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Is my child differently-wired? An interview with Debbie Reber

Now, onto today's newsletter with a special guest, my dear friend Debbie Reber, author of Differently Wired and podcast host of the Tilt Parenting podcast.

I met Debbie in Amsterdam a few years ago at a friend's farewell picnic. Her son Asher, then about 10 years old, bounded up to our picnic blanket with a delighted exclamation, "Plums! I love plums!" It's the kind of introduction you never forget and their whole family have become good friends of mine. I've been for innumerable lunchtime walks just with Asher hearing about everything from how lasers work (don't ask me to explain!), everything you didn't know you wanted to know about marine biology (including sub-classifications I never heard of in my biology lessons), getting to discuss the pros and cons of various fonts (our least favourite being comic sans and papyrus), and anything else the boy is interested in.

It takes a special kind of person to raise a differently wired kid like Asher, and Debbie shares her journey with others helping them to see that being differently wired is a difference, not a deficit.

I've been asked a lot about differently wired children (read on to find out what this means) and, I'll be honest, it's not my speciality. So, as I'm on the road, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to ask Debbie if she would write something for all you parents who may be wondering if your child might be differently-wired and what you can do about it. I asked her to explain what some neuro-differences look like and her favourite book, conversation, and resource for each.

I hope you enjoy it! Here's Debbie...

What is "differently wired"?

Is your child more sensitive to sounds than other toddlers or he is a child who doesn’t ever seem to slow down? Maybe she has an unusually rich vocabulary for a child her age or he finds working with small manipulatives challenging for his little fingers.

When some aspect of our child’s development appears to be different from his or her same-age peers, many parents wonder if their child is developing “typically,” and if not, what does that mean?

I use the differently wired to describe kids who are moving through the world in a less typical way. This catchall phrase includes children with everything from ADHD or learning disabilities like dyslexia to children who are gifted, autistic, or highly sensitive.

And while differently wired isn’t a formal diagnostic term, it has resonated with many people because it has a positive connotation, while also explaining differences and embracing uniqueness, which is important when we consider that being “atypical” is more normal than most people realize. In fact, at least one in five people today is in some way differently wired.

Because many differently wired children have “invisible differences,” meaning they aren’t glaringly obvious, many parents struggle to determine what, if anything, is going on with their child. While it might be scary or upsetting to consider our child is on a different path than the one we expected, the truth is that being neurologically different doesn’t mean “worse” or “bad.” Rather, it means unique, and as such, these children will benefit from parents and educators who commit to understand who they are, embrace their unique strengths and areas for growth, and get curious about how to help them thrive.

Here is a quick overview of some of the ways children can be differently wired today, along with a few of my favorite resources.

Autism Spectrum Disorder / Asperger’s

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodifference that is typically marked bysocial, communication, and behavioral challenges. For example, some autistic children may struggle with making eye contact, and others may engage in repetitive behaviors or movements and/or have challenges related to speech and nonverbal communication. Many autistic children have deep areas of interest; they may crave structure, routine, and order. And because autism is truly a spectrum with no rigid definition, a wide range of behaviors may or may not fall into the diagnosis.

  • Favorite book: Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Dr. Barry Prizant

  • Favorite Tilt episode: Barry Prizant Talks About His Book Uniquely Human Uniquely Human

  • Favorite website / resource: Asperger Experts

Highly Sensitive / Sensory Processing Disorder

Children with sensory processing issues have challenges related to the way their brain interprets and responds to sensory information. They might be sensory seeking (hyposensitive), sensory avoidant (hypersensitive), or a mix of the two. Certain environments teeming with sensory input—water parks, movie theatres, amusement parks, and more—or certain emotional circumstances can be very disregulating. Likewise, children who’ve been identified as “highly sensitive kids” often have an overly strong empathic response—for instance, they might cry for days after mistakenly stepping on a beetle.