Ashley was diagnosed with ADHD soon after her daughter was diagnosed with autism. After receiving conflicting advice from doctors, Ashley talks about her decision to trust her instincts as a parent and tune into her family’s unique needs.
- “For many years, I was sort of told that it was anxiety and I shouldn’t even say sort of told, that’s how it was interpreted and explained to me that what I was going through was anxiety. And it was after, gosh, seven years, I finally thought, you know what? I think that there’s something more to this.” – Ashley Farrar
- “I realized how much I was pretending in this world. I was walking through the world, trying to be who the world wanted me to be, to fit into the box that was expected of me and observing the way she walked through the world. I started realizing I have no idea even who I am.” – Ashley Farrar
- “I for a long time, through maybe I was just not designed to be a mom.” – Ashley Farrar
- “I relied so much on professional opinions when not all the professionals took the time to really understand what our family needs were.” – Ashley Farrar
- 0:53 – A diagnosis for Ashley and her daughter
- 2:43 – A journey of re-connection
- 4:45 – Why seeking professional help might not always be the best path
- 6:20 – Advice for moms
- 13:35 – The difference between girls and boys with ADHD
- 21:09 – Advice for parents who are operating in the constant stress and overwhelm mode
[00:00:00] 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 there. Welcome back to another amazing episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. We’re joined by Ashley Farrar today. She’s the mom of three kids, including one who is autistic. Through her parenting journey, the unexpected loss of her parents and the discovery of her ADHD, she learned the importance of self connection.
[00:00:38] She uses this awareness in her work as a movement professional creating space for her clients to show up as their true selves. Ashley, thanks so much for coming on today.
[00:00:48]Ashley Farrar: Oh, I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
[00:00:53] Emily Melious: Yeah, so let’s just jump right in and I’d really love for you to share your experience of what you thought was getting a diagnosis just for your daughter, but in so doing, you received a really important diagnosis for yourself. So share with us how all of that unfolded.
[00:01:12] Ashley Farrar: Yeah. So, it was a long process in some ways, but it looking back feels really short. When my daughter was initially born, like right from the get go, she was a very tense little baby and had a lot of colic. And so right from the get-go we were trying to figure out what can we do to help her? How can we sooth her better? How can we help her feel more comfortable? And that was sort of the start of the process of getting her diagnosis. And she was diagnosed just before she turned three as autistic.
[00:01:46] And as part of learning how to be a, I don’t know if I should say better parent, but learning how to parent her in the way she needed me to parent, I started joining lots of groups of autistic adults listening to their experiences and how they experience the world and the things that they recommend to parents of autistic kids. And I recognized so much of myself in what they were sharing.
[00:02:14] For many years, I was sort of told that it was anxiety and I shouldn’t even say sort of told that’s how it was interpreted and explained to me that what I was going through was anxiety.
[00:02:25] And it was after, gosh, seven years, I finally thought, you know what? I think that there’s something more to this. And I finally decided to book my own assessment and I had them test me both for to see if I was autistic and for ADHD. And I got an ADHD diagnosis.
[00:02:43] Emily Melious: It really struck me when we spoke prior to today that you described your life as feeling in constant stress and overwhelm. And as you were moving through this process, both for yourself and your daughter, you commented to me that you couldn’t connect to your daughter when you were just connected to yourself.
[00:03:06] Throughout this journey of figuring all of this out and sorting out the pieces. How did you reconnect with yourself through that?
[00:03:15] Ashley Farrar: So I would say the biggest thing that jumped out at me in parenting my daughter was that I realized how much I was pretending in the world. I was walking through the world, trying to be who the world wanted me to be, to fit into the box that was expected of me and observing the way she walked through the world, which was so true to her, I started realizing like, I have no idea even who I am and, for many years I thought that constant overall my question and asked, like, how is it that all these other parents have kids? And I’m not saying it’s easy for them, but they seem to find their groove. And I, for a long time thought, maybe I was just not designed to be a mom. And that was really painful. And through that, I started realizing I like, I have no idea who I am.
[00:04:05] I don’t know. I don’t even know what I want or need, I don’t know how to respond to my own body when it’s signaling things to me.
[00:04:14] And so I’ve tried tons of things to reconnect and had some good success with it. And I honestly have to say, I have to thank my daughter for that because she has modeled it so well for me, that it’s okay to just be who you are and when you acknowledge who you are and what you need, everything else gets so much easier, in my experience anyways.
[00:04:35] Emily Melious: It’s so neat when our kids are the ones teaching us the lessons instead of the other way around.
[00:04:41] Ashley Farrar: Yeah,
[00:04:43] Emily Melious: exactly. And you, when you first got this diagnosis for your daughter, you said you did what I think a lot of parents do, which is you start seeking out any and all help you, know you consulted you consulted with many different professionals. and Different services. But in hindsight you say you wish you’d, hadn’t done that. Why is that?
[00:05:06] Ashley Farrar: So, especially I think when she was young and I was feeling really insecure about my ability to parent her and nothing, I felt like, because I wasn’t connected to myself as I said, I felt like I couldn’t connect to her. And I felt like I couldn’t figure out how to get our family functioning in a way that worked for all of us. I relied so much on professional opinions when I, not all the professionals took the time to really understand what our family needs were.
[00:05:34] And so I ended up following a lot of advice that felt really gross to me, to be honest. And now there are choices that I would never make. But I was in a place where I wasn’t confident in what I knew or who I was or how I wanted our family to be. And so I felt pressured into accepting their expertise over my own experience.
[00:06:00] Emily Melious: Gosh, so many moms do that. You know, I’m thinking of. My own situation where I talk myself out of my gut feeling and it almost always goes wrong, you know? And you know what advice for that mom who is listening and saying, yeah. Wow. I feel like I’m in that right now. What would you tell that mom?
[00:06:20] Ashley Farrar: My biggest thing now, looking back is that everything is changeable and I don’t want to use the word fixable, but in some ways not, everything’s a faze everything can change and will change. And so this pressure to fix certain problems that, whether it’s professionals or peers are sort of modeling for you, if it’s working in your family and it’s not something you need to change yet, keep doing what you’re doing. And eventually you’ll find that point where you’re ready for that change, or maybe not ever. And, for so many things like sleep or feeding babies and all of these things that I
[00:06:59] believed that I had to be scheduled and strict and I had to really, you know, enforce the way we wanted it. And now I look back and think what I really wanted was a sense of calm in our house, I wanted to enjoy our time together. And I didn’t really need for her to go to sleep at the time I arbitrarily picked. so
[00:07:25] Emily Melious: that’s a good point. Sometimes we create these expectations for ourselves that just put us into further stress. But, you know, if we, if we step back and look at things a bit differently and are willing to have a more open perspective, I have to question that in myself all the time now, even. Just in little things like how my kids clean their room or when and how they do homework and something.
[00:07:50] I have to retell myself. and also I coach my clients on doing is get really, clear on the result, but don’t force fit how we get there. So sleep, for example, we actually had a really great
[00:08:05] guest on the podcast a couple of weeks ago, and she talked about sleep training. And it’s really about moving the goalpost from you need to be in bed eyes, closed lights off 7:30 PM to you need a full night’s rest. And you know, the ladder is really what we’re all trying to get to. that’s the goal. And sometimes we just get hung up on these quote unquote best practices that might really work well for some kids. But if it doesn’t work well for our kid, we can lose sight of what’s really important, which is just that they’re getting a good night’s rest. and that’s coming from a mom of a little guy who always was a night owl and not necessarily a long time sleeper. So I really understand that.
[00:08:49] Ashley Farrar: Yeah. It’s so funny to me with my youngest, who is four right now, and my oldest, who is nine to look even at dinnertime, we had professionals who created all these rules for us about how to get our oldest sitting at the dinner table and not getting up and all of these things and my youngest who does the same things, he gets up from the table. He, you know, and now we address it in a, okay, we want our meal to be functional. And so for some of us, it’s really overwhelming when everyone’s getting up and running around and people are talking and we also want meal time to be enjoyable. I don’t want it to be a time where I’m trying to be, you know, the gatekeeper of who can do what and how we can do it. And so now we sit down as a family and we talk about, okay, so some of us are feeling overwhelmed about this.
[00:09:40] Some of us are having a hard time sitting. What is a way that we can find a solution that works for all of us. And I won’t say it’s a perfect solution. We don’t come up with the thing and everything changes. But it becomes something that everyone is wanting to do and is participating in. And it brings us closer as opposed to this, like battle of wills where I’ve decided that we’re going to do this thing. And you’re all sort of just along for the ride. And yeah. And so trusting sort of myself back then, I wish I’d trust myself more to say, you know what? I don’t mind. It doesn’t matter if you get up from the table and down, let’s figure out what the actual problem is with this thing happening, and let’s zero in on that. Instead of the focus being on how many times we get up or down.
[00:10:28] Emily Melious: And you moved it into the problem, solving space. You as a family are problem solving on the same team and you’re teaching your kids to advocate for themselves, but also being mindful of other people’s needs because that’s the, thats there in lies, the rub, right. It’s where my needs and freedoms meet up against your needs and freedoms.
[00:10:50] The earlier we can have our kids really understand how to hold both of those things in balance the better, but it really starts with their own self-awareness, their own respectful expression of needs. And I just love that you include them in the conversation and problem solving process, because likely I’m assuming that that’s going to get better buy-in from them.
[00:11:14] Versus like you said, if it was just some edict coming down, you Know, they’re probably more engaged than the old way so to speak or what you were trying before. I know in our household, it just leads to more tantrums and we don’t even really get the behavior changed. We just get a lot of battle along the way.
[00:11:33] Ashley Farrar: Yeah. I mean, in our house too, I used to, when I sort of was starting to make the shift, I would say to people, the thing is like that all makes it worse. And what I was hearing from professionals was, well, you need to push through that. You need to push through it. And once you’ve pushed through it, it’ll all get better. But my gut was telling me it’s not going to, because it’s not actually meeting the needs of the people who are involved in this. And I would say that I also take in a lot from what I observed from my peers and seeing how other families interact and thinking, oh, that’s, it’s working for them because that’s the way it should be done. And then taking that into my own house, which is still not meeting the needs of the people in our house.
[00:12:18] And so letting go of other people’s beliefs and expectations and really trusting what I’m observing in the house, what my kids are telling me, how I’m feeling has just been, it’s been such a game changer and everyone’s so excited about it.
[00:12:31] Like when we have a night where our plan goes well, everyone’s excited and cheering each other on. And they’re thanking like my oldest is thanking me and goes thank you for sitting, because that helped me stay here for dinner. And my youngest is all excited that he was able to be a part of the solution. And it’s just a really cool experience to be a part of and to witness and, yeah. All of that.
[00:12:54] Emily Melious: That’s amazing. And a quick side note, And I can’t take credit for This, this is the, genius of my friend who also has movers and shakers for kids. They’re now teenagers. So they’re quite a bit older, but she uses exercise balls. So she replaces the kitchen table chairs and their desk chairs with exercise balls.
[00:13:16] So they can be seated, but. they’re still bouncing and kind of moving around. And for them, it was a really. Happy medium and created a good solution for their family. And I think that’s just genius.
[00:13:29] Ashley Farrar: Yes. I love that.
[00:13:32] Emily Melious: If you try it, let us all know how it works. You brought up your youngest, who’s your son. so you have two daughters and a son a few minutes ago. And it’s really interesting because he will be tested for ADHD soon. as you said, but. Your son has really similar behavior to your oldest daughter, but you get very different feedback, in terms of how that behavior is perceived.
[00:13:58] And you talk a lot about that being related to him, being a boy and your oldest being girl. So why do you think there’s a different perception of the same behavior in your kids?
[00:14:11] Ashley Farrar: Yeah, something I’ve thought a lot about as you say, I get a lot of you know, he’s a boy, he, boys mature slower than girls. He will, like, it’s, normal for him to be doing these things and the expectations for him to be a certain person seems so much fewer. And my daughter was really expected to be what you stereotypically think of when you think of little girls, you know, this sitting there, sitting down and coloring and clean clothes and the hair is all neat. And like that’s sort of, and maybe that’s my own image, but that’s stereotypically when I think little girl, what sort of comes to my mind and she was not that at all. She was, I mean, still is up and moving, she’s, you know, responding to her body in the moment. And the more that those expectations were put on her, the worse it got versus my son who everyone kind of says, oh, he’s a boy. That’s normal. He thinks nothing of it. And so it just has become part of his normal.
[00:15:16]Emily Melious: Yeah, but it seems that those steryotypes don’t really serve either of them well.,
[00:15:22] Ashley Farrar: No. And so in my son’s case, there are certain things that I’m like, huh? I’m kind of wondering if, this is something that we need support with and were told no, he’s fine. Don’t worry about it. We’ll check in later.
[00:15:34] And when my daughter was young, there was a lot more of, we need to get on this and now, and almost fear, like put me in a place of making decisions based on fear. If you don’t solve this problem by now, or by this point, then you’ll never solve it.
[00:15:49] Emily Melious: And have you found that to be the case in terms of, you know, do you have to act on things early, you know, as you talked about you kind of been pulling your foot off the gas a bit in. This quest to be that fixer and the solution finder. But do you find that there really has to be this rush to figuring everything out your daughter was diagnosed at three she’s now how old?
[00:16:14] Ashley Farrar: She is almost 10.
[00:16:16] Emily Melious: Wow okay. So you’re seven years into that. Is it true that there’s this window of opportunity?
[00:16:22] Ashley Farrar: So in my experience, I don’t think so. so what I observed and I observed this with my son as well, is that at some point they make a developmental leap and things shift, whether that’s shifting so that issue is no longer there or it just morphs into a new version of whatever that thing is that people are, whether it’s myself or others are, kind of watching and you can’t really predict it in my experience. And then the things that were once so like, we need to get on this, so much of the time just become, oh, like who cares about that? You know, like there are some things that I think, yeah, let’s jump on that. My oldest and, I think this is related to the way we pushed her into lots of support programs, she’s had some mental health challenges and that, yeah. I want to jump on that right away.
[00:17:17]The minute you start expressing those things, yeah… let’s figure out how we can support you on this, but not so much in a so that we can change you. More in a, how can we acknowledge that this is a thing you’re going through and that that’s okay. That’s part of being human and that when you need help, there are people around that will support you and guide you. And you’re still in a driver’s seat of what that looks like.
[00:17:41]And then there are other things that now I look back and think, why did I care so much about that? Why did I care how much different foods she ate, you know, like, did it really matter that much? We can do all the same things, but take away the stress about what the change or outcome will be.
[00:17:58] We can approach it in the same way by offering lots of options and foods, and, but not feeling like we’ve failed if she chooses not to try that food, or if she, you know, a year from now is still eating the same foods.
[00:18:14] Emily Melious: I, and that’s so encouraging to hear. Yeah, because I think of it like. The big rocks, you know, there’s, an illustration I saw a long time ago, which is you have this jar and you can fill most of the volume with a couple of big rocks. and then you can fill in the rest with sand, these thousands of grains of sand.
[00:18:33] And I think as parents, we got caught up into feeling all the volume, you know, getting, getting everything packed in, just right. Getting it all perfect. to your point, we cover most of The ground just with those big rocks And we can kind of, you know, if we get to the sand that’s great. but I just, think we put so much pressure on ourselves.
[00:18:52] Just going back to earlier in this conversation, sometimes these sell for outside expectations. Cause us to be in this constant state of stress and overwhelm. And the irony is the harder we try to serve our kids. The more exhausted and spent we are. We don’t have the energy to serve our kids. So It’s not, it’s not that we’re coming at it from a bad place, of course, but it’s just, you know, what’s the focus and what are those big core non-negotiables that move the needle the most make the biggest improvements for us, our kids, our family, our household, and kind of don’t sweat the small stuff. Right.
[00:19:30] Ashley Farrar: Yeah. And like, as you say, it comes right into that self-connection like, now that I can sit back and say, what are the things that I really care about? What are the reasons that I make the choices that I make, what do I value? I can, it’s easier to let go of things when I know that’s not something I value and that’s something that I’ve internalized from somewhere else, but what it comes down to for me and my kids, I want my kids to know that even if they don’t change a lick, if they’re exactly who they are in 30 years if they’re exactly who they are now, I would love them to bits and think they’re perfect. And there’s nothing that could change that. And so I want to focus on that. I want to focus on them learning that they are whole and have value just as they are.
[00:20:18] And I want to focus on having, making memories and having, you know, finding joy with them and creating a relationship that is beneficial to what my kids need like that meets their needs and serves who they are as humans. And all of these other things that I thought I cared about, I suddenly realized I don’t really care that much about that.
[00:20:43] And without knowing what you care about, it’s really hard to make those choices because you feel that like tug of war from these internalized messages and what professionals are suggesting to you. And it becomes very confusing.
[00:20:58] Emily Melious: Well, when you’re not grounded in your values, it’s very easy to be swayed. And feel like you’re tossed about again, we can all identify with that.
[00:21:09] So Ashley, as a movement professional, what advice do you have for parents who are operating in that constant stress and overwhelm mode?
[00:21:21] Ashley Farrar: So from that lens, my go to, is I really work with people to understand the difference between exercise and movement and it falls right into, I’d say people who identify as neurodivergent, because when we can respond intuitively to what our body needs and meet our body’s needs, it allows all this other stuff to flow in a more natural, I don’t know if the word is easier, but in a more natural way, because you’re not fighting yourself. And so I am really big on let your body move when it needs to move and let your body rest when it needs to rest and let that be a joyful part of your life. And also I find with the kids, right? They, teach us so much of how to move intuitively and how to respond to what our body needs. And the more that you can practice that the more you become really connected to what signals your body is sending to you at different times. And it’s not to say well, that it’s a perfect process.
[00:22:21] Sometimes we’re still not going to know, and we’re going to try things and they’re not going to work, but being open to that, like that curiosity of what does this mean when I feel this way? And how would it feel if I tried this to respond to it? The The second piece of that I think is while you’re moving your body in various ways, whatever ways that you like, you can practice all of these things that you’re doing in your regular life. You can practice your self-compassion. You can practice letting go of other people’s expectations. You can tune into what am I needing from moving right now? Why did my body signal this to me? What am I getting? What do I want to get out of this? Or need to get out of this? And so it takes all of those big life things just funnels it into a place that for me has felt like a safe way to practice them.
[00:23:08]Emily Melious: and the best way to teach our kids. These important life lessons is to model them ourselves.
[00:23:15] Ashley Farrar: Yeah. Wholeheartedly agree.
[00:23:17] Emily Melious: Well, Ashley, this has been an amazing and really valuable conversation. Thank you so much for coming out and not just sharing your family’s journey, but your personal journey through, you know, some really major changes in the last several years, but I’m so encouraged by.
[00:23:33] Your message to us to just let go of the things that really truly don’t matter, which includes everybody else’s expectations of us and just get clear on what we want as a person, as a parent, as a family, and focus on that. Thanks again.
[00:23:49] Ashley Farrar: Thanks so much for having me. [00:23:52] Mothers of Misfits: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Mothers of Misfits podcast. Make sure to subscribe, so you never miss an episode. We also invite you to visit us at MothersOfMisfits.com
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- Website: Inspired to Move
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