When Debbie learned that her son Asher was diagnosed as twice exceptional (he has ADHD, Asperger’s, and is highly-gifted), she spent years figuring out how to best support him in school and in life. What she discovered is that it was incredibly difficult to find one resource that could provide both the support system she needed and reliable, useful, and most of all optimistic information so she could put a plan in place for getting Asher what he needed. Since what she was looking for didn't exist, it became Debbie's mission to help millions of parents like her feel connected as they move forward in a way that feels positive and hopeful for the whole family. In 2016 she created TiLT and the TiLT podcast series featuring high-profile parenting experts and educators, as well as conversations between Debbie and Asher. And her new book was just released: Differently-Wired. Raising An Exceptional Child In A Conventional World, which is both a memoir and a manifesto...and you will find that it is the perfect companion as you embark on your own special needs parenting journey.
5 words that describe your “job”:
Mom in the trenches. Teacher. Doer. Changemaker. Folder of all the clothes.
Your child's name and age: Asher, 13
How does Asher inspire you?
Asher inspires to me to do the work of digging into everything that makes me uncomfortable and uneasy; to love learning and the quest for knowledge; to question everything; to develop more patience and presence; and to stop being attached to outcomes and just focus on living this beautiful, precious life.
What’s the one thing you wish people knew about Asher?
I would want people to know that while sometimes it may seem like Asher’s not tuned in or paying attention to you, I can almost guarantee you that he’s taking it all in and more. He’s listening to everything you’re saying, processing it, making connections in his mind between your ideas and his vast knowledge bank so he can better understand your thinking, and experience deep empathy with you.
What is an activity your whole family loves to do together?
Travel. We’ve been living in Europe for the past five years and, as a result, have gotten really good at exploring new countries and cultures together. Discovering new places and foods and nature together while being squarely outside our respective comfort zones has brought us so much closer and connected us in wonderful ways.
How do you survive a tough day of parenting?
My first survival strategy is being proactive and setting myself up for being in the best possible headspace by beginning my day with yoga. That has helped me... a lot. On really tough days, I do my best to get through difficult moments by removing myself from situations where I’m getting triggered and doing something to help me shift my thinking, like taking deep breaths, or listening to music, or putting on my headphones and playing some music on the keyboard. I also text my husband to vent so I don’t feel like I’m completely alone, and he’ll always respond with some encouraging words or offers to take care of dinner or help out in some other way so I can do what I need to do to recover. Then, as soon as I can get away, I get out for a walk or run and listen to a podcast while doing so. Just being out and moving my body works every time. Lastly, no matter how rough the day was, I make sure to reconnect with Asher at bedtime and push the virtual “reset” button so we can start the next day fresh.
What is the one thing Asher cannot live without?
These days, it’s his laptop. Asher’s personal interest lies in typography, creating mods and modpacks for Minecraft, and designing rockets in Kerbal Space Program. He also needs his computer for Skype, as it’s through Skype and weekly online hangouts that Ash has stayed connected with his best friends since moving abroad.
What’s the one thing you would drive back to get if you forgot it when you went out with your child?
Asher’s Kindle. Asher is a voracious reader and tuning out the world and diving into a book has been his best strategy for re-regulating in just about any situation. Also, tissues (especially during hayfever season).
Asher's favorite app?
Asher doesn’t have a smartphone (he’s the only teenager I know who is actually anti-phone!), nor does he use an iPad, so doesn’t really use any apps. He does use iTunes so he can download and listen to music, usually Hans Zimmer soundtracks.
Your favorite clothing brands/styles for Asher + why?
We are in a big H&M phase at the moment, as Asher is all about monochromatic basics—black and black, blue and blue, and gray and gray. He is anti-branding on all clothes (always has been) and, unless it’s his Kerbal Space Program or Skeptics Guide to the Universe t-shirt, he won’t wear anything that has writing or images on it. With that said, he did just get a new pair of Timberland boots which he’s pretty jazzed about, and lately, he’s been sporting his New York Yankees that he received as a gift last month.
What is the last thing you purchased for yourself that made you really happy?
We were in Morocco a few months ago and a vendor in Marrakech souk had these beautiful leather purses hanging in front of his shop. I walked past them every day, and by the last day, knew exactly which one I wanted. But I also knew that you’re expected to bargain and, as an introvert who avoids conflict, I was totally intimidated. Yet, I wanted that purse. So, I read up on how exactly to “haggle” for something in Marrakech, enlisted Asher to be my “wingman” and off we went. I did what the article said—looked at bags other than the one I wanted, asked some prices, feigned disinterest, threw out a much lower price, listened to his counteroffer, feigned more disinterest, flipped through some different purses, suggested a counter-counter offer, and closed the deal, paying the price I had decided was my goal before I even started. Can I just say how much I love that purse?! It represents more than a keepsake from Morocco—I pushed myself way outside my comfort zone to buy it. Achievement unlocked!
What advice would you give to a new special needs mom (or dad)?
I would remind them that it’s okay to feel sad and mourn the parenting journey they were expecting that now suddenly seems to have veered from the tracks. I would encourage them to do what it takes to lean into who their child is and be curious and creative in forging their path. And lastly, I would encourage them to trust that they are the perfect parent for their child—they are resourceful and whole and have what it takes to help their child thrive.
What quote do you live by?
My favorite quote at the moment is from Neale Donald Walsh: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I love this quote because it reminds me that anytime I’m feeling worried or uncomfortable or scared or vulnerable or any other less than pleasant emotion, I’m actually right where I want to be. I know by now that it is in those spaces that the really great stuff happens. So instead fighting the discomfort, I go all in.