Today I'm talking with Clif Adkins, author of the new book Martian: A Non-Science Fiction Guide for How to Love, Raise, and Possibly Be Someone Not Quite Human. We're talking about who the Martian is, their more unique traits, and how to support a growing Martian at home and at school. This and more, today, on Neurodiverging!
🎧 Rather listen than read this post? This transcript is based off of Episode 23 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify
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Transcript for Ep 23: Discovering the Martian: A Conversation with Author Clif Adkins
About Martian: A Non-Science Fiction Guide for How to Love, Raise, and Possibly Be Someone Not Quite Human by Clif Adkins
Danielle: Hi Clif, welcome to Neurodiverging! How are you doing?
Clif: Hi, doing well, doing well. So excited to be here.
Danielle: Thanks for being here. I'm excited to have you. So, you've written this book and it was just such a fascinating book. I took my time with it and took time to read it. There was so much packed in there! Do you want to say a little bit about what the book's about? And what inspired you to put all this together, to sit with this and put it out into the world for everybody?
Clif: Right. Yeah. The book's called Martian: A Non-Science Fiction Guide for How to Love, Raise, and Possibly Be Someone Not Quite Human. It really came from, 1) I was trying to articulate my own journey. And as you would have read in the book, I tell a lot of personal stories throughout the book.
Also as a counselor, I've been a counselor for the last 15 years or so, and I have seen this one specific, I don't want to say personality type, but it's this own, unique identity wrapped into from toddlers to adults, that get overlooked. This individual, who has struggled to find their voice, struggled to find their identity, their purpose. And in that they kind of get left to the side a lot of times.
So I really wanted to empower this specific kind of individual that I see over and over and over in my counseling practice.
Danielle: It was really interesting. A lot of your book is describing, for lack of better word, personality traits or experiences that this type of person tends to have, or feelings that they tend to have.
So you're giving almost a user's guide to identifying yourself as a Martian, or identifying your child as a Martian, and then some tips for how to help those folks find themselves and be happy with themselves and know what they need.
Who Is The Martian? Outside of Medicalization and the Other
One of the things that I really liked about the book was that you talked about this whole theory of Martian-ness and the Martian identity without using any kind of medical language. In the neurodiversity sphere, where I'm located, we talk a lot about your diagnosis as something you have, these medicalized traits . . . you're finding your slot in a medical system.
And a lot of the way that autistic and ADHD folks think of ourselves is through that sort of medicalized lens, because that's just the language that is used in the culture around us. Was it a conscious decision to try to write this book without any medicalized language or without any reference to existing medical terminology?
Clif: It was intentional. It wasn't originally that way. I like cerebral discussions, I like going into theories and, like you said, symptoms and different ideas and, past experiments or peer reviewed articles, all that stuff.
I enjoy those things. And I started off putting a few things in there and then, my goal for this book was so that anyone and everyone could read this book, and not just someone with a specific background, but that literally anyone could pick this book up and understand it, or at least get something from it.
I've seen sometimes... I know that terminology helps people for identifying certain symptoms, and may shine light on things that they've struggled with. I get that. However, I've also seen it just lock people into this negative almost... it's not a very empowering. A lot of times it isn't an empowering thing.
It's almost like a life sentence. It's something that will weigh them down. It's a burden more than who you are.
Let's work within this framework. Let's take who you are and let's guide this. Let's shape this, so that your gifts and abilities can come to the surface and you can really flourish and you can thrive.
And so I didn't want to make this identity, this kind of a Martian label, so to speak [a burden.] I wanted it to be empowering. I didn't want for anyone to feel like it's a burden, even with one chapter saying, "Blessing or Burden."
Because I know the struggle, feeling like you're misunderstood, feeling like nobody's quite getting you, or feeling like every time someone is trying to diagnose you like you do have a little bit of this or a little bit of that.
And just the frustration of all that. I wanted to move away from those feelings and just focus on again, that anyone and everyone could buy the book and really dig into it, and that it would bring nothing but assurance, confidence and empowerment.
Danielle: Those are great words. I did appreciate how accessible the book is. I tend to be a little bit overly-academic in my language, and I've had that called out a lot. It was great to read this because it's a very personal text that it has a lot of stories from your life experience, your personal experiences and your experiences as a counselor at schools, that made it more down to earth.
You could access the knowledge there. But also, just in terms of the language you use, the language was a low level of difficulty, which is great because that is a huge problem with making this stuff available to people.
I also liked that when you're talking about Martian-ness and those feelings of being an alien, that it doesn't perfectly align with, say, "This is what an autistic person feels like." This is a totally different kind of person that a lot of different types of people can feel aligned with, can feel like they have had those experiences too, of feeling othered.
And here are some ways, like you said, to find empowerment, even within those feelings. So that was really fantastic.
Clif: Thank you.
Growing Up As A Martian
Danielle: You're welcome. You wrote a lot about how you always felt different growing up and that you noticed different people around you like your students and some of your family members. How did the word Martian come up for you?
Because there are Earthlings and then there are Martians, so it is, to some degree, a very othering word, and you've reclaimed it and made an empowering word. How did that come up and was it always the word you used? Or has it formed over time?
Clif: I used to always make this a joke and I don't think this made it into the book, but this is really the origin of the actual word. What I used to always say was, at the end of my life, if they were to open me up, there's going to be a little green man running the controls. And I just always said that because I never could quite seem to be what was expected, like of just a person, just normal.
I know I put this in the book that in junior high, I'm literally taking notes of what people are doing, what they're laughing at and low-key doing these things, which is hilarious that when my friends have read this book, they're like, "Were you for real doing this?"
Danielle: It's a really common experience for people I talk to!
Clif: One of my best friends was like, "Man, I don't remember this." I was like, "Well, I'm not walking around showing everyone this notepad that no one else has!" I apparently can't get it. I'm not getting it.
And as I got older, you turn to comedy to lighten that [feeling] of not being able to feel like you're fitting in or you're clicking, you are connecting.
See, even though I was so different, I was able to really connect with anyone around me, but especially those who also were outcast. I just started saying there's some little guy in me. I would always feel like I could connect with [other people], but there was just something else. It was like one foot was on the Earth and the other was somewhere else.
One day I was talking with a parent who has a Martian son and I was trying to explain this. This is before the book. This is just when I'm just scribbling down notes on a note pad. And I'm trying to help her with her son.
And as we're talking, she said, "You'll never believe what he said last night. He said, 'Mom, it feels like there's someone else at the wheel. There's someone else controlling me.' And he said, 'And it feels like I'm from outer space.'" That's what the kid said. And once he said that, that that's when the term Martian came to be. I started using that language with my students, with parents, and it just seemed to click.
Danielle: I do think it's a really common [phrasing]. I've heard a lot of autistic people refer to themselves as aliens or from outer space. I think there is this feeling for a lot of us of working from a different code base or something. You want to talk to people, you want to connect, but you just can't figure out the social cues. You can't quite figure out the language. There's this little gap.
But a lot of us do really love having in-depth conversations. We just don't care about the social stuff, but the social stuff is what's important to people. So there were a lot of pieces of the book where I was like, "Okay, this isn't all autistic people by any means, or all ADHD people, or all neurodivergent people," but there are a lot of bits where I was like, "Oh, I know that person!" It was really fun to find those in there.
A lot of the book is a description and engagement with the character traits that go into being a Martian. Some of the experiences are common amongst Martians, and there are a lot of differences between the kind of person who is a Martian and the kind of person who has maybe what we would call a neurotypical brain, or your average brain.
A Martian's Best Traits
For you, what are some of the top level or most dominant traits of being a Martian, just to give us a better sense of what we are looking at here?
Clif: There's typically this incredibly strong, empathetic connection with all points of view, with all people. They are very able to connect and see almost through the eyes of whomever they're talking to, or whatever they're around. They can really connect in that way in a very unique, special way. I love talking about art, music, movies, or song lyrics with people that are like that, because they feel it on a level that's truly "You get it!" When they talk about it, you can feel what they feel. So that deep empathy [is there.]
Resilience is [another trait]. They just seem to always keep bouncing back, no matter what life throws at them. And it's been my experience with the Martians that I've counseled that life pretty well continually seems to go at them.
They seem to constantly be at battle until they accept [their Martian-ness]. Once they feel like, "You know what, this is me, so I'm going to operate in my strengths and I'm going to focus on that," it seems like there's a freedom in that and the battles seem to lessen.
I have one of my best friends, and we talk about this all the time, and I think you hit on this too. One of the biggest things is that you almost feel like there's two people at work. Like you were saying, you read a little bit and you're like, "Yes, that sounds like a neurodiverse [person]," or "This sounds like somebody with this."
I've had my friends say, "How can I be so confident yet so insecure at the same time? How could I be so full of faith, but yet doubt with everything in me?" There's this true pull, and it's a constant tension. That's what I think why Martian was so fitting. It's a pull between earthly traits, so to speak, and then this heavenly, supernatural type of pull.
Those are the three things that I typically notice.
Danielle: All of those traits are really positive. And especially, I think, resilience is one that we're always trying to build in our kids, or me as a parent, anyway, I should speak for myself. But a lot of the kids in your book are having really hard times at home or going through very, very difficult life experiences, especially so young.
A lot of us who are raising neurodivergent kids, we know that they're going to have challenges just living in this culture. And so that resilient character is really something that, as parents, we're looking for. And also as educators, I assume that we're looking for, and we're also looking to build on.
So, building empathy and building resilience, they were such big touchstones for me in the book, because in a personal way, they're things that I highly value and I'm looking for as a parent to give to my kids.
The Martian at School
You said in the book that you have these Martian groups, social groups for the kids in your school who self-identify as Martian. They can come and talk to each other and get to know each other and share in the things that are distinct for them.
Having that kind of social support and building that resilience and those character strengths seems so valuable and like such a good idea. You don't need me to tell you that it was a great idea, because I know you've seen results, but it's such a good idea, always, to get kids involved with other kids who are like them.
A lot of parents and educators are scared to do that sometimes, to find those different groups.
Clif: It was so cute... our school model right now has been kind of all over the place with closings and this and that [due to the corona pandemic in the United States].
Well, last week we went back, and all of the kids who want to be in a building can come all together. And immediately, like the first thing, one of those kids in that group was like, "So like the group is starting back?" It's like, all right, they were just so excited.
And what's so interesting is that I'll watch them in the cafeteria and they don't hang with each other. They're all in their own little pods. They're all in their own little groups. But when they all come together [in the Martian group], there's this breath of fresh air for all of them. And they just talk.
I usually try to get them to, what we always call it is, "Embrace their weird." That's what we say.
Danielle: That's a great way to say it. My kids have been home for a full year basically. They were in online school for part of that, and now we're homeschooling, but so it's a little less near than when they were in public school and interacting with different types of brains all the time.
But we were always talking about how you don't have to be like everybody else, you just do you, you find your strengths, you do what you're good at, try to be respectful, try to be kind, but if you're my kid and your dad's kid, you're not going to be a normal person! But you can still find comradeship and other people that can come with you and go on this journey with you.
Neurodiversity Is A Gift
I'm looking at [my question], What can Martians offer of the world? That sounds really pretentious. What was I thinking when I wrote that?
Clif: Well, it was funny. I wrote the whole book. When I was finally done with it and I just wanted someone else to read it who had no connection to it. So I gave it to this teacher who's a 30 year veteran teacher: Here, read this!
She gave it back to me. She was like, "The content, I really got into it. I believe one of my daughters [is a Martian]. She was really [positive], but she said, "You may want to tone down..." She said it really felt like you were saying, "Here's the answer. Here's the social answer to all of a our societies."
So I really had to go back through, and you can even hear in some of the language in the book, I say, "I'm not saying..." When I directly say that, that's why, because of this awesome lady. I was like, "I'm not saying we're better. That is not what I'm saying."
Danielle: Well, I always think we need all different kinds of brains. If you just had, and it doesn't matter what kind of brain it is, if we just had one kind, we would all be dead! You need different kinds of problem-solvers different kinds of thinkers, but it does seem like there's something that this specific type of brain like the Martian brain can offer to the community, to like their social groups. When I was reading it, it seemed like their strength of character and their willingness to try new things and be a little different can be a huge boon to the community at large.
Clif: And that feeling of being able to take someone who is low or disconnected, and because [the Martian has] felt that for so long, they can just click with that individual, to bring them back up to equilibrium, or even higher, to infuse confidence in them.
A lot of the Martians that I talked to [have] that feeling of loneliness that comes with feeling this way. I always try to get them to see that our natural mind wants to focus on the feeling of loneliness. It's obviously not a great feeling, but I try to get them to understand that you use that you, [you use] what that feels like, so when you identify and recognize that in others, you know exactly what they need.
You know how to lift them up. That's like a super power. I mean, that's like something that you're able to do and in a school facility, I mean, that needs to be everywhere.
Danielle Yeah, there's so much competing for their attention in a school environment, even in a fantastic school. There's just so much pressure that's on these kids sometimes too, to interact socially, to get all their work done. It's a hard day. It's a long day, even for adults, I feel like.
For the Parents of Martians
The fact that kids are able to succeed in that environment is impressive to me, regardless of anything else. But especially towards, I think it was maybe your last chapter, or the second to last chapter, you had a specific chapter that I wanted to narrow in on briefly about if you're the parent of a Martian.
How do you know what's going on? What are some things you can do to help your kiddo cope with their difference? When you're feeling very lonely, you're feeling very low, you're not connecting with people, it can, it can feel like a very hard place to be in, especially for a young kid, middle school or so, what are some things that parents or other caretakers can do to help identify Martian kiddos and to talk to them about any differences they might notice? [How do we] start to bring them back up and start to help them identify all of their strengths and all the really cool things [about them?]
Clif: That's a great question. And honestly, that's the core of the book. That's the whole purpose. I even tell my students, "I've already grown up. I've already gone through all of that. There's no going back for me and going through that."
"But every time I get to hang out with you all, I do get to go in a time machine and I get to talk to myself." That is the heart of the book.
I typically will tell parents, if you start to see a lot of these traits, or as you're reading through the book and you're like, "Ah, I think this is my little one," and if they're elementary school age...
...and I say this as one who has tried different things with this whole Martian thing. Once we saw such good results at the middle school level, I started saying, "Okay, let's try elementary school. And then let's try high school. Let's try college age. So I've tried the things that I lay out in the book, like I've tried working in different environments with all these different ages...
...and with elementary school, the main thing is, is they're not going to be able to understand the language in this book. You as the parent, you as the caretaker, the guardian will see this in them, but they're not going to be able to understand it.
I have tried to articulate this to younger ages, and it's a little much. So what I typically tell parents is, foster confidence and impart grace, because what is in there, that beautiful world that is in them needs to get out right now.
It's just bouncing around like a bouncy ball inside of a closet. That's what it feels like to them on the inside. They don't know what that is, but that's going to cause anxiety. It's going to cause them to act out in in odd or strange ways. And they need confidence. They need that confidence instilled because eventually they can figure out how to let that bouncy ball out, so to speak, [to let] that beautiful world out.
And they they're going to need the confidence to step out and trust themselves as they get older. My fear or my worry for a younger Martian in that elementary school is that they will withdraw or they'll start to feel so nervous that they don't trust themselves.
They quit communicating. They quit trying to connect, because every time they've tried to connect, it fell through. They've not really seen the results that they hope to. So I'll tell parents to build that confidence.
One way to do that in a school setting, it would be to talk to the teacher and say, "Could you give my kid a job or a task inside the classroom that you know that they're good at? Is there a subject that they're good at that they could help the other kids?" And build that in there.
Then at home, setting up those social interactions with friends in a safe environment, in a safe setting, because the social part is going to be challenging enough.
I'm not saying, "Protect the kid at all [costs], don't let them like be challenged." The social setting will challenge them. The safe environment will allow them to try new things. I'm more likely to be myself at my house, or the location where gone with mom and dad all the time. I'm used to this setting. So I'm going to try new things and allow them.
Then, they're going to come at you with a hundred different questions and interests. I've seen so many parents say, "Whose child [are you?]", and they say it in jest, they say it laughing, "Where are these questions coming from? Go play, go play," is what they'll typically [say]. "Go be a kid, go be a kid."
Well, they are still a kid. This is just how their brain works. Indulge them, is what I would say. Indulge them, answer their questions, investigate them. Because again, if that gets shut off, [then] as they get older when they start to have actual opportunities to express themselves and to connect with what gives them energy, what makes them feel that purpose? You need them to feel that confidence, and that time you don't want them to shut it down.
I talk about the girl, Kaylee, in the book, how she had just shut down in middle school. She had just completely withdrawn. And just with that little spark of, "I think there's something actually amazing inside you, it just needs to get out." and then overnight, there's this transformation.
So in middle school, I think it's good to start talking to them about, "Hey, you're different. That's okay. Different does not mean broken, different doesn't mean that it needs to get fixed. You're different. Let's talk about that. Let's be open about the ways that you're different."
Let's start talking about, "Hey, I noticed when I go in the cafeteria now, we all used to play on the playground, but now So-and-So, won't talk to me. So-and-so only sits at this table. So-and-so only sits at that table."
Talk about those things. A Martian mind can handle those topics. They understand the social breakdown. They don't agree with it. That's how I typically try to get them to see that just because you accept it doesn't mean you agree with it. It doesn't mean you're cool with it, but it helps them understand that.
And in high school, I start to gear more towards purpose. Because the whole, "Don't you want to go grow up, get a job, get lots of money and have lots of things?" They're like, "Yeah, no." What's the significance in that? [Money's] not a motivating factor there. They're going to be like, "What's the point? How am I going to improve the world around me?"
So you start talking like that and then that conversation can really continue into adult adulthood as well.
Danielle: Yeah. That's really fantastic. Thank you. I have a question asker, and when he was younger, it was very jarring, but I do think that taking it seriously has built his confidence and has required me to learn a lot of new things about mountain, canyons and other geographic features!
Clif: Yeah, to be able to hang with him. And I'm sure he holds on to all of that, I bet.
Danielle: Yes. Yeah, absolutely remembers it, but it also builds the rapport. The parent-child relationship is important. Especially if he's going to have trouble making other social connections, I want him to at least feel like you can talk to me and answering the credit.
It sounds so basic, but just putting a +1 from my limited experience in two years, that it can really do so much at least for my family. So thank you.
Do you have any advice for, if the student isn't as lucky as to go to a school like yours with a counselor like you, is there a way that parents can help teachers get on board with a student who just needs more supports or is struggling because of some kind of difference?
Clif: It's good to have an ally within the school, to develop a relationship with the counselor. And in all honesty, I think a lot of times parents are hesitant to utilize a counselor, because it's synonymous with, "Something's wrong. Something's broken."
I have to reinforce that with this Martian group. I had one student who said, "You know, I keep coming in here, but I don't want you to fix me."
I said, "Good, because I have no interest in fixing you. I'm just here, so you can get what's in you out."
So you can talk through this but again, the main resource would be teachers. [Teachers] are always looking to make accommodations. Parents can know that teachers always want to teach all the children, all the different learning styles in the room.
So the biggest thing I would say is, utilize that student as a helper, and that can be one of the the strongest resources.
The other thing is, and I mean, this may be a large hope, but my goal would be that the parent would have this book would say, "Hey, read this." Or shoot me an email, my email's literally on the back cover of the book, because, the different publishers and the editors that helped put this together, they were all saying this book is the first step.
This is workshops, this is conversations. This is communities within schools. This is a conversation starter for something larger. I would say for the parent to take the book and utilize it. Take it to their counselor and say, "Have you thought about this?"
I feel like the book fairly well lays out a guideline to look what students fit this description in your school and to encourage those groups in the school.
Martian: A Non-Science Fiction Guide for How to Love, Raise, and Possibly Be Someone Not Quite Human by Clif Adkins is available to purchase on Amazon.com now.