Ep 267: Neurodivergent Teens and Communication

Chris Martin, author of May Tomorrow Be Awake, speaks on the concept of neurodiversity, and how parents can encourage teenagers to be their unique selves, rather than trying to pass as "normal."

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Full Show Notes

We all want our kids to feel “normal”, to fit in with their peers and the culture around them. But what if normal isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? What if we’ve defined “normal” too narrowly, and left a lot of beautiful minds out of the picture?

Our guest today, Chris Martin, is encouraging us to take a closer look at the concept of neurotypicality. As a poet and advocate who has worked with autistic writers for over 20 years, Chris has come to see neurodivergence as a creative superpower rather than a deficit.

So what does it mean to be “neurodivergent”? Why is neurodiversity so poorly understood? And how we can nurture the neurodiverse minds all around us--both in our kids and in ourselves?

Introducing Chris Martin

To explore those questions, we’re speaking with Chris Martin, poet and Executive Director of UnRestricted Interest, an arts organization for neurodivergent writers. Chris is himself neurodivergent, with ADHD.

In his book “May Tomorrow Be Awake”, Chris details his experiences working with nonspeaking autistic poets. He shares their incredible insights while reframing common misconceptions about autism--like the notion that autistic people “lack empathy.”

Drawing on his background, we’ll be discussing:
  • How autism has unique creative strengths
  • Why all kids start out neurodivergent
  • The high cost of “masking” neurodivergence
  • How to nurture neurodiversity in teens
Autism’s Upsides

Autism comes with plenty of challenges, but also some incredible strengths...if we choose to see them. As Chris explains, many autistic traits have a positive flipside when reframed.

What’s seen as a “restricted interest” can also be viewed as a passionate devotion to a subject, while sensory sensitivity connects autistic people to the environment in profound ways. Chris even explains how synesthesia--common in autistics--may have given rise to metaphor and poetry.

Understanding how autistic minds work differently is key to valuing their contributions. Neurodivergence itself shouldn’t be the problem--the problem is a culture that refuses to accommodate it.

Masking Our True Selves

Many neurodivergent people can “pass” for neurotypical, masking their true selves in order to fit in. But as Chris recounts, this masking process can make people physically ill.

He explains how as a child, he trained himself to perform neurotypicality out of fear of bullying. Monitoring himself constantly to fit in was exhausting, and separated him from his true identity.

The good news is that for the next generation, culture is already changing. Chris’s neurodivergent son hasn’t experienced the bullying Chris once did. But for those of us who grew up masking, unlearning those habits is tough.

Through his work, however, Chris has found his way back to himself--and wants to help others do the same.

Embracing Our Shared Neurodiversity

One takeaway from Chris’s book is that since we all have diverse minds and bodies, disability is a universal human experience. We can’t predict or eliminate it--we have to accommodate for it.

Likewise, we all exist on a spectrum of neurodivergence. Though some people seem more neurotypical than others, it’s partly an act, Chris argues--we’re all suppressing or enhancing certain natural tendencies to conform.

Kids start out accepting of their own and others’ neurodivergence. But at some point, we teach them to hide it. What if instead, we could preserve that spirit of openness, and build a culture that embraces each mind and body?

A world that celebrates neurodiversity is one that would benefit us all--one that’s more creative, more thoughtful and more humane. Chris and his autistic friends are illuminating the path.

Additional Topics:
  • Why autistic people may have been first to use metaphor
  • How to congratulate someone on an autism diagnosis
  • Why disability is ahead for us all
  • How to nurture tics versus correct them
Don’t miss this thought-provoking discussion! To hear more from Chris, check out his book “May Tomorrow Be Awake” or visit unrestrictedinterest.com.

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Creators and Guests

Andy Earle
Andy Earle
Host of the Talking to Teens Podcast and founder of Write It Great
Ep 267: Neurodivergent Teens and Communication
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