counselor, where she specializes in supporting gifted, twice-exceptional, and neurodivergent kids and adults (and their families).

Emily hosts The Neurodiversity Podcast, which explores the psychological, educational, and social needs of neurodivergent people. She is the author of two books related to the development of children and teens who are neurodivergent and cognitively gifted. “Teaching Twice-Exceptional Learners in Today’s Classroom” (Free Spirit Publishing, 2021) focuses on supporting 2e learners in the educational setting, and “Raising Twice-Exceptional Children: A Handbook for Parents of Neurodivergent Gifted Kids” (Routledge, 2022) is a guide for parents navigating the world of twice-exceptionality.


Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:00:03]: Whether a child is cognitively gifted or if they are dyslexic, which are both different types of neurodivergence, being seen as normal is a huge task for those students where the gifted kids wanna camouflage, they don't wanna seem as smart. The dyslexic kids don't wanna seem dumb. And so they're constantly trying to mitigate others' perceptions of themselves, and they lose that authenticity.

Penny Williams [00:00:29]: 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 atypical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the Beautifully Complex podcast. I have a special episode for you today. This is actually a workshop from last week's transforming behavior summit, but it is such an important topic. And Emily Kircher Morris is the very best person to tell us about how to be a neuro affirming parent or teacher.

Penny Williams [00:01:19]: I just really wanted to share this conversation with all of you here. So let's dive right into it.

Penny Williams [00:01:26]: Hey, everybody. Welcome back. I am joined by Emily Kircher-Morris, and we're gonna talk about how to be a neuroaffirming parent, teacher, grandparent, caregiver, whatever type of caring adult you are in the life of a neurodivergent kid. Emily is gonna teach us how to be neuroaffirming and what that even is and what that means for those who don't know. But I wanna start just by having you tell everybody who you are and what you do.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:01:54]: Yeah. Well, I guess I'll start with the fact that I'm the host of the Neurodiversity Podcast, and we've been going at that since 2018. But prior to starting the podcast, I actually started my career in education, and I worked as a classroom teacher and also a gifted education teacher and a school counselor. But then I left the schools, and I'm now a licensed professional counselor, and I have a practice where I support the mental health needs of neurodivergent kids, teens, adults, all ages. And, you know, all of those experiences, both as a parent to neurodivergent kids, as a neurodivergent person myself in the clinical setting and in the educational setting have informed both the podcast and also I've written some books. I have teaching twice exceptional learners in today's classroom and raising twice exceptional children, a handbook for parents of neurodivergent gifted kids, and a new book that's hopefully going to be out towards the end of 2024 about creating neurodiversity affirming schools. So those are kinda just some of the things that, you know, I kinda have going in all of these different places, and I do a lot of trainings with parents and teachers and clinicians just about how we can support young neurodivergent people and help them to reach their potential, whatever that might be.

Penny Williams [00:03:14]: Mhmm. So let's dive into what do you mean when you say neuroaffirming.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:03:20]: Yeah. So when I talk about this, I kind of like to break it down and just really look at what we're talking about when we're talking about affirming or to affirm something. So to affirm something, you know, it has a couple of different meanings, but first of all, it can mean to state something, to recognize it as true and real and, you know, make sure that others understand it as so. It also means to encourage or to support. And so when we talk about neuroaffirming or neurodiversity affirming approaches, what we're really talking about is understanding that regardless of how somebody's brain is wired, they should be offered opportunities to be who they are and to have the chance to be authentic and pursue things that are important to them rather than trying to fit into a paradigm that wasn't created for them. And so often, you know, when you look at the history of our schools and where our schools have come from in society and all of these different pieces, we know that these environments weren't created for neurodivergent people. But as we learn to adapt, as we learn to shift things, we really can foster

Penny Williams [00:04:53]: Some Some words that were coming up for me were authenticity, which you did say, and acceptance, but also validation.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:05:03]: Yes. For them to know that you're validating them.

Penny Williams [00:05:06]: Mhmm. Yeah. To feel like who they are is okay.

Penny Williams [00:05:12]: Good even. Right? We wanna go beyond okay and celebrate who they are, but that, I think, is the foundation of this. Right? Is how do we show that we have radical acceptance, that they are in an environment where they should feel like they belong, you know, is that the first step then to becoming a more neuroaffirming adult or environment?

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:05:36]: Yes. That's that's a huge part of it. And when I think about being neurodiversity affirming and helping to understand what that is actually, one of the keynotes that I give is I use an acronym, and it's it's CARE, c a r e, and there are kind of 4 aspects that I really feel like are the tenants of being affirming in a neurodiversity framework. And so we can kind of go into each of those and maybe think about how those all might apply for different situations. So okay. So the acronym is CARE. So the c is about cultivating authenticity, like you said.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:06:20]: And so recognizing that for kids, they need to know that who they are as a person is good, that because they operate differently in a world doesn't mean that they need to try to twist themselves into all these different contortions to fit. So when I think about authenticity, I really think about camouflaging and masking that many neurodivergent people feel like they have to do in order to fit in. So for those people who may not be familiar with that term, that simply means what it sounds like, hiding characteristics of oneself in order to be accepted, in order to feel valid. So here are some examples of how a neurodivergent child might mask. So for example, an ADHD child may learn to camouflage through perfectionism, where they are trying to overcompensate for those areas of difficulty that they have with hypervigilance that can become very maladaptive and anxiety provoking. Right? As opposed to where they might be able to let down their mask and and recognize, oh, I need help with this or this is something that's hard for me, and that's okay. I can kind of go at my own pace. I don't necessarily have to overcompensate for that.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:07:46]: Another example might be for an autistic student who has a lot of sensory needs, and perhaps they have some stims that help them to regulate their emotions. So maybe they like to rock. Maybe they like to pace. Maybe they like to, you know, flap their hands when they get excited. Right? And we really need to recognize that those are tools for them to regulate their emotions as opposed to things that we need to keep them from doing, because the message that they get is that, oh, well, that's going to make you look weird. That's going to make you stand out. But really, it's a coping skill. So we want to value that authenticity.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:08:26]: When we talk about academic skills, whether a child is cognitively gifted or if they are dyslexic, which are both different types of neurodivergence, being seen as normal is a huge task for those students where the kids wanna camouflage. They don't wanna seem as smart. The dyslexic kids don't wanna seem dumb, and so they're constantly trying to mitigate others' perceptions of themselves and they lose that authenticity. And it causes so much stress. So we want kids to have self awareness, we want them to know who they are, and we want them to be able to show up authentically in the world. The only other thing that I'll mention about masking and camouflaging is that I like to look at this from a nuanced perspective and recognize that camouflaging and masking is not inherently always bad. We all do this to some extent in some environments. My goal when I work with my clients is not to teach them never to mask or to always mask, but to make an evaluation about the situation to determine whether or not the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:09:34]: So there might be times where they might wanna self advocate, and so if you have a child who struggles with eye contact, it might be appropriate for them to say, you know what? It's really hard for me to listen and focus on what you're saying when I'm looking at your eyes. I just want you to know if I'm looking at the floor, I'm still listening. And there might be other times where they would choose to, like, it's better for me to fake it and look at somebody's chin or whatever that might be, but they should be able to make that decision autonomously, and they should be able to that's part of that process for me when we talk about that cultivating authenticity. It doesn't mean that you're always showing up truly authentically because, I don't know, we just have to adapt sometimes for the environment, and that and that's okay. That's the world we live in.

Penny Williams [00:10:23]: Yeah. We don't live in a bubble. No. Sometimes we do have to take it into account other people.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:10:29]: Correct. Yeah. Which is a hard equation to figure out Mhmm. But I think we can empower kids to do that.

Penny Williams [00:10:35]: Yeah. Absolutely. I think a lot about school avoidance refusal because we struggled with it for so many years. And as you were talking, I just started thinking about the fact that not being neuroaffirming in that environment could be causing so much stress and anxiety that kids can't even force themselves to go into that environment. That can be a cause of school avoidance and refusal. It can be a cause of kids who don't wanna put themselves out there. Right? They're maybe not getting together with friends outside of school. Maybe they're not wanting to join a group or try a class because they are worried about fitting in that environment.

Penny Williams [00:11:22]: And, unfortunately, this is the normal message. You know? More often than not, this is the message that we are giving kids. Neurodivergent, not neurodivergent. Right? Like, we are saying that you need to fit in this box. That is what we do culturally. Yeah. And what you're telling us, pointing out is that that can be really damaging, and that is not what our kids need.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:11:48]: Right.

Penny Williams [00:11:48]: They don't need to fit in. They need to be themselves.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:11:53]: Yes. Absolutely. And I think adults who are neurodivergent who either were or weren't identified when they were younger can attest to that through their own experiences and recognizing what it was like for them when they were young.

Penny Williams [00:12:05]: Mhmm. I have social anxiety. So when I was young, all that I wanted to do was fit. I did everything I could to be like everyone else so that they would accept me because my social anxiety shows up in fear of judgment and feeling like everybody needs to accept me. I need to be part of every group. Right? And so I was that kid who was doing all sorts of things, whether it was trying to have the same brands of clothes, but also, you know, really unhealthy maladaptive things that I shouldn't have been doing.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:12:37]: Right.

Penny Williams [00:12:37]: To try to be accepted, to try to fit. Mhmm. And my anxiety wasn't even recognized. You know, my parents didn't know. I just thought I was, you know, strange, whatever. Right? We find reasons within ourselves that aren't true, And that was where I was living at that time, in that headspace. And it could have been less stressful. It could have been easier if we were just accepting who everyone was instead of trying to make everybody fit.

Penny Williams [00:13:07]: Right. Right? In that box. So I totally get masking and why people do it. And sometimes I think you feel like it is absolutely the only thing that you can do in certain situations. And I feel like, as you were saying, if our kid is at that spot, then, yes, they do maybe need to mask that. Yes. It is okay in that particular situation.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:13:32]: Yeah. Absolutely. And I think also recognizing, like, when we think about, for example, kids who have some of those explosive emotions, a lot of times what happens is they've been masking Yeah. And masking and masking and masking, and then finally they can't do it anymore, and that's where you see that of all of those different things. It's like you have to have a pressure valve, and that's that authenticity. Like, when you're allowing yourself to be authentic, you can kind of release some of that little by little rather than feeling like you have to hold that all in.

Penny Williams [00:14:03]: But we need to create these neuroaffirming environments in order for them to be able to use that pressure valve. Right?

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:14:10]: Absolutely. Yes.

Penny Williams [00:14:11]: Yeah. So are we ready to move on to the a Yes. In care?

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:14:15]: The a is for affirm diverse communication. So recognizing that neurodivergent people typically communicate in different ways than what the neuromajority does, and this can look like a lot of different things. So for example, some neurodivergent people love to what is affectionately called info dumping, right, where they have a special interest and they wanna talk about that interest and they wanna talk about that interest and they wanna talk about that interest. And my advice to those kids usually is to get a job that lets you have a microphone because then you could talk about your interest as much as you want and no one complains about it. But I will tell you, like, the amount of information that I have in my head about Pokemon, for example, which is not one of my areas of interest, is more than I care to admit. But because I have clients who love it, and that's how they wanna communicate, and that's so important for that relationship piece to have that. This can also look like understanding and having compassion for, like, the ADHD child who interrupts because they just have that thought and they can't hold on to it and it's just gotta come out right then, and that can be really frustrating as an adult or as a parent. But understanding where that's coming from and validating that with that child and then trying to come up with some strategies so that they can handle that would be another one.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:15:43]: Sometimes, some of our neurodivergent kids are very matter of fact with their communication, neurodivergent adults too, and that can come across as rude. It can come across as uncaring. It can come across as defiant because when you say something and we're so used to using euphemisms and hedging our communication and kind of wrapping it up in certain ways and the rules of social communication that sometimes some of these kids don't always automatically pick up on. And when we can remove all of those assumptions and expectations and just listen to what is actually being said, it makes that communication so much more effective. And for what it's worth, it also opens the door to say, hey. You know what? When you said this thing, it came across this way. I'm not mad. I just want you to know that some people might interpret it that way.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:16:41]: Again, it's giving that information about that, but recognizing, like, there shouldn't necessarily be a requirement to communicate in a certain way. We should have enough empathy for all of the people in our lives to understand those different communication styles. One thing that we talk about quite often in in the neurodiversity community is the double empathy problem, And basically, what the double empathy problem talks about is the neuro majority often assumes that neurodivergent people or especially often autistic people is kind of where this is usually coming from, that they lack empathy, that they don't see things from others' perspectives, and that they're inflexible and that they're rigid. What they miss though is that in the act of insisting that the autistic person comply with these other things, They themselves are being rigid and and lacking empathy and not understanding this. That's a two way street. Yes. So just as we're asking sometimes our kids to be flexible, we need to also be flexible. And, you know, validating that communication, understanding that it's different, recognizing that when a child is having a meltdown, sometimes the best thing we can do is stop talking Yes.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:17:58]: Because they can't communicate in that time, you know, or if they stomp off in the middle of an argument and you're like, get back here, maybe that's the best thing for them is to go and take a minute because that communication style is different and we may not have that same communication style. It may be reversed as well. We may be the ones who need the break, which can be a little it's a little bit easier to let somebody walk away than to Yeah. Tell somebody to pause, but but we can understand where that's coming from and recognize that different types of brains communicate in different ways and none of them is inherently wrong or bad.

Penny Williams [00:18:39]: I wanna ask a question here and get your feedback because I often hear parents say, well, you know, you can't just run around being rude or disrespectful. Our kids are gonna be adults in the real world. The real world isn't like that, you know, or why do I have to walk on eggshells around my kid? You know, these are the things that I hear a lot, and they relate to what you're talking about with that different communication style. And so, you know, where do we say they need to be authentic in their communication, and where do we say, but they have to live in the real world. Right? Like, how do we marry those together?

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:19:24]: So I'm gonna tell a little story that I think kind of exemplifies this. Okay. So I had a client who I worked with from the time that she was in 4th grade all the way until she got to college. She's now honestly, I haven't spoken to her in a few years and she's probably graduated college now when I start to think about it, but she was in high school, though, and she was a junior or a senior, so she was older. And she was, for what it's worth, like, pretty good at masking, had figured out a lot of the things. Like, I always kinda joke about the fact that her special interest when she was in middle school was Justin Bieber, which was great for her at the time because Justin Bieber was all about that, and so she had a lot of things to talk about with her middle school friends. So that worked out quite well for her. But when she was in high school, we got in this conversation with her parents, and they had hopped in the car.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:20:15]: Her parents were, you know, athletes. They had gone out and gone running, and she was in the back of the car and she's like, can you guys roll down the window? You really stink. And her parents were, like, really trying to explain to her, you can't say that. That's rude. And so we are sitting there and then talking about it, and, I mean, we spent almost an entire session talking about this particular incident. And at the end of it, she's like, I mean, I would wanna know if I stunk. I don't understand. And and and and again, brilliant young woman, you know, but but that social communication piece, she's like, I won't do it, but I don't understand it.

Penny Williams [00:21:03]: Right.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:21:04]: Another situation with a similar client was where she kept getting in trouble at home because her parents were getting really frustrated with her because they wanted her to ask for something.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:21:16]: And she felt like she was asking for something, but then they would tell her that she was demanding it. Again, brilliant young woman. I think she got, like, a 35 on her ACT. I mean, just just incredibly intelligent. But to her and we went through tons of examples, all these different things. But asking and demanding to her, they're just not different enough in her brain.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:21:37]: So she's like, I'm imparting information to you. So going back to your original question, what I would say is in both of those situations, those parents were doing their best to kind of try to explain how those things might be perceived, how that might come across, and yet they're like, I can follow those rules. I mean, I can try to do that. Although the the young woman who I'm talking about with the asking and demanding, she still kinda kept falling into that trap because she just didn't hear the difference there.

Penny Williams [00:22:07]: Right.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:22:08]: So in my mind, it's like we don't stop educating, but we don't view it as a discipline issue. We don't view it as you're being rude. It's like, I just am trying to tell you how this is going to come across. Here's maybe a substitute, you know, and then helping them kind of kind of learn that. Here's an example from my own life. I gave the example earlier of ADHDers who interrupt. That was me as a kid growing up always, and I am sure that my parents told me about 12,000,000 times to stop interrupting. And it wasn't until I was in college that I had a job and I had a manager who was only a couple years older than me who I really liked and really respected, and he told me, if you interrupt me one more time and it was like, oh.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:22:56]: And it was mortifying and it was embarrassing, and I wish I had listened to my parents, but until I had that experience in a different context with somebody different Right. And luckily, I didn't have any big repercussions from it, but it did not stick. I still interrupt when I get really excited about things. Like, that's just you know, my brain moves too fast. But, you know, we just need to view it a little bit differently and understand where it's coming from Mhmm. And not view it as something that they're doing wrong.

Penny Williams [00:23:26]: So understand and then Teach educate.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:23:29]: Skills. Yeah. Educate. Exactly.

Penny Williams [00:23:31]: Yeah. Because, you know, as parents or other caring adults, we care. We want to protect them. We don't want, like, the situation that you had with your manager and how uncomfortable that was. But we also can't prevent all discomfort and pain, and we we shouldn't want to because kids need to experience failure and picking themselves back up so that they can build resilience. But we come into it with that great care, but we also have to be really mindful that maybe they're receiving it as rejection

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:24:07]: Yeah.

Penny Williams [00:24:07]: As something that we're saying, you know, you can't do that. You can't be yourself. Mhmm. It's not okay to be who you are. You know? So we really have to think about intention is what I talk to parents about all the time. Like, okay. So your kid talked to you in this way, and it felt really rude. It felt disrespectful.

Penny Williams [00:24:27]: You know? For you, it was awful. But was that their intention? Mhmm.

Penny Williams [00:24:33]: Is this the only way they know how to communicate with you right now?

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:24:36]: Yeah.

Penny Williams [00:24:37]: You know? It's a lot of parenting pivots. It's a lot of adult pivot in our own mindset to, I think, be able to be neuro affirming, because otherwise, we're gonna be stuck. We're gonna be constantly saying, you can't say that. You can't interrupt. You can't this. You can't that. And it's a natural thing that's happening for them, and there's that disconnect there.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:24:59]: Yeah. I think the other piece of this is just also helping to coach self advocacy. Mhmm. So the child who can go into a group project at school and explain like, hey, I know sometimes I might come across as abrupt. You know, I'm not trying to be rude, you know, or, like and hopefully, they have some rapport with those peers or whatever, but, like or in the workplace when they get to adulthood and just, you know if they can even recognize those things about themselves, that way if they make the mistake, it's kinda out in the open and they can talk about it as opposed to having people interpret negative things about them.

Penny Williams [00:25:34]: Yeah. Yeah. And just remembering, it's not a character flaw.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:25:38]: Correct. Like

Penny Williams [00:25:39]: Correct. It's a communication. It may not be socially appropriate or healthy, might be maladaptive, but it's a communication. If you can keep your mind there, this child is communicating something to me. Mhmm. It's just easier, I think, to have more acceptance of it and to be more compassionate and effective in our responses.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:26:02]: Yeah. Absolutely. So shall we go on to r? Yes. Yes? Okay. Let's tackle it.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:26:08]: Is about refining environments. So how do we change the environment to support our kids? And so that can have a lot to do with the sensory needs of neurodivergent kids. It can be related to accommodations also just with, like, for example, schoolwork at school. Yeah. You know, how do we refine the external factors to help make them a better fit? And going back to that self advocacy piece, how do we help kids know what types of environmental factors influence them so that they can have some independence as far as initiating those changes when they need them. So, oh, I need to go put on my headphones, and I know that I can do that, or I need to go take this test in another environment, or I need to go and, you know, jump on the trampoline at home, you know, on the backyard because I know that that helps me regulate my emotions. Like, what are those things that we can do to help them see those things and adapt that environment and provide accommodations that will help them be successful.

Penny Williams [00:27:25]: Yeah. And giving them permission. And giving them permission. I know. Mhmm. For my own kid, he never wanted to self advocate because he felt like he was challenging what a teacher was saying or that they would feel like he was disrespecting them, and so he didn't ever wanna do it. And I learned to have conversations with him and myself and his teacher and, you know, have them openly give him permission to tell them what he needed. Yeah.

Penny Williams [00:27:52]: Because he really struggled with that. He really felt like if he didn't try to fit, he would come across as being disrespectful or rude.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:28:02]: Yeah.

Penny Williams [00:28:03]: Or, you know, not sort of respecting his elders, right, which they're taught. And that's part of the framework of our traditional schooling. It's like, whatever your teacher says goes, and you're just supposed to comply. And so, you know, complying with all that didn't work for him, but he didn't feel like he had permission for a long time to self advocate. So I just wanted to add that piece too. It's really important.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:28:25]: Yeah. So I have, a membership community, the educator hub, and we have speakers who come in. And recently, we had doctor Ellen Broughton come in. She's the author of Bright Kids Who Can't Keep Up and Bright Kids Who Couldn't Care Less. And I was talking to her, and one of the topics that came up was about self advocacy because she had mentioned, well, I think there are a lot of things that we ask kids to do that aren't necessarily developmentally appropriate. I said, what are some of those things? And self advocacy was one of the things that she talked about. And so that really stuck with me, and I started really reflecting on that and recognizing that as adults, think about a time that you had to self advocate. You had to go to a boss or you had to speak to a partner, like, you know, in a relationship or a friend.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:29:07]: It's scary to self advocate. There's a lot of risk that's involved there, and yet we ask neurodivergent kids, maybe neurodivergent kids who struggle with communication, to do it all the time. Right. And so for educators and parents, my thought always is we have to be the one to open the door just like you're saying. We have to be the one who asks the questions and invites the self advocacy rather than waiting for them to come to us, because there might be a few kids who can do that, but most can't. But at the same time, we need them to tell us what they need because we just aren't mind readers.

Penny Williams [00:29:42]: Right.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:29:43]: And so that's a two way street, but also we need to often be the ones who initiate that until they learn how to do that or that they feel that they are in a safe place where they can Yes. You know, whatever that might be. Yeah. But telling kids to self advocate without giving that support is unrealistic.

Penny Williams [00:30:01]: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. And I hadn't thought about how unsafe that could feel, really. You know, we know that our kids need to feel safe, not just physically safe, but emotionally and psychologically safe. And I think that's where my son was really coming from. It's like, if I challenge this teacher, they think I am. I'm gonna get in trouble.

Penny Williams [00:30:20]: There's gonna be a consequence for that. Right. So I'm not gonna get my need met.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:30:24]: Totally.

Penny Williams [00:30:24]: Yeah. And somebody's gonna yell at me or be mad at me or punish me. Right? So, yeah, it's a it's a big piece of it.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:30:33]: For sure. Definitely.

Penny Williams [00:30:35]: Let's talk about e before we run out of time together.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:30:38]: No. That's okay. So e is about embracing the weird. And so we know that neurodivergent kids are just different, and that's okay. But, really, what I'm talking about in addition to the authenticity piece, which we touched on a little bit already, I'm also talking about starting with the strengths and finding a child's strengths and leveraging those in order to really find ways that they can be successful. Too often, when we try to remediate areas of difficulty. We end up squeezing out the weird, you know, and it leads back to that place of the masking and the camouflaging. Yeah.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:31:23]: But when we start with the strengths and we integrate those strengths into our classrooms and our homes and we value those, not only do we help kids be successful in that moment, but we also build their confidence for going forward, and we let them know that it's okay to have those funky interests and to, you know, communicate differently and to pace when you're thinking. Whatever those things might be, when we take those and intentionally integrate them into what we're doing and we allow them to be as weird as they may be and not feel like they have to change to conform, they really are in a much better place to launch into successful lives as adults.

Penny Williams [00:32:11]: Mhmm. Yeah. Again, we're giving them permission to be authentic.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:32:15]: Mhmm.

Penny Williams [00:32:15]: That's what that is. In my town, there's bumper stickers everywhere here. Keep Asheville weird because we have this big arts culture and just a really diverse group of people here. And so, you know, there's a whole sort of wave of people who are like, let's just keep it weird. Let's keep it crazy. That's beautiful. Right? And I think that's what we're talking about, you know, in our manifesto of the neurodiverse family. It says that we're all marvelously complex and marvelously imperfect and beautifully complex.

Penny Williams [00:32:49]: I just butchered my own thing. And that's why my podcast is now called Beautifully Complex because we have to embrace that. Yes. We have to embrace it to do our best for the neurodivergent individuals in our lives. We just have to. And you've given us such a great framework, and I love a good acronym. I'm all about the acronyms because it makes it memorable. Right? Yep.

Penny Williams [00:33:14]: So if we can just remember, we were talking about care here Yep. And what those four points are

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:33:20]: Yeah.

Penny Williams [00:33:20]: That's how we move forward.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:33:21]: And I'll just restate them for everyone. Is that okay? Okay. Yep. So c is cultivate authenticity, a is affirm diverse communication, r is refine environments, and e is embrace the weird.

Penny Williams [00:33:35]: And that's the action for everyone going forward. That's what you need to do. And, Emily, I love to tap into your wisdom for these kind of topics and twice exceptionality and gifted because you really just have such a great understanding and acceptance. Right? Like, I feel from you that neuroaffirming energy always, and it's so beautiful. And I hope that it's become infectious for those who are listening and that they'll be able to take away this information and just show up in the ways that they really want to because I think we all want to encourage that authenticity. We want to encourage our kids to be who they are. And sometimes we just get wrapped up in tradition and norms and things that we just have to put away, and you've given us permission

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:34:24]: Yeah.

Penny Williams [00:34:25]: To do things differently, and that's so powerful for everyone. So I really appreciate you and everything that you've shared with everyone.

Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC [00:34:32]: Yeah. Thank you, Penny. I really appreciate it.

Penny Williams [00:34:34]: To access the show notes for this episode, go to parentingADHDandautism.com/254 for episode 254. And I hope you take good care. I'll see you next time. 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 thebehaviorrevolution.com.

Thanks for joining me!

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