I had the pleasure of speaking with Rach Wilson, a relationship coach who works with parents of neurodiverse children. I’m thrilled to share our conversation here. Read the interview about her work here.
Afsaneh: Both of us focus on the communication piece. For you it’s between the parents, and for me it’s between the parent and child. If you don’t really know what the other person is thinking, it leads to misunderstanding, assumptions, rejection, frustration, and anger. It’s not that different when you talk about parents and kids trying to learn together at home. When a child doesn’t want to do something, the parent assumes they know why the child doesn’t want to do it. Then, the parent responds based on that assumption. The child in turn feels like their parent is responding in ways that don’t feel very supportive or loving.
Rach: We’re not taught to communicate. That’s the thing that I think is massively missing. Our communication skills typically come from what we grew up with. We go into our relationships, we go into parenting and we wing it based on what we grew up with. I really don’t know many people who grew up with parents who were stellar parents as well as stellar partners, who could balance it all, who were happy, who knew how to communicate, and who could manage their own emotions.
We’ve all grown up with a variety of parents who probably weren’t so great at some of the things that we go into parenting and relationships thinking we can do. That’s the downfall. There’s not enough education going through school around how to build strong relationships, how to communicate, how to ask for what you need, how to receive when you’re given stuff, how to appreciate the other person, and how to understand other people and other perspectives.
None of this education is given. This is all stuff that I learned through personal development, learning to be a coach, learning to do emotional healing, through every certification I’ve done and all of the books that I’ve read. I’ve learned it through education. I didn’t learn it from my parents, role models, or teachers at school. Most people are the same.
Afsaneh: So much of what’s modeled for us is to deny your own needs and to think about other people. Get the work done. It doesn’t matter if you’re sick, show up to school or work anyway. It doesn’t matter how you feel. That’s a lot of the training kids receive in school. I have to work with parents on recognizing this and making a shift. That this is a major difference between school and homeschooling. Homeschooling is about meeting the needs, not training the child to ignore their needs.
I remember the first day of school as a 7th grade teacher. The kids would come to us from elementary school. The bathrooms were only open at certain times and teachers weren’t given the key. Students would ask to go the bathroom and I’d have to tell them that they couldn’t because it was locked. They would break down and cry. It was a bizarre concept that they had to get used to – you can’t go to the bathroom when you need to. Instead, you must ignore a basic human need and wait until the bathroom is open.
Hunger is another need that children are taught to ignore. There are set times to eat at school and you have to ignore the need to eat or drink outside of those regimented times. Homeschooling turns that on its head.
Homeschooling is about meeting the individual child’s needs. So homeschooling parents wouldn’t have a regimented approach to things like eating and drinking because we want our homeschoolers to have consistent energy levels for learning. Having your needs met is such a nicer way to learn.
You can bring it back to relationships because knowing that you have a need, being able to name that need, being able to ask your partner– or your child or your parent– to help you meet that need or to respect that need – that is so important, but so complicated.
Rach: When it comes to our neurodiverse kids, being in acceptance of their diagnosis – it doesn’t mean that you have to accept the label – but understanding and doing the learning of how their brain works differently means that you are in a better position to be able to understand their behavior because they might not be able to articulate it.
It’s the same in relationships. I think everybody would do well to sit down and try to understand how the other person’s brain works. When this sort of situation happens, why do you do this and why do I do that? Because, while not everybody has a neurodiverse brain as such, I see a lot where I can see the difference in people’s brains and the way that they behave.
If we can get to understanding each other on that level, we can really support one another by employing strategies that will help our partner when they are in a tough spot.
Afsaneh has been an educator for over 20 years. She has taught students from preschool to graduate school and now homeschools her own child and coaches homeschooling families in how to teach their children based on individual learning styles, interests, needs, and connection so that the whole family can thrive. She is also the author of the picture books series Jamie is Jamie.