Dr. Karen Wilson on How (and When) to Tell Kids About Their Diagnosis
One of the topics that comes up a lot in the Tilt community is how, and when (and if), we should tell kids about their labels and diagnoses. So I invited clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Karen Wilson back to the show to get her thoughts on how parents can thoughtfully navigate this process.
I know many parents are concerned that their child’s self-esteem might be negatively impacted by a label, or that other adults, including teachers, may treat a child differently if they know about a diagnosis, especially because of the stigma associated with neurodifferences. So this is what Karen and I get into — demystifying the process of disclosure to our kids and offering suggestions for approaching these important conversations.
In our conversation, Karen breaks down the kind of language we can use when talking with kids about their diagnosis, as well as how that conversation will likely continue to evolve as our kids get older. We also talked about how to navigate this process with a child or teen who is resistant to labels, why it’s critical that we have all of these conversations from a foundation of prioritizing and recognizing strength, and how to have this conversation in a household with neurotypical siblings.
About Dr. Karen Wilson
Dr. Wilson is a clinical neuropsychologist and the owner of West LA Neuropsychology, PC. Clinical neuropsychology is a specialized discipline of psychology that examines the relationship between brain systems and behavior. Over the last seventeen years, Dr. Wilson’s work has focused on the assessment of neurodevelopmental disorders in children and adolescents, but she also has a great deal of experience evaluating adults. Dr. Wilson began her private practice work when she joined Lorie Humphrey and Associates in 2003. Between 2004 and 2006, she was also a Clinical Psychology Supervisor at the HELP Group in Sherman Oaks, California. In 2010, Dr. Wilson formed her own independent practice.
Dr. Wilson completed her postdoctoral fellowship training in Neuropsychology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Neuropsychiatric Institute and Hospital. She completed an APA-accredited predoctoral internship at the University of Florida Health Science Center and received practicum training at the Medical Psychology Clinic at Johns Hopkins University.
Dr. Wilson is the former Graduate Coordinator and Department Chair of the Psychology Department at California State University, Dominguez Hills. She is currently an Assistant Clinical Professor (Voluntary) in the Medical Psychology Assessment Center (MPAC), Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Behavior, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. At UCLA, she supervises cases involving the neuropsychological assessment of children and adults who present with cognitive, learning, and social-emotional difficulties.
Dr. Wilson’s research has included the examination of psychosocial functioning in children with learning disorders and/or AD/HD and psychological functioning in college students with AD/HD. She has received funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. She was also given a certificate of recognition by the California Legislature Assembly for her dedication and commitment to students and the community.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- What a diagnosis actually is and what it can mean to a family
- How to balance communication surrounding your child’s areas of strengths and weaknesses so the emphasis is not on challenges
- What types of language to use when talking with your kids about their diagnoses, and how to evolve this language as kids get older
- How to navigate talking with children and teens about their neurodifferences if they’re resistant to being labeled or “otherized”
- Best practices for talking about diagnoses in households with neurotypical siblings
- How to give kids the tools and empowerment they need to ultimately feel confident navigating situations where they might be udged by their diagnosis and related stigma
Resources mentioned for telling kids about their diagnosis
- Diverse Thinking, Different Learning (Karen’s podcast)
- Dr. Karen Wilson on How to Know if Your Child is Ready for the Transition to Elementary School (Tilt Parenting podcast)
- RESOURCES FOR EXPLAINING NEURODIVERGENCE TO CHILDREN (from Dr. Liz Angoff)
- Resources Supporting Parents in Sharing Diagnoses with Children (incomplete list of resources curated by Tilt)
Want to go deeper?
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Debbie Reber 00:00
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Karen Wilson 00:24
I think that’s usually one of the things that keeps parents from sharing that information with their kids is that many parents are afraid that when you’re labeling a child, that that child will be less willing to try that will become a self fulfilling prophecy. They’ll say, Well, I can’t do that because I have ADHD or you know, I can’t read because I have dyslexia. But in fact, the opposite is true that giving your child and understanding of the nature of their struggles often provides relief, and I’ve seen it in my practice and motivates that child to persist when things get tough.
Debbie Reber 01:00
Welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber and I have a great episode for you today. One of the topics that comes up a lot in the Tilt Parenting community is how and when and if to talk to kids about their labels and diagnoses. So I invited clinical neuropsychologist, Dr. Karen Wilson, back to the show, to get her thoughts on how parents can thoughtfully navigate this process with their kids. I know that there are concerns among many families that their child’s self esteem can be negatively impacted by a label, or that other people including teachers may treat a child differently if they know they have one or more diagnoses, especially because of the stigma associated with neuro differences. So this is what Karen and I get into demystifying the process and offering suggestions for approaching these important conversations. So in this episode, Karen breaks down the kind of language we can use when talking with kids about their diagnoses, as well as how that conversation will likely continue to evolve as our kids get older. We also talked about how to navigate this process with a child or teen who is resistant to labels, why it’s critical that we have all of these conversations from a foundation of prioritizing and recognizing strengths, and how to have this conversation in a household with neurotypical siblings. As you’ll hear, I’m a big fan of Karen’s work and an avid listener of her Diverse Thinking – Different Learning podcast. But if you are unfamiliar with Karen, here’s a little bit more about her. In addition to hosting her podcast Dr. Karen Wilson is the director of West LA Neuropsychology and the founder of child nexus.com. She specializes in the assessment of neurodevelopmental disorders in children and adolescents. And she has extensive experience evaluating children and adults who present with neurological medical and psychiatric disorders. Oh, one more thing about this episode, you’ll hear me mention that I’m compiling a list of books and resources that can support parents in talking with their kids about their neuro differences, as well as resources for kids themselves to explore. So to grab the PDF that I’ve put together, visit the show notes page at tilt parenting.com/session 320. Before I get to the episode, there’s a new way to engage with me in the podcast this season. Tilt Parenting is partnering with a new app called fable to host a special till parenting pod club. What’s a pod club? It’s like a book club, but for podcasts. Together, we can go deeper on every single episode and share highlights, comments, questions, related resources and more. Oh, and it is completely free to join my new pod club and the discussion surrounding my conversation with Karen and sharing diagnostic info with our kids. Just download the fable app on your phone or device and search for tilde parenting, or go to tilde parenting.com/fable For a direct link. I hope to see you there. And now here is my conversation with Karen.
Debbie Reber 04:15
Hey, Karen, welcome back to the podcast.
Karen Wilson 04:18
Hi Debbie, I’m so glad to be back and talking with you again.
Debbie Reber 04:22
Yes, I’m excited. As we said before we started recording I was just mentioning, I’ve been wanting to have you back on the show. I’m a really big fan of your podcasts. And listeners, make sure you check out Karen’s podcast as well. And I’ll have links in the show notes page for that. But before we get into our topic today, which I’m very excited to do a deep dive with you, could you just introduce yourself, tell us what you do in the world. Tell us about your show and your business and how you move through the world.
Karen Wilson 04:51
Absolutely. So I am first and foremost a wife and a mom of an eight year old and a 10 year old which keeps me on my toes and By work, I’m a pediatric neuropsychologist. I’ve been doing evaluations of kids who struggle with learning, with processing, with social emotional challenges for 17 years. So I’ve literally done hundreds of evaluations on kids and really help parents and, and kids understand why kids are struggling, and then connect them with resources, support systems, providers who can help them thrive. And so that’s what I do in the work that I do. And probably over the last three years, I’ve wanted to have a bigger impact, because I feel like so many parents, and kids suffer in silence and don’t know what they don’t know. And I had so many parents coming into my office and saying, Wow, I just wish I had known this before my kids in fourth grade, I wish I had brought them when they were in first grade, I just didn’t know. And everybody said that he was fine, or he grew out of it, or She’s just a girl. And I just thought, if I can help more people get the support they need sooner and better understand, you know, neurodiverse, profiles and learning challenges and how we can help them. That’s what I want to do. So that’s when the podcast was born. And a lot of that was inspired by your work, Debbie, and providing that outreach and support to parents.
Debbie Reber 06:18
That’s awesome. Well, it is a great show. And also just to remind listeners, you were first on my show, I don’t know maybe three years ago now, we talked about kindergarten in school readiness. And that was such a great conversation, because that’s a question so many parents have to kind of grapple with, when is my child ready? And what do we need to set them up for success in school. So again, listeners, go back and listen to that episode. But for today, I wanted to address a topic that comes up a lot in my tilt parenting community, a lot of conversation in the Facebook group about this. And that is how, and when to talk to kids about their diagnoses. This has come up obviously a lot on the show with certain guests. I think I addressed it in a solo cast a few years ago, but I just wanted to go deeper into this topic, so that parents feel more confident, because there are a lot of different thoughts about how to navigate this. And so maybe just so we’re kind of all on the same page. As we enter this conversation. I’d love to even know how you define a diagnosis. In other words, how would you describe what a diagnosis is or what it can mean to a family?
Karen Wilson 07:28
Right. And so a diagnosis is when the struggles that a child is experiencing, or the behaviors that they’re exhibiting are significant enough to interfere with their functioning either at school or at home, in with their social interactions. And depending on what the diagnosis is, they have to have a certain amount of symptoms, they have to persist in, oftentimes two or more environments. And it really has to negatively impact functioning, their ability to access their curriculum at school, their ability to make friends, keep friends, their ability to demonstrate what it is that they know. And so that is when you get a diagnosis like ADHD, or dyslexia, or dysgraphia, or autism spectrum disorder. So that’s a diagnosis. I think people are afraid of labels. I think that’s usually one of the things that keeps parents from sharing that information with their kids is that many parents are afraid that when you’re labeling a child, that that child will be less willing to try that it’ll become a self fulfilling prophecy, they’ll, they’ll say, Well, I can’t do that, because I have ADHD, or you know, I can’t read because I have dyslexia. But in fact, the opposite is true that giving your child and understanding of the nature of their struggles, often provides relief, and I’ve seen it in my practice, and motivates that child to persist when things get tough.
Debbie Reber 08:50
I’m glad you brought that up. That was one of my questions. And something that actually comes up quite a lot is I’m concerned, my child is going to use this information as a crutch and an excuse. So just to reiterate that something you can say is not what you’ve experienced at all, and really isn’t the case?
Karen Wilson 09:09
No, it’s not. And I think it varies. I think your question was, when do you disclose the diagnosis, and how do you disclose it? And that will differ depending on the child’s struggles. It’ll differ depending on the child’s age, the family culture, the family environment, there are a number of factors to consider. And the child’s approach and personality is just a child who’s going to go to school and tell everybody, hey, I have ADHD, and that’s why I’m doing this. And maybe they’re not old enough to accept that diagnosis. And maybe you don’t tell them it’s ADHD. Maybe you say, You know what, you’re having a lot of trouble with attention and focus. That’s an area of struggle for you. But you’re really good at these other things that we just want you to get some help in that area. And that’s where the relief comes in, because there’s some validation in that or kids will say okay, it’s not that I’m not working hard enough. It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s that my brain works differently. And this particular thing is harder for me are these particular areas are harder for me. But when you’re sharing that information, you simultaneously have to share what their strengths are, what their talents are, because kids are not their weaknesses. There’s so much more. I’m sharing both sides when we’re sharing that information with kids.
Debbie Reber 10:25
Yeah, I’m so glad you brought that up. I just wrote the word strengths based. And I’d love to talk a little bit more about that. And how critical that is, even in terms of the way we set up the culture in our families, and the way that we talk regularly about the way we all do things. You know, can you talk a little bit more about that strengths piece? And if there is a, maybe a ratio? I’ve heard some people say, for every so many negative comments, you need this many positive comments or strength based references to kind of balance things out. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Karen Wilson 10:59
Yeah, I’d love to. And I probably don’t adhere to a strict ratio, because then you have people like keeping tabs. And I think that can be distracting. But I think that it’s easier to see the weaknesses sometimes, because you see the struggle, and we have an emotional response to a child struggling, you know, when the child is at home, and they’re really struggling through the homework, or empathetic and we feel for that child, and it’s easy to kind of focus on, wow, my child is really struggling with reading, he can’t read. And then we get so focused on the weakness that we don’t see that your child is exceptional at math or just a great human being, and is well liked by their peers, and is such a great steward, and a social justice advocate, you have to be able to see both sides, and not all of their strengths are going to be academic. And we have to kind of shift our way of thinking to say, maybe a lot of aspects of school are hard for my child, but they have strengths that are non academic, that are equally important. And we need to pay attention to those in the same way we pay attention and give support for the areas of weakness. So we have to give children adolescents an opportunity to take a deep dive into their areas of interest in their areas of strengths, but also provide support for the weaknesses at the same time.
Debbie Reber 12:22
Yeah, what I’m hearing from what you’re sharing is how important it is, then before maybe we even have these conversations, for us as parents to get really grounded and to kind of take the time I talk about this a lot how important it is to get a better understanding of our own implicit biases that we may have or our own ideas we might have. Because I think it would be really hard to talk to our kids about what’s going on with them. If we haven’t taken the time, as you said, to reflect on what are the strengths this child has? And how can I shape this conversation, right.
Karen Wilson 12:59
And I think it’s understanding a child’s strengths. And we know that children can use their strengths to compensate for areas of weakness. So that is important as well. We have kids who have really poor auditory attention because of ADHD, but they’ve got an exceptional visual memory. We want to be able to use that strength to help them compensate for their area of weakness in the classroom when they’re doing assignments. So that’s important as well, but also to help them to feel good about the things that they are good at, and they are interested in, as well. But I think one of the things that alludes to your point about parents is that parents have to fight through the stigma of having a child who struggles with learning. And that stigma often keeps parents from sharing information about their child’s struggles, about their child’s diagnosis, it’s really a fear of how people will respond. And parents have to work through that on their own. That’s not their child’s issue. That’s the parents issue dealing with the stigma. And part of dealing with stigma is understanding about your child’s learning profile. What does it mean to have dyslexia? What does it mean to have ADHD and really educating yourself so that you can understand you can share the information as appropriate. And then you can also advocate for your child in a way that you wouldn’t if you didn’t have the information about neurodiversity, about ADHD, about dyslexia, whatever that might be. I think there was a survey that came out that showed that half of the general public believes that learning disabilities are really just laziness. And so imagine fighting that perception and having that own self perception about what it could be. Parents will often say, Well, you know, I had the same struggles, but I just worked through it. But not everybody is different in their ability to persist. And now we have a lot of tools that we can use to help students and so why wouldn’t we want to do that, right?
Debbie Reber 15:01
Yeah. First of all, that statistic, that study that you mentioned is really disturbing. I mean, not surprising. But to know that there’s so much misunderstanding about learning disabilities is disheartening. And I really appreciate what you said about stigma. Because I think that is a big concern that we as parents have that our kids are going to experience stigma. And we don’t want our kids to feel like they are being pre judged that they’re going to kind of internalize all of these negative beliefs about something. So what you’re saying is, before we can have that conversation, we need to address our own stigma that we may subscribe to. And the first part of that is learning is doing that education.
Karen Wilson 15:45
Right. And understanding that your child is not broken, your child’s brain is wired differently. And they process information in a different way, which means they have to be taught in a different way, they need to be supported in a different way. They need to be given instructions in a different way. But you can’t hide the fact that your child is struggling from your child, because they know so many parents will say I don’t want my child to know that he has a learning disability. But then that means that your child is struggling and not knowing why which creates more anxiety. And that child will internalize Well, if there isn’t a reason for me struggling, then it must be that I’m not working hard enough. It must be that I’m not smart. And we don’t want to send that message to a child. And so it’s better for them to understand. And like I said, when kids understand their learning profile, understand the way that they think, the way they process information, the way they connect with the world and understand the world. There is relief in that, because then they can fight all of the misconceptions. It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s not that I’m not smart. It’s not that I’m not trying. Right. It’s the fact that my brain is wired differently. And there’s power in that, then they can better self advocate for themselves. When they get older, they can understand why they’re struggling, and actually it motivates them to work hard, you know, then that a lot of that motivation to work hard comes out of Carol Dweck research on the growth mindset. But you have to understand that effort is going to change the way you process information. And why would you try? If you feel that it’s your own laziness, right? You would only try if you realize that your brain is wired differently. And by working through your struggles, you’re actually changing your brain.
Debbie Reber 17:32
So this idea that a child’s self esteem might really suffer by knowing that they have a learning difference. Really, what you’re saying is that their self esteem is more at risk if they don’t know what’s going on with them.
Karen Wilson 17:48
Right? Because then they’re left to figure it out on their own, and to kind of believe what other people might believe about them. Right. And it’s so important for parents to realize that children know when they’re struggling, they know they know it, because when other kids are reading out loud, they know that they’re reading differently. When it’s time to read aloud, they know that when the teacher puts their journal entries on the bulletin board, and they’ve written two lines of text, and everybody else has written four paragraphs, that something is different about the way that they’re doing the work when they are sitting in the classroom. And the teacher is giving instructions and everybody opens their books right away. And they’re scrambling around trying to figure out what did the teacher say, What am I supposed to be doing, and they’re looking to their peers for guidance that something is amiss. And so they know, but they don’t understand why. And that understanding of why can be very empowering for a child. For an adolescent, it’s empowering for adults, I’ve had a number of parents say, you know, I was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. And that changed my life, I had that conversation with an adult last week. And so it’s going to do the same. And of course, it has to be delivered in a way that kids can understand it’s appropriate for that particular child, because all six year olds will not take in information in the same way. So you have to kind of know your child to know when it’s appropriate, how it’s appropriate, and what information to share and when.
Debbie Reber 19:12
As you’re talking, I’m also thinking about masking. We’ve talked a lot about that on the show and the harm that can come from that. And I would think that that’s just another piece of this, that even being aware of autism and that a lot of autistic people do mask and realizing oh, that’s what I’ve been doing. So a child or a teen and adolescent can at least know what they’re doing and feel that they have a choice to decide, do I want to do this in this environment? Would it be really important?
Karen Wilson 19:43
Absolutely. And that is empowering. And they may choose to share with a close friend that they have autism. Sometimes I’ll say things that are inappropriate, but I really don’t mean to and then describe what that is like for them as a person who is autistic. And so that can also be empowering, and a relief, because then you can share that information, someone else can understand your experience, and connect with you with a better understanding of your intention behind what it is that you’re saying and doing.
Debbie Reber 20:15
So you’ve talked about the importance of this conversation, being really specific to who your kid is, and how they understand things and how they’re going to incorporate this new information and all of those things. But I wonder if there are some general guidance points on the language? Is it important to use the actual labels? Is it important to mention the diagnostic terms? Is it enough to say neurodivergent? Again, does that depend on the child? Does it depend on the age?
Karen Wilson 20:45
It really does? It depends on all of those things. And you know, sometimes kids will know and they’ll say, Do I have ADHD? At that point? A parent doesn’t want to say, hide it or lie. If it’s true, right? You want to answer the question, with honesty, but then you don’t just say yes, you say, and this is what ADHD is, because there can be misconceptions from the child’s perspective on what that is, and may not understand that it manifests in different ways that it’s not that you can’t pay attention. It’s just harder for you to pay attention, particularly when things are not interesting to you. And that can be a lightbulb moment. And you know what, when kids have ADHD, it’s not just attention, it’s harder to plan, it’s harder to organize, it’s harder, you’re more forgetful. And not because you don’t care. It’s because you’re trying to hold too many things in your head, and there’s not enough room for them. And so some things get forgotten. And again, that can be another relief, because now it’s like, oh, that’s why I do that. And then you’re also giving tools. So here are some things that we’re going to do that will help. And then so it’s not just oh, you have this struggle. That’s just the way things are. But you’re saying we’re going to work on this. And here’s some strategies, and here are some people who are going to be part of your team. And here’s some things we’re going to be doing differently in the home that are going to make it easier for you. And that is also helpful to kids, because then they realize that support is on the way. And they’re not going to have to continue to struggle to the extent that they were struggling before.
Debbie Reber 22:18
Yeah, support is on the way. I love that. In terms of the actual disclosing, I’m sure that I shared at some point that we used to have big conversations over frozen yogurt, like forgotten frozen yogurt. And also let me tell you this information I have about you. I don’t know that I would approach things the same way now. And now I think my thinking is just an ongoing conversation. It’s not one big talk. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Karen Wilson 22:43
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s an ongoing conversation, because there will be different challenges that they’ll face. And oftentimes, the best time to have that first conversation is after the child has gone through a battery of tests, they know that there was a reason they went through a psycho educational evaluation and neuro psych assessment. And they spent those hours doing those tests, that is the perfect time to share the information with them. They want to know why you do this? And what did they find out? And they’re probably wondering, so why wouldn’t you share that information with them about what it is that they found, that’s the perfect time to say, you know, you went in you did all of these activities with Dr. so and so. And we found out some really great things about the way that you learn and the way that you think, and you share their strengths. These are the things that you’re really great at, you know what we found out that you’re really good at problem solving, you’re really great at remembering information. You’re a really great friend, and you care about things very deeply. And we also found that there are things that are harder for you. And one of the things that it’s harder for you is to pay attention. Or it’s harder for you to really understand when you’re reading, you read beautifully. You read quickly. But after you’re done, you really don’t understand what it is that you just read. And so by saying those things, I haven’t given a diagnosis of dyslexia. I haven’t given a diagnosis of ADHD. But you’re talking about what that looks like. And what that does is it validates the child’s experience like that is exactly what’s happening to me at school. It’s not that I don’t care about what the teacher is saying, I keep forgetting or I get distracted. And that sharing of that information that demystification that child feedback, can be very validating for that child who is having that struggle. And what we found is that it’s not that you’re not smart, you’re actually very smart. But this is harder for you. And it’s harder for you because your brain is wired differently. You think differently. And that’s not only true for you, it’s true for a lot of kids. And you know, for you reading is hard, but math is easy. For other kids math is hard, and reading is easy for you. Remembering information is a piece of cake, but paying attention is harder. And for some kids paying attention is really easy, but they Forget everything. And so you’re normalizing the experience of having strengths and weaknesses. And then you also want to provide some information about what the support will look like, what are we going to do about this now that we know, because we don’t want to leave that hanging. And, and so the parents to say, we’ve got some great strategies, we’re going to talk to your teacher about where you sit in the classroom, we’re going to talk about the homework load, there’s no reason you should be doing three hours of homework when your teacher said, You should only be spending 40 minutes on homework. So we’re going to work with her on that. So this, again, provides that relief that I was talking about to kids. So they understand their strengths, they understand their weaknesses, and they understand again, that support is on the way. And this is what the support will look like. And I’m here to help you if you have any questions, and you may have to revisit it, and you shouldn’t be revisiting it over and over again, you might notice something, and you want the child to be collaborative, and to continue to share information with you on what’s working and what’s not working. So you say you know, I want you on board, we’re going to try this, I need you to tell me if this helps, because if it doesn’t help, then we’re going to try something else.
Debbie Reber 26:12
Everything you just shared, I would love to just see a child on the receiving end of that, because it’s so positive. And it’s so optimistic, and it does normalize that we’re all different. And we all have our strengths. We all have our weaknesses, and I love that it kind of front loads this idea of we’re gonna figure these things out, we’re gonna figure out the support that you need.
Debbie Reber 26:35
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Debbie Reber 27:17
You talked about connecting that initial conversation with this recent diagnostic assessment or process that a child has gone through, which I think makes total sense. In fact, maybe even before the assessment, say we’re going to learn more about your brain, we’re so curious, we can’t wait to see we find out going back to that question of when or the age of a child, the way I’m interpreting what you just shared is, whatever age this is happening, and you just kind of adjust the language based on where they are?
Karen Wilson 27:47
Absolutely. Especially if a child is already thinking, I’ve had 12 year old girls who come in and already thinking, I think I have autism. And they’ve gone to their parents and said I want to be evaluated because I think I have autism. If that question is already there, you want to answer that question for that child, because it’s already there.
Debbie Reber 28:05
Yeah. And now that you’ve mentioned that I was just having a conversation with some colleagues yesterday about how this generation of kids, we were talking about gender identity, there’s so much access to information about neuro divergence and identity in general, it wouldn’t surprise me that young people would be coming to their parents and say, do I have this, I think I might have this because they are reading about it and seeing things and maybe connecting dots on their own from a pretty early age.
Karen Wilson 28:37
Absolutely. And when they know, it decreases the isolation for that child, because it’s not just me, I’m not the only one doing this, experiencing this struggling in this way. There are other people like me, you also see that there are other people who can overcome and we’re overcoming those struggles, are compensating for areas of difficulty, and embracing the uniqueness of who they are. And that can be again, empowering for students, particularly the older ones.
Debbie Reber 29:09
Yeah, I’m glad you brought up the older ones I wanted to ask about older kids. Another thing I often hear is that they may be more resistant to labels. I mean, especially we know that the adolescent brain is really wired to want to fit in and to not stand out. And there may be kids who reject or resist this idea that there’s something different about them. There may be in more extreme cases, kids who are self loathing and really hate this aspect of themselves. If there are parents listening, who have older kids who are in that I don’t want anything to do with this. This isn’t me. How would you advise them to navigate that with their child?
Karen Wilson 29:48
I think you’d probably get a heads up beforehand that this is already something that they’re thinking about. So you kind of know, that’s why it’s so important to know your child and then know what to share. And I think it’s important to share that if you are sharing a diagnosis with an older child, that you let that child know, this doesn’t change who you are, this doesn’t change who you are. And this is a label that, you know, this body of medical professionals use. But really, we’re going to take away that these are areas specifically that are struggles for you. And that’s what we’re going to focus on getting his support in these areas. But I think emphasizing that this does not change who you are, it just helps us better understand why you’re struggling. And you give examples of those struggles. And you say, remember, when you said that you were always the last person to finish a test, or you’re always missing the other side of the paper, when you’re doing a quiz in the classroom, we want to make sure that that happens less for you. Because we want to make sure that teacher knows that you’re capable, and you knew the answers, but that you forgot to look at the other side of the paper. And that you need more time to finish your work because you’re more thoughtful in your approach. And it takes you longer to kind of get your thoughts together. And so you’re giving an explanation of the struggles that they’re having, why they need support, and say, you know, the labels don’t matter. And that will and again, that will differ that that language will differ depending on who you’re speaking with. But the label doesn’t matter. Our focus is really on understanding why it is that you’re struggling and how to support you. That’s the whole reason you do an evaluation in the first place. It’s not to get a diagnosis. It’s to understand why your child is struggling. What are their strengths? And how do we support you?
Debbie Reber 31:29
That’s such helpful language. As you’re talking, I wrote down that reframing: You need more time because you’re more thoughtful in your approach. Like I love that language so much. And you’ve given so many wonderful examples about how we can address areas of challenge or struggle for our kids in a way that is just very, this is what’s going on. It’s not you’re really slow at this or this is really hard for you, it’s like because you’re more thoughtful because you really want to get the idea right before you get it down on paper. And that can be a really hard process. And yeah, so I just really appreciate that tone that you’ve consistently been sharing today. I wanted to ask about siblings. This is another thing that comes up a lot when there are multiple kids in a household, one neurotypical one neurodivergent, are there any best practices in terms of talking about diagnoses and this kind of information with neurotypical siblings? Yeah, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.
Karen Wilson 32:30
Yeah, I think the same rules apply in terms of how you share and what you share how much you share. But I think creating a family environment where everybody’s different, and everybody has different interests, and different strengths and different weaknesses. And so you normalize those differences in your family. And you can do that without even talking about diagnoses. There are some individuals who are early risers, other people who take longer to get started in the morning, others that really need some extra time to wind down before bedtime. So you kind of normalizing the differences in your home. And kids know the differences in their siblings, I have a son who’s very active, and who’s always bouncing a basketball and is always kind of jumping around. And my daughter realizes that that’s just the way it is. He’s different from me, I like to sit, I like to read, I like to be quiet, but he’s always moving around. And so normalizing that, that’s who he is. And that’s who you are. And we’re different in this way, and embracing those differences. That’s how we’re unique, everybody is different, and not pathologizing those differences, and really just accepting it’s really about acceptance.
Debbie Reber 33:39
Yeah, that’s great. I want as a kind of way to start to wrap up this conversation, go back to this idea of, I think a lot of the reasons why parents struggle with disclosing information to their kids, or maybe grappling with acceptance themselves is because of concern about how the world is going to perceive our kids and our families. And we know that we can’t control that we know that we can’t control how others are going to judge or see our kids. And so I’m wondering if you have thoughts on how we can best maybe bolster or support our kids so that they can navigate a world which is still pretty much in the dark ages when it comes to really understanding and embracing neuro divergence. Right.
Karen Wilson 34:24
And I think sharing that fact that people might not understand. People might think that you’re not trying hard enough, but you know that you are, I see that you are, and I’m going to share with your teacher that you worked really hard on that homework assignment because she needs to know. And so I think, again, that validation is so important and so empowering in this process. It’s that I see you. I know you’re working hard. I know this is hard for you, but I also know that you are going to work through this. I’m going to support you through this journey, and things that we’re doing right now to support you may not be the things that we’re doing two years from now, you might not always need an educational therapist to help you with reading. But if we need to change that, if we need to change something, then we’re going to do that. I’m going to do that with your input. You know, when kids are younger, you have to make decisions for them. But you want their feedback, again, like I was saying, on what is working, what’s not, what is interesting to you, what’s not, how are you connecting with that therapist, we want to know if this is the right person to be working with you. So I think having that collaborative spirit with your child, gets them on board, and then you, you lift them up, because the world, unfortunately, will tear them down, will see them in a negative way, they will see the stigma, they will see them as less capable. And so they have to know who they are, they have to own their strength and their talents. And parents can help them do that. Teachers can help kids do that and know more about themselves. But we have to be their advocate, we have to understand their learning profiles, we have to be experts in what it is that they and who they are and what it is that they do. And once we can advocate for them, then we can teach them to self advocate. And then they get their needs met in the world. They show up with their full selves. And they’re ready to work hard, do the work and again, embrace themselves and their strengths and also their weaknesses.
Debbie Reber 36:26
Yeah, that’s great. And I just want to add that this isn’t an overnight process. But that consistency of language and support in our families, I talk a lot about the importance of self knowledge. And that is one of the best things we can do for our kids is help them really truly deeply understand who they are and what they need in the world. And that’s just something we’re going to always be working on so that when they’re ready, are able to ask for what they need and advocate for themselves in that way. So that’s great. Before we say goodbye, any kind of last thought is something that you really want to make sure listeners who are grappling with this scenario and have this information trying to figure out how to move forward that you would want them to know or think about.
Karen Wilson 37:15
One of the things I would say is that kids again, reinforce the idea that kids know when they’re struggling. And so there’s no need to hide that struggle from them, because they already know. And the gift that you can give them is an understanding of why they’re struggling, because then they can work at improving in that area of weakness, compensating with their areas of strength. And we know that when they know that working hard, will help them get better at that thing that’s harder for them. That’s growth mindset. And that can lead to greater resilience, greater motivation, it can improve academic outcomes. And it also again, is empowering and can enhance self concept and self esteem.
Debbie Reber 38:00
Thank you for that. And Karen, can you let listeners know where they can connect with you where they can check out your podcast, which I’ve mentioned is one of the only podcasts in this parenting space that I listened to. I listened to a lot of reality show recap podcasts, a lot of true crime. But you’re diverse thinking different learning podcasts is one of the only other ones in this parenting space I listen to. So where can listeners find you connect with you?
Karen Wilson 38:27
Yes, the best place to go is childnexus.com. And there’s a link to the podcast, there’s a link to blogs and articles related to ADHD related to language disorders, talking to your child about learning differences on host of other topics, and contact information so you can reach out to me directly. And my direct email address is drkwilson@child nexus.com. So you can reach out to me directly. I answer my own emails, respond to people who are interested in asking questions or have thoughts about certain things and they want to run things by me. I’m happy to do that. So feel free to reach out.
Debbie Reber 39:04
Okay, well, I have a feeling you’re gonna be getting some emails, I love that you just answer my own emails. I do the same.
Karen Wilson 39:11
It may take a while for me to respond. But I get to all the emails at some point.
Debbie Reber 39:16
That’s awesome. Well, Karen, thank you so much. This has just been such a fascinating conversation. And I’m just gonna let listeners know too that I’m working to pull together some extensive resources on books you can use with your child fiction, nonfiction, videos and resources because I would really like parents to feel that they have a lot of support when it comes to navigating all of this and especially for parents who are newer on the journey and trying to support their kids as they’re discovering who they are at the same time. So thank you, Karen. It has been so nice to hang out with you this morning.
Karen Wilson 39:54
Thank you so much for having me.
Debbie Reber 39:56
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