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Neurodivergent Acceptance & Finding Personal Joy – Chat with Stephanie Roberston – Neurodivergent OT

Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast – Episode 10

by Adina Levy

Play. Learn. Chat - Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast Logo

Show Notes:

In this fabulous chat with Stephanie Robertson, Neurodivergent OT, we chat about all kinds of topics including:

  • her journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance
  • the impact of masking on mental health and well-being
  • the need for systemic change and neurodiversity affirming practices to create an inclusive and supportive environment for neurodivergent people
  • moving away from behaviourism
  • understanding the intergenerational nature of parenting and education
  • promoting empathy, acceptance, and a broader version of social norms
  • holistic ways to support neurodivergent children
  • the need for self-care and finding personal joy in life

Connect with Steph – SGR Occupational Therapy:
www.sgroccupationaltherapy.comΒ 
Instagram: @sgroccupationaltherapy
Facebook: SGR Holistic and Family Focused Occupational Therapy – https://www.facebook.com/SGROccupationalTherapyΒ 
Facebook group: The Neurodiversity Empowerment Movement – https://www.facebook.com/groups/1258437025035170Β 
YouTube: The Spiritual OT – https://www.youtube.com/@TheSpiritualOTΒ 

Learn more with Adina from Play. Learn. Chat.
Allied Health Professionals and Education Professionals! You’re invited to my FREE Webinar!
Neurodiversity Affirming Practice Kickstart:
3 Actionable Tips to do Today
https://playlearnchat.com/free-webinar/

 

 

Transcript:

Adina: Welcome to the Exploring Neurodiversity Podcast. I’m Adina Levy from Play Learn Chat. I’m a neurodivergent speech therapist. And I’m obsessed with creating a world where neurodiversity is understood, embraced, supported, and celebrated. Join me as we have conversations about autistic, ADHD, neurodivergent experiences, and I share how you can support neurodivergent children in your world.

Let’s all work together to make change where change is needed so that the world can be a more friendly place for neurodivergent people and for everyone.

I am super excited that today we have Stephanie Robertson on to share her perspectives as a neurodivergent person, as an ot, she has a lot of amazing insights and angles and perspectives that I can’t wait to see what we can bring out together. She’s passionate about neurodivergent affirming practice in all stages of life and across all environments.

Her vision is to help people embrace their true, authentic selves and have the tools to advocate for their needs. I love that. She brings a mixture of lived clinical and research experience into her work and takes a truly holistic and unique approach to each of her clients. And I just kind of know that’s why we’re going to get along Steph.

So yes, and you can find her. I’ll pop all these links in the show notes. You can find her on Instagram @sgroccupationaltherapy and her website, sgroccupationaltherapy.com and of, I’ll pop in her Facebook links Facebook group as well. And she’s on YouTube as the Spiritual OT. And I haven’t admittedly checked out your YouTube yet, but I absolutely will.

Steph: Thank you. Yeah, we’ve done some really cool interviews with, different people sharing their experience of neurodivergence. So, I just wanted to create a space where if people felt like sharing their story was going to be healing in any way that they could do that, and then they could share that as well with others.

And it’s been a beautiful experience.

Adina: This is right up my alley.

I’d love to start off by hearing about how you view your own neurodivergence in your life, in yourself. And, please share what that is for you.

Steph: So it’s been a whirlwind to be honest, as I think so many like late identified or diagnosed people can, can resonate with like, um, growing up.

It’s weird. I went through like these phases and I think people can kind of identify. With different parts and some with all. But when I was like younger, so up until maybe the age of six or seven, I was just completely absorbed in my own world. Like I didn’t really care if other people had a perspective of me that meant that I was a bit weird or I was a bit different.

I was just so into my special interests, like my horses and animals and like playing at school pretending to be animals. And that was like where I was. And it wasn’t until I got a bit older that I started having this awareness of others around me and that people thought I was different. And then once the bullying started, as I’m sure a lot of us resonate with, I was like, oh, I guess it’s time to change.

And then that’s when the masking started and I was like, okay, it’s not safe to be me. I’m going to have to be something else. And I created a very, uh, Exuberant and quite extroverted personality, which isn’t really my core. I’m quite introverted. Um, but I created this personality to get myself through my adolescence, um, which then led to incredible burnout in my teen years where I couldn’t sustain that anymore.

I became really, really unwell physically and mentally. And then it was the barrage of mental health diagnoses that come with that, right. You know, bipolar, then they thought B p D, and then it was just this ongoing effect of like, oh, you know, what medicine can we give you to fix you? And nothing ever worked.

That was the other weird thing. I was like, if this was my brain, like if I had a problem with my brain and then they’re like, this medicine is supposed to fix that, wouldn’t I have some relief? Wouldn’t this be different? And that nothing ever seemed to change it. And so then I had my daughter and. When I was 22 and she was diagnosed autistic when she was five.

And so at this point I was an OT already and so I was working with a lot of autistic children. And I could see in Sammy that, you know, that she was autistic as she was diagnosed quickly and got a lot of support. And that was actually a really positive experience for us. Um, but that’s when the light bulbs start, like pinging for me.

And I was like, hang on a minute, this might be the answer. And so it took a very long time again for me to actually explore, um, a diagnosis because I was filled with so much internalised ableism. I was like, and this is like horrible to say, but I’m going to say it because I think people might resonate.

I was like, I’m not disabled enough to be autistic. And then the funny thing was once I dug into it, I was like, Actually, Steph, you are, you struggle every day to do life stuff. It’s just on the outside. Everyone’s like, oh, you’re doing awesome. Like, you’re an OT and you’re a mum and you’re successful and you run a business and, and all this like hype that people put, emphasis on meaning like that you are worth is surrounded by your academic status or the work that you do.

And I was like, yeah, but I’m not happy. I’m like struggling. Mm-hmm. And yet everyone’s like, yay you. And it’s like, hang on a minute. Like how is that the value? Like how is that the measurement of someone’s success? It’s like you can be miserable as heck, but you are like earning money. Anyway, so I started just rethinking this completely in my head.

And I was like, no, this is, this has gotta change. And then as I became more aware of affirming practice and I went down that rabbit hole, which just absorbed me and I loved it, I realised we need to fix this at a systemic level so that children are not being traumatised by the system to have to go through this 30 year process I went through to come out the other side and be like, oh, actually you are not broken.

You’re just different. And if we can accept and adapt to that, you’re going to be great.

Adina: There’s so much relatable there, Steph. And I know every time I post around, my own story, which is, you know, our stories are different, but there’s a lot of similarity there. Mm-hmm. Just get a lot of messages from other people who are somewhere along that journey themselves.

And I know this is a big part of why you and I share what we do from our personal and our professional angles. To help other people find their place in all of this. Um, I, I just know I’m going to end up pulling out that quote that you said about your, you’re wondering, you know, but I’m not disabled enough to be autistic.

That is something, a lot of people in including me, mull over, oh, what does that mean? What does it all mean?

Steph: It’s like the disability of people like us comes from the limitations of our societal standards and the environment. And I don’t think it would change much to make us not disabled within our environments.

If there could be systemic change, and an analogy I use with parents a lot is like Mac versus PC or Android versus iPhone, right? Both are great, both can do stuff. Both can achieve the same results just in slightly different ways. But if you are running PC programming and then you try to lump a Mac app in there, it can’t work and it’s completely disabled.

It can’t do anything. But if you actually create a programming system where its functions can run, It’s going to be grouse, it’s going to be great. And that’s how I think about neurodivergence, right? It’s just different. It’s capable. It’s just different. And we need to create those programming systems to run those apps so that we can thrive.

Adina: What a great analogy. I absolutely love that. I haven’t heard it before and it just makes so much sense. There was that point you brought up earlier, which is, to the external, let’s say neurotypical world or the ableist world. Mm-hmm. It looks like the goal, and I’m saying like capital letters as The Goal is, yeah. Productivity and financial success and independence. All of those things feel like the goal that is a very capitalistic view and that is just simply not appropriate for so many people. And I wonder then, I think for me, The Goal for all humans should be Wellbeing and Connectedness and perhaps even joy. Can we ask for Joy? Yes. what do you think it is for you?

Steph: I think for me, and I’m still working towards this, but it is a sense of peace and a sense of, Acceptance of myself, which I still think I’m getting to, and finding a community where I am accepted by others.

Because I think originally when I started on this journey, in my adulthood, I thought I was a very, um, isolated kind of like by choice, like lone loner type person. But the more I’m discovering my neuro kin, I’m realising no, I actually really enjoy connection. I just really enjoy it with the people who see me and allow me to be me and make me feel like there’s nothing wrong with me.

Um, and so I think for me too, it’s about building those connections, as well as accepting myself and being able to do the things that bring me that joy that you were talking about. And luckily for me, part of my work and being in this space to advocate is one of my special interests and I do love it.

And so I’m lucky that I can, you know, have something that I love and I’m passionate about, be my, career. But at the same time, I want to make sure I always keep that balance and that it doesn’t always have to be about work or service to others. And that me, as an individual is worthy of the love and support and care that I give other people.

Adina: There’s such a beautiful goal I resonate a lot with that and I love to say the idea is to, you know, bring, joy and connection to other people. And I’d love that to be my primary goal. And then I end up finding, I get really caught up in, you know, my business goals and yes, all that productivity stuff. With quite an ableist bent, like I find it very hard to notice and to be okay with what do I need in terms of let’s say, literally hours in the week for working? Mm-hmm. And what puts me at a capacity where I can work, but also have joy and go for a walk and do those Yeah. Quiet things that I need and to be okay with doing less

Steph: that’s a big one. My goodness. It’s funny, I was actually talking to someone the other day this idea that society puts so much emphasis on productivity, but then it’s like, oh yeah, get a good job, earn good money, have good stuff.

You know, that real kind of consumerist capitalist approach. But then it’s like, Especially as a woman, I’ve found, oh no, don’t do too much because then you’re a workaholic. And then how can you possibly be a goodmum? And like, you know, oh, you’re not feminine enough now. Or you’re too and you’re masculine and it’s just like, hang on a second.

You told me I had to be this way, and then it’s like, oh, you need a holiday. Like you get all those comments, oh, you whack so much, you need a holiday. But then if you take that holiday, you flooded with that guilt of like, oh my God, I have so much work I should be doing. Even society itself and the messages that it gives are so conflicting that even when, which you know, is an unhealthy goal anyway, to want to live up to that.

But even if you did, it’s near impossible.

Adina: There’s an element of that that I think is probably relatable to anyone, like mm-hmm. I think any woman, any human, anyone listening the different conflicting pressures of, you know, other people’s expectations and society’s expectations. Yeah. And I feel like it, it feels amplified for neurodivergent people who have, especially, you know, we’ll head into masking soon.

I think for, for those of us who are, uh, super excellent at masking from the world and from ourselves, we’ve grown up trying to meet those expectations. And then we have to at some point recognise and accept in ourselves that we can’t meet those expectations to the same degree as other people, as neurotypical people.

It’s not going to be as okay for us. And that’s perhaps why we’ve struggled so much till now, quietly, internally. What are your thoughts about that and how masking has appeared in your life and the impact of what it does for people’s mental health when we do mask?

Steph: Yeah. I can vividly remember, being in, in grade six or early secondary school when I, when I had this sort of thought of like, Luke, okay, like, being me isn’t an option so there was like this, like seed that was planted.

And then I remember watching people around me a lot. I used to call it like chameleon. And then I recently read that people call it mirroring. responding the way that other people responded so that I could learn to be more kind of socially normal in my head. Um, and then created a personality that people would like, I suppose very personable and, and all that kind of stuff.

But I hid any sort of sensory need, anything for my, um, nervous system that I needed to the point where I think I very much went into my head and lost contact with my body. I, I literally was like, it wasn’t safe to feel the feel of life. And so I just got up in my head and definitely disconnected from my body and my feelings.

And for me, that ended up manifesting later in my life as a lot of physical illness and a lot of problems in my body because I just was so disconnected from it. I wasn’t listening to what my body needed to rest. I was in fight or flight and overdrive all the time. And the high cortisol affected my, uh, immune system and like, just all of the things.

And I think the hardest thing for me was that when I recognised. That I had been masking for so long and since I was so young. When someone asked me like, who are you? For a while there, I didn’t know the answer. I couldn’t even tell someone who I was organically anymore because the masking had completely stripped me of my ability to sink into my essence and my sense of self and recognise who I was.

And I think the most dangerous thing about that for me personally was that I lost autonomy. I did things because others told me to. I did things because someone else did it. I got myself in situations that I wouldn’t have if I’d been able to sit into my essence and follow what felt right for me. Um, and looking back now, you know, part of that is just so heartbreaking.

I think when I see children now, especially, you know, through my work, And in primary school starting to mask and to hide who they are. Um, for me that it’s like, it’s like the hill I’m willing to die on. You know, I, I made a post about this the other day, but like, when we do not support neurodivergence, we are traumatising children.

It’s that simple. And, that’s not okay in any way, shape or form in any world. Um, and so I think again, it’s a systemic issue. It’s a societal issue. It’s about acceptance and broadening our perspective of the human experience and what it looks like to sort of show up and be a human every day.

Um, but I think it’s gotta happen because I think too many people now are coming out and being like, yeah, me too. I went through that and they silently and lonely went through that. Um, and you know, that’s something that I want to a, help people come out of and rediscover themselves, that really true essence of who they are, but also b, a powerful force in stopping this happening for other people.

Adina: That’s such a noble goal, and it’s so important. I feel like it’s happening. The change is happening. I certainly surround myself in a beautiful echo chamber online of affirming voices and neurodivergent people who are sharing, you know, they’re more authentic selves. Mm-hmm. So it’s probably happening less in the world than what I see.

Steph: Yeah, I know what you mean.

Adina: But change is happening certainly. And I know that you’re a really big part of that. Is there anything that you want to share about some really beautiful examples of what you have seen, concrete changes in environments, in, you know, systemic changes that you are noticing happen or even supporting to be put into place for neurodivergent kids?

Steph: So some of the stuff that I’m loving at the moment is schools creating classrooms that are affirming. And I think when I notice the biggest wins is when the entire, school or classroom or environment is adapted. And any, adaptation is available for any child, not just, oh, little Johnny because he’s autistic, but it’s like, do you prefer a wobble stool?

Do you want to have a standup desk? Do you need to have a break? Do you need to lie down instead of sit up? Like whatever it is. In allowing the person to have their body in a position or in a space that feels comfortable, I think is one of the first and almost easiest key changes that we can make to environments, because I think a lot of our autistic children are neurodivergent in any way,

part of the masking process is that we put our bodies into this very kind of still and stiff box to appear neurotypical. Um, and I obviously, a lot of us, our sensory needs are very different and we need more, we need less, or we don’t quite fit to. What the world looks like right now from a sensory perspective.

And when I see schools creating spaces where there’s options and there’s autonomy over choosing and experimenting with what feels right for, for them. Like, oh, do I want to try this today? No, that didn’t quite suit me. I’m going to try this to say, oh yeah, that was good. And this freedom, this flexibility of no judgment, not singling anyone out, taking the time to allow that because it does take time for children to learn, to have sort of new and exciting things within the classroom without getting overly excited about it.

I think too, what this is doing is. It’s helping to assist with the afterschool meltdown when we have those children who mask all day and the school says, oh no, little Johnny’s fine. He’s doing so well academically. But he goes home, there’s no spoons left, he’s exhausted, and poor mom’s picking up the pieces of their child who just seems so broken.

And when I explain this to schools and say, yeah, but if you just boost those spoons across the day because you allow him to go outside, allow him to be barefoot for a while, you know, it could be anything that’s their preference. We create a more sense of harmony throughout the family, crossing over from environment to environment, which again, we know can be more challenging for our neurodivergent folk.

So for me at the moment, some schools are doing some really cool stuff. definitely more work to be done in a lot of educational environments, but I am starting to see that change and it’s. In my clients that I work with, the impact that it has is, significant and quite quick, like when you see that happening.

Adina: It’s so positive when you see these little glimmers and you think, okay, so every school can do this, right? I mean, if one has, I know a lot of it comes from the leadership and you know, from a broadening understanding and perspective of what learning should look like, but the idea of having those universal strategies that are available to all kids mm-hmm.

As you said, has so many benefits. It could help the undiagnosed kids, it could help any kid. Mm-hmm. It could certainly help little Johnny. I love, you know, little Johnny, he’s always Billy. Um, you know, it can certainly help little Johnny feel that the strategies that he needs are not so different. They’re just like, what the other kids need.

And you know, it’s available to everyone. So it’s normalising extra supports. Mm-hmm. So they don’t even become extra. They’re just supports.

Steph: I think I have to add to that too, that I think in moving away from behaviourism, within families, and within education environments, I’m really starting to feel through my work that it’s a intergenerational process.

Because like with a lot of mammals, for example, we will parent the way we were parented subconsciously. Okay. You know, with my background in farming, you know, we would find that if one of the calves was hand reared, she would then struggle a bit more to be a mum when it was her turn because she didn’t experience it from a cow.

Yeah. And I’m not saying that we as humans are the same as cows, but what I’m saying is we do have that same subconscious process where the way we were treated and the, the way in which we were nurtured and the way in which we were disciplined can be a very automatic process when we then come to have our own children or be a teacher or whatever.

And, and that’s okay. I think there needs to be a lot of empathy around that. And that, you know, if your automatic response is a behaviourist response, that is probably due to your own programming and you know, your upbringing, all that kind of stuff. But I think in moving away from that, as we’re just getting more research, we’re understanding more about the human nervous system, why we respond, what our behaviours mean, where they stem from.

We need to be educating, the parents, the grandparents, the teachers, the new teachers, but also the teachers who have years of experience, and honoring their knowledge and their experiences, but also gently saying, this is what really needs to shift now because we have to move away from, back to my point, traumatising children.

And it sounds dramatic, but it’s, it is the reality. And when we know better, we do better. And I’m sure everyone did the best that they could with the information they had at the time, but now it’s changing. And I think we just need to be open to that. And that’s how I feel. You know, I feel like I will always be learning how to be affirming.

I will or I will make mistakes even as a neurodivergent person, as a therapist, as a mother. Um, I’m so far from perfect in this space and I do make mistakes, but I think it’s that willingness to be open, to listen to people, um, and to change. And I think if anyone who is listening to this is like, Yeah.

Like, I’m good to go. Like that’s the first step in being affirming is just being open to being affirming.

Adina: Yes. And that vulnerability to say, well, I don’t know it all and I’m never going to know it all. The other day was a comment from somebody on a Facebook post, and it was a teacher saying she had over 30 years experience and she’s not going to change anymore. Thank you very much. Yes. As if she was proud of that. Mm-hmm. Which is really awkward.

Um, at, at best, yes. And just not supportive to kids. And the reality that kids change knowledge changes, information changes. We just have a whole new paradigm to understand what is going on for neurodivergent kids. And it doesn’t hurt anyone to be affirming. I mean it really is just a way of seeing people as humans with good intentions and doing their best and living in this challenging world that is very different from their own needs.

Living in that, you know, PC world with their Mac brains.

Steph: Yeah. Yeah. I dunno where I got that from. It just downloaded into my head one day when I was thinking about, I think it was cause I bought a PC laptop and I was trying to, I was plugging my iPhone into it, which I know it can do, but it just wasn’t as easy as when I was doing it with my Mac before.

And then it just dawned on me that I was like, this is like what? It’s like when you’re a divergent person, it’s like you’re up against it all the time because everyone else is running a slightly different system.

Adina: Brilliant. I will attribute it to you when I bring it up.

It’s absolutely brilliant. So yeah, I think that’s probably one of those biggest things that we’re all working towards is sharing what we do know. Mm-hmm. As we learn it, as we’re changing, as we’re developing, sharing that vulnerability of, like, I used to do that and that’s not good. And now I know that, and that’s, it’s hard, especially as a professional where you think, oh, what have I taught before?

What are the goals that I’ve had before? What have I told kids before? At least for me, my whole clinical practice has been generally affirming, even if I didn’t have the language to talk about it 10 years ago. But there’s certainly things that I would go back and change if I could.

And the discomfort we have to sit with that. We have to just grow, continue to move forward in a better way, I think.

Steph: Yeah.

Adina: I’m pretty hopeful. I love to be a bit of an optimist about this. Where do you see the future of support for neurodivergent kids? I mean, go, you know, 10 years down the line, go wherever you want.

Where could it be?

Steph: I think it would just be really cool if, you know, the higher up, so I’m talking like, go way to the top, go to our governments, go to the higher systems and then recognise that neurodivergence is simply, or just neurodiversity, should we say. So in including all neurologies is going to be inevitable, right?

And you know why it’s inevitable? Because neurodivergence also then applies to someone who has a traumatic brain injury, someone who has P T S D, some, like you can’t just even, say that this just comes down to genetics and stuff.

Right? So I think if we think about the world and we need to loosen the norms that we have. So for example, we’re beginning to realise now that there is autistic culture, so that there is also similarities the way there are with neurotypical people. There are similarities within our neuro kin of the ways in which they prefer to socialise or how they prefer to communicate.

It might be feeling less comfortable with eye contact. It might be loving a good info dump, skipping through all of that small talk, jumping straight into the juicy stuff, which is definitely a me thing

Adina: here we are today.

Steph: Yeah. Right. And it’s great. And it makes us feel good. Like we get the joy from that.

And I think it’s about, and then there’s the physical stuff, which I feel like. Could be so easily done. Like society still has their whole, ooh, you know, that person’s stemming and, and, and feeling a sense of discomfort in their nervous system about seeing something that’s unusual. And I know that is, again, is a program, but, and I don’t know if I’m ha I’m not explaining it too well because for me being neurodivergent, I just don’t really get why it’s a big deal.

Like, for me, I feel a bit like, so what? Like, you know, that person’s got a fidget, they’re shaking their leg, they’re flapping their arms, they’re running around. Like, I, I don’t get how that is offensive. But I think the more people begin unmasking and showing those sides of humanity, but also how people who are. You know, one of the ladies I interviewed is a successful lawyer. She’s just starting her bar exam and she’s an absolute legend of a person. And as she’s unmasking, she’s learning to ask for what she needs within her workplace, within the courtroom, within whatever. And the more I think people show up like that and be really open and honest about it, we can gently change the expectation.

And I honestly think it’s a case of broadening it. It’s like if you are someone who fits really comfortably into, uh, social norms as they are and neurotypical standards, that’s awesome. We don’t want you to then feel uncomfortable. We just want to be like, stretching this out so that there’s more acceptance.

And also, I would love for more people to learn about. The fact that there are different ways of engaging, communicating, all that kind of stuff. Like how cool would it be if in schools, you know, we have all this social skills training stuff. Again, no comment. Um, what if it was, what if the social skills teaching was the same as learning about history and learning about different countries and different cultures?

It’s accepting of all the differences and how we can be respectful of that. What if that’s how we taught? Social skills or social knowledge in general.

Adina: I’m thinking about teaching one religion verse teaching comparative religion where you go.

Uh, here are many different ways that things can be. But just to see that idea of this other way of being. Mm-hmm. As you know, to borrow Chloe Hayden’s excellent book title. Different, not less. Yeah. Just to accept that there are different ways of communicating and it’s not to say every single way that people communicate is fine.

There still have to be boundaries and respect for other people. But I think how we define that gets to be, needs to be more broad.

Steph: And it’s also interesting that we’ve come to a place of cultural sensitivity and respect and things like that. And again, there’s that line, isn’t it? Like any culture can’t get away with certain things that are, you know, disrespectful or whatever, but we are raised to be accepting and curious.

Now, imagine if we applied the exact same thing to neurodiversity, and this is where I know we spoke briefly the other day in messages about accepting it as a disability and how we relate to it. And for me personally, I can see that I have been disabled in, in the, in the, the meaning of the word by our world based on, um, my neurotype.

And I also see that in some capacities, particularly around my energy, I don’t have the same capacity as some other people. So perhaps you could see that as a disability. Um, I have to work harder to do certain things again. But I also feel like, someone who was from Japan who came and moved to Australia may also feel that they were kind of up against it a bit more due to a cultural difference.

And if we kind of shifted our lens of seeing neurodiversity as something that needs support, of course. So I’m not saying that we take away support for people who need support, but more see as something to celebrate something that’s exciting, that’s different that tho that those people have something that they can offer and teach to others.

Adina: There are. It’s not a perfect analogy. Like the Mac PC analogy is perfect. Yeah. But I absolutely see where you’re going. And I think then coming to that idea of joy, which you just brought up, is in many ways, I think both you and I, like you said, happen to have this special interest in talking about neurodiversity.

How lucky is that? Mm-hmm. That becomes our life, our job. Yeah. Our profession. Just our way of sharing with the world in, and it happens to be quite useful, I believe, to other people. So that’s really awesome. I wonder if you can share a bit more about, uh, kind of joy and special interest and what that is for you in your life, in and out of work capacity.

Anything that you want to share about how it was in the past or what brings you utter joy these days?

Steph: So for me, mostly it’s anything outside. I love being outside. I’m a very, I’m big sensory seeker. Um, I love being barefoot. I’m definitely most happy when we go camping and stuff like that, and I just get in nature and I don’t have phone service and I just sort of absorb myself back into that sense of being like, this speck in a massive ecosystem. I find that so liberating. I also am a reiki healer and so I, I get a lot of joy out of my own practices, my own spiritual practices, meditation, somatic type processing. I find that when I get back into my body now, after so many years of avoiding it, uh, that’s something that I just love.

But I also love a lot of things that may be considered quite childish. So I love soft toys. Um, I love collecting things like that. My daughter and I will often play with her dolls and play babies and moms and dads. And I actually genuine joy, like my inner child comes alive when I do that with her, because I did that when I was little, probably up until what society deemed was, you know, too old.

I remember getting a doll for Christmas and my cousins were bullying me because they’re like, oh my God, he’s still a dolls. And I would’ve been like 11 or 12, you know, like getting older I suppose. Um, but for me it’s just always been a thing. So now when I play with Sammy doing that, I love it. And then anything, animals.

I have had horses since I was a little girl. I have so many pets now. I just. You put an animal in front of me and I’m just like, all the joy. It doesn’t matter what it is either. I like spiders, I like bugs, I like all the weirdo ones. Writing as well. So I write poetry. Um, I started writing a book.

Ew, God knows how long that’s going to take me. But, um, yay. Yeah. So there are a lot of things. And do you know what’s interesting? When I started unmasking and I asked myself, what did you do when you were little that you loved? I realised I didn’t do those things anymore. And so since I started doing them again, It has brought so much more joy into my life that I can’t explain.

So I, one piece of advice I would have for people would be, have a think about what did you do when you were a child? Even if it seems really childish, but what did you do that brought you into that present moment where you felt so connected? And then just, just do that. Just go and see if that still brings that joy.

Because for me it really did and it has been a game changer.

Adina: That is such a beautiful reflection. And I almost want to add, especially if it feels childish, that you might know that you’re doing it right. Yes. Hundred percent. Yeah. It’s wonderful. I’m thinking about how that’s appeared in my life. What have I revisited from when I was younger?

And it just so happens that my daughter is very into drawing these days and crafting, which she’s got from Gabby’s Dollhouse, but she says it with an American accent, of course. Her crafting table,

Steph: my daughter says, um, closet instead of cupboard. Yeah.

Adina: And then you get corrected by these kids who are like that.

You’re saying it wrong. Um, no, it’s different. So she’s just really into rainbows and color and rainbow order. And I might have heightened her interest in it by joining in a lot, but I don’t think I taught her that that is the best way of putting colors. Like you should put them in chromatic order. I do deeply believe that.

I’m looking over there. I’ve got like a big whiteboard kind of cupboard closet. Yeah. And there’s a bit of a progression over the months where she pops into my office and she draws rainbows and it just brings me so much joy. And when I sit there and do rainbow drawings with her, like that is so joyful.

Yeah. My best friend and I used to just collect pens for the sake of being able to line them up in color.

Steph: I love pens. Mm. You know when you get a good one and it’s just got that flow. Yeah. Yeah. And do you know what else I love? Which I always thought was weird and I’ve only recently said speaking about I love.

Filling out forms. Like, you know when you go to the doctors and they’re like, we need an updated medical

history. I’m like, yes, I know the answers.

They’ve gotta give me a good pen. But I find I do not know what it is, but I just find so much satisfaction in like ticking the boxes and answering the questions.

Adina: That’s wonderful. Go with it. And there’s something about a sense of completion, like, I can do this. Uhhuh very, I think a lot, very confident in my ability to complete this form. Yes. There’s a lot of our, probably our work with kids, for example, where the work is never done. You know, you can never say that is complete.

Uh, and all other aspects of our life that are much more complex. So I totally get that. Something that can be finished. Yes. I, I think about loops, open and closed loops a lot and uh, that’s a loop you can close pretty easily. I love that.

Steph: It’s so good.

Adina: That’s great. And just, yeah, what a reflection to come back to what brought you joy as a kid and to try to take away Any negative value or assumption on I shouldn’t do that, or I shouldn’t need that. Mm-hmm. And just go with it and explore that. How joyful. As an ot, as a neurodivergent person, as amum, as a human, I’m sure you get many questions about how you suggest people support the neurodivergent kids. Mm-hmm. So I’d love you to use any angle or all of the above.

But I’d love to hear some of the most common questions that you get from parents and then you know, what you would generally say and just noting, of course, this is not a therapy moment, this is very general advice.

Steph: One of the biggest ones that I get is, um, what do I do now?

I get parents coming to me, they’ve got a diagnosis and they’re like, what do I do now? And the first thing that I say to them is just remember that your child is the same child that they were before the diagnosis. Just because we now know that there is a, a neurotype present or whatever, they are still exactly the same.

They’re not going to change overnight just because a doctor said that there’s something, you know. And I think that brings a little bit of relief to parents. Um, and I also like to share with parents, people, whoever that when that our research shows, and this was the focus of my study that I did. When we support parents and carers in their wellbeing, we directly increase the developmental outcomes of children.

And so I’d like to let parents know that if they run themselves ragged and burn themselves out in order to meet needs that they’ve put on themselves for their child, they’re not actually doing themselves any favors. And so self-care and compassion and reaching out for support for themselves is very, very powerful.

And that they’re not doing their child disservice by doing that. They’re actually going to increase, their sense of wellbeing as well.

Adina: That’s so important. Mm-hmm.

Steph: Yeah. I just like to remind people of that because I think a lot of the time parents come to us and they’re just so desperate for support for their child that they forget about themselves, they lose themselves.

And I do think this is a, a common parent experience, um, especially when we tie it back to what we were saying about this, uh, Productivity based, pressured world. Um, but yeah, so I usually start there. I often also get asked how does this coaching stuff work? Because a lot of my work is around parent coaching.

And again, from my research, I decided to go into supporting whole families rather than just delivering therapy directly to a child. I wanted to really take a very, um, family constellations based approach. And so, um, I often say to parents that I can see a child for one hour a week or one hour fortnight, and that’s the benefit we’ll get.

But if I work with parents, with the school, with the teacher, with other carers, we get hours upon hours. A really, really gentle shift in support for that child. Um, and especially in an affirming space where we don’t want to change that child. We don’t want to have therapy so that they can, I don’t even know what.

Not line things up anymore or whatever those old goals used to be. Um, we want to allow them to be able to advocate and experience life and be themselves. So of course we need to target our intervention at those around them. I love that analogy about, you know, if a plant’s not growing, you don’t change the plant.

You change the pot and it’s soil and it’s light and it’s water and it’s all the things, right? So, um, this is how I like to work now. I like to work with the environment, with the people influencing that child and their development. And, um, I do kind of miss a lot of the direct child contact stuff that I used to do just because of the relationships and how much I just love children.

But I also feel like this is where we’re cementing really powerful change. Um,

Adina: The impact can be so magnified when you take that, you know, changing the world approach. For any other therapists who have this perspective that they agree they want to be changing the world around the child, but they feel that they’re stuck in a system, a working system that doesn’t facilitate that maybe they’re in a clinic and kids come for 45 minutes and they have a session and for whatever reason, whether it’s parent expectations, whether it’s the way that the clinic is set up, it’s all about changing the child.

What would you suggest to help therapists get a bit more creative and let’s say bust out of that one-to-one direct support world?

Steph: And I’m not going to sugarcoat it. This is really hard. And it was really hard cause I did it. Um, And as a supervisor. So I supervise for a lot of different external supervision for a lot of different companies.

This is literally what I walk a lot of people through a lot of the time. The first thing I would say is that I understand to whichever therapist is listening, that sense of feeling confined by the expectation of a company or an employment or their vision or their whatever. But what I would say is a know that there is so much affirming research out there now, and if you can take some of that to your employer to say, actually, I really want to do this, or do some PD around it, so that you kind of backing yourself.

First step, second step, I think when you start working with a family, you know, you first meet them, their goals come in, their NDIS goals that seem to always be the same. Ask yourself and ask the family. Even just have a really general conversation about. Why has this goal been set?

Because between you, me, and the lamppost, if the answer is, oh, so that Johnny appears more normal or, or so that I feel more comfortable, eh, probably not the right goal. We need to be looking at are we working towards something that is actually beneficial to the wellbeing of that individual child. Example I use is often we get those, oh, they’re not really playing socially very much.

And I sort of go, okay, do they want to, like, is that an interest? Are they perfectly happy, lining up their trucks, parallel playing with their peers? Because then we are doing that goal because it would make us more comfortable because we want to see something that is how we think it should be. Um, so even if you are working under a system that’s got expectations, you can definitely start having those conversations with parents and even having like very affirming sub goals under those NDIS goals that are maybe working at.

You know, say it’s an emotional regulation. One, is it about allowing that child to build their interception so they understand their own experiences and can advocate, I’m feeling this, I need this. We’re not changing a behaviour, we’re not changing an experience. We’re just allowing that person to maintain, connected through their experiences.

Like, just for an example. So again, I feel like I could go on about this for ages, but being curious, I think as well, like allow yourself, to not always think you have to have all the answers. I think that gets drilled into us as well as therapists, that a family is supposed to come to us and be like, here’s the problem.

And we have to be like, great, here’s the solution. But every constellation of family, of child of experience is different. And it’s okay to sit in curiosity and ask lots of questions of those people and really get to know what’s most important to them and why. And then go from there.

Adina: That is beautiful.

That is, there’s so much important gold there and the, what you were talking about with the goals, you know, who is that goal? Going to help? Just brought me back to one of my slides when I teach about affirming goal setting. It’s exactly what you’re saying. It just says, what does the child want in really big writing?

Like takes up the whole slide. Mm-hmm. It’s so important that that becomes the heart of any of the work we’re doing, any of the support we’re doing. So I think it’s such a wonderful reflection that there’s still a lot of wiggle room and creativity probably within the, let’s say the four clinic walls. If there are indeed four clinic walls and maybe then the therapists of the future or the current therapists with more knowledge and support might also get more confident to advocate for what an affirming approach to therapy looks like in that whole clinic, sometimes educating the business owner. Yeah. Sometimes making change from the bottom up can be scary. Absolutely. Sometimes busting out and doing your own thing and going solo. There’s a lot of support to do that too. Yeah,

Steph: I was thinking too recently, um, I’d love to do some of the stuff that you are doing Adina, which is like going into workplaces and doing workshops where you are educating people around how they can do that.

Because again, once we know better, we do better, but if we don’t, you know, we don’t know what we don’t know,

Adina: so. Yeah, there’s a lot of scope for making change in that way. the way that you were talking about working, not just working one-on-one with the kid, but working with, I love that phrase, the family constellation and the teachers and the whole support network around the child.

Um, yeah, and I see at the moment where my impact mainly lies is sharing messages out into the world, whether it’s through the podcast, through our Instagram, through your YouTube, you know, there’s so much impact that I think we can have there. And the only challenge you were talking about missing that one-on-one work with the kids, if you’re not doing so much of that is you don’t get as much feedback, I think about what the impact is.

But I know I’ve been getting a lot of messages and comments from people and so anyone who’s listening, please feel free to review, send us messages, tell us what has hit home for you, because otherwise Steph and I are just here chatting with each other, which is beautiful. But it’s really lovely to hear what’s landing for other people.

Steph: Absolutely agree.

Adina: Is there anything that you wanted to share about, you touched on this before, but parents and professionals, but especially parents needing to look after themselves. Mm-hmm. Before, during, and while they are supporting neurodivergent kids. Mm-hmm. Do you have any practical ideas?

What do you suggest that people can do to actually put that looking after themselves into action?

Steph: So, I would say, uh, one of the first really practical things that I really enjoy doing, and it amazes me every time I do it, is to do a body scan. And so I just take however long it takes. It can be a 30 second exercise, it can be a 10 minute exercise.

But just take a minute to take a deep breath and sit with your eyes closed and scan the body to see what it is feeling like. What are you feeling in your feet, in your ankles and your knees? Scan your way up or down, whichever feels right for you. What I find amazing is a lot of the time, like even now, I just did it.

I’m sitting in a position that is uncomfortable for my body and I was not aware because I wasn’t focusing in on my body and giving it the attention that it needs. You may find that thirsty, I’m hungry, but we ignore the body because we get in our heads and we get in our role of needing to be responsible and caring for others.

And this vessel that’s carrying us through, we kind of neglect it a little bit. It’s like, is my check engine light on? so that would be the first thing, and if you do that a few times a day, you may have found that it helps you very simply increase your fluid intake, if that’s what you need, stretch your body if that’s what it needs, you know, just those really gentle things.

Um, so that’s something that I would just say. I mean, anybody just do that if you can. But the other thing is I would say to the parents, Do what I suggested before about finding that thing that brings you joy. Is there something that you don’t do anymore because you feel like you don’t have the time or you don’t have, you know, the, whatever it is?

Um, see if you can connect into that and know that it’s okay to ask for help. I’m a true believer that we were not designed to parent and raise young children alone. Um, and I know it’s not always possible and that people have different connections and different family situations, but I’m such a big believer that as, as a mother or a father or a parent, you do not have to do this on your own.

And if you need a break and you need a day off, that is like not only okay, but like expected and completely necessary. and I know that involves shifting probably some internal beliefs around, you know, your role. Um, but just even beginning to challenge, challenge that, um, and journaling. I could go on all day, but, and people say, oh, what do I write about?

Doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. Pick up a pencil and start just writing words or like what you did on the weekend or whatever. And sometimes you’ll find things really come out and you might be like, oh, there’s a theme here. Maybe I need to do more of that, or that or what. It’s so powerful. Um, so there’s just a few things, and I know they don’t sound that connected to this whole thing, but I think they can be really powerful.

Adina: I’m so glad you brought up. Uh, well, all of the above. And I’m listening here as like a person, a grownup, who could certainly do more looking after myself. And I think one of the, not the missing pieces, but the challenging bits for me is remembering that I deserve to be looked after and I deserve to take the time for myself.

And that’s something I’ll tell anyone else. Yes, you deserve it and you deserve it, but it’s a bit harder to tell ourselves that. But I hope that we can all get a bit better at that. And journaling, I literally started this morning. Oh good. How exciting. I did have a diary, actually, now that you mentioned it.

I had a diary when I was 10 and I think I used to write at the top of each page who my crush was that day, who was like the one boy that I was into that day. And it did vary. Nice crushes a day, very consistent. It was a little ADHD moment. Um, but I abandoned that and I abandoned that kind of reflection.

And I also wish I could find those diaries. I would love to and I. I had to think about, well you know, I hear journaling is a good idea and I know for me I had to think about what works for me. Mm-hmm. I do love paper, I do love pens, but I’m very inconsistent about that and I haven’t yet managed to pick up a, you know, notebook and just free write.

So I realised that having a few specific prompts would work for me. Yeah. Mm-hmm. And I have landed on an app. This is not an endorsement cause I’ve literally used it once. But I distracted myself by looking at all the different apps. I had to be able to customise the prompts

grid diary is what it’s called. So if somebody else is listening and they’re going, I think I should journal cause someone said I should, and Steph said It’s a good idea. Um, and you sound like me, where you want prompts to guide you through your thinking. Go to Grid Diary. You can even upload photos. I get no kickbacks from them and ask me, by the time this episode airs, if I’m still using it, we’ll find it.

Love it. But it’s just really, it’s gotta be individualised, right? It starts with knowing yourself and what you need, what works for you, what worked for you in the past. I’m thinking I’m even going to add a category that’s been my crush today. Cute.

Steph: Oh my God, that’s so good. I think mine would have to be, um, Jamie Fraser from Outlander.

Oh, I do

Adina: not know Outlander, but I will go with JVN from Queer Eye. I got a hug from JVN in Perth last year and it was one of the most beautiful days of my life. Love that. My dad was the one who encouraged me to go up and say hi. So thank you, dad.

Steph: That’s beautiful.

Adina: What a moment. That’s my crush of the day.

Steph, is there anything else that you would love to share, either for parents or professionals who support Neurodivergent children or even to younger you as a piece of advice that, you know, neurodivergent kids could potentially take on?

What, what’s hanging over that that we haven’t touched on or you really want to

Steph: reiterate? I think the advice that I would give to everyone, including my younger self at this point in my journey, is I, I’m hearing a lot of people say, you know, what am I doing? What am I doing? It’s like we get caught up in the rat race and the grind of the daily.

And the, the purpose or the meaning or the joy of living and how we spend our time is, is sort of being a bit lost. And I’m hearing that across the board. And what I would say is find a thing that makes you feel alive, whatever that is. And don’t let anyone limit you or tell you what that needs to be or what it should be based on your age or your anything.

And then do that thing. Um, because I think right now this world needs people who are connected to themselves and have a sense of authenticity and, um, rather than trying to just be a piece of a puzzle to fit in with some collective, I think it’s about, Getting back to who we are. And I honestly think this is part of this neurodiversity affirming movement, is allowing people to have a sense of self that is unique and different and doesn’t have to fit any mold or any shape.

And there will be a thing, and it may take some time to discover, but there will be a thing that makes you feel alive. And for me, I know I’ve found something that’s that for me when I feel present and time seems to just slip by and I’m not worrying about anything else, I’m right there in the moment. And while we have all our responsibilities of the daily grind, if you can make time for that and make that a powerful part of your life, I think that can really change people’s experiences as a human being on the planet at this time.

Um, so yeah, the world needs more people who have found their meaning and that can be found anywhere in what lights you up. Is my advice.

Adina: Mm-hmm. And love that extra piece and do it. Don’t just find it, but do it. Nice. Do the thing.

Steph: Make time for it.

Adina: What a reflection. Steph, this has been an absolute delight and I know we could, we could chat all day.

I do. Mm-hmm. So I fully intend for us to do this further. It’s just been absolutely lovely to chat and connect with you and share just ideas, thoughts. We’re very aligned. I knew it. I’m not Yes. Surprised. It’s beautiful. And you’ve just shared some amazing, important, practical ideas that people can do. So thank you.

Thank you.

Steph: Thank Oh, you’re so welcome. Thank you for holding space for me. It’s been beautiful.

Adina: See you soon!

Bye.

I hope that chat has sparked something for you. I know we’ve talked a lot about self care and supporting those grown up humans like yourself who are supporting neurodivergent children. I, for one, have had some really great insights from my chat with Steph, If you’d like to hear more from Steph, you’re welcome to find her @sgroccupationaltherapy on Instagram, and I popped all her links in the show notes for you.

If all of this has sparked some excitement for you to learn more about neurodiversity affirming practice, and you’re an allied health professional or an education professional, you are so welcome to join me for an upcoming free webinar: Neurodiversity Affirming Practice Kickstart: Three Actionable Tips to do Today. Even if you’re well on your journey to neurodiversity affirming practice, I would really recommend that you come and join us. We all know that this is a long journey and it can be really useful to have a little bit of a reminder of some quick actions that we can do, either to get started or to continue along on this journey of neurodiversity affirming practice.

I’m all about action, so this is what I’ll be sharing in the webinar. It’s happening live online on Monday, the 5th of June, 2023, and if you’re listening anytime after the live date, you’ll still be able to access the recording . That is totally fine. You can register at playlearnchat.com/ free-webinar. That’s playlearnchat.com/ free-webinar and I’ll pop the link in the show notes for you to have easy access to come and join us.

Thank you so much for sharing this audio space and time with me, and thank you for being open to learning and unlearning and truly listening to the neurodivergent experience and perspective. If you found this episode helpful, please share it with a friend and join me on Instagram and Facebook. I’m @play.learn.chat

that’s Play.Learn.Chat, you’ll find all the links that we discussed in the show notes. Have a spectacular day.

 

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