My guest today is Dr. Rabia Subhani, neuropsychologist, certified mindfulness teacher (many times over!), and mother of an autistic child. Rabia is the creator of Mindful Village®, a secular eight to twelve week program geared towards the parents and caregivers of neurodiverse children.
On this episode of Neurodiverging, Dr. Rabia and I are discussing what mindfulness is, how it works, why it’s a good fit for many neurodiverse families, and why parents need to learn to practice mindfulness before they can teach it to their children. Plus, Rabia offers many examples of exercises you can do at home with your family!
- Learn more about Dr. Rabia Subhani.
- Learn more about Mindful Village®.
- Sign up for your FREE Mindfulness Activities Workbook here!
- Buy Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thích Nhất Hạnh on Bookshop | Amazon
- Need a Hoberman sphere to practice mindful breathing? Check out this one.
🎧 Want to listen? This post is based off of Episode 27 of the Neurodiverging Podcast! Listen on Apple Podcasts | Google Podcasts | Spotify
About Dr. Rabia Subhani
In 2012, Rabia went through multiple major life changes, including a divorce, the decision to work from home to care for her son, plus a spiritual journey. That was when she finally started using mindfulness for herself. The end result was the life-altering decision to have all aspects of her life reflect her newfound belief in the ability of mindfulness and love to transform and heal.
This beautiful realization came through spiritual retreats and a personal meditation and Sufi practice, but she also wanted professional credibility so she could teach this to others (especially other parents of neurodiverse children). So, she re-trained in mindfulness via several different evidence-based programs and then decided to create her own program when she couldn’t find one that met all of her needs as a professional and as a parent. Rabia shares her newfound peace and joy of living with you, whether you are a parent of an ND child, or on your own spiritual journey, through her Mindful Village® program and the many resources available on her website.
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I’m very grateful to my patrons, Zach, David, Teresa, Sara, anon, autstronaut, and Theresa! Thank you for supporting this episode of Neurodiverging!
Transcript for Ep 27: Mindfulness for Neurodiverse Families with Dr. Rabia Subhani
Danielle Sullivan: Every day, scientists are learning more and more about how human brains work, and how many of us don’t fit into the old-fashioned understanding of how brains should work. [00:00:11] But a lot of ideas about parenting and familial relationships still need to catch up to the reality of human variation. Neurological differences are natural, profoundly valuable parts of being in a community together, and in being a part of a family.
Whoever you are, wherever you are in your journey, I am here to explore with you. We are all in this together. Welcome to Neurodiverging.
Introduction to Episode
[00:01:03] Hello, everyone, and welcome back to Neurodiverging. I’m so happy you’re here with me today. If you’re new here, I’m Danielle Sullivan and I’m your host. Today we have the honor and joy of speaking with Dr. Rabia Subhani. Dr. Rabia Subhani is a neuropsychologist, and then went on to become a certified mindfulness teacher many, many, many times over. She’s also the mother of an autistic child, and she focuses on teaching mindfulness to neurodiverse families.
Rabia is the creator of Mindful Village, which is a secular eight-to-twelve-week program geared toward the parents and caregivers of neurodiverse children. And on this episode, Dr. Rabia and I are discussing what mindfulness is, how it works, and why it’s a good fit for many neurodiverse families. We’re also talking about why parents need to learn to practice mindfulness before they can teach it to your children, and Rabia is offering many different examples of exercises that you can do at home with your family, which I just found fascinating and insightful and useful.
I also want to let you know that Rabia has offered you guys a free Mindfulness Activities workbook, so I’m putting the link to that in the description down below, and you can also come to Nerodiverging.com, and the signup is there, if you would like to download that activities workbook. I did and I really enjoyed the exercises in there. It’s just a good, awesome freebie, so check that out.
Also, links about Rabia and Mindful Village are in the description above.
[00:02:29] I’d love to thank my patrons for supporting this episode of Neurodiverging. Thank you to Zach, David, Theresa, Sarah, Anon, autstronaut, and Other Teresa. I appreciate you so much for supporting this episode and making this possible. Thank you to Rabia for being here today, and without further ado, enjoy.
Danielle: [00:02:54] Hi, Rabia, how are you doing today? Welcome to Neurodiverging.
Dr. Rabia Subhani: [00:02:58] Hi, I’m doing well, thank you. I’m happy to be here. How are you doing?
Danielle: I’m doing great! I’m having a good day! I really appreciate you coming on the show. I’m very excited to talk with you.
I guess I’ll just dive right in.
How Rabia Began Working with Autism
I know you started your career as a pediatric neuropsychologist specializing in autism, and now you’re working on mindfulness with families to help their children with mindfulness. That’s a huge shift, but one that makes sense. It’s interesting.
But what originally got you interested in autism and autism research in the first place?
Dr. Subhani: [00:03:36] Well, it’s kind of interesting. I started working at a preschool. It was Emory Universities Preschool, where they started integrating autistic children with neurotypical children, and it was kind of a hallmark program. This was in the late nineties – actually, the mid-nineties – so this is a while before autism was more well-known, mainstream. They were one of the first programs that were trying to integrate children that had autism with neurotypical children, and I loved that concept, so I volunteered there, started working there. And I was so fascinated with this population. I was like, “This is who I want to work with.” At the time I was trying to get admission into a psychology graduate program. Once I did get in that was what I decided to specialize in.
So, I did my – I went back to Emory and I did my therapy practicum, and I did another one at a psycho-educational school, an elementary school, and then I thought, well I really want to get into the brain structures, and how that’s affecting autism. Then I went the whole pediatric neuropsychology route. So, I’ve been interested in autism since the mid-nineties.
Then, in 2003, I had my own child and he had autism.
[00:04:55] I always tell everybody that, at least I knew what to do. I had already trained in it, I knew how to work with him, so that’s how I got started in autism.
Danielle: Yeah, that’s really interesting. A lot of parents, when they find out their child is autistic, there’s this big grieving process and fear of how to help them best. Maybe you already having worked with other autistic kids – were you able to skip some of that?
Dr. Subhani: Well, I think any parent that first realizes that goes through those stages. I think, for me, it was interesting because I had already worked with children who were a bit more severe. And, I don’t like to say “high-functioning”, but he didn’t have a lot of the more severe symptoms, so I actually didn’t catch it in him for a while. And then when he was, I think, around two-and-a-half or three, he started flapping his hands.
Dr. Subhani: And his language was delayed, but I was also teaching him another language. His doctor kept saying, “Oh, he’s a boy. You’re teaching him two languages.” All the things that a lot of doctors say, but when he started flapping his hands I was like –
Danielle: There it is!
Dr. Subhani: Red flag. I was like, “Oh, I think I need to start looking at my criteria.” I’d realized by then, but. I think my reactions were probably tapered because I was already familiar with it, and I knew what to expect, a little bit, and I knew what to do, which, I think a lot of parents struggle with.
Dr. Subhani: [00:06:35] “What do I do now?” [inaudible]. A lot of that – I didn’t have those kinds of fears because I knew exactly what I needed to do, and I did it. I tell people that I feel like I was blessed because I already knew how to do some of the things that parents have challenges with.
Dr. Subhani: So, you look at it from a more positive perspective.
Danielle: Absolutely, yeah. I think there is that huge – it’s so hard to get the diagnosis or the evaluation, but then… you finally get it! It’s like, “Okay, but now what do I do?” It’s good that you were able to move forward from there.
Danielle: And you now work to teach mindfulness to parents and families with neurodivergence, and I think, a lot of autism there, right? How did you originally find mindfulness, and then shift over from – because neuropsychology seems to be – I see how they’re linked, but seems to be a different mindset, right, to move from a highly medicalized –
Dr. Subhani: Completely different. Yeah, I totally agree with you. I think it’s a totally different mindset because with neuropsychology, it’s not spiritual, I guess is the best way to say it.
Dr. Subhani: It’s very – not cut-and-dry, but you’re going to the brain, you’re figuring out how behaviors connect, you’re testing to see where those discrepancies show up, so it’s a very different thing. When I was doing the neuropsychology, I was doing mostly testing, but I was doing some parent training for behavioral stuff as well.
[00:08:12] And then, what happened was – and this is kind of an interesting story.
About eight years ago I went through many, many life changes. I went through a divorce, we moved houses several times. My son hit puberty and he graduated from his elementary school and went to junior high for the first time, so we had a lot of changes in that time.
I had been teaching my son – and this is interesting, too – I had been teaching my son mindfulness when he was younger, when he was four or five, I started teaching mindfulness practices, and he did those pretty well. They really helped to ground him, to keep him from getting overwhelmed.
I was glad those worked, but then when all those changes happened, everything he learned went out the door. It was like he couldn’t remember anything; he couldn’t work with the practices we’d learned; he wouldn’t listen to me. We had a lot of screaming going on.
And I felt bad because I was like, “Well, I’m the professional, and I should know what I’m doing, and I can’t even do it with my own child.” And so finally, I decided that if I couldn’t change his behavior, then maybe I needed to change mine, and how I reacted.
So, I kind of went on my own personal journey. It was a very profoundly spiritual journey. I did lots of different spiritual retreats. I basically immersed myself in mindfulness and self-compassion, which I had been lacking in, and not realizing it. Once I got into this, it had such a profound impact on me, and my relationship with my son. I was overjoyed with how much difference I was seeing in his behavior and my behavior. Just because I was calm, and I had learned how to control my reactions. I was responding instead of reacting. I had a higher threshold for when I would get upset.
And all these changes – plus the self-compassion – really changed our relationship. And it made such a huge difference that I was like, “Oh my gosh, I need to go teach this to other people. I need to teach this to other families that have neurodiverse children because it’s out there and nobody knows about it.”
I mean, mindfulness is now much better known than it was ten years ago, but it’s still not really mainstream. It’s not something that’s – you know, if you get a diagnosis for your child, chances are your diagnostician is not going to tell you “Oh, you should try mindfulness.”
Danielle: [00:10:38] Yeah.
Dr. Subhani: Yeah, they’re going to say, “behavior therapy” or “OT” or “speech” or something – one of the more mainstream therapies, but chances are not that they’re going to say, “Oh, you should try mindfulness, because you’ll need help, too.”
Mindfulness Is For Parents First
Because the parents need as much help as the kids, and as parents of neurodiverse children we tend to forget that. They have to come first, they have the needs, they’re vulnerable. And we don’t think about ourselves. We need to. You know, the whole “oxygen mask” analogy, I like to use when I’m teaching parents. If you’re not recharging your own batteries, you’re not going to be able to help your child.
And I was just so passionate about this that I was like, “Oh my gosh, I need to do this.” I went back and retrained in a lot of evidence-based practices – because coming from that science background, I needed a lot of evidence-based mindfulness programs, and I loved the ones that I did – I did four or five different ones – but there wasn’t any one program that met all of my needs. Because I was trying to retrain in one and then teach it – there was always something missing.
So, I started thinking, about two years ago, “Huh, maybe I should just make my own.”
Dr. Subhani: So, I did. I made my own program. It’s called Mindful Village, and it’s Mindfulness, Self-compassion, Positive Psychology – because we need more than just to be present, we need to be hopeful, and optimistic about the future, and I think that’s so missing also, in neurodiverse families.
Danielle: [00:12:16] Yeah.
Dr. Subhani: And then, Neuroscience. Because I do use research to back up what I’m saying. It’s not just me pulling stuff out of a hat and saying, “Oh, try this and try that!”
And there is lots of research now. There’s been research going on for years. At least ten, twenty years of research now, that’s available to show the benefits of different mindfulness practices.
Danielle: I was going to say, yeah. Mindfulness and positive psychology are the ones I’m most familiar with. And I know that they’re both – I think people come at them, and they hear, maybe especially “mindfulness” and they think it’s a little woo-woo, or out there, but there’s a ton of evidence that it can do wonders. So, I hope people will hear that. It was one of my hopes for today, talking to you, was that we can get that out there a little bit.
Dr. Subhani: Thank you. And, I just wanted to point out very quickly, that a lot of the concerns people have around mindfulness is that they think it cannot be taught in a secular manner, and it absolutely can.
Dr. Subhani: I mean, it comes from a lot of the wisdom traditions like Buddhism, but it can absolutely be taught and learned in a secular manner, so that should not be something that holds people back.
Danielle: Yes, I agree. I am a secular humanist, which is a form of agnosticism, and I can do mindfulness. So, if that helps any listeners out there [laughter], you know, you can absolutely. And you can also use it within the wisdom tradition, if that calls to you, right?
Dr. Subhani: Yes.
Danielle: But yeah, you can separate it out.
Dr. Subhani: Exactly. Do what works for you, that’s my motto. Just do what works for you and be kind to yourself.
Danielle: Yes. And that self-compassion aspect you were talking about, that really speaks to me. your whole story is very powerful, but that in particular is a piece I feel was missing for years. Because when – I had my kids very close together, and then they were autistic and ADHD respectively, so there was a lot of big emotions in those young years when people weren’t regulating as well, and I wasn’t regulating that well, either.
[00:14:19] And I feel like the self-compassion piece and the mindfulness pieces really did help me move. I didn’t have what you had in terms of the stress levels, and everything that happened at once, it sounds like, in your life. But it was still, for me, a highly stressful situation, and those aspects helped me so much. And I think it’s so fantastic that you were able to take your background and higher education and refocus, and use all your skills to create this program. It sounds really exciting, and really needed.
What Is Mindfulness?
Dr. Subhani: I hope so. My goal is – and I have several free resources as well, on my site. Because I know that not everybody’s going to be able to invest in the program right now. But I want to make – one of my goals is to have a non-profit that just gives it to people who have few resources, but I also do have lots of have free things on my site as well.
Danielle: That’s wonderful. And folks, there will be links in the description below, so make sure you check them out.
And I just realized, sort of part-way through this conversation, that we didn’t actually define mindfulness for anybody. Because we’re just resting on the fact that maybe people know what it is. Is there a short description of what mindfulness is that we can offer to folks?
Dr. Subhani: Sure, yeah. I’ll be happy to say.
Mindfulness is bringing your attention to the present moment with a loving, non-judgemental awareness. So, in practical terms, when you’re practicing mindfulness, you’re not thinking about the future or the past. You’re completely focused on whatever you’re doing in the present moment, but you’re also not judging it. So, you’re just noticing what you’re doing.
And one of the things I know, you’re probably going to ask me how people should practice mindfulness. One of the things that I tell people constantly is that one of the easiest things you can do if you’re not into the sitting meditation, or even the mindful minutes – you want to just do something simple, then bring your attention to whatever activity you’re doing and make it a daily habit with something like a daily chore, or brushing your teeth.
[00:16:31] And how you would do that is, as you are brushing your teeth you would watch the water coming out of the faucet, notice as it hits the sink, notice the color of your toothpaste, and your toothbrush. Watch yourself putting the toothpaste on, taste the toothpaste as it comes in. Close your eyes and let the flavor of the toothpaste blow up in your mouth.
It’s the little things. You’re not thinking about the past, you’re not thinking about your to-do list. You’re not thinking about, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to run and go get breakfast.” You’re just completely focused on your task. And when you immerse yourself in that moment, your whole mind, body, and soul – everything – is in that one perfect moment. You have no worries; you have no cares. You’re full of, it’s almost like a joy. And it’s profound because if you can start using that quality and start expanding it in different activities, then you’ll notice how much your day is somehow better and more flavorful, and is happier. It just has a huge impact on your way of thinking and looking at things. And your overall mindset changes and becomes more positive as you continue to live more and more in the present.
Now there’s some things you can’t – obviously when you’re driving, you probably need to be alert and looking around. Don’t focus on your steering wheel. You know, there are things where you need some common sense and say, “This is probably not the best time to be doing that,” but there are so many things during the day – washing dishes, vacuuming, if you’re doing chores, if you’re doing work, if you’re eating.
[00:18:15] This is my favorite one. So, I’m going to give your listeners a packet of mindful activities they can do. It’s just a freebie and they can download it from my site. But I like to give people a little chart they can check off, and little activities they can do to just start getting used to practicing mindfulness. Eating and drinking is the best. My favorite one is my first cup of tea in the morning.
Dr. Subhani: I let the steam hit my face, and there’s nothing quite like that first cup of caffeine.
Danielle: I feel that so much!
I’m a food-motivated person, I’m not ashamed to admit it, and that first cup of coffee – I’m a coffee person – but that first cup of coffee, I’m just all in. One hundred percent of my attention is on that cup of coffee. There are things I would like to improve about my practice of mindfulness, but I am much more – it’s something that I really try to implement when I can. It’s something that I go to, habits for calming myself down, for going, “Am I actually feeling a way or am I just having a reaction to something else that’s happened.”
Especially with small children, mindfulness has really helped me separate out, “Okay, what am I feeling versus what are they feeling, and do I need to get upset about that?” So yeah, one of the reasons I was so happy you agreed to come on the show is, I’m not in any way an expert on mindfulness, but it’s made such a difference in my life that I really wanted to talk to somebody who knew what they were doing, and get these resources to people. So, fantastic!
Dr. Subhani: Yeah, it’s great. And you don’t have to know it to be practicing it.
Well, thank you!
Dr. Subhani: [00:20:05] And be kind to yourself.
Danielle: Yes! That’s a huge piece of it, right? It’s the lack of judgement, which is so hard to do, I think, for so many people. Yeah.
How Self-Compassion Works
Dr. Subhani: That was actually one of the first pieces that brought me into the whole immersion thing, because when I got into it, I was like, “Oh, I’m not really practicing self-compassion.” It’s much easier to do it for other people, than to do it for yourself, and one of the things that I do teach people when I’m telling them about self-compassion is to think about how you would react if what you’re doing, if it were your best friend doing it, what kind of words would you have for your best friend?
The little exercise is called “Treat Yourself as Your Best Friend would Treat You.”
And if you start thinking about how you’re being hard on yourself for some reason – you think, “Well, if your best friend, or one of your friends had that happen to them, what would be your words to them?” It would probably be something kind and comforting, but if something happens to you, your words to yourself are so much harsher. They’re usually judgmental. They’re not kind, loving words. And why is that? Why can’t we treat ourselves like we treat our best friends? How can we change that mindset and start being kinder to ourselves?
And I think self-compassion is so important, particularly for parents. Of course, that’s just the population I work with. Self-compassion is important for everybody, but the population I work with most is parents and caregivers of neurodiverse children, so that’s who I gear my talks to.
Danielle: Well, parents and caregivers of neurodiverse children are constantly judging ourselves.
Dr. Subhani: Absolutely.
Danielle: Or just hearing from society, being judged by society, and internalizing that because our kids are doing something different. And even if you’re conscious of it, or you don’t really believe it, it still sneaks into your brain, and you start telling yourself these things that are just not self-compassionate, and not very helpful.
Dr. Subhani: We tend to be particularly harsh on ourselves.
Danielle: Yeah! Absolutely, yeah. I think that’s something I really had to work on, and again am getting better at, and I’ve seen so many results from it.
Dr. Subhani: [00:22:21] So when I first started using the mindfulness practices, the first thing that happened when I noticed that they were actually working, was that I no longer had road rage.
Danielle: Oh, wow!
Dr. Subhani: Which, I was never really bad about it. I wouldn’t cuss out anybody or anything. I would just get irritated when people pulled out in front of me, but then after months after doing mindfulness, I got cut off and it was a really bad one, and instead of thinking horrible things about that person, my first thought was “Oh my gosh, I hope nothing happened in their family, or there’s not an emergency that they’re having to rush…”
Dr. Subhani: And when I got home, I started thinking about it, and I was like, “Wow, that’s a complete one-eighty from what I used to do! That must mean my practices are working because I have so much more compassion for people in situations where I would originally have not had” – those are the things that I would get irritated about. Those minor annoyances, but I was like, “Oh!” I was actually thinking about other people, and strangers in a kinder respect.
And I noticed things in my own family, in my relationship with my son, but the first time I noticed that was something happening outside, that was a really big “Aha!” moment. I was like, “Wow, it’s really working!”
Dr. Subhani: But yeah, I think if you practice the different kinds of mindfulness practices like meditation, or mindful movements, walking meditation – there’s lots of little meditation things you can do, and when you start doing them consistently – even if it’s five minutes a day – that’s when you start noticing the changes.
And if you keep building on that – if you notice that drinking your first cup of caffeine is really helpful to you, you can drink it mindfully. Then you might start doing it for lunch, or you might start doing it for something else. Finger foods are great for teaching kids with.
[00:24:16] I think of how it’s personally helped me is that it’s lowered my stress. I’m much calmer, I’m much more living in the moment joyfully, it’s completely changed my – I was always kind of optimistic, but now I’m really optimistic!
Dr. Subhani: I live like every moment is a moment where I can be joyful. I can choose whether I’m living from fear or love, and I always pick love. It’s changed my entire outlook on life, how I approach relationships, how I approach other people. Pretty much everything in my life has changed, and I want to be able to share that with other families, because you don’t have to be miserable! You don’t have to be stressed and overwhelmed all the time.
There’s a better way to live. You just have to find out how you can access it.
Danielle: I love how passionate you are about it!
Dr. Subhani: I am. I’m so passionate. And that’s why – pediatric neuropsychology is a really great field.
Dr. Subhani: But it was not soulfully fulfilling to me. This calls to me. This is my passion. When I talk about it, I just light up. It feels so authentic. And my training that I did previously, I loved it, I enjoyed it. I really liked testing. I thought it was really using my brain creatively. I enjoyed it a lot. I didn’t hate it and want out. But this, this is a way for me to align all the spheres in my life in one place. You know, my job, I’m living it, I’m teaching it, I’m – all of it’s in one place. It feels – I guess authentic is the best word. It just feels right, like this is what I was meant to do.
Mindfulness for Neurodivergent Folks
Danielle: [00:26:14] That’s a good positive psychology word: to find your authentic. That’s fantastic.
So, if we switch a little bit – and we’ve talked a lot about what mindfulness is, and how, different specific tricks to integrate mindfulness into your daily life.
But how specifically is it helpful for neurodivergent people? Is there a difference between how neurodivergent people approach mindfulness compared to neurotypical people, that you’re aware of? Or specific aspects of neurodivergent life that mindfulness supports that neurotypical people don’t have to deal with as much?
Dr. Subhani: One of the reasons why I wanted to focus on parents and caregivers is because I know that the practices work, because I taught them even before I taught it for myself. And I didn’t say this, but in my big epiphany when I went on my own journey, I realized that the reason why the mindfulness practices were no longer working for my son was because I never did them for myself.
Danielle: Oh! How interesting!
Dr. Subhani: I taught him because I thought he needed it, not me. And I was so wrong because if you are not authentically living what you’re teaching – especially when it comes to mindfulness – and you’re not modeling it, and you’re not showing it – you’re not actually showing what to do when you get overwhelmed, when you get stressed. And if you teach it from a young age, and if you model it for your kids, then they’re going to pick up on it. And specifically for kids that have these challenges, they get overwhelmed. They’re environment feels like it’s out of control. They usually have – and I’m kind of lumping in a lot of neurodiverse –
Danielle: Yeah, but there are some common traits.
Dr. Subhani: [00:28:07] But there are a lot of similarities, right?
Dr. Subhani: So, these kids like routine, they don’t like changes or sudden surprises. And the way mindfulness helps them with these, is that it helps them focus on a specific moment. They can bring themselves back to where they are by focusing on their breathing. They can do it through mindfulness of the body, where if you’re sitting you can just feel the sensation of where your foot is resting on the floor. That gives you something to focus on.
These are practices that can help kids – or adults, anybody – that get overwhelmed, they feel like there’s too much sensory input, or there’s so much going on in their environment that they can’t deal with it. It brings them back to where they are. They can focus on their breathing; they can focus on their bodily sensations. They can do little techniques of mindfulness that help them get out of that overwhelm.
I think that’s the biggest thing for people who have these challenges, they are overwhelmed. And easily overwhelmed. You go into a crowd, and there’s too much noise or light. There are so many things like sensory input that can overwhelm a person that has some kind of challenge. What do you do during those times? You’re trying to think about all your cognitive behavioral stuff.
Dr. Subhani: It’s easier to just come back to your breath. Your breath is always there, you don’t have to think of anything. You don’t have to remind yourself of a specific technique. You just say, “You know what, I’m just going to focus on my breathing.” Or, “I’m just going to focus on where my hand is resting on my leg.”
For emotional self-regulation, if you get used to learning how to be mindful of your emotions and feelings, when you do get overwhelmed, you remember those practices to come back.
Danielle: Yeah, it’s already right there.
Dr. Subhani: Those practices to come back to.
[00:30:07] And the key is to practice all this stuff before you need it. So if you do it, and you teach your children, and you’re doing it too, you’re showing your child what happens when Mommy or Daddy gets upset. You’re modeling the behavior of how you respond to anger, and not react. And your child sees that and picks up on it, and they’re able to almost reset.
In particular I think the overwhelm, the sensory things, are what I think really helps with mindfulness. And like I said, I used it with my son. I also taught it to some families – my biggest mistake was never learning it for myself.
Dr. Subhani: That’s when I was like, “Oh, no, I need to teach the parents, almost, first, before I teach the kids.” I’m actually going to be developing a child-centered program later in the year, but for now I wanted to teach the parents first, because the parents and caregivers really need to learn it because if they’re not practicing it, it’s not going to be as helpful.
Danielle: Yeah, it almost doesn’t matter because, like you said – if you don’t model something for your child, I feel like the child is like, “Well, that’s not a real thing, then, because you’re not doing it.” It’s like when the rules are different for the parent and the child.
Dr. Subhani: Exactly.
And I think it’s easier to follow rules that are more concrete, but if it’s for something like mindfulness… I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me when I was teaching my son, that I needed to do it to. But I was just thinking, “Oh, this will help him because he gets overwhelmed. I don’t get overwhelmed.”
Dr. Subhani: Maybe it was denial, but I was like, “I’m an adult, I can handle it.” But again when you’re drowning in something you don’t see it all the time. That’s where the self-compassion piece comes in, because you don’t have time for yourself. You know, “My child needs me, I have to put my child first.” But if you don’t put on that mask, you’re not any good to your child either.
Danielle: [00:32:14] If the parent isn’t in a healthy mindset, or in a happy mindset, what are you going to give to your child? There’s nothing to give them because you’ve emptied yourself out. So, for me it was a big challenge when they were younger to put myself first. Now I’m much better at it, but it feels like a radical notion, when you’re going against society to put yourself first as a parent, especially as a mom or a woman parent.
To say, “No, I’m going to be first.” And that’s so that I can serve my family better out of my fullness and my richness as a person. But there’s so much social pressure to be the mom who is – it’s normalized to be this constantly drowning, constantly frustrated, constantly juggling twenty things kind of person. I really think there’s a lot of space to move away from that.
You’re going to have your moments, obviously, but for the everyday status quo, I feel like that’s just not how it should be.
Dr. Subhani: That’s where that self-compassion…
Danielle: Absolutely. Such a powerful peace.
How to Teach Mindfulness to Kids
Dr. Subhani: So what you guys can’t see is that I’m using a Hoberman sphere so you can visually show children how to breathe. It’s like a toy that blows up, I don’t know how to describe it.
Dr. Subhani: [00:34:05] It’s like a little sphere that opens – yes, expands, and closes in, and it’s a great, cheap, and effective way to teach children how to breathe. Little kids, especially, are visual learners, so you can show them, like “Oh, take in some breaths. Your chest is blowing big and strong.” There are lots of little things you can teach children to get into mindfulness. And children are great learners. If you make it fun, you make it playful, they’ll be happy to do it.
Dr. Subhani: And then, when they need it, you can say, “Remember what Mommy taught you about your breathing when you’re upset?”
And one of the funny things I did when my child was younger was, I taught him breathing and I taught him how to breathe when I ring a bell.
Danielle: Pavlov’s Child! That’s cute.
Dr. Subhani: And that was my psychologist coming out. So we’re going to ring this bell! It was a lovely tinkling, a very nice bell. It was like, “When you hear this bell, I want you to practice your breathing.” I got him used to breathing every time he heard the bell – so when he would get upset, I would ring the bell. When he was younger it would work, and he would still remember to do his breathing. But when he got older, he was like, “Yeah, I’m not going to do that.”
But it was great for teaching him when he was little.
Dr. Subhani: It was like, “Any time you hear the bell, I want you to start doing your breathing exercises.” So, when he would get upset I would ring the bell. Breathe in and out.
Because when children are in the middle of a meltdown, they are not really thinking clearly.
Danielle: It’s a great shortcut to just say, “Hey, I noticed this about you.” Because I get in spaces where I can’t hear you – well, I can hear you, but I can’t interpret anything anybody is saying to me because I’m that overwhelmed, and a bell is a great shortcut. We have hand signals in my house now as adults, but it’s a great shortcut way to say, “I am noticing that you are doing this, you are having this problem.” This is my effort to make you notice that.
[00:36:00] And then also to show a child the association between – I think that children sometimes get upset or overwhelmed and they don’t realize that they’re overwhelmed? And even as adults, you’re overwhelmed and someone has to be like, “Hey, I noticed you’re overwhelmed,” and then you’re like, “Oh, you’re right!”
But the bell is a really nice way to be like, “Notice where you are. That’s overwhelm. That’s what that is.” So, yeah.
Dr. Subhani: And I would say, “We both need to do our breathing, because we’re both getting upset.”
Dr. Subhani: So I would ring the bell and we would do that. I may not have done the mindfulness, but I did do the breathing.
There are lots of ways to teach kids about mindfulness. One of the – I’ll put this in the packet as well – the way I taught my son as well was with Thích Nhất Hạnh. He’s a Vietnamese monk who basically brought mindfulness to the West. He’s really credited with that. He’s written a lot of cute little books for children. And those were the books that I used to teach my son, and I really promote them. They’re very readable, they’re user-friendly. They teach cute little techniques with beautiful little words to say to them, and so two of the things that I really recommend, when people want to get started, is to start by reading one of his books.
He’s even got a little book with a CD with music on it that teaches about mindful movements that you can do with your children. They’re really fun little exercises.
So, yeah, absolutely start your kids when they’re little, and they’re not going to need as much help when they’re bigger. You can do it with them.
Danielle: Absolutely. You’ve got to do it with them.
Dr. Subhani: You do it with them.
Danielle: And do you have any other tips? You gave us so many tips, I feel silly for asking, but –
Dr. Subhani: I feel like I did!
How to Get Started With Mindfulness
Danielle: Do you have any other tips that you wanted to mention, for folks who want to get started with mindfulness at home?
We have focusing in on your task or the specific part of your day, we have –
Dr. Subhani: Absolutely.
Danielle: Go ahead.
Dr. Subhani: [00:38:06] The easiest thing for adults is to start with one mindful activity. That’s when I talked about brushing your teeth or doing dishes, you just notice everything as you’re doing it. I would say start with one activity, even if it’s just drinking your first cup of coffee in the morning. Don’t try to be too hard on yourself and say, “Oh, I need to do three or four a day,” or “I need to build up.” Don’t. Just start with what feels comfortable and natural, start with just one a day. Maybe even just do it three times a week, and then gradually, as you notice that it’s really helping you get a good start to your day, you might want to increase it to two activities.
And then the other thing I recommend is to do a meditation, even if it’s just five minutes. If you do a five-minute sitting meditation and just use your breath as your anchor, so basically you would just sit and try to quiet your mind down and bring your attention back to your breath every time you get distracted, and just breathe calmly in and out. It’s nothing major, you can even do a guided one – there’s hundreds of meditations on YouTube. But if you just want to do a quiet one or, just sitting still and keeping focus on your breath, and just start with five minutes. Don’t make it complicated. You don’t have to do anything fancy. You don’t need a fancy meditation cushion. Just sit in your chair – you can even do it standing. You can do it standing in the bathroom for five minutes, after you get out of the shower.
But if you start with one activity, and a five-minute meditation – and do them as much as you can, whenever you can, without being judgmental. Don’t be harsh on yourself if you skip a day. Mindfulness is supposed to teach you about being non-judgmental, so bring that into your mindfulness as well. Just be kind and compassionate.
Personally, my favorite is self-compassion, so one of the first things I teach in mindfulness classes is being compassionate to yourself and teaching yourself compassion exercises. I’ll put one of those in the packet, because it’s my favorite.
Danielle: [00:40:14] That’s wonderful.
The self-compassion is, I think I said, the most important piece to me, overall, especially neurodivergent people, especially those of us who weren’t diagnosed until very late like I was. There’s so much self-judgement that has gone into your life before, and the best way to turn that around is to start noticing what you’re judging yourself for. Especially if you’re judging yourself by neurotypical standards that don’t apply to you anymore, because now you’re not a neurotypical person.
It can be really valuable just to pay attention to those and notice those and do some of that self-compassion work.
Dr. Subhani: Yeah, that’s really my favorite part – well, and positive psychology. I love all of them.
Danielle: There’s so many fantastic avenues.
Dr. Subhani: But the fact that you offer yourself some kindness, and that you’re living from a place of joy. I think those two components are so important with any neurodiverse population. It’s having that hope and optimism. Not just getting by, but getting by and succeeding.
Dr. Subhani: Being happy. Having a joyful life. Those things to me are so important.
How Rabia Created Mindful Village
I really want to get that message out. And lots of free information on the Internet, you don’t have to buy anybody’s program. I have lots of free resources on my site, I have a free Facebook group. There’s lots of resources available if you know where to look.
First, it’s having the knowledge that these things are helpful.
Danielle: [00:42:00] Yes.
Dr. Subhani: There’s not a lot of research with neurodiverse populations with mindfulness. It was hard for me to get training in anything – I actually ended up going to Amsterdamn.
Because there was a lady there who had created a program for teaching families who had children with ADHD mindfulness. So I went there to train for that program because I was like, “There’s nothing here.” The US was lagging behind, and this was only a few years ago. Even two years ago it was hard to find anything here.
Just knowing that it’s helpful that you can go find it anywhere. The information’s out there. It’s just making those practices part of your daily routine. You will see the benefits, I promise.
Danielle: It can be so empowering, yeah. Wonderful.
And I know you said it briefly, but just one more time, where can listeners find you if they want to learn more about any of your programs, any of the free resources?
Dr. Subhani: Oh, thank you. I actually have two sites. So my Dr. Rabia site is where my professional psychology stuff is and I have my bio and everything on there, and then I made another site just for the program, and that’s called mindfulliving-llc.com.
But you can link to either one from both sites, so that’s no problem. But the program is hosted on mindfulliving-llc.com. And I do have a free quiz on there, you can take to see how mindfully you parent.
Dr. Subhani: And there are a couple of, there’s a free mini-course on mindful parenting and a free masterclass on Five Ways to Self-Care While Taking Care of Your Neurodiverse Child. So there’s a couple of freebies on there if you want to test it out.
Danielle: Awesome. It bumps into everything we talked about today, it’s perfect. Great.
Well, thank you so much! I really appreciate you coming on the show today!
Dr. Subhani: Thank you, it’s been a joy talking to you and chatting, and I hope your listeners are able to use some of those practices.
Danielle: I think they will.
[00:44:10] Thank you all so much for being here today.
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