How to Help Neurodivergent Kids Thrive at School w/ Dr. Emily King

Inside: Dr. Emily King, a Child Psychologist and former School Psychologist, discusses the hurdles neurodivergent kids face in school, the gap between expectations and support, the impact of anxiety on learning, and the critical role collaboration plays between parents and teachers.

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Is your kid coming home exhausted and fed up with school every day? Do they resist going to school because it stresses them out? Do they struggle with homework once they’re back? 

And what about the teachers? 

Are they telling you your child isn’t turning in assignments or keeping up, even with or without those IEPs? How do you communicate with them? Are they like, ‘You’re telling me what to do’ if you suggest something related to your kid?

Don’t worry, I’m not reading your mind. I’ve been talking to parents daily, and these issues keep coming up in our Calm the Chaos community.

But there’s more to this story.

Some parents are pushing hard for their kids to catch up, achieve, and be successful in school. It’s a goal shared by schools, who want kids in class every day so they integrate in with their peers.

And what often gets overlooked in all these questions is why some kids have a hard time in school and whether they feel safe there.

I feel like this is such an important conversation, so in this episode, I’ve brought on an expert who does this all day, every day.

Meet Dr. Emily King, a Child Psychologist and former School Psychologist who has two decades of experience working closely with neurodivergent kids and teens.

She received her Ph.D. in School Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is well-versed in Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, DIR/Floortime, Conscious Discipline, and Social Thinking methodologies.

Dr. Emily is passionate about supporting neurodivergent children, whether they face autism, anxiety, ADHD, depression, or learning difficulties. She also empowers parents and teachers, helping them become the steadfast support every neurodivergent child needs. 

Join us for this interview, where we’ll be discussing:

  • the hurdles neurodivergent kids face in school 
  • the gap between expectations and support
  • the impact of anxiety on learning 
  • the critical role collaboration plays between parents and teachers

Tune in now!

We’re Doing Things in the Wrong Order

Dr. Emily has spent nearly 20 years working with children and families. At first, she was mainly focused on understanding the complex mental and developmental needs of our kids (the kind of stuff that mental health pros and special educators are all about).

But as time went by, something tugged at her heart. She realized that teachers often don’t get the training they need to understand why kids act the way they do. And let’s face it, there’s a big problem in our schools, and it has to do with how we understand kids’ behavior. 

Dr. Emily knows that it’s really important for teachers to know how to be there for our kids when they’re upset and create a safe space for learning.

So, she suggests something called the “bottom-up” approach. Instead of just pushing our kids to learn more and do it faster, she believes we should start with the heart, with their emotions.

The concept is simple, really: we’re doing things in the wrong order. Our children need to feel safe and emotionally ready before they can truly understand and absorb new information.

Dr. Emily is on a mission to make sure that this approach becomes a part of teacher education, professional development, and the education system as a whole. 

Because let’s be honest, we’ve fallen short in that area – not only when it comes to training teachers, but also in providing conditions to implement that. 

We’ve talked for years about having kids with all sorts of needs in the same classroom, but we haven’t always given teachers the tools and support they need to make it work.

Dr. Emily wants to change that and make sure every child has the chance to truly thrive in school.

When Kids’ Abilities Don’t Match School Expectations

Dr. Emily points out something crucial: kids’ emotions don’t always catch up with their age. As they grow, they face the challenge of balancing their emotional development with the expectations of school.

This mismatch doesn’t only occur in the early elementary years. It stays through middle school and high school. Young minds are often asked to do complex tasks without fully developed executive functioning skills. 

Imagine how hard it is for them to do great in school and plan for the future when they’re in this situation. It’s like trying to run a race without your running shoes on!

What we need to understand is that every child’s journey is unique and filled with diverse needs. So, instead of pushing them beyond their current capabilities, we must offer the understanding and support they need to truly thrive.

Homework, the age-old struggle, is another matter close to parents’ hearts, and Dr. Emily echoes what many of us secretly think. 

If a child isn’t independent in doing their homework yet, what’s the actual point of the homework? 

As parents who know our children best, we need to believe our kids and their needs. Just because they could do something independently yesterday doesn’t guarantee they can do it today. 

It’s not about whether they “won’t” or “can’t” or if they’re trying to manipulate us. Many factors can affect their ability to focus. They might be tired, stressed, hungry, you name it… So, neither parents nor teachers should see this as mere “excuses.” 

Dr. Emily believes we should shift away from rigid expectations and create a more flexible, compassionate, and supportive learning environment. 

This means open communication with educators, working together to recognize the mismatch, understanding our children’s capabilities, and nurturing their growth at their unique pace.

After all, every child is different, and that’s something to celebrate. 

(If you want to learn more details, tune in for the full interview on YouTube.)

neurodivergent kids, Dayna Abraham, Calm the Chaos

2 Common Misconceptions About Helping Neurodivergent Kids

Dr. Emily believes our education system has been stuck in old ways for too long, and these misconceptions are holding back the progress of our neurodivergent kids. 

In this episode/blog post, she dives into the two most common misconceptions and explains why it’s time for a change.

Special vs. Regular Education

In the past, we used to think of education as a division between special education and regular education. It made sense back then, but the world has evolved, and so should our educational model. Yet, we’re still stuck with this division because that’s how the law has structured it since 1975. 

It all began with good intentions – to educate all children. However, there’s a catch. We trained some teachers to handle kids with specialized education plans, leaving the rest to manage in regular classes. Sadly, those regular education teachers often didn’t receive any special training.

Then came the idea to include kids who didn’t need separate classes but required some extra help. The problem is that these kids sometimes get overlooked because they’re seen as “regular” students, even though they’re not.

Here’s the truth: every classroom is already filled with neurodiversity. Teachers have students with various learning styles, some identified and others not. 

And we’re talking only about developmental diversities here, differences in attention spans, language abilities, and impulse control. This doesn’t even touch on kids dealing with traumatic experiences or living in poverty (a topic for another time).

Dr. Emily suggests a change. The system should adapt and provide teachers with the right training, inspiring them to be curious about every child’s unique needs. 

Children Choose to “Misbehave”

Another widespread misconception revolves around the belief that kids “choose” to misbehave.

This is where the Calm the Chaos Framework aligns perfectly with scientific facts. We teach that no child wakes up thinking, “I’ll be naughty today just to annoy my parents or teachers.”

These behaviors usually have deeper roots. That’s why we need to explore factors like brain development, dysregulation, and anxiety to understand children’s actions.

As Dr. Emily explains, things have been somewhat changed when it comes to extreme behaviors like aggression, acknowledging that anxious brains can trigger fight-or-flight responses, making kids seem out of control.

But we often miss the subtler signs, like arguing. Many times, these bright kids with strong language skills are reacting emotionally. Instead of calling it “misbehavior,” consider it a form of negotiation.

When we believe kids are “choosing” to misbehave, we invalidate their experiences, eroding trust and making it difficult to build a positive relationship. To navigate this, both teachers and parents need to prioritize relationships while maintaining structure and flexibility to meet each child’s unique needs.

Dr. Emily beautifully sums it up by urging us to shift from an “either-or” approach to a “both-and” mindset. We can’t enforce rules without understanding the context. 

Our educational system must be flexible, compassionate, and respectful. By addressing these misconceptions, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all neurodivergent children.

The Role of Parent-Teacher Collaboration

Dr. Emily points out another crucial thing to ease your neurodivergent kids’ hurdles at school – cooperation between teachers and parents. It’s like a team effort, with each side bringing its own expertise to the table.

Teachers are experts when it comes to the classroom, the curriculum, and how kids behave in that setting. They’re trained to understand the dynamics of a classroom, but they might not know all the ins and outs of your child like you do.

You’re the expert on your child at home, knowing their habits, quirks, and what makes them tick. So, it’s not about one being better than the other; it’s about combining these two sets of knowledge.

Sometimes, things go wrong when we become overly protective and territorial, like mama bears, trying to tell teachers how to do their job. This can lead to tension and make teachers feel defensive.

Instead, we as parents should remember that teachers are there to support our kids and help them grow. As the school year progresses, teachers can discover things about your child that you might not see at home.

You know the situation:

– Guess what? Your kid is totally independent with hanging up all their belongings at school!

– Yeah, they never do that when they come into the house.

So the point is that this isn’t a competition. It’s an opportunity to identify areas where your child might need support or skill-building.

What Dr. Emily suggests is to share with teachers what works both at home and in the classroom. If your child achieves something significant, celebrate it together. When teachers see your child’s progress and understand your perspective, it will strengthen your bond, and your kid could only benefit from that.

The Biggest Shift

So, what’s the biggest shift here? We should stop focusing only on problems and diagnoses.

Start the school year by informing teachers about your child’s strengths and areas where they need assistance. Throughout the year, maintain open communication and celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

This isn’t about telling teachers what to do; it’s about sharing ideas and insights. When something works well at home, it might just work in the classroom too. Working together as a team, we can provide the best support for our children’s education and growth.

Because we are exactly the parents our kids need. 

And we’ve got this!


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Calm the Chaos Parenting is a podcast offering parents practical tools and strategies to navigate the challenges of raising strong-willed, highly sensitive, and neurodivergent children.

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