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“Picky the Panda and the Tickly Tail” Author Melissa Finkelstein on Sensory Processing Disorder

by Faster Than Normal

Melissa Finkelstein is a New Jersey- based author, lawyer, and proud mom of three. Melissa has been writing and rhyming since she could form words. After graduating from Fordham Law, she began her career as a litigator in Manhattan. Because rhyming has always been her passion, she created a custom poetry business, Designer Rhymes so she could maintain that creative outlet. Once she had her son (7), and twin daughters (4), each with unique personalities and needs, the stars aligned for Melissa to publish her first children’s book. Picky the Panda and the Tickly Tail is the first book in a series of three to come from author Melissa Finkelstein. Picky the Panda is a heartwarming story about a highly sensitive panda, which shares lessons of embracing sensory differences, practicing empathy, and recharging when overwhelmed. Picky the Panda was inspired by Melissa’s daughter Skylar who has sensory processing disorder. Picky the Panda is now available on Amazon and in select children’s bookstores. Enjoy! 

In this episode Peter and Melissa discuss:  

01:20 – Thank you so much for listening and for subscribing!

01:39 – Intro and welcome Melissa Finkelstein!

02:48 – So from Law to Children’s books; tell us your story!

05:40 – Isn’t it amazing what kids teach us. Are you finding that people are familiar with the topics in your book?

06:57 – What led to getting your daughter diagnosed?

09:30 – How old is she now and have all of your children read the book?

10:15 – Do you think that she’s beginning to, (or will), benefit some from advances in awareness, research, etc?

11:18 – What’s been the reaction and feedback to your book outside of the family?

12:00 – Is the book being used to explain to your daughter’s classmates about Sensory Processing Disorder?

13:30 – On possessing supercharged senses

14:25 – How can people find more about you? Web: Everywhere fine books are sold

Socials:  @melissafinkelsteinbooks on INSTA

14:45 – Thank you Melissa!

15:02 – Guys, as always thanks so much for subscribing! Faster Than Normal is for YOU! We want to know what you’d like to hear! Do you have a cool friend with a great story? We’d love to learn about, and from them. I’m and you can reach out anytime via email at [email protected] or @petershankman on all of the socials. You can also find us at @FasterNormal on all of the socials. It really helps when you drop us a review on iTunes and of course, subscribe to the podcast if you haven’t already! As you know, the more reviews we get, the more people we can reach. Help us to show the world that ADHD is a gift, not a curse! 

15:41 – Faster Than Normal Podcast info & credits.

TRANSCRIPT via Descript and then corrected.. somewhat:

[00:00:34] Peter: Hey everyone, how’s it going? My name is Peter Shankman and this is Faster Than Normal. I wanted to see if you expected me to say it, try to shake things up a little bit. Okay. It is a Thursday here in a very cold New York City. We have to say a fond farewell to fall, which lasted about. Two and a half days, and we are most certainly into winter. It’s about 34 degrees outside right now, sunny, but cold as hell. So I am inside with a sleeping dog and with Melissa Finkelstein. She’s actually in New Jersey, but we are talking today because Melissa is a New Jersey based author, lawyer, and proud mom of three. She’s been writing and rhyming since she could form words. Her words, not mine. After graduating from Fordham Law, she began her career as a litigator in Manhattan. She created a custom poetry business called Designer Rhymes. So here she is as a litigator. Did you, I, I gotta ask you later, remind me to ask you if you actually rhymed during court cases. Cause that would’ve been awesome. Mm-hmm. . But why are we talking to her today? We’re talking to her. She has a son who’s seven and twin daughters who are four. They each have unique personality and needs. That’s where she decided to publish her first book called her first Children’s book called Picky the Panda and the Tickly Tale. It’s a first book in a series of three and Picky The Panda is a heartwarming story about a highly sensitive panda who shares lessons of embracing sensory diff differences, practicing empathy and recharging when overwhelmed, and I think we can all relate to that Picky The Panda- on Amazon and everywhere you get children’s books. Welcome Melissa. Good to have you. 

[00:02:15] Melissa: Good morning. Thank you so much. I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for that intro

[00:02:18] Peter: And just in case you ever think that nothing good comes out of divorce. Melissa came to me through my ex, let me get this right, my ex sister-in-law. 

[00:02:32] Melissa: That’s right. 

[00:02:33] Peter: My ex-step sister-in-law. Right.

[00:02:34] Melissa: I think you’re stuck with her. I think she’s just your sister-in-law still. 

[00:02:37] Peter: Yeah. My sister-in-law, she reached out to me and said, you know, hey, have a guest for you. I’m like, I didn’t even know you knew I had a podcast. So good to know . Anyway, it is great to meet you, Melissa. Thank you for taking the time. So from law to children’s books, tell us your story! 

[00:02:52] Melissa: Sure. So I’ve always been a writer and a rhymer, um, as I said, and that’s really been my passion and that’s kinda how I wound up in law. Um, I thought, you know, I’m really good at writing. I’m good at. Reading and problem solving. My skill sets seem to fit. I’m gonna go be a lawyer. It sounds pretty fancy and you know, I can have all this success and, um, I did have some fun and, you know, some fulfillment doing it, but I really missed like the joy and the whimsy of my childhood, to be honest. Um, so I toyed with the idea. Maybe I would be a preschool teacher. I know that couldn’t be more opposite from being a litigator in Manhattan, but I really just wanted to use my creativity. My fun, you know, happy go lucky personality and doing like corporate insecurities litigation really didn’t bring me that kind of joy. Um, as you might expect. And, you know, my life was all about disputes and I, I’m all about making peace. I’m like, what am I doing? Why am I fighting for a living? So this, this isn’t bringing me joy anymore. Um, so all along, as you mentioned, while I was litigating, I had my little side gig, which just really was. You know, a passion project and bringing me happiness and it was creating custom poems for people for, you know, milestone occasions and that kind of thing. And I loved making others happy through my words. And so once I had my kids, I thought, you know, this is perfect. They’re all so different. You know, they’re, they learned so much from children’s books and I think this would be a great outlet for me to use my words and. You know, I, I’m starting a series of three books, each of which are inspired by my three kids. So they’re like my little muses at this point. Um, and in doing so, I’m focusing on what, you know, one of their biggest personality, um, pieces or struggles or challenges are to, you know, try to reach children like them. And in doing so, I wrote and published my first book, Picky The Panda and the Tickly Tale as you mentioned. And it is inspired by my little girl, Skyler, who has sensory processing disorder. And I didn’t realize that by sharing her story, um, you know, I actually have become kind of a sensory processing disorder advocate and someone who is working. My butt off at this point to bring awareness to this condition and to what children like Skyler and um, like so many of your listeners might be experiencing. And that has been one of the most beautiful things to come from pivoting into my role as a children’s book author. 

[00:05:22] Peter: It’s interesting because, you know, I mean, first of all, I had some nursery school teachers who definitely could have been litigators, but, but that’s neither here nor there. Um, , it’s interesting, you know, you made that switch. Kids do that. They, they, they have this uncanny ability to take whatever you think is your thing and just completely flip it on its head. Um, the concept of sensory processing disorder much like ADD, a ADHD executive function disorder. Not a lot is known. And so bringing, I, I’m assuming one of the reasons you wrote the book was to bring awareness to sensory process. Absolut, what are you finding, um, when you tell people about it, what percentage would you say understand, oh yeah, of course. I’ve heard of that. Or, or, you know, is it, I mean, are you, are you, is it a constant battle with the teachers? Is it, how, how, how are you finding that to be?

[00:06:14] Melissa: It’s becoming a much more wide spread. Um, you know, thing that people are aware of right now, but I think really the book shares this Panda’s experience as being a highly sensitive, um, individual and what she goes through. And I think people are really relating to her experience more than they may have known or been aware of a diagnosis or a condition, um, called sensory processing disorder. So that’s really been beneficial to me. Um, so yeah, I would say. I, I don’t know. It’s a smaller percentage than I would like for people to be aware of because it is a very real condition and you know, a very intense experience for those who go through it. 

[00:06:57] Peter: How did you discover that your, how did you get your d daughter diagnosed? What was, what was sort of the key takeaways that, that made you say, Hey, we should look into this? 

[00:07:06] Melissa: So she was in, so she’s a twin. I’ll start with that. So, um, I was constantly seeing her right next to her twin sister, and, you know, all kids are different obviously. So she was having a very different experience as a baby, a child than her twin sister was. So I think that helped make it more apparent to me that she was going through something and she was in an obvious discomfort and, um, just kind of unsettled a lot of the time. And, you know, I knew there wasn’t anything medical going on with her because she, she was doing okay medically, we were bringing her to the pediatrician. Everything was fine, but I could just tell that she was uncomfortable. And my son at the time was in occupational therapy for a different issue that was going on. Um, and so I brought Skylar when she was one years old to this pediatric occupational therapist. Who I’ve come to know and trust and had her assessor and right away she said, this is something sensory going on. And to be honest, I was a doubter at first. Um, I didn’t really know very much about sensory processing disorder or sensory sensitivity or any of that. And, um, I can tell you later that I’ve come to realize that I actually have a lot of sensory challenges myself, which I’ve learned through my daughter. So anyway, this pediatric, uh, occupational therapist evaluated her and right away she knew it was something sensory. Um, I watched the evaluation and I was like, you know, I don’t know. I’m not really seeing it because she was, um, exposing to her to certain sensory, tactile, um, you know, things like sand and foam and, you know, different manipulatives that she could touch, and I thought she was fine. I’m like, you know, I see her getting her hands messy. But all along there were these little cues that were going on that she was able to pick up on. So just for one example, she showed me that while Skylar was, you know, digging into these Orbis, which are these like liquidy beads that children can play with, she was actually salivating and had like, Drool coming out of her mouth while she was doing it because her sensory system was just so overloaded, um, that while she was willing to do it, her system actually couldn’t handle it. So that’s just one example of how, you know, we came to be aware of it and then, you know, all the cues and clues just sort of lined up after that. And occupational therapy has been one of our greatest tools for her so far, 

[00:09:22] Peter: I’m sure. How old is she now? 

[00:09:24] Melissa: She’s almost five. Okay. 

[00:09:26] Peter: And has she, has she. Do you read the book to her?

[00:09:30] Melissa: Yes. Yes. I, all my children have read the book and they love it. And my other two children wanna know when theirs are coming out and they are in the works. , 

[00:09:39] Peter: One of the things that I’ve discovered, um, uh, about sort of, ADD & ADHD when you’re talking to kids about it, and so I’m assuming the same thing is, is truly is, it’s all about how it’s framed When I was growing. Um, you know, a ADD didn’t exist. What existed was sit down, you disrupt in the class disease. And, and so I, kids our age, um, if they eventually got diagnosed had also had to overcome the stigma of 30, 40 years of being told they’re broken. are you seeing with kids your daughter’s age because of advances in research? Advances in, uh, awareness? They’re not going through the whole concept of you’re broken, they’re not gonna have to heal from that. They can start looking at what they have as, you know, a difference as opposed to being broken. 

[00:10:36] Melissa: Yeah, I really hope that’s the case, and I agree with what you said. Um, and one of the purposes of this book is to frame heighten sensitivity or. Sensory challenges as a gift. And I know that that’s something that you like to speak about, um, in terms of adhd and I absolutely agree with that. Um, so in terms of heightened sensitivity, you know, yes, it can present struggles and challenges, but it can also be your greatest gift. It can be, you know, the way you use your imagination and can be creative the way you are compassionate and empathetic and can show love. So it can really be a strength. And that’s one of the things that I’m hoping to share with children who may feel like Skylar, um, as term in terms of their sensitivity, 

[00:11:18] Peter: What’s been the reaction or the, what’s been the feedback to the book or the reaction to the book, um, outside of your family? 

[00:11:25] Melissa: Oh, it’s been wonderful. I’ve been hearing from so many families saying, you know, we have a little picky at home. Um, you know, my daughter like, wants to read it every day. She feels like Pickalina so it, that’s been the best part of this. When I set out to become an author, I just wanted to use my words to make children and families happy and, you know, provide them with a good bedtime story. I actually didn’t have these higher goals of, you know, bringing such awareness. and acceptance to children with differences, but like that has become the greatest gift. And the thing that I’m most proud of and most excited about in my journey so far.

[00:12:01] Peter: Is the book being used, um, as sort of a way to explain to your daughter’s, classmates about the different, because I imagine that much like ad although ADHD manifests in different ways, I imagine that sensory processing disorder must manifest itself in some ways that would make the kids go, what the heck’s that all about?

[00:12:20] Melissa: Absolutely. So there’s a page in the book where Picky the Panda um, has become so overwhelmed that she’s feeling dysregulated and she’s hiding under the table in her classroom, and she is rocking and crying because she is so overwhelmed and her body feels such big feelings. And the students. Who are her animal friends gather around her and they yell Picky. It’s ok because you know, they’re just trying to be kind and they’re like, come outta the table, everything’s great. But for her, everything’s not great at that moment. So that, you know, that doesn’t work for Picky and it takes different strategies to get her to be able to recharge and calm her body down. So I think, you know, empathy and understanding and realizing that we are all different is definitely one of the biggest messages. So, yes, to make children, um, and classmates who encounter kids like Skyler or who have other differences to be accepting and empathetic. 

[00:13:12] Peter: I like the concept of supercharged senses in the book because, you know, adhd, I consider it a superpower and I try to frame it as a superpower. So the concept of supercharged senses sort of seems very similar in the respect that you just have to, you know, if, if when I talk about adhd, I talk about the fact that. You know, most people are given Honda Accords for brains and we’re given Lamborghini’s, and so that’s great, but you have to learn how to drive it, or you’re gonna crash into a tree. You know, anyone could drive a Honda. You need training to drive a Lamborghini. And so I’m assuming it’s the same premise with supercharged senses. I really love that term. 

[00:13:46] Melissa: Yeah, thank you. And absolutely, I agree with that. Something we have to learn to adapt to and adjust to. But like I said, it, and like you always say, um, it can really be seen as one of our biggest gifts. Very cool. So my daughter can, she’s, you know, the first one to smell something stinky or she can see something a mile away. She can hear that train coming, you know, 10 stops away. So, you know, she really does have supercharged senses, but it also can lead her to feel very overwhelmed and heightened at certain times.

[00:14:15] Peter: Very cool. How can, so I’m assuming, yeah, it’s available on Amazon, it’s available everywhere. Um, how can people connect with you? Are you on Instagram? Are you on Facebook? 

[00:14:24] Melissa: Yes. So I am on Instagram at Melissa Finkelstein books. Um, and that is a great place to follow me. I’ll have information about Picky the Panda um, sensory processing awareness and about my forthcoming books, um, the next of which will be out in early 2023. 

[00:14:42] Peter: Very, very cool. Melissa, thank you so much for taking time to be on Fast Than Normal today. I really, really appreciate it. 

[00:14:47] Melissa: Thank you so much. It’s been wonderful. 

[00:14:49] Peter: Awesome guys. Check out the book. It is a lot of fun. Picky, I love, I love, I love the title Picky, the Panda and the Tickly Tale, talking about sensory processing disorder as supercharged senses. I love it. We back next week with another interview. This is Faster Than Normal. God, talk.. I mean fast- talk about fast, right? The entire year it’s, it’s almost Thanksgiving here next week in New York, it’s gonna be Thanksgiving and I have absolutely no idea how that happened. And it’s Christmas and it’s New Year’s and yeah, it’s essentially summer already next year. So I dunno how we got there. But we will see you next week with another interview. Thank you so much for listening. Remember that neurodiversity is a gift, not a curse. And we are all on this train together. Talk to you guys soon. Stay tuned.

Credits: You’ve been listening to the Faster Than Normal podcast. We’re available on iTunes, Stitcher and Google play and of course at I’m your host, Peter Shankman and you can find me at and @petershankman on all of the socials. If you like what you’ve heard, why not head over to your favorite podcast platform of choice and leave us a review, come more people who leave positive reviews, the more the podcast has shown, and the more people we can help understand that ADHD is a gift, not a curse. Opening and closing themes were composed and produced by Steven Byrom who also produces this podcast, and the opening introduction was recorded by Bernie Wagenblast. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll see you next week!


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