S2 E8: "Oh my gosh, I'm gonna lose my best friend!" (transcript)

Jodi Carlton, MEd, LLC
S2 E8: "Oh my gosh, I'm gonna lose my best friend!" (transcript)

[beginning of introduction] 

Kathy: I never really put myself on the spectrum, and then I started to think more about relationships and friendships and how I see other people. And I'm like, I think I am.

Jodi: We've known each other for about five years and been really good friends and besties now for like four years and I'm neurotypical and you're seeing traits of neurodiversity in you. How do you think, how do you think it shows up in our friendship?

Kathy: We definitely both have very different things that we bring to the table, but I think probably where it came up was maybe one of our first arguments or disagreements. 

Jodi: We are really good at coming back, and we're both committed to sitting down and saying, okay, because we do care about each other so much. 

[end of introduction] 


Jodi: So welcome to the next episode of YOUR Neurodiverse Relationship. I am really, really excited today to have my best friend, Kathy, on the show. She is the last of the mini-series this summer on communication and me sharing my neurodiverse family and friends with you. 

This two-part episode is one of my favorites yet because Kathy and I talk about so much, there's so much packed into these two episodes, and Kathy and I talk about our own friendship, which is a neurodiverse relationship. We talk about her family of very different neurodiverse personalities. And as best friends do, she even calls me out on something that's actually really important and we have a very good conversation. That's going to be very relatable to so many of you. You're going to want to listen up to hear what we have to say about that. Kathy has some amazing insight as well about being neurodiverse, herself, and the mother of two neurodiverse children who are practically grown now themselves, and the strategies that she's used to parent them and help them in their lives as she's even realized kind of late in the game if you will that she's neurodiverse herself. So listen up and Kathy I'm just going to turn it over to you now to introduce yourself to our listeners. 

Hello and welcome.

Kathy: Thank you, Jodi. I am a mom of three children. I have a 23-year-old named Alex and he is neurodiverse and was diagnosed with Asperger's when he was five years old. He started exhibiting very early, which I'm sure we will talk about. Then I have a 21-year-old daughter named Ashley who is neurotypical and then an 18-year-old son named Ethan who is slightly neurodiverse.

He's not been identified as Asperger's. He does have a diagnosis of ADD and he did test I guess what the old classification of PDD nos, which was the pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified, which is a mouthful. And I’m 50 years old and divorced. Dad had traits and I believe he is on the spectrum. And I think I have traits. 

Jodi: So Ashley is the, the neurotypical. 

Kathy: Yeah.

Jodi: Yeah.

Kathy: Yes she gets to be different.

Jodi: Yeah, she had to be the oddball. And I'm really close to, to Ashley's, especially Alex and Ashley. Ethan, not quite as much, but I don't see him as much, but close to the other two, and yeah, and just for everybody who's listening, PDD nos, that mouthful she was talking about was one of the diagnoses that was changed over in 2013 when they made all the diagnostic changes.

So it would fall under the autism level one diagnosis now. Most kids who were diagnosed with PDD nos eventually got the Asperger's diagnosis when they got older, and then but Ethan, I think they changed everything and he just was never reassessed or anything. I definitely see his traits. 

So you guys are a neurodiverse family and everybody has totally different traits and characteristics. Sometimes people come to me and they're confused by that because Alex was your definition of autism because Asperger's was what his diagnosis was really young. That's what you guys knew it to be. And then it's that's what your definition of it was, but yet there's all these other ways that it can manifest and look totally different on a different person. And so that's been an interesting journey for you guys starting to, you see it yourself, see it in his dad, see it in Ethan. So what's that been like for you?

Kathy: Alex was pretty extreme. We used to call him Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. He first started exhibiting symptoms when he was in pre-K. The teachers would tell us his behaviors in school, and we were like, he doesn't act like that at home, and they'd be like, sure, he doesn't, they didn't believe us. We didn't believe them.

It was pretty marked, and but we did go ahead and call somebody from the county to go ahead and assess him, and so they sent somebody out and, yeah, he actually does do all this stuff in the school environment, but they were also able to report back to the school environment, he doesn't do those things at home.

So by that, having that middle person, it was someone who could help advocate that neither one of us were crazy and that we truly did have an unusual situation with him being so out there and different it was very evident from that early, early age.

He was always on an education plan from the time he entered till the time he graduated. Then, then you've got the girl in the middle who's all very typical and blonde hair, blue-eyed, all smiles and outgoing. Then the third one comes along and he's just quiet, and he had a very flat affect. That's what everybody would always say. He showed no emotion on his face. He could be the happiest child in the world and he'd look like he was, we call him our little drug dealer. He looks like he's, just like on drugs and out there. And we've had teachers come to us before and they thought that he was majorly depressed. He was on an IEP for speech. He did have definite problems with his Rs and lisp. So they were able to incorporate some social type speech into his actual making of the words, speech therapy because they did recognize that he was on the spectrum. So yeah, just all across the board.

And then of course, with having the oldest one, in special ed, you end up having friends that are also in the special ed classroom. So you start seeing okay, here's one of his friends who's also diagnosed with Asperger's, but they don't react like my son does.

And then have a friend who's less Asperger's, more autistic, and very different too. I mean early on, we just knew it's wow, this is... It is wide across it. That's why I think it makes it so hard because people wanna put labels, but the label, the symptoms aren't the same.

It's not like having an illness like the flu.

Jodi: Yeah there is a difference in the way that the brain's working and the "difference" is the similarity, but the way it looks on each person is completely different. And there are patterns in how that may look in different people.

It's interesting. Your youngest son is the first one that I met and was and got to know and I recognized it in him. He doesn't have those sensory meltdowns that your oldest does, or just even the really, the wide emotional swings. 

Kathy: Yeah.

Jodi: That difficulty and with the emotional regulation that some do, your younger son doesn't have those, but he does have that really flat affect and just a real limited social script which I noticed in the beginning. 

Then you've got your daughter, who's just this ball of color. I've always described her, and I've told her, I'm like, she's just so colorful. She's just got so many emotions. So what about you, and even just figuring out that dad and you, what's that been like for you, figuring out that there are traits there?

Kathy: I will admit that when our son was younger, I used to just always say that it was not surprising that we ended up with a child on the spectrum because both dad and I are very analytical. We're both IT. I started out as an accountant, this very precise job type functions.

I used to always think dad was on the spectrum, but I never really put myself there. I think it's only been like, in the last five years where I've started to be like I know I'm OCD, not OCD like hand washing, but OCD like I perseverate. My OCD is perseveration of thought. And that's where I started to really be like am I? And then I started to think more about relationships and friendships and how I see other people. And I'm like, I think I am. And so I've noticed, but, it's, I mean, I'm 50. I didn't figure it out until I'm like 45 or even later. So it definitely took me a while.

Jodi: Yeah. And that's actually really not uncommon, especially for women. Even though you mentioned social skills or relationships, women have a really different set of social skills than a lot of men and a lot of males and guys. And a lot of the criteria, a lot of what we look for in the diagnostics and the testing in those social skills has all been standardized and normed on boys.

And girls and women just really fly under the radar a lot. And only now are we really starting to look more at how autism shows up in females and in, in women. And as you know, you know my daughter really well, she's a female on the spectrum and everybody hears me talk about her a lot.

And she was on the show a couple episodes ago. It's really different and it's not uncommon at all for people. That's half of the people coming to me are in their fifties and sixties saying, oh, wait a minute. This seems familiar to me. What does that mean to you?

Kathy: It doesn't obviously affect my day to day that much, but it is just more that recognition that maybe when I'm in friendships with people, the way I perceive things isn't the way they perceive things. And I think it, it just drives that home a little bit more and I think maybe it's coming out now.

Now, because obviously my youngest is 18 and I think I've had so many predefined roles in my life up to this point that when you're acting as mom, you're not really thinking that much about your personal relationships. They're there, but it's not as much of a focus because you're just so busy going, and especially working mom and then having a soccer child and you're busy, but when those things start to wean off, then you're like oh, and you start to look back at your relationships in a different view. And I definitely think that just having the knowledge will help me going forward to always have that  awareness that I've always gotta be careful because if I know that about myself, then I have to stop and look at things through a different lens. 

Jodi: So you and I, we were just talking before we started this recording, we've known each other for about five years and been really good friends and besties now for like four years and I'm neurotypical and you're seeing traits of neurodiversity in you. How do you think, how do you think it shows up in our friendship?

Kathy: This is probably not different than any friendships, because I think all friendships are gonna have their ups and downs and people aren't always gonna see eye to eye, but I think probably where it came up was maybe one of our first arguments or disagreements just because I perseverate on it.

And then you know, I take things from a very emotional level. I just go wildly emotional. And I think that's also where part of the neurodiversity is, because it's abnormally emotional. So that's hard because you know, you gotta scale that back and really I can't hardly ever have discussions or, I don't want to say disagreements, not fights, they're disagreements. I can't have those intense moments without stepping back first, and that's something I had to learn over time. And I think I learned that just more of a, just because I didn't like that emotional reaction, but now I see it through a different light of oh, I think I really have to do that.

Or I'm going to really step into it really big time bad. So I think that's where it comes out really in those reactions when I'm stressed, when I'm upset, and it's just to the nth degree of what a neurotypical person would have.

Jodi: You and I haven't really had that many, we have had a few and I think it's really useful and helpful that you talked about how intense your emotions are because there's this huge myth that people who are on the spectrum or who are neurodiverse are unemotional that there's no emotion there.

We did talk about your youngest son and how he's flat and has that flat affect, which for those of you who are listening affect is the way we demonstrate our emotions. Like with our facial expressions it's the visible demonstration of emotion. And so that's just an example of how it can be so different because it's not true that everybody who's neurodiverse is not emotional because it's really more about extremes, being at one extreme or the other. So either there's just this much less emotion like in your son or there's so much more intensity there, like what you just described.

Kathy: Yeah, and I would say it's the inability to process my emotions. Because again, if you think about it from that whole standpoint of what you think of a typical, Asperger person where, you know, they have the social skills, the defects and everything because they can't, like when Alex was young, they used to have those cards where they would identify the faces of, is this person happy or sad, and he'd have to try and identify the emotion. In me, it's not that I can't identify the emotion, but it's that I can't regulate it, and I can't process it in a healthy way, in a way someone who's neurotypical can. And I think those are the things where I really started to realize that yeah, I'm a little on the spectrum too.

Jodi: Yeah It's interesting. I'm listening to you talk about that. How you're pretty good at identifying emotions in others though. Like you struggle with your own, but you're my sounding board for myself and for my own struggle, oh my gosh, when things are going on with my kids or life stressors, I'm blowing up your phone. When I'm stressed out about stuff. You're the one that can help me walk through my emotions, and you're the one that can help me identify what I'm feeling and what I'm going through, and you can identify that. And even in your kids, I see you help them identify their emotions.

Kathy: Yeah, it's weird, but when it comes to me, there's a wall until I've really thought about it, which is also again why I should never open my mouth before I've had time to sit back and try and process because, I think that is probably what led to our first disagreement, where I had gotten something stuck in my head and I just kept working it over and working it over. And then, it came spilling and tumbling out. Then, it was one of those things where I recall that I was horrified afterwards. I'm like, oh my gosh, I'm gonna lose my best friend. And, I think, we both had to step back and take a moment, but I remember us sitting down and the first thing that we established was how much we care for each other and that working through it was worth it to us.

And, I think, we also disclosed some of our own personal triggers, things that we know upset us so that, because knowing those, goodness gracious at our age, we've accumulated some triggers, earned them. But by being aware of them and being willing to discuss them is stuff that we both can be aware of about each other and make sure we don't step on those triggers and come at things in a different, more healthy way.

Jodi: Yeah, 

Kathy: Again, like they always say communication.

Jodi: I can remember going into my own fight or flight in, in that moment, in, in that conversation. And it's hard and I'm always teaching that when you feel yourself going into fight or flight that I teach the pause button. I'm like, it's important. You press pause because once anybody's in fight or flight, nothing's productive after that point because just the frontal lobes are shut down and nobody's being rational or that person definitely is not being rational, but it's hard. It's easier said than done, and I, I remember in that situation with you and the first one that you're talking about, I think I remember feeling myself going into that and being defensive and feeling defensive and trying to coach myself.

But it was, it's hard, and I don't even I don't remember if I did it well or not. I don't remember what I said or did. I can't remember anything clearly because I was in fight or flight. I can't remember it very clearly. It's but that's why it's so important to be able to press pause and then come back.

And I know we did. I know we, we may have had to table it and come back to it, but that's something we've been pretty good at, the times since then, when we've butt heads about something. We do know our triggers. You guys, like we can't talk about politics. We have to be careful, we have tobe careful about politics, but that's about the only thing we really have to be careful about, but, and we can talk about it.

But we are really good at coming back, and we're both committed to sitting down and saying, okay, because we do care about each other so much, and we're committed to coming back and saying, okay, I'm calm, and I want to hear what you have to say and listening. We both really listen. And that, that, I think that's one of the most important things is listening to hear.

We both do. We both listen to hear what the other one says and not just listen to refute or listen, to prove wrong or listen to prove my point, but we listen to hear each other.

Kathy: Yeah. We definitely both have very different things that we bring to the table and, yes with politics, I think we did have one of those things where it got a little tense, but then we ended up talking about it anyway. And I was like, oh my gosh, she thinks she sees things so totally different than me because you're coming at it from just a vastly different way. And it was fascinating. So it definitely took the sting out of it because I was like, wow, I never thought about things like that. And I think that could be said for so many other things that people get heated about not just us, when you actually listen to how the other person thinks about it and you take that personal side out of anything, it's oh my gosh, really? You think that?

Jodi: Yeah. And not from a, you think that like a judgey standpoint, but more of a oh! 

Kathy: You think that? Wow!

Jodi: Yeah. Oh, that's totally just a really different perspective. And yeah, so many people are not willing to recognize that there is another perspective that somebody else might have, and especially with couples, and you know that I work with a lot of couples, but one of the reasons why I wanted you to be on this show is because the name of this podcast is your neurodiverse relationship.

And a lot of people come here because they are dating somebody or they're married to somebody that they believe is neurodiverse, or that's been diagnosed, but really in all of those relationships, nine times out of 10, especially if there's a marriage and children, there are other neurodiverse people in their lives, whether it's like you just described your own family, whether it's their children or parents, grandparents. Another episode on this show, I talked with my mom about my grandmother, who we're sure was autistic and other family members.

And so we have neurodiverse relationships with so many people in our lives. And if most of the people listening to this are here for a reason. So there's somebody in the world they think is neurodiverse, but don't just think it's that one person that, that you are here for. It's a lot of other people in your world too.

I promise. I promise that it's not just the person you're here about. It's where you work. It's in your kids' school. It's at the grocery store. It's everywhere. There's neurodiversity everywhere because it exists everywhere. And your kid's coach, or, actually one of my other, my good friends, Rob, not the Rob that's been on the show.

I've had a Rob on the show, but my good friend Rob is a baseball coach, a volunteer baseball coach, and he has an autistic kid on his team, and so he's constantly asking me for advice about coaching him. There's just neurodiversity everywhere.

Kathy: Oh, yeah. Everywhere you turn. And especially, with me working in the IT community, I don't want to stereotype. There have been studies done that I've read about over the years where there does tend to be a prevalence of some neurodiversity within the IT community. So that's, I don't think that's surprising to a lot of people, but I see it in the people, some of the people I work with. I see it in my family. I don't see it in any of the immediate family though. I had an older sister who was definitely neurotypical. My dad's neurotypical. I don't know about my mom. I was 19 when she passed. I'm very much like her. So I wonder, but I don't know that there's anybody I could even ask. I don't think my dad would be a great judge of it. I just don't think that would be his thing, especially since women do tend to have different ways of expressing it and it comes out differently.

So I don't know, but there could have been some there, but just because I know I'm so much like her and the things that I do remember. It makes you wonder, who's neurodiverse that you don't know because they hide it so well or that you just haven't really come across the triggers that show them. Because like with Alex, I mean at 23, he's so vastly different than when he was younger.

Jodi: He's vastly different than I, when I met him five years ago.

Kathy: He was off the charts when he was a kid, and he's still finding his way in life and he still has moments. He had a moment a couple of weekends ago, but he recognizes so much in himself and how to handle things. And what does he wanna do different the next time he gets upset. It's a much more mature way of looking at things than when he was younger.

Jodi: And it's so great that now we're seeing this and diagnosing this and understanding it for this generation so much younger than our generation. People, like you, it's, you've got traits, you've got characteristics, but I've met a lot of people in my line of work that have really struggled.

Not that you haven't. But I've met people that have had really significant, major struggles, throughout school, throughout their lives and relationships, and they're finally getting this answer. It's not the only reason because neurodiversity is not the only part of who we are. It's one piece of who we are.

We've got our personalities and so many other things, but it's so nice that we're able to identify this piece for our children for this generation. I know for my daughter, she was identified when she was young, just like Alex. She was five and like Alex, she was off the rails, a different human being when she was younger. And she told me one day, she said like, "mom, I know I'm gonna get payback someday, if I have kids for what I put you through." We were able to do so much to help her with her IEPs and she's been able to understand herself through that lens, starting now versus had we not known and it would've just been so much harder of a struggle.

And just even her relationship with her brother, Aidan, who was on the show with her a couple of episodes ago, talking about their sibling relationship. Your daughter Ashley has been able to understand that relationship so much better. It's not been made easy at all. I know it's been really hard on them at times, really hard, but at least that lens is there to make some sense of it.

Kathy: In speaking – to that's an interesting one because Alex and Ashley have always been historically oil and water. Alex has been quite honestly very rotten to Ashley for many years. He did at one point share with me that he was jealous that she was normal. But beyond that, you know they're just very different.

Plus I think with Alex, he got stuck. He got stuck in the way he saw her. He always saw her as this younger annoying sister who was loud and did whatever. He just, he saw her as an immature being. 

It wasn't until this past year when she was home during COVID, where she just had a conversation with him one night and he was in a pretty receptive mood and she talked to him. She was just like, she's like, "would you consider that you have matured and changed over the years?"And he's like, " yes." And she's like, "well, why don't you think I couldn't have done the same?" So she didn't appeal to him through emotion because that does not work with Alex. She talked to him logically and just put it in terms that his very logical brain could understand and accept that she was a very different person than what he was remembering.

So she just posed it to him. She's like, "what if you put aside the things that you remember me as, and just try." And I tell you what the last year has been way different. They get along. He no longer calls her names. He's nice to her. I think she still irritates him sometimes, but it’s normal. It's what, " okay." I'll put air quotes around it. It's "normal" brother, sister type interaction now. I'll be honest, it takes a weight off my heart because having them always, he would hurt her and they just were not getting along. No parent wants to see that, especially when there's no good reason for it.

So to see them finally have come to some sort of resolution in place where they actually seem to enjoy each other has been extremely rewarding. That took a long time and it took a lot of maturity on Alex's part to get to a place and maturity on Ashley's part to really stick with it and finally find a way that could reach him, because I certainly couldn't reach him the way she did.

Jodi: I think what she did, that speaking his language was so smart on her part because even though he's an extremely emotional person, that dysregulation is there .He still doesn't quite understand emotion in the same way that a neurotypical speaks that emotional language. And your kids are all just so intelligent, and Ashley very cleverly understood that the way to appeal to him was not through that emotion, but through his logic. And that was exactly what she needed to do. And it's been really cool to see that I haven't seen it as much firsthand because she's off at college most of the time. But I’ve heard you talk about it. 

Kathy: She doesn't come home.

Jodi: I know that's been huge off of you though, because I mean she'd come home and it could, it'd just be like World War III over there when she was there.

Kathy: The tension level in the house was always just so high. And she was home for quite a long time for COVID, about a year and a half. So it, it just, it was very tense probably for that first year. And it was probably about at that mark where there was still six months left. It started out slow of course, that tentative "okay, I'm trying this." Alex was like, "I'm not jumping to conclusions. I'm gonna, I'm gonna see. I'm gonna see how this plays out." And then the more that he actually opened his mind and saw things play out and  saw that no, it was a different, more mature sister than he started to accept it, and he grew into that. So by the time she did go back full time to college, things had really leveled out. So now when she comes home it's a very pleasant visit. It's very nice and they'll have conversations and. No fights and no tension level through the roof.

Jodi: And I think I wanna just say that what you described though is a real common situation that happens in neurodiverse relationships of any kind, really. You mentioned perseveration and how you got stuck on an idea and emotion with you and me and anybody though, by the way, neurotypicals, we can perseverate. We can perseverate on stuff. We can get stuck on it. I'm always telling people if you don't believe me that neurotypicals can do this, look at politics, look at religion, look at all of the really heated issues out there. And that's not just the autistic folks that are getting stuck on their opinions.

That's all the neurotypicals too. Everybody's capable of perseverating and getting stuck. We do know that the neurodiverse brain has a tendency to perseverate and lock in. Like a jingle that gets stuck in your head that you hear on the radio and you just can't get it out. It's like a thing that gets stuck in the brain.

And so what I hear from people is that their neurodiverse partner, because I work with couples, get stuck on some kind of character trait or an idea or concept about them and they get locked in on it. And I know that you and I have both experienced this with our ex-husbands as well with their neurodiversity and it's extremely damaging to a relationship.

Ashley found a way around it with her brother using his logic and it and good on Alex for being receptive and being willing to be open and able to, what I call, update that file. Update that script.

Kathy: That's exactly what it was. Exactly. It was that character trait he thought she was immature and a bunch of other negative connotations like silly girl and things like that. And, but now if you ask him to read back that file, it's a different answer. It really, truly was exactly that. It's weird, yeah. But speaking of okay. I'm calling you out on something.  So your conversation with your mom and the comment you made about that, if you had known about your ex-husband's neurodiversity, that you guys might still be together. I've had those thoughts myself, but I'm calling you out.

Because I think we both know that neither one of us would be in those relationships even if we understood a little bit better not because of the neurodiversity, but because of toxic traits.

[record scratching]

Jodi: And there you go, folks, nothing like having a best friend who is admittedly neurodiverse and has no problem calling you out on your own podcast for the masses to hear. 

But that is one of the reasons, one of the many reasons I love Kathy so dearly. And as you could hear today, we have a really great relationship and we represent a friendship, a neurodiverse friendship that is thriving because we both are capable, motivated, willing, those three pillars that I'm constantly talking about. 

Domestic relationships are also capable of the same kind of quality in a relationship that Kathy and I have. So hopefully we'll be a beacon of hope for some of you who are listening.

But I'm going to stop there for today's podcast. Tune in next week to hear my response to Kathy, and the conversation that we had about what she was bringing up. She was referencing my conversation with my mom on my episode two weeks ago. You're gonna want to hear next week's episode because we have a really important conversation about toxic traits in people and how that's a very different thing from neurodiversity. Toxicity and neurodiversity are very different. And Kathy and I both have experienced toxic personalities in our marriages and our relationships. So tune in next week to hear that conversation and more.

Kathy had a very, very useful strategy on how to know when it's best to approach your partner or your friend or whoever you are struggling with in a difficult conversation or when there's a sensory meltdown or some kind of meltdown. 

And you're gonna wanna hear that. So tune in next week.

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