[Book Review] Differently Wired. Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World by Deborah Reber
I ordered the book, Differently Wired, from my local library based on a podcast interview I listened to on Zen Parenting radio. As I listened to author Debbie Reber, talk about her autistic, ADHD, and gifted son, I became more intrigued and wanted to read her parenting book based on her experiences with her son and her podcast, TiLT Parenting.
I picked up the book at the library ready to hear the typical parenting information about children with her slant on how we “should” be parenting our children. Instead I found something entirely different. The book is an honest and vulnerable telling of her journey of parenting a neurodiverse child. As I read the introduction, I had tears flowing down my cheeks because I could relate to having “square peg children” trying to fit in the round holes of the traditional parenting norms and education system.
I want to share with you a few definitions before I pull out a few aspects of the book that I believe would be helpful to both parents and educators. Neurodiversity, or differently wired, people is a way to look at brain differences such as autism or ADHD as a result of normal and natural variation in the human genome. According to Reber’s research, on average, one in five children on the whole has a neurological difference. A teacher with a classroom of 25 children, on average has five (or more) children who may have ADHD, autism, giftedness, learning difference, anxiety, sensory issues or twice exceptional. Twice exceptional or 2e children are intellectually gifted and have one or more neurological differences. All these diagnoses can be grouped under the term, “differently wired.”
I am a parent with several differently wired children, and as I read through the book I found myself wishing I had this book long ago. At times I had wished the educators of my children had a better understanding of their needs and were able to adapt to those needs. The author described how her son’s needs that continuously were not being met by the traditional school system model, and therefore, she and her husband decided to homeschool their son.
Reber’s goal for writing the book was to redefine how neurodiversity is perceived in the world and to shift the parenting paradigm to one that acknowledges and includes parents’ experiences. Debbie tackles this goal by describing 18 different “TiLTs” or shifts parents can consider in their parenting. She uses research and stories, plus providing reflection questions to ponder and tips for parents to put into action. This is a parenting book that many educators can also glean much information and ideas to ponder.
All 18 of the TiLTs were very applicable to a parent (and educators) with a differently wired child; however, here are several TiLTs that I wanted to highlight.
TiLT #1 – Question Everything You Thought You Knew About Parenting
Parenting a differently wired kid is not about being comfortable. Reber asks parents to question their beliefs about education, parenting style, nutrition, child’s social life and the personal characteristics of ourselves and our child. She suggests being curious about what makes ourselves and our children tick. Let go of how we think things “should” be for ourselves and our children. There is no, one “right” way on this parenting journey. I would also say that what works for one differently wired child might not work for another child. Break out of the limits we put up through social norms and imagine what could be for your child.
TiLT # 6 Let Your Child Be on Their Own Timeline
The traditional school system has a hard time with this concept, children learn different skills when they are ready to learn that skill. Neurotypical children can struggle with measuring up, and neurodiverse kids start picking up the messages of, “I am dumb”, “I am not good at _______”, or “I will never measure up.” Such messages can be crushing to a child’s self-worth and spirit. Parents start worrying about a child being able to progress at a certain rate, and teachers start to push students beyond what they are ready for developmentally. When this happens, the child can experience increased anxiety and confidence crumbles under the pressure. This pressure is more pronounced with differently wired kids. To help combat this pressure, Reber suggests that a parent can start pointing out how your child is excelling, in both academic and character areas. Often those strengths are overlooked, when in reality such strengths are the foundation where growth can occur.
TiLT # 10 Practice Radical Self-Care
Parents and teachers all need to practice self-care. If you don’t put on your oxygen mask first, you can’t serve the others around you very well. Self-care looks different for each of us; however, to practice radical self-care, it has to be intentionally good for your mind, body and soul, and JUST FOR YOU! It is very important to plan one (or more) small acts of self-care every day.
TiLT #12 Make a Ruckus When You Need To
Advocate for your child because nobody better understands the needs of your child than you. As an advocate for your child, you need to find the people, resources and schools that will understand your child’s needs. That is not always an easy task. Many times it will take you out of your comfort zone, and solutions may be many miles from home. Reber provides a list of skills you might need to advocate for your child at school. Here are a couple suggestions: building relationships, asking questions, staying calm and knowing your child’s rights. Speaking up for your child intentionally and respectfully for a change or action needed is what advocacy means for parents.
TiLT # 17 Help Your Kid Embrace Self-Discovery
Reber believes that the greatest gift we can give our differently wired kids is the knowledge of who they are, how their brain works and what they need to do to create the life they want. Self-discovery can be an ongoing conversation of helping our children understand they are different and that is great! When a child knows what they need and has the words to communicate those needs, then he can be confident in advocating for himself. Conversations about strengths and challenges on a daily basis can help, plus having communication that is open and honest can support both yours and your child’s self-discovery.
I hope you go to your local library or online bookstore to get your copy of Differently Wired. One of the messages in this book is to let our differently wired children know that there’s nothing wrong with them. Nothing needs to be fixed or changed. We are all just learning. Learning helps us to figure out how we operate and the additional skills needed to work on. The 18 TiLTs are just the beginning of how parents can support their differently wired children, and give them the skills needed to make life a little easier.