149: Neurodiversity and Accessibility with Briar Harvey
We live in a culture that's not built for neurodivergence. Our insidious productivity culture shows up everywhere, from the workplace to personal relationships and maybe even within our businesses. It has told us that our human worth is based on our ability to produce something.
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We live in a culture that’s not built for neurodivergence.
Our insidious productivity culture shows up everywhere, from the workplace to personal relationships and maybe even within our businesses. It has told us that our human worth is based on our ability to produce something. But when everything has to be measured and monetized, we leave ourselves no way to rest and recharge.
So how do we thrive as people who view the world differently than expected? It’s up to us to create systems that support us and to build coaching practices that prioritize accessibility.
To explore this topic more deeply, I’m thrilled to be joined by Briar Harvey, an executive functioning specialist for neurodiverse folks. Briar is a storyteller and systems witch who, for more than a decade, has been helping people figure out what the next step is and, sometimes, how to take it.
In this conversation, we talk about the personal journey that led to Briar’s work with neurodiverse people, where to start when we don’t even know what to ask for, why individualized systems are essential for those of us who are neurodivergent, how to give yourself the grace and space you need, and more. I’m excited for you to tune in!
- Why Briar is known as the Systems Witch
- Briar’s journey to the work she does as an executive functioning specialist for neurodiverse folks
- The ease that comes when we allow ourselves to be as we are
- Where to start when we don’t even know what to ask for
- Why most of us would benefit from somatic or reprogramming therapy
- It’s crucial to make sure you have the right therapist for you
- The relationship between neurodivergence and productivity culture
- The role of pleasure in prosperity
- The importance of the “editing out” process
- Why Briar advocates for a four-day workweek for most people
- Giving yourself grace and space
- Briar Harvey's Website
- Briar Harvey’s Substack | Briarwood
- Briar Harvey’s Neurodiversity Media Network
- Healthline.com Article | What is Spoon Theory?
- Mason Currey’s Books
- Coach with Clarity Collective
- Coach with Clarity Podcast Facebook Group
- Connect with Me on Instagram
- Email Me: email@example.com
Now it’s time for you to show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity! Screenshot this episode and tag me on Instagram @coachwithclarity and let me know what you’re more excited to explore in future podcast episodes!
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Well, hello, my friend. Welcome to the Coach with Clarity podcast. My name is Lee Chaix McDonough and I am so honored you are joining me today. I have something very special in store for you. This week, I am thrilled that my guest is none other than Briar Harvey, who is an executive functioning specialist for neurodiverse folks. So I had the great pleasure of meeting Briar last year at Feel Good Money Live, which was hosted by our mutual friend, Megan Hale. And Briar and I got to know each other on a very personal level, in part because we were sharing a room which is always fun, but also because she spoke at the event about neurodivergence, accessibility, and how to create systems that support us, especially those of us who are entrepreneurs who view the world a little differently than what's expected. We're gonna dive into that and so much more in our conversation today. So let's get right to it. I am honored to introduce you to the one and only Briar Harvey.
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Lee: Well, hello, Briar, thank you so much for joining me on the Coach with Clarity podcast.
Briar: I’m so excited.
Lee: I've been looking forward to speaking with you for a while. And uh, let's let's get to it. Let's start with the basics. Tell me all about yourself and the work that you do for the world.
Briar: Oh gosh, um, I'm a fun time first of all.
Lee: I can attest to that, personally.
Briar: I am the systems witch, my clients have given me that name, I've kind of leaned into it. I work primarily with neurodivergent entrepreneurs. So that's ADHD, autism, dyslexia, all of the fun stuff. And I help people create systems, build things for their lives and businesses that work and function. And on a larger scale, that's helping companies work accessibility plans into their businesses. And on a smaller scale that's figuring out how to be autistic or ADHD and actually have a business because many of us cannot be employed by larger businesses. So it's a whole, its a whole thing for me.
Lee: I well, I want to dive into all of that in great detail, because you've already shared some ideas and some concepts that I think are fascinating, and I want to dig in. And before we do that, I also want to dig in more to you and your story. Like I'm really curious about what brought you to where you are today, how and why you're doing the work that you're doing. Like I just I want to hear more about your journey.
Briar: So my oldest child is 21 years old. When she was two, we started to really question some of her developments. And we applied for EI and they said, “Oh, she's probably going to be fine.”
Lee: And define EI for..
Briar: Early intervention.
Lee: Thank you.
Briar: Early intervention. So at three, she's still not talking. At five, she was still fully nonverbal and not potty trained. And I was like, “Mmmm no, actually, I don't think it is all going to be fine.” It was not until she was six that I finally convinced someone to pay attention and give us a diagnosis. She was diagnosed at that point in time I think, as low functioning autistic with global delays. That wouldn't be her diagnosis today.
Briar: At the time we lived in Phoenix, Arizona, and this is 15 years ago, special education was fully segregated. And they had this horrific school with 45 kids in a classroom with one teacher and one ParaPRO. And half of them were English as a second language students because it was Phoenix, Arizona. And I was like, “I'm not going to send my nonverbal child to school in this environment, she will not thrive.” And so we started to homeschool. I, so when I was 16, I was diagnosed with bipolar. When I was 20, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. When I gave birth, when my, when my daughter was six months old, my mom died. And I went into postpartum psychosis. So like, I don't know that I was really equipped to be homeschooling a special needs child and I didn't have any other options.
Briar: I also have an 11 year old with ADHD and dyslexia, and an almost 6 year old who is still also nonverbal, not potty trained, and very adamant about it, this one. This past year, when, at the ripe old age of 42, I got my own autism and ADHD diagnosis. And it took a long time, in part because that's the average age for women to receive an autism diagnosis. And in part because we're autistic women in particular, so like dramatically unaware that it really – 20 years of having an autistic child and I still didn't clue into the fact that maybe some of those things were from me. It took a long time for me to get from there to here. And now, I recognize that if it took me this long, someone with prior mental health diagnoses, who had spent a great deal of time in therapy, for multitudes of reasons; I have my own trauma and loss, and if I didn't get it, what hope do people without this level of education hope to have to be able to recognize that “Oh, hey, that's me.”
Lee: I would imagine too, that having to be an advocate for your child, well now your children, and now being an advocate for yourself, there's a way to pull in all of that experience into the work that you're doing now.
Briar: It’s a lot. It's a lot. It’s a lot and it's always a lot, it continues to be a lot, I would not want to say that it's not a lot. And it also gets blessedly easier when you allow things to just be as they are, instead of trying to force them into a more restrictive package.
Lee: And that's where I want to kind of take our conversation next, because one of the things that I really admire about you, that I know is a pillar of your work, is helping people come up with those systems that serve them. They're really custom. So it's not like we're playing into, “Well, everybody does this, so this is how you're going to do it.” You really kind of help people create their own approaches, their own methodologies, their own systems, taking into account regardless of what type of neurodivergence they present with, it's very much about “How can we create something that works with you and for you, so that we're not trying to shoehorn you into this existing system that you're ‘supposed to’ air quotes around ‘supposed to’ be able to do?”
Briar: The thing about accessibility is, we don't know what to ask for if we've never experienced it. We don't know how to say, “Hey, I need this.” if we don't know what “this” is, or could be?
Lee: So how do we even start that process of figuring out what it is we need and what we should not just be asking for but demanding. If, if we're coming from this place of not only do we not know but really our culture doesn't do a great job of this either. So we're all kind of coming into this trying to figure it out. So where do we begin?
Briar: So I think the thing that my work revolves around more than anything else is safety. It's, how do you feel safe in your body? And practically speaking, especially as women, I am a person of color, when you have multiple disadvantages: Safety is an illusion. It's not anything any of us really get. So how do you feel safe in spite of all of those things?
Briar: And that's really where we start, what feels hard? What feels scary? And how do we make it feel safe?
Lee: So I'm hearing you talk about really embodying these sensations, really paying attention to our physical cues around safety and stability and security. And as someone who has dealt with anxiety practically her entire life, certainly since the age of 10, which is when I had my first panic attack, I have found that when I am in a high anxiety place or experiencing anxiety on the regular, sometimes it can be very difficult to even feel safe in my own body. To identify what it is that will make me feel more stable, more grounded. And so I'm wondering what that embodiment process looks like when at times you feel like your own body is working against you?
Briar: Like all systems, this is uniquely personal. For me, it was a combination of EMDR and IFS. So that’s eye movement and, E-M-D, desensitization and reprogramming, I believe.
Lee: I think you're right.
Briar: And internal family systems. My therapist was very expensive and does not take insurance. So that's an incredible privilege that I had and would like to acknowledge. Really changed my life. Absolutely. This changed my life. I don't think it's methodology specific, although I think most people especially whether you are neurodivergent, and/or dealing with trauma, and I say and/or because there's a lot of compelling research that indicates that neurodivergence is at least in part a product of early childhood trauma. However, you can cure trauma, you can't cure neurodivergence. And that's where we really like to make the separation. But everyone who has experienced trauma, and that's most of us, because this planet is hard, should benefit from some kind of somatic or reprogramming therapy because it's a skill we're not taught that we could all desperately benefit from learning. Whether that's tapping, whether it's EMDR, even DBT to a certain degree I find has some value. There's, there's, there's work here, but you have to be able to dig in and learn your body first.
Lee: Yes. And I will also say as someone who is a recovering therapist, when I think about my own training, both when I was in school, and even continuing education, I really had to opt in to somatic focused therapeutic techniques. This was not something that I learned in graduate school, it was basically all cognitive behavioral all the time, with some nods to psychoanalytic and humanistic and all that, but really very little focus on the somatic based approaches. It was really something I had to seek out in my postgraduate continuing education. And to be quite honest with you, even the modality that I did focus in, which was more of a mindfulness based one, was very focused on thoughts, emotions, sensations, but then “Okay, what do we do? Like how do we, how do we take action from a values oriented place?” And don't get me wrong, I mean, I find that approach to be really powerful and helpful, but even that didn't have the somatic piece, that now 15 years later, I realized that's got to be a part of the equation. So I would say, especially for people who are thinking about working with their own therapist, make sure that you ask the question about their training, their experience with the somatic piece, in addition, because not every therapist is familiar with this, and it's really a disservice that I think our our educational system does for therapists.
Briar: And I would argue harmful.
Briar: At least potentially harmful, but especially if you are neurodivergent, which is also not a place where the psychiatric field receives a great deal of training or education, it's really important that you make sure you have the right therapist for you. And when I walked into my therapist's office, and I told him everything that was wrong with me, and it's a long list, he said, “I think we can have you graduate from therapy within six to nine months.” And that's about as long as it took.
Lee: I'm so glad that you were with someone who knew how to meet you where you were, and kind of create this journey with you and for you. Yeah.
Briar: I've been in and out of talk therapy, or CBT, for 20 years of my life, and it has a place and it has value. But I think it's important to be honest about the way mental health care is currently structured, along with the insurance piece that basically requires us to treat people forever. And that is not the way that it should be. And my therapist has no shortage of patients, largely because if anyone asks, who is local, I will tell them who I saw, and this man changed my life. It's such a different fundamental shift in thinking about mental health care. And I think that's a big part of why I'm such an evangelist for it now.
Lee: Yes. So I want to shift gears a little bit, although it's all related.
Briar: It is all related.
Lee: We’re not shifting that much. But one of the things that I really associate with you is how you explore the relationship between neurodivergence and productivity culture. And so I just, I'd really love to just kind of dive into your thoughts about, well, number one, what is productivity culture, at least in kind of Western thinking? And how can people who are neurodivergent find their own path, create their own systems when we live in this culture that isn't really built for neurodivergence?
Briar: No, it definitely is not. And it's a shame, because there is so much value in the neurodivergent way of processing information. We do not see things the way a, I've decided recently that I disliked the word neurotypical, but I have not yet found a good replacement for it. Because that's a lot of what this is, it's about language and how we're communicating the differences between our brain patterns. I think that a big piece of modern work, modern culture is around the idea of productivity. And productivity is a lie. It's been sold to us as a metric of tracking and monitoring that is associated so intrinsically with capitalism, that we now as humans base our worth on our ability to produce something. When you are neurodivergent, you produce lots of things. Many things, many of which have no perceived value, but have a great deal of intrinsic value. And one of the side effects of this, especially with productivity culture, is that people monetize all of their hobbies. And then there is nothing that we do that we love simply for the sake of loving the thing. And therefore have no way to rest or recharge, which is absolutely vital when we spend so much of our time trying to produce things. And so it becomes this really conflicting relationship between “What am I worth? What can I charge? What can I produce? And how do I live in this place that cares not at all about me as an individual, very little about us as a collective and does not value intrinsic worth.”
Lee: You know, I'm just resonating with everything that you're saying. And I can't help but think how pernicious productivity culture is. I mean, it's certainly something I experience in entrepreneurship and in my business, but even outside of business, I think about the fact that one of the intentions I set for myself this year was to read more for pleasure. Which has been lovely, by the way, the impact reading for pleasure has had on my life, just in the last four weeks has been phenomenal. And it was, it is so tempting for me to say, “Well, that looks like 25 books a year or 50 books a year or whatever.”
Briar: And it goes so much further than that, too. Because I too love to read for pleasure. And I could write a blog about this and get advertising dollars and make it a whole career.
Briar: Like, everything we love does not have to be monetized.
Briar: And should not be.
Lee: And everything we love doesn't have to be measured either.
Lee: You know, and of course, there is a time and a place for measurement and monetization. But productivity culture would have us believe that everything needs to be measured, because it is a measure of our worth, as you alluded to. And so to reject that notion, feels very bold and empowering, but it also feels a little unmoored like,
Lee: Yes! Like if I'm not doing this, then what am I doing? And what do I hold on to, if not these arbitrary numbers that I'm supposed to hit?
Briar: That too, is deeply individual. But I think that you have to come back to a belief in the idea that this life is both long and short. And that we get to cultivate the experience we desire. It's not always going to be perfect. It's not always going to be the thing that we want it to be. It may not have the money we wish that it had. But the question is not about money, or steam, or any of those external measures. It really is “Are you happy as you move through the world day to day? Can you coexist with your life and the planets and do the best you can to create change in small, meaningful, impactful ways?” Those are the things that matter to me. And so I structure all of my time around that. Around building wonderful children, and supporting their growth, about nurturing my relationship, about nurturing my clients and the work that I do. Whether it is as scaled as I would like it to be, or not, right? I find that the money comes when we open ourselves to the possibility of it. And that like happiness, we can hold as much as we create a container for.
Lee: Yes. You know, this is so timely, I have spent the last few weeks really considering the relationship between pleasure and prosperity. It started based on a conversation I was having on another podcast, actually. And initially I was talking about pleasure and profit, but I realized it goes far beyond profit, it goes far beyond monetary value and really into what it means to be living a prosperous life. And we can include money in that of course, but I feel like that goes deeper. It really speaks to are we living a life where we create space for the things we love, the things that make us happy and bring us joy. And so this is what I'm picking up on here too. That when we consider the role of pleasure as part of that system that we're creating for ourselves, then it will ideally lead to however we define prosperity.
Briar: Especially when you are neurodivergent, you have to consider desire. A lot of us are highly demand avoidant. And so it is difficult to do things that we do not want to do. We will clean kitchens, instead of hit a writing deadline, perhaps or,
Lee: I have no idea what you're talking about.
Briar: No idea what I'm talking about. I know. And when you are demand avoidant, you have to count, not just your spoons. I'm a big fan of Spoon Theory and what it means to account for energy. But you also have to count your forks, your desire, your ability to physically make yourself do a thing. And it's so important that you measure those things in your life as frequently as possible. I think probably the most important thing that I do that really is foundational to everything else is review. I am constantly looking at “What are my goals? What are my to-dos for the day? What are my plans for this week, this month, this year, this life? What do I value? Who do I want to spend time with? What matters to me? And what does not? So what can I edit out?” Right? Because the more we review our processes, the more we are clear on what we want and what we do not want. And I find that it is the editing out process that makes the biggest difference. Productivity culture would have you believe that you can just cram more shit in. But that's definitely not the case if you are neurodivergent, or deal with chronic illness. So it's really about “What do I say no to? What am I saying no to?” Right now, for example, at this point in time in my life, I am saying no to lots of travel because I have small children and chronic illnesses and it is just not a feasible thing for me to do. When I travel, it takes three weeks to a month to both prepare, go and recover from the thing. And that just is not functionally possible in my life in any large significant way at this time. So those events are very well planned and very meaningful to me. And they do not happen often. Whereas I read and/or listen to as many books as I can cram in, because that is accessible to me right now. And that brings me a great deal of joy. And I already know I will never read all of the books that I wanted to. So I may as well value the ones that I am getting now. I reread books all of the time, I listen to things over, because I'm constantly getting something from it on a repeat that I might have missed the first time. It's about the experience of abundance and pleasure. And we get to decide what that looks like for us. And we have to be aware how much that changes constantly, all the time.
Lee: You know, there's a piece that came up for me hearing you speak just now, especially around when we say no to things. And when we draw those boundaries, is that getting back to the safety piece too. Sometimes it can feel dangerous to do that. Maybe not physically dangerous, but an example that I will give. And again, I want to recognize the privilege that's inherent in setting this boundary for myself, but it's one that I've had to do is that I don't typically engage in work related activities, like seeing clients or having meetings before 10am. Because the way I've structured my life is I do have children so I need to get them up and out of the house and ready to go. And then I need to do the things that helped me function. I need to go for my morning walk or do some yoga or meditate or I don't know, eat breakfast or just have some space in the morning to do that. And I remember when I was working for a traditional job, in fact, when I was working for the Air Force, my day started at work at 7:30. And even now, there's still this part of me that's like, “Are you allowed to start your day at 10am? Is that okay? What will people think? And are you a bad business owner, because you're not like doing that whatever 5am morning thing, I don't even know, which I'm not and I never will.” But there is this piece of having to give myself permission to create a system that works for me that runs so counter to what I've been taught, what I've done in the past, and on some level, what I feel is expected of me.
Briar: So, for most people, I advocate figuring out a four day work week. When I switched to a four day work week in 2019, it changed my life. And I was still working too much. This year, I actually went to six days of work a week in very small doses. So there is now three, four, maybe five or six on busier days, but very discrete activities, very concrete things that I am. And again, I own a business, there is a lot of things here that I have built for myself that allow me to do this. But ultimately, I figured out the ways in which my schedule worked for me, and then built around it. When you do not have quite the time freedom that I have, and I will say 20 years, it's taken me to build this level of time freedom. And this has been an ongoing, deliberate process for the last 20 years. That when you don't have the time freedom, you really look at the ways in which you can structure your time within those constraints. Even if you have to be at work at 7:30, can you spend the first 30 minutes of your day with a door closed, perhaps going over your calendar, waiting to hit email? Can you spend the last hour of your day shutting down and really processing your information if you are bound by a 40 hour work week that is five days a week? How do you structure your time within that time to give you the most freedom possible?
Lee: Yes, I love how you are able to say “Okay, you might be working within the parameters of a, quote “traditional”, like productivity culture framework. So how can we find those opportunities for little rebellion even within the structure that's been set for you. But not just being rebellious for the sake of being rebellious, like really finding the ways that are going to serve and support you and allow you to not just quote like, “do better”, but like to feel better to be in full resonance with how you need to work in the world.
Briar: So the thing about accommodations is, it's not optional. They aren't things that you can work around, they aren't choices that you are making. This is structurally a need. And when we frame it in that way, it makes it much easier for us to actually ask and then later demand our needs from other people. And the way that you go about doing that is having your numbers, having the facts. If you are currently working in a 9-5/8-5 40 hour workweek and would like to switch to a four day workweek there is plenty of research on the benefits of productivity. There is plenty of evidence in the world currently. We're not all bent to these restrictions. If you want to talk about working at home or more flex time, plenty of research about that too. What you're building is the runway for yourself to say, “I think this would work better for me. Here's the research that is presented that explains how that works for other people. Here are the goalposts that I will set to measure and monitor my own personal productivity, so that we can come back and reevaluate. Because if you build that for yourself at the beginning, it makes it very difficult for someone to take it away from you, when you've proven that you can meet those milestones and markers. And that's the way that we make accessibility work on an individual level. It's much harder institutionally, and that is where I come in with audits and building the plans and doing the things. But on an individual level, when you are demanding that your needs be accounted for, you’re not asking for an accommodation.
Lee: And I, that's such a helpful shift in how we even think about it. And I'm sitting here thinking to myself, “Yes, I own a business. For all intents and purposes, I'm a company of one. And I can also demand those accommodations of myself.” So the idea, yes, starting my day at 10, because I know I need to do the physical and mental wellness activities in advance of starting my day, that is an accommodation that I can demand of myself. And I can also as you alluded to be really clear about how am I tracking my own personal productivity? How is this working? What do I need to reevaluate? So while this is certainly something that we can ask of the institutions that we work for, it's also something we can ask of ourselves. And I just think that's such a powerful way of looking at that. So thank you.
Briar: I am obsessed with time studies. I think that there's a lot to be learned from the way in which people manage their days and their weeks and their lives. I love Mason Currey’s books, Daily Rituals, and I think Women's Daily Rituals. I don't think that's the name, but there's one specifically devoted to women's daily rituals. And we're talking about artists and creators and important people here. But there's a lot to be said for keeping your own time study for tracking your time. I'm actually right now doing it for my newsletter subscribers, and I have a Notion document and I've just been writing things down and I'll do it for a week. I find it's helpful for them to see this is the reality of my life. And it's very helpful for me to see, this is the reality of my life, and you're doing as much as you can do. I had to take the day off yesterday, because I was having a high pain day. I have rheumatoid arthritis, the wind was blowing, it was bad, no work was happening. And instead of that, even feeling a little off, or like I was not productive enough, I gave myself the day off and did what I needed to do. And today we are much better and healing is not linear. It is not something that we get to dictate an outcome for. And when your body or brain is constantly not keeping up with you the way that you want it to keep up with you. Then you must allow for a measure of grace, whitespace. “Grace and space.” as my dear friend Alice says, right? These are the things that we build for ourselves, structurally because society sure as hell isn't gonna.
Lee: So really, yeah, what a lovely summation too, that when we're thinking about creating the systems that support us that we are building in the grace and the space. Because that's, that's where the accommodations are, but that's also where the pleasure can be as well, going back to that, so. Briar, I could sit here and talk to you about this all day. Like I really could.
Briar: I know.
Lee: I can't even believe we've been talking for 40 minutes.
Briar: This has been delightful.
Lee: It really has. I'm so grateful that you came on the show today, and I am positive people are going to want to learn more about you and your work and reach out. So tell us the best way to do so where can we find you? Where are all things Briar?
Briar: There are many things but almost all of them live at briarharvey.com. I do have a substack you can find the link there. And I have recently started the neurodiversitymedianetwork.com. But you can also find links for that on my website. It's a fun little project. I'm doing a bunch of podcasts. I'm talking about all of the things. It's absolutely delightful to me.
Lee: Oh my gosh, I want to know much more about that. We'll talk offline. But rest assured we will include all of the links in the show notes. And I'm sure we will have you back on in the future. But for now, thank you for being here today.
Briar: This was so much fun, Lee. Thank you, roomie.
Lee: Yes, yes, Briar and I were roommates at one of those select few travel events she was able to do. It was well, it was nothing short of life changing. But we will save that story for,
Briar: Another day.
Lee: For another time. Briar, thanks so much for being here.
Many thanks to Briar for being my guest on the Coach with Clarity podcast. And I also have the good fortune of hosting Briar as the February guest expert for the Coach with Clarity Collective. Briar will be speaking to collective members all about accessibility in coaching, and how we can ensure that our coaching practices are accessible for people who are neurodivergent or who have other needs. So if you are looking for some support in building a coaching practice that prioritizes accessibility, then consider this your invitation to check out the Coach with Clarity Collective and become our newest member, just head to coachwithclarity.com/collective to learn more and to join. And when you join now, you will get an invitation to Briar’s special guest expert training all about accessibility and coaching.
All right, my friend, that's it for me this week, but never fear I will be right back in your feed next week with a brand new episode of the show. So until then, my name is Lee Chaix McDonough reminding you to get out there and show the world what it means to be a Coach with Clarity.