Educator Sam Young on Reimagining Social Lives of 2e / Twice-Exceptional Students

gender nonconformity kids

Today I’m talking with neurodivergent educator Sam Young about a topic I haven’t covered on the podcast before, and that is our neurodivergent kids’ social lives. The world has changed so very much in the past few years, including in no small way how our kids relate to other kids. I get a pang of nostalgia when I think about how I used to form friendships when I was younger in a more analog world, but I can also feel excitement about the many possibilities that have opened up for kids like ours to find their communities thanks to the technology they’re growing up with.

In this episode, Sam is going to talk with us about what a meaningful and healthy social life might look like for our differently wired kids, and how we can support them in the process. We explored how online communities have impacted socializing for neurodivergent kids, how parents can support kids in developing the skills to help with social anxiety, key elements to look for in ideal social environments for our differently wired kiddos, and much more.


About Sam Young

Sam Young MEd, or Mr. Sam as his families call him, is a growth-minded, two-time Fulbright Scholar and Director of Young Scholars Academy, a strength-based, talent-focused virtual enrichment center that supports twice-exceptional, neurodivergent, and gifted students and their families.

Mr. Sam is a neurodivergent educator who has ADHD. As an ADHD learner, he has a tremendous understanding of, experience in, and respect for all things related to neurodiverse education. Before founding Young Scholars Academy, Mr. Sam taught in a variety of capacities—including nearly a decade at Bridges Academy — at an array of programs in the US, Europe, and Asia. Travel and culture are near and dear to him. He has led 2e students to over 7 countries for immersive cultural and educational trips.

Mr. Sam has been featured in the documentary 2e2: Teaching The Twice Exceptional, the textbook Understanding The Social and Emotional Lives of Gifted Students, 2nd Ed., Variations Magazine, over 20 podcasts, 10 seminars, 2e News, and other publications.


Things you’ll learn from this episode

  • What reimagining our kids’ social life really is about
  • How online communities have impacted our kid’s social lives
  • What Sam’s students wish their social lives looked like
  • How parents or adults in kids’ lives can support them in building skills to help them with social anxiety
  • Sam’s thoughts on social skill groups and their efficacy
  • Expectations that parents have that might be getting in the way of their kid’s social lives
  • How parents can support a kid who is feeling alone to the point of their self-confidence and self-worth being affected


Resources mentioned about the social lives of 2e students


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Episode Transcript

Debbie Reber  00:00

This season of Tilt Parenting is being brought to you by the Differently Wired Club. The Differently Wired Club is grounded in the values of optimism, hope, radical acceptance, curiosity, self reflection and respect. If you’re committed to a neuro diversity affirming approach to parenting, please join us doors open for a few days at the end of every month, Learn more at

Sam Young  00:26

Socializing has really changed in this time period. And I think that a lot of us expect it to go back to the way it was. And I say that in two ways, one going back to the way it was for us as adults, we expect our kids to socialize similarly to the way we did. And I also think that we expect our kids socialized similarly to the way that they did prior to the pandemic. So we have to reimagine and really let go of what socializing might look like and put our arms around what it is looking like and what it might in the future.

Debbie Reber  00:55

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 today I’m talking with neurodivergent educator Sam Young about a topic I have not covered on the podcast before. And that is our neurodivergent kids’ social lives. The world has changed so much in the past few years, including in no small way how our kids relate to other kids. Honestly, I get a pang of nostalgia when I think about how I used to form friendships when I was younger in a more analog world. But I can also feel excitement about the many possibilities that have opened up for kids like ours to find their communities thanks to the technology they’re growing up with. So in this episode, Sam is going to talk with us about what a meaningful and healthy social life might look like for our differently wired kids and how we can support them in the process. We explored how online communities have impacted socializing for neurodivergent kids, how parents can support kids and develop the skills to help with social anxiety, key elements to look for in ideal social environments for our kids, and much more. And here’s a little bit about Sam before we get started, Sam Young is a growth minded neurodivergent educator who has ADHD, a two time Fulbright Scholar and director of Young Scholars Academy, a strength based talent focused virtual Enrichment Center that supports twice exceptional neurodivergent and gifted students and their families. Before founding Young Scholars Academy, Sam taught in a variety of capacities, including nearly a decade at Bridges Academy, and an array of programs in the US, Europe and Asia. Before I get to my conversation with Sam, I have an announcement for you. Because there are so many new members of the Tilt community who may not have read my book Differently Wired yet or perhaps don’t even know that I’ve written a book for parents, I’m going to be running a virtual book club to go through Differently Wired together with me over the course of four weeks. So starting April 24, we will meet once a week over zoom to go behind the book and talk through all 18 of the tilts I share inside. Everyone who registers will also receive a downloadable 66 page workbook for Differently Wired so you can take notes and explore ways to apply the strategies I share in your own family. And this life book club is completely free. So the price of admission is a copy of my book, whether you’re buying it now or you already have a well worn copy on your bookshelf. I ran this book club last year and it was so fun to go through the book with a group of readers. I can’t wait to do it again. So I really hope you’ll join me. You can get all the details about registering at Lastly, if you want to go deeper into this podcast episode or any episode from this season, please join my Tilt Parenting Pod Club on the Fable app. Together we can discuss and reflect on all the episodes and share highlights, comments, questions and related resources. And it’s also completely free to join my pod club and the discussion surrounding this conversation with Sam Young. Just download the Fable app on your phone or device and search for Tilt Parenting or go to For a direct link. I hope to see you there. Okay, and now here is my conversation with Sam. Hey, Sam, welcome to the podcast.

Sam Young  04:26

Hey, Debbie, thank you so much for having me. I’m psyched to be here.

Debbie Reber  04:29

I’m looking forward to this conversation. Another topic that’s new to the show like I have not done an episode just about the social lives of neurodivergent kids. I did a solo cast with Asher many many years ago about Asher’s social life and we were just in conversation, but this is an important topic for my listeners. For me. I’m really looking forward to getting into it. But before we get into our topic for today, can you just tell us about yourself? You have a really interesting background. Tell us a bit about your story. And the work that you do in the world.

Sam Young  05:02

Sure. I grew up on the East Coast originally and went through mostly the public school system. And at a very early age, was identified in fourth grade, we’re having ADHD. And then once again in high school, and then once again, in college, there were sort of three times when I would sort of check in and say, Is this me? Yes, it is. And during my educational journey, I really discovered that learning differently was exciting, rewarding, but mostly challenging. And that’s mostly what I focused on, unfortunately, because so much of the system is focused on deficits and struggles and things like that. And a lot of the time I would really kind of stew in that place. And it wasn’t until I got older, and really committed myself to education and progressive education, that I discovered all the strengths that I had as a result of some of these things. So I went on this kind of strength based journey. In short, I worked at Bridges Academy for almost a decade, and went to the bridges graduate school and had two really cool opportunities to do some Fulbright Scholarships, looking at education in China, Mongolia, and France. And then during the pandemic, I decided I was going to take my progressive strengths based education and take it to the world. And I founded a program called Young Scholars Academy, which is an enrichment program for twice exceptional neurodivergent and gifted students to take interest-based, passion-based classes.

Debbie Reber  06:27

First of all, that’s such an interesting background. And another time, probably not on the show, I want to hear more about your experiences in China, Mongolia, and France. That sounds super interesting. As I was preparing for this interview, I connected the fact that your last name is young, and that your school is Young Scholars Academy. I was like, well, that worked out so well for you that you’re last name was young. So it took me a while but I finally pieced it together.

Sam Young  06:52

I think a lot of people don’t realize that. And I didn’t realize this. So of course yes. This is my last name right young and I thought oh, Young Scholars Academy is this perfect name. I created the LLC started the business. And then I went online. And of course, Davidson has a Young Scholars Program. And it’s like this massive, reputable program. And my first couple emails that I’m getting from, like new clients, are you connected? And I was like, I didn’t even know that was a thing. In hindsight, maybe it wasn’t the move. But I thought it was so cute with my name. So I did it.

Debbie Reber  07:20

It works. It totally works. I would love it if you could tell us a little bit more about Young Scholars Academy. It’s something that you created because of needs that you saw weren’t being met. And I’m sure it’s going to be of interest to my listeners. So can you tell us a little bit about how that works? And who specifically it’s for?

Sam Young  07:36

Yeah, absolutely. The idea behind Young Scholars Academy is really saving education through strengths based and interest based learning. So a lot of students like my younger self are steeped in that space of going to school being told, you know, where they’re struggling or just seeing where they’re struggling, like, for me, it was reading, you know, anytime we had to read a book, I would get tripped up in the grammar and the syntax and I couldn’t see past certain things and get up and use the bathroom. I realized, if I use the bathroom for five minutes, and every class I’d miss 40 minutes a day. So I became like the master at finding little shortcuts through school. And I realized, after being an apprentice for some time, that what we were doing at Bridges was really special. And there needed to be a virtual version of that. There needed to be a space where students all over the world could come together. People were reaching out to me and saying very early on, hey, we live in Nevada, hey, we live in Colorado, is there a way that you can do this. And it became apparent that a so many students are in places where they’re struggling and not having their brilliant strengths, their curiosity, their imaginations put on display and celebrated and be age was holding a lot of people back, you have a kid 10 years old, who’s graduate level rationale reasoning should be in a speech and debate program developing those, but they’re being held back because their age, they’re struggling in math, there’s all these other things that feel more urgent. So I realized I need to kind of take to the internet and build a program that’s after school enrichment courses, that offers courses, unlike anywhere else that I could find, for all different ages based on interest, passion and strength. So for example, like cryptocurrency investing or entrepreneurship for 12 year olds, you know, things that are just, I didn’t really find them. And I just decided, well, I’m just gonna build them. Because I know this population, I know twice exceptional students so well. And I know that they’ll thrive here, and then it just kind of started growing and people would ask for a class and if I could get enough interest and build it, and then now we have eight different teachers or we’re offering I think, 34 classes a week, and it’s wildly exciting.

Debbie Reber  09:45

That is so cool. I’m having a little bit of I don’t know if it’s FOMO because I can’t do it now but watching what has developed over the past 6, 10 years and I homeschooled my kid for six years. And gosh, what I wouldn’t have done, had access to the Young Scholars Academy back then because there just wasn’t that much available. And it is such a need. And it’s a really unique niche for the work that you’re doing. So that’s really cool. I’m jealous of the kids who get to do it today that my kids get to do it.

Sam Young  10:20

I get an email a day like that. And I had a mom reach out to me yesterday, actually. And she’s like, I wish we found her son’s 14, I wish we found you sooner. And I was like, hey, it’s not so late. Like three hours ago, I got an email from a mom whose kid is 24. And she was really bumming out. And so I feel fortunate that we’re able to serve who we are. And I do though, Debbie, think about how I can serve families like yours, too, you know, whether it’s connecting and supporting parents. And also, we ran a pilot program this year for supporting kids in college, helping twice exceptional students come together and just have a space to check in and talk about the things that are working, things that aren’t working well, build executive function systems and support them.

Debbie Reber  11:00

All right, we’ll keep talking about that down the road. Okay, so let’s get to our topic for today, we had a great conversation towards the end of 2022. And we’re talking about what we could get into dialogue about and one of the things we landed on was this idea of reimagining the social lives of our kids. And that really jumped out at me because of so many reasons I hear so much from parents about concerns about their kids, social life or lack of a social life. We know that COVID has really complicated things, especially for neurodivergent kids, the language that you use jumped out at me of reimaginizing socializing. I’d like to know how you define reimagining socializing, what are we talking about here?

Sam Young  11:45

I say reimagining because a lot of the time the deep work starts with us adults, right? Whether you’re a parent, a mentor, etc. A lot of the time, we have certain expectations. Sir Ken Robinson once said, like we’ve all had an education. And we all have an opinion about one, right. And the same is true with socializing, we sort of expect things to go even if they were imperfect the way that they went for us. And a lot of the time, that’s just not the case. As you you mentioned, times are changing, we’ve just dealt with a once or we’re dealing with arguably, a once in a century pandemic, which has stirred things up to say the least, it’s changed the way in which we experience in public groups the way we go out. And it’s caused a lot of introspection, and it’s caused parents, really to get a lot of firsthand data, right? I used to joke with some families that I spend more time with your kid than you know, because a lot of families are passing at breakfast, getting off to school, and then quickly catching up in the evening, and then it’s off to bed. And socializing has really changed in this time period. And I think that a lot of us expect it to go back to the way it was. And I say that in two ways. One going back to the way it was for us as adults, we expect our kids to socialize similarly to the way we did. And I also think that we expect our kids to socialize similarly to the way that they did prior to the pandemic. So we have to reimagine it and really let go of what socializing might look like, and put our arms around what it is looking like and what it might be in the future.

Debbie Reber  13:08

So of course, the thing that comes to mind is tech, right? That our kids’ social lives are frequently, sometimes only online, which I think can be a really hard thing for a lot of parents to accept or understand. And this is something I think a lot about this idea that, as you said, we’re expecting things to look a certain way. And they don’t. And there’s a real big resistance among parents to lean into the reality of our kids’ relationship with technology, the fact that a lot of their relationships are online. And there’s something about it that I know for me and many people I’ve talked to, and I’m over this now. But there’s a sense that this is wrong, like this is unhealthy. This is wrong. It’s problematic. It’s not genuine connection, it’s really setting my kid up to not have any meaningful relationships. So let’s address tech and online socialization. What would you say to the state of our kids’ social lives being online and to people who are really struggling with that?

Sam Young  14:12

Yeah, it’s a really interesting conversation. And it starts exactly the way you’re framing it is that so many of our young people, they’re building worlds online. And much like the day dreamers, in our spaces, a lot of the conversations happening in their heads are way more exciting than the ones happening in the classroom and other places so that they might space out. The same is true with the Internet. And of course, we have to be careful, right? Like my generation, I’m a millennial. We’re the last generation that grew into tech, but not up with tech. Right? So we, I remember, you know, pre internet, right? But these younger generations don’t have that and so, parents are right to be concerned. Because let’s face it, humans are dopamine chasers, right, especially those with ADHD brains, who are moving towards pleasure and away from pain and when you I have a brain that wants quick information at the Internet can give you that, if chat GPT shows us anything right now, that’s one of the AI conversations, but that we can get real quick information. And we can get that dopamine hit right away, and we can keep getting it. I don’t discount tech addiction. I think parents should be on the lookout for it. But what I say and when I go back to kind of your earlier question about reimagining. If you write down what you want your child to be doing, and let go of how it comes to pass, we have to candidly ask ourselves, Is that happening on the internet? Do you hear your child connecting with friends, sharing interests, giggling, building a community, maybe even leading a community, maybe they’re a Reddit moderator, or they’re on Discord and they have their own channel. And I don’t believe that parents should make checklists for what they want out of their kids, by the way, but I say this as a thought exercise, if we write down what we want our students to be doing, and we let go of how it comes to pass, they may very well be doing it playing World of Warcraft or some other game. And I think that that’s a pretty amazing thing.

Debbie Reber  15:59

Yeah, I agree. My kid, sometimes after dinner, will say I’m gonna watch a show with so and so. And this is a friend who lives across the country. And they just jump on together. And they’re watching the same series together. And they’ll just have it on and talk. It’s just a different way of going over to so and so’s house and sitting in the basement and watching in my case, it was HBO movies, because I had the one friend who had HBO growing up. So it was very exciting, important for him. But it was a very important friend. Yeah. So I think, again, that can be confronting, but it is all of those things. It’s a shared interest. It’s social, it’s laughing, it feels good. It feels like you’re hanging out with a friend. And you are I like this idea of really examining, what are the things that we hope for our kids in terms of connecting and having relationships with other peers? And how are those needs being met through technology? So that’s really interesting.

Sam Young  16:54

I remember when the movie Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One came out, or people read the book, I remember thinking, you know, a lot of what our students are doing, a lot of what our young people are doing right now may be closer to what the future might look like. So we’re holding on to this past of what socializing used to look like: you call someone on their house phone, you ride your bicycle over to their house, right. And hopefully, you live near cool people, because you’re only allowed to ride your bicycle so far. But now young people can pick where they want to be, they can pick how they connect, right? So it used to be that you hoped that you were in a good zip code with cool people, and you could develop your interest together. Now, kids are developing their interests way faster. Okay, they can take free online courses, they’re reading books at a very young age, they’re going deep, deep, deep into Wikipedia and Reddit holes. And then they’re finding people who have similar interests, right? It’s almost like an accelerated life. If you think about what we do as adults, you know, maybe we go to school to go to graduate school, maybe we connect around our profession, we ultimately build friendships or maybe in college, a lot of our differently wired twice exceptional, gifted students, they’re really doing that at an early age. And the only thing that we maybe need to be careful of is, of course, the asynchrony around that, right? That intellectually, they’re connecting on this deep level. But then there’s also some of the dangers of the internet and things like that. And so it’s important, I think, to involve our kids in the process and support them in the process. But again, I keep going back to this idea of letting go right. Again, Ready Player One, or thinking about the billions of dollars that are being spent right now with the metaverse of what our students are doing may be closer to socializing in 10 years than what you and I did growing up.

Debbie Reber  18:35

Yeah, right. Before you said that I wrote down letting go of our idea of what this cannon should look like. And was you’re talking about biking to your friend’s house, that was certainly my childhood. And I know for my kid watching Stranger Things, was a great experience and also like a sad experience. Because I think there are a lot of kids who long for that, like, I wish I could just jump on a bike and go to a friend’s house and play d&d in the basement. And that was really all there was. You work with a lot of kids? What do you find among the students that you work with, in terms of their expectations or desires about what their social lives would look like?

Sam Young  19:14

I think especially with a lot of asynchronous, kiddos, right, they have this high intelligence which makes them aware oftentimes, their whole selves, right. And a lot of times the energy is focused on their challenges and their struggles, right? Especially with our twice exceptional students, right? You have this on both ends of the bell curve. So on the one end, you have the strength and on the other end, you have the struggles. And I think a lot of our students have this higher elevation, almost dangerously high at times, right? They feel these deep feelings, they get really excited. I mean, a younger person who might ride a bike to another friend’s house isn’t aware of the weight of climate change, right or isn’t freaking out about what the future might look like as water temperatures and water levels rise, and twice exceptional. differently wired students may have that weight on them. So there’s a multitude of different factors at play. I think that they’re feeling big feelings. And they may be frustrated with any barriers that might stand in the way they might want to connect. I was working with one of my kiddos yesterday. And we had this, this plan for this work. And we went in a whole different direction. It was explaining the evolution of d&d, and how it’s changed from the fifth generation beyond and if it’s good or bad. And I asked him at the end, I said, I had this whole lesson plan, but I threw it away. I want to know how you feel right now. And what do you mean? How do you feel that you seem in great spirits? I couldn’t even interrupt you. If I tried. For the last 15 minutes or so? Well, of course, I feel good. I’ve been talking about my interests for 15 minutes. And so there’s the self awareness that he went or I was leading him. And he’d beat me to the punch. And I think that a lot of our students, they might know that, but then they might struggle. And I said, Well, how can we get more of that in your life? They said, Well, I don’t know how to ask people questions when I want to connect with them. And it was just such a perfect case study of someone who knows exactly what he likes, he knows exactly what he’s looking for. And he’s aware of the fact that it’s really difficult for him. And that’s really, the catalyst for why I created our program is because a lot of our students need that kind of scaffolding, right? They need an environment with flexible expectations, but sometimes with roles with moderators, right, because that allows them to socialize in a certain way. I think it’s really difficult for our students, because they’re aware of what they want to be doing. They’re aware of the fact that they may not be doing it, and they’re aware of everything else happening in the world.

Debbie Reber  21:45

I know, so many of our kids have social anxiety. I know that a lot of our neural diversion kids may have already felt really behind socially, because of the asynchronicity, because of just not connecting with peers, because their interests were so different, or, yeah, they’re just at a different plane than a lot of their same age peers. And so then as a result of COVID, those last year are really in some ways, I think. And what I’ve observed is, it has really created additional challenges for differently wired kids when it comes to their social lives. And so what you said, they know what they want, they’re aware of it, they have their interest, but that anxiety piece or that, but how do I do this? That’s the piece that I see as being the most challenging, especially for these kids. So you mentioned that scaffolding? And that’s one of the reasons why you created young scholars. Do you have other ideas in terms of how parents or adults in these kids’ lives can support them and build those skills? Once you find those people online, and you can act? It’s all good, but sometimes that initial, like how do I get started can be really paralyzing.

Sam Young  22:56

I think it’s incredibly difficult to do that. Right? And there’s a lot of trial and error that happens. And sometimes there’s trauma around that trial and error. Right? Families have different experiences. I talked to a lot of families who said I wish we never tried this. And that was a nightmare program, but you just have to sign up and especially families who homeschool or school at home, there’s a lot of just kind of Whack a Mole something pops up. Let’s check it out. The things that I always look for are the big four that Susan Baum planted firmly in my head in grad school, which are strength based talent focused. Can you find more spaces where your student has room to explore their strengths? Where can they really operate at a higher level? Because that’s where the field goods are, then they can connect with like minded kids around those right? Can we kind of self select my kids obsessed with finance, let’s put them in a crypto class. And then can we develop their talents? Right, let’s do something that’s authentic. Let’s do something that’s real world. This isn’t just busy fill out a worksheet class, this is hey, I want to see what your portfolio is gonna look like at the end of the month, I want you to justify why you’re buying these projects and so forth. The reality is that a lot of our students have these deep seated interests and asynchrony does make it hard for them to connect with other people. So when we’re looking for a program like the quirkier, the better, you know, if if we see the rhetoric, the language jives with the description of how we see our students and someone else’s using the same language and then focusing on what our students do and do well or what they’re curious about. And also validating the things that we’re concerned about. I think those are really good signs. Some of the key elements are definitely having mentors. I always say the X and the Y axis. I’m really big on this idea that our students need to look over and around and see that there are kids just like them. And then they need to look up and see that there are adults who care for them and are also just like them. And I really feel like when you have both of those kinds of vertices, you have at least the foundations for success. We can connect with peers, and we can look up at someone who’s been there, done that and can help us kind of level up if you will.

Debbie Reber  24:55

Yeah, I like that — over, around and up. And that’s something I hear from a lot of parents too is mentorship is something I think a lot of us won for our kids, it can be tricky to find the right mentor, we were able to find one who’s a former teacher that I should really connected with who it’s actually worked out better now, because they can spend all their time together online virtually, but talking just about what ash wants to talk about, instead of trying to cram it into the beginning or end of class. And I like this idea of competency that makes so much sense that if a child is in an environment where they feel really confident, and they’re in their zone of genius, they’re inherently going to feel better about themselves, and they’ll be able to better show up for any anxiety or any other kind of unease that they might have about a social situation. So that’s a really interesting reframe.

Debbie Reber  25:51

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Debbie Reber  26:39

I’m really curious to know your thoughts on social skills groups, this is something that many of us with differently wired kids get steered in, and my kid has been in three, and the key takeaway was, I think Asher was eight and Asher learned how to compliment someone I’m like, well, that’s kind of a cool thing to know how to do. But I definitely have some thoughts about Social Skills groups in terms of what are we doing with them? What are our goals for them? And are they approaching neurodivergence in a respectful way, that’s a whole other episode. But I would love to know your thoughts on social skills groups and their efficacy.

Sam Young  27:16

You and I are very much aligned here. Social skills groups are often well intended, and can give great little formulas, great little tips and tricks and hacks and things that do help. But for the most part, I think that they come from a deficit space. So a lot of the times social skills groups are trying to, I think that a lot of times they’re in the business of fixing, right, and I think that’s a dangerous space to be. And full disclosure. By the way, one of our earliest classes was a strengths based social skills group. But it was not coming from a negative place, it was saying, I want each student to set goals. We’re going to explore a bunch of different articles and look at how we can do some different tips, interact, curate some different things like and there’s some really good stuff in there, understanding little formulas and things. Can I do like a one to three, question follow up, right, little things like that can be helpful. But what I found is that for the most part, social skills groups can be challenging, and often have unintended negative consequences. And that really, the best thing that we can do is, again, empower our students, so put them in spaces where we maybe curate an environment like a class like I was talking about, or maybe like a social group that’s virtual or in person. But that isn’t necessarily teaching students to socialize a certain way. But it’s more setting them up to do something that they’re interested in. And then scaffolding, things like wait time, asking questions, listening deeply, listening intently, like kind of baking those things in as they do something they like, rather than being in a space where the environment is like, I’m here, because I’ve been messing up. I’m here because I don’t do a good job. That’s the inherent assumption that I think permeates social groups and makes them pretty difficult and downright harmful at times.

Debbie Reber  29:03

Yeah, I mean, I would say there’s definitely something incredible about a neurodivergent kid finally being in a space with their people that can be really empowering. And just to feel like, okay, I’m not alone here. Other people get me, I can talk about my obsessive interest, ad nauseam, and this person is right there with me, or maybe we’re speaking the same language. And so I think that can be really a positive thing. And yeah, I like this idea of coming to this from a strengths based approach as opposed to deficit based. And I guess that really is what some of the social skills groups are. You have a problem. You don’t know how to do this. Here’s the script. Here’s the formula. And this is what you do when really what we want our kids to do is understand themselves right to understand who they are, how they feel, in certain situations, how to best navigate to reach the goals that they have for any kind of engagement. Yeah, and again,

Sam Young  29:57

I think that you know, some of the things are helpful, right? If we want our students to be able to articulate when they’re struggling, we want them to be able to communicate effectively and understand when an environment is appropriate for a certain comment, or maybe it’s better to do it differently. Those are no doubt important skills. It’s just the kind of overall ethos of this a space where I’m in, because I’ve messed up, and that can be harmful. So again, I go back to this idea of this kind of warm light that students gravitate to. I always say that don’t be afraid to curate, create an environment where your student is empowered, even if it doesn’t feel like the socializing that you might envision, can we put them in a place where they feel good, they’re with other kids, they’re doing things that are exciting. And they have an assigned role, like one of the best examples, I say, maybe give up on this social skills group and try Dungeons and Dragons, right? Like, try a place where your kid can be an avatar and can express themselves through the perspective of an avatar, stretching their creativity, building empathy for other characters, problem solving, having to respond to stimuli as they come up, you can’t always plan what someone’s going to do. And it comes down to the role of the dye. That’s a fun way to work on some of these skills. If that’s an interest, right? Maybe Speech and Debate, maybe a programming or robotics challenge class, something that’s stimulating intellectually. And then we can kind of say, Hold on, so and so didn’t finish? And how do we even know when they’re done anyway? What’s a better way we can find out? Maybe we should take a pause here? Do we pass something around? Does everyone have a little image that they put up? Do we do like three fingers? How do you know when someone’s done talking? And different things like that can be baked in, I do that in speech and debate a lot. And we’ll talk about if you ever watched a talk show, and I might play a clip of a talk show, someone starts a word that they don’t intend to finish just to let everyone know, they’re in line to speak next, that kind of deliberate sharing, and then hey, we’re gonna debate next week. So be ready. Right? That Oh, this is real. Okay, the butterflies in the excitement, but it’s not like, Hey, you’re broken. It’s like, What’s your stance in the Student Congress gonna be because we’re talking about environmental protection. And there’s just a very different I get goosebumps just talking about it right now.

Debbie Reber  32:07

Yeah, that’s really cool. Yeah, you know, my differently wired husband got into acting at the end of high school and ended up majoring in theater in university, specifically, because it was a way to really understand social engagement and social relationships and get to experiment with things in a safe way. It was a big part of his figuring out how to navigate the world with other people.

Sam Young  32:33

It’s huge. And one of our most popular classes is improv. It’s exactly for that reason. It’s the ability to let yourself go, slow your mind down a little bit, and just be present and respond to prompts and be silly and have a good time. And, but again, it’s all the things that we’re talking about, turn taking wait time, active listening, they’re doing it in a role playing, they’re doing it in a safe way. And they can replicate those things in real life, as they get more confident. And what we’ve done is, instead of social skills groups, we’ve created homeroom social clubs, we call them, which are exactly what I was describing. It’s kind of a moderated space. We can do icebreaker games, check in shows and tell stories like museum nights. And then the students go into breakout rooms and zoom. So they’ve got kind of a prompt, pick a photo that represents one of your happiest moments. And then they go into rooms of like two and then they take turns sharing their photos and the mentor pops around the different rooms. And we do that and we give that class to everyone who signs up for our courses. Because we’re trying to build the community of a school. Right. And the community of a school is often like the hallways, right. It’s the banter. It’s the homeroom. It’s the things that happen in between and around academics a lot of the time. So yes, things like your husband did you know acting improv debate, d&d, these are all great places where you can learn the skills, but then having a place to apply them. That’s safe, moderated by like a neurodivergent, mentor, and just kind of goofy. It’s like this great application that a lot of our kids really thrive with.

Debbie Reber  34:08

Yeah, that’s really cool. We talked in the beginning about reimagining socializing, why it’s so important in the first place, and what parents may have to really do their own work around. And we talked a lot about technology. And I do think that is probably one of the biggest things. Are there any other expectations that parents have that you commonly see, I know, it can be really related to their own childhood, but any kind of bigger expectations that tend to get in the way of them leaning into a new way for kids to be social?

Sam Young  34:41

One of the things that I say is that there are three kinds of parent groups. One is parents who are maybe very much you know, Apple meat tree, right? They’re very much like their kiddo and their child’s journey could be traumatic for them. And they might attempt to really be hands on In the way that they either avoid, and work around something or try to fix something. So group one is kind of like this hits close to home. Group two is sort of the, I can’t relate, these things were very different for me, they were easy for me, we sort of compare ourselves and we struggled to connect to our students, our child’s struggles. And then the third one is the group who’s kind of paralyzed where they’re getting a lot of information. They don’t know what to do, how much is too much. I don’t want to be doing everything. But if I do nothing, it seems bad, too. And so I think one space is again, going back to what you said about like, the kind of the deep work is just sort of reflecting on like, maybe do some journaling and some self reflection, like, where are you? What is your child’s journey, remind you of? What are they going through what’s happening? And then take account of the strengths of your own childhood, even if there were difficulties, what were some things that were positive? What were some outcomes that were really special? That could be as an adult, it could be a connection you made in grad school, or it could be something you did in kindergarten? And then do the same I would say for and with your child? Can you reflect on what’s going really well in your kiddos life? And can you encourage your child to do the same, and then go to that space, create more of that, if it’s that math class is causing panic attacks every day, and your kids aren’t going to school so they can stick around for robotics after school? I don’t think it’s terrible if we let go of math for a bit, because they’re probably learning more math and robotics, and making connections and maybe they’re important in robotics. Maybe they’re a team leader, or a programmer or something. So I think a big part of it is yeah, kind of like checking in with who you are inventorying, what’s gone on looking at your strengths and past accomplishments, having your child inventory, their strengths and successes, and just building more of that in their lives. And maybe in yours, too, if that’s a bonus that could come out of that kind of reflection.

Debbie Reber  36:49

Yeah, that’s great. I’m wondering about kids themselves. Maybe the parents are really not having their own baggage be a part of this equation, but the child themselves feels like, I don’t have any friends. Maybe my sibling is super popular and has lots of friends. But how can parents support a kid who is feeling like, I don’t have anybody, I’ve never had a good friend, I don’t get invited to someone’s house, like they’re really starting to feel badly about themselves. It’s really impacting their self confidence and self worth.

Sam Young  37:22

Yeah, that’s a really difficult one. I mean, I’m a huge proponent just for everyone for therapy, I would say like, there’s two kinds of people in the world, those who are in therapy and those who should be. So I think therapy is huge. And having a strengths based therapist, as well, you know, having someone who really prescribes to positive psychology, but a lot of that does come from finding places where can we have more successes, right, even even if it’s the most simple little ones having little wins each day, and trying to find more space where someone can feel important, we all want to feel important. And a lot of our students have really negative self-talk tracks, because of their experiences, because of their neurology, because of applications of medicines. I’ve struggled with my life with different stimulants and things that are supposed to help with my ADHD, but give me depression or anxiety. So kind of being aware of where a child is also, in terms of their development, you know, are they going through puberty that’s really complicated, in general, and then add everything else on top of that, there’s so so much going on, and our kids are so beautifully complex. But it’s important that we can hold up a light. And I’m not talking about toxic positivity, I think there’s a danger to like, not having space to talk about negative struggles and things like that. But just a space where our students can see that they matter, that they’re important and that they’re making a difference. And it might be so far removed from anything you can imagine it might be getting an internship or volunteering at an animal shelter. I like cleaning up after dogs because dogs make sense to me. Or just volunteering somewhere and being important, or just going to a place that feels good. So that it’s indisputable that, that they matter, and they’re doing big things, and that they’re making a difference and that the world is a better place because they’re here. And then when that confidence comes about, and again, sometimes it has to be assigned. Okay, you’re in a class, you have this role, hey, I need you to be our scribe, can you do that for me? You know, it could be something as simple as that. Maybe someone does something with a family member or maybe you know, an auntie, uncle, family friend has a business and there’s room for a child to come in and help with web development? Where are their skills? And then where’s there a need? I often ask my seniors we have a year long course, Debbie that’s called adulting and thriving and it takes kids and it gets them ready for gap years college etc. And one of the things that we do is we inventory our strengths, then we kind of scan for gaps. And I think at some point that we started that at a really young age, a lot of our kids might feel really important by how they can leverage something that they understand and do well to help someone else out and can feel good about doing it.

Debbie Reber  39:59

Yes. I like this idea of holding up a light and really the strengths based approach again, like helping our kids feel good and confident about other areas and knowing that’s going to support their fledgling social lives. What I want to just add to that is the importance of keep trying. First of all, I think a lot of kids can have expectations that aren’t really realistic for the world that we live in. If a kid has been standing on the outside, looking in and thinking or assuming all my friends are doing this, they have these close friends, they’re on tick tock. And so if a neurodivergent kid or any kid is engaged in that they may feel like everyone’s moving on without them. And they make assumptions about what other people’s social lives look like. I think that’s something that we as parents can also help our kids have a realistic view of like what actually, I mean, it’s kind of like me getting off Facebook over the holidays, because I really was kind of done with all of the happy holiday photos, because they were triggering me. And I was like, I’m looking at something. And it’s not really a reality anyway. And I think our kids can do that with other teens, they can feel like everyone else has something that I don’t have. So I think it can be important to help our kids have a realistic view of what their social life might look like to keep putting themselves out there. And also pointing out little wins. When we notice, when you have a really nice relationship with this person I heard the way you were talking to them or the way you were doing art together. That’s so cool. You’re actually such a really good friend, it’s really great that you’re giving people the chance to get to know you. And I think there are lots of little ways that we can point out bright spots and little wins that they may not notice, because they’re not the big thing. They’re not biking to a friend’s house and playing d&d in the basement. It’s like this little moment, but those little moments matter, and they can really add up to build a kid’s esteem.

Sam Young  41:53

Absolutely. I think that’s so important. And that’s largely what I mean, when I say inventory, the strengths and the accomplishments these kids are growing up with. And in a time when exactly what you said, we’re like the Facebook example, like we’re seeing the curated version of someone’s life. And that’s really difficult. I struggle with that a great deal. Humans do naturally often compare themselves to others. And I think it’s really helpful when we can hold up a mirror to our kids and say, hey, it’s kind of you versus you and look how far you’ve come. Look at the things that we were talking about a year ago, a month ago. And look how magnificent you are now like how much you blossomed and look how much more road you have ahead of you and how much more space there is to grow. And so these are great things to do, inventory our victories, and remind ourselves how incredible we are. Because so many of our kids are really service minded, like they really do want to serve, they want to help, they want to connect, and they get down when they feel like they’re not doing enough or the problems are so big. And you’re so right. I think it’s so important that we do as adults, I need that reminder. Like I’m gonna go forth today and keep that. And it’s important that we help our students do it all the time.

Debbie Reber  43:01

Yeah, that’s great. Before we say goodbye for parents who are listening, who are concerned about their kids’ social life, or maybe lack of a social life, we’ve shared lots of good food for thought and things to think about. And certainly that enrichment piece and finding like minded groups is so important. Is there kind of one key takeaway or something you’d want parents to really keep in mind or hold close to their heart as they’re navigating this and maybe being really concerned about their kids?

Sam Young  43:31

I think a big one is, it’s probably just sort of been omnipresent through everything that I’ve said. But it’s focusing on strength, focusing on the interest focusing on the field goods, and maybe trying to build a bit of a moat, build the castle walls a little bit about a lot of the deficit based language, because just taking kind of like a case study, like I have a student on our very first meeting together, I said, like, tell me what your day was like today. And he’s like, Well, I went to school, the whole day sucked. And then I met with, like a therapist who was helping me work on things that I suck at. And now I’m here with you. I was like, proof. What a terrible day. Like what have you done today to feel good about yourself, you know, and I think that’s just like a little slice of a pie. It comes from a good space, but so much of our teachers and our professionals, and even our parents, want to help and they go to the place where the deficit is, like a little hole in the ship, and they want to just plug it. And I think the most important thing that we can do is say, Okay, there’s that little leak going on over there. We’re gonna get to that. But let’s focus on propelling the ship forward, let’s focus on setting our sail out and filling it full of wind and cruising off into the sunset. And we’ll just keep a mindful eye that there’s a little pinhole leak over there. And if we focus on the stuff that really propels us and really kind of keep some of the negative stuff at bay, not ignore it, but focus on feel good. I think that we can help our students to develop that positive effect and feel better about themselves so they can do all the great things that they’re destined to do.

Debbie Reber  44:56

Yeah, I don’t think we can hear that message enough, that reminder, even hearing you restate that, and I talk about string space stuff all the time. And I’m like, I could really focus on that more right now. Because having a kid who’s a senior, and there’s a lot of moving pieces at the moment, it’s hard not to focus on the things that aren’t happening. But there’s so much great stuff that’s going on. And it’s really important. So thank you for that reminder to really follow the feel good and help our kids spend a lot of time in that zone.

Sam Young 45:27

And I think it dovetails perfectly to what you said, which is stop comparing as much. You know, I think senior year was the perfect example, this adulting and thriving class that I have fills up every year with a waitlist typically, because so many parents are so freaked out about my kids get this off the charts IQ, but they’re falling apart. And where are they going to go to school next year? What are they going to do? And on the same timeline, as your friends, kids who are maybe going to go off and do the same thing that everyone else does, they’re probably going to do amazing things. But it might not be for a couple of years. It might not be right now. And it’s definitely not going to be the way that you think. So let’s just focus on the stuff that really matters. And when we let go of that when we look at our expectations of kids and our expectations of society, like we want people with deep seated passions, big feelings, and like, expert level of commitment, right, but then we’re like, Why did they not doing everything at a moderate level? It’s like, well, hold on one second. Like we’re celebrating the champions that people would like Joseph Renzulli, one of my favorite quotes and all of psychology is no one cared about Picasso’s ability to do math or Einstein’s ability to paint. Why are schools so obsessed with having everyone do a little bit of everything. And I think it’s the same with art with our children’s journeys, try to stop comparing them to everyone else. Easier said than done. And try to focus on what they do, do well and develop that space.

Debbie Reber  46:48

Thank you for saying exactly what I needed to hear today. Sam, I appreciate that. Before we go, can you share where people can learn more about your work, learn more about Young Scholar Academy and anywhere else on social media that you’re engaging?

Sam Young  47:03

Yeah, so the best place would be our website, We have live courses that run every eight weeks or so. And so we’re kicking off courses every semester. And then I’m also on Facebook @ysaenrichment, and Instagram at young_scholars-academy.

Debbie Reber  47:23

Awesome listeners, I’ll have links to all of that. All the places where you can connect with Sam and Young Scholars Academy, as well as the other little things we mentioned here in there, Ready, Player One, Joseph Renzulli, all of those things will be in the show notes page. Sam, thank you. This has been a super interesting conversation. I think we got through most of my questions and more. So I really appreciate everything you shared today. Thank you.

Sam Young  47:46

Thank you, Debbie. And I can’t remember if I shared it with you, I have like a little summary of this talk with 10 different tips for socializing. So if I haven’t given you that to share with your listeners, I’d be happy to do that now and we can make sure people get that.

Debbie Reber  47:59

Yeah, that would be great. We’ll definitely do that. Thank you.

Sam Young  48:02

Thanks for having me. This was awesome.

Debbie Reber  48:06

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