ADHD Autism For Parents Interviews Podcasts

Ep. 36 / Developing “Soft Skills” in Neurodivergent Youth with Lindsey Wander

Welcome back to the Neurodiverging Podcast!

Today I'm with Lindsey Wander of WorldWise Tutoring to discuss how we as parents can create more opportunities for our children to learn and practice executive functioning skills, social skills, and other "soft skills" needed for daily living, and what is really means to become a "lifelong" learner.

Lindsey Wander is the owner of WorldWise Tutoring. Her mission was to help students of all abilities to not only improve their grades and scores, but to also learn the skills to become confident and independent lifelong learners, and grow into competent and conscious leaders. She seeks to empower our youth with the tools to succeed in school, work, and life – so that they are in the powerful position to be agents of change in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.

With the widening achievement gap due to COVID-19 school closures, Lindsey has combined her passion for serving underprivileged students with her expertise as a tutoring business owner to form the nonprofit charity Educate. Radiate. Elevate. This organization is focused on providing high-quality 1-on-1 instruction in academics, enrichment, test prep, and learning and life skills to underserved K-12 students. The goal is to strengthen the educational achievement of our youth in order to provide economic, social, and mental stability for us and future generations.

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🎧 Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 36 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts Google Podcasts | Spotify


Show Notes:

Transcript of Ep. 36 / Developing "Soft Skills" in Neurodivergent Youth with Lindsey Wander:

Danielle Sullivan: Hello and welcome back to the Neurodiverging podcast. I'm so happy you're here today. My name is Danielle Sullivan and I'm your host today. I am so pleased to continue our couple of months of education and learning development with Lindsey Wander. 

Lindsey is the owner of World Wise Tutoring. Her mission is to help students of all abilities not only improve their grades and scores but also to learn the skills to become confident and independent lifelong learners and to grow into competent and conscious leaders, and that is what we are going to be talking about today. 

She seeks to empower our youth with the tools to succeed in school work and life so that they are in the powerful position to be agents of change in their own lives and in the lives of those around them.

Lindsay and I had a great time discussing how, as parents, we can sculpt our students’ learning, what our students learning goals should be, and what are some skills that students can be missing in traditional school that we as parents can support and create more chances to explore for them, so that when they become more independent as they grow, as they learn, sometimes as they move away, that they have the skills they need to participate in social lives as adults. 

It's a really great conversation and I hope you'll enjoy it. If you have not had the chance yet and you would like to, please go check us out on Patreon. I know I say it every time, but we're at patreon.com/neurodiverging. You get special access to the patrons-only aftershow and many other perks. You can pledge at a lot of different tiers to get different perks depending on what your budget and your interest is, but every dollar helps support this show, so please go check us out on patreon.com/neurodiverging

As always, show notes and all other information discussed in the show are at neurodiverging.com, so please go check that out, and without further ado, here's Lindsey:

Introduction to Lindsey Wagner

Danielle Sullivan: Welcome Lindsey, thanks for being here on Neurodiverging with me today! 

Lindsey Wander: Thank you for having me.

Danielle: It's so great to have you! So I know you're the founder and the CEO of WorldWise Tutoring and you provide online services for students of all ages and all abilities and all subjects - I just love that tagline. Can we talk a little bit about your motivation for becoming a tutor originally? 

Lindsey: Yeah, you know, before I was a tutor, I was a classroom teacher and as people listening, whether you're a parent or an educator yourself, you know our school system is very flawed and I was constantly seeing children slip through the cracks because, as I phrase it, the traditional system just wasn't working for them.

And you know as a teacher, there's a lot of politics in the school system and my hands were often tied on what I could do. So I found myself tutoring on the side, honestly, mainly to supplement my income, because we know teachers don't make a ton of money, and I found that what I was able to do as a tutor was so much more than what I was able to do with a classroom teacher.

I eventually left the teaching profession in terms of the classroom and decided to tutor full-time, and within a year, completely outgrew myself and had to start recruiting and training tutors in my methodologies. Really the point of it is to just make everything very personalized. We don't just look at the idea of education as copying information into a student's brain. We really look at their heart and their and their mind and their soul and we try to really shape everything to them personally. And so that's why it really has developed to all ages, all abilities, all subjects. It's something specific.

Danielle: I think we've talked a lot in prior episodes of the podcast about how, from the perspective of people within the school system and with parents, how much especially autistic and ADHD students can struggle in a traditional American kind of public school atmosphere. So I just think it makes so much sense to get them more support that's more personalized and more directed to their specific needs. 

Lindsey: Exactly, and it's not that they're not capable. It's the way that our system is set up is not formed in a way for their success. And it doesn't mean that they're not intelligent or they won't contribute to society. In fact, in many cases, their IQ is off the charts. It's just a matter of finding something that works for their learning style and that is hard in a classroom of 30 or 40 kids and it's much easier when you have them in a one-on-one type setting.

What Learning Outcomes Should Parents Focus On?

Danielle: Yeah, for sure. I think a lot of students also just struggle with the numbers of other kids in the classroom and the stimulus. So, as parents, what do you think that our main learning goals should be for our students? Because I know coming from the traditional school system and having seen that not work for a lot of kids, what do you think parents should be focusing on? 

Lindsey: I say that to parents all the time - is it this math formula that's really important for your kid to know? Is it really the capitals of every state, is that really that important for your kid to know? Or is it about their ability to creatively problem solve, or to be innovative, or to be a leader? To plan, to prioritize, to manage tasks, and even to self-evaluate their learning and their successes and their failures - these are the skills that are really important when it comes to how they will be able to succeed beyond the classroom.

And the classroom setting is a great place and education in general is a great place to learn those skills, but we have to be very directed with the goal, that these are the skills we want our children to learn. I think we just get lost in, “I'm going to teach creative problem solving by giving them a math problem,” and then for years it just becomes all about the math problem. We lost sight of what was the real purpose of that math problem here. So, we just have to keep reminding ourselves, what do I want for my child? What are the most important things for them to know and do to get there?

The other things are not important. Let that go. I know as a classroom teacher, something I would humble myself on was, is it really that important for them to memorize the steps of mitosis? Or is it important that they had fun learning, that they enjoyed the process of discovery and understanding the world around them? That was more important to me and so I just had to keep that in the forefront of my mind as my value system and shape my methodology of teaching around that.

What are some of the skills that you think students are missing the most in the classroom?

Danielle: It sounds like part of what you're saying at least is that building the skills is much more important than building the data. Like remembering the steps of mitosis or the state capitals is not as important for adults in this world as learning the skills of executive functioning and organizing skills. What are some of the skills that you think students are missing the most in the classroom? From the groups that you tutor, are there recurring issues that you see that parents can be focusing on?

Lindsey: Yeah, and a lot of it just has to do with their brain development. We're expecting them to do certain tasks that their brains are often not fully developed to do yet. It doesn't mean they can't do the tasks. It just means that we need to set up systems for them to assist in the development of their brain to be able to do those tasks. That's exactly what executive functioning is all about.

So definitely I see a lot of  concerns with students having trouble with the planning and prioritizing. They often hear, “Oh I have a math assignment,” but they don't often calculate in their head or estimate how long will that math assignment take? And how much time do I have to complete it? And when should I get it started? And when will it be completed by, so that i can do this next thing that I have to do at this time? 

I almost explain it like a spatial awareness of time. Where do certain things fit in? As adults, we tend to do that. Before I hopped on with you, I had 10 minutes - what can I get done in 10 minutes? My brain is sorting through. With students and youth in general, they often just don't have the brain development to do that. But, if we show them that strategy and set up systems for them, they will start to naturally do that. 

I also find that a lot of youth, mainly because they're younger, don't tend to advocate for themselves very often, and I do think that's a really essential skill. They have to know how to respectfully stand up for themselves and voice their opinion, or say, “I'm struggling here,” and be able to pinpoint where the “here” is. That's definitely a lifelong skill to be able to say, “This is where I'm at and what I think and what I need,” and make sure that they're getting that.

Are there practical ways that we can be helping our kids and our students build these skills?

Danielle: I think that piece about advocacy is so important and it strikes me because I work with so many adults who are still struggling to figure out not only how to articulate what they want, but what they even want or what kind of supports they might need to be doing better. There's so many skills built into just doing that one thing, in terms of assessing your needs and then creatively problem solving your needs and then communicating those.

Are there practical ways that we can be helping our kids and our students build these skills? I know it's a very general question.

Lindsey: Yeah, that's a great one. I'll give you an educator or school-based suggestion and some other life ones as well. With us, when we give students independent work, we also give them an answer key, and we ask them at the end of completing their work to check their work. There's still ways to make sure they're doing their work -  they can show their work, or have to explain to you their thought process. So, it's not that they’re gonna write down all the answers and find a shortcut. They will try to do it, especially if you make sure they understand the why and the bigger picture behind what you're doing, and you make sure the work is relevant to what you're doing and it's not just busy work.

There's that back end, but then when we ask them to check their work, we tell them, “When you get something incorrect, I would like you to try to figure out why  - why was your answer incorrect?” And what that tells them is, I believe that you can figure this out on your own, that you don't always need me. And oftentimes they do! They figure out what they did wrong. And the lesson there is so much more powerful because they understand their thought process getting there, so now in wondering and thinking through why they got it wrong, they can now understand what got them to the wrong place. They're less likely to do that error again than if I was just to tell them the reason for it. 

But then I tell them, if there's ones that you don't understand, no problem! Those are the ones you bring to me and that just means I have to reteach it to you in a different way and that's fine. So they come without feeling bad about it because they say, okay, there's ten I got wrong. Five of them I figured out! Yay! It's a celebration! And these other five I'm stuck on and here is where I'm stuck.

This is really good because they're starting to evaluate their successes. They're evaluating their struggles and they're advocating and feeling comfortable asking for help, which are all really valuable skills.

In the household, ways that you can do that is simply say to them, maybe on a Friday night, “Hey, what's something that was really great in the house this week and what's something that could be improved on?” 

Let them have a voice. When they suggest something that can be improved on, talk to them and say, Okay, what do you think would be a way to improve that?” 

Then take their suggestions to heart, because what that shows them is that their voice has power and that they are worth listening to, and they can actually invoke change by simply having a conversation and standing up for something. Little things like that can be done in the house as well. I think it really deepens the bond with the family, having conversations like that, rather than, “I'm the adult and this is how it is.”

It's like, “No, you are also a part of this family and you have a say as well and I'm going to try as best as I can to give you a voice and let you take action in what's happening in this household.”

Danielle: I think that collaborative piece is so important, especially with kids with different learning needs.  Approaching parenting and the family style as a process of collaboration where we're all doing this together and we are all responsible for the outcome is such an important piece of learning for kids. That's great.

Lindsey: I agree and I really do think it deepens that family bond as a result, which is even more powerful because then they know they can come to you and talk to you, and you know that when other things arise that you're going to hear them.

Are there other underlying life skills that parents should be keeping an eye on as their kids are developing?

Danielle: Yeah, for sure. And are there other underlying life skills that parents should be keeping an eye on as their kids are developing that? Especially ones that you specifically work on? I know that you focus a lot on life skills with students. 

Lindsey: Definitely. I really think with this rising generation we have to really watch their emotional state. They are big feelers. They are very aware of what's going on in the world around them and they feel it. To put what we learned in our generation, of “bury your feelings” on them is not going to work. 

Danielle: Oh my goodness, no! 

Lindsey: It's not going to work. They're too anxious if we do that. So, we have to really help them to self-monitor their emotions, not regulate them, not control them, but monitor them. In the teaching world, we call it Name It, Claim It and Aim It. Help them to name their feeling, take ownership of that feeling - this is how I'm feeling - and then find a way to direct it. Whether that's doing something that helps them to relieve that stress so that they can then focus on the problem at hand, or talking about it or you know some other action, there's so many. 

This is where the conversation comes in of, what are some things that we can proactively brainstorm, that when you're feeling this way you can do in that moment. If it doesn't work, we'll try something different, and we're going to find something that works for you.  Being able to regulate their emotions and also build what I would call coping mechanisms and resiliency are really vital skills, and again, I think schooling is a great way for them to learn these things that's low risk for them to learn the feeling of failure and to have a discussion about what went wrong. 

Let's make sure these systems are in place so that that doesn't go wrong again. And success  - what worked? Let's make sure those are in place for the next time. It doesn't mean that you're dumb and it doesn't mean you're bad at this. Struggle is inherent in growth. 

There's a quote I often tell my students that you can't go to the gym and build muscle without resistance. You have to have weight. This is how we grow. This is how we build, is by these challenges. I even share some of my own challenges, and they're like, What? You're the superhero adult that knows everything!

I had my own struggles and I had to figure it out and this is part of life. You have to do this to get where you are. 

I think that a lot of adults around my age really lack these coping mechanisms and they don't have a lot of resiliency and that really causes a lot of extra stress and just overall angst in their life when they do really hit some serious things. It's not just getting an F on a project. It's something life-altering that happens to them. So, I'd rather they build these skills as children in a low-risk situation so that they then have a toolbox to pull from when they do get older and encounter some real serious potential issues.

Danielle: Yeah. I know a lot of the audience listening right now are parents of autistic and ADHD kids and other kids with different neurotypes and a lot of us struggle because  our kids are facing some significant challenges just by virtue of living as a person with a different neurotype in a neurotypical world. I know many of us want to build resiliency and want to allow our child chances to grow but it's very it can be very hard to find that balance between offering challenges and feeling like we're over-stressing our child or exposing them (especially our more rigid thinkers) exposing them to too much potential change.

How can parents help build their children's' resilience?

Danielle: So I guess I just was wondering if you have any ideas for, or have any encouragement or any suggestions for, parents who are struggling with finding that balance, or struggling to find it within themselves to offer more challenges for their kiddos, and to get used to seeing your child fail in order to build, like you said, low-risk failure in order to build resilience in the future?

Lindsey: Well, the first thing I would say is there is definitely a difference between suffering and struggle. If your child is struggling, that's okay, they're not suffering. We have to remind ourselves. As an educator, it's hard when I see a child struggling. I just want to jump in and do it for them, because I see the tears in their eyes and their chin trembling, or whatever reaction they might have. I just want to fix it for them. What I do instead is I stay with them in a very supportive way. Sometimes I'm just quiet and I'm just there and I'm letting them know by my sheer presence that I'm here. I support you. I'm not leaving your side and I'm gonna stay here with you until you work through this, until you figure it out.

In some cases, I might give some advice if they're open to it. Sometimes that could be triggering and it could just get them spiraling. Really kind of reading what they need - you might even just want to ask them, What do you need from me right now? How can I help you in this?  Rather than just jumping in and doing it for them. Often times, they want to do this on their own. They want to figure this out. Sometimes us jumping in frustrates them even more.

I would just watch our own emotions and take a step back, but not remove ourselves from the situation. Still be there in a very calm, supportive way, so that they know that  they have you there when they need you, but you're not just going to jump in and take away that challenge for them unless they are asking for assistance.

Danielle: Okay, great, thank you! It can be hard to figure out. You don't want to take away their chance to prove to themselves they can do the hard thing but also, it can be hard to know what is what is too challenging. So, giving that back to the child to decide seems like very good advice. 

Lindsey: They might surprise you! I mean, I've had students say to me, “No, no, don't tell me, I want to figure this out. I want to do it!” That's great! Giving them that voice, I think we’ll  often be surprised. They challenge themselves often more than we challenge them. 

Neurotypical and neurodivergent students should be learning together.

We work with students of all abilities and so we do have students who have learning difficulties and I am a big advocate for integration and for not separating students based off of what appears to be their abilities. I do think that, again, children will surprise us. 

This rising generation is so heart-centered that as long as us with neurotypical children are having conversations with our kids and not just saying, “Don't ask questions!” but helping them know how to ask the question in a way that isn't hurtful, and how to welcome someone who may be acting in a way that they're not used to.

That's our responsibility with neurotypical children. I think that if we have neuroatypical children, it is very valuable to both sides to allow them an opportunity to interact with each other. I work very closely with many special education teachers and the stories they've told me about not just bringing them in for one class, but actual deep integration of children of different abilities, it has been powerful what has resulted for both sides.

That's just led me to be a very big advocate for making those situations available and seeing if it's a potential for growth.

Danielle: I completely agree with you. I think that if we're, as a group, aiming for inclusivity and diversity, that that doesn't happen unless you bring folks together. Kids are just the same. I also think that separating neurodivergent and neurotypical learners, or people in general, feeds into stereotypes and misunderstandings and lack of knowledge across groups, and that's a huge problem. 

Yeah, so you said it much better than I did but I completely agree. It's really important for both sides, and I appreciate as an autistic person hearing  somebody say that neurotypicals should do some of the work too. I feel like a lot of times it's put on autistic people to reach across the divide and explain ourselves and educate. It feels like something that should be coming from both sides of the gap.  Neurotypical folks and neurodivergent folks should both be trying to learn about each other, so thank you for that.

Lindsey: Children are learning from their adults, and if we silence them when they ask a question or say, “Oh, you can't talk about that,” then they start to think something's wrong. This is something that isn't talked about.  Again, children will surprise us. This rising generation, they're so heart-centered. They really are very aware of what's going on. If we are continuing to keep that conversation open and help them understand the… I wouldn't say, “proper” way but ...sometimes it's just the way things are phrased, or the way they might look at someone. Just helping them understand, it's okay to ask a question. It's okay to look at someone. But you don't treat them like some oddity that we don't talk about. I think we'll be really impressed by how they behave and how friendships and relationships are deepened as a result.

Danielle: It's been really eye-opening and encouraging as a parent to see the way that my neurodivergent kids have been welcomed into groups of neurotypical kids, and a lot of that is just because those specific families had parents who explained things, who had the conversation and who didn't shy away from a difficult topic of why behavior looks different, or why movement or or speech is different for some of these kids. It's just so appreciated. It makes a huge difference to our lives. So thank you so much! 

Lindsey: You're welcome. 

Where to learn more about Worldwise Tutoring and Educate Radiate Elevate?

Danielle: Can you tell us a little bit more about where we can find information about WorldWise Tutoring? You just started a non-profit too, right? You should tell us about that!

Lindsey: I'd love to! Worldwide, students can find us just worldwisetutoring.com. That's where you'll also see a blog there for educators and parents where I have a lot of advice and resources, as well as a student handbook for students which has a lot of resources and strategies for them to utilize, and all of that's free. 

You'll also learn about our services and our approach again by going to the website. Plus, you'll have links to our social media if you want to follow, because I'm giving gems every single day.

Then for the non-profit: my purpose for the nonprofit was to address the widening achievement gap due to the school closures. So, we are providing our same high-quality tutoring services but to underserved K-12 students; in other words, students who otherwise wouldn't be able to afford it, but again are completely capable.

We are offering those services to students for certain terms throughout the year. We are working with students only in Illinois and Texas for the non-profit, just because it's new and we're still building. You can go to educateradiateelevate.org. That's a lot, so you can also just type in eretutoring.org and you'll get to the same place.

You'll see all the ways that you can get involved. I've created various internships and volunteer opportunities. Even adults, we have a lot of professional volunteers who are helping us with various back-end aspects of the non-profit. So, if you are interested in helping us to be able to help others, please do check that out.

Danielle: That's so fantastic! I'm glad adults can get involved too. For folks listening, all those links are going to be in the show notes, so please go click on that so you can go visit Lindsey's site and learn more about all this great stuff we talked about today.

Thank you so much for joining us on Neurodiverging today. If you haven't yet, please go check out show notes, links, and all other information on neurodiverging.com. Please consider donating to us on Patreon at patreon.com/neurodiverging - you can pledge a dollar, five dollars or ten dollars a month to fund the Neurodiverging podcast and the website, and to receive special access to the patrons-only after show and many other perks.

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