Academia to action: Parents of neurodivergent kids need answers
Once research has shown that a practice or treatment is effective, guess how long it takes for hospitals and clinics to start using it. A year? Five years?
Sadly, it takes about 17 years. That’s an entire childhood. For families with neurodivergent children who are looking for answers now, this is unacceptable.
Four years ago, I did the unthinkable. I left a highly coveted, tenured faculty position at a university. I love research — uncovering life-changing insights into learning and thinking differences like ADHD and dyslexia. But I was frustrated. I wanted to make a bigger impact by helping parents understand and support their kids who learn and think differently. Right now.
I wasn’t alone in my frustration. I connected with Understood.org, a nonprofit that provides resources and support for the parents, caregivers, and educators of the 1 in 5 children in the United States with learning and thinking differences. Understood is dedicated to shaping the world for difference. They want everyone to be able to thrive in school, at work, and throughout life.
One challenge that Understood is working on is the basic problem of awareness. For example, more than half of Americans say they don’t have a clear understanding of what neurodivergence is. How do we tackle this? How can we be faster about turning cutting-edge research into actionable information that parents can use to support their kids?
It has to start with information that parents can access and understand.
Research roadblock: How did we get here?
Let’s be honest: Typical parents don’t subscribe to academic journals. These journals serve an important purpose. They’re peer-reviewed and validated by fellow scholars. But most of these journals are behind paywalls. More importantly, they’re not aimed at the average reader. They’re written with an academic audience in mind.
I’m not suggesting that we do away with academic journals. We just need to make complex academic findings easier for parents to understand and act on. When parents understand what the latest studies say, they can try some new strategies to support their kids. And they’ll have greater empathy about their child’s learning and thinking differences.
The overlap of mental health and learning and thinking differences
Is my child dealing with anxiety or dyslexia? Is this low self-confidence or ADHD? As a clinical neuropsychologist, I often hear questions like these from parents.
The short answer: It could be both. Mental health and learning and thinking differences have a significant and complex overlap. We need to know the underlying issue when deciding how to address a child’s needs.
Kids who are struggling in school often feel inadequate and frustrated. This can make them more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, and disruptive behavior disorders. These issues can further hinder their ability to learn, build relationships, and cope with setbacks.
Struggling teens who don’t have enough academic support are at higher risk for substance abuse, dropping out, engaging in illegal activities, and developing aggressive or anti-social behaviors.
Access granted: Putting research and tools into the hands of parents who need it most
When parents can understand and act upon the latest research about learning and thinking differences, kids benefit. Every step taken by individual families also creates progress toward a more empathetic and informed society — communities and schools where every child is understood, supported, and empowered to reach their full potential.
Understood.org is here to help.
With Understood’s library of accessible, expert-vetted resources, parents can finally understand and address their kids’ challenges — without having to wade through academic journals.
They can also download Wunder by Understood®. On this free app, they can connect with other parents of neurodivergent children, learn from experts, and access information from Understood.
Take N.O.T.E.®, a free, step-by-step tool, helps parents spot signs of learning and thinking differences.
Parents can also attend Understood webinars and talks by leading experts.
And on the Understood Podcast Network, they can listen to encouraging interviews on topics related to learning and thinking differences and children’s mental health.
It shouldn’t take 17 years for people to hear about a strategy that can make all the difference for their child. Resources like Understood are helping parents get the information they need today.