Transcript for Jenny Mai Phan

Kelly Bron Johnson (00:06):
Hi, and welcome to this episode of the Intersections on the Spectrum Podcast. The intersections on the Spectrum podcast is the brainchild and passion project of Doug Blecher and Kelly Bron Johnson created to discuss intersectional issues within the autistic community and give visibility to commonly marginalized, repressed, underrepresented, or erased identities and issues. We aim to introduce you to the people and stories you didn't know about but needed to hear and hope that by seeing yourself represented in the community allows you to feel seen.

Doug Blecher (00:42):
And today, well first off, Kelly, I should say, I like how you threw in a passion project, cuz that was a little bit of, something new, which I definitely would agree with a hundred percent. So, thanks for thanks for that. And, today we're, uh, we have the pleasure to be joined by Jenny Mai Phan. And Jenny just wanted to start out by kind of learning more about your identities and what would you say are the identities that you connect with?

Jenny Mai Phan (01:14):
Well, first I wanna thank you both for having me here on the podcast. And also I'm, I'm very appreciative of you including me as a representation of a marginalized group within the autistic community. So, with that said, the identities that characterize who I am are that I'm an Asian American, I am Vietnamese, a mom, a wife, a woman, a researcher, scientist, advocate, multiply neuro divergent autistic, a person with complex trauma and introvert. I connect with all of these identities, hence why intersectionality is really important to me.

Kelly Bron Johnson (02:06):
I think that's one of the not to say anything about our other guests, cause I don't wanna, I'm not speaking badly about other guests, but it was such a wonderful and complete exploration about all your different identities and the, the kind of labels that we hold. Right and I find a lot of people, sometimes they kind of shy almost to connect with certain identities and people will often feel that they don't have any identities. I think it's really interesting how you really dug deep into that one.

Jenny Mai Phan (02:36):
It's just something that more recently I've been connecting more so with all these different identities. So it took me a long time to be feel comfortable listing each one of those identities.

Jenny Mai Phan (02:54):
So Jenny, you're also a post-doctoral fellow at Children's National Hospital for the Center of Neuroscience Research Centers for Autism Spectrum Disorders. That's a long <laugh>, long title. Can you tell us about that role, particularly within the context of being an autistic researcher?

Jenny Mai Phan (03:13):
So, yes first of all, I should probably mentioned that not everyone knows that I am autistic where I work. Few people know. And I do hold a somewhat public position because I serve on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee. And each of the members on this committee have a public bio that is posted. So anyone can go to the website and find out who we are. And there I identify as autistic, as a self advocate and a mother, but not everybody go go and search this information. So, I'm not quite sure who I work with knows that I identify as autistic.

Jenny Mai Phan (04:03):
But the very few people that I work with closely knows and have been sort of like a champion of me being comfortable disclosing that I am an autistic researcher because as many people know, there's very few who are openly autistic and hold the position that I hold currently as a postdoc. And at the Center for Autism Spectrum Disorders I, uh, very obviously study autism, but I focus specifically on autistic adolescence and their development. And it's an area I have felt passionate about and therefore I've entered into this field, I wanna say right about four years ago.

Kelly Bron Johnson (04:54):
I think there's a lot, there's a lot of research that's lacking right from all different stages of our life. All different ways that well, I think research just a no, cuz we don't, we didn't even look into how, how autistic people change and function and transition over their lifetime. I'm actually involved right now in two advising for two research projects. One is for sexual health for autistic and disabled youth. Um, and it's being at this, this particular one is being met with a lot of like pushback and kind of censorship, like we're holding focus groups, but like, I've been trying to get the word out and parents, like some parenting groups have been like censoring it. They don't want it posted. They don't want us to share it. And it's like, we need to talk about it. We <laugh> we can't just, we can't just pretend this whole aspect of teenager hood or youth doesn't happen to autistic people.

Kelly Bron Johnson (05:51):
Like we, we still exist in the world and we still, we still need to value our, our health and our bodies and have access to information like anybody else. That's my little rant <laugh> of the day. But just, I'm sure that you might come up with other, um, sometimes there might be aspects of your research that probably there might be some pushback at times.

Jenny Mai Phan (06:12):
That's actually very interesting that you said that. The network I'm a part of, and this shows I think many of us have biases because of who we're connected with, right? And the networks we're adjacent to. The networks that I am a part of, many have been very open and inviting to, to have this research out there. And these are parents and these are parents of all different backgrounds. But I think it's still very valuable to hear what you just said, that your experience has been the opposite, where it's not welcomed and it's not invited for this type of research to be out there. And to kind of dig deeper into why that is and find a way for us to connect with those who are opposed to this research being out there. As you said already, this is, we are human beings, human beings, we are developmental by nature, but part of that development includes not just puberty, but reproductive activities and sexual activities. All these things are part of being human and to understand why there are people who are against this research being out there. And in particular for the autistic community.

Doug Blecher (07:36):
Now over, over the years, Jenny probably, um, been doing interviews for probably like four or five years now. And I've talked to a lot of different people and I've learned how so many different areas of research are kind of neglected. So, you know, when thinking, you know, really in particular to kind of intersectionality, are there ways you think research and academia, can and should be improved? I'm sure there's lots of different ways, but, what are some ways that you kind of see?

Jenny Mai Phan (08:10):
I love this question because it's, I bring it up almost everywhere that I go to conferences, to working group meetings, to strategic plan meetings. Intersectionality is at the core, I think of what has been missing in so much of the research literature. And, I don't think we can talk about intersectionality without acknowledging Kimberly Crenshaw. And just her approach to why intersectionality is so critical, not just in the legal sense, but in, in health, in community service, in relationships, in pretty much all aspects of our lives. So within research and academia, there's this talk about how we tend to compare between groups. And this is speaking about like, we collect, we collect data and then we, we run these statistical analysis and you have all these demographic data to compare between racial groups, between ethnic groups, between gender, between sex compositions.

Jenny Mai Phan (09:21):
And what is missing is the intersectionality piece when we do that, right? So what about the whole person? So a whole person could be someone who is, um, an American, a woman come from a low SES background, and has had, you know, different stress adversity as a childhood. So those make the whole person, And I think that when we say select a racial group to look at, so let's say we select an Asian group to look at, we would wanna look across these demographics within that Asian group. And I think that that conversation is finally after years of me being a research over 10 years that I'm beginning to see those, uh, maybe at my level or more senior than I am as a researcher, beginning to look at within racial group analysis because there's men and women and, you know, all the different, uh, people on the gender spectrum and sexual orientation spectrum that encompass within racial group, right? And that's why I listed all my identities at the very beginning because we want to look at those intersections and that way there could be more precision medicine that would best support people with these intersectional identities.

Kelly Bron Johnson (10:54):
I like that you brought it up and the kind of the kind of questions that people are asking. And like, like I'm, like I said, I'm advising on some research. I'm not a researcher myself, but I, I get to participate in some of the, the way that we're structured the questions and the surveys and things and, and I'm always asking, you know, why are you asking the question that you're asking? Like, what information are you trying to get from that? Like, what exactly are you going to do with that and how are you going to compare? Especially when you have things that are very, um, you know, when we talk about race and ethnic backgrounds, there's, it's, it's, it can get really wide or you can get really, you know, go really pinpointing. And I find too that the, the way that sometimes people are asking the question, so what I've seen in the past is they'll say, uh, you know, what is your race?

Kelly Bron Johnson (11:46):
What is your racial or ethnic identity? But then they only list like six major races, but no ethnicities. And I'm like, well, you can't, why are you asking for somebody's ethnicity if you're not even gonna put it as an option <laugh> to fill it in, You know, and your cultural identity and your ethnic identity is not necessarily the same as race. And it's, it's, you know, and I think getting people comfortable with that, I think, like you said, is kind of more of a shift and it needs to happen because we need to be comfortable with talking about these, not just the intersections, but just having the language for understanding the difference between race and ethnicity and, and that we can, you know, instead of lumping people all together, like for example, I'm, you know, I'm, I'm black, I'm mixed race black, I'm Canadian, I don't have the same, issues or I didn't grow up in the same kind of culture as black Americans have.

Kelly Bron Johnson (12:42):
And then, you know, my background is Caribbean, Caribbean blacks don't have the same background in and issues that Canadian blacks have, so on and on <laugh>. But like you said, I think it's a, it's a really important point that we're looking at to make sure that we're getting, that we're asking the right questions, that we're then getting the, the right kind of information so that we can then take that information and do something beneficial with it. Right.

Jenny Mai Phan (13:07):
Right. And, and I guess to add one more thing to the question, Doug, that you asked about how academia can adopt this intersectional way of looking at research participants, for example is to consider linguistics as well. There, I mean, if we look at the makeup of the United States or just, you know, many other countries, people speak different languages, and that's another really important part that we need to in consider in research.

Jenny Mai Phan (13:37):
And those outdated demographic questionnaires really need to be updated <laugh>. They really do. And Kelly, you really touched on it.

Kelly Bron Johnson (13:48):
Yeah, it's, but again, I think people will come with comfort when we're talking about race, when we're talking about anything that's not, what is traditionally seen, at least in North America as the default race of white. But without really any, any understanding of why that is and how that got there <laugh> when it's not even the, it's not even the global majority. But anyways, that's a whole other, whole other rant. I wanted to go back, uh, to, you know, understanding a bit more about your specific research, especially involving early puberty and sexual health education as it pertains to neurodiverse or neuro divergent and gender diverse youth. And so yeah, I'd like, I'd like to hear a bit more about, you know, the kind of things that you found and what kind of well, yeah, what's happening in terms of what kind of, uh, research or results that you found when it comes to the sexual health education?

Jenny Mai Phan (14:46):
I'll begin by saying that I'm pretty new to this area of work. There are many others that have come before me doing this work, as you probably know Kelly, and you may even know those researchers. And, I'm just kind of, I feel like jumping on a tail end of those who came before me, who've been doing this work for a while and have met so many pushback to bring this topic to the forefront of academia, to the forefront of research and to, for it to translate into policy. And I got into it like, like I mentioned just fairly recently, I would say about two years ago, right when Covid the pandemic happened, That was not my original direction. My original direction was a study, adolescent development, but then I was met with this pushback where, well, a lot of autistic adolescents are struggling to report their own pubertal development because they haven't had that education.

Jenny Mai Phan (15:56):
And so that's a big barrier to research is that autistic students are not receiving sex education. Not all, but many are not. And because they're not, they don't know how to report on their own pubertal development or sexual health development, how can they self-report on their pubertal development. And so people like me who is a puberty researcher, we do, we pivot, No, it's very important to include autistic adolescents in puberty research, but we have to do so much better with ensuring that they're getting this education more broadly. So then I pivoted and wanted to start researching sex education and through the people I connected with and through talking with families directly, asking them what has their experiences been for their adolescent and learning sex education. It's met with so many different answers, and much of the time parents are having to step in to fill that educational gap.

Jenny Mai Phan (17:02):
And so I figured, you know, well, if schools are not really teaching autistic students this really important life lesson in school and parents are having to step in to fill that gap, how are they doing that exactly, <laugh>. And that, that's when I started to pursue this work. And I'm continuing to do that here when I'm at a children's national hospital. It's detrimental, I think, to autistic youth to not get this education. They're not able to make decisions, informed decisions about their health and also reproductive rights and beyond that relationship quality, sexual desire, sexuality, those are also really important aspects of sex education. And adolescence is a time for them to explore these questions, right, and explore relationships to see what is the meaning of all of it. They're not getting this education or even talking about it with people who have these experiences and can relate their wisdom.

Jenny Mai Phan (18:12):
Then, they're, they're not just missing out. It's also, uh, harmful, I would say.

Kelly Bron Johnson (18:19):
It's extremely dangerous. And not just for all of society, especially when we talk about things like consent and things like that. And I know there's a huge community of autistic people who have HIV and aids because they weren't properly educated because they have sensory issues with protection because of a whole myriad of reasons that they've been left out of the conversation because they've been left vulnerable to being sexually assaulted or to be in, in relationships that they didn't necessarily consent to. Then a whole bunch of different dangerous activities that can, that can happen. I'm sorry, I don't know if we need a trigger warning for that. Maybe we should put one for listeners ahead of time, but, I'm very frank and very explicit because I think it's very important that we get, like the message out there.

Kelly Bron Johnson (19:11):
I created a, a curriculum for cybersecurity, so for online safety for autistic people. And, and one of the parts I put in was relationships, relationships, privacy, consent, because we also have a very high number of young autistic men, specifically a lot of the times who have been charged with crimes of a sexual naturend not because they're necessarily dangerous or because they're actually pedophiles, but it's because they did not know, nobody taught them that they, if they're 18, that they can't be messaging a 15 year old, even if their regular relationships might be like that because of where they are emotionally or developmentally. And it can be something that happens almost naturally. But its, I'm not, again, I'm not trying to defend pedophilia or anything like that, but there are times when they're quite innocent and innocent in the sense that they have been not been educated, they've been left naive and they've been left exposed in the sense where they didn't have the information necessary to be able to judge when somebody is catfishing them, when somebody is actually, you know, targeting them, and saying, Well, I'm a minor, but I'm trying to catch you kind of thing.

Kelly Bron Johnson (20:43):
That kind of thing that happens as well. Um, I've seen cases where, you know, they said, Oh, send me pictures and then if you, if you don't send me $500 now, I'm going to ,I'm gonna send this to all your friends. Things like this that happen. And it happens a lot, unfortunately, to people who haven't been warned or or educated in any way. There's so many, there's so many issues.

Jenny Mai Phan (21:09):
And it gets to one of the core traits of autism, which is being able to recognize social cues that and then process those social cues. So without that education, how can one process social cues that other people might expect of other people, but for autistic individuals, that's a really important thing for them to learn because of that difficulty that, you know, many autistic people struggle with.

Jenny Mai Phan (21:42):
And the other, the flip side to what you were saying, Kelly, is the, with the victimization piece is there are autistic youth who exhibit more compliant behaviors, right? And so that makes them vulnerable to victimization where, you know, you will have like a predator or someone who with not so great intention trying to target someone who is very compliant and with some autistic individuals who exhibit a lot of those behaviors may fall victim to, you know, someone who's trying to take advantage of them. And we hear, I hear the story all the time.

Kelly Bron Johnson (22:28):
I say too, you know, like my son is very rule based, so my son is also autistic. He's very rule based andnd so we've had this very open relationship where we've always spoken about sexual health, we've spoken about all sorts of different aspects.

Kelly Bron Johnson (22:43):
We've spoke about puberty. He has books to help him understand what's happening as well. But we had the conversation just before he started high school this September he started school. I put him back into school, actually, he was homeschooled for a bit. And I told him, I said, You know, you might, now you're going to high school, you might see people like, holding hands and making out in the forest behind the school. Like, I mean, I, I've, I know when I went to school, all sorts of stuff was going on. So I said, You might see these things. You know, you might see people smoking, you might see people taking drugs. You might see people might actually have sex, like, you know, he's, he's 12, but he's a very young 12 in that sense. So I kind of like, I tried to warn him in that sense.

Kelly Bron Johnson (23:28):
So, but you know what, you might see what you wanna do about it. And I told him, you know, these are, these are our values at home. I would prefer if you don't, um, if you don't go and have sex at this age, if you don't go and take drugs. And I would prefer that you don't, these are the values we have, but if you do and there's a problem, you can come and tell me. I hope he feels he could come and tell me, but to, to be frank about these things. And one of the things he said when I said that, you know, you might, you know, people might be having sex, right? And he was like, I thought, I thought that was illegal. And it's interesting cause I'm like, I missed, I obviously missed something, you know, conversation.

Kelly Bron Johnson (24:09):
Cause he's like, Well I thought that you couldn't have sex until you were like 16 or something. And I said, Oh. I said, Look, you can, there's no law against you having sex. Look if you're 13 with another 13 year old. But I said, somebody who was older than you should not be having sex with you. You should not be in a relationship with that. It's definitely somebody who's over 18. You should not be. So I said, I would prefer, again, talk about the values. I would just prefer that you don't go as somebody, let's say two years older or two years younger, you should stick with your own age group. But it was interesting because again, his, his context is like, well, I thought it was illegal. And I'm like, well, it being illegal, even if it were it being illegal also is not a protection. But he's very rule based, right? So it's, I had to explain that there's a whole whole lot of nuance to this and why the laws exist when the child is, you know, between a, somebody who's older and somebody who's a minor. But yet all of this needs to be part of the education that we're giving the, our kids.

Doug Blecher (25:13):
And I, I definitely have, like, living here in the United States, I have many, many problems with our educational system. It's too long of a list. And you know, particularly I don't understand the, the lack of sexual education and health education that's given, you know, particularly to autistic and disabled youth. But even in times when schools will offer that education, I've heard stories of parents that might sign a waiver to opt their children out from learning about puberty and sexual education in schools. So I really like to know more like about the research. Like what does the research say in terms of how harmful that is to teens when they don't receive, or even, I guess younger, you know, that that education could certainly start younger. What does the research say about the harmful effects to not receiving this education?

Jenny Mai Phan (26:16):
You know, one really excellent resource, no matter how people feel about them, the CDC <laugh>, cuz I know they're a very controversial agency right now, but the CDC does have really great guidelines for schools to implement sex education from kindergarten to 12th grade. So if people don't know this already, go to the CDC website and look up this information. It's a really comprehensive manual guiding schools and educators in how to implement these, this education starting in kindergarten and developmentally and age appropriate for each grade level. The problem is who are actually using this guideline and implementing this guideline in their schools. There's a lack of data on that. So I wish I can sit here, Doug, and tell you what the research says. Unfortunately, we just don't have that type of data. And the question is, are all the schools collecting this data so we can use it in research? That's still debatable. So, I I hope people listening to this are hearing that we need to collect this data.

Doug Blecher (27:36):
So I'm naive to about a lot of things in this world, so maybe can you educate me why schools would not be collecting this data?

Jenny Mai Phan (27:47):
I've asked around for those who've done this research for a while and I've been met with a lot of like question marks, so it's not quite clear exactly. Well, we've made some guesses, some educational guesses to why the state hasn't been collected. It goes all the way back to professional development training of teachers and educators. There isn't really this sort of global training curriculum of educators and professional development in sex education. I think schools are just kind of, they're using evidence based professional development training materials. So they compare teachers to deliver this education. But the gap here is, is it, has it been adapted for students in special education? That I think is still a question. And then if you've got kind of like push it a little bit, you know, forward, um, the teachers are spread thin, <laugh> schools are spread thin. They are collecting data on each student who are on an individualized education plan cuz they need that data to help them meet objectives and goals of their IEPs. But are they collecting data on, you know, whether kids are, really applying and understanding sex education? Have you heard of that? I haven't. And if people have heard of that, like I contact me, I'd love to hear what that has been like. But honestly I don't know that that, that's not a great answer. But I don't know why this data's not collected.

Kelly Bron Johnson (29:35):
I think it's scary and dangerous again too when we, when we have parents who are able to opt out of what should be a core curriculum, right? And I think there's a lot of misunderstanding of what sexual health education really entails. You know, it's, in my case and growing up we had it. But I'm in Quebec. Quebec is, we're very liberal to some extent. But, like my other son actually just started kindergarten this year, and I love his teacher's approach. She says every day when she takes them to the, she takes them to the bathroom as a group and she says, she goes, We use the correct terms for their parts of the body. And we, she goes, I make sure she goes, Everybody has to understand it's one person per stall. We're not going in there together.

Kelly Bron Johnson (30:29):
Right? nobody's going to be looking, shouldn't be looking underneath the stall or things like that. And she teaches them from this in kindergarten, you know, and you could say, Well, that, that's not sex ed. But,it is, it's part of being in society, understanding that people have rights to their body, understanding that people need privacy. It's something that's going to be, uh, useful for them for the rest of their lives. You know, this and they might not be getting that at home. You know, I, I've seen many families with young kids where, you know, the kids are always running into the bathroom all the time and this, it's fine up to a certain age, right? But understanding that we don't do that when we're in public and we're not gonna do that when we're at school. And you, you should not be going into somebody's bathroom stall with them and those kind of things.

Kelly Bron Johnson (31:13):
And that you can do that when the kid is five, six, whatever years old, it's in, it's okay. And it's not going to harm them. It's not, you know, all it does is give them more respect for their own privacy and for other peoples. And that's the basis, like in the end, that's the basis of all our good relationships, right?

Jenny Mai Phan (31:33):
Yeah. And if we think about puberty, for example, not every kid start puberty the same time. There will be kids who will start puberty much earlier than their peers. And so they start to notice all these changes and differences to their bodies. But none of the friends are experiencing that. And they haven't been taught why this is happening to their bodies. And it could, it's beyond just, it feels awkward because you stand out as looking different than your peers, but there's also these underlying biological and psychological experiences that comes along with puberty. That's why this education is so important early on because it also catches kids who are, who are experiencing these developmental changes earlier than their peers.

Kelly Bron Johnson (32:22):
And it's, it's, it's scary too. And I would say that I was, I came from a very open family and I was very well educated about changes in the body and about puberty and things like that. And I had an older sister. I kind of, I knew what to expect, but I also had, gender identity issues and I didn't have the language for it. And for the longest time, I had hoped as a child that I would one day wake up and have a penis and that I would not have a vagina anymore and I could just be a man essentially. And when I started going through puberty, you know, I started developing breasts and I wanted to, I was like, well, maybe I can push them back in, maybe. But I couldn't talk to anybody about that. And, and when I got my period, I didn't, I didn't tell my mother for like a day or two because I hoped that I would wake up the next morning and it would just be gone.

Kelly Bron Johnson (33:12):
And I was like, maybe it was a mistake. Maybe, I don't know, maybe I, I sat on something, I don't know, but like, I knew what it was, but I didn't wanna, I didn't wanna admit it. I was in denial because I didn't want that to be happening. Cuz for me, puberty meant that I was becoming a woman whether I wanted to or not. But there was no language for that, especially in the eighties. And like <laugh>, there was so no language for that kind of thing happening. But yeah, so I, I guess I wanted to talk a bit about the, really, you know, how this also, it's not just all in the schools, it's about the relationship that a child can have with their, with their parent, right? And it could be very awkward sometimes having these conversations as a parent.

Kelly Bron Johnson (33:54):
You know, and even in, in my household, as much as I don't, I don't always wanna talk about it and I definitely don't wanna see it, but talking about masturbation and things like that with your kid is, is awkward <laugh>. And, but it, to me, it's also important because it's part of their body and their pleasure and that's for them and it's important that they know that, that they can do that. Just not out in the open or something, but, you know, these awkward conversations. So I just kind of wanted to get an idea of what kind of suggestions that you have for, for parents who were going through that and having to, to broach these topics.

Jenny Mai Phan (34:31):
I think this is a place where parents can sort of put on their acting hat a little bit and pretend like they're doctors <laugh>.

Jenny Mai Phan (34:41):
And I tell families this all the time, that, you know, when things, when conversations like, these are awkward, it's okay to be a scientist or a doctor for just a moment and use medical terminologies or scientific information or facts that kind of make the conversation a bit more neutral. And I think kids appreciate that because they are not having to learn all these nicknames to body parts or activities. They know what the scientific community adopt as terminologies for body parts and for activities. And it's consistent because they can go and read scientific literature and it's the same language, hopefully <laugh>. It's the same language and that I think helps to eliminate some of that awkward feeling when going into the conversation. I have kids, I talk to mine about these topics very openly. And I don't know, of course this is my own experience.

Jenny Mai Phan (35:49):
I don't wanna say other autistic people are like, like me. But maybe for me, because I'm so direct and I see things very scientifically, and so I just speak the science to my children without thinking that there's all these other layers of feelings that come along with this information. And I just talk to them like a normal conversation about puberty and sexual health, and then they ask me questions and they don't feel awkward because I don't feel awkward. I think kids feel awkward because we, adults feel awkward. And so if we can try to make it less emotional and more stating the facts, it helps that conversation very much.

Kelly Bron Johnson (36:38):
Yeah, I think like, I, like I keep repeating you. I, I like facts, but I also, I talk about our, our values. When I say our values are in the, in the home and they're not, they're not necessarily morals or anything like that, but they're kind of I, what I consider guidance and I explain, you know, um, how intense and serious and the kind of responsibilities that come with having a sexual relationship with somebody, and talk about those layers as well. And that, you know, you have to be prepared to take care of your sexual health. Then that if are you able to have a conversation with your doctor about birth control or anything else, if you don't feel comfortable being able to do that, then I would suggest that you don't get into a sexual relationship.

Kelly Bron Johnson (37:28):
And that's, again, it's kind of the way that I kind of try to, impart that knowledge in a sense. But without, but again, without, without too much stigma, without too much emotion, but just be like, and this is what I would like for you because I, I don't want you to struggle. I don't want you to suffer. I don't want you to get sick. I don't want somebody to be hurt and I think that that can maybe be helpful for, for parents as well.

Jenny Mai Phan (37:55):
Yeah. And I, I definitely don't wanna leave this conversation without mentioning the teens with intellectual disabilities or non-verbal or non-speaking teens, uh, being that they should absolutely be a part of what we're talking about. And that curriculum has to be adapted for these adolescents. And it's, I hear it all the time from families, so we have to also think about this population too.

Kelly Bron Johnson (38:25):
No, a a hundred percent especially because they can be targets and they can be more vulnerable to predators as well. But just for, again, just because you're just being a human <laugh>, it's important that you have this information. That's, that's one of the things that I hear when I, when I talk about sometimes when I talk about these subjects, it's parents are like, Well, he's with me all the time, so that's never gonna happen. You know? and I'm like, But how do you know that he doesn't want something to happen? Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. Like, you know, you've never even, you've never left him alone for five minutes to even let him. Like, does he even know what you want? You know? And like, oh, well, it's just not, you know, you're, you're talking about high functioning people. You're not talking about my child.

Kelly Bron Johnson (39:11):
And it's like, oh, you know, at some point your kid's gonna grow up and, and want to have some space from you, and it's healthy to have space from your child, you know? And it's like they, it's like they don't consider it. It's even possible. It's not even, they're not, Well, I'm not gonna bother, um, giving him sex education because like, well, who's gonna have sex with him anyway? And oh my good. Like, this is so much of that. Like, I've seen so much of that, that it's, it's a difficult barrier, I think to overcome.

Jenny Mai Phan (39:44):
The infantilization right. Of autistic adolescents.

Doug Blecher (39:53):
Jenny, when, you know, I'm preparing to talk with you today, I, I learned, um, and this'll be the least important, question that you'll be asked today, <laugh>, but I I did learn that you are a foodie. So as someone that loves, loves to eat I really wa just wanted to learn a little bit more about that. Do you have a go-to dish, uh, cuisine? Um, are, are you, are you a cook yourself?

Jenny Mai Phan (40:24):
I do cook. I love to cook. I would and we eat as a family my kids love that. That's actually part of our routine that they love. If we don't eat as a family, it kind of breaks that routine. But I enjoy more, I think in the recent two years, , past two years cooking Vietnamese cuisine, my mom didn't really pass that down to me, so I had to learn this through YouTube <laugh>, figure out on my own how to cook Vietnamese food. But it took my kids, oh, so long to jump on the Vietnamese cuisine bandwagon cuz they love American foods <laugh>. And they ate that for a long time. They are finally loving Vietnamese food and I'm so glad because I love Vietnamese food. And it's also expanded their taste repertoire, which we most of, we know most autistic people have like sensory processing issues with food and very complex relationship with food.

Jenny Mai Phan (41:31):
And they're now, I think, enjoying Vietnamese food.

Kelly Bron Johnson (41:36):
It can be spicy, it can be quite spicy.

Jenny Mai Phan (41:39):
It can, yeah. It's, yeah. They're, they're still learning how to eat spicy <laugh>.

Kelly Bron Johnson (41:43):
Well, I, I know in the case of my eldest, um, his sensory thing is to have those strong flavors. So, I for when, when he was a baby and I was having a hard time getting him to eat foods, I used to have to sprinkle curry on everything. It was curry powder and everything. And he can eat ginger like he'll now he's eating sushi and things like that, so he'll eat the ginger and wasabi and he's, he can do, he can do like moderately spicy I'd say. But other son is completely bland, but he <laugh>. But yeah, like having, having those, especially when you have complex flavor profiles, when you have a lot of, uh, ingredients that really, you don't eat a lot, but I find they, they add a certain richness that is missing in a lot of, I guess traditional North American food or what do I call it? generic American food.

Jenny Mai Phan (42:35):
yeah, I have one son who is a sensory seeker, so he will explore different foods while my other son is a sensory avoider. So he likes bland foods, He likes no sauce on anything. And I do have to cook for him differently because he doesn't like flavors. <laugh>.

Doug Blecher (42:58):
Well, I, I don't understand how anyone can, uh, make any recipe without YouTube. So, well anyway, Jenny, it was, it was wonderful to have this important discussion with you. Thanks so much for joining me and Kelly today.

Jenny Mai Phan (43:16):
Thank you both for having me. Um, this was a great conversation and an important one. Um, thank you for also, um, creating a platform for this.

 Kelly Bron Johnson (43:26):
Thank you. It was very important.