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From Engineer to Therapist: My Radio Interview on Neurodiversity

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Many adults in gifted/twice-exceptional families tell me that I remind them of their kiddos.

I tend to be very distractible; my mind alternately wanders and processes in parallel many trains of thought. Sometimes, like an oracle, I say something useful with my imaginational overexcitability.  And sometimes (often), I would do better to just rest in what is simple and already revealed, with present attention to what is currently happening for somebody else.

It actually took me many years to learn some of these basics of social relatedness. And my journey from engineer to therapist is a perfect metaphor for how this occurred.

I invite you to listen to my interview with Kyle Kellams of Fayetteville, AR, NPR station KUAF to hear more about my path and perspective.

People talk about having struggles with empathy. A key component of applied empathy includes skills to hear somebody out.

And those skills are teachable, especially to children. (It can be a little harder to teach adults.)

Ultimately, I see most of my learning (and consequently, my coaching) as categorized into two sets of skills: how to hear people, and how to assess if they have been heard.

I am inspired by {aff} Nonviolent Communication, which has helped me to listen for what really matters to someone. Sometimes the relief of being heard just comes from a clear reflection of a person’s feelings and needs, no matter what words they are saying.

And as I reflect what I hear, I’m not just a detached mirror; I don’t just repeat what the other person says. I allow myself to be impacted.

For example, when working with someone who is trying to make a decision about something, I may say something like this: “When I hear you talk, I don’t feel nervous anymore, so whatever decision you have to make, make it now. I trust your self-connection.”

And that’s a gutsy move, as a therapist or coach… but it’s better than telling a person (even a child) what to do.

This deep listening and expression has impacts. People know when what they have shared has impacted the listener in a meaningful way, and this is very validating.

And when a person is genuinely heard, on such a deep level, you can tell. There is usually a sometimes audible sigh of relief, a tear, goosebumps, or a bright smile.

Authority comes from the trust instilled by truly listening.

Perhaps no one would have suspected that an engineer with Aspie traits would have empathy and communication as their special interests. But I have found over the years that my mind actually lends itself quite well to these skills.

I hope you find something meaningful in my interview, and I hope I have contributed to hope for those with children like me.

What happens for you when you’re fully heard? How can you tell if you’ve been heard?

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Chelsea Childress August 16, 2014, 2:32 am

    I can say that wanting to be heard is so important to me in my relationships, especially if I have been hurt. I often feel like I easily obsess over little things if I feel that I have been misunderstood. However, when I feel I have been heard I can let go of any negative feelings and focus on moving forward. Great post!

  • byamtich August 18, 2014, 2:49 am

    Thanks Chelsea! I enjoy how you point to the longing to be understood, which is kind of like hearing with the capacity to take in what it means. It’s cool that being heard in that way supports moving forward!

  • Amy Harrington August 23, 2014, 4:04 am

    I love your approach. Being an engaged listener who can connect energetically and depthfully with gifted children is essential to working with them.

    • byamtich August 23, 2014, 4:54 am

      Thanks Amy! I just checked out your website, and I particularly enjoyed the page “this is our normal.”

      I remain inspired by you and your team’s work (including website) and leadership in unschooling.

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