People, projects, the pandemic, and partners: Understood’s year in review

By The Understood Team

At Understood, where our mission is about helping shape a better world for the 1 in 5 people with learning and thinking differences, it’s both the big and small moments that illustrate where and how we have developed greater awareness and created real impact.

As we reflect on our efforts in 2021 and look ahead to 2022, we’re proud of the work we’ve done — and the work we’ll build on — together. 

Learning from and taking action around our research

We knew the pandemic would continue to impact children, parents, and educators this year — but our Pandemic Learning Impact Study in April and Back to School Study in July demonstrated just how profound and nuanced the effects were. 

In our April study, nearly 60% of parents of children with learning and thinking differences, like ADHD and dyslexia, said their children were a year behind academically, compared to just 33% of parents of typical kids. In the July study, parents of children with learning and thinking differences reported far more often than parents of typical students that their child experienced feelings of depression, anxiety, and inability to focus.

Using this research as our foundation, Understood, alongside UnidosUS, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), hosted a free Town Hall. We engaged hundreds of parents and teachers, helping them take action and seek expert recommendations to navigate the emotional, social, and academic challenges that their children were facing.

Sharing real stories via the Understood Podcast Network

Real stories, experiences, and perspectives play a powerful role in creating awareness, building understanding, and promoting advocacy. That’s why we launched the Understood Podcast Network, home to four podcasts: In It, ADHD Aha!, How’d You Get THAT Job?!, and The Opportunity Gap.

We are grateful for the individuals, experts, parents, and teachers featured on these programs. They’ve shared their stories and provided actionable advice to guide listeners on their own journeys, helping them learn, feel seen, and self-actualize. Tens of thousands of downloads and thoughtful feedback from listeners confirms the power of “real talk”: 

“Thank you for your podcast. It’s been exactly what I was searching for. It has brought me comfort and community that I didn’t know I was seeking. Please continue your work, it means the world to other people like you and [me].” ADHD Aha! listener

We’re excited to continue to grow and foster this community moving forward.

Taking N.O.T.E. of what works

2021 saw the second successful year of Take N.O.T.E., a web-based initiative developed in partnership with AAP to help families and teachers identify the signs of learning and thinking differences. We were able to scale the tool and offer enhancements, like new interactive elements and learning modules. This helped drive engagement and inspire action for more than 20 million people across the country. 

Kick-starting conversation through our Education Week webinar

Parent-teacher collaboration proved to be a challenging but critical aspect to support students this year. Our July research found that nearly half of parents didn’t know how to start conversations about learning challenges with their child’s teachers. So, in partnership with National PTA, we presented an EdWeek webinar about strengthening parent-teacher communication, offering tangible tips and teacher and parent e-guides to help kick-start conversations.

Hundreds of educators, parents, and caregivers tuned in. One president of a Special Education PTA attended, commenting, “Please make this talk available to all parents and teachers. It’s so important.”

Partnering to drive change

Our efforts would not have been as far-reaching or as effective without the collaboration of our partners. In addition to AAP, UnidosUS, CCSSO, National PTA, and others, we worked with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to design content for educator nonprofit Along. And we worked with Games for Change to improve accessibility within the gaming industry. 

Our work with our partners has tremendously extended and deepened the conversation and action around neurodiversity at home, at school, and in the workplace.

Looking back, looking forward

Looking back at 2021, we’re thankful for the people, partners, and stakeholders who elevated and advanced our mission — infusing hope, building awareness, and creating true and lasting change for people with learning and thinking differences. But we’re just scratching the surface.

By working together to shape our culture, our communities, and our world for difference, everyone can — and will — be Understood. We look forward to the work ahead of us, and we hope you’ll join us as we continue the journey in 2022.

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