43: The Importance of Neurodiversity | Corey Hollemeyer

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Corey Hollemeyer is an HR & Inclusion Consultant and mother of two beautiful girls. Her oldest is autistic and her youngest is likely autistic as well. Corey shares how everyone benefits when there is neurodiversity in our schools and workplaces.

  • “I would say that in that household, I was more of the adult than my parents were.” – Corey Hollemeyer
  • “We know our kids best and we are absolutely their best advocate, you know, until they can advocate for themselves or even as they’re doing it for themselves, we’re right there with them.” – Emily Melious
  • “Neurodiversity is actually a term that was coined by Judy Singer. And it actually just means that we’re all cognitively diverse. We all think in a unique way.” – Corey Hollemeyer
  • 0:38 – Growing up as a misfit
  • 3:58 – An artist for a daughter
  • 6:16 – Challenges of growing up autistic
  • 8:04 – Education reform
  • 14:02 – Autistic unemployment
  • 17:48 – What is neurodiversity
  • 20:25 – How to advocate for your child in the neuro-minority
View Full Transcript

Mothers of Misfits: Welcome to the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Join me for conversations about how to advocate for our kids in a one size fits all world. Be sure to subscribe so you never miss an episode.

[00:00:17] Emily Melious: Hey everyone, I’m so glad you’re back. Today, we’re talking with Corey Hollemeyer. She’s an HR and inclusion consultant. She’s also the mother of two beautiful daughters. One is diagnosed with autism and the younger one is likely autistic as well. Corey, thank you for coming on the podcast today.

[00:00:35]Corey Hollemeyer: Thank you so much for having me Emily.

[00:00:38]Emily Melious: So I want to start out and just dive right in to your personal story. You were bullied as a child and often felt like a misfit. Can you tell us more about that tough time in your life?

[00:00:51] Corey Hollemeyer: Sure. Well, my parents, my mother was actually an animal hoarder, so we had a lot of dogs living in the house. So I would come to school, as you can imagine, smelling like animals, and the kids would pick on me quite a bit for that. There was really nothing I could do about that. So I just had to live with it. And, you know, I really wish that a teacher would have stepped in and tried to do something but, you know that I have a teacher education and a lot of teachers, it seems like they don’t want to get involved in those sorts of situations. Because they’re sticky and it’s complicated and you know, but I really would have appreciated someone to help me.

[00:01:38]Emily Melious: How long did that go on for you?

[00:01:40]Corey Hollemeyer: Well, it started about fourth grade and it went on until I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 16.

[00:01:48]Emily Melious: Wow. Ugh yeah and that is especially hard. Like you said, it wasn’t even something that was in your control. And what did you do when you were 16?

[00:01:58]Corey Hollemeyer: Well, when I was 16 I just had had enough of the animal situation. You know, you can’t even imagine what it’s like to live in a house that has 60 dogs in the house with you. And, yeah, I just, I couldn’t take it anymore, and I was able to drive. I was working, I mean, just part-time but, and I was going to my high school.

[00:02:23] I mean, fortunately it was an all girls Catholic school, but they allowed me to continue without paying tuition. So anyway, I just, I moved out. I lived with one brother and then I lived with another, then my sister, and then I lived with another sister. So I moved like five times from the middle of my junior year until I moved away to college when I graduated high school.

[00:02:47]Emily Melious: Wow, Corey. I didn’t even know all the details prior to you to sharing that. That’s a really, really tough way and quickly to have to grow up.

[00:02:58]Corey Hollemeyer: Yeah, I would say that in the household, I was more of the adult than my parents were. You know, even like, for example, a situation where there was an emergency, my mom would always panic and I’d have to be the one who was calm and try to, you know, restore order to, as much order as you can restore to a household like that, you know?

[00:03:20] Emily Melious: Yeah.

[00:03:21]Corey Hollemeyer: And it was tough, you know, figuring out financial aid documents and applying for schools by myself and, I mean, fortunately I was an independent student, so I didn’t have to rely on getting my parents’ information since I wasn’t living with them, but it was still pretty difficult.

[00:03:38]Emily Melious: Yeah, and that’s a time in life where you’d like your parents to be able to support you. And again, you had to do it all on your own and forge your own path. So you’re a mom now, and I’m sure it’s just heartbreaking to think that your daughters could experience the same kind of bullying that you went through.

[00:03:58] As I mentioned, your older daughter is autistic. And I do want to talk about some of the future challenges she may face, but first I want to highlight her wonderful abilities. From what I see on your LinkedIn posts, I know she’s a brilliant artist. So can you tell us more about her talent?

[00:04:17]Corey Hollemeyer: Well, she, like you said, she is so creative and her teachers at preschool are always saying, she’s our best student. Whenever new materials come in, she like, makes a beeline for them. She wants to see what’s going on. You know, they say maybe she’s going to be a teacher someday. Yeah, she just, she’s amazing.

[00:04:37] And you know, the other night we were getting her to sleep and she said, we don’t really talk about religion because I want my children to formulate their own ideas around that. I want to give them the freedom that when they reach a certain age, they might have questions and then they can explore everything and find their own

[00:04:56]meaning, and find their own way. But it was really interesting, she said, you know what? I think that when people die, that they come back here and no one can recognize them. Just out of the blue. You know, just, she comes up with some really interesting ideas. You know, I’ve never talked about reincarnation with her, but it must be something that she’s thought about.

[00:05:19] So she really is a deep thinker, even if she doesn’t always express it, cause she’s very energetic and people would categorize that as hyperactive. But I think when she’s an adult, that’s gonna serve her well to have the energy. You know, she perseverates, which you know, means that she may kind of rest on an issue and it’s hard for her to move away from it.

[00:05:43] But I think that’s also a strength when you get older, because it means that she can be tenacious and stick with something until she finishes it. So some of these things that are challenging, I think they’re really strengths in the end, if she can learn how to balance them.

[00:05:59] Emily Melious: Oh, yeah. And I love that you see it as such because you’re teaching her to see them as strengths and talents and abilities. Whereas I know a lot of the labels and perceptions out there can be the opposite. You know, talking more about dis-abilities. And you shared with me that you never want her to feel like something’s wrong with her. You don’t want her to feel like she has to wear a mask to get through life, those are your words. What are the challenges that you see ahead of her?

[00:06:30]Corey Hollemeyer: The challenges I see ahead of her are that,  I don’t think she always understands why people are doing what they do. And I have to say, like, I can relate to that. I think anyone can.

[00:06:42]So I think it’s harder sometimes for her to understand, you know, social behavior. But also she doesn’t advocate always for herself, so I’m always telling her, this is not acceptable behavior. If someone does this, I want you to tell them to stop. I want you to tell the teacher, you know, those things are not allowed. So my biggest fear is really that I don’t want her to lose, or not have the ability to advocate for herself.

[00:07:12]Emily Melious: Right.

[00:07:13]Corey Hollemeyer: That’s my priority is that she’ll always feel that she’s worth something and that she deserves to be treated well.

[00:07:20]Emily Melious: Oh, that’s beautiful. Yes, yes! And I have no doubt, that will be the case because of exactly what you’re doing. But it is important, I think every child on some level, there’s some challenge to exactly what you just said. Knowing their worth, advocating for themselves. While every person’s challenges are different, there are still headwinds. And having our kids know their inherent value and that they can’t do anything to change that or jeopardize that is critical when they stand up against some of these things that we know they’re going to go through. Either, you know, personal challenges, societal issues, challenges in schooling. And actually on that note, you’re passionate about educational reform, particularly for autistic students. How can we better serve autistic students in the classroom?

[00:08:14]Corey Hollemeyer: Well, I think it actually needs to start by age two.  I would like to see that services are offered to children with any delays, like speech delay, any other type of developmental delays, sensory issues, have daycare and then preschool subsidized or offered for these children with the delays so that they can benefit from peer modeling. Because my daughter, when she was two, she was almost two and a half, but she was about two and four months. I had to go start my graduate school classes and I needed her to start in daycare of because I couldn’t do work and have her there. So, I didn’t know if she was going to adapt to the environment. You know, she was very afraid of the other children. When she first started, she wouldn’t eat. So I suggested let’s let her go to a table that’s, you know, at the back of the room by herself. I actually provided meals for her to eat because I knew what she would like. Eventually she was able to adapt to it and move up to the table with the other kids and start eating.

[00:09:24]I let her set her own timetable, you know, and being around other children has made her blossom. I mean, it just, it helped her so much to be able to interact with other kids, see what they’re doing. It helped bring her more into doing things and interacting with the world and even just, you know, being artistic.

[00:09:48]So I’d like to see that happen with other children, but a lot of parents are afraid to put their kids into daycare or preschool when they have these issues. So I would start there because that’s when it’s the easiest. But I’d like to see a lot more changes happening, you know, in the K through 12 area too, for all children, really.

[00:10:09] You know, there’s a very patriarchal mindset of, we know what’s best for your child more than you do as a parent, because we’re teachers and we’ve seen it all. But that’s not true. They don’t know your child because your child is unique. So you do know your child best, more than anyone else.

[00:10:31] And you should have a voice and a say in what’s happening with your child. You know, equal to or more than, you know, what a teacher thinks needs to happen. So that’s, I’d like to see more of that.

[00:10:43]Emily Melious: I’m so glad you said that because it is very intimidating. I’ve been in those meetings and had those conversations where you’re with educators. I’m sure, very well-intended, but you can feel so certain and passionate going into that meeting, and then you just feel yourself shrinking, right, and questioning yourself. Or am I crazy, or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about. But you’re right, and it’s worth reiterating. We know our kids best and we are absolutely their best advocate, you know, until they can advocate for themselves or even as they’re doing it for themselves, we’re right there with them. And it’s important to remember that and keep up that confidence as we go into those conversations that can be kind of tricky and intimidating. Corey, is there a lost opportunity to continue some of that social skills education throughout K through 12 and not just at the preschool and daycare level?

[00:11:44]Corey Hollemeyer: Yeah, I’d say there is not enough emphasis on the social skills and the, the speech ability. I mean, they do offer because they have to offer now the therapies onsite such as speech therapy. But there should be more focus on socializing and, you know helping, more explanation, actually working with the children.

[00:12:09]A lot of times, what you see happen is there’ll be a child and they have a paraprofessional who’s like hovering over them. And a lot of times the paraprofessional is actually doing everything for them, which is not what they’re there to do. What I think would be better, if your child needs extra help and a teacher isn’t going to be able to do that, have a paraprofessional available, but they don’t need to be right there with the child.

[00:12:35] It kind of makes a stigma for the child who’s there because, you know, other students are like, well why did they have someone there? And you know, the child is like an outcast then because they have this person with them. You know, maybe the child is behaving in ways that other kids don’t understand. And I think that also needs to be addressed. You know, we have HIPAA protection, so we can’t just come out and say, hey this student has, is autistic, or this student has ADHD. But we can say, you know what, tell the other children, people act differently, and this is how the student acts and we’re all going to be okay with that.

[00:13:18] Like teachers need to say that and set an example like, this is okay. And we don’t need to criticize them or think there’s something wrong. So there are a lot of lost opportunities focusing on teaching skills that aren’t necessarily going to help some of these kids get by independently in life when they’re older. And the goal on most IEPs is to get a job. You know, that’s their goal. And some of the things that they spend a lot of time working on are not going to help them get a job.

[00:13:53]Emily Melious: And the evidence of that is in a statistic that you shared with me that just blew me over. I was shocked. You said that 80 to 85% of autistic individuals are unemployed and that’s even with a college degree in some cases. So what is happening there? I didn’t realize how serious of a problem that is in adulthood.

[00:14:19]Corey Hollemeyer: There’s a lot of problems there and it starts with just applying for a job. The process, you know, just think of a neuro-typical person, what you have to go through to apply for a job and how stressful it is to look for a job.  You have some of these systems where you have to upload your resume and then you have to type everything in.

[00:14:40] You know, that can be very frustrating for someone who has a low tolerance for that type of, you know, thing that seems unnecessary, but you have to do it, I guess.  So there’s that, they may not, well let’s say once they get an interview, there’s a lot of challenges there for autistic people because, you know, they may disclose, or they may not disclose because you disclosed before an interview, then, you know, all of a sudden maybe the interview is canceled and the job’s not available anymore.

[00:15:14]So, but if you don’t disclose, then perhaps the person has trouble making eye contact or, they’re kind of like fidgeting around a lot, like, you know, with their hands opening and closing, or maybe they wore something that you wouldn’t expect for an interview, but it’s, they have sensory issues so that’s very comfortable for them to wear what they’re wearing. So there’s a lot of issues and, some of the questions can be very difficult for them to understand. You know, a person who maybe takes things literally or, if there’s a question like, what would you do if this happened? Like that’s too open-ended for some autistic people.

[00:15:54]I don’t understand exactly what’s being asked all the time. So I’d say our traditional interview process is not really beneficial for certain types of people. And I think it’s not even really necessarily a good process for all of us. 

[00:16:12] Emily Melious: So for those companies that are interested in being more inclusive and recognize the issues that you’re pointing out, but just don’t even know where to start, what are some small steps, baby steps that we can do as a society, and particularly as company leaders, to make this a better process overall for all individuals?

[00:16:36] Corey Hollemeyer: Well, I think it actually has to start with creating a culture of psychological safety for all employees. Because then people are free to say what they think without repercussions. You know, a person can offer feedback without hearing that they’re going to lose their job, for example. Or just, they feel that they can be themselves at work.

[00:17:00] Like they can bring all of their identities. A person can be, you know, autistic, they can be a lesbian, they can be a person of color, they, whatever they are, they feel like they can actually be who they identify with at the workplace. So that’s the first thing that needs to happen because, you know, even if we change the application and the interview process, a lot of autistic people, when they get into the job, it’s not an environment that’s welcoming, you know?

[00:17:33] And that’s, I think you can, it’s fair to say that that’s true for a lot of people who are marginalized. So if you don’t have a good culture and it’s not, you don’t feel safe there, I think that’s where a company needs to start.

[00:17:46Emily Melious: So on this exact topic, you’re an advocate for neurodiversity. And I think that might be an unfamiliar term for some listeners. I know I’ve been seeing it a lot more though. Can you explain that concept? And, you know, just to piggyback on the conversation we’ve been having so far, why it really is so important and how we all benefit when we have neurodiversity, particularly in the workplace.

[00:18:16]Corey Hollemeyer: Well, neurodiversity is actually a term that was coined by Judy Singer. And it actually just means that we’re all cognitively diverse. We all think in a unique way. You know, no two brains are the same. It’s kind of evolved over time to be more specific to focus more on what’s called neuro minorities, or neurodivergent people which would include things like, we said autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dysgraphia, other learning differences. So that’s what it’s kind of evolved into, but originally the idea, and it’s still true, you know, is the idea that we’re all cognitively diverse.

[00:19:05] Emily Melious: And why is it so important to have all these different ways of thinking represented, again, especially in the work environment?

[00:19:15]Corey Hollemeyer: Well, the statistics show that all employees are happier and more engaged when there is diversity in the company. So you’ll see that there’s a lot of arguments made why it’s good. And some of them are true, but there is some concern that it could be exploitative of some of these individuals. But anyway, what it comes down to is that it is better for everyone’s experience in the organization, and it brings a lot of innovation because you have people who think differently. And when you have people who think differently, they help other people to come up with ideas too.

[00:19:57]Emily Melious: And they’re more representative of the end users, or the clients, of that organization because that’s a neurodiverse group as well. So, you know, it’s good for everybody and I’m glad that there’s a greater awareness around that. Not just for it being the right thing to do, but it just so happens to be good for business too.

[00:20:21]And it’s great when we can have a win-win in that way. So Corey, I want to bring this back around full circle and to the parents who are listening that have kids that are in the neuro minority, what are the key things that you would advise them to do to best advocate for their child through education and then ultimately as they’re looking ahead to equipping them for a career?

[00:20:47]Corey Hollemeyer: I would definitely tell them to teach their children how to advocate for themselves. You know, it will kind of evolve as the child gets older. But with the young children, you know, to tell them they have to tell the other children to stop what they’re doing. They need to tell a teacher.

[00:21:06]I have had to tell the teacher that I don’t want my daughter around a certain child at the preschool because he has bullied her on a couple occasions. And it’s just to the point where I don’t want them interacting at all. I need them to make sure that they are separated. So I would say, you know, if your child isn’t able to say it, then you need to say it for them.

[00:21:32]Maybe I’m a little bit overly cautious, but I ask almost every day, how was school today? Was everyone nice to you? Did you have a good time? What did you learn? You know, we go through some questions and if anything sounds wrong, then I will contact the teacher to ask about it. So I would say that, and I would also say that even though teachers are trained, you know, they’re educators, it doesn’t mean that they know everything.

[00:22:04] And I went through teacher training and you only have to take one psychology class, at least from my training that I did, but I don’t think other people necessarily had to take that one because mine was a pre-K through 12 certificate. So that was a little bit different. So you have people who are experts, you know, per se, on their subject that they specialize in, but that doesn’t mean that they’re all child psychologists. And when it comes down to again, they don’t know your child as well as you do. So I would say don’t ever let people intimidate you and belittle your ideas about how you want things handled for your child. I think that’s the most important thing. Just because they’re teachers and you may have a whole panel of people in front of you, you know, and it feels like they’ve got all this power because they’re all there. They’re all part of a group. You’re the outsider. But it doesn’t matter, because you are part of the IEP team. So you’re a very important part of it. And don’t be afraid to say what needs to be said and to say what you want so that your child gets what they need.

[00:23:15]Emily Melious: Excellent advice. Corey, if folks want to stay in touch and maybe see a little bit of your daughter’s artwork that pops up occasionally on LinkedIn, how do they do that?

[00:23:28]Corey Hollemeyer: The best way would just be to connect with me on LinkedIn.  

[00:23:31] Emily Melious: So I hope everyone takes advantage of Corey’s offer and go ahead and connect with her on LinkedIn and keep up with what she’s doing cause she really is doing incredible work and it’s going to impact us all positively. Corey, thanks again for coming on, sharing your personal story, sharing about your family, and then the, like I said, the good work that you are doing in the neurodiversity space.

[00:23:54]Corey Hollemeyer: Thank you. I appreciate being here.


Emily Melious

Emily Melious

Talent Management Consultant | Career Coach | Podcast Host

Corey Hollemeyer

Corey Hollemeyer

HR & Inclusion Consultant, Grit & Flow


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