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On International Women’s Day, the journey to being understood


For people with learning and thinking differences like dyslexia and ADHD, being understood by others is a journey.

And for women and girls, there are often additional layers that can make the journey more challenging. For example, ADHD tends to present differently across genders, which can lead to missed diagnoses among women and girls. Women with ADHD are one-third less likely to be diagnosed than men.

For this year’s International Women’s Day, we spoke to four women whose work entails supporting people with learning disabilities and ADHD. They’ve all had unique journeys and paths to where they are as leaders today, encountering their own challenges and opportunities along the way. Each person points to the importance of community and resources as key supports that enabled them to move closer to thriving and being understood.

Read on for their suggestions on how we can improve opportunities for girls and women with differences. And for more resources to help, visit Understood.

Claudia Rinaldi, PhD

Joan Weiler Arnow ’49 Professor of Education, Lasell University

Women face many serious issues in the workplace, including trust from your colleagues, not seeing anyone who looks like you around the table, and confidence. These issues are further exacerbated if you have learning and attention issues and if you’re a person of color.

As a Latina, I find myself with the trust and confidence to share my ideas, experience, and expertise, yet I often wonder if my differences challenge a system and culture that was created when women and women of color did not have a seat at the table.

In these moments, I wonder how Justice Sonia Sotomayor deals with these issues in a job dominated by men and with legal structures in place that were written by men over 200 years ago. I often reflect on how lucky I am to be a leader in my circle of influence — and how it can help future teachers, researchers, and professors to prepare the next generation.

I hope women continue to share with each other the ways in which they succeed. In my opinion, the best way to do this is through mentorship, highlighting all the good that we do in our society.

Juliana Urtubey

2021 Nevada Teacher of the Year, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Fellow

As a teacher, I know that one of the challenges we face is early and appropriate identification of girls when it comes to special education. We know that learning and thinking conditions present themselves very differently in women. So we need more research to support early identification in girls.

I typically teach kids who are linguistically gifted — they’re learning English either concurrently or as a second, third, or fourth language. The girls are typically well-behaved, especially those coming culturally from the Latinx community. They follow the rules. Because of this, girls often don’t get identified with learning needs until third, fourth, or fifth grade.

By then, the gap is daunting. I’ve worked with girls who’ve read at pre-K level. We’ve gotten them to read at grade level, which is beautiful. But I wish our society prioritized understanding what these learning issues look like for girls — especially how they present across different cultures.

Debra Ruh

Founder and CEO, Ruh Global Impact

I’m proud to be a woman over 60 and honored to have an amazing daughter with Down syndrome, now 33 years old.

My work was inspired by her because we were told she could never add value to the world. WRONG. She has added value in millions of ways over her lifetime.

I’m hoping that women’s movements will make more efforts to examine the intersections of diversity and inclusion. Let’s celebrate and promote all women, including women with disabilities, women of color, women who are part of the LGBTQ community, and other intersections. Let’s work harder to include in these intersections women with lived experiences of disabilities, cultural differences, and representing other underserved groups.

We have a lot to do. Women are still not being represented in boardrooms, in C-suites and leadership roles, and as entrepreneurs with access to investors — to name just a few problems. We also need older women to do a better job of including younger women in every aspect of these conversations.

Keri Gray

Founder and CEO, the Keri Gray Group

When I think of the path to leadership, I’m often reminded of the labor and contributions of Black women.

For instance, Olympic gold medalist Simone Biles has been outspoken about living with ADHD. I also think of Whoopi Goldberg, a Black woman with dyslexia, who has been one of the few people to win an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony award.

Despite much gain in representation and leadership, Black women are still facing disproportionate employment bias by being over-represented in minimum and subminimum wage jobs. This is compounded by the fact that over 80 percent of Black mothers are the key breadwinners in their families.

It is critical that we support Black women with equitable opportunities and resources to advance in their careers. The future is incredibly bright, as Black women are now the fastest group entering into the entrepreneurial space. Supporting their businesses and centering their experiences would dramatically improve conditions not only for the Black community but for marginalized communities in general.

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