What Should I Do When My Young Adult Isn’t Taking Steps to Reach His Goals?

gender nonconformity kids

In this episode, parent coach Zach Morris joins Debbie to discuss a question from a listener who is seeking guidance on how to handle the balance of letting a neurodivergent young adult be themselves — dress the way they want, engage in certain limited activities, not pressure about school, when the child conversely struggles from severe depression because they want the outcomes their neurotypical peers are experiencing.


About Debbie Reber

Debbie Reber, MA is a parenting activist, bestselling author, speaker, and the CEO and founder of TiLT Parenting, a resource, top-performing podcast, consultancy, and community with a focus on shifting the paradigm for parents raising and embracing neurodivergent children. A regular contributor to Psychology Today and ADDitude Magazine, and the author of more than a dozen books for children and teens, Debbie’s most recent book is Differently Wired: A Parent’s Guide to Raising an Atypical Child with Confidence and Hope.

About Zach Morris

Zach Morris is a thought leader in education who is committed to helping people increase compassion, collaboration, and learning. Zach supports individuals, families, and organizations who aim to develop a greater sense of safety and empowerment in themselves, in their relationships, and in their communities. Gently guiding humans through the resistance they encounter is at the core of Zach’s work. Learn more about Zach here


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Episode Transcript

Debbie Reber  

Hey, everybody I have today with me, educator Zack Morris for this Parent Lean In episode. Zack specializes in working with parents and young adults who are navigating the complex dynamics of neuro divergent experience. He is uniquely equipped to serve families with profiles of autism, especially PDA families who are navigating trauma and families who need to heal and repair relationships. Zach has been on the show multiple times. So likely, if you’re a longtime listener, you’ve heard him on the show. And he is also a parent coach in my differently wired club. So welcome, Zach, thank you so much for joining me.

Zach Morris  

Thanks, Debbie. Happy to be here.

Debbie Reber  

This question. I was like, oh, I need Zach’s take on this. So this is a good question. And it’s one that again, I think many listeners are going to resonate with some aspect of what the parent who wrote in is dealing with. So here’s the question, How should a parent handle the balance of letting a neurodivergent young adult, be themselves dressed the way they want, engage in certain limited activities, not pressure about school, when the child conversely struggles from severe depression, because they want the outcomes that neurotypical peers are experiencing, for example, they desperately want friends, but they won’t go out, wear clothing, typical of peers or shower frequently, they wish they could go to college, but will not study they wish they could join a team but one practice the activity. So again, for context, this is a 20 year old who’s autistic and learning disabilities, ADHD, depression and anxiety. So, Zach, I’d love if you want to kind of kick us off with this, I’d love to hear your thoughts on that.

Zach Morris  

Yeah, you know, a lot of a lot of thoughts coming up. And I think the question was sort of originally asking, you know, like, how do we balance this, this, like, sort of letting them be themselves and kind of, you know, trying to support some of these other things. And I think, you know, my, sort of from a reductionist standpoint, I think I would support the idea of like, we really want our kids to lean into themselves, like, we really want to support this sort of, like full version of themselves, right? Because that’s not only a really hard thing to actually get to know, for just like all of us as humans, right, but maybe especially hard. For me, depending on my nervous system, right, some of the sensitivities I have with my interceptions, like my ability to notice those things, right. So we really want kids, I think, to get to know those parts of themselves. And I see this a lot, right, this discrepancy between, like, what I want and what I envision, and what I actually experience. Right, and I think this is a huge part of the process of like, helping our kids get to know themselves and, and what they’re open to and, and what they’re willing to try and, and what some of their foundational truths are. Right. So I think a lot of times when it comes to this, like vision, and not maybe being able to sort of take the steps towards that thing, I think a lot of times we’re talking about can’t not won’t, you know, so that’s sort of a reframe, I would sort of add to this is that it’s, it might be more that they can’t engage some of those practices more than they just won’t engage those practices. It might be that I have multiple needs in conflict with each other, right? Where it’s like yeah, I’m wanting this thing. I have a need for social connection or I have a need for certain stimulation or something like that, but I also have a deep need for rest or ease or something else right. And so it could just be like this duality of needs that’s creating some some just conflict that I’m trying to process right so so I think I’m such a an advocate for really trying to support our kiddos in getting to know these experiences getting to know these parts getting to know these dualities that are existing so we can, we can just separate all this stuff and we can talk about and we can basically figure out like, well, what’s true for you? What are you open to? What am I maybe grieving? That’s a huge part of this right when I have a vision for something, but I maybe see like our, but I’m not actually totally able to do that right now, or I want it. But there’s all these parts of it actually, that I don’t want. And I might have shame about that. I might have grief and sadness about that. Right. So. So I think what we’re talking about is how do we help our kids be really compassionate with themselves about this experience that they’re having? Yeah,

Debbie Reber  

Yeah, there’s so much wisdom in everything you just shared, the first thing that came to mind was something that Ned Johnson, who I just did this event on building stress tolerance with the author of the self driven child, he always reminds me that our kids want their lives to work out. And I think we forget that, you know, especially as observers or supporters or coaches, you know, consultants to our kids, and where we’re kind of seeing that their actions are not matching their stated goals. And that can feel so frustrating. So I love that reframe as well as the fact that you said they weren’t able to do something, they’re not able to do right now. So I think that is, yes, that makes so much sense. And, you know, as I read this question, that idea came up to me to this disconnect between the desired outcomes and the steps. And I also just want to speak to the depression piece, because a depressed human is going to struggle with so many aspects of their lives, like, even if they you know, want to do something, just taking the little a step might be really, really feel impossible, it might feel like too hard of a lift. And, and then there can be that internal shame spiral, like, I’m not even doing this, what’s the point, you know, so it can, you can really kind of go down a road with that. So I just want to acknowledge that depression is a motivation killer, full stop. 

So some of the things that I was thinking about, for the parent, is also to really slow down and make peace with this kind of longer timeline. And if you can do that, as a parent, so you’re not kind of imposing your own worries and fears and anxieties about what this trajectory looks like, that will help your child not place that pressure on themselves. So if we, if you as the parent can really come to more acceptance, about the fact like, okay, there are these things, my kid once they’re not able to take the steps right now, how can we kind of take some of the pressure off and work towards very small, meaningful steps that we can then build on and trying to then expand on some small wins? So if we can even get the tiniest one? How can we kind of use that as a way to maybe work towards something else? And I also think, talking real with our kids about this stuff, you know, saying like, you’re depressed, like, it makes sense that you are having a hard time doing these things. And, you know, our priority is to help you get to a better place mental health wise, because we know that you’re, you’re capable, we know that you have so much potential, and you’re going through something really hard right now. So let’s focus on trying to help you feel better.

Zach Morris  

Yeah, I love that I’m, you know, what I take out of what you’re saying in going like, Oh, that makes so much sense actually, that like, this is happening, right? This is the experience we’re having is like, I think about this concept of like, the multiple ways to show care, and how a lot of times, like the actions I’m taking as a parent, like, that’s where it’s coming from, it’s coming from this place of care, right? I care so deeply about the experience you’re having and wanting you to, like reach your goals that you want to reach and all of those things, right? So, as I go to have that conversation again, about how we’re going to get you to engage these practices that you want to do. That’s, that’s one way of showing care and support and all of that, right. But kind of to your point, that that might not be the priority right now, necessarily. It might not be like, how are we going to get to this practice? It might be? How are we? How are we going to engage some compassion around that this is the experience I’m having, or how am I going to sort of sit with this and figure out what this means for me, right? So this idea of this is like sort of a mantra that’s coming into my head a lot is like, how else can I show care? You know, like in this moment, when I’m when I maybe have that proclivity to, like, have that conversation again, or provide that reminder to start in on that practice, or, or whatever that is, like if, if we’re now in a pattern or dynamic where it doesn’t seem to be really creating the momentum. We’re looking for who I’m seeing that shame cycle. We’ll come online. That’s where I’m going, Oh, how? Oh, yeah, this is me caring. How else could I care right now?

Debbie Reber  

As you’re saying that, I have a question, just wondering what comes up for you, I’m going back to looking at what the the listener sent in about these kinds of goals, wanting friends, wanting to go to college, wanting to join a team, you know, if we were to help our child kind of prioritize one of those things, I’m just like, you know, we talked about the the mental health piece and prioritizing, getting that back on track. But are there any of those goals or things that you feel would have like a bigger bang for their buck? If that makes any sense? Like, because you can’t tackle everything at once? Let’s pick one thing. Just wondering if you have thoughts about that?

Zach Morris  

Yeah, you know, I think it might depend on some more details of the situation and sort of like, where there’s access, or what sort of the history of experience trying to achieve those things has been right, in a sense. And, and I think that that is a way of getting to that clarity, or sort of more of that, oh, this is the priority, this is what we can access right now is looking at like in those things I’m wanting right? Because in a lot of respects, those are, we’re talking about in objective form, I want to go to college, I want some more friends. I’m also get really curious around, and what are those needs, I’m trying to get met. But I kind of imagine those things meeting, right, maybe I think about going to college, and I imagine that really meeting my need for social connection. Or I think about, you know, going to college, and that really meeting my need for intellectual stimulation, or, you know, I think about having friends. And I think about giving me community or, or, or a place to share my interests, right, or all of these things. And if we can actually get to what the needs are, we can start to also examine how needs can be met in a multitude of ways. So I might get that need met by going to college. But I might also get that need met in some other ways. And as we look to try to get that need met in college, how can we access it right now? Like how, like, where else might we because that’s what I’m ultimately seeking out. I’m seeking out getting that need met. And this is just sort of the route to that, right. So rather than that focus being sort of the strategy for meeting the need, I get really curious and go, what’s the need? And what would it look like for us to try to take some steps around there if we could get sort of, you know, collaboration around that. And if our kiddo kind of resonated with that, that concept being relevant. 

Debbie Reber  

I love all these reframes. It’s just that I just watched a detective series, that True Detective show on HBO. And one of the things that Jodie Foster keeps saying is wrong question, Wrong question. What’s the right question? And so I love these questions. You’re asking, like, what is the need that needs to be met here? And the question you said earlier, like, what’s another way that I can show that I care? So I just so appreciate those reframes. I have a couple of last thoughts, and then we’ll see how many and then we’ll wrap up. I guess I just might, my biggest last thought is, you know, I always read this stuff. From my perspective, I always put myself in the shoes of whoever’s, you know, is writing to me. And I know that when I’m feeling this way, I have to prioritize taking care of myself as well. If you have a child at 20, who is kind of stalling out who is, you know, the stakes feel really high, it feels really scary, if things aren’t unfolding, or things are moving in the opposite direction that we were expecting, they’d be moving in by this time, and our kids can be so attuned to our energy about that. So as much as possible, I would say, find an outlet to vent or to process your own feelings and worries and fears and all of that stuff that is completely removed from any interactions you have with your child. But don’t ignore it, process it, work with someone, get it out of your system, so that you can show up to your child without that stress, and just kind of trust that it’s gonna, your kid’s gonna get there. It’s gonna be okay. It just may be a much longer timeline.

Zach Morris  

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Kind of piggybacking on that a little bit. You know, I’ve, I’ve yet to meet a 20 year old that doesn’t feel rushed to figure it out. Like, right. So even if, even if that’s not what I’m communicating to you, right, even if that’s, that’s sort of, like buried under some of my depression experience, right? What, like, I have yet to meet a 20 year old that doesn’t feel rushed and pressured to figure it out. And so I think what you’re talking about is also like how do we process Our own panic, our own anxieties, our own these things so that so that we can sort of rest in the like feeling confident we’re gonna figure this out, feeling like we have time, right all of these things because because our kiddos need to borrow that confidence, our kiddos need to borrow that that sense of like we’ve got plenty of time we’re going to figure this out. So that was coming up for me one other couple last things I wanted to say was kind of what you’re talking about with the, with what Ned Johnson was saying, which I love what you’re adding there. And often the way I talk about and describe it is everyone wants to be their best selves. Right? All of our kiddos want to be their best selves. And it’s also an incredibly normal human thing. To make choices that aren’t in our best interest. You know what I mean? And so like, that’s such a part of the process. That’s such a part of the learning process is like, oh, yeah, having that vision of starting this practice and then not starting the practice, right? It’s like, Well, all we have to do is look at people’s exercise or your teens right to see how we often don’t make, right? But what we often need in those moments is we need gentleness, we need understanding, right? It’s like not often from that place of hearing, like I really got to get to it. If we don’t start it soon. It’s going to be you know, and so I think it’s that gentleness, that borrowing our confidence that we have time, and that we’re going to figure this out, because I think I think all of our kids want to be their best selves and want to take those steps.

Debbie Reber  

So good. Thank you for that, Zach. And I want to thank our listener for sending in that question. Selfishly Thank you, because of course I benefit from this conversation as well. So Zach, thank you so much for joining me to talk through this today. 


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