Interview between Speaker 1 (Meg), Speaker 2 (Kat Harhai), and Speaker 3 (Katrina Martin)
Episode 39: Neurodiversity-Affirming Approaches to Social & Emotional Learning
Welcome to the Two Sides of the Spectrum Podcast. A place where we explore research, amplify autistic voices, and change the way we think about autism in life, and in our professional therapy practices. I’m Meg Proctor from learnplaythrive.com.
Meg: Before we get started, a quick note on language. On this podcast, you’ll hear me and many of my guests use identity-affirming language. That means we say, ‘autistic person,’ rather than, ‘person with autism’. What we’re hearing from the majority of autistic adults is that autism is a part of their identity that they don’t need to be separated from. Autism is not a disease, it’s a different way of thinking and learning. Join me in embracing the word ‘autistic’ to help reduce the stigma.
Welcome to 2022 and welcome to Episode 39 with Kat Harhai and Katrina Martin from Bridges Learning System. In this episode, we talk about social and emotional learning from a neurodiversity-affirming perspective. And we don’t just talk about what not to do, we get really specific about a beautiful model called the Social-Emotional Acuity Bridge that Kat and Katrina and their team have developed that all of us can use in our own work. I’ll tell you a little bit about Kat and Katrina, a little bit about the episode, and a little bit more about their model before we dive into the episode.
Kat Harhai is a facilitator, educator, and writer. She currently works as the Neurodiversity Collaboration Facilitator at Bridges Learning System. She’s multiply disabled and was late diagnosed as autistic as a young adult. She transitioned from social work to curriculum development during the pandemic and previously facilitated rehabilitation programming for incarcerated women. Kat is passionate about disability justice, anti-racism, trauma-informed practice, and transformative justice. Katrina Martin is the founder of Bridges Learning System. As a neurodivergent individual, Katrina has spent years working with disabled youth in the education system and she’s fully dedicated to helping schools move beyond the deficit-based model of education for autistic students, and moving into a model that focuses on strengths, and teaches the benefits and values inherent in diverse ways of thinking. And I think you are going to see that reflected throughout this interview as we talk about their model and their work.
So, here’s the background. Katrina reached out to me by e-mail a couple months ago about the Social-Emotional Curriculum that her team created. And a lot of people send me their content, and I usually proceed with appropriate caution. In this case, I was expecting another standard problematic social skills curriculum. But as I read more and more and dove deeper into their website, I got more and more excited and interested. So, moving away from the model of teaching autistic kids to mask their autistic selves and learn to appear more neurotypical by using neurotypical quote ‘social skills’, that’s one of the things I get the most questions about, because it’s really important. And it’s also really hard for most of us to identify our biases, and unlearn them, and figure out how to do something different and neurodiversity-affirming without a model to draw from and without guidance. So, what Katrina and Kat and their team have developed is truly remarkable. It’s a fully developed interactive curriculum that therapists and teachers can use in their sessions with neurodivergent kids. It’s absolutely beautiful aesthetically with art made by autistic people and music made by an autistic musician together with the amazing Canadian children’s musician, Raffi.
The curriculum is fully informed by autistic stakeholders, developed by and with neurodivergent people, and every detail is thoughtful, fun, and beautiful. There are these little characters called Sprites who lead you through the journey. It’s virtual and interactive. I want to tell you a little bit more about the Sprites. So, here’s how they describe the Sprites on their website; I’m reading right from the website now: “With the Insight Sprites, autistic and neurodivergent traits are never shamed or masked. Instead, students discover empowerment and belonging as they navigate the different ways the Sprites engage and interact in the world. Students will see themselves in the Sprites as they are guided through each workshop, building bridges of understanding along the way.” Okay, so this is something you really have to try to see. And I’ll tell you this episode isn’t a commercial for their product; we don’t usually do episodes around specific products. So, I’m going to tell you a little bit about what they offer, because I think it’s really cool. And know also that the episode is genuinely full of their insights around social and emotional learning that you can use in your work whether or not you go check out their curriculum.
So, if you want to do a free trial of their curriculum and see how awesome it is, it consists of 40 workshops to be used once a week by OT’s, SLP’s, mental health practitioners, either individually or in small groups. It requires virtually no prep work and uses an online platform with interactions and accessibility features built in. It can be delivered to students either virtually or in-person. So, I have a link that takes you to a page where you can get a seven-day demo of the Social-Emotional Acuity Bridge program. You don’t have to put in your credit card number, and you can just see everything they have to offer. I’ll put it in the show notes. But you can also just type in bit.ly/learnplaythrivebridges (B-R-I-D-G-E-S); so, bit.ly/learnplaythrivebridges, and check it out. And because you’re a part of the Learn Play Thrive community, if you do decide that you want to sign up and use their curriculum in your work, you get it at this link for $29 a month, which is actually 40% less than their full price, and a lot less in my opinion than the value. So, check that out and here is the interview.
Hi, Kat and Katrina! Welcome to the podcast.
Katrina: Thanks so much for having us, Meg.
Kat: Yeah, we’re happy to be here.
Meg: Yeah, I’m so happy to have you both. So, I’ll tell you, when I first got an e-mail from you, I get a lot of emails with people being like, “Hey, can you look at this thing I’ve created? Can you help me promote this thing?” And I sort of proceed with caution, right. I’m like, oh, is this gonna be neurodiversity-affirming? Is it created with or by autistic people? And so, I got your email that you had a Social-Emotional Learning Curriculum, and I was like, “Oh, man. Here we go.” And I started digging in. And it was something that the more I looked at what you were doing, the more and more excited I got. And I’m really glad that we got to connect, and I’m really glad that y’all are out there doing what you’re doing. But I want to learn a little bit more about how you got here. So, tell me your story Kat, how did you find yourself here creating this curriculum?
Kat: Yeah, of course. And first, I just want to validate that healthy skepticism. I wish we didn’t live in a world where neurodivergent people had to kind of have that lens of questioning, “Oh, does this really have my best interest as a neurodivergent person in mind?” But I mean, as I think all of us know, we live in a world where so many of those services that are aimed to quote-unquote ‘support neurodivergent people’ end up just encouraging masking or teaching social skills. And my interest in getting involved in this project is really, I mean, it kind of stems from that. I am multiply disabled; I was late diagnosed as autistic and ADHD as a young adult. And after getting that diagnosis, I just felt, I mean, I think as so many late diagnosed people experience, it felt kind of like I finally had the correct owner’s manual to my brain. Like, I had been working off of a Mac owner’s manual for the first 20 something years, and then I finally got the PC owner’s manual and it was like, “Wait a second. Everything’s making a lot more sense now.” And I think that experience of I think struggling a lot more than I needed to just get basic needs met because I really didn’t have a good understanding of how my brain worked, and my sensory needs, and my need to explore my passions, and all of those things that I think so many neurodivergent people get invalidated for so routinely, kind of going through that unlearning process myself inspired me to want to support other neurodivergent people in the same thing. And so, when I learned about this project from Katrina, I was just really excited about kind of that opportunity to take both my lived experience as a neurodivergent person and partner with other neurodivergent individuals to create something that really authentically supports neurodivergent youth rather than just molding them into what neurotypical expectations would prefer that they are. So, that’s a little bit about how I ended up here.
Meg: That’s great and so important. What about you, Katrina. How did you wind up here?
Katrina: Yeah, so I had a long and winding road to get here. I also am neurodivergent. I’m dyslexic allistic. So, I have been in the field of working with neurodivergent kids for a very long time. And to be honest, I came from a background of a place that now I know was very wrong. And so, I have spent a lot of time unlearning as well. But my unlearning has really been about unlearning kind of the formal education that I spent many years developing, and instead really listening to the voices of the community; listening to autistic neurodivergent voices about what it is that they really want to see, what it is that they really want for their community. So, I started Bridges Learning System about a year ago in the hopes that we could really start from the ground up. So, as Kat mentioned, we really started by partnering with those communities and figuring out what it is that their hopes were, and then building a curriculum around that rather than around neurotypical social expectations.
Meg: That’s great. I want to talk about what y’all kind of saw out there when you started looking at Social-Emotional Learning Curriculums as educators. I’m sure we can all imagine but it sounds like you went looking for something and what you wanted wasn’t there, so you decide to create it. Tell us a little bit about what is there, what you’re seeing, and what most people currently have access to.
Katrina: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of what is currently in existence is really about shaping neurodivergent thinking and communication and behavior into something that quote ‘appears more normal’. And that really was not what it was that we believe is what we should be doing for these kids. So, a lot of what we see are things like whole body listening. So, an expectation that kids are going to sit still, make eye contact, and communicate verbally. And these are all things that kids are being taught — both neurodivergent and neurotypical kids — are being taught as this is how you show respect, this is how you show that you are paying attention, and you’re listening. And you guys can’t see me right now but I am sitting here, sitting in my chair, swirling around, making zero eye contact, and I’m very engaged. I’m very attentive to the conversation that we’re having. And so, I think that that’s a really important message, that we’re trying to break down those barriers of the fact that kids can participate in ways that are really comfortable for them.
Meg: So, I want to ask you more about why these types of interventions that are trying to make autistic kids act or appear less autistic, more neurotypical are problematic. You mentioned whole body listening; I do have to say that Elizabeth Sautter, one of the creators of whole-body listening reached out to me about a month ago, and she said, “Hey, here’s where we’re at. We never meant to do what we’ve done. And we’re taking it all down. And we have an autistic focus group. And we’re soliciting feedback. And we’re completely dismantling Ableist Larry and creating something different,” and they’re creating something that looks great, and really does reflect what they’re hearing from autistic people. So, that’s just a happy anecdote in the whole-body listening story. But it doesn’t diminish the ways in which that is what we’re teaching, like, whether it’s Larry or not, that’s what we’re seeing out there. Kat, I want to ask you, why does this matter so much? What’s the impact of it?
Kat: Yeah, I mean, as encouraging as it is to hear about those examples of like professionals or quote-unquote ‘experts’ who are not autistic or not neurodivergent actually listening to the voices in the community; like, unfortunately, that’s the exception to the norm at this point in time. We’re still very much at a point as a culture where we would much rather defer to the knowledge of an outsider looking in to an autistic experience, rather than defer to an autistic person themselves as the expert on their own experience. And, I mean, as you can imagine, a lot gets missed in that outsider perspective. And I mean, there’s a whole like domino effect of problems that we see with the current kind of status quo services or quote-unquote ‘interventions’ for neurodivergent kids. And I mean, number one, that those are basically like masking factories for kids. Like, teaching kids how to suppress sensory needs.
And the goal of so many of those programs is really to make the neurodivergent kid appear more neurotypical and more understandable by their neurotypical peers, teachers, family members, because those people maybe don’t have an understanding of how echolalia is a form of communication that’s equally valid to mouth words, or how stimming is a form of self-regulation, even though that might not be how they as a neurotypical person kind of self-soothe or self-regulate. And so, these programs encourage neurodivergent youth to suppress their needs and appear more neurotypical to appease people outside of themselves, which then leads to all sorts of mental, physical health problems, self-esteem problems, and I mean, like, I know, I’ve lost people in my own life to suicide who are neurodivergent. And that’s, unfortunately, a way too common experience. And I think it’s because we’re — the standard that we’ve accepted as a culture is basically teaching neurodivergent people, “Who you are innately is not good enough. So, we’re gonna try to make you less of who you are. And that’ll be a little bit more palatable.”
Meg: Yeah, and this is shown in the research, high rates of PTSD, depression, suicidality for autistic people who have been subjected to interventions that promote masking comes up a lot on the podcast, that if we look at it in a cultural competence model, this would never be acceptable, right? Saying, “Just hide who you are, and act a little bit more like us,” that we know that isn’t good for people’s well-being. And somehow, it’s just taking so much longer to get that message about the autistic culture being a valid way of existing in the world and not something that we’re supposed to change. I wanna — I want to talk about your company’s values, because I think it is a really new template for those of us who are trying to do something different. And your values are evident in everything that you do. They’re pervasive. But put them out there on the table for us, Katrina. What were the values that you held when developing this curriculum?
Katrina: Yeah, absolutely. So, I think the first and foremost was listen to the community. Ask autistic adults, what is it that you want? What would have helped you as a child? Where do you feel like we should be? Where and how do you feel like we should be supporting autistic youth? And so, that informed the whole curriculum, really. So, we started with surveys of the community, Kat led some amazing focus groups with autistic adults, and it really changed a lot of what it was that we kind of had planned for what we were going to do in our curriculum. And so, I think that’s the biggest one. I think another really important one is that we don’t know what we don’t yet know. And that, to us, means that we’re willing to learn, we’re willing to change. And so, we recognize that we’re not going to get everything right on the first try. And it’s important to us to have grace with ourselves and continue to do the very best that we can. But that means that the work that we’re doing is not static, it will forever be growing and changing in response to what it is that we’re hearing from the community about what’s working and what’s not.
Meg: I think that’s so important, because it’s really easy to get paralyzed in fear from doing something wrong. I have to do this over and over in my business. Or I should say, I get to do this over and over, right, to say, like, “Hey, I had this wrong. I’m going to try to do better.” Now, I got a lot of Facebook messages recently about a course that I created being sort of criticized by an autistic person in a Facebook group that I’m not in. And they were like, “You need to know this is happening!” And I was like, that’s great. Like, I can’t get into this group. But can you pass the feedback along to me, because that sounds like a conversation that needs to be happening. And I think that we have to be sort of brave and honest and authentic in that so that other people can try new things, rather than just saying, “Ooh, I’m not gonna — I’m not gonna go near this. Like, I’m too worried about getting it wrong.”
Katrina: Yeah, I think that’s true for us. And I think it’s true for the people that we’re working with, the whole community of people supporting autistic youth. There’s a big shift that has to happen. We have to move away from a medical model that’s being currently taught right now, at this very moment in schools all over the country. And so, you know, being accepting of where people are on their journey to becoming neurodiversity-affirming and helping them along that way, recognizing that they’re not going to get it all right from the beginning, but supporting them and understanding why it’s so important to continue to try.
Meg: It is fun to see how y’all have woven your values so deeply into what you create. I mean, your art is autistic created, your characters are diverse in every way, your music is autistic created, and like you talked about, it really came out of a needs assessment from the autistic community, not a needs assessment of like, oh, what do teachers want? Let me start with that. So, I think that’s such a wonderful model. Can you give us an example of the content in one of your lessons, Kat?
Kat: Yeah. So, our curriculum covers, I mean, a range of different topics, including getting my needs met, taking care of my senses, being together while being me. And one workshop topic that Katrina and I spent a particularly long amount of time on was surrounding emotions, and really trying to figure out a way to communicate information about how to know what you are feeling as an individual that was accessible, especially to people who experience alexithymia. And we had kind of originally started with, I mean, the pretty standard, like, just sort of emotions vocabulary lists. So, happy, sad, angry, excited, surprised, all of those words.
Meg: I’ll cut in. I’ll cut it for people who don’t know, alexithymia is a difficulty recognizing emotions in yourself and others. And it’s maybe 50%, we think, of autistic people have alexithymia. Does that sound right to you?
Kat: That’s, yeah, that’s about the number that I’ve heard as well.
Meg: Okay, go ahead.
Kat: Thank you. Yeah, well, those emotion words can be a helpful way for some individuals to express their internal experience. Those words are often really inaccessible, and don’t necessarily mean anything to people who are experiencing alexithymia and don’t — like, what does the word ‘content’ mean? Or what does the word ‘surprise’ mean, if you’re not as tuned in to what’s going on internally? And so, to try to make a lesson around feelings more accessible to a range of different people and a range of experiencing feelings, we created kind of this multi-dimensional way of communicating what you’re feeling. And so, we included emotion words. So, emotion words are part of it. We also included body signals. So, things like ‘I’m feeling itchy’, or ‘I’m feeling sweaty’, or ‘My mouth is dry’, or ‘My tongue is hurting’. Those body signals are another way to understand what you might be feeling at any given moment. We also included ‘like’ statements, so kind of metaphors or analogies like ‘I’m feeling like exploding confetti’, or ‘I’m feeling like my feet are planted firmly on the ground’, kind of giving opportunity for maybe more creative or abstract or kind of out-of-the-box ways of understanding what you’re feeling. And I think a kind of cool component of those ‘like’ statements is that you can also relate those to interests or passions. Like, if you’re someone who’s really passionate about a specific book series, you can communicate, “Oh, I’m really feeling like the main character in chapter seven of this book,” and that’s a way to capture your internal experience that then is kind of within the same language of something that you’re really invested in and know a lot about.
And the next category that we included in this kind of larger way of understanding feelings is values. And this was really inspired by — we read this amazing Neuroclastic article by Terra Vance that everyone should read called ‘Very Grand Emotions’. And it’s about how really the loudest feelings for so many autistic people and neurodivergent people have to do with values that we hold to our core, and it can lead to really strong feelings in moments when those values are upheld, or when those values are violated. So, things like justice, or fairness, or equity, or love, or belonging are examples of values that can lead to really strong, really visceral feelings and are another way to think about feelings. And then we also included an ‘Other’ categories. So, we didn’t want to limit kids to just those categories that we could come up with. We wanted there to be kind of opportunity for if there’s another way that our brains didn’t think about or come up with that makes the most sense to you, like if talking about your feelings in colors or via a dance move that you want to perform for the person that you’re communicating your feelings to, if that’s what makes the most sense to you, then that’s the right way to communicate your feelings. And really, kind of like the punchline with that whole lesson and that whole kind of way of thinking about feelings was just one, offering alternatives to the sort of standard just like list of emotion words, whether or not those work for you; and also, really deferring to the child is kind of the expert on like, what works best for me, what’s the most helpful, most illustrative way to express what I’m experiencing internally.
Meg: This is so thoughtful and lovely. It’s clear how much thought you all really put into taking a different approach there. I want to tie it back to a couple of things that have come up on the podcast before. You were talking about alexithymia and how emotion words can get tricky for folks who have a harder time recognizing and naming their own emotions and other people’s. In Episode 35 of the podcast, Rachel Dorsey, who experiences alexithymia said that when she was growing up, she described a feeling and it was labelled as anxiety, and it was mislabeled. And so, she grew up with this category of anxiety that included excitement and enthusiasm. And it really wasn’t helpful to have her emotions labelled for her because they were being mislabeled for her and it took her into adulthood to work that out. So, I think that really highlights what you’re saying is like, this is not the only way to learn about emotions. And it’s not the best way for some people. It’s just one tool that works for some folks. And then, you’re also tying really nicely back into Episode 7, when Autism Level UP! Jacqueline Fede and Amy Laurent were talking about their energy regulation model of talking not about ‘How am I feeling?’, but ‘Do I have the right amount of energy for this situation, or not enough, and how do I need to change that?’. And I love hearing how y’all are tying all of these different things together to present some options that are hopefully empowering for our autistic clients around emotions. So, another category that comes up a lot is social skills, right. We’ve got emotional regulation, and then we have quote-unquote ‘social skills’. What goals are y’all usually seeing around social skills? And how are you trying to do this differently?
Katrina: Yeah. I think a lot of the social skills that we’re seeing are around things like turn-taking, participating in non-preferred activities — which I find very odd — and then socializing according to kind of neurotypical expectations. So, playing in a way that is neurotypical, playing with toys using a kind of imaginary type play. And really, these skills, they can be thought of in a different way that is neurodiversity-affirming. So, we can think about play as more than just what neurotypical play looks like. Stimming can be play, you know, lining up cars is play. There’s no wrong way to play. Play is really what brings enjoyment to the child. And so, supporting kids and playing in a way that feels authentic to themselves is one kind of important part of the way that we’re changing the narrative. Another is in socializing and interacting in ways that feel good to you. So, being able to communicate in some way to others, your specific style of communication and socialization allows for that kind of bridge of understanding between two people. That said, I do want to make it clear that we do not expect the onus of change to really be on that autistic or neurodivergent individual. We want to provide supports for advocating for your needs; at the same time as supporting the adults around the children, their caregivers, educators, interventionists, in becoming more understanding and accepting of diverse ways of thinking and interacting. But we do know that we live in a society that is very ableist and very steeped in neurotypical expectations. And so, we want to give kids the skills to be able to advocate for things that keep them comfortable when they’re outside of their more supportive environment.
Meg: Yeah. So here, you’re sort of tying in this self-advocacy piece, being able to understand I’m autistic, understand what helps me have a way to ask for it. And we’re considering that one, asking for that isn’t always going to be easy, and there needs to be other ways to accommodate. And also, the double empathy problem, right, that autistic people don’t need to be the ones changing, like you guys have been saying and everything that you’re presenting. They don’t have to change to meet neurotypical expectations, that the perspective-taking can go both ways and their teachers and peers can learn about what that autistic child needs and what makes them feel comfortable. Do you have any good examples from your social — I don’t even want to say social skills — what is the language that you use around that, social learning?
Katrina: Yeah. You know, we’re actually — we’re still kind of struggling to come up with what the alternative is, because it is not social skills. And we want to make it very clear that we’re not teaching social skills, which implies one right way of socializing. We’re creating bridges of understanding. So, we’re creating the ability for kids to be able to socialize in a way that feels comfortable for them while getting their needs met, and being able to communicate their individual hopes and desires. So, you know, some of the goals that we’re working on are being able to identify your own communication style, and being able to tell other people. So, for example, being able to say, “I’m a direct communicator,” so that allows the person that I’m talking to to be able to really understand, I’m not being rude, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. This is just a part of my communication style. And I think really being able to just validate that that is okay and being able to tell other people, “This is who I am,” is the first step in that acceptance piece.
Kat: I think I have one, Katrina.
Katrina: All right, Kat, you can give another one.
Kat: So, in the workshop that’s titled ‘Being Together Being Me’, which is really all about validating that there’s an infinite number of ways that you can listen, or you can engage in a class, or you can play with other people and validating that all of those are equally as important. There’s no right or wrong way to do any of those things. At the same time, acknowledging the reality that the way that works for me doing some things isn’t going to be compatible with other people’s way of doing things 100% of the time. And, like, basically, what I mean by that is just that in a vast diversity of access needs, sometimes the thing that one person needs actually conflicts with the thing that another person needs. So, for example, like if the way that one person stands creates a lot of noise, and there’s another person in the same room who’s really sound sensitive, those are access needs that are conflicting. And so, while still validating that both of those are needs, and both of those are equally important, how can we find a creative solution that works for both of those people without having to task one person with suppressing a need, or masking, or saying like, “That’s not as important as this other person’s”?
And so, things like in our workshop, an example where that happens is the character Dot — who’s one of the Insight Sprites, these like magical, part-human part-magical characters that kind of bring all of the stories and the curriculum to life — the character Dot is stimming by spinning quarters at their desk and watching them fall down. And they’re sitting next to Mikko, who the sound of the quarters spinning and falling down is hurting their ears. And so, for that, I think they’re in like a Math class or Reading class or something, during that class, Dot puts a sign on their desk that like indicates to the teacher, “Hey, I really need to stim with my quarters right now,” so I’m going to go to a quieter part of the room further away from Mikko soo that I’m not hurting Mikko’s ears, but I’m still able to spend my quarters and get what I need in this moment. And so really, yeah, not a social skill. We’re not asking anyone to take on neurotypical attributes, but just kind of acknowledging that yes, like, your needs are always important, and we always need to prioritize those, and how can we still make that work in a world where that’s going to bump heads with what other people need some of the time? Like, what are the creative solutions to make all of those work?
Meg: I love that example. And it’s a question people ask a lot, especially around stimming, like, “But what if this is hard for other people?” And I really like how this idea ties into sort of Ross Greene’s Collaborative Problem-Solving Model, where you’re teaching kids to come up with solutions together rather than teaching them, “Oh, this is right. This is wrong. This is infringing on people. And this is what matters.” It’s how can we come up with a plan together that helps everybody get their needs met. And for our very young kids, or our kids who are non-speaking, we can model that process for them still, and presume that they are learning from what we are teaching about you matter, you matter, problem-solving together matters, let’s do this.
Kat: Yes, absolutely. And one, just, like nuance that I want to insert is like the difference between someone expressing discomfort because, like, of an ableist lens that says, “Ooh, I really don’t like when you’re stimming,” or, “I really don’t like watching you do that,” like that is a different thing from another person being sound sensitive or needing like a certain level of quiet to be able to focus in class. And another goal of our curriculum kind of longer term is we want this curriculum to be in classrooms with both neurotypical and neurodivergent students, and kind of from this equity lens, helping students understand all of us have needs and those needs are important, but those needs are going to look different from one person to the next. And so, how can we prioritize this one person’s need and just because like, I’ve been socialized to have an ableist lens and I’m uncomfortable with this person stimming, that’s not the same thing as being sound sensitive and being unable to pay attention to a lesson. And so, we also want to create opportunity for kind of that equity lens.
Meg: That is such an important distinction, I appreciate you bringing that to the forefront. I remember in Episode 29 with Dr. Stephen Shore which was about self-advocacy, he talked about autistic adults in the workplace who need to stim on their breaks or while they’re working, and that that might make customers uncomfortable, and that that’s on the customers to learn about, “This is okay. And here’s maybe why you’re uncomfortable. And here’s maybe why they’re doing it,” and like now you do your work, right. So, I really appreciate that distinction that we need to keep in our heads of does this feel unsafe from like a physical or sensory perspective to somebody; or like you said, is this just kind of touching at an ableist spot that they haven’t worked through yet? If so, it’s a great opportunity to support them in working through that, because that benefits everybody. Yeah, I love that distinction. If there’s just one thing that you hope people take from what we’ve talked about today, what would that one big shift be? I’ll start with you, Kat.
Kat: I would say that the onus of responsibility for making the world a more accessible place for neurodivergent people, that responsibility is primarily on the environment and the people around the neurodivergent person. And I think it’s multi-faceted. Like, sensory needs, for example, can be vastly different from one person to the next. And like, one person might be really sensitive to visual clutter, and another person might need a lot of visual stimuli to be able to focus and to be able to engage with a task at hand. And so, it’s the job of every person to kind of get to know their own individual needs, and be able to communicate those to the world around them. And it’s the job of the teachers and the caregivers and the peers and therapists, the people in the community supporting the neurodivergent people, to listen to those needs, to validate them, and to change the environment, change the context, if there’s something that’s fundamentally preventing those needs from being met. And so, yeah, just kind of placing that responsibility in a more appropriate place than where it gets placed from the medical model or the deficit lens.
Meg: Thank you, Kat. What about you, Katrina?
Katrina: I think becoming neurodiversity-affirming means that you really have to change your hopes for what you will achieve in your work. So, rather than doing therapy to make kids appear more quote ‘normal’ through compliance training and masking, you have a new job. And your new job is to support kids in being their authentic selves, and in communicating and interacting with the world in a way that supports their needs instead of yours.
Meg: Lovely. Thank you both so much. Tell us what you’re working on now, what you have available, and where we can find you online.
Katrina: Yeah, so we have just recently launched our flagship program, the Seabridge Curriculum. So, you can find us at bridgeslearning system.com. When you go on to the website, if you’re looking for the curriculum, you can find a free demo. So, you can sign up for the free demo, and kind of see how it works because we can talk about it but it’s a lot better when you actually see it in person. And you can kind of get into the nitty gritty of all of the bits and pieces. So, definitely invite everybody to sign up for that free demo and see what you think.
Meg: I second that because I saw the free demo and it was really cool. So, definitely check it out. Thank you so much, Kat and Katrina.
Katrina: Thank you.
Kat: Thanks so much for having us.
Meg: Okay, I hope you all are as excited that things like this are starting to exist in the world as I am. Again, if you want to do a free demo of the program that Kat and Katrina and their team have created, you can visit bit.ly/learnplaythrivebridges, and check it out!
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