253: Decolonizing Neurodivergence w/ Dr. Kimberly Douglass

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I am so thrilled to get to share Dr. Kimberly Douglass’ talk on Decolonizing Neurodivergence!

From Violence to Love

Do you ever wonder why we get into loops on social media platforms when we talk about neurodivergence? We have convinced ourselves this conversation is just about validating each other and understanding the traits of various conditions. The very definition of what it means to be neurodivergent is rooted in colonialist thinking and behavior.
It’s clear to me: we don’t want to talk about the hard changes we have to make to ourselves, to our self-image; the hard changes we should demand from our society.

We keep the conversation at the level of defining a problem; defining ourselves as the problem. We are willing to be the problem as long as we don’t have to challenge ourselves, other people, our families, our employers, our communities, our worlds.

You are not a problem!!! Write this down: YOU ARE THE WAY!!!

But, you know we talk about neurodivergence in ways that allow the powerful to hold on to their power. We are more comfortable with this than risking being disliked, having things taken from us or feeling powerful inside our own skin. Even the word power makes us uncomfortable. These are the ways we have been taught. This is colonization.Regardless of what you have been taught, YOU are the way to transformation for yourself and for others. With guidance on how to think about neurodivergence, we can help see yourself just as you are!

YOU are the way to this new understanding…. for yourself, for your team, for your community.

Let’s discuss here on my weekly blog: bit.ly/decolonizingndblog.

About Kimberly:

Dr Kimberly Douglass is the full-time owner of Kimberly Douglass, PhD, LLC. Dr Douglass and her team are designing a world in which neurodivergent people feel they belong. The team fuses disability advocacy with design thinking. Douglass’ team designs digital and paper content, such as courses, ebooks, journals, workbooks and the Neurodivergently Thinking cards. Also, the team offers premium 1 to 1 coaching services.
Dr Douglass’ signature product is her Decolonizing Neurodivergence course.

Dr Douglass and her team design tools that validate the neurodivergent experience.

The team’s content and services challenge everyday processes that marginalize and shame neurodivergent people. Dr Douglass became a full-time business owner after working as staff, peer-reviewed researcher, faculty and administrator in higher education for over 17 years. She began the advocacy work over 12 years ago, when she became the chief advocate for her Son who is neurodivergent. She has since gotten more in touch with her own neurodivergence. Dr Douglass is married to Dean Tate and lives in Tennessee. Douglasskimberlylynn@gmail.com

In this episode, Kimberly Shares:

  • Her thoughts on growing up neurodivergent and breaking from the system.
  • Moving from seeking validation to examining systems.
  • Some common threads of neurodivergence.
  • How we are living in a culture of consumption.
  • Why no one wins under the current capitalist paradigm.
  • Creating an agenda to make change.
  • Why neurodivergence often comes with trauma.
  • Examining how do we know what we think we know?
  • The focus on compliance in our schools.
  • Why we accept less, and deserve ease & flow.
  • What neurodivergence Brings to the table.
  • Supporting each other & building relationships.
  • Examining our own systems we live in.
  • Moving away from defensiveness & denial to make positive change.
  • The elements of white supremacy culture.
  • How you can support Kimberly’s work!

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* Rough Transcript *

Ep. 253

Aurora: Awesome. Well, welcome to the embracing intensity community. Today’s call is one I’m especially excited about, and I’ve had a lot of other people comment. How excited they are to hear this talk with Dr. Kimberly Douglas on decolonizing neuro divergence from violence to love.

So, glad to have you, Kimberly. This is one of the things that having both worked in academic circles and hearing your stories there and working in middle school right now, and just seeing, especially after the pandemic, just like, you know, I think what people phrase or people, some teachers complain about, you know, disrespect and things like that.

And what I’ve come to realize is that not just for students, but also workers. I think people realized there was a different way of doing things. And even if that way wasn’t working quite. They know that there’s a different way and that it doesn’t have to be done the way that we’ve always done it.

Then this last year was an exercise in people trying to do it the same way. And it was maddening in a lot of ways. So, I feel like that to me, is what I’ve seen with students especially is that they just realize there’s a different way of doing this. Why do we have to do it the way you’re saying?

So that’s, I think one of the reasons why this topic is so valuable to me. Just understanding that there are different ways of doing things and your perspective is so valuable to me. Welcome, Kimberly.

Introduction

Kimberly: Well, thank you. I’m really glad to be here. So, I’m Kimberly Douglas and. I am a coach consultant to neuro divergent entrepreneurs, but I worked with neuro divergent adults in different capacities, and I started out as a parenting coach for children.

Neuro divergent children, and found that that probably was better left to other people who could distance themselves a little bit from it. Cuz I have a neuro divergent child who’s still at school. And so, this is very meaningful work for me. We talk about decolonizing neuro divergence and in reference to what you just said.

So, you set my mind in a lot of different directions. There’s a single word that I keep thinking about, which is deconstruction because I think that’s what we’re all talking about. And what you’re talking about in particular with regard to the last few years is deconstructing our reality. And so decolonizing. Is a deep level of deconstruction, but related to what you’re saying, all of it, all of our deconstruction matters. So, decolonizing is about pulling the whole thing apart. And for a lot of people that’s not feasible, right? It can’t happen. Like you have a job, you have to go to work, you have contributions you need to make.

But what you’re saying is that there’s some deconstructing that we can do in terms of the power dynamics. And in terms of just rethinking some things. Is there a particular place you want me to start?

Background

Aurora: Maybe you can start with kind of what led you to that path. I know you’ve shared a little bit of that on your podcast interviews. So, if folks are really curious about the deep dive into Kimberly’s story, you can go there. Then kind of where you’ve circled to in the last few.

Kimberly: Okay. So, before I became a full-time business owner, I was an academic in higher education. I was a tenured faculty member and also an administrator. And I walked away from that because of my own decolonizing processes. And I’ll come back to that in a minute. So, I knew like 12 or 13 years ago that I would be doing this type of work.

I wasn’t sure exactly how, what capacity. But I had a vision for doing this type of work because I had begun stepping in as my son’s chief advocate in public school. And it just didn’t make sense to me how things happened with him and how I had to request certain things how I had to play these word games and some, these games around semantics about asking for things that we needed and what I started to see.

Yes, there were lots of individuals who participated in these types of scavenger hunts. But also, what I started to see is that the systems are set up to behave this way and that there are predetermined outcomes and it may look different from school to school or facility to facility, but there is a slow walk that you’re on.

Growing up Neurodivergent

Kimberly: When you have a child, who has certain neuro divergencies, and especially if your child happens to be black or, a brown child, there’s a dance that is done that doesn’t necessarily result in them getting what they need. And it just didn’t make sense to me. I was an academic and I was up.

Nights before an IEP meeting and trying to make sure I read all the articles. And what I started to realize is that this was just a way, this was just consuming me. It was consuming me, it was consuming our family, it was consuming the relationships in our family. And that was the origin of talking about decolonizing, you know, circle back around to that.

But as it turns out, we pulled our child from public school. When he was in the fourth grade, he went to a private school that was supposed to be for a special education private school. We saw some of the same things there because that school was not designed for the things that they say that they’re designed for basically.

And in fact, a lot of the people who work there don’t have the credentials to address the needs that my son has. Therefore, it led to a lot of problems and it just created a lot of clashes. And it created new needs that he didn’t even have going into that situation. So, he went there from like fifth to seventh grade and it just couldn’t work anymore.

Breaking from the System

Kimberly: Then he needed a break. So, he went into self-directed learning and fast forward to 2020, the pandemic hit. I helped start a school, a remote school for students like my son, where they could go and they could do a type of self-directed learning uh, with some teacher structure and it worked out perfectly.

And As it turns out, Now that he’s done that for two years and really got really enriched by that situation. He now wants to go back to public school, which is why I need to talk to Aurora. But what he learned in these past two years is about being able to advocate for himself and to take care of his needs and to recognize when other people are not taking care of his needs.

But once we opened our minds to self-directed learning programs for him and just thinking about his education in a whole new way, I started to look around at how I was being treated at work and recognized that it just was there consuming me. And so, I made the decision to walk away from academia because I just didn’t see how it would drain every single resource I had from me.

Current Outreach

Kimberly: So that’s how. I stepped into my business. I’m in my third year now, and one of my most popular programs is about decolonizing neuro divergence. I came up with this as a result of talking to a lot of people on TikTok. And what I noticed is that lots of people get on TikTok and they’re getting validation about their autism, about their ADHD, about bipolar disorder, about learning disabilities, about learning disorders about complex PTSD.

They’re getting a lot of validation for these things that they’ve experienced all their lives and just couldn’t get people to talk about. Even medical, mental health professionals. They could not get people to talk about it with them in a way that they need it. But with that, I sensed an emptiness, a hollowness to the conversation despite how deep and robust.

I’m a person where I raised some really interesting questions online on TikTok. That’s part of the story is that I am an influencer on TikTok and have built a platform on TikTok. Right now, I’m at 108,000 followers and have really engaged community. I’ve written books from my experiences there, but something just kept ringing hollow to me, especially among the white neuro divergent people.

So, what I would notice is there were waves of people who would come to TikTok and it’d be like, oh my God, you know, where have you guys been all my life? This is wonderful. But it just was a conversation about how people were feeling as individuals. and it didn’t change anything. It didn’t demand anything of anyone.

Decolonizing Neurodivergence

Kimberly: And so, I started to think about, how do you deconstruct this? How do you pull this apart so that we are having a conversation about really changing things out there because the issues that people are having, there are patterns to these issues? And that’s why they’re able to get the validation in the first place, because they’re all having very similar experiences.

And if you keep cranking out the same results over and over again, that means that it’s not an individual issue. It is a systems issue. And so, the thing is when we go in for mental health support or mental health services. What we are encouraged to do is to think about ourselves. And that’s a wonderful thing, but it is talking about ourselves out of context.

Instead of talking about ourselves in the context of these systems, the systems that overlap to create the oppression that requires us to go to a stupid dance app and get the validation that we need and was, and commercial break TikTok is ingenious. I don’t know if that’s the right word, um, it’s far more than a dance app.

And for people who think it’s just a dance app, you’re missing a big part of the equation, of what’s happening there. So, I’ll just put that in for free. So why do you have to come to a dance app? To get validated about your lived experience and somebody tell you that it is okay. If your reflection is that this is what has happened to you.

From Validation to Examining Systems

Kimberly: It means that there are some systemic issues. And so, I started to deconstruct and just pull back the layers and think about things that happened with me at work. It happened with my son and why it took me so long to recognize that I am neuro divergent, or why it’s so hard for my son to get an autism diagnosis when he clearly shows all signs.

And so, it’s like layer by layer. So, then I started to question like, what is this whole thing about neuro divergence in the first place? And of course, neuro divergence is an umbrella term. That can mean a lot of different things and there are different neuro divergencies. So, autism and ADHD,

and other neuro divergencies that each comes with its own set of traits in criteria and diagnoses. And so, we’re all lumped under this umbrella, but that word resonates on social media for a reason. I feel like it’s a safer word. And also, it’s a place where people can go when they’re still trying to figure things out and it becomes a cover for people in a way, but then I started digging even deeper.

Common threads of neurodivergence

Kimberly: And if you look at the traits and the criteria in the DSM for all these neuro divergencies, there is a common theme, no matter what the Neurodivergency, no matter what the condition is, these criteria lead back to work. What kinda worker are you? What kind of worker should you be? How do you, the divergence is away from work?

So, in decolonizing, neuro divergence, what I’m pulling apart is what kind of workers are we supposed to be? Um, And I’m actually, so that was my first book on decolonizing neurodivergence, that I’m working crowd currently crowdfunding and ask for your support crowd funding my second book on decolonizing neurodivergence, and I can talk about that more later, but the first book. So, if you start, let’s start with daycare and pre-K and kindergarten and K through 12, I used to.

The school was a preparation for work. And really it, that, that is why it’s created the current, the, the version of school we have is a patchwork job of the 18 hundreds model that we started with. And I used to say it is there for the purpose of socializing you to get you, to behave a certain way and to feed industry, which I still think those things are true, but I started to change my perspective on that, or I’ve changed my perspective on that school itself is work.

Babies are workers, children are workers. When you come out of the womb, there are categories of what type of worker you will be. You are black, that is a category of worker. That means that you will likely end up working at a prison, or you will end up likely working in a factory.

The Influence of Race

Kimberly: Now there are exceptions and there have to be exceptions in order for this whole thing to hang together. But race exists for the purpose of determining where you fit as a consumer, like a per-person to purchase things, but also to be consumed, how will you be consumed by the society? So, in daycare, you’re expected to walk in a line you’re expected to sit crisscross applesauce.

And the more you diverge from that, the more neuro divergence you feel in the society. So, it feels like the older you get, the more neuro divergence you come, you become no, and it’s not necessarily that. But it is certainly the situation where there become more and more boxes where you are supposed to fit.

As you get older and you start your real self, your authentic. Diverges from that more and more and more and more. And so, it feels like you are diverging, the older you get. So, in daycare, you’re showing that it is difficult for you to sit crisscross applesauce, or that’s uncomfortable for you or in pre-K. You are having difficulty walking in line because your brain just doesn’t work that way.

Or, as my son did, he liked to wander and explore. He didn’t necessarily wanna be, he didn’t wanna be cooped up in a room with 10 people in the daycare, and he didn’t wanna go to the potty in the same bathroom that 20 people shared that was very uncomfortable for him. And so, the divergence became louder and louder, louder the older you get and the same thing with me.

The Culture of Consumption

Kimberly: And so, the divergence is about how difficult it is to consume you, whether it is consuming your resources or consuming the money that you make from working. It is a conversation about consumption.

We have to challenge the systems. Like there is a reason why you’re talking about wealth. And so, and we tend to look at it as episodic, as opposed to systemic. And so, we talk about what individuals are doing, but the conversation is incomplete

because the individuals are doing that because we are following a logic that has been presented to us. So, in decolonizing neuro divergence, I say that your trajectory reflects the systems that impact your life and your family is the first system. And your family is also the system that imports the values of the other systems.

That conversation is happening in the circles that you just mentioned because it’s supposed to. And so, this is something that I say to a lot of people that I work with in courses and things is when they talk about things that are wrong with them, I asked them, so why is that the logical outcome of the systems that are involved in your life?

That can make sense that that is where you landed. It makes sense, but I wanna go back to something else you said, which, you know, I’m bringing up race and this is so important for white neuro divergent people. So, because I know a lot of late diagnosed people who have hit a wall or they’re just in survival mode because we’re constantly being assaulted by like these sensory assaults and just different things that white neuro divergent people have to deal with.

Challenging the System

Kimberly: It puts them in survival mode. It makes it hard to see that none of this changes unless white neuro divergent people do something about the systems because race is the bargaining chip. We were brought to this country to be bargaining chips. And even today we are still bargaining chips, so black people can always be leveraged against you.

Here’s what I mean, when a school wants to ignore the needs of an autistic black boy and say that no, he doesn’t have autism he’s blah, blah, blah, opposition defiant disorder. What the society does is it creates tools using us as Guinea pigs, that it can then leverage against you. So, it makes it easier when they try out these tools on us, it makes it easier for them to turn around and use the tools on you and deny any request or any need that you have.

And I’ve said before on TikTok, there’s a thread running between. There’s a connection between autistic black boys that are put on the prison school to prison pipeline and white women who are late diagnosed autistic or late diagnosed ADHD. And here is the thread, its behavior over needs in both cases.

So, with the autistic black boy, the schools, the system are created such that you focus more on surveillance and using his behavior to ignore his need and say that his need doesn’t matter. We just need for him to comply. It doesn’t matter what his need is.

With the white woman or then the white girl, it is, I need for you to be performative and be sweet, and I will reward you by putting you in gifted education. I reward you by letting you get awards and I get to ignore your needs.

No one wins

Kimberly: And in both cases, we’re talking about behavior over. And so, one of the things that has to happen is there has to be an awareness by neuro divergent, white people to understand how neuro divergent black people are leveraged against them.

And so, we have to deconstruct all of that. We have to pull that apart. And if that doesn’t happen. So, if you look at the research, most of a lot of the research about autism, for example, is about white males, particularly white boys. If you look in the research, it’s almost as if autistic black women do not exist because of stereo, because the assumption is we were here as leverage.

The assumption is that black women are supposed to serve everyone. Black men, white women, white, black men, white women, white men. We’re supposed to serve everyone. So why would we have needs? I don’t get to have. And I have to remind people of that all the time, like I have needs. So, if I’m sitting here and I’m having a sensory, like I’m dysregulated, then that takes away from my ability to serve other people.

And so, I have to pull that apart.

Like I’ve had to do my own decolonizing process because of my own internalized racism and expectat- like if the quickest way to get me to say no to you now is to say that, oh, well, you can do it for exposure. Uh, I don’t need your exposure. I don’t need, like, I got my own stuff.

Establishing Relationships

Kimberly: And so, in some new circles I’m trying to bring into, like with Blockchain, crypto currency and things like that, you know, there are people where I can hear them using a veiled language and it’s like, mm, nah, that’s not for me. I need for you to pay me.

So, if I don’t have an established relationship or we don’t have whatever. I’m not doing it, I’m just not doing it. And so, I had to decolonize that for myself. And like, you hear a lot of black women talking about imposter syndrome. You will never, unless I have lost my mind, hear me relate that to myself. If you hear me talking about it, it is to talk about what foolishness it is because I do not have imposter syndrome.

What I have is an understanding that I’m not wanted in the room. That’s what I have. So, I’m not playing that game with people. And so, what I’m trying to do through this book. And actually, I created this book for class that I taught at a seminary where there are a lot of pastors in the course is really get people to pull apart.

The thing about being a consumable, whether it’s you purchasing things or whether it is, the thing is about separating the resource from the source and you are being the source and the more the resource gets separated from the source the easier it is to consume you.

Consuming every last bit

Kimberly: There’s a book, I’m gonna reference it in the book that I’m writing. Now it’s called accounting for slavery, and this illustrates just how much it about consuming every last freaking drop. This book talks about the accounting ledgers and how that was a tool of violence during slavery and how it was so effective in making sure that the system worked efficient. Cause some of these bigger plantation, they would have like three and four sets of overlapping books. Right? which Is why like people talking about reparations, you can’t really do the accounting.

That’s garbage, that’s total garbage, but side note. But when you go back and you look at these books, what the books tell you is that from the moment the enslaved children were born some of them were used to like, keep the grass cut and keep the grass clear. So, there were tasks that even two or three-year olds did and they watched other babies cause they were babies themselves.

But go all the way up to the point where you have, let’s say an enslaved man in sixties who was disabled, who could no longer walk or. You know, he’s been kicked in ahead. And so, he had hallucinations even then his job, because they had to extract every last resource until death. His job was to snitch on other people that was his job.

And that is that same life. So like people think that a lot of what we know about management and accounting and operations on the shop floor, it didn’t come out of the north. It came out of the south cause they could do real time experiments with people who had to do exactly what they were told to do.

Experiments in Real Time

Kimberly: And so, a lot of the labor conditions today have to do with scientific agriculture, not Frederick Taylor, scientific management, but scientific agriculture, where they could do the experiments in real time. And so, when you think about neuro divergence, And how we make it difficult for people to consume from us.

We are problems, right? We’re problems for the narrative about what’s supposed to be happening here. People can consume from us, but a lot of us when we hit 30 or 40, we just can’t. I, I see it on TikTok all the time. They’re like, I just can’t do it anymore. I’m in burnout phase.

Or if I go in here one more day and have to do this or I have to stay in a room, where I have to work in an open- I literally cannot do it anymore. The thing is, they want workers whose work is, there’s an output that is predictable, that is quantifiable that you can analyze that you can measure and neuro divergent people sometimes make that really difficult to do. And so, it’s about being a worker, that’s what it’s about.

The diagnosis – why some people think that self-diagnosis is invalid because you need to go get a real diagnosis so you can get your ass back to work.

The Trauma of Neurodivergence

Kimberly: So, I think most neuro divergent people experience some sort of trauma as a result of being neuro divergent, simply cause the society not made for us.

If you are a white male with a lot of money and a lot of resources, then you may have an existence that is not filled with trauma, but that is because you have these, the social capital that helps you escape that. But most the Virgin people are going to have these experiences that are gonna cause some trauma.

Because it feels like we’re constantly bucking the system and that’s not even the intention. It may be that we just think about situations very differently. So, I came in here. So, my son used to build he’s a drummer. And when he was like two or three, he used to build these elaborate drum systems.

And here’s the thing they weren’t built out of drum parts. They were built out of whatever he saw in the room. So, like this water bottle would be a symbol stand and he would have these discs that he would sit them like on top of that. But he was so meticulous about this system and it would like spread throughout the whole room and he would get just our rate if like one of the symbols, his so-called symbols would sit up on the thing.

And I was like, oh my God, that was so creative. He’s such a design thinker. And I came in this room a few minutes ago and I just – and I was like, I wonder where he gets it from.

Thinking Differently

Kimberly: And I was showing Aurora the box that I was using to prop up my phone. Cause my tripod wasn’t working. It’s like, everything in here is a tool that I can use.

And that is how my brain works. So, what that has done is put me in lots of situations where people were really content with their bullshit, but they told me they wanted something different. And so, I could see, oh, okay, wait a minute. We got to stand right here. We could do this. And also, I’m a black woman, so I had to learn how to work around resource deficits.

And so, okay. All right. So, I got like this flower basket that’s got. Pamphlet holder sitting on top of it, where if I wanna change my angle and get this angle, I want you to see me from here, then I’ll do that. But I was like, I’m tired. I can’t do that for 30 minutes. So, I’m doing it right here. And my arm is leaned up against the basket, you know, to make it so it’s not as stressful.

And so, I’m constantly thinking about how I can use whatever’s in my environment, but a person who is like, okay, well, this is fine. This is how things are supposed to be. And you know, here’s a tripod and that’s what the tripod is for. Me and that person we’re not gonna vibe too well, you know, vibe too well, all day long, that’s not gonna work.

Eurocentric Education

Kimberly: Somebody put a question in there. OK, but Yeah, but what if you had not had a Eurocentric education? Then you’re not supposed to get it right. So now the frame of your life is different. You recognize that there was something happening that you needed to address, but when you go to take this test, then, because it’s operating within a certain framework, it leaves you outside the framework.

And I know Aurora, you know, works with assessments and all that. And, and I’ve heard, conversations about, how certain people’s realities are ignored by these tests. This is very important, because when we talk about the things that systems do, this is something that a system does.

This is a system of professionals, who are in agreement that these are the types of assessments that need to be used. And so, this is where like, neuro divergent people who have more social capital because of their social standing have to push back on these sorts of things.

So, for example, I’ve said this on TikTok and it’s kind of in like fell flat, but I think part of that is my messaging, which is that it’s not enough. Again, to get on a social platform and talk about what’s wrong. Even if you acknowledge that there are systemic issues, which is that it’s not enough.

Creating an Agenda

Kimberly: Again, to get on a social platform and talk about what’s wrong. Even if you acknowledge that there are systemic issues, are you moving as a block? If you’re not moving as a block, then you’re just making yourself feel better for a moment. Like if you have no lobbyist, if you have no public policy agenda, there’s no research agenda. There is no social media agenda. If there’s no agenda, then nothing is happening except you getting some relief in the moment.

And so, one of the things in the book that I’m writing now is when I end the book, there is a research agenda that a new scholar, cause it probably will be an emerging scholar can pick up and it’s like a social studies of neuro divergence.

Because this is how it happens. And you can’t have the policy without the research, or at least the appearance of research. You probably can’t get the research if there’s no policy money going towards it. So, it has to be on somebody’s agenda. Otherwise it just is a bunch of people running in place and feeling invalidated, complaining about their existence in a way that makes it easy to continue consuming them.

So, getting on TikTok and saying loudly, you know, how you are being treated, it’s important. And I would never dissuade people from doing that. But what it assures is that it will continue because there will never be any real work around it. And you can even take it offline and go see a counselor get therapy, whatever.

That also assures that you will continue to be consumed, because there is no real coordinated effort around it.

Individualism & Consumption

Kimberly: And in a lot of this, all of this is tied up into consumption, which is tied into colonization, which is tied into white supremacist culture, right? And white supremacist culture is about individualism and making sure that you never find it, that you never see it important that you develop a community around your needs, that you just go deal with your stuff.

And again, this is where we come back to a lot of this depends on white neuro divergent people to call in these systems to form the community, because it’s not enough for black people to have community around this because we do not have the power to move as a block in the way that white neuro divergent people would.

Expanding Voices

Aurora: That’s so true. And in terms of the systemic piece of it, it’s something I’m still kind of exploring. But you know, one of the priorities I have with the small system of my own community is having a wide range of voices and sharing a wide range of voices. And knowing that it’s not my place to speak for anyone else, but to give a platform for them to speak.

And what you had said about the exposure and, you know, for me, has to be a relationship before I would ever even ask someone to

Kimberly: right, absolutely

Aurora: speak to my community, for example.

Creating Microsystems

Kimberly: No, I think that’s important because look at what you’ve done here, you’ve assembled a group of people to, so you’ve created a microsystem, you’ve assembled a group of people to challenge these assumptions. Right?

So, you have a forum in which this can be discovered. You now have a piece that you can take and you can build on, and you can really start to question that at a much deeper level. So, we have to create these Microsystems, these microcultures where we can really start to talk about these things and really flesh them out.

 You’ve opened up a critical conversation that you can start exploring deeper and deeper and deeper. And there are other people out there who are asking the same question.

So, if we are, we’re thinking about like a research agenda of social studies of neuro divergence, then testing is one of those sub areas that we really have to look at. And also, it’s a kinda an episti epistemological question, right?

Because how do we know what it is we think we know? Well, we don’t really understand things. If we are applying the wrong tool to gain knowledge about that.

How do we know what we think we know?

Kimberly: So, if we don’t know what autism is for a black male, who’s 25 years old. Who’s been in, in prison for 10 years because of his autistic traits, because he was trying to explain, just trying to explain to the police what he meant, and that’s really, the reason why he’s in jail or in prison, if we don’t understand what autism is for him, then we don’t understand autism.

That’s the thing. Like we can’t be okay with this flawed research. We really don’t understand these conditions because we only understand them through a very narrow lens. And so, going back to decolonizing, moving away from this thing about like consuming the person.

If the point is just to get him in a place where he can manufacture something in prison for 10 cents an hour, then who gives a shit. We don’t need to know anything about anything. It doesn’t matter, if we’re okay with that. If we’re not okay with that, then we can start to say, okay, let’s really, really understand this autism ADHD.

These are not just about how do we get people to work and consume. Then we can have a real conversation.

Focus on Compliance

Aurora: That’s so true and what I’m seeing in like middle school, especially post pandemic, because a lot of our autistic kids have sort of, developed even more of a demand avoidance then they had prior and you can really see how, like so much of what the teachers are just like super upset about is the lack of compliance.

And it’s like, it’s not necessarily a safety issue or, you know, whatever, but it’s like respect and compliance and the way they define respect is basically compliance.

Feeling Unsafe

Kimberly: It is right. And, you know, thank you for bringing that up. The kids need so much right now and clamping down on them to get them to obey on first command is not one of the things that they need that is for the adult. That’s not for them. I would say part of the issues that we are still in, and you have a lot of kids who are hyper sensitive. And I say, hyper – that in itself is a value judgment, but are very sensitive to the level of threat that we’re still under.

The misleading messages from the CDC and the threat to getting and getting a new variant. A COVID is still very real. It’s as real now, as it was back in. And they know that. And so, what they now know is that they live in a country that will not take care of them. But I’m supposed to just show up at school and just behave because you told me to, but there’s no social contract between us because you are okay with forcing me to come here with no mask and I’m just supposed to comply, but I feel unsafe.

Like whether you think I’m unsafe or not is a different issue, but I personally feel unsafe and I’m afraid to tell you that I feel unsafe because I’m supposed to believe it’s over. I can see that that’s like just kindling for the major blow up. And it goes back to what you were saying, like in this past year, all the things that we should learn, should have learned.

Doubling Down

Kimberly: I think a lot of people have doubled down. Like there should just be compliant. It should just happen this way. They just need to obey on first command. And their intent on consuming in this way, because they have the authority to say this. So, with the book that I’m currently writing on decolonizing, neuro divergence, I’m looking at neurodiversity as a leadership principal.

And I’m saying that where we don’t recognize neurodiversity or the need for neurodiversity, it really is a leadership vacuum. So, you know, there are lots of models out there about wonderful leaders and what they do. I think those models are incomplete if they do not address the need for neurodiversity or the lack of neurodiversity. I’m not just talking about workplace, but I mean, any place where there there’s a gathering of people, or it could be in your home with two people or one person that leadership neurodiversity is a key principle of leadership.

Ease and Flow

Kimberly: And I think part of the issue. Like with people wanting the personal validation, it may be that they don’t know how good they could have. Like we somehow sometimes convince ourselves that things are not as bad as, you know, I can just suck it up or whatever, but you deserve a life of ease and flow.

You deserve that. Why shouldn’t you have other people? Why shouldn’t you have that? And. When you have that experience, then it reframes everything in your life. You know, that you don’t wanna go sit somewhere for eight hours and be treated a certain way. But when you’ve had a situation where there was this ease and flow in understanding and communication, and it doesn’t mean like it’s perfect and every – nothing will ever happen, but there’s a process that allows you to work through it without you having like somebody twisting your arm behind your back, and you have to scream uncle in order to get the help that you need.

And so as far as systems are concerned, you know, leadership is a very important part of that. And if we’re talking like I’ve heard people say on social media, well, neurodiversity is the key to the future. It can’t be, if it’s not the key right now, if we’re not looking at. And also, if we’re not thinking in terms of neurodiversity, then that means we leave out that black boy who, or now black man, who’s 25 years old and who’s stuck in the pr- like we don’t even value what he offers, what he brings to the table.

What Neurodivergence Brings to the Table

Kimberly: We only value it to the extent that it provides somebody a means of making, of making millions of dollars off a ten cent an hour labor. If we don’t value neurodiversity, then we have these compliance and obey cultures where you just say, do it on first – well, my son, he needs time to transition mentally.

So, he may not understand what you’re asking for on the first command. Right? But using the word command and compliance and obey, that lets you know right there that it’s not even about the child. It just goes back to the role of a child in school is to work, to uphold adult policies, to uphold the status quo, to maintain the appearance of an achievement gap, to make the adults feel comfortable in their world. Whether that’s at a policy level or social level or an economic level.

Children work when they go to school, they work when they’re put in a gifted and talented program, because they are helping to uphold a vision or a view that the adults have about the world and how it should be constructed.

But when you start to think in terms of neurodiversity, it requires something different. It requires you to expand your understanding of what it means to be human.

Requires you to think about children as whole people who have legitimate points of views. It requires you to really open your mind to something different, which means that there are gonna be a lot of people who just will not be open to really thinking in terms of neuro diversity.

Supporting Each other

Kimberly: And I wanna just thank Aurora, because from the first day I was on TikTok, she’s been a big supporter and has really engaged with my content. And you know, we always come up with ways to like, okay, well, I’m trying this and I’m doing that.

And products that I’ve put out, purchased those and just made it very clear that she supports me as a creator and always wanna do what I can to support embracing intensity and two E connection. So, I wanna say thank you Aurora, specifically for being such a great supporter.

Aurora: Thank you. And I always feel like this last year as I was in burnout, that I haven’t been able to engage as much as I’d like, but I will

Kimberly: You know, we always seem to find our way back to each other.

Aurora: Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And oh yeah you said you’re always appreciate the presence of a BIPOC speaker, And I was -actually this last round, when I looked at my roster and I got all my top choices and my decision kind of comes in, intuitively in who I ask first, and I think less than half or white.

So those are the people that I’ve connected with for my speakers. But it is one of the things in a lot of communities that I’ve been around neuro divergence and giftedness, lack diversity in different places around the world. I mean, There’s some that are very Eurocentric.

They have a lot of European representation. But yeah, it’s one of those things that has always been a value of mine since I was a tiny, tiny kid of like hearing different voices. Like I’ve always wanted to hear perspectives that weren’t mine.

Building Relationships

Aurora: And so that’s just one of the things with my podcast and community that’s a value to me, and that you’re saying the consumption, like I really thought about that a few years back when someone talked about transactional relationships and I feel very important that, you know, relationships aren’t just transactional.

They’re, you know, like if I’m developing a relationship online, me, the hardest part is just the time and availability and

Kimberly: yes. Yeah.

Aurora: That sort of thing,

Kimberly: It’s quite a bit. It’s a bit. And it requires even in parasocial and I would consider our relationship to even be more than parasocial, but even a parasocial relationship, it does require time, effort, and energy.

And, you know, that’s one of the demands. Like it’s neuro divergent people. It’s like our bodies are like, no, we’re done here. Wrap it up, hold up the tent, whatever. So, it does require a lot. So, one of the things that I see with white neuro divergent people, I wanna encourage you to ask the questions that you feel ashamed about.

I really wanna encourage you to do that, not necessarily here, but like, even if you doing Google searches or whatever, you have access to resources, ask the questions you feel ashamed about, because those will be the questions that break things open. Because the way we’re set up now, it sort of depends on you are not asking those questions and getting the insight that you need.

Examining our own systems

Kimberly: For example, when I was teaching decolonizing neuro divergence as a curriculum, I would ask them about their family. You know, cause I talk about how the family’s the first system and they’d be like, you know, my mother did blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I’m so privileged, you know, I recognize my privilege and I, I would say in this context, I don’t need for you to say that. In another context it’s appropriate, but in this context, no, because what I need for you to do more than anything else is I need for you to gain the self-awareness and to heal the parts that feel frayed for you.

Because as a black woman, as a neuro divergent black woman, probably the biggest danger to me is people who have whiteness on their side and who feel very unhealed and very traumatized. That is probably the most dangerous thing to me because first of all, it means that they’re never going to dismantle the systems that harm us all.

So that’s number one, but they’re actively in their individual lives are going to create situations that could harm me or even kill me or somebody in my family. And so, the biggest gift you could give to me as a neuro divergent black woman, is to really recognize those parts that you feel unhealed and to work with those parts and understand them and seek support that you need for those parts. Because when you heal, you have the power to transform these systems.

I am inviting people to really embrace this self-awareness process, but the self-awareness is not just about looking at yourself and looking at your experience. Cause people do that all the time going to therapy.

Systemic Self-Awareness

Kimberly: The self-awareness in this context has to do with looking at the way you’ve interacted with systems. And that means looking at how systems have harmed you and how systems have engaged you in harming other people. You have to look at that because if you’re unwilling to look at that, then it’s like a non-starter it’s like a hollow conversation where it ends up just being of value. Right?

So, what is your relationship to systems? What have systems demanded of you? How have you shown up to be the voice of these systems? How have you pushed back on these systems? So, the self-awareness, isn’t just going into your secret closet. It is about looking outward as well as looking inward.

Aurora: Totally. I agree. And I think, definitely re-examining our relationships in terms of that, like transactional – does this person really feel comfortable sharing themselves? Have I created an environment where they can give me feedback if they’re unhappy with something that I do?

And I think that those are all very important things in terms of our interaction with each other, as well as the system it’s just, like you said, just looking deeper, looking broader

Kimberly: right

Aurora: than ourselves is really important. So

Kimberly: I was looking at the chat and said that she has a hard time understanding if she’s doing harm to others. Ask an open-ended question and just listen. And if people feel like you’re listening, they will tell you if you’re harming them or not. But if they don’t feel like you’re listening. And so, one of the parts of white supremacy culture is defensiveness and denial, right? So, it makes itself invisible through the mechanisms like defensiveness and denial.

Defensiveness & Denial

Kimberly: And so, if they hear that you’re being defensive and that you’re in denial. They can argue with you go back and forth, or just shut down and tell you what you wanna hear. So, you will move on and get outta their face. Right? Cause life is hard enough. And so, ask an open- treat it like a researcher, you know, be a researcher, be curious. Researchers, real researchers are curious. Open ended question so that they can fill in the data as opposed to like a closed ended question where you get like a specified response. But you ask open ended question and they will share, and you take something that they said, and you ask another question about that.

No judgment and they will continue to share. And you take a piece from that and you ask another question and they will continue to share, and you will learn everything that you wanna know.

Kimberly’s Book

Aurora: um, I’m looking at at the time and I would love for you to share a little bit about your existing book and the upcoming book so that they can dive a little deeper.

Kimberly: So most of the conversation today has been about the existing book. So, let me tell you how to get the existing book and I need to make sure I sent you the link for that.

So, the existing book is decolonizing neurodivergence from violence to love. And it’s a synthesis of work from a lot of different people, because the love part I got from Bell Hooks. So, I have a model in the book that goes from violence to love in terms of how the state behaves, how different people behave.

So, it goes from violence to service, to care, to love and the care service criteria I got from David Brooks’ second mountain. But it is this idea that your community is supposed to show you love. And that the way the community and systems behave towards you can range from love to care, to service, to violence, and that sometimes service can be violent, because the way you use data, the way you use metrics are often used to take people’s kids away from them.

The way school records are often used to imprison Black males. And what that has to do with the level of consumption that society, how much society expects to consume you. So again, this theme of consumption, this whole thing is about consumption. Whether we’re talking about neuro divergent people, people we identify as neuro divergent, or no matter who we’re talking about.

Next book

Kimberly: So that is the first book. And so, that is the underlying premise, the foundation for the second book that I’m working on now. So as part of my decolonization process, I changed my expectations about what support looks like to me. So, in the past, what I’ve done is I’ve written books and I’ve written multiple workbooks and programs, whatever.

And it’s like, if you build it, they will -no, I’m not doing that anymore. So, what I’m doing for this second book is I’m doing a crowdfunding campaign and I’m saying. I wanna see how many people support me now because I’m not doing proof of effort. You’ve seen enough of my stuff on TikTok. You’ve read enough of my books where, you know, I know what I’m talking about.

And so, I am not going to to shuck and jive and shuffle to demonstrate that anymore. And so, I’m saying you already see value. I see value, help me get this done because I can’t write if I’m running a business. So, what I need for you to do is to pay for at least one hour of virtual assistant support. So that, that is an hour that I can write.

And I believe I deserve just as much as- so who’s rich I don’t know. So, like a rich person who has time to be thoughtful and reflective and to be a thought leader in one of the great minds where there are a lot of great minds out there that have to work in a factory every day and they don’t have time to go.

Right? And I’m saying, I’m a great mind.

Supporting This Work

Kimberly: I want your support for helping me get these ideas out there. I have a lot of content in my TikTok alone. And at this point, what it’s about is synthesizing. Cause that’s essentially what I’m doing for this next book. As I synthesize, I’m asking people who say they support me to support me as if they would support a white writer who I’ve seen get crowdfunding sources and support in like $50,000 in a matter of days.

I’ve been able to raise money. I haven’t gotten 50,000 in a matter of days, but I’m saying, show me the value that you see in it on the front end, before I have to do all this labor for, I have to prove all of this to then turn around and beg you to purchase my book. And so, when you go to my crowdfunding campaign, what will happen is there’s explanation of what I’m doing and how much money I’m raising each week.

As a thank you, you get a copy of PDF download of the first book. So, you essentially get the first book and also, you know, buying into and getting a copy for the second book as well. I’m not sure if it’s gonna be a PDF or I’m try to bind it. Binding it is a lot for a single person.

 What this pays for is like people to edit people, to help me you know, pay for time that I can write. So, edit for content, but also edit for grammar, things like that.

Supremacy Culture

Kimberly: So, one of the things, I didn’t have this list when I wrote the first book. There’s a list. It comes from an article by Tema Okun it’s spelled O K U N’s, last name. I think she’s a white woman. She wrote this article about white supremacy culture. I was talking from the list of things that she wrote, but didn’t realize it and she makes it succinct.

I’m going to explicitly go through that list in, in the second book. So, one of the things that she talks about is urgency and the sense of urgency in how everything has to happen right now. I cannot even begin to tell you how, when I started, when I viewed life through that framework. And this is what I’m saying.

Like, you can’t just look at yourself, but you have to look at what systems have demanded of you. When I started to think about how many things have been presented to me as something that is so urgent, which is like, it doesn’t matter, then it changed everything for me. Like most of the things that we think are urgent are not urgent.

Like, yeah, we want things to start on time, whatever. But I think about like, I need to resolve this. I need to do this right now. And if I don’t do this right now, I’m going like one of the big principles in business, and Aurora knows this, is the FOMO, the fear of missing out.

Like that is a huge tool in the business world, but are you really gonna miss out? I mean, are you really? No, you’re not.

Rebranding Whiteness

Kimberly: In this list, just to share with you all. Perfection, and this is just some examples of things on the list, like individualism, perfectionism, urgency the power of the written word, black and white thinking, progress is always more, paternalism. I’m trying to think there were a couple other, so it’s like seven, it’s like a list of 13 or 15. Oh -denial of defensiveness, especially about racism. Right? And so, these are the tools that are used for whiteness and white supremacy to make itself invisible.

So, the way that whiteness rebrands itself under capitalism is through this list of cultural values.

And so, if you are able to get that article and it’s something you can Google and pull it down very easily. When I started to think about myself as a neuro divergent person whose life has been guided by these cultural values, it’s like, I was able to give myself a break. But I’m not supposed to give myself a break cuz that’s not what my existence is here for.

Destructive Values

Kimberly: My existence here is for me to constantly be on edge and to think that there’s something very urgent that I have to do and I have to do it right now because I need to be available to serve other people.

Aurora: And I think when you get down to the, those core values and look at it from that perspective, you see how like those values have a negative impact on everyone, which is why, as you were saying, you need people to heal themselves to then be able to make a change in the system.

I think that’s what people don’t get when they, you know, get triggered by words like decolonization, or CRT. Or like all of those people who are like, oh, but it’s divisive and it’s pitting us against each other. And it’s saying all white people are oppressors and all that, you know. But that’s not, no it’s saying the systems hurt everyone.

Until we look at how the systems hurt everyone, we can’t help the ones who are hurt most.

Kimberly: Right, right. Right. And the system depends on your not being one of the ones that are hurt the most. It depends on your apathy about the people who are being hurt the most to exist.

Like it continues because you are apathetic about the ones who hurt the most, because I say we’re the crash test dummies. People say canary in a coal mine. No, no, no, no, no. We’re the crash test dummies because it will be used on you.

Kimberly’s Community

Aurora: Well, thank you so much, Kimberly. This conversation went a little longer than usual because there’s so much, and I think we could probably continue talking about this forever. Now is your community, the discord community. Still active there, or

Kimberly: It is still active, but I’m getting ready to make some changes to that community.

So again, as my capacity changes, I can do different things. So, I’m getting ready to use that community in a different way. I am going to use that as like it’s -not a political action committee. It’s not like that in the formal sense, but I want to Start a policy agenda for neuro divergent people.

And that’s how I’m going to use it. Because right now I’m using it as a place for conversation for people. I can’t continue to host that free of charge. And so, I am gonna first start with a public policy or research agenda in that space. So just hold off on that. The main thing is to get the second book out.

Aurora: Yep. yep, awesome. So, we’ll make sure to share that link and I’ll share that again, so, well, thank you so much. Thank you guys for joining us. I think, you know, it’s probably just as well. We didn’t have a whole lot more because we could’ve probably talked forever

Evolving Conversation

Kimberly: I wanna say this real quick. I’m wondering how this conversation feels very different from my first conversation.

Aurora: Mm-hmm.

Kimberly: And it feels different for me because I know that I’m very different than I was when I talked to you before. And this is what decolonizing is. It is like really confronting even for people who feel oppressed. It is really confronting a lot of painful truths and a lot of things have changed in my life since the last time you and I had this similar conversation.

Aurora: Yeah.

Kimberly: Oh, this has been great. And nice to meet you all.

Aurora: Thank you so much!

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