Episode 11: Positive Disintegration in Children and Adolescents

Chris Wells & Emma Nicholson With Tina Harlow

Released March 29, 2022

In episode 11, Chris and Emma were joined by Tina Harlow, LCSW, a child and family therapist specializing in giftedness in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, who shared her experiences as a neurodiversity-affirming clinician. She talked about how overexcitabilities can differ among family members and the importance of understanding and honoring these differences. She also shared strategies for dealing with the different types of overexcitability. We discussed how positive disintegration can manifest in children and teens, and how Tina supports children and their families through existential depression, physical signs of stress, spiritual crises, and more. We learned about the prevalence of gender-nonconforming children among her gifted clientele, and the importance of affirming these children rather than denying their authenticity. We addressed the importance of language, and being intentional in its use, in the spirit of Dabrowski’s theory, which gives us a non-pathologizing lens to help us view differences that are often seen as deficits or disorders. Tina also shared about her work with the World Hope Project, which allows children from around the world to share their message of empathy, inclusivity, and hope.

Bio: Tina Harlow is a Child and Family Therapist specializing in giftedness in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and the founder of Guiding Bright. She is also creator and co-producer of the World Hope Project—an international children’s video troupe sharing messages of hope and ideas for societal transformation. Tina serves as Secretary of the Dabrowski Center Board of Directors.

The eBook Tina created from these interviews with experts is called Helping Gifted Kids Thrive.

Tina interviewed Dr. Michael M. Piechowski for her eBook, and you can see the video here.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Guiding Bright (Tina’s website)

World Hope Project (website)

World Hope Project (YouTube)

SoulSpark Learning Empowerment Series (YouTube)

(Tina mentioned John Wing Flower’s session specifically)

Emma’s videos for living with OEs

SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted)


Emma: Hello, listeners. Welcome back again to Positive Disintegration, framework for becoming your authentic self. I'm your host Emma Nicholson, and with me again is co-host, Dr. Chris Wells. How are you doing, Chris?

Chris: Hey, Emma. I'm well. How are you?

Emma: Very well. How are things in sunny Colorado?

Chris: Well, it was sunny and nice yesterday and most of the week, but today it's cold and might snow, or it probably will snow. So, how are things there in Australia? Is it autumn, almost?

Emma: It is, and you might have seen on the news; it's very rainy. We've unfortunately got a lot of flooding going on, and there's a lot of people who are finding themselves in a bit of a crisis and in turmoil.

Chris: I do have another friend who shared on Facebook the flooding there, and it does look terrible.

Emma: It's not good, and our thoughts and best wishes go out to everybody who's been affected by the flooding. Our guest today, Chris, I believe is a friend of yours.

Chris: That's right. Today, we have Tina Harlow joining us, who is my close friend. I love Tina, and I'm so glad that she's here with us today.

Emma: Excellent. It sounds like it's going to be a good and friendly conversation. So, our guest today, Tina Harlow, is a child and family therapist specializing in giftedness, and she works out of Steamboat Springs, Colorado. She's the founder of Guiding Bright, an organization which partners with parents to provide lifelong strategies to help bright children manage their unique challenges and access their full potential. She's also a creator and co-producer of the World Hope Project, an international children's video troop sharing messages of hope and ideas for societal transformation. Welcome to the podcast, Tina.

Tina: Thank you. I'm so excited to be here!

Chris: We're excited to have you with us! I just want to say a few words about how we met because it's part of the story. We met in 2018, and it was at Linda Silverman's house, actually, when I was going to pick up Michael to give him a ride to the airport, but we didn't even really get a chance to talk that day, so the first time we really had a chance to have a conversation was at the very end of the SENG conference in 2018. For our listeners, SENG stands for Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted. So, since that second half of 2018, you have been a part of my life, Tina, and it has been wonderful to work with you. We've had the chance to present together at a couple of conferences, and we've just spent an enormous amount of time talking about Dąbrowski's theory and especially the application in practice across the lifespan, but your work, of course, specializes in children and adolescents.

Tina: We have had some incredible conversations.

Chris: We really have.

Tina: Yeah, it has been instrumental in my life for sure, and in my son's life, too.

Chris: That's right, but you've been instrumental; you've been a huge part of my life in a great way. I'm glad to have you with us.

Tina: Well, thanks. I feel the same way.

Chris: Oh, it's quite the love fest, right, Emma? We're glad to have you with us, too.

Emma: Love is in the air.

Chris: So Tina, I have been starting everybody off with the question of how they first learned or came across Dąbrowski's theory. Let's hear how you learned about it.

Tina:  It was in 2014, and my son—I've already mentioned him—was really struggling. He was 11 years old—was really struggling—and I couldn't figure out what was going on with him. He'd always really enjoyed school and people and was a pretty happy kid, I guess. And then—I don't know—he just went into this depression and didn't want to go to school, and I just couldn't figure out what was going on with him. So, I started trying to figure it out and figure him out, and giftedness led to the theory, and I started looking up one thing, and it led to the next. I actually found an article by Sal Mendaglio that was talking about the theory and overexcitability and all those things.

And then I just was insatiable, right? I had this thirst for this theory, and I started researching everything I could, and I was like, I have to go to the Dąbrowski Conference, and one thing led to another. It just resonated with me immediately. I was so excited to have this lens, and it really opened up this whole door of understanding about my child, my family, myself—just so much. The theory [of positive disintegration] is a very integral part of my life.

Chris: It's very relatable to learn that you came to it, first of all, because of your kid. That's such a common thing that we hear, but also that you had to just dive right in and learn all about it. I can understand what that's like. In your work, how do you help families learn about overexcitabilities and how to deal with them?

Tina: Well, I do the overexcitability inventories on all of the families. I do the parent inventory with the parents before I even meet with the children. Then, generally depending on the age of the kid, I do the inventory with the children as well, and it's pretty interesting. I like to compare and see how the child sees themself versus how the parents see them, and sometimes that can be pretty interesting and insightful in itself.

Chris: It can. It's very interesting to see the way that overexcitability looks in different family members and how it can lead to clashes, especially between parents and their kids.

Tina: Totally. One of the things that I have found incredibly helpful in my practice is, at times, it just makes sense to get them all together. I get the siblings together; I get everybody together; and we all do the inventory. All of the family members do the inventory and kind of see the areas where they're higher and lower and that kind of thing. We also talk about how each of those things interact within the family system. It's always so enlightening and the families love it, and it really gives them a new lens. It gives them a different perspective of each other and also the interactions that they have. They see that usually it's just blaming the other person, but when they understand overexcitability in that aspect of the theory in relation to each other, it's a beautiful thing. It's wonderful to see someone you love in a different light that's more positive and gives a new lens.

Emma: You said that sometimes the answers that parents give about their children are different from the answers from children themselves. Do you think that's maybe an indicator that even at a young age, with overexcitability, there's sort of like a hidden aspect of self that's sort of going on there? That's something that no one on the outside sees?

Tina: Yes. Sometimes I do think that's the case; that intensity may exist within, but it's not necessarily coming out. That's maybe more your introverted kids and that kind of thing. I agree with you. Sometimes though, I think it can also be that the parents—you've got parents that are more in-tuned and then other parents that maybe are less in-tuned. Sometimes I think the parents aren't seeing the child, but sometimes I think it's probably based on what I've said first—that the child is maybe not expressing outwardly everything that they're experiencing within. So it's pretty fascinating.

Emma: I think if people come across overexcitabilities first when they're doing any reading, they sort of conjure this mental image of a very hyperactive, bubbly, expressive whirlwind of a child, but that's not always the case. Sometimes the whirlwind is just going on inside.

Tina: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes it's really—I've had a few situations where the parents just really didn't see—they didn't know how intensely their children were having this experience, and it was kind of mind-blowing to them for them to know what their child was going through. I mean, it's intense, it's difficult, and it then opens the door to be able to provide avenues for that to be opened, to be discussed and expressed more freely.

Chris: I have to admit to being one of the parents who didn't accurately see my child's overexcitability. I mean, some of it was very obvious—the psychomotor, the sensual, the emotional—but the imaginational and the intellectual in my son were not obvious to me. It's interesting because, for me, I have a very strong intellectual [OE]. So we kind of clash in that way because I am such a text person, so into books. I had a child and kind of hoped that he would love books like I did when I was a little kid, and I had that expectation, but because he's dyslexic, he just didn't take to books like I did when I was a kid. I think that these are things that gifted families really struggle with. When a parent has strong overexcitabilities in any direction, and their kid just looks differently—I mean, I would argue now that my kid does have a strong intellectual overexcitability, but for him, it looks completely different than mine, and it doesn't have to do with books.

Tina: It's a thirst for learning, like learning what it is that they're interested in, not what we think they should be interested in.

Chris: Exactly. The expectations that get set up between parents and children cause a lot of problems.

Tina: Yep. One that I find most interesting, as far as the disconnect goes, is a parent who really doesn't see themself as imaginational. Maybe they haven't had a rich fantasy life, but their child has a very rich fantasy life, and they don't get it. There's a disconnect. I think the emotional [OE], too. If you've got a parent that's not as high on the emotional and a child who is high on the emotional, sometimes the parent's like, why is this kid so worried about what everybody thinks? Or, why is this kid responding in this way? I never responded in this way when I was a kid. Anyway, those are two that I think are interesting because they come up a lot.

Chris: I agree. And actually the imaginational [OE] is what was on my mind. It's hard for me as a parent; I want to talk about my son's life a little bit and share because it makes it easy for me to explain things, but I also want to protect his privacy. But he has such a strong imagination, and I just didn't recognize that in him until he was, I don't know, 9 or 10 maybe. I wish that I had, but for our listeners who've heard many episodes, obviously I have a strong imagination, too, and had this imaginable world, and to know that my son also had this similar process and not recognize it until he was that old—it's kind of embarrassing.

Tina: But it looks different; it does look different. Sometimes I see that play out more in kids' gaming and things like that, versus like, role playing, and I think there are different ways that it manifests itself.

Emma: When we had Frank Falk on, he was also talking about the fact that, particularly with imaginational, there's a lot of parents who don't want to admit that “my child has imaginary friends” or “. . . exhibits this behavior” because they say that there's something wrong with it. Like they're all forthgoing, “yes, completely intellectual” and “has an inquisitive mind” because that's seen as a positive thing, whereas the imaginational [OE] can be seen as more of a negative.

Tina: Yes. That's so true, Emma. That's so true. We don't honor imagination. It's sadly, sadly, sadly—oh, I mean, we do in the movies. We like to go to movies, but for some reason, we see children are made fun of for having an imagination beyond the years that you would expect.

Chris: You just reminded me of a story that Michael told me where he was doing a presentation in Australia or New Zealand and one of the parents in the audience said, “Well, what good is imagination?” And somebody else said, “It keeps them sane.”

Tina: Amen. Right.

Emma: I don't know; us talking about what good an imagination is like, come on. Particularly when you're talking about art—like where would we be? The world's lent towards, now, fantasy and sci-fi, and it's no longer the realm of the geek. Where would we be without those people with imaginations?

Chris: So true. Another question we have, Tina, is we're wondering—and of course it's in the title of this episode—but we're wondering what disintegration looks like in children or adolescents, or both, and how this manifests in the kids that you work with.

Tina: I am speaking purely from my own experience. I am the expert of my own experience—so, [let me] just say that—of my experience as a parent, of my experience with my clients, and certainly of my experience of myself. So everything I offer up here is from my own experience here.

What I've seen in children is sometimes it's manifested in physical ailments that may require hospitalization and may or may not be explained medically. I mean, sometimes I've had kids that have ended up going to the hospital, and nobody can figure out what's going on with them. I had this one child that I worked with, and he could not go to school. I mean, he was so anxious, so stressed. If he could have shrunk, if he could have disappeared into the walls, he would've done that. You could see that in him. He was just so meek and so within himself. No matter what I did, I could not—he couldn't move forward. He just was really stuck. He ended up getting very ill and had to be hospitalized. He had to quit school for a whole semester.

But through the process, I would say this whole thing was a disintegration, most definitely. Through this whole process, he started the next fall as she. And she was bold and strong and full of life. It was an amazing transformation. I have to say, back when he was he, and he was really lost within himself, I would sit with him in his room. (I'm often in children's rooms and living rooms and such.) I would sit with him, and I would be with him on Minecraft, and he was amazing. I mean, he would have such leadership skills. He had everybody listening to him, and I was like, oh my gosh, this is who this child is. He is bold; he is not this meek little thing. So when he became she and then emerged through this transformation process, I really could see how congruent this child's world had become, and it was a really amazing thing to watch. So [that’s another way] that they sometimes manifest physically.

Certainly existential depression is something that I see in kids and have experienced that in my own home as well. That can manifest in a lot of different ways. A lot of times, that is connected with school refusal and not being able to get out of bed and that kind of stuff. That could be triggered by just a book—like reading a book that's about a really heavy topic and then really thinking about, why am I here?—all of that. Certainly—oh my goodness—this world right now is just fodder for existential depression—good grief. Just all of the things that this brings up. I also have to say, in children, I often see a spiritual piece that they may not fully recognize as spiritual, but I see that connection. In many ways, we have crushed spirituality, and we've moved it into dogma.

A lot of times, adults may have avenues for spiritual growth and to pursue those avenues, but a lot of times children don't even have a frame of reference for it. I see sometimes [that] some interesting spiritual things happen. I had a 10-year-old and the parents called me, and they were distraught because they felt like this child was having a mental breakdown. He was really in total angst and having a hard time. I met with him, and I do this thing with children a lot of times called the World Game. It's a game that's been around for a long time, but it's just a building activity, and you could probably do something similar with other building materials. I did this activity with him, and in the activity, so many spiritual themes emerged.

He was saying, “We see bad things, but we're so worried about ourselves that we walk on by. Everyone could be dead and people don't care. There are people on a bench, and they're so worried about their own comfort that they don't even care that a guy fell off of the bench.” These kinds of things where he's really looking at a disillusionment with human beings to a certain degree. He also made some statement in that session that we had together where he was saying—he had this green figure, this little human—and then he said, “One green guy can make a difference, and when he shows up, he helps people.” And so for me, I saw spirituality in that as well as, again, disillusionment and things like that. So that's some of the things. The other one would certainly be more on the psycho-, what we consider psychosis.

I think sometimes psychosis is very greatly misunderstood, and I think that sometimes we end up pushing people and making that situation worse because we are not understanding them. Our judgments, I think, contribute to the breakdown—the falling apart—because definitely, I have seen kids that, when they felt understood—even in the middle of that—when they felt like they weren't crazy, they were able to recover so much more resiliently. They were able to recover quicker and in a more positive way than if they were just seen as broken and messed up and [as if] something's wrong with them.

Chris: You just made me think of a parent that I interviewed for my dissertation whose son was psychotic. He developed schizophrenia as a teenager, and I remember from his story that it's true. It's really easy to make this situation worse by responding in the wrong way. I remember this parent expressing that in the interview with me—the regret about if only we'd known, we could have responded better, supported him better. I think that these are the problems when you're a parent. Everything is so emotionally charged. You want to help, but it's also so frightening to watch your child struggle and suffer.

Tina: In all of our efforts to try to bring them out of this thing that—like, you've got to come out of this because we're so worried—we are exacerbating it because, really, they need to feel accepted and loved and supported and honored. When we're adding stress to a situation that's already otherworldly, it's a hard thing, and it's so complicated because it is another world. There are different dimensions, and anyone experiencing either spiritual emergency or psychosis is having a very different experience that exists on a different plane, whether it's darkness or light. We can't understand it and we don't need to understand it. We just need to help them to know that they're not crazy and that we're going to support them through it. Easier said than done. I mean, sometimes it cannot be managed at home, and people might need to be hospitalized. But I think sometimes if we can greet people with love and acceptance, the kids are actually able to move through it.

Emma: So, you're talking about these physical manifestations of stress, spiritual crisis, existential depression. I mean, they're not things that people would normally associate with children or think that they're even capable of having. In an adult, you get an ulcer; the first thing people would say, “Oh, it's gotta be stress. Your body wears down,” and we immediately associate that with an adult capable of thinking in a fashion that would have some sort of stress-related physical response, and adults capable of having some sort of spiritual waking or viewing the world in a way. But, do you find that lack of awareness that these things can happen to children might mean that they slip through the cracks? Even with physical stress responses—keep taking them to the hospital because they're a sickly child, but no one thinks, well maybe it's got to do with their mental health.

Tina: Absolutely. I think we are so often in our own frame of reference. We all are operating from our own experiences and everything, and I think we're trying to make them fit into what we expect, and I think very often we're not seeing them. We're not seeing the fact that they can go through adult things as children. They can have some of these more intense experiences. We just want them—what our world does is it's basically all about acquiescing. It's like, just get it together so you can go and be in school. Just get it together so I can go to work, just get it . . . It's just like we want them to acquiesce. We want them just to be normal. And in doing that, we are often not seeing what's truly underneath everything.

Emma: Be a good kid; behave.

Chris: Well, that's right. I remember, you were with us one time, Tina, when in the morning my son was refusing to go to school, and when you have a kid who is refusing school regularly, it really is such a stressful dynamic in your home because you just want them to go and do it, and yet their behavior is telling you that there is something about school that's not working.

Tina: Yet. And I'm going to say first, like I said, this is all from my own experience as a parent. I have been in that role. I have done that too, Chris. I have pushed and pushed in my belief that oh my gosh, you've gotta be okay and you've gotta do what's expected in this society. I've done the same exact thing myself. I've learned; it's all a learning thing.

Chris: It is quite the learning curve to be a parent that's for sure. I'm still learning it.

Tina: Yeah. We really are in this position of having to consciously not conform, basically, sometimes, in order to really care for our children. I mean, that is the fact of the matter.

Chris: That's true. I am tempted to ask you—I'm interested in talking more about the experience of being gender nonconforming, and you've already brought up a client who was trans. Is this common in your caseload of clients for gifted kids to be gender nonconforming in some way?

Tina: Yeah, it absolutely is, and honestly, it gives me hope. I think it's amazing that people can finally have the opportunity to be whoever they are. The beautiful thing I think about—the way I describe it sometimes is it's like the cereal aisle of the local grocery store. There are so many options now, and, of course, just as they try on clothes, they're trying on different things to see what fits. I have, I would say—gosh, I don't know if I could quantify it, but—a large number of the kids that I work with are thinking about these things and trying to figure it out and trying on different things. I have kids young, and I had a seven-year-old that was really not wanting to go through puberty—was really thinking about those kinds of things and who they're attracted to and that—and gifted kids are out of the box thinkers as well.

The “multiple choice” doesn't always work for them. They're looking at possibilities. So it makes total sense that these different possibilities would be prevalent in the gifted community. I have to say, a few years ago I was fortunate enough—and I think Chris, you were there too—I participated in a workshop. I attended a workshop through Soul Spark Learning, which is Kate Bachtel’s organization. If you know her, she had John Wingflower there. He was talking about two spirits, one heart, five genders, which is really prevalent in the Native American cultures and probably other indigenous cultures as well. The Lakota tribe, particularly, was the tribe that he had brought up. When he was talking about all of this, he was talking about how these individuals very often were androgynous, and they were revered. They were revered in their communities because they had the spiritual connection and it was so fluid—the gender and the sexuality—all of it was so fluid.

I just got so excited after that, and I just started reading about all of that. Anyway, it's fascinating. And I often share that information with parents who are having a hard time coming to terms with it because if we're in a different age now than what we had where, now, there are different options, and we didn't necessarily grow up with all those different options. I think parents struggle with that sometimes. It's a hard thing to try to—it changes the expectations of what people had. I think it's wonderful. I think we're evolving to a much more open and loving and authentic experience of ourselves.

Chris: Yes, I agree, and the authenticity of it is very interesting to me. Again, from the perspective of parents and children in this kind of situation, are parents always able to see that this is their child's quest for authenticity? Talk to us a little about the difference between when parents are affirming with their child and when they deny and try to force the child, kind of, into who [the parent] wants them to be.

Tina: The difference is night and day. The difference is absolutely night and day. And I think, again, we have to understand, of course, there is an adjustment. There's an adjustment even for the most open of families—there's an adjustment. But I find that those who are able to make that adjustment, the kids just have—the prognosis is so much better for them to just be able to embrace themselves and go through. I mean, they're on a journey. They're on a journey, and in my mind, we have no business trying to impose ourselves on people's journeys, on children's journeys, on who they are, finding their purpose and who they are in this world. I've seen kids go through pretty significant depression when they just cannot be who they need to be and who they feel like they're here to be. And I've seen wonderful things happen when parents have, like, mustered up, what it's taken—it has taken a lot for some of these parents to walk alongside their child through this journey rather than try to drive it, but it's pretty amazing, and the connection is beautiful. Like the connection—the most important thing is connection. And when we are trying to impose our values over connection, it's not helpful; there is nothing. I don't see any good that comes from that.

Chris: The most important thing is connection. That is so true. I can say that in my own journey as a parent, too. It really has to take precedence over everything else. I'm wondering if you can share some strategies for living and thriving with families who have strong overexcitabilities. This is a question that people tend to ask me at the end of conference presentations, and I'm not very good at offering strategies, so we would appreciate it if you could talk to us about how that looks.

Tina: Yeah. Well, first of all, I think sometimes just having the lens. The lens itself makes a huge difference, right? I mean, maybe that's not going to solve everything. Okay, it's not going to solve everything, but the lens can make such a difference. I was working with a 12-year-old recently, and she had just had so many diagnoses, she was already viewing herself as broken. She just felt so, just down about who she is. So when I spent a few sessions going over overexcitability with her and doing all of that, and honestly, she lit up! She lit up; she smiled; and she was like, “Thank you! Thank you!” She just kept thanking me for giving her this lens in which to see herself. And she was like, “Does this mean that there's nothing wrong with me? Does this mean that I'm okay?” Sometimes just that lens makes a big difference.

As far as strategies go—because even with the lens, you need strategies. We all need strategies to deal with the intensity of overexcitability and the anxiety and the attention and all of the things that come with these experiences. So there's a lot of different strategies. I can go through different ones for the different areas of overexcitability, but certainly every individual is going to have their own experience, and I find that I am pulling out so many different strategies all the time for different kids based on what they're experiencing. On the psychomotor piece, obviously these are kids that need—they have a high need for movement, and so any way in which they can do that—even while they're learning—is super helpful. That one's probably the easiest one. Because that's just: let them move, which it sounds like a no-brainer, but we still don't let them move in school quite often—not as much as they need to sometimes. I've got a kid right now I'm working with—she is an avid reader. She's been reading forever, and she reads on her hoverboard. That's how she's taking in information. That's how she's processing it. And we want to separate those all the time, for some reason.

Then sensual overexcitability—for some of them, it's going to mean trying to decrease the intensity of the stimulation, depending on—again, that could look so different for so many different people depending on what they're experiencing in the sensual domain. For some, it might be reducing the intensity, whereas for others, they may need a picture of a beautiful place at school to help calm them, and that kind of thing. Or maybe they need to pet their dog again to try to calm them down. Or being able to stimulate that sensual piece of themselves.

Then on the imagination side, which again, can be so hard because so often these kids are having nightmares or daymares. They're having otherworldly experiences. Generally—I think frequently—people often don't know exactly what's going on with them, and they think they're just daydreaming or whatever. A lot of those kids are having intrusive thoughts, and so a lot of the work that I do with kids around that—depending again, on what exactly is happening—but I do a lot of work with trying to desensitize them to the thoughts. So like, get it out. Don't keep it a secret. Talk about it, draw it, whatever. We tend to shy away from the darker stuff, like the stuff that looks scary, but kids need to be able to release that, and we need to be able to provide space to release that without freaking out on them. They need to be able to get it out, and then the more we can just be matter-of-fact in our responses, the more I think it takes away some of the intensity of what they're experiencing. And then, sometimes, for kids that are having recurring nightmares, I have them change the ending, and you can change it in different ways, and you kind of practice going over different—maybe going over that over and over again. Again, that's part of desensitization as well, but that they can have control. They can harness their imaginational overexcitability. And also theater for kids that are experiencing some of this—just having avenues for expressing their imagination selves is helpful. So being able to do theater.

On the intellectual piece, that cognitive hyperactivity can be torture. Yoga, meditation, decreasing incoming stimuli—so decreasing videos and all of that, especially in the evening before bed—could be helpful. And sometimes, they may need something that helps with recurring thoughts, like some GABA, which is a supplement, or a natural sleep aid, or something like that.

And then emotional overexcitability—one of the hardest, if not the hardest one of them—is something that is just a lot of times. It's interactions that are so difficult and misinterpreted or whatever; interactions can be very, very difficult with the emotional overexcitability. I think sometimes it's reminding yourself that you don't need to solve the problem. You don't need to intervene, right that moment. Just give yourself space. Take care of yourself, and then you can come back, and try to resolve the situation. For many kids and adults, when we have what we perceive as a difficult situation with someone, or just a bad moment, like an interaction that just felt like ahh! We start playing over: Why did I say that? Why did I do that? Sometimes we need to touch base with that person in order to just be able to move beyond it and just say, “Did I hurt your feelings yesterday?” Or, “Did I—[whatever]?” Just to try to have a little conversation and move through it. Certainly for the emotional piece, too, is, again, just trying to find things that are self-soothing, things that are calming and can help you love yourself in those times when we go to that self-deprecating part sometimes, and trying to prevent that from happening, or trying to pull out of that as soon as possible.

I do want to say, too, that certainly, as I'm sure you've talked about, Chris, there are so many different things that fall under the umbrella of overexcitability. Sometimes medication is needed, and sometimes a therapist is needed, and sometimes acupuncture might be needed, and sometimes chiropractic or massage. There are so many things that we can utilize, and again, sometimes, even a residential state for a little while might be what the person needs. So I think my rule of thumb is whatever works to support you through this process, that's going to be. I think whatever works, whatever people need.

Emma: I did some YouTube videos with my own tips for how I deal with my own overexcitabilities, mostly for adults and not for kids, but there's a lot of overlap. One thing I found is they fall into two distinct categories. I have this joke with my friend that when you're a little bit different, it's like being a star-shaped peg, and everybody's trying to cram you into a round hole of life. When people try to force you in or your points fall off, and you've still got gaps under your arms. So for me there are two categories, and one is learning to pull your points in and roll because, at the end of the day, the world is a round place and you have to learn at some point to try and get along comfortably in it as best you can. Then, the other category is to carve out a little star-shaped space for yourself at some point in your life where you can just be you and let all your overexcitabilities out. That, for me, are the two categories of things—that mitigation piece of trying to learn to roll a bit smoother in life but also finding that little space, or those little moments, where you can just let it out and be yourself.

Tina: Oh, I love that visual! What a wonderful metaphor. It really gives you an image. That's great, Emma. I love it.

Chris: Yeah, thank you. Thanks to both of you for talking about this. Emma, I love that you have created videos, too, to help. I remember, last spring, seeing that I was just so blown away. I'm like, I can't believe that there's somebody making videos about how to deal with overexcitability as an adult. It's interesting to me. I mean, who else has done that? How are you the first person that's like: I'm going to make a video series on how to deal with OE as an adult?

Tina: Yeah. That's so awesome. That's such a great resource.

Emma: I don't know, but if you're a pacer, I think your knees are a bit different when you're older. For me, now that I'm a bit older, and I pace a lot, I'm like: get yourself a pair of comfortable and supportive shoes. It's a little bit different. If you're up and down all the time in the middle of the night because either you're overstimulated and you can't sleep, you need horizontal time, whether or not you're asleep. Your back just won't deal with those things. So the tone of them's a little bit different to deal with the advancing age, but that's the way it is, I guess.

Chris: Tina, the next place that I want to take us in this conversation is to talk about being a neurodiversity-affirming practitioner. One of the things that has been really interesting to me as I've gotten to know you is that, when we were first becoming friends, and I was telling you about my story and my history, I would talk to you about my history of mental illness and you would be like: well, but was it really mental illness? And I was pretty determined to keep using those words for myself and to use that language of disorder. It took me a long time to even open up the door of my mind and think that, well, maybe it isn't a history of mental illness, exactly. Maybe I was misunderstanding myself at the time. It's interesting because you are very intentional in the language that you use, and that doesn't mean that you don't believe that there are—I hate to even use the word condition—but, conditions, say such as ADHD or autism, in the kids that you work with. But you take issue with the word disorder as part of these terms. Am I representing you well there?

Tina: You are. Absolutely. Because I'm the first person to say: I'm the poster child for ADHD. For sure. But I don't like that word disorder at the end, and not just for myself, obviously, but for anyone. I don't know how we went to that. It's one thing to have categories, which I think are incredibly helpful, but it's another thing to stick that dirty word on the end, the disorder, because then it's brokenness. It's broken, something's wrong with you, and I just had enough kids feel like something is wrong with them, that, that is an issue for me. If I could see one thing changed in my lifetime, it would be that—well I don't know, I shouldn't say this. There are a lot of things that need to be changed, but one of them that I felt really passionately about is that the DSM would change the word disorder to difference. I think that would be amazing. But anyway, until that happens . . .

Chris: I resonate with ADHD. I see myself as an ADHD-er, but I don't think that means there's anything wrong with me. What I love about Dąbrowski's theory is that I can still consider myself as part of that ADHD world. People who resonate with ADHD—I get them. I feel like they're my people. I feel that way about gifted people. But overexcitability is a non-pathologizing way of looking at myself compared to ADHD. Things are changing and evolving, of course, and there is more of a community around these differences, these neurotypes, or however you want to conceptualize them. But we still have a long way to go.

Tina: We do. We have such a long way to go. I have to say, this whole thing brings up my own internal turmoil. Honestly, it is turmoil for me because I advocate for children. That's what I do. I'm trying to help people understand them and how they experience the world. I'm in the schools. I'm consulting and that kind of thing. Unfortunately, our systems are still working off of this model of disorder, and the children cannot get the help that they need unless they are diagnosed with an actual disorder. I am put in the position, if I want to help children, by having to label or help label them with different things, and that creates great conflict for me. It's very difficult. So far, I've just had to err on whatever the kid needs and doing that, but it doesn't rest well with me. I just wish we could say: this child needs this and this and this, and this is how this child is in the world without that word—just that one word. On my wishlist, that's up there.

Chris: We've had this conversation so many times, and it's great because you have really challenged me in my thinking around this. A big part of it is that I spent so many years of my life considering myself disabled. Honestly, I don't see myself as disabled anymore, but I never thought that that would change. It's interesting to me. Even last year, I think I still was on the fence about it. Am I not disabled? It's really interesting to me, the way that once you accept that kind of label, it really does change you. For me, personally, it limited me in some ways, and yet it was also necessary, clearly for me, for a long time. It was something that I needed in order to make my way through the world.

I would never want other people who feel disabled to think that it's a problem, exactly. Our world isn't built for people who are different. Our world creates the situation, the social model of disability, where if accommodations were available, then the person wouldn't be disabled. If we help them and accommodate them, then they wouldn't be in that position, and that's how I feel. I feel like I'm not disabled now because my life is set up in a way that there's enough support and structure for me, and I have figured out my path. That hasn't always been the case. So, the language that we use—it's important—and it's kind of difficult to deal with.

Tina: Yeah, it matters. I think language is huge. If you had other options, you would've still found your peeps. You would've still found the categories or whatever, but it wouldn't have necessarily had to be laden with some of that language that you turn towards yourself.

Emma: That whole piece around people feeling like they're broken and then picking up on Dąbrowski theory and going: oh, I don't feel broken anymore. I just feel different. That shift in perception of yourself is really powerful for people. They haven't changed fundamentally. It's just where they went: oh, I don't feel deficient or defective or broken anymore. I just feel different. I get heaps of feedback, and I even got an email this morning from someone saying, “I always thought I had deficiencies, and I'm starting to see that I'm just different.” That's one of the things I really love, as you said, Chris, about Dąbrowski's theory, is it's because it's non-pathologizing. It just shifts that perspective of self and allows a bit of self-forgiveness.

Tina: I love the work that you and Chris are doing. What you all are doing, what you're providing, just what you heard from that listener—you're giving people a new lens. It's so beautiful. Wonderful.

Chris: Thank you. It's fun to do it. I have to admit that it's so much fun to do these podcast recordings, and to have guests, and to talk with Emma. It's just fun, and I think it comes across.

Tina: It does.

Chris: So Tina, I want to ask you about the World Hope Project, which I love, and instead of me trying to describe it at all, I am just going to pass the baton to you. Tell us about the World Hope Project.

Tina: Thanks, Chris. It's like my passion project. When I saw the world come to—it was basically at the beginning of Covid in that spring of 2020, when we really saw the world kind of coming together to a certain degree. It was before everything went nuts even more. In that moment, I was just like—oh my gosh—this is the best of who we are. This is our capability. Look what we're doing. We are all coming together to “fight one foe.” So, I wrote a piece of prose, and I contacted children around the world. I had some contacts with different schools around the world and different people, and I pulled together this group of kids, and we basically became the World Hope Project.

We've created three videos now on different topics that are of concern to the kids. I think we have around 25 countries represented. It moves around sometimes. We have kids that are ages 8 to 18. It's just wonderful. We put out messages of hope, and positive societal transformation is the idea. Certainly, we'd love for you to check out our YouTube videos and “like” them, and subscribe to our channel, and share them, and all of that good stuff. The last video that we made was on mental health. We're trying to get 20,000 viewers for that. The kids really set that goal and wanted to do that, so we'd love for you to share that. I also wanted to share—we are now also trying to figure out—we wanted to put something out for the circumstances that we're all just—Ukraine and Russia and the pain and the suffering—and just, we're all hurting. It's just a really painful time in our world right now.

So we were trying to figure out how to address that and what to do. We were talking about maybe sending messages to the children of Ukraine and having the colors of Ukraine. I put this out to the group to kind of get that going, and this morning, I got an email from Marco, who's in Italy, and he's 11 years old. And I just want to share this because this is the beauty of the kids. The kids that are in the world right now—it's just, they really just amaze me. I'm just going to share a few little excerpts from what he sent in the email. He sent the email out to our whole group, and he said,

“Dear friends, the disaster is the result of a long time of struggles and injustices, which, as always, do not have a single point of view. Personally, I think that we shouldn't be against anyone because hate is never the solution. My message will be for peace. Also, recalling the many wars further away from these, I would be hypocritical and not very serious to be moved only by this war that touches us closely because we are all afraid that Europe will again become the land of bombings in war, and we are all praying and hoping that the politicians will ensure that this war ends for the good of Ukraine and the whole world . . . so I will not wear the colors of a nation, but those of peace to say that it does not matter where the violence and aggression comes from. We want peace.”

He also went through all of the different wars around the world that need to be addressed. There are so many other things going on as well. War has brought suffering for so many people, no matter what side that you're on. And then at the end, he said,

“I will be in the audience on March 19th with the Pope (he's in a choir) with many of my choir mates, and we will pray together with him for peace.”

That came from an 11-year-old this morning, and I was just wowed at the advanced development of some of our children.

Chris: Thanks so much for sharing that. I love it. And yes, listener, please check out the show notes and give these kids some views on the YouTube videos, please, because I know it's hard to get traction, and they so deserve it. If you watch these videos, I love to watch them because the kids—well, first of all, we're friends, and so I've been with you while you're collecting videos and trying to put it together—and I know that these kids will really work hard to create their little segment. It's a really beautiful project that you and Rosa have worked on together.

Tina: Yes. Thank you for bringing up Rosa. Rosa Medina is a Peruvian educator. She is the co-producer of the World Hope Project, and I am so grateful to have her by my side for that.

Chris: I also wanted to mention that I do know Kate Bachtel and that I am actually on the board of directors of Soul Spark Learning. I'm going to add a link in the show notes to the empowerment series that you mentioned, Tina, because there are some great videos that people can view from that.

Tina: Perfect.

Chris: I also want to include a link in the show notes to the ebook that you did a few years ago, around the time when we met, because Tina interviewed all of these experts in the field and transcribed them and put together their advice, and I think it's a great resource.

Tina: Thank you, Chris, and it's free. It's a link on my website. It's free, it is a wonderful resource because all of the experts gave such great advice. To be transparent, you will then be kicked into my blog/vlog, but just know I hardly ever blog or vlog.

Chris: That's right. It doesn't feel spammy at all.

Tina: And you can unsubscribe at any time, but it is connected to my blog.

Chris: Well, thank you so much. This has been really great, Tina. What a wonderful conversation. I look forward to having you back to talk about more things, because there are so many other topics to explore with you.

Tina: Oh, I would love that, Chris and Emma, this has been great. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Emma: Thank you very much for coming on, and thanks to you, too, Chris, for being on the podcast again with me. It's a pleasure, as always.

Chris: Thank you, Emma. It is a pleasure as always.

Emma: Thank you to our listeners. We always appreciate you tuning in and joining us, and if you're listening to us on Apple or Spotify, don't forget to hit those little stars and give us a rating if you can. If you've got any questions, feedback, or topics that you'd like us to address, you can get in contact with us via email at positivedisintegration.pod at gmail dot com, or you can get in contact with us on Twitter or Instagram. Until next time, keep walking that path to your authentic self.

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Thank you, Stacie Brown McCullough, for editing this transcript!