Do you consider yourself a sensitive person when it comes to sounds, smells, physical sensations, or taste?
Do you judge this kind of sensitivity in yourself or others?
Many people feel caught in the vice grip of having a nervous system that responds strongly to various kinds of sensory stimulation while also feeling judged and deeply misunderstood for being sensitive to things that others appear not to be bothered by in their day-to-day lives.
If you feel like you are too much or know someone who feels and responds to various stimuli deeply, then today’s show is for you.
My guests are speech and language pathologists who, like many, many support specialists, join me in my commitment to create spaces that welcome all and move away from ableist standards we have on what it means to be ‘normal’ and healthy. And they are committed to helping kids and the adults in their lives show up authentically without masking and hiding to appease the way things have always been done.
Jessie Ginsburg is a Sensory Integration trained speech-language pathologist and CEO of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a top-rated clinic in Los Angeles. Through her international publications and talks, and her global Inside Out Sensory Certificate Program, Jessie inspires a new way of thinking about the speech-language pathologist’s role in supporting autistic children.
Chris Wenger is an enthusiastic school-based SLP, internationally-acclaimed presenter, and creator of the Dynamic Assessment of Social Emotional Learning. A prominent thought leader in the field of speech pathology, and known on social media as “Speech Dude,” Chris motivates and entertains fellow educators and clinicians through his humorous and inspiring posts and videos.
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Scroll Down for The Full Episode Transcript:
Rebecca Ching: Do you consider yourself a sensitive person when it comes to sounds or smells or physical sensations or taste or maybe even just the emotions or the intensity of what others are feeling in the room around you? Do you judge this kind of sensitivity in yourself or others? Now, many people I know and work with feel caught in this vice grip of having a nervous system that responds strongly to various kinds of sensory stimuli while also feeling judged and deeply misunderstood for being sensitive to things that others appear to not be bothered by in their day to day lives.
Now, if you feel like you're too much or know someone who feels and responds to various stimuli deeply, then today’s show is for you, and if this episode resonates with you, I’d be honored if you would take a moment to subscribe, rate, review, and share with someone who may benefit from the conversations we have on this show. This helps more people discover the podcast and these inspiring and provocative Unburdened Leader conversations. Thank you so much.
I'm Rebecca Ching, and you're listening to The Unburdened Leader, the show that goes deep with humans who navigate life’s challenges and lead in their own ways. Our goal is to learn how they address the burdens they carry, how they learn from them and become better and more impactful leaders of themselves and others.
I will never forget a moment shopping at Nordstroms for shoes with my daughter, gosh, I think it’s about nine years ago now. Now, for any of you who have or know someone with sensory issues, you know the immense discomfort shoes (or clothes, for that matter) can feel on your body. Shoes were always tricky for my daughter, and I would usually order about a dozen pairs at a time so she could have her own, like, personal shopping experience at home and try them on without having to do so in public because it was so difficult, and I always ordered from Nordstroms because the return policy is phenomenal. (If you know, you know).
They also carry the brands of shoes that my daughter liked best.
Now, as I’ve said, I normally order shoes, but on this day I wanted to get her feet measured. She’s getting older, so I wanted her to start to pick out some shoes on her own. So, after finding a few pairs she picked out all by herself, she kind of skipped out of her flip flops and then tentatively placed her right foot into one of the shoes she selected that was in a new size. Now, she put on this one shoe, and it felt like needles poking her whole body, and she lost it. I was on the floor with her while she was writhing and working through this shock to her system when I noticed someone kneeling beside me while my daughter worked through her discomfort at the top of her lungs.
This kind woman gently put her hand on my arm and spoke to me in my ear and said, “I’m a speech and language pathologist. How can I help?” I looked up, and I’ll never forget her face. It was different from so many expressions I’ve seen over the years, especially in public. I’m usually met with judgment or eyerolls, distance, head shakes, and I also carry the echoes of burdens of many years of public humiliations used by members of my family of origin as a way to hurt me and assert power over me. So, my tender heart held a lot, and the look I witnessed from this lovely woman landed as someone who understood, without explanation, what was happening. This type of connection of feeling seen and understood without many words felt both healing and empowering.
Again, she moved towards us instead of away from us. She created space that welcomed our experience, no matter how publicly disruptive it was. And she met us where we were at (literally on the floor) with respect and dignity. I looked at her, and I thanked her, [Laughs] barely getting the words out because I knew I would lose it myself if I said much more or allowed myself to deeply feel the magnitude of the moment along with her kindness and solidarity.
I have a special place in my heart for speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, resource specialist teachers, and other individuals who love and empower my daughter in ways that feel aligned to my values as a parent and my training as a trauma-informed psychotherapist. They join me in my commitment to create spaces that welcome all and move away from the ableist standards we have on what it means to be “normal” and “healthy.” They're committed to helping kids and the adults in their lives show up authentically without masking and hiding to appease the way things have always been done, which is why I wanted, gosh, I think I needed to have today’s Unburdened Leader conversation and share these incredible leaders with you all.
Jessie Ginsburg is a Sensory Integration Trained Speech and Language Pathologist and CEO of Pediatric Therapy Playhouse, a top-rated clinic in Los Angeles, and through her international publications and talks and her global Inside Out Sensory Certificate program, Jessie inspires a new way of thinking about the speech and language pathologist role in supporting autistic children.
Chris Wanger is an enthusiastic school-based SLP internationally acclaimed presenter and creator of The Dynamic Assessment of Social Emotional Learning. A prominent thought leader in the field of speech pathology and known on social media as @speechdude, Chris motivates and entertains fellow educators and clinicians and parents like me [Laughs] through his humorous and inspiring posts and videos.
Now, I want you to listen for the reasons Jessie and Chris lay out why we need to move away from functioning labels like high- and low-functioning autism and why they're really harmful instead of helpful. This is a great follow-up to this point in my previous conversation with Eric Garcia in episode 76. Pay attention to how Jessie points out that we don't all do things the same way (imagine that, right?), why it is so important that we don't put our own expectations on others, and notice when Chris points out how we have a toxic system built on placating complaints instead of validating someone’s authentic way of living and being.
Now, you're in for a treat, y’all! Please welcome Jessie Ginsburg and Chris Wenger to The Unburdened Leader podcast.
Jessie and Chris, welcome!
Jessie Ginsburg: Thank you! We are so excited to be here.
Chris Wenger: We are ready to rock and roll! This is gonna be so much fun.
Rebecca Ching: It is gonna be so much fun! I’m gonna have to actually make sure I pace myself because I could tell that we could probably ping back and forth and not stress out anyone listening. But I want to start, because you both have some credentials that a lot of people outside of the worlds that we’re in may not understand, so I thought it’d be just good to talk about what is a Speech and Language Pathologist and then also just talk about what got you interested in becoming an SLP.
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah, we are both Speech Language Pathologists, and, gosh, in this day it’s almost hard to define what an SLP does because the scope is so wide.
So, we can tell -- I mean, you can work with from infants through adulthood, geriatrics. You can do swallowing, communication. But I will speak to what our specialty kind of areas are, which is we both work in pediatrics. Chris works with older students in the high school. I work with younger kids in private practice. And we both work specifically with autistic kids, mainly. So, that’s really what our passion is.
Chris Wenger: And I’ll add to that. So, yeah, I just currently work in a school setting with teens, and it’s so much fun because at that age we just connect.
Jessie Ginsburg: There’s a same level of maturity. So…
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: Yep, I never got older than 18. [Laughs] We have the same interest in music and TV shows. [Laughs] That’s just how it works.
Rebecca Ching: It definitely is how it works. I think this is really foundational to our conversation today, too. I’d love for you to walk me through your own story, the two of you, of meeting and growing your training business in addition to merging your families.
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah, I know it’s funny how life works out, but we both ended up on the California Speech Language Hearing Association board. So, they have ten people in the whole state of California, and because we lived in different cities, we were on the same board. Had we lived in the same city, they take directors from different regions in California. So, that’s how we met was on that board, and we both had this special interest in autism, and there was a convention coming up, and I said, “Hey, we should present together. We both present separately. We should present together. We both have a lot we could talk about.”
Then we started working on our presentation, and then the pandemic hit, and they canceled the convention, but we kept hanging out. Now, we have a baby.
Chris Wenger: Another one coming!
Jessie Ginsburg: We’re weeks away from the next baby, and then we have two from my previous marriage, and so, we’re just one big, blended family with soon-to-be four boys.
Rebecca Ching: So, not boring. Not boring at all.
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I think that’s really important, and I think it’s also important too, Chris, you identify as ADHD, correct?
Chris Wenger: Correct. Yeah, you know, a long time ago through my schools it was ADD, and there was a switch, gosh, I don't know how long ago it was, but no more ADD, but ADHD. So, yeah, my initial diagnosis was ADD, and it was interesting because of my unique experiences in finding things that were difficult when I was in school are now being able to be channeled into the ways I can easily recognize and identify the supports that my students currently need right now. So, it’s kind of done this full 360 of me finding out what my needs were. Still it’s funny because when I work with students, it’s like everything that I’m still helping support myself with, I’m guiding them with, and it’s therapeutic for me. So, everybody wins.
Rebecca Ching: That’s beautiful, and I think that’s also meaningful work where we’re not only helping make an impact on the world, but we’re also growing and healing ourselves. Jessie, I don't know this for sure, but my understanding is you identify as “neurotypical.” Is that correct?
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, okay. I just think I want to name that, too, in our conversation.
Jessie Ginsburg: I was like, “Ooh, what does she know about me?” [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] I’ve done my research. Well, I think as we’re going into this conversation, I think it’s important that, you know, you might know this disability rights mantra: “Nothing about us without us.” For me, I don't identify as neurodivergent. I identify as a partner to and a parent of those with neurodivergence, and I want to make sure in our conversation people are clear on where we’re coming from and that there might be spaces where this conversation might be lacking, but this is just really a starter of many that I want to have.
I wanted you both on the show today because so many of my adult clients I recognize -- and maybe this is just as being a parent of a child on the autism spectrum and also clinically working with those on the disordered eating spectrum where a lot of sensory issues are very present. So, it felt very normal to me, but I’m realizing in the rest of the world we pathologized and judged and shame this, and I’m realizing, wow, maybe we have this backwards on how we’re looking at these struggles.
And so, I really am excited to dive deeper into that. But first, I want to go back on a higher level to kind of some names and acronyms and labels. I thought this might be a good way to dig in. A lot of these terms and phrases are used in education, mental health, and medical spaces. So, I’m just gonna say these terms, and I’ll let you all kind of freestyle.
So, what is sensory integration and stimming?
Jessie Ginsburg: Okay, so, when you say freestyle, Chris might actually freestyle for you if you tell him to freestyle.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: No.
Jessie Ginsburg: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: I love it.
Jessie Ginsburg: Sensory integration, first of all, this is something that I think can be really misunderstood because sensory integration is an actual type of approach or a type of therapy, and that is something I’ve gone to school for to get that training in, but it’s also a phrase which means being able to integrate all the senses around us and take that in and make sense of them.
So, generally, I think when people talk about sensory integration, they're talking about their body’s ability to take in all of the senses around them and integrate that into their body, make sense of it.
Stimming is -- gosh, you want to talk about stimming?
Chris Wenger: Yeah, so stimming is actually short for stimulation, so self-stimulation. Everybody has their own unique ways of keeping their bodies regulated. Maybe it’s through tapping the foot. For me it’s moving my foot or constantly moving at all times, twirling my pen. [Laughs] That’s probably why you notice me moving so much, but that’s what helps me stay focused. That’s what helps me and my body stay regulated.
So, when we hear stimming, that can mean a lot of things. When we work with or when we see stimming in neurodivergent people and autistic people, that might present itself through a variety of different senses. So, we might see that with a lot more hand movements, body movements. Stimming can come in the form of a visual stimming as well. So, for example, I was working with some of my students earlier, and we just went up on YouTube. You can type in “kaleidoscope,” and you can get a visual stim just by staring at a kaleidoscope with a repetitive sound, and that’s very soothing.
It’s really important to know, too, because identifying and understanding that stimming causes a purpose for a healthy purpose, we can better understand and meet the needs of the clients we work with. Oftentimes, historically, stimming has been viewed from the outside looking in as something that was negative. So, there have been goals and a push towards suppressing stimming, and all that does is create an externalized other problem.
So, coming from an angle of saying, “Hey, you know what? Stimming’s a good thing. Let’s help support that. How can we do it in a healthy way,” you know, through providing fidgets or movement or just a variety of things. Did I cover that pretty good, Jessie?
Jessie Ginsburg: That was pretty good.
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Jessie Ginsburg: The main thing, you know, to take away is it’s not something that we want to try to eliminate or minimize in our kids. It’s something that we want to support them being able to stim in any way that they need to so that they can help regulate themselves.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and I appreciate that because my daughter, one of the ways that she regulates is walking and talking to herself, and so, we’ve had to help educate her fellow classmates and her educators that she’s not being disruptive, she’s not being disrespectful, and that, actually the way her brain is wired, she’s actually hearing what the teacher’s sharing while she’s working through it, which, for those of us who don't relate to that may think, “Oh, she’s just being disrespectful,” or, “We need to get them to sit at their desk and be still,” when actually the exact opposite would help their education. This is actually helping her learn and regulate.
And so, it really has been an interesting -- and I think about not just education but in all spaces of what people need, but there’s this sense, at least at my age, that you're supposed to sit down, be still, not move. That’s “good,” right? So, yeah, anything else you want to share on that?
Chris Wenger: I would say that what you just described is exactly the type of way we describe it in meetings and the way we can write it in our reports as well because every so often I’ll come by reports that will state that the child or the client or the student was up out of their seat moving or they came into the office not paying attention, and the truth of the matter is we can reframe that language by stating, “Client walked in,” or, “Student walked into the office and preferred to stand during observations or during assessments as their way of learning. They were focused by X, Y, and Z,” so that way we’re framing it in a strengths-based approach rather than coming at an angle of looking at it as if it’s a deficit, trying to get away from that type of language.
And so, I’m glad that you mentioned that because, yeah, it’s really something that a neurotypical might view, if they didn't have the knowledge, as, “Why is this person walking around my therapy office? Why is this student in class not staying seated during circle time for reading?” It’s like, okay, well, if we have the why, then we can help support the needs so everybody gets an equal opportunity to learn.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely. I think I’ve just come to -- this may be a broad statement, but I don't believe that kids are broken or humans are broken, but our way of looking at ability and health and success is, and we have to up our capacity for our ability -- you know, if we’re an educator, for me as a psychotherapist or a leadership coach, what are the environments that I’m creating and how am I getting curious about that, and teasing out my own ableism has been a painful and humbling process, particularly around neurodivergence because it’s not so obviously seen. I don't know if it’s because of that, and maybe just because I’m a parent and I’m realizing, holy cow, how much we breathe that in.
I want to move onto another term that I’m newer to, and I’m excited to hear your thoughts because I’ve seen you write and share about this called persistent drive for autonomy, and an old way of saying it was pathological demand avoidance, which of course is so DSM-y.
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: But persistent drive for autonomy, and I know it’s a term that’s sort of getting its legs out in the UK, and it’s slowly making its way here. I’d love to hear you both talk about what this is and how you approach it, not only in those that you serve, but in the educators and the families you work with.
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah, this was something that -- it’s funny because we started talking about it on social media, and it triggered all these conversations. It was like so many people and autistic colleagues of our writing, “That’s me,” and, “This makes so much sense,” or, “That’s my child. This explains everything.” I like that as an adjective, DSM-y. I think we need to start using that.
Chris Wenger: Yeah, I love that.
Jessie Ginsburg: Because it’s known by most people as pathological demand avoidance, but a more affirming way to say it would be persistent drive for autonomy. Chris taught me that. I’ll give him a little credit for that.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] How generous.
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Jessie Ginsburg: It’s essentially someone shutting down when demands are placed on them, and it’s not a conscious, purposeful, intentional shut down. It’s a stress response. You probably have a lot of research under your belt on that, too. But it’s been really interesting to learn more about it and how often we see autistic kids who are showing PDA, or we might call them PDAers if they identify that way -- but it really completely changes your approach, especially as a speech pathologist because as a speech pathologist, you are trained to ask questions, give directions, make them follow all these kind of commands, and it flips your therapy on its head because you realize that the more I do those things, the less productive this is going to be, the more emotionally damaging this is gonna be for this child over time.
So, it’s really about how can I create more autonomy for my clients, you know? How can I give them more of a choice on what we do, and, yeah, there are a ton of treatment strategies. We did a whole episode on that.
Rebecca Ching: Well, I’ll make sure to think to that episode. Anything you want to add to that, Chris?
Chris Wenger: Now that we kind of have an idea of what it is, when we do see that persistent drive for autonomy, it’s a matter of seeing how we can meet the client and student where they're at so we can best support them. I was just thinking about some strategies on that. One thing that I have found to be helpful is to tie in humor. Another thing is limit questions because --
Jessie Ginsburg: Yes.
Chris Wenger: I think sometimes we always feel like we want this myriad of questions being thrown at somebody like a whole list of them, and all that does is it just ends up shutting someone down. So, providing choices and things, identifying in which environments and settings do they feel safe and comfortable and successful in, and then identifying which environments do they feel unsafe in and where that might be taking place and really guiding our approaches through that insight as well is really helpful.
Jessie Ginsburg: And I just read a pretty well-known book called PDA by PDAers.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, wow.
Jessie Ginsburg: And it’s all stories of PDAers, and it’s kind of like a conversation of people sharing how it affected them throughout their life, and it’s just in so many different ways. I mean, it could be from someone saying, “I’ve been walking past the same dirty sock on the ground for months because I cannot get myself to pick it up. It stresses me out too much to think about it,” to, “Every job I have, I enjoy it for six months, but after that it starts to feel like it’s the same thing every day with the same demands, and I can't do it anymore, and I have to switch.” It could be like just looking at the way some people have described it as looking at a task that may seem so small to someone else, but to them it really feels like such a mountain.
Rebecca Ching: A huge mental load. And I thank you for unpacking that because I think I hear from a lot of folks, whether they're leaders to parents, saying, “Aren't they just trying to get what they want when they want it, and don't they just need to develop their emotional literacy, and they need to adult better?” I hear some of this stuff about conforming, but these often explosive responses from some of the things that you just described feels a lot from the outside in that we can often judge or criticize and we lose our curiosity around that, so I’m excited about this particular phenomenon to get some more language.
What have you heard from the teachers, educators, or the families you work with who are teaching or parenting kids that are in that space of PDA?
Jessie Ginsburg: I mean, I think that you hear of the challenges. That’s what we hear a lot, you know? We hear parents say, “Well, I wish they didn't have to take a bath,” you know? But that’s just something that they have to do as part of something that is for their sanitation purposes or, well, they have to learn in school, so, I mean, it just kind of opens a can of worms because that’s a way bigger conversation, obviously, about why aren't we teaching kids the way they learn instead of trying to teach all kids in the same way, you know?
Chris and I could talk all day about autonomy and intrinsic motivation because that’s something we so strongly believe in is how do we get kids intrinsically motivated. A lot of the times I think that we almost put the onus on the child, like, “Well, he’s not motivated.” It’s like, well, you're doing this in a way that’s so boring for them or so mundane or you're putting so many demands on them. Of course he’s not motivated, you know? And we think about it with our own kids. Instead of, “Go brush your teeth,” in our house, we have a dragon, Pete or Elliot. Who’s the dragon?
Chris Wenger: The dragon’s Elliot.
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah, Pete is the boy -- you know Pete’s Dragon? Whatever, it’s a movie from before my time, but this was a Chris thing. But we introduced our kids to this imaginary dragon. We brush his teeth at night, and it makes brushing teeth more fun. So, as much as it’s kind of like the double side of the coin of, well, how can we get kids to do the things they really need to do, but also is there a way that we can make it more fun and more motivating for them? The more we can give kids autonomy, the more motivated they're gonna be to do it.
Chris Wenger: I have a PDAer I work with who was given an English assignment where they had to pull and make up a quote from a book they were reading, Lord of The Flies, and when the teacher placed the demand, that was like an automatic response. He didn't want to do it. For whatever reason it was a hurdle. So, she gave him some options with how he could present it through Google Slide, through making a collage, whatever it was to help support him. So, I mean, it’s just kind of really being creative with some ideas as well and offering choices.
This particular student, when it came to tasks, in most situations, has heightened anxiety, like a lot of anxiety. There’s something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria that ties directly into this because what that is is it’s this feeling of heightened stress when you feel like you might fail at something, and so, then it becomes working with supporting the ability to decrease our stress and then coming up with ways to really help keep this student regulated because when a task is placed on him that his brain gets into that panic or freeze mode, no learning is taking place. It’s like you can go walking through a forest and if you see a bear come at you and you go running, if somebody yells at you, “Hey, Chris! What’s eight times seven?”
My brain ain’t gonna be able to tell you the answer. My brain is in fight, flight, freeze, you know? I’m in panic or freeze mode. So, it’s this same type of concept, too, of how can we best help work with strategies so our clients can stay regulated. So, learning about these things and they really become supportive.
You know, I’ll tell you this, too. You'll see in reports and you’ll hear it from teachers sometimes it’s like, “This student’s unmotivated. This student’s lazy. This student just hates everybody,” or whatever it is. It’s like, no, that’s not what it is. If we can really do a deep dive, if we put on our scuba gear and we dive into the prefrontal cortex, we can really see what’s going on, and I think that really helps out.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, the brain and the whole nervous system, absolutely.
Chris Wenger: Yeah, the body, mind, everything.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and I think these questions and curiosities kind of go twofold in the sense of we want to empower people to speak up and advocate saying, “This isn't working,” and for those of us getting that feedback, to normalize that and stay curious, you know? I just see these broad sweeps, “They're being lazy. They're entitled. They're spoiled,” and it doesn't mean, I mean, there aren't some things that need to be addressed in there, but it is amazing how we are taught in all of our different professions is not affirming to folks who experience the world differently than those who, again identify -- I don't like the term neurotypical because, honestly, is that typical, or is really neurodivergent neurotypical? I don't know. I’m in this interesting existential crisis about this.
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: But, you know, I just think it’s this part of, like, how am I leading, how am I teaching, how am I working, where am I staying curious versus this is how it should be, you know? Again, ableism is insidious, and this sense of understanding. There’s always a label for everything these days. Everyone has a reason to tap out of doing the work.
Chris Wenger: Yeah, going back on that whole topic, too, I think I get comments on social media every so often about, “Well, isn't everybody neurodivergent?” And so, just to define that, it’s the majority of people are neurotypical. Neurodivergent would be somebody who has a disability that prevents them from doing something. So, with both of those together, we have a neurodiverse world. So, that includes everybody, but neurodivergent is a smaller umbrella that includes the disabilities such as bipolar, OCD, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, ADHD, autism. So, that’s the actual neurodivergent element to that. But yeah, the whole world is neurodiverse, but there’s a big distinction between neurotypical and neurodivergent. There’s a significantly larger amount of neurotypicals, which make up the neuro majority.
Rebecca Ching: I love it. Thank you so much for naming that, which moves me to another question that, I’ll be honest, even in writing these questions I was getting teary-eyed as I just realized how much it was healing to me to see the content that you all -- I’m even getting tender right now -- the content you put there because it’s really lonely, whether it’s a parent or someone who’s wrestling with these issues. And one of the things that hit home was the functioning labels, addressing the functioning labels of mild or severe, and, in particular, around autism.
I’d love for you to comment on those functioning labels and why you believe they're not helpful and, in fact, may be really dangerous.
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah, we’re glad you ask because this is such a sensitive topic. People get really set in their own ways. They don't want to change. They don't want to listen to the people with the lived experience (in other words the autistic community) who are the ones telling us, “Don't use these labels.” And, you know, it’s just every time we post about it we get so much pushback from people saying, “Well, what am I supposed to say?” It’s like, “Well, just tell us about the kid! Describe the kid.” We don't have to just put a blanket label as mild or severe, but the concept is that people have this idea that the autism spectrum is linear and it goes from mild to severe. They could be less autistic or they could be more autistic, but the reality is that you could think of the spectrum as more of a circle with many skills under it. And kids may have really strong skills in some areas and may need a really high level of support in other areas.
So, it can be harmful using those labels either -- I’ll talk about low, you can talk about high, like a cute couple.
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Jessie Ginsburg: So, you know, the reason why it’s harmful to call a child severely autistic or low functioning is because, essentially, we are saying this child has no skills in any area. Nothing will ever come of this kid’s life. We have no hopes for this child. I mean, it’s essentially like we hear non-speaking adults say these things about that’s how people felt about them when they were younger.
So, you hear people saying we need to presume confidence, and it’s so unfortunate that so often with non-speaking kids, they might communicate in other ways like with a device, with pictures, through gestures, words, anything. But when we call them severely autistic, we’re not presuming that they are competent, and that is going to affect our expectations of them. It’s gonna affect how we treat them. It’s gonna affect the approaches we create for them. It’s gonna affect how people perceive that child, and then most importantly, it will affect the way that child perceives themselves. So, lots of reasons to avoid “severe.”
Chris Wenger: Yeah, and in my setting in the schools on IEPs, if a functioning label is used like that, usually that would drive the goals, and so, if someone says, “Yeah, this student’s severe,” or, “This student’s low functioning,” then that presumes the student doesn't have the capacity to think on their own. It really just takes away from the dignity of the person and who the person is. And so, yeah, as Jessie was saying, you just describe what the needs are. “This person is a non-speaking person who has extreme distress in situations that are really loud with a lot of people,” so on and so forth.
The opposite end of that, too, which we historically have heard is high functioning. And so, high functioning doesn't really paint a picture for people of what the true needs are. So, when, in my setting, you hear high functioning, it automatically presumes that the student doesn't need any support because they're high functioning. It’s like, well, let’s describe what the profile really is.
This student can communicate with -- and they have a few friends to hang out with, but when there are too many tasks and there are too many loud sounds, their body goes into extreme distress and they have a meltdown or they have a shutdown and they can't communicate, or whatever the needs might be. So, that’s a much better way of looking at it.
The doctors right now in the DSM-5 diagnose autism (ASD) based on levels. So, the updated terms from historically what it was was severe or low functioning is now considered level three. High functioning would be level one. But the problem with what we have right now in the year 2023 is that levels can change based on anyone’s needs depending on the environment and depending on what the demands are that are placed on them. So, one day a person can be a level 1, doing just fine with friends playing video games, but all of a sudden you are in a rally with 2,000 people and level 1 becomes level 3 real quickly. And so, that’s why that system doesn't really work to describe someone.
But in education, the terms that people ask me, “Well, how are we gonna know where the student gets placed?” Describe the student, and that’ll let us know, “Hey, does this student require a classroom that has a lot fewer supports or do they need to go to a classroom that has a lot more extensive supports, such as a more one-to-one aides and paraprofessionals and more visuals and more communication boards and a smaller class size, more opportunities to take movement breaks, all of those types of things.
So, yeah, we’re slowly moving away from functioning labels is neuro affirming and the route that we want to go.
Rebecca Ching: Too slow. Too slow in my mind.
Chris Wenger: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: And I think there’s also this piece, too, with the high functioning and the low functioning that we’re kind of rank ordering.
There’s still this insidious, “Oh you don't have it that bad,” in the sense of saying that it’s still bad (you know, ADHD, autism, wherever the neurodivergence lands), and so, that there’s almost this good/bad piece to it that I found that when I finally saw it and I was like, “Oh, my gosh.” There’s this sense of, “We’re trying to get you -- we move to low functioning, and now we’re high functioning, and now you’re fixed,” from what, versus, “Wow, how are your grades? How is your community? How is your mental wellbeing? Okay, wow, we’ve been really struggling in those areas,” and wow, the kid, the adult, whoever is feeling more connected, and they're feeling more mastery, and having some more autonomy in whatever that looks like for them. But I feel like it is so important, and I just think so many people have internalized that who are on the autism spectrum or ADHD or, again, other neurodivergent struggles, that they’ve internalized that that’s bad, especially if they're severe. So, whether it’s my daughter or others I work with, they have got some mad skills on masking and mad skills on putting to the world what they want to hear and what they want to say, and then coming home and collapsing, you know?
Chris Wenger: Right.
Rebecca Ching: And that’s not sustainable. Yeah, is there anything else you’d add to that?
Chris Wenger: Yeah, no, you nailed it. I mean, the disability community does emphasize ableism and how ableism is very prominent in society. Essentially, to define that in simple terms for your listeners, just the idea that one particular group or way of being is superior than somebody else. So, racism would be that one race is superior than another.
It’s just like so when we think about ableism in itself and we use terms like Asperger’s or high functioning, that in itself is ableist because it’s saying that one group of people is superior than the other, and that’s really I guess what the neurodiversity movement is pushing for. So, that’s another really big thing, too, to consider.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely. I know we’re moving away from Asperger’s for good reason, too, because even the --
Chris Wenger: The ties with -- yeah, exactly.
Rebecca Ching: You say it! Go ahead and say it. The ties with…
Chris Wenger: Yeah, I was gonna say the ties with -- so yeah, Hans Asperger, just his ties with the Nazis. Historically, from my knowledge and understanding, the group that he was affiliated with would only want to bring in the people they deemed as superior (smart, well educated, more able to do something), and the children that were disabled (or non-speaking, whatever it was) were harmed, killed, all sorts of bad stuff. So, just the history behind that has been -- let’s get away from that.
But yeah, I’ve had people reach out to me, too, by saying, “Hey, what, are we just gonna erase -- or is this cancel culture?” It’s like, no, we can recognize that Hans Asperger was a dude and that there was a syndrome that was named after him, but right now we’re trying to make a shift as we move forward so we can know what better ways to describe somebody, and that would be autistic! You're either autistic or you're not autistic.
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I want to shift a little bit and talk about the stakes right now, whether it’s teachers, administrators, helping professionals, leaders, parents, everyone. What are the stakes for all of us to adapt a more neurodivergent-friendly approach to how we lead and care for those in our charge?
Jessie Ginsburg: Oh, man. I think this is one of the big hills we will die on. We talk about this all the time, which is what is our goal for our kids, you know? Our goal is for them to live fulfilled, happy lives where they can be authentically who they are. You know, you ask any parent, “What do you want for your kid?” “I want them to be happy.” That’s what we want. Well, then why are we promoting these practices and approaches that are creating kids who learn how to mask and then leading to mental illness. He is a lot better with numbers. I feel like you know the depression rates and stuff probably off the top of your head, but…
Chris Wenger: Gosh. Yeah, you know, so I don't like mentioning them all too much because they’re so depressing, but it’s worth knowing.
Rebecca Ching: Let’s name it. Let’s name it.
Chris Wenger: Yeah, there are different studies out there. One study is that an autistic person is six times more likely to have thoughts of suicide or die by suicide. There’s another one out there that -- it’s up to nine times more likely than any other subgroup in the world -- the average lifespan on one of the most recent things I’ve read was, for an autistic person, being 36. And so, when you think about trauma and you think about the body and the autoimmune system over time having to endure that, it breaks down, and depression and stress and all of these things lead into your physical health, you know?
So, knowing these numbers is so important because that tells us that something isn't working, something’s not right.
And so, we have the conversations with parents, but as Jessie said, which we would -- what are some of the goals? What we hear often, the three things that I hear most is that a parent says, “Well, I want my child to be as independent as possible, and if they can't be independent, then at least be codependent and be able to have somebody to connect with,” right? I get that, and the second one is they want, as they get older, to be happy, right? So, independent, happy, and then the third thing they want is at least one person to connect with. It doesn't have to have five, ten, fifteen, twenty friends, but one person. So, when they exit out of the school system those three things are there.
So then the question and the conversation that we have is, okay, what are we looking at and how do we want to get there, and when we hear things such as a compliance-based approach, an approach where it’s built on rewards and punishments, where we’re trying to get an autistic student to do something, to earn something, or we are teaching them to hide their true identity, to hide their characteristic, sort of be less autistic. That ends up being counterproductive for the end result for both of us, and if that’s the case, then we really have to have solid and honest conversations of, okay, we need to go down a path so we can meet those three things in a healthy way.
And so, that’s really how we drive the push with teachers, parents, educators, the education system, and seeing it from that view because we have had a toxic system that has been built on compliance and not validating someone for their true, authentic, essential self really creates someone feeling like they have to live an inauthentic life in order to survive a neurotypical world. That doesn't work.
Jessie Ginsburg: And that’s just unfortunately how so much therapy is set up, because therapists who aren't so familiar with the neurodiversity-affirming practices, they hear a parent say, “I want him to have friends,” so what do we do? We throw him into a social skills group. We teach him how to make eye contact. We teach him how to face their body in the right direction. Oh, my God, I can think back in my career when I used to do this, you know, because I think we all did, and I would hold up cue cards to tell them when they should comment versus when they should ask a question, and all we’re doing is teaching them to mask, all we’re doing is teaching them neurotypical communication styles.
So then they are working on the same goals year after year, and they graduate, and they move on to not actually have any true friendships because we haven't done anything to facilitate more natural friendships. That’s something where we talk about a lot is how can we get our kids more connected with kids they share interest with.
Just yesterday I was consulting with a parent and her kid’s only in kindergarten, but she said the teacher wants him to talk about whatever his friends want to talk about, but he is just not interested. He only likes talking about space and the planets and there was something else. But I was like, “Well, you know what’d be really cool is if we could find other kids who really love talking about space, too.”
Rebecca Ching: Hello.
Jessie Ginsburg: Because then I was like, “You're not even gonna have to try. That friendship’s gonna come naturally for him.”
Rebecca Ching: What you all are sharing is bringing me back to one of many IEP meetings, and for those who don't know what IEP is, it’s Individual Education Plan, and it’s a legal document that is created and attached to a kid to help ensure they have some legal rights to various supports, and it tracks all the different helps they have, and it’s a whole big fat paper trail. [Laughs] Thank God it’s now digital. I have so many stacks of paper.
Chris Wenger: Oh, yeah.
Rebecca Ching: But I was at an IEP meeting, and I’m realizing that some of these wonderful folks were setting goals because they felt bad. They wanted to do something, and I had to say, “Stop, we don't have to have everyone be best friends with my kid. I want my daughter --,” and I know happiness is a common one for me, and maybe this is just a casualty of being a trauma therapist, but my number one job is I want her to be safe. I want her to be safe. I don't want her to be bullied. But someone may just walk away from her, and they may roll eyes, they may point and laugh a little bit, you know? That’s life, and that’s not something I want. But I said, “I want her to be safe, I want her to learn, and I want her to know who she is and not be ashamed of it.”
And so, I remember this, it got really quiet in the room. Our job isn't to make sure everyone likes her and she’s likable to everybody. We don't do this to everybody, and it was almost this collective exhale, but I’m like if she’s learning, if she’s connecting in some way that’s meaningful to her, we’re not putting our stuff on her, and I think that’s something I see a lot, too, what we think others should do. Because, you know, they cared. They genuinely were caring and they saw, “Oh, maybe some kids were turning away and not turning towards her,” and then they thought, “Okay, I need to get another goal to help her so she doesn't go through that.” I’m like we experience rejection. That’s kind of part of the -- that sucks. We experience heartache. We are misunderstood. If that can happen in a framework where someone’s not dehumanized and not bullied, okay, this is how we grow and learn, you know?
And so, I just am thinking about that, even setting those goals or how we want someone else to change because it hurts us to see them struggle.
Chris Wenger: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: So yeah, I don't know if you have anything you want to share or follow up to that.
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah, I mean, because we put our own -- what makes us happy or what we want out of our life is not what everyone else wants out of it, and not to say everyone doesn't want to be connected. That’s obviously a huge misconception about autism --
Rebecca Ching: Yep.
Jessie Ginsburg: -- is that autistic kids don't want friends, but we don't all want the same things in life, and we don't all want to do things the same way, so we don't need to put our own expectations on other people, and something that’s really cool is Chris created an assessment to use with kids where you can actually go through and ask them questions. So, I’ve had this conversation with kids in my clinic. You know, he designed it for middle/high school. I’ve used it for kids even, like, six/seven/eight/nine/ten where you talk to them about, “What do you want in a friendship? Do you want someone who you’re seeing every single day after school? Do you want someone to just hang out with sometimes? Do you want someone to hang out with at school? Do you want someone to share your feelings with? Do you want someone who shares the same interests as you?” It was so revolutionary -- you're welcome.
Chris Wenger: Thank you.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Wait, what is the assessment on? Let me just jump in. What is this assessment for and on?
Chris Wenger: Yeah, so, it’s a neurodiversity-affirming approach to gathering information for assessments. And so, what it does -- because here’s what typically happens is that formal standardized assessments are normed on non-autistic individuals (so on neurotypicals, right?). We always will see, no matter if it comes from the psych reports or the speech reports, a profile that’ll be spiky, right? But it never actually gets the information that we need in real time. What’s going on at home beyond the school walls? What’s going on in the student’s mind? What’s going on in the classes?
So, it’s got a variety of forms that ask the right questions. So, one goes to the teacher. It can go to the paraprofessional. One form is a different form that goes to the parent. One form goes to the student that they fill out, and then there’s an observation form, but it’s all done being mindful of the differences in characteristics.
Jessie Ginsburg: So, it’s called --
Rebecca Ching: I love it.
Jessie Ginsburg: -- the Dynamic Assessment of Social Emotional Learning. The DASEL.
Chris Wenger: The DASEL.
Jessie Ginsburg: But, you know, we started using this in our clinic. Who would have thought? Let’s actually ask the kids what they want instead of just assuming that we know what they want.
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: Imagine that.
Jessie Ginsburg: So, it’s been really cool because it’s facilitated a lot of conversation with kids that we just wouldn't otherwise have even thought to have.
Rebecca Ching: I want to connect with you on that because my husband is a 25-year veteran educator who just took a promotion as an assistant principal in a middle school. So, I definitely want to connect him with it. I think he’d be all over getting that --
Chris Wenger: It’s awesome because if we’re only using scores from standard or formal assessments, then that’s gonna be what's in the report, and whatever’s in the report is going to drive the therapy approach and the goals. So, we’re driving the wrong outcomes, so that’s why it’s so critical to make sure we gather data that’s accurate and neuro-affirming. And, yes, that’s why I created it because there was nothing out there.
Rebecca Ching: No, and I actually, Chris, think you're onto something because you could adapt that for leaders to use in different communities, whether it’s businesses, faith communities, higher levels of school (college and beyond). If there’s any different space to start, how do we hear from the folks that we want to bring more people to the table and have more folks and not be as, “What do we have to do? Well, we ask.” How do we create a space where they can thrive and function? We ask, and so, I think you're onto something that could be adapted for other environments, too. So, just a nudge there because I know a lot of people who would think --
Chris Wenger: There we go! Future New York Times Best Seller!
Jessie Ginsburg: I was gonna say he’s gonna need earmuffs for that one because you can tell his ADHD brain something, and he’s gonna go in 50 different ways with it.
Chris Wenger: Yep. Got 50 ideas right now.
Rebecca Ching: Wow.
Jessie Ginsburg: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: You know where to find me. So, this leads to my next question, though. I’d love to hear some practical ways of how can neurotypical leaders practically create spaces that are more affirming and welcoming to those with differences?
Jessie Ginsburg: I think that something that was so game-changing for us was when we learned about the double empathy problem, which is essentially saying that perspective taking goes both ways, right? So, right now we put an autistic student with a non-autistic student, and the autistic student is expected to make the non-autistic student feel more comfortable. They're expected to be the one to change to fit in, right? So, we’re only taking into account the neurotypical perspective there, but what we need is more education on what is the autistic experience like, and what are communication differences that we might see, what are social differences that we might see, what are sensory differences we might see, so that the neurotypical can understand the autistic perspective, you know?
So, I think that the more we talk about that, the more it helps people to understand, and, again, these are conversations I have with parents who have kids who are five/six years old of what is their communication style, and maybe they like to info dump, maybe they like to talk about a specific topic at length, and that’s how they share something special with you. Whereas the next person is gonna talk about the weather and then whatever you say.
Chris Wenger: Right.
Jessie Ginsburg: What’s going on with Kim Kardashian and what’s going on, then, with --
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Jessie Ginsburg: -- there was an earthquake the other morning, right? The neurotypical chit chat may not feel natural and meaningful to an autistic person, but then it’s like the info-dumping type of style may not feel meaningful to the neurotypical person. So, understanding that perspectives go both ways.
Chris Wenger: Yeah, and then I’m gonna add to that, too, yeah, because definitely I think education and coming from an understanding of the differences, but I also think that a push for UDL, which stands for Universal Design for Learning -- and so, schools are trying to push this more. It’s been around for quite some time. Really, not coming from a one-size fits all package.
This, really, concept started back in World War II where fighter pilots, there was one cockpit that had a seat that would only fit one size of person, a certain-height person. And so, they said, “You know what? If we really want to get more fighter pilots out there to be part of this, we’re gonna have to reconsider these seats and make them adjustable and make them to where we can get more options, a variety of people fighting for us to win this thing,” and that really set the concept of having a classroom where there are multiple modalities and approaches of ways of learning.
So, providing more visual supports in class, providing opportunities to stand while learning, providing opportunities for preferential seating and being aware that there might be loud sounds and building an environment of accommodations and giving options. So, rather than just saying, “Hey, this is the one way you're going to learn,” coming at it by saying, “Here are some options of you guys completing these projects, and we’re really gonna make it diverse for everyone to be able to meet their needs.”
To answer your question, as neurotypical leaders, creating spaces and environments where everybody has access. That’s my short answer.
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah, and I think so much comes down to -- and I preach this all day, obviously, and I’m talking to the right person, but it all comes down to regulation, sensory and emotional regulation and do they feel safe and are they going to be able to access the parts of their brain needed for learning in this environment. For a lot of our kids, like you touched on earlier, they're holding it in all day. They're fighting their bodies all day, and then they're coming home and they're melting down and then they're becoming traumatized because of it, and then just going every single day until they're 35 and go, “Man, I should probably get assessed or something, because this doesn't feel like it should be something that I’m going through every day,” and that’s literally the story of one of our friends who got a diagnosis at 35, you know? But it’s exactly what Chris is talking about, really understanding and accepting that we all don't have to have the same needs and just being able to model that type of acceptance.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, and again, the stakes are high, and literally it’s saving lives and livelihoods and wellbeing, and it really is, if we want to be welcoming. It’s super humbling for those of us (and I’m pointing at myself) who haven't had to do that, you know? I can move through spaces and navigate a whole lot of things, and one of the things that I think I annoy everyone that has -- maybe I don’t annoy them; maybe I activate them -- who works with my daughter is I don't think she needs to change.
I think we need to change how we’re supporting her, and it’s like you can just see them kind of fritzing because they're so burdened and they're holding a lot. It’s hard to be an educator or doing the work that you all do. I have compassion for it immensely.
But I’m like, no, we’re not gonna try and change my daughter. We’re gonna change how we’re approaching this, and that is a lot more work and is overwhelming, but I think that’s just really where it starts, and not putting on the burden on everyone. For me, part of my role is to start to stay curious and advocate so it’s not all on folks like my daughter to have to advocate. That we need to create spaces and have an expectation that we’re advocating for everybody, and I appreciate that, so much of what you do.
On that note, then, I’m curious how you both view success, especially in the context of your work. What does success look like to you today and how is it different from what you were taught?
Jessie Ginsburg: Ooh, what we were taught success is. I don't know. Probably making money.
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Jessie Ginsburg: Right? Like, what you learn. I think for me it’s just so much more now about impact, and it’s not something I ever thought about until I started doing this because it’s really nice not to say -- I don't need constant validation on social media or anything, but it’s really nice sometimes because we get so caught up in the day to day. We’re trying to train people and put out content and teach and educate the world, and it’s really nice sometimes to just hear someone say, “That post you wrote on this completely changed my life, and I just wanted to let you know,” you know?
I just got off of a training I did today for parents, like, a free training for them, and all over the world -- there were probably families from, like, 30 countries on that call. So, I think, for me, being able to have that kind of global impact just felt like success, and then, more specifically, the stories that we get to hear. Every kid matters to us, as cheesy as that sounds or as hormonal as I am talking about this.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Jessie Ginsburg: But it really comes down to every single trial. Then you hear one success story, and it’s like we don't forget those.
Rebecca Ching: Mm. How about you, Chris?
Chris Wenger: Gosh, yeah, my brain goes in, like, five million directions. And so, I guess reflecting back on the conversation we’ve had, success for me is understanding that my brain was designed to work the way it was designed for me, and it’s okay to ask for help and support and come to terms with understanding those things so I can live my true, authentic, essential life. That’s success to me, after this conversation.
Rebecca Ching: Mm, what were you originally taught about success, and how does that differ from what you just said?
Chris Wenger: You know, I was originally taught the way we’re currently taught, the way social media portrays itself based on the algorithm. We’re taught to change who we are. We’re taught to be like the people that pop up on our feeds with success and money and yachts, and I’m okay with being on a kayak, [Laughs] you know?
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: I’m okay with what I got, and because that’s the definition of gratitude.
Not constantly trying to seek fame and fortune, but trying to seek a life that serves the community and helps others while also acknowledging who I am and being grateful in the present moment, and I think all of those things have tied in because we, as a society, are taught what success looks like -- going and getting in a relationship and having kids and this and that, when the reality is success looks different between each individual, and I wish we knew that as a society, honestly.
Rebecca Ching: I’d love to wrap up with some fun, quickfire questions. Are you ready?
Chris Wenger: I am ready!
Rebecca Ching: All right, what are you both reading right now?
Jessie Ginsburg: Right now I’m reading What Happened to You, which you’ve probably read, by Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry. That’s my read right now.
Rebecca Ching: Ooh, yeah. So good.
Chris Wenger: I journeyed onto my most recent one from Gabor Maté The Myth of Normal, but now currently I have reflected back on a book I read several years ago called Are You Fully Charged by Tom Rath, and what I have found is for my own growth and success is -- not success, but my own growth is to reflect back on the books that I used to love and reading them again because they have new meanings. So, right now I’m reading that, and I’m like, “Ooh! I’ve got something new out of this. This is great! I’m energized.”
Jessie Ginsburg: That’s a great one.
Chris Wenger: It is. Isn't it great?
Jessie Ginsburg: A life-changing book.
Chris Wenger: It is a life-changing book, so much so that, actually, this is my third time reading it.
Jessie Ginsburg: And it’s short, right? Ish.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: Yeah, it’s not dense.
Jessie Ginsburg: Short, easy to read.
Chris Wenger: Easy read and just powerful.
Rebecca Ching: Nice. What song are you both playing on repeat?
Chris Wenger: Oh, right now I am listening to -- [Laughs] I’m just gonna say what was just on. I listen to it a lot. Zac Brown Band, the new album, track one. “Wild Palomino.” I just love that song.
Jessie Ginsburg: That’s funny because mine, I’ve just been on the country playlists repeat, too.
Chris Wenger: Yeah, country.
Jessie Ginsburg: We like country. Well, we like everything but country’s like a default for us.
Chris Wenger: Yep.
Rebecca Ching: Best TV show or movie you have seen recently?
Jessie Ginsburg: Chris only falls asleep in TV shows and movies, so this isn't a good question for him.
Chris Wenger: No, I’ve got a great one!
Jessie Ginsburg: I was gonna say Black Bird.
Chris Wenger: Oh, that was pretty good. Yeah.
Jessie Ginsburg: It is about murder, and it did give me nightmares, but it was really good.
Rebecca Ching: It gave me nightmares, but it was good! [Laughs] I’m sorry. Go ahead, Chris. [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: Yeah, that’s a great one. Jessie and I -- so my favorite most recent movie was a documentary with Jonah Hill and his therapist. It was called Stutz. It’s on Netflix.
Rebecca Ching: So good.
Chris Wenger: And it just shows the interaction between therapist, client, and it’s fantastic.
Jessie Ginsburg: Oh, it was really good.
Chris Wenger: Fantastic.
Jessie Ginsburg: We were surprised by how good it was.
Rebecca Ching: Yeah, a lot of people have been impacted by that, so I appreciate that. This may be tricky depending -- I don't know, Jessie, if you're into eighties pop culture, but what is your favorite eighties movie or eighties piece of pop culture?
Jessie Ginsburg: What comes to me -- although I was born in the eighties, you have a little more life experience than I do.
Rebecca Ching: Mm-hmm.
Chris Wenger: I do.
Jessie Ginsburg: Teen Witch. That’s an eighties thing, isn't it?
Rebecca Ching: I don't know.
Jessie Ginsburg: It’s where she’s 16 and she gets her witch powers.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, yes! I think you're right. It might be later.
Jessie Ginsburg: And then there’s a lot of singing and dancing and jean jackets and bedazzling.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Rebecca Ching: How about you, Chris?
Chris Wenger: Every night I tell her, “Please let me watch an eighties movie,” and I never get an opportunity to, so this is my favorite question because I’ve been trying to get her to watch movies like The Great Outdoors with John Candy.
Rebecca Ching: Oh, my gosh.
Chris Wenger: You know, all of the Vacations. But I really want her to watch Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Like, that’s my jam.
Jessie Ginsburg: He does. He does ask me.
Chris Wenger: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels with Steve Martin.
Jessie Ginsburg: And I’m like can we watch something from this decade?
Chris Wenger: [Laughs] No. She doesn't understand. Those movies, not only are they classics, but there’s just something about them, and the humor and the way they were set up back then, that was the deal. That was the ticket. That was my era.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] I wasn't sure if you were going to say Caddyshack because most of my guy buddies had that movie memorized, but so many of those movies do not age well. They do not age well today. We’ll just leave it at that.
Chris Wenger: Yeah, Caddyshack is still streaming, and anything with Rodney Dangerfield is a definite must.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Okay, I’m editing myself. I’m just like this reminds me of just the shows that, again, most of my male-identifying friends growing up loved all of your movies. So I watched your favorites by default if I was with them, and I got them to watch the John Hughes movies that I love so much.
What is your mantra right now?
Jessie Ginsburg: Sometime asked me this today actually. I’m in this program. It’s like almost a life coaching program, a weekly thing, and I heard a good podcast episode recently about I can have it all because it’s this idea that as a working mom, you can't have it all and you have to pick and choose. So, my new mantra is I can have it all.
Chris Wenger: I like that mantra. You said mantra right now, and I, again, am gonna have to go with our discussion on the show. So, I’m gonna come up with my own mantra right now. You had mentioned earlier about the bowling and then just sometimes people aren't gonna like us for certain things, and so, my mantra right now that I would tell myself as well as extend it to others is not everyone is going to like you, and it’s not a reflection of how likable I am.
Rebecca Ching: Boom.
Chris Wenger: And that’s a really important mantra.
Jessie Ginsburg: Write that down.
Rebecca Ching: Absolutely.
Chris Wenger: That’s one to write down. That is one to make a brain tattoo because I think so often --
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: So often we get to a point in our lives where we want to please everybody and we want everyone to like us, and in doing that it creates our own downfall sometimes and our own self-conscious thoughts. You know what? I have to get out of that mindset that not everybody’s gonna like me.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs] Well, this might even blend with it, but what’s an unpopular opinion that you hold?
Jessie Ginsburg: That is so hard because I feel like everything we say is unpopular. I feel like we get so attacked all the time by so many of the things we say.
Chris Wenger: [Laughs]
Jessie Ginsburg: Right? Because it’s not that it should be unpopular, it’s just that people aren't talking about these things, and we’re trying to get people to talk about these things, you know?
Chris Wenger: Mine is so abstract.
Jessie Ginsburg: Oh, God.
Chris Wenger: Because you just got me thinking about something that happened recently, but it’s totally off the wall here. But it was recently on social media, and I don't think it would be an unpopular opinion, but it was this discussion of food rewards being used so heavily with certain approaches, and I say no to all of it. And then someone had reached out and said, “Yeah, but this is how I get my child to be potty trained is by giving a reward of gummy bears.” I know that would be an unpopular opinion, but I’m like I don't know if I would attach a food reward to the potty-training thing. [Laughs]
Jessie Ginsburg: Oh, that’s so common! You probably don't know that because you’ve never potty trained a child yet.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: I have not, but I would imagine that maybe the potty training stages would -- because she’s right. Jessie’s right. I don't have that lived experience, but getting a favorite watch of PAW Patrol, Bubble Guppies or whatever, so we can work on a time -- working maybe on when the potty training is happening we play a favorite song from the movie Frozen or whatever it is, or you have their favorite scent.
Jessie Ginsburg: Or a book or something, yeah.
Chris Wenger: It’s like, “Hey, once you go potty, you get to hold this, you get to spray.” So, we’re attaching an intrinsic motivator rather than a food reward because I was thinking about it. If I was that child -- and, again, I haven't done potty trainings. I’m only speaking about what goes on in my mind.
Jessie Ginsburg: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: If I got rewarded with a gummy bear, and in the daytime, I went in my pants, I would feel pretty disappointed in myself because there’s no food reward. It just has to create this internal bond.
Jessie Ginsburg: I thought you were gonna say you would go to the bathroom every five minutes.
Chris Wenger: I mean, yeah, I would be doing it for the wrong reasons, and then the kids sometimes, I don't know. They just --
Jessie Ginsburg: That’s a good one, though, because I think --
Chris Wenger: It’s an unpopular opinion probably.
Jessie Ginsburg: We do talk a lot about not using any reward system.
Chris Wenger: Right.
Jessie Ginsburg: So that is definitely, I would say, unpopular, but not because it’s bad, but because it’s people think it makes their lives harder when we get rid of reward systems.
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Chris Wenger: So there’s our unpopular opinion together, collaboratively.
Rebecca Ching: Yes, and I’ll check in with you, Chris, when you are potty training your son. You're gonna try all those amazing ideas like I did, and then I dove for the gummy bears. So, just want to say at some point I need to move on.
Chris Wenger: Yeah, no I get it.
Rebecca Ching: But I hear you. Theoretically, I generally get what you're saying. Then, last but not least, who or what inspires you to be a better leader and human?
Chris Wenger: My personal one individual that inspires me -- you already know what I’m gonna say probably. Robin Sharma is his name.
Jessie Ginsburg: I did know that.
Chris Wenger: He’s the author of The 5AM Club, and he’s got a book called The Everyday Hero Manifesto and some online courses, but certain people can say the same message and it might resonate with the person differently. So, his content is similar to some of the other guys like Lewis Howes and Tom Bilyeu and Tony Robbins and Ed Mylett. But for whatever reason, Robin Sharma’s the dude that I just go, “Boom, right there! That’s what I love.”
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah, speaking of being liked by everyone, Robin Sharma says, “You can either change the world or you could be liked by everyone, but you can't have both.”
Rebecca Ching: Mm.
Chris Wenger: Yep. Yeah, that’s a great one.
Jessie Ginsburg: That’s what we tell ourselves when people are attacking us.
Chris Wenger: If that is not one of the best quotes right there --
Jessie Ginsburg: Yeah.
Chris Wenger: -- then I don't know what is.
Jessie Ginsburg: Okay, mine is random. This is just what came to me, which is on the front of being a mom who also runs businesses, I will say Sara Blakely. Running a very successful company while parenting four kids.
Chris Wenger: Yep.
Jessie Ginsburg: And then her husband is very, very similar to Chris with their cold plunges and --
Rebecca Ching: That’s true!
Jessie Ginsburg: -- stuff like that.
Chris Wenger: Yeah, Jessie --
Rebecca Ching: And the energy, for sure! [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: Yeah.
Rebecca Ching: Where can people find you if they want to connect with you and learn more about the work that you do?
Jessie Ginsburg: I am @sensoryslp on social, and then people don't even know your first name. They only know him as Speech Dude.
Chris Wenger: Yeah! Speech Dude. So, on TikTok, Instagram, my website, it’s all Speech Dude.
So, you can go to Instagram and TikTok and type in @speechdude. You can go to www.speechdude.com, and that’s where I’m at. I’m lurking in those areas. You won't find me on -- I should be on LinkedIn, but I’m not there.
Rebecca Ching: [Laughs]
Chris Wenger: [Laughs] Well, I’m everywhere else!
Rebecca Ching: Jessie and Chris, I just want to thank you so much, especially working in this interview before you bring in baby number four for you -- baby number three or four?
Jessie Ginsburg: Four!
Rebecca Ching: Baby number four, oh my gosh. So, thank you for working -- I just want to say because I’m one of those people that because of the work that you put out there, I know I’ve felt less alone and more empowered and more encouraged in the work I do and not just in my clinical leadership work, but most importantly as a mom. So, I just want to thank you both for your time. Keep up the good work, and I appreciate you both. Thank you for your time today.
Chris Wenger: Thank you for having us on. We really appreciate it!
Jessie Ginsburg: Thank you so much!
Rebecca Ching: Before you go, I want to make sure you leave with a couple key points from this important conversation with Jessie Ginsburg and Chris Wenger. Now, we discussed terms like neurodivergence, persistent demand avoidance, ways people soothe through activities like stimming, and why using high- and low-functioning terms can be so harmful. Please make sure to take some time to read more about these topics and listen to those with their lived experiences in these areas.
Now, I’m curious. How are you gonna integrate your new learnings from this conversation into how you lead, and how can you show more compassion and understanding for those with neurodivergence and sensitivity issues? Now, I know so many people who find out later in life that they have ADHD or autism, OCD, dyslexia, sensory struggles, etcetera, and all of this has fueled so many of their woundings and traumas around education and their identity as a learner. When they find out that they have these diagnoses and hold these identities, it leads to so much grief and loss and also so much reckoning with years of feeling too much or broken, like who they are is a bad thing. I believe we can take so much of what Jessie and Chris shared today and not only advocate for the young people in our lives but the adults in the spaces that we lead that have different ways of living and experiencing this world, and this is the work of an Unburdened Leader.
Thank you so much for joining this very special episode of The Unburdened Leader. You can find this episode, show notes, and free Unburdened Leader resources, along with ways to sign up for the free Unburdened Leader weekly email and ways to work with me at www.rebeccaching.com. And if this episode impacted you, I’d be honored if you would rate it, review it, and share it with someone you know. Thank you so much!