In this Episode
“Am I really alone out there in the world? Am I the only mom who feels this way?”
Being the mom of a neurodiverse child can be difficult and lonely.
In this episode of the LD Expert Podcast, Jill Stowell is talking to Megan Champion, mother of a neurodiverse child, host of the "On The Hard Days" podcast, and founder of "Mothers Together."
Megan shares her story, and she has some important messages to share with other mothers.
In this week's episode, you'll learn:
- As a parent of a neurodiverse child, you are not alone
- Mothers Together - a community for moms of neurodivergent kids
- Children do well when they can, so if they are not doing well, there is a reason
"It’s rare that I meet a mom who is raising a neurodivergent child who is not struggling."
Megan Champion - Host of the "On The Hard Days" Podcast and Founder of Mothers Together
- On The Hard Days Podcast
- Mothers Together - a community for moms of neurodivergent kids that understands the unique challenges you face and provides a supportive space to help you through feelings of loneliness, guilt, shame, and doubt.
- Instagram: @on.the.hard.days
SHOW RESOURCES AND REFERENCES
LD Expert Podcast - Episode #63
Dear Moms of Neurodiverse Learners... - Megan Champion
Jill Stowell: Happy Mother’s Day, moms! You probably don’t feel like a hero on almost any day but you actually are a superhero every day. To celebrate that, we have a very special show for you. Welcome to the LD Expert Podcast, your place for answers and solutions for dyslexia and learning differences.
Jill Stowell: Being a mom is the most amazing journey. It’s kind of like a roller coaster with highs and lows and terror and exhilaration all thrown in and you’re the one who has to make sure that everybody makes it through without too many bumps or bruises, so they can live their best life. You do that.
If you’re the mom of a neurodiverse learner, you may feel very much alone in your journey. Our guest today knows exactly what you’re going through because she is right there with you. You will laugh and cry with her as you realize that you are not alone. It’s not your fault and it’s OK to feel whatever you feel on the hard days.
I’m your host Jill Stowell, Founder and Executive Director of Stowell Learning Centers and author of Take the Stone Out of the Shoe: A Must-Have Guide to Understanding, Supporting and Correcting Dyslexia, Learning and Attention Challenges.
Our guest today is Megan Champion, a mom, a classroom teacher, the host of the On The Hard Days podcast and founder of Mothers Together. Welcome Megan.
Megan Champion: Hi.
Jill Stowell: I’m just so honored to have you with us.
Megan Champion: Thank you so much for having me. That was such a nice introduction. I really appreciate it.
Jill Stowell: I know you have a huge following. But for those in our audience who don’t know you, I would love to start with your story.
Megan Champion: Yeah, of course. So I am a 15- year elementary educator. I taught 11 years of fifth grade and 4 years of sixth grade in elementary setting and I absolutely loved that work. It’s very, very challenging but I have always found myself to be someone who works well with children, especially children who might struggle in the classroom due to behavior, academic challenges, emotional and mental health, whatever.
So I thought that my motherhood journey would be smooth because I was a pretty good teacher and I felt like I would be able to do this. So I am a mother of three. I have nine-year-old twins and a six-year-old and one of my twins, my oldest son is a neurodivergent child. He has ADHD, anxiety. He is gifted, so he’s twice exceptional. He has some sensory processing issues, some OCD tendencies.
It is a full list and when he was little, it became very clear very quickly that I had no idea what I was doing and that his challenges were out of my comfort zone, out of my league and I had no idea how to help him. What came from that were very hard feelings of anxiety and depression for me, doubt in myself, guilt, feeling like – you know, I thought I was meant to be a mom. I thought I was going to be good at this. I thought I knew what I was doing. Clearly I do not and that began my journey of not only working on myself and how to support my child but feeling like, “Am I really alone out there in the world? Am I the only mom who feels this way?” and everything that I have done since has been sort of an extension of that. But that’s where it all started.
Jill Stowell: You touched on some really hard things there when you realize that your experience is different than what you expected or what you think all your friends are having with their kids. I’m sure it feels like there’s nobody you really can talk to. I mean who’s going to understand? And then you talked about that self-doubt. Like maybe you’re doing something wrong or maybe you weren’t really equipped for this anyway.
Just I think that’s something that so many moms – I think moms experience that anyway and then when you have a neurodivergent child and it’s so different than what all the baby books say it’s going to be like. What was that like for you? Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Megan Champion: Yeah. It was very hard, very hard and very lonely. It wasn’t just that my child had these differences that he was struggling with but they were affecting everyone in the house. I have three children. We have dogs. Especially when he was younger but the massive meltdowns, the screaming, the aggression. Coming from a peaceful home where we show love and affection and my child is hitting and kicking and destroying his sister’s crafts on purpose because he wants her to feel pain. While that’s normal for toddlers to an extent, this continued out of toddlerhood. It continued out of the preschool years and it’s like this can’t be right.
When everyone in the house is walking on eggshells, when is he going to explode next, what is going to set him off, everybody be careful, not to say the wrong thing or to have a noise. If a dog barks in the background, oh my goodness, we were done for, for a while. Those loud noises. That just meeting his needs every minute of the day seemed impossible and again for someone who has worked with children my entire life and being a babysitter when I was a teenager and all of that, it felt like a direct blow to my ego and just my self-worth that I could not take care of my own child.
I could not raise him to be happy and healthy and therefore this was on me. This was my fault. There was something wrong with me as a mother because what kind of a person can’t raise a child to be happy and healthy.
So I really internalized all of those really hard feelings and I carried that with me in silence for a long time actually because I didn’t know anybody who had a kid like mine. So I couldn’t reach out.
Jill Stowell: How did you make some kind of a connection or did you with someone that understood?
Megan Champion: Well, I didn’t for a long time. I have always liked to write and I realized that I absolutely have to get my thoughts out of my head. I’m going crazy, going absolutely crazy in my head and I did some blogging. No one was reading it but it felt pretty therapeutic just to sort of start to write it all out.
That continued on and off for years but mostly no, I kept quiet and I said nothing. Then in, let’s see, January of 2021, so two years ago, my husband said to me one day because I kept saying, “Gosh, I have more to say, I have more to say. Like there’s so much in my head,” and he said, “Why don’t you start a podcast?” and my first reaction was, “Who listens to podcasts? Why would you want to listen to talking when you could listen to music?”
Obviously I was so wrong and that was quite funny but he suggested it and I sat on that and I eventually thought, “You know what, why don’t I try talking instead of just writing?” At the same time I started my Instagram. Again, no followers. My mom and I just started sharing just a little bit, just a little bit, just a little bit.
Somehow algorithms in social media work in strange ways and a mom here or there would message me and say, “This sounds a lot like my son.” I would say, “What? No, come on. You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve never, never met anybody with a kid like mine.”
So that was just the beginning. But it really kicked into gear when I really got going with the podcast, which eventually started taking on some listeners and has grown from there and that was the beginning of a completely eye-opening experience and a life-changer for me as a mother.
Jill Stowell: Do you feel like the biggest piece of that for you was just starting to recognize that you aren’t the only one? Maybe that lifts some of the guilt or …
Megan Champion: Yeah, absolutely. It does because when you find moms who are going through what you are going through, you eventually get to this place where you go, “Wait a minute, wait a minute. If I think that my child is struggling and it’s all my fault and you think your child is struggling and it’s all your fault and she thinks her child is struggling and it’s all her fault, this can’t be. It’s none of our faults. It’s nobody’s fault. It’s not our children’s fault of course. But it’s also not our fault.”
I think I’m doing the best I can and it was easy to say to another mom, “You’re doing the best you can,” and she would say that back to me. OK. Well then, we all are doing the best we can and that power of connection and community ends up in the long run taking away those really tough feelings of guilt and doubt and shame and all of that. It comes down to we can’t all be doing this wrong. There’s no way. So that was how that started.
Jill Stowell: Yeah, yeah. You know, on your Instagram, you have a series that I love called “What Moms of Neurodivergent Kids Wish They Could Say Out Loud”. What are some of those things?
Megan Champion: Oh my gosh. There are so many, so many. I had about 96 reels going for the series and I reached out to my audience and I said, “I need like 4 more, guys. I want to get to 100,” and I got 300 more. I don’t think I’m going to quite go to that amount. There was some overlap but the amount of people who still have so much to say and it’s not being talked about was so inspiring.
The things that moms are saying are so relatable to what I have felt and what so many other moms have said that they felt too and some dads in some cases as well. Things like I don’t feel like I’m doing a good enough job or I am so exhausted by the end of the day that I can’t take care of myself or I feel guilty because my other children’s needs are not being met.
It goes on and on and on covering every piece of our mental health as mothers. It’s what we feel, what we are struggling with. I am so tired of you saying, “Well maybe you should just …” or “Have you ever tried …?” and those things that sound so dismissive. Things like that and so this is a conversation that the world is not having and I realized that. I think there are bits and pieces of course but as a general rule, it’s rare that I meet a mom who is raising a neurodivergent child who is not struggling. Very rare, very rare.
So if there are so many of us who are exhausted mentally, physically, overwhelmed just by the weight of the needs of our children every day, the motherhood load in general which you referred to before I think is absolutely – any mom can relate to that.
But there’s this extra piece because instead of shuttling your child to baseball and ballet, it’s therapy after therapy and doctors’ offices and paperwork and IEP meetings and 504s and advocating endlessly and the balance of don’t come on too strong but don’t be too weak. It’s exhausting and this is a conversation that the world is not having.
So I am very excited and hoping that the more I talk about it, the more other moms feel brave to come forward and talk about it and the more that we can bring this to the attention of everyone, to just say, “Hey, just so we all know, this is a thing that moms are struggling and we need to talk about that.”
Jill Stowell: Absolutely and I was thinking about how misunderstood parents feel when they go to the schools and try to get help for their kids and also when they’re trying to get a diagnosis. A lot of times they’re so misunderstood and we come away thinking, OK, I must be crazy because nobody is validating what I’m saying here but I know I’m seeing this.
Megan Champion: Yes, yes. It’s funny that you mentioned that. I just did a reel yesterday. What number was it? One twenty-three and it was exactly that. How stressful and exhausting it is to go through the evaluation process.
In some cases, some of our children, like my own child masks at school, masks outside of the home. So you have this evaluation coming up and it’s a year in the making. What if they get sick that day? What if they go but they are not on their game and the psychologist can’t see what they need to see? What happens if, in some cases my child, what if they mask the whole time? They’re great one on one and everything is fine and I don’t know what the problem is and then you go home and there are meltdowns and there’s aggression and there’s screaming.
You think, “Am I crazy? Am I exaggerating? Am I the only one who sees this?” Just the stress of that process. So it was just funny that you mentioned that. It really is stressful.
Jill Stowell: Yeah. And so speaking of meltdowns and things like that, let’s talk a little bit about behavior. There’s a lot of judgment around a misbehaving child especially when they’re having a meltdown or a tantrum in public. Having lived this, what is your perspective? What have you learned?
Megan Champion: Such a shift of course. I mean I think I’ve heard a quote at some point about everyone is the best parent before they have kids. So of course I was judgmental in the past in my head thinking, “Why would you give your child a tablet in the grocery store? They should be helping you get the groceries off the shelf.” In a restaurant, like who brings phones to a restaurant?
I don’t know where I came up with these thoughts that there was a certain way that children needed to be raised to be socially and societally acceptable. But that wall needs to be broken down and when it comes to behaviors, tough behaviors, I absolutely love the quote that “All children do well when they can.”
So if they are not doing well, they can’t. So looking at that in a new light, if my child is absolutely losing his mind over whatever the issue is, what is the root cause? It seems like it’s because I handed him the red plate instead of the blue plate and it seems very strange to react – 45 minutes of screaming just because of a plate seems crazy. But let’s back that up.
If he is doing well when he can, then what’s the problem? Well, lunch was 45 minutes late for whatever reason and he’s starving and he really does struggle when he’s hungry. He has got to eat on time and last night there were fireworks shooting off in the neighborhood. So he ended up not being able to fall asleep and he’s anxious about when the next boom was going to come. So now he’s exhausted or something happened with a friend at school, a miscommunication about a social issue and he’s struggling with that.
So whatever those root causes are, we as parents need to first remove some of those unrealistic expectations not just for our kids but for ourselves as well and then say, “OK. Well, where is this coming from and how can I help my child? In helping my child, how can he or she help me?”
That’s really what I talk about most in making sure that the moms especially feel, yes, I can get up in the morning. Yes, I can do this another day. I am strong. I am meant to be my child’s mother. I am the best mother for my child. That takes a shift in your mindset.
Jill Stowell: Megan, that is such important advice for moms. We have been working with the Think Kids organization with collaborative problem solving and their philosophy is exactly what you said. Kids do well when they can.
When students struggle with behavior or learning or socially, there are underlying skills that are not in place or not serving them well enough. So the problem is a skills problem. Not a lack of motivation or a bad kid or a bad mom. It’s a matter of can’t. It is a matter of can’t, not won’t.
The encouraging thing is that the brain has neuroplasticity. It can change so the weak, underlying skills can be identified and developed and I just want to be sure and say this because there is a lot of hope in that understanding. Looking at kids and ourselves that way changes our perspective. We’re all doing the best that we can and we’re all a work in progress.
Megan Champion: Absolutely. I agree. I think that is such an important thing to remember and to repeat in your head. Of course the hard part is that even if you’re telling yourself, “I’m doing the best I can, I’m doing the best I can,” if no one else is validating that, it still has that lonely feeling. But at least that’s a great start. You’ve got to have that to start for sure.
Jill Stowell: As a mom, it sometimes feels just too vulnerable to really talk about your struggles with your kids and you feel like I can just do this. I can go it alone. But that’s really a dangerous thing to tell ourselves and I know you created Mothers Together to help moms get the connection that they need. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Megan Champion: Yeah, absolutely. So Mothers Together came out of a need that of course I had for – honestly for friendship. I had my podcast going by now and I had connected with moms through Instagram by now and I was bringing them on the podcast to share their stories. That was going great but what I found was that as we were ending our recording, I wouldn’t want to hang up and I would want to say, you know, “Can I have your number? Can we be friends? This was so great.”
Just the relief and being able to connect like that for 45 minutes. So as this happened a couple of times, it was like, “Wait a minute. What if there was a community that I could join specifically for moms who are struggling in the way that I am struggling?” Not so much advice on how to with our children although there’s nothing wrong with that, but something that would make me feel better about myself as a mother.
So I searched and I searched and I searched. I came up absolutely empty-handed. So it became this realization that there is a massive need for community in this area. So I started Mothers Together in August of 2021. It has completely changed my life and essentially what happens is that I personally match moms when they join with other moms who are going through a similar experience. They may have a lot of commonalities in place whether it’s location or age of their child or certain diagnoses or challenges. There are many, many ways to group these moms but at the end of the day, it is putting moms together in a small group called a “pod squad” and it’s not like you meet once a week and you have to go sit around in chairs and it’s not that sort of formal support group because that’s uncomfortable for a lot of moms, especially introverted, highly sensitive moms like myself.
So instead, we actually are using mainly the Marco Polo video messaging app and essentially you’re leaving messages for the people in your pod squad but it is video-based. So we hear each other’s tones of voices. We are with each other when someone is having a really tough morning and crying in the car on her way to work and sharing what’s going on or hiding in the bathroom and a million other things. But Mothers Together is a way to allow moms to find their people and really connect with them on a very deep and personal level.
Jill Stowell: Wow, that’s amazing and such a gift to moms who feel very, very alone out there.
Megan Champion: Thank you.
Jill Stowell: So what would you say is the biggest thing that you have learned as the mom of a neurodiverse learner?
Megan Champion: That is such a good question. The biggest thing that I have learned as the mom of a neurodivergent learner is that I am the best mother for my child and I really mean internalizing that.
Nobody else knows my child better than I do.
Nobody else has this ability, this gift that we have all been given to be our children’s mother or caretaker.
Knowing that, learning to trust your gut, trust your instincts and allow yourself to share what’s on your mind, whether it’s hard or not, is going to be the key to showing up for your child and showing up for yourself.
So keeping it all in just means that all of those feelings are festering. When that happens, you can’t feel like you are the best mother for your child. It’s not going to happen.
But if you start to share in some way or to connect with even just one mom, that will start to lighten the load and you will be a more patient mother. You will be able to think more critically and creatively about what your child needs and also advocate for yourself and what you need.
So it’s a mental health shift and can vastly improve the relationship you have with others and yourself. But it comes down to connection and community.
Jill Stowell: Thank you so much for that. I just appreciate your heart and your mission so much and your transparency is such a gift to other moms.
Megan Champion: Thank you so much.
Jill Stowell: How can people find On The Hard Days and Mothers Together?
Megan Champion: So Mothers Together can be found at my website which is OnTheHardDays.com. You can also go to Mothers-Together.com and my podcast On The Hard Days is on Apple Podcast. It’s on Spotify. It’s anywhere that you can find podcasts and finally you can find me on Instagram at “on.the.hard.days” and I welcome you to reach out, to DM, to leave a message and we can’t do this alone and so if you are feeling brave, please say hello. I’m in it too with you. We’re all in this together. So it’s all about that community piece.
Jill Stowell: Absolutely and we will put that information in the show notes. This has been such an empowering conversation. I hope everyone listening or watching will pass this episode along to another mom who needs the validation and the connection. Thank you so much Megan and Happy Mother’s Day.
Megan Champion: Thank you so much. Happy Mother’s Day to you as well.
Jill Stowell: Next week, Alex Doman, co-founder of Advanced Brain Technologies will be with us to talk about a new brain training technology to help teens and adults reduce stress and anxiety and increase focus and productivity. We are really, really excited about this. Be sure to subscribe to our channels so you don’t miss out.
At Stowell Learning Centers, we help children and adults eliminate struggles associated with dyslexia and learning differences. We want to make this journey easier for you. Connect with us on social media and on our website StowellCenter.com for information and free resources.
The struggles associated with dyslexia and learning differences can be eliminated. Help us get the word out by leaving a five-star review wherever you’re listening or watching. Let’s change the narrative together.
- Episode 72 – Part 1: Advocating for Your Child with Confidence – Julie Cole, Jolee Hibbard, Alexa Chilcutt
- Episode 71: Ronnie Gardiner Method® for Building Social Connection, Executive Function & Attention – Jill Stowell
- Episode 70: The IEP – What Parents Need to Know – Dina Kaplan
- Episode 69: Embracing Differences and Building Social Emotional Health – Suzanne McClure
- Episode 68: Executive Function Tips for Parents, Teachers, and Students + T.E.F.O.S. – Part 2 – Seth Perler
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