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  • The Opportunity Gap

    Omicron, special education, and marginalized communities

    The new Omicron variant of COVID-19 is hitting schools. The hosts discuss the impact on students and on special education services. Schools reeling impact Omicron variant COVID-19. mean kids learning thinking differences? impact special education marginalized communities? Hosts Julian Saavedra Marissa Wallace discuss they’re managing new COVID wave parents teachers. get update schools around country responding, going virtual, others staying in-person, and — cases — even closing lack staff. Marissa also shares virtual charter school approaching Omicron wave special education. Julian shares poignant story student ran away home in-person school safe place. Related resourcesListen podcast parent fears COVID epidemic.Get eight tips help child learn home.Check 20 learning activities keep kids busy home.Episode transcriptJulian: Welcome "The Opportunity Gap," podcast families kids color learn think differently. explore issues privilege, race, identity. goal help advocate child. I'm Julian Saavedra.Marissa: I'm Marissa Wallace. Julian worked together years teachers public charter school Philadelphia, saw opportunity gaps firsthand.Julian: we're parents kids color. personal us.Welcome back everybody "The Opportunity Gap." we're excited want bring things happening right now. number one thing that's top lot minds, I'm sure too, Omicron. may know or, like me, still need learn science.What Omicron? Omicron one many variants COVID-19, lot health organizations really worried variant it's contagious others. going wild schools, spreading faster anything else. It's something us, parents, educators, people living country dealing extreme level. Marissa, what's going on? How's things? Happy New Year, general, times hitting family?Marissa: It's, mean, it's whirlwind, right? Like, feel like would've said, "Hey, like, think life going like January 2022, coming back break?" don't think would anticipated this. especially get also parent, educator Lincoln school, it's, like, kind of, know, there's two different experiences going on. felt optimistic beginning school year. right I'm just, I'm kind feeling exhausted defeated. feel like might lot families students feeling, like, yeah, thankful nice week-and-a-half break enjoying holidays family kind taking opportunity spend quality time. However, felt like anxiety started skyrocket, and, like, Sunday scaries were, like, insane. don't think slept actually Sunday Monday all. trying figure school going like, mean, know unique situation since I'm teaching virtually. even still, like this, pandemic continues impact us numbers enrollment continues rise. we're experiencing, like, different type issue. also sending son back in-person, um, I'm gonna lie. don't even care. Like whatever, I'm, I'm ignoring pandemic exists. days can't stop thinking it.Julian: I'm sure every mom thinking thing. Like turn news see cases rising, depending know safety precautions are. think it's OK send kids back school. worried won't option. mean, let's keep real. celebrate Christmas, Christmas intense. two little kids. younger kid and, know, moms dads whole holiday thing. mean, I'm it, I'm tired executing that. It's lot, right? that, entire week off, fortunate blessing us, it's also week kids house.And top that, we're going back forth whether kids going back school whether they're staying house, figuring work, figuring childcare, that's something need. It's really, really difficult — us.Marissa: think us, like, really relaxing break. However, Lincoln sick break. course it's like, time sick, don't know is. adds whole layer, someone asked me, they're like, "If wasn't cough feeling well different time, know, prior pandemic, like, would handled break way did?" essentially looked like us quarantining first four days Christmas, were, like, convinced COVID, know. even though he's, like, running around house like, "Hey, like, don't something fun?" I'm like, "Oh, we're not. Like, we're going wait get results." They're like, "Would done that?" mean, thankfully negative, really quarantine like, well, don't want person goes out. thought like, take coughs public, know that's like.Julian: know. cough, runny nose, uh, know, symptoms, it's already little bit shock system. used be, know, normal December, January thing.Marissa: Yes. keep moving. say sad part, too, is, like, end ear infection only, doctor focused COVID. like, soon got negative results, like, OK, cool, like, you're fine. understand health professionals overwhelmed. like, couldn't get seen get, like, antibiotics. instead to, like, tell kid, like, I'm sorry, but, like, best telehealth appointment in, like, two days when, like, you're even going experiencing symptoms anymore.Julian: Let's think even lack tests. mean, I'm sure everybody's talked that, mean, fact hard get test, mean, know, rapid test versus PCR tests thing. know, wife searching city Philadelphia, suburbs, mother-in-law searching, mom searching. saddest part babies used taking test, becomes celebration comes back negative. Like used, they, they, like, start getting hyped up. Yeah, I'm negative, Dad! Woo-hoo!Marissa: Lincoln told best day life. told Thursday morning, like,"Bud, don't COVID!" He's like, "This best day life!" I'm like, oh God. like, laugh, but, like, what? know, we're laughing, it's, like, that, serious depth think that, like, children so, like, one, immune to, like, process, right? Like, life. Like, they're like, oh, like, get cough, get tested COVID, get super excited it's best day life find go back world see friends got negative test. kind dive continue talk this, think listeners, it's important hear that, like, every family, every situation, every child, know, kind factor things going make choices best family. think school district leaning toward going virtual similar scenarios what's happening Philly. Like our, ability keep staffing building problem. cases, like, know every day week, Lincoln's come home laptop, that's new, wasn't happening week.Julian: specific viewpoint region we're in. know across country, know, things happening different ways. producer, Andrew, he's always research us help us get data behind talk because, know, deal see state may reflect what's happening everywhere else. Andrew, got us?Andrew: Pennsylvania, so, talked earlier week, sort talked about, know, asking around country what's happening. obviously read news articles, aren't always what's happening people ground. reached half dozen teachers, half dozen parents, big network Understood. thing think took away conversations emails people things place. mean, know, remember Kareem, guy Kareem, show little ago, reached person Arizona, teachers systems virtual. place sort Omicron thing hit differently. one thing think say, people wrote back me, they're sort different types situations. There's one you're going virtual, right? that's

  • In It

    Can we talk? Omicron, school, and our parenting fears

    Living in a pandemic is hard. With the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, it feels even harder. How do we start off yet another year in a pandemic? Living in a pandemic is hard. With the latest surge in COVID-19 cases, it feels even harder — and not just for parents of kids who learn differently. In this episode, hosts Amanda Morin and Gretchen Vierstra invite you to join them in a collective scream about Omicron, school, and parenting. Listen as they ask themselves how to start off — and make it through — yet another year in a pandemic. While they don’t have answers, they hope you find comfort in knowing you’re not in this alone. Related resourcesTips to build kids’ empathyHow the stressful news affects how kids learn and thinkWhy we’re not calling it learning lossEpisode transcriptAmanda: Hi, I'm Amanda Morin.Gretchen: I'm Gretchen Vierstra, and this is "In It." Today we are actually breaking form to do something a little different. Amanda: We would love to invite all of you to join us — vicariously, anyway — in a giant collective groan or scream, whichever you prefer. Gretchen: Oh, God, living through a pandemic is so hard. And we all already know that. We've been doing it now for about two years.Amanda: But this latest wave is bringing up such new challenges, especially for anyone who cares about kids who learn differently, who has kids who learn differently, who teaches kids who learn differently, who knows kids who learn differently.Gretchen: Exactly. So let's start local then. Amanda, how are things for you and your family in Maine?Amanda: I mean, the good news is we're all healthy right now, right? And so, you know, we went through our bout of COVID. Maine's hit pretty tough right now, though. Our hospitalizations are up high. People are getting COVID, and it means that schools are rethinking how they deliver services, whether they're going to be online or whether they're going to be in person, whether they do pool testing, how do they do social distancing. And you know, I have a sixth grader. We ended up getting COVID in October before he was able to be vaccinated. And he was afraid to go back to school yesterday because he didn't want to bring it home again, and I felt terrible.Gretchen: How did you handle that? How did you help him go to school?Amanda: I just, you know, put his boots on and said "Go.” No, I'm just kidding. I mean, the best I could do was say, "It wasn't your fault, you know? Like, none of this is your fault." And I think for so many kids like mine who have, you know, anxiety or worry about things or think deeply about things, I think they don't understand what's within their control and what's not within their control. How's it going there? I mean, what's it like in the Bay Area for you right now? Gretchen: California feels OK so far. I don't know, maybe I'm just oblivious to the news. But I would say that for us, the main thing was anxiety over "Oh my goodness, does this mean Zoom school again?" Because I also, as you know, have a middle-schooler. So she started her sixth-grade year on Zoom, right? So this is the first year in an actual building as a seventh grader. And that was the first thing. "Oh no, please. No. No online school. I can't do it again. I can't do it again."Amanda: You know, it's interesting. I'm going to actually see if our producer, Julie, would hop in. Because she's in a totally different state. You know, you're in California, I'm in Maine. Julie, you're in New York. Yes?Julie: Yeah, I'm in New York. I also have a middle-schooler. She goes to a huge school. And her first day back, she found that out of 29 kids in her class, 19 came to school. And we don't know if kids were staying home because they were sick or because they were just fearful. There's just a constant question. You know, is it right to send your kid into a school, which realistically I don't think can fully ventilate, where they — I don't believe are actually doing any testing? So it's hard. Gretchen: I mean, let's face it, middle school is hard enough as it is. Then on top of it, you're adding a pandemic. And then on top of that, you're adding maybe missing out on services that you can't get provided if the school's not able to fully, you know, run up to function or whatnot. Amanda: And on top of that, you're adding the "Well, if I test positive, did I get that from one of my friends? Did I give that to one of my friends?" Like, I think there's all this stuff tied into it.Gretchen: So then I think, too, you know, with all of this with having to maybe up your mask game, right, to a mask you don't want to wear, and maybe having the pool test when you don't really want to do that. There's probably kids right now out there who are saying, "I don't want to go into a physical school building anymore." And I know that we have an upcoming episode actually of "In It," where we talked to two parents of a child who during the start of COVID did not want to go to school. And for parents like that, this might be a time where that comes to fruition again, where kids don't want to go to school. And what are they to do? Amanda: I know, right? And it's so funny because when we recorded that episode with that family, we didn't anticipate that it might be something that would come up again. So I've been thinking about them actually and wondering how their son is doing, going back to school again during what seems to be another wave of the pandemic. For me, what I found is the best we can do is acknowledge that this is unusual. Not something we ever expected, that it has gone on for a really, really, really long time. I mean, I think this is the time where my skills as a mother feel most tried. I don't know about you. But yes, I'm frazzled. I'm exhausted. I'm trying to keep up with the latest and I don't — I don't always know how to say I'm confident because I don't feel confident as a mom right now.Gretchen: This is such a hard time for families and such a hard time for teachers yet again. And so I think about that side of it too, right? Like, we're stressed, our kids are stressed, and then there's teachers who maybe a lot of their colleagues are out sick. Amanda: Well, I don't know about you. I've also heard from some of my teacher friends that they've had colleagues decide to not teach anymore, which, yeah, I can understand. And also, I think it's such a loss. I think it's a loss for our students, especially in special education or students who had found their person. Gretchen: I think you brought up a really good point. And I'm thinking back to our conversation with Kareem Neal about learning loss and how connections with teachers and staff is so important. And sometimes maybe it's not going to be the teacher that your child currently has. And so this might be the time we have to start thinking outside the box. Who can, you know, our kids go to for connections at school? If, you know, our kid's teacher's out sick or — I mean, who knows what's going on? You know, I just don't know. But it's just time to remember that the school is a huge community and there are connections to be made outside of just your child's teacher.Amanda: Yeah, one of the things that online learning did was sort of broke down some of those walls, right? Everybody had their Google classroom or their Zoom classroom or whatever classroom, and kids had their teachers' email addresses and those kinds of things too. I think it's probably worth remembering that the teacher your child connected with last year is probably somebody they could get in touch with again if they needed to. You know, and for me, I'm really hoping that we can figure out ways to keep schools open that are safe. Because I think you're absolutely right about keeping those connections. And not just for the kids, for the teachers, too. I want to be able to have people be safe and together, you know?Gretchen: Yeah, I mean, because we all know that the isolation of the pandemic has been hard on our kids.Amanda: Yeah. Gretchen, what's your word of advice to the parents like us out there? Gretchen: Oh, I, you know, I'm a planner. I love to plan ahead. I always like to think way ahead and I have had to adjust. And I think that's one word of advice is just we can't plan, you know, out way in the future. In times like this, we plan day by day. And we just — I personally have to figure out how to live with that. And that's hard for me. But I'm trying and I'm breathing and — what about you, Amanda? Amanda: I'm not good at that, either, so I will take that advice if I can. But I think for me, it's about remembering what I can control and what I can't control, and teaching that to my kids, too — that some of this is just not in my control. And that we're all going through this, right? So I don't know if that's advice necessarily, but it's a reminder: We're all going through this in one way or another. So when it feels really isolating, at least we're all feeling isolated together. I'm going to put our producer, Julie, on the spot again and see if she has any wisdom. Julie: Oh, I'm going to cut all of this. I think one thing I'm just thinking is that one size doesn't fit all, and I think I see a lot of arguments between people who are like, "How can schools not be open?!" versus "How can schools be open?!" And they're mad at teachers and they're mad at their department of education, they're mad at other parents. And I just think that the solution that works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another one, and that we just have to know that we all want the best for our kids and hopefully for our teachers and for our school systems. And that if we could all step back and just recognize those differences. They don't have to be political differences. They don't — they're not even scientific differences. They're just we have different needs. Yeah, but also I'm just thinking, you know, the temptation if you don't send your kids to school is just to kind of disappear, I think. And I'm thinking it could be really important for kids or parents to reach out to teachers and say, "Hey, this is what we're thinking. This is why we're not there right now. We'd like to be or we hope to be." Because I just — I think we are all sort of folding in on ourselves and feeling isolated. It could still be a conversation.Gretchen: Everyone's situation is different, right? For some people, going to school is a necessity because it's going to enable you to work. For others, sending the child to school — you fear they might get sick, which will not enable you to work because now you can't work because you are sick. Or your caretaker, you know, for your child, is someone older and you're afraid of getting them sick. So now you're not using that caretaker anymore. And so now how are you working? Even if you are working from home, there could be a toddler running around you again with, you know, nothing but "Sesame Street." Amanda: And maybe that's part of it too, right? Like, maybe there's a component of this where we have to remember to give everybody grace. The rules just change, and assuming that everybody's making their decisions based on the same criteria, it's just — it's not reasonable to think that. I'm not even sure I make my decisions on the same criteria day by day, to be honest.Gretchen: I know, and sometimes I question all of my decisions, you know? Amanda: Just know, we're always in it with you. And this is what we wanted to say to you today. We're feeling the same things and dealing with the same things and making the tough decisions, and we kind of want to know how you're doing, too, right now. So email us if you have a chance. You can email us at You can leave us a message at 646-616-1213, extension 703. That's a whole lot of numbers. Let me give you that again. It's 646-616-1213, extension 703. We want to know how you're doing. So, you know, we might share it on a future episode, or we might just play it over and over again for Gretchen and I to feel better and know that you are in it with us. Gretchen: Exactly.Amanda: You've been listening to "In It," part of the Understood Podcast Network.Gretchen: You can listen and subscribe to "In It" wherever you get your podcasts.Amanda: And if you like what you heard today, please tell somebody about it. Gretchen: Share it with the parents you know.Amanda: Share with somebody else who might have a child who learns differently.Gretchen: Or just send a link to your child's teacher.Amanda: "In It" is for you. So we want to make sure that you're getting what you need.Gretchen: Go to to find resources from every episode.Amanda: That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G slash in it. Gretchen: As a nonprofit and social impact organization, Understood relies on the help of listeners like you to create podcasts like this one to reach and support more people in more places. We have an ambitious mission to shape the world for difference. And we welcome you to join us in achieving our goals. Learn more at "In It" is produced by Julie Subrin. Justin D. Wright mixes the show. Mike Errico wrote our theme music. Laura Key is our editorial director at Understood. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are production directors. Thanks for listening, everyone. And thanks for always being in it with us.

  • How to ask for COVID-19 accommodations at work

    Diabetes. Anxiety. HIV infection. Autism. These are only a few examples of the conditions that may count as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you have a disability, you may be protected by the ADA. Qualified workers can use this law to ask for coronavirus accommodations at work. Many people have disabilities that could make COVID-19 more dangerous if they get it. And lots of workplaces are changing their rules and systems, which can create new problems for employees with disabilities. For example, a worker with hearing loss who relies on lip-reading may have trouble understanding people wearing masks. An employer might make an accommodation so the employee can continue to perform their job. An accommodation is a change at work that removes a barrier for an employee. In the example of the worker with hearing loss, an employer might make an accommodation by switching around shifts so the worker doesn’t need to work with customers. Many employees may not realize they’re protected by the ADA. And they may not know how this law protects people with disabilities from discrimination, including at work. Here are some facts about employee rights under the ADA, and some tips for asking about COVID-19 at work. Looking for a shareable printout? Download our fact sheet about workplace accommodations here.Who does the ADA protect?The ADA protects people with disabilities who are “qualified” workers. This means they meet the general requirements of the job and can perform its essential functions, with or without reasonable accommodations. The ADA applies to employers with 15 or more employees. What disabilities are covered by the ADA?The ADA considers a disability to be any “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” There’s no comprehensive list of disabilities covered under the ADA, but many conditions qualify. Disabilities can be: Visible or invisible Physical, mental, or both Lifelong or temporary The ADA also protects workers from discrimination because of a past disability, or because an employer thinks the worker has a disability. How can the ADA help protect workers during the pandemic? Under the ADA, employers must provide reasonable workplace accommodations to workers with disabilities. Here are some examples of accommodations that employers have made due to the coronavirus: Changing job duties at a store so the employee has less interaction with the public Allowing a desk-based employee to work from home Offering changed or flexible schedules so fewer employees are in the same area at once Providing personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks It’s important to know that there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to workplace accommodations. An accommodation that works in one case may not work in another, even if two workers have the same type of disability. How can I ask for accommodations related to the coronavirus at work?Start by talking to your manager and/or HR department. You can do this either in person or in writing. There’s no special form that you need to fill out to ask for reasonable accommodations under the ADA. But your workplace may offer a request form to make the process easier. Make sure to say that you’re requesting an accommodation because of a disability or medical condition. That will help your employer to understand that your request relates to the ADA. It’s also important to connect your request for an accommodation with your ability to do the essential functions of the job. Make clear that this is about need, not preference. Can I suggest a specific accommodation?You can suggest an accommodation that you think would work for you. Many employers will appreciate the guidance. But it’s possible that your employer will make another suggestion. A reasonable accommodation doesn’t have to be the specific accommodation that you request, as long as there’s another accommodation that would work just as well. Employers aren’t required to do things that fundamentally change their business. For example, an employee might ask to work remotely because of the coronavirus. But sometimes the essential functions of the job may be difficult to perform remotely. An example might be a restaurant server who needs to be in the restaurant in order to do the work. Your employer may engage in what’s called an interactive process. That means working with you to see if there’s a reasonable accommodation that works for everyone. Can my employer ask for more information about my disability?Your employer may ask for more specific information about the nature of your disability and how it relates to your ability to perform the essential functions of the job. The ADA permits employers to request documentation, such as a note from a doctor. But the law requires employers to keep that information confidential. Where can I find more information about COVID-19 accommodations in the workplace?Here are some ways to get more information about workplace accommodations and the ADA, including information related to COVID-19.  Job Accommodation Network (JAN)The ADA and managing reasonable accommodation requests from employees with disabilities in response to COVID-19 Coronavirus (COVID-19), stress, and mental health conditions Engaging in the interactive process during the COVID-19 pandemicEqual Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)What you should know about COVID-19 and the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and other EEO lawsPandemic preparedness in the workplace and the Americans with Disabilities ActUnderstoodADA accommodations at work: What you need to knowUnderstanding invisible disabilities in the workplace30 examples of workplace accommodations you can put into practice

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    Building an ADHD starter kit

    Dan Reis was diagnosed with ADHD during the pandemic. Now, he’s made it his mission to explore coping strategies to help him get his work done. Dan Reis is a product designer at an e-commerce startup — and a listener of the podcast! Like many others, Dan saw his coping skills vanish during the COVID-19 lockdown. This led to him finally getting diagnosed with ADHD. Since then, Dan has made it his mission to explore different tools to build his own “ADHD toolkit.” Through trial and error, he modifies strategies to work for him. And he uses these tools to get his work done. Through self-compassion, routine changes, and experimentation, he’s understanding himself better. And, as is true for so many of us, he knows there’s still a long way to go. Related resourcesADHD treatment without medication: What are my options? Understood Explains episodeWorkplace supports: Trouble following instructions and managing deadlinesThe Pomodoro techniqueEpisode transcriptDan: My wife shared some comics with me that some people had made. And it was like, wait, all these people are describing these things that I thought were just like me things. Like things around mood and emotion regulation. Things that I never would have thought could have been an ADHD thing. And so it was like this giant umbrella suddenly of all these struggles that I had that I thought were all sort of one-offs. And it turns out oh, all these things are all kind of connected. Eleni: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "How'd You Get THAT job?!," a podcast that explores the unique and often unexpected career paths of people with learning and thinking differences. My name is Eleni Matheou and I'm a user researcher here at Understood. That means I spend a lot of time thinking about how we find jobs we love that reflect how we learn and who we are. I'll be your host. Our next guest, Dan Reis, is a listener who wrote into our email Like many others, the coping skills that were built into his life vanished during lockdown. This led to him finally getting diagnosed with ADHD. Now he's made it his mission to learn about ADHD and himself, and build his own ADHD toolkit. Dan is a product designer at an e-commerce startup, but he uses these tools to get his work done. Welcome to the show. Dan: Thanks for having me. Eleni: I know that you wrote in. Tell us how you found the show and what you liked about it. Dan: I think I heard — someone from Understood was on another podcast. I can't remember which one. It might have been "ADHD reWired." And I heard about the podcast, and so I checked them out. And one of the things I was wanting to do more of is to get more involved in the ADHD community and just general neurodiversity. And it's something I've become very passionate about. And so I was like, How can I find ways to make connections? And so I was just like, What if I just reached out and I just did it? Eleni: Yeah. Well, thank you for doing that. It's very exciting. So, I work on a product team. I'm not sure if you know that. I look after user research, and I work with a lot of product designers. But for our listeners, could you tell me, like, what is a product designer and how is it different to a graphic designer? Dan: So I spent much of the first half of my career in graphic design. One way to think about graphic design is it's more like advertising. I'm a senior product designer, but another word for that is user experience or UX. And so I do a lot of research and learning about how people use software and how to build software so that they can use it to solve their problems. Eleni: So you mentioned that you started out in graphic design. What made you decide to make the move into product design? Dan: Yeah, I was always fascinated with user experience, and watching and thinking about how people think and how they use different tools. And eventually, I think 2016 or so, I started to take some courses on UX and really learned what it was. And one of the things that really radically changed my perspective was the book "The Design of Everyday Things." And they talk about things like light switches in a house and how there's like sometimes you'll see six light switches and there's no labels, and you have no idea what each switch does. And that fascinated me, because it's like the real-world usability issues that we all experience. Eleni: What would you say some of the transferable skills are? Dan: Some of the biggest ones would be listening to people. And when I say listening, it's really about not trying to validate what you think, but to hear people out and understand what their struggles are. It's a lot of communication and language that I think is super, super relevant to it, like anything you do. And so just like the language and the usage of technology as a way to communicate with people. Like what are they feeling right now? Are they nervous about something? You want to make sure that the interface isn't going to stress them out. Is the lighting bad? Thinking about accessibility is a huge one. Make sure people with different types of vision can read and clearly understandings. Eleni: How do you think that, you know, your own learning and thinking difference plays into that? Because it sounds like there's a big empathy piece there. Dan: Absolutely. And a intention of mine is to think about it as What are my struggles? How do I solve for myself? So my lack of working memory is an advantage. It's like if I give myself these, you know, I have to follow these 10 steps or whatever. And on step 3, suddenly I have no idea what I'm doing. Well, I'm going to solve for that. If it doesn't make sense to me, it's not going to make sense for someone else. And so thankfully, it's like I almost am my own user tester in a lot of ways, because usually what works for me makes — works for others because I have to solve those problems before I'm going to share it with someone else. Eleni: I love that. Like, what would you say are the most important skills to have as a product designer? And, you know, for you personally, would you attribute any of those skills to ADHD?Dan: For anyone in this industry to be successful is a willingness to learn. And so over my career, I have to do deep dives in order to learn or specialize in something to solve a specific problem. And over time, you start to collect those things, those learnings. And then you might not need to use it again for a while. But it's always there and it's a great lens. So, when I started to learn about accessibility, for instance, it wasn't always the top of mind at a company. And so I have to advocate for it. But then there are times when it is top of mind to make sure that something we build is compliant for accessibility. And so I have to be able to specialize in things and then come back to it and then relearn about it. And so it's like building a toolkit of skills and then knowing when to use them and then when to like, lean on experts. Eleni: So I know when we last spoke, you mentioned that some of your coping mechanisms were kind of failing during the pandemic, which is what led to your diagnosis. Can you share what some of those coping mechanisms were, and why they were no longer working? Dan: Yeah. I have been doing a mindfulness practice for like a decade now. But what happened during the pandemic, it added this level of stress from whether it was watching the news all the time. And that was really stimulating. I look back on it now and it's like that was super stimulating to be watching the news when it was breaking news every night. And that was exhausting. It was super unproductive. And I was at the same time having a pretty harsh inner dialog. And eventually I started to learn the idea that I possibly could have ADHD. And eventually I saw — my wife shared some comics with me that some people had made. And it was like, wait, all these people are describing these things that I thought were just like me things. Like things around mood and emotion regulation, things that I never would have thought could have been an ADHD thing. And so it was like this giant umbrella suddenly of all these struggles that I had, that I thought were all sort of one-offs. And it turns out all these things are all kind of connected. I think what was happening with the coping mechanisms was I would try so many things. It was just exhausting. It was difficult just to get over that hurdle of even like figuring out how do I even start this process. It's not an ADHD-friendly process. So getting an evaluation was a whole thing. But the pandemic pushed me over that edge in terms of my struggles. Eleni: Yeah. And since you were diagnosed, what have you learned about how to cope? Can you give us some examples of some coping mechanisms you use and how it addresses some of the challenges you are experiencing? Dan: Self-compassion is a huge one. Because if you're being like harsh to yourself, for me, it's like if I'm struggling with something and then I have a thought, "I shouldn't be struggling with this." Like the work Kristin Neff has done around self-compassion and learning about the science of self-compassion. And I believe this is normal. In most of my life I have spent resisting external accommodations, because for me I wasn't even willing to want to help myself. It was like I should just be able to do this. So it was a sense of — I think Jessica McCabe's called it internalized ableism. It's like for me, it's like if I'm struggling with something, I don't even want to help myself sometimes, especially if I'm really struggling with it. So, allowing yourself to use the tools to get something done, I have personally not done a great job of asking for accommodations, say, in the workplace, for instance. But it's something that I'm much more comfortable with, because I've heard about even just hearing that it's something people struggle with means that, OK, this is uncomfortable, but it's worth doing. Eleni: You've mentioned like a number of different books throughout the conversation, so it sounds like you read a lot. Are there any other ways that you kind of learn about tools or coping mechanisms that you can use for yourself? Like, where do you kind of get these ideas? Dan: So podcasts are huge for me. Hearing what other people use for tools through podcasts has been probably one of the biggest ones in terms of getting ideas. Eleni: Can you give some examples of some tools or some apps that you use? Dan: One of the apps that I've used for a while now: Focus@Will. And that's a music for focusing app. It's got music that's geared towards keeping you focused, but you can set it up as like a timer and you can choose different tracks. There's different like genres of the music. It's all instrumental geared towards focus. Another one that I found that is really helpful, this was actually a really big game-changer for me. So, I combined the Pomodoro method of doing 25 minutes on and like 5 minutes off, so 25 minutes of focused work and then take a break for 5 minutes. And then I do a little workout. So I do like, for me, I do like jumping jacks and some push-ups. And that transition I found is really helpful, because it is a — it's like I keep up some of that momentum of like I was working and excited and going. And then doing a little bit of a workout gets the heart rate up. And it helps me to transition from the work to taking that little bit of a break. Eleni: I think you mentioned that you have a coach as well. So, how did that come about, and why do you find that valuable? Dan: I was fortunate. My my company signed up for a service called Bravely Coaching, and so we get access to coaches. It's like on-demand coaching. I was able to find that they actually had coaches that specialized in ADHD, so I was like, great, let me do that. Eleni: Yeah. And I think, you know, even on this podcast, it's such a testament to, like, different things work for different people. And, you know, it's great to experiment and figure out what works for you. Dan: Experimentation, testing and learning, and self-compassion combined, so that when you struggle and fail, or something doesn't work, you are there for yourself. And you don't just abandon yourself and you keep trying new things. And I think one- to two-week trials of changing your routines, learning about habits, and learning about how the mind works in terms of like habit building, and then trying things out, has been instrumental for me. And it's a constant process. Eleni: Cool. Thanks so much for being on the show, Dan. Dan: Thanks for having me. Eleni: You've been listening to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" from the Understood Podcast Network. The show is for you, so we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at with your thoughts about the show. Or maybe you'd like to tell us how you got THAT job. We'd love to hear from you. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode. Also, one of our goals at Understood is to help change the workplace so everyone can thrive. Check out what we're up to at That's the letter U, dot org, slash workplace. is a resource dedicated to help people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is produced by Margie DeSantis and edited by Mary Mathis. Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. And I'm your host, Eleni Matheou. Thank you for listening.

  • How to teach new classroom routines during COVID-19

    Teaching classroom routines is always important at the start of the school year. If you’re returning to in-person instruction this year, you may be teaching classroom routines in a different way than you did before the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re teaching online, almost all routines may be new for your students.No matter the context, some routines may stir up anxiety or other emotions that can make it hard to teach and follow the routines. Supporting your students socially and emotionally during distance learning can make routines less stressful. And adding an element of fun, like using rhymes or mnemonics, can make them easier to remember.Even under the best of circumstances, following a routine requires strong executive functioning. Many students who learn and think differently may find these skills challenging, including organization and planning, remembering multi-step directions, and staying on task without getting distracted.So, how can you make sure you’re teaching these important routines so all students can learn and use them? The steps below can serve as a guide.1. Communicate with families about new classroom routines.Communicate with families ahead of time to tell them what routines you’ll teach students. Not only will this keep the lines of communication open, but it will also give families the chance to practice those routines ahead of time. Being able to preview these new expectations is especially helpful for students who struggle with changes in routine. If possible, consider sending detailed instructions or videos to families so they can see what those routines will look like. Example: “Dear families, here is a list of the safety routines our class will be following and why.”2. Explain the reason for the routine.It’s important to let students know the “why” behind the routine. Is it for safety purposes? Is it a way to keep everybody organized? When students know why they’re doing a routine, it can help them feel like they have some control over keeping themselves and their classmates safe and supported. Example: “Class, here’s why we all need to wear masks in the classroom. Masks help stop germs from spreading when people talk, cough, or sneeze. When we all wear our masks, we protect each other from getting sick.” 3. Model the routine step-by-step.Explain or demonstrate the routine in the way students are expected to follow it. Show what you expect them to do. Use clear, concise language to think-aloud what you’re showing them. Students who learn and think differently often don’t know how to begin a task or what to do when they get stuck. Breaking down the routine into small chunks can help. You can even use fun names for each step. Example: If the new routine is lining up after lunch, with masks on, 6 feet apart, you might break that down into steps that look like this: Chunk 1 (“Ready”):Find your mask.Put on the mask correctly.Chunk 2 (“Set”): Wait for your name to be called. Look around you to make sure you have a clear path.Chunk 3 (“Go”):Go to the lineup area.Wait on the next available spot marked on the floor. 4. Pause for reactions or discussion.Students may have questions about a new routine. They may want to understand what happens if they forget to follow the routine. Or they may want to know if they can do things a different way. And some students, especially those who experience anxiety or who have a history of trauma, may have strong emotional reactions. Respond with empathy and acknowledge that everyone’s feelings are valid. Consider how the routine can be flexible to address students’ concerns. Example: “Your feelings aren’t right or wrong here. Let’s talk about how we can work together as a community to respond to everyone’s concerns.“5. Provide multiple ways to learn and remember routines.Give students more than one way to remember the routine after you teach it. Post a video of the routine on the digital learning platform you’re using. Or hang up step-by-step directions with pictures or other visuals. You can give the directions to families to make sure the routine is used at home, too.Example: If you teach a routine for handwashing, you can write out step-by-step directions (or print out the picture chart below) to post near the sink. An acronym or a short song (for younger kids) might also help jog students’ memories. 6. Give opportunities to practice.Allow students to practice the new routine in low-stakes situations. You can practice as a class or individually. These practice sessions give you a chance to make sure all students understand every step. You can provide corrections in the moment before students have to complete the routine independently. Example: If you’re teaching students how to show they want to say something during a live video lesson, model the behavior and then practice it during a morning meeting.7. Allow for a learning curve.Let your students know that this routine is new for everybody, so it’s important to give each other a little leeway. Talk through what students can say to hold their classmates accountable for following safety routines without shaming them. It’s OK for you to be nervous about these new routines too. But try to be conscious of your own reactions if a student makes a mistake. Your class will be following your lead. Try to remain calm and model the correction. Overreacting can heighten emotions and make a small correction escalate to a bigger behavior challenge. Example: As a class, you can come up with a few reminder sentences that are easy to remember and that won’t hurt someone else’s feelings. Here are a couple rhymes you can use: “Let’s meet at 6 feet” and “If we want to share this space, let’s keep our masks on our face.”The key to teaching new routines is using the same evidence-based practices you would use in teaching other skills. Learn more by:Reading about explicit instruction Identifying and proactively reducing barriers to learning Using positive behavior strategies to support students in meeting the expectationsBuilding positive relationships with families

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    A wastewater engineer cuts the crap about ADHD at work

    Scottie Donovan is a NYC wastewater engineer with ADHD. She thrives in this interactive civil engineering work, and uses tools to help along the way. Scottie Donovan is a New York City wastewater engineer with ADHD. When she entered the field, being on the frontlines of a pandemic wasn’t what she expected. But since wastewater helps determine positive COVID-19 cases, she’s played a vital role in public health information. She’s also heard enough poop jokes to last a lifetime.Scottie chose to study civil engineering because of how interactive it is. She’s worked in water treatment plants, and eventually found herself at a desk job in a consulting role. This transition wasn’t the easiest for her ADHD. But with tools like lists and time chunking, she makes her days work for her. In this week’s episode of How’d You Get THAT Job?!, get Scottie's tips for being honest about how much work you can take on. Plus, get a history lesson on how the sewer system advanced our civilization.Related resources4 ways I stay organized with ADHDADHD and sensory overload30 examples of workplace accommodations you can put into practiceEpisode transcriptScottie: And then there's all these large red buttons that you're not allowed to push for some reason. Like it looks like a video game, sometimes you're like "There's a button right there. I need to push it. It's flashing." But, you know, you can't. Eleni: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "How'd You Get THAT Job?!," a podcast that explores the unique and often unexpected career paths of people with learning and thinking differences. My name is Eleni Matheou and I'm a user researcher here at Understood. That means I spend a lot of time thinking about how we find jobs we love that reflect how we learn and who we are. I'll be your host. Today we're talking about poop. Let me explain. My next guest, Scottie Donovan, is a civil engineer. Scottie was diagnosed with ADHD in high school. Today, she's got a hands-on job that really fascinates her. She specializes in treating wastewater in New York City. During the COVID pandemic, wastewater has been a really important tool in figuring out how prevalent the virus is in our communities. And did you know you can track other diseases through waste as well? I don't even want to imagine what a world without wastewater engineers would look or smell like. Scottie will help explain how it all works. Welcome to the show, Scottie. Scottie: Thanks for having me. Eleni: I'm really excited to learn more about this topic. It's like, not really something that I had thought about and I was like, "Oh, it's so obvious, you know, that I know." But, I know that you can learn some interesting things from studying wastewater. So, could you talk about maybe what some of those things are? Scottie: I always like to start with my fun fact of the biggest improvement to public health in history is the invention of the sewer system. It completely changed how humans live and completely cut back on diseases and filth in general, really advanced our civilizations, and just we wouldn't be where we are today without that simple or seemingly simple infrastructure. And now that we already have that, it's kind of cool, especially right now — I always feel weird saying it's cool in regards to a pandemic — but, you know, it was something that we used to improve public health and now we can also study public health with it. We can learn about, you know, COVID numbers, what percentage of the population actually have it, and also other diseases. So, you're getting raw data in a kind of gross way, but very cool. People who don't want to go get tested or don't even know that they're sick, it will already be there. Eleni: What is your role in that process? Scottie: So, I am a civil engineer and I actually just design and, you know, help construct the infrastructure for distribution and treatment of wastewater. So, I work at the place where they would sample it or I'll design the infrastructure to get it to where it needs to be and hopefully treated to get that disease or whatever stuff is in that water out and made into fresh, clean water that will be not polluting the oceans anymore or our country's and world's waterways, not just oceans. Eleni: It's interesting because, you know, we've had a mechanical engineer on the show and, you know, I have a bunch of friends that are civil engineers. You know, when I think of infrastructure, I think of like what they focus on, which is like building roads, bridges like trains like that kind of thing. I've never actually heard it, like, also including wastewater infrastructure. Scottie: Yeah. Civil engineering — you know, my sector is the smaller branch off — but I like to think of civil engineering being anything having to do with making a city run. So, it really is any infrastructure a civil engineer will touch. Like you said, there's the trains, there's roads, there's buildings, there's all of that. But all the underground stuff as well are different options of civil engineering.Eleni: What made you decide to focus on water treatment and wastewater management? Scottie: I kind of lucked into it in a weird way. I took just a couple of intro courses to civil engineering and had a professor that I really enjoyed, and her focus was water and wastewater. I thought it was an interesting subject. I like the concept of taking something dirty, making it clean. I like the environmental aspects of it. I did an internship in college working at a drinking water plant and really enjoyed that. I mean, I got kind of lucky, really, to find something that I actually am passionate about and really enjoy doing. Eleni: Do you think that your interest was driven in any way by your ADHD? Scottie: I don't know. I think that is what drew me to liking working at a plant because it was fast moving and you know, there was so much that you could just see. It wasn't like conceptual. And I think that's what drew me definitely to civil engineering versus other types. I liked that it's a little bit more hands-on, it's, you know, like I'm seeing it happen right in front of me when I do it. I can hold up dirty water and then I can hold up clean water. And it's right there. Eleni: What is what is like the most interesting or like surprising thing that you've learned about working with wastewater? Like, what makes it more interesting to you than the drinking water? Scottie: You're starting with a harder product. You know, like you want kind of the same result. In theory, every wastewater plant would come in with really dirty water and it would be drinkable by the time it's out. That would be the end goal. Whereas, you know, a drinking water plant takes something that's like probably fine, or depending on where you are, fine, and then makes it even better. Yeah. It's not because I love the smell of it. That's for sure.Eleni: Do people ask you that?Scottie: They ask me more of how I deal with the smell or if you ever get used to it. And the answer is no, you do not get used to it. You will always know it. It makes you less nauseous over time, but you don't get used to it. Eleni: Yeah. I was actually going to ask about, you know, what field visits are like from that perspective, from like a sensory perspective. Scottie: From a sensory perspective, it's an overload, especially because you can't touch anything or you shouldn't because it's all kind of gross. And then there's all these large red buttons that you're not allowed to push for some reason. Like it looks like a video game sometimes you're like "There's a button right there. I need to push it. It's flashing." But, you know, you can't. And then obviously the smells because there's so many of them, it's not just, you know, what you would think because there's also chemicals, there's different byproducts at different steps and different additives at different steps, and they all are different. So, it's a lot when you're walking around. Eleni: Is it a dangerous environment to be in?Scottie: It can be, depending on what you're working with and depending on the step, I guess, that you're in. Yeah, I mean, you wouldn't want to get any of it at pretty much any step except for the end on you at all. That would be pretty bad. I don't know if it's folklore or if this actually happened, but at one of the plants I worked at every time they ask you to wear your eye protection, they tell a story about how their old CEO had one drop get in his eye and went blind. I only needed to hear that once, because I don't want to lose my sight. And again, not sure if it's real or not, but it is a possibility. At one point in time, I had to actually sample water at a job — it was only for like a week or so because we were starting up a brand-new facility — so we had to prove that what we built worked. You know I have a really funny photo that I used to keep on my Tinder of me in like head-to-toe like Tyvek suit, and they only bought like Triple XL because most of the construction guys are pretty big. And there I am, I like at the time, probably a 100-pound, 5'2" girl in this thing that I'm swimming in, holding this like gross water. And I just thought it was really funny. So, I always kept it on like on dating profiles just to see it, to see who was interested in that. But yeah, you definitely do have to be careful. It's not a nice environment then. It's, I mean, there's a reason we're trying to get it out of the water. Eleni: There's so much involved that like I never would have considered. It's not something you think about, you know, it's like "That's gone."Scottie: Yeah. And, I mean, that's kind of what I, that's also another weird thing that I like about it. I like that no one thinks about it, but I can be a silent hero here. Eleni: Yeah. As you said, super necessary for, like, progress and public health. So, I was going to ask you, I know you've mentioned a few things that you really like about your job, and you know how that kind of vibes with the ADHD in terms of like things being really tangible and like seeing a result and you know, being able to visit plants and not always be like at a computer. On the inverse side, like, do you have any challenges that come up at work and how do you manage them? Scottie: Yeah, I definitely have some challenges. I'm not sure how many are specific to people with ADHD, or specific to me, or specific to my role, but I used to always work at plants like in construction roles or just like, you know, in roles that you had to be more active. So, about almost exactly four years ago, I think this week, I switched over to consulting, so, it's more of an office role and that was an extremely hard transition for me, just it was my second job out of college and I had never worked in really a professional atmosphere because working at a wastewater treatment plant or on a construction site, it's a very different attitude. Like, everybody carries themselves differently. I had never owned, like, professional attire before, ever, like I wore jeans and a t-shirt every day with my hair in a baseball cap. Just never had to, you know, impress people or do anything like that and just, you know, sitting at a desk all day, I just had never done that. I mean, it was just very weird for like six months to have to completely revamp how I did everything at a job that I was pretty confident in going into. And like, "I know like a decent amount. They're, expecting this from me, I know how to do that. Cool. Got it." And there were so many little things that I did not realize. Like, I didn't realize how long it would take me to get ready every morning even. That was a big one, panicking because I couldn't find anything that was right in front of me. Eleni: Yeah, I relate to that. I always put my clothes out the night before because I spent too long in the morning. Yeah, my morning brain looking for things. Do you want to talk a little bit about, like what some of you know, maybe the routines or like other like coping strategies that you came up with during that transition time? Scottie: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. Eleni: Things that you're still doing now? Scottie: That routine definitely was a key factor, not just only like you mentioned, I did learn "Set out your clothes the night before because you will not have time in the morning." That's a big one. And I also kind of made routines during the day, you know, like during my 9 to 5, you know, got there at 8:45, I would give myself 15 minutes to have coffee and just, you know, get all settled, you know, and things like that. Like I would, you know, up until 9:30, you can answer emails and then, you know, go get more coffee or something if you need it. So, like organizing my day a little bit differently was definitely something that helped, and then planning out my day as well. I gave myself 15 minutes every morning to, you know, make a list of what I felt I could accomplish that day, you know, versus what needed to be done, you know, just break it apart a little bit and putting in that time to organize yourself every morning, really, definitely was helpful. I'm a big list person now as well. I have a calendar, but then I also have an agenda. I have to have both because I need to be able to see both because that's just how it works. Because I need the big picture and I need what's due today is what or what I'm doing today. And I think it maybe just took also a level of maturity in me growing up to be honest with myself and with other people about how I work and working with people that understood that was nice. Eleni: Yeah. Do you want to give an example of how you might phrase that or what you might say?Scottie: Yeah. So, first was me asking someone like, "Hey, can you get me this spreadsheet? OK, how long do you think that will take?" Like I always ask, what are their expectations? Because people don't always, you know, just tell you things because that's life. But they'll get back to me with "I think that this is how long it will take." Yeah, it's nice when you get a person that's like when they actually ask, "Is that reasonable?," because that makes it easier. But if they, you know, tell me, "I think it'll take an hour." Like, OK, I'm like, "All right, let me go look a little bit more into this in, you know, whatever time frame I think. And let me make sure that that is how long it will take me," because if it's something I've never done before or if it's just something that I knew right away would take me longer, just got to be blunt and say, "OK, would it be OK if it takes me about an hour and a half? Because I think that it would give me the space to work the way I find efficient." And I've never had someone say no, but I have had some people say, "OK, I think I'll find someone else to do it then." And the first time that happened, you know, you build yourself up to like, "I'm going to just be honest myself, I'm going to do it," blah, blah, blah. And is something like "Damn, like I just lost that." But you didn't really lose anything because you weren't going to fulfill their expectations anyway. It would have been worse if it took you twice as long to do it, or if it was late and it was something they really needed. You know, it's better to be honest. Eleni: Yeah, I think normalizing that is pretty cool. You know, it's like, you're not always going to get it right, but trying things out and seeing how people respond and if it gets you somewhere, that's great. Scottie: Agree. Eleni: So, usually we like to end with like, what advice do you have for people wanting to get into the space, like particularly for women or people with ADHD? Scottie: My advice would be if you're interested in the space and if you just want to learn more about it, there are so many different, like, volunteer organizations that you can actually go be a part of and do a cleanup and they'll introduce you to different aspects of the water resources world. And that way you don't have to like go get an engineering degree first because that would be insane. Also, a lot of places will offer wastewater treatment plant tours. If you just reach out to them, if you really are interested in seeing what it's all about and it's fun. So, if you do have ADHD, there's a million things to look at. Just don't press the big red button. Eleni: Good advice. Scottie: Keep your hands to yourself. Eleni: Thank you for talking to me about poop. Scottie: Any time. Eleni: I feel like we could do so many more poop jokes.Scottie: Oh, it's a big part of the industry. Eleni: You've been listening to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" from the Understood Podcast Network. This show is for you, so we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at with your thoughts about the show, or maybe you'd like to tell us how you got that job. I'd love to hear from you. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out our show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode. Also, one of our goals at Understood is to help change the workplace so everyone can thrive. Check out what we're up to at That's the letter U dot org slash workplace. is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is produced by Grace Tatter. Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. Margie DeSantis provides editorial support. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. And I'm your host, Eleni Matheou. Thanks again for listening.

  • ADHD Aha!

    ADHD frustration and anger, plus ADHD and tics (Adam’s story)

    Adam Sosnik was diagnosed with ADHD after 15 years of therapy and wrong diagnoses. It clarified a lot about his life, but it didn’t solve everything. Lawyer Adam Sosnik was miserable in his job. Miserable when he couldn’t concentrate, which was often. Miserable because it was physically uncomfortable to focus on even a small thing, like writing a single sentence. The trouble was, he was being treated for anxiety and depression, but not ADHD. When he began working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, his wife noticed his frustration. And with her encouragement, he booked an appointment with a new psychiatrist. That led to an ADHD diagnosis, which validated the discomfort Adam felt. But it also marked the beginning of a new struggle.Also in this episode: Adam talks about ADHD and tics and his experience with Tourettic OCD (TOCD). And how he’s charted a new way of living that’s finally made him happy.Related resourcesADHD and ticsADHD and mood swingsA day in the life of an employee with ADHDEpisode transcriptAdam: The most "aha ha ha" was during the pandemic when I was continuing to work a job that made me miserable and my wife was recognizing that as it made me more miserable, my ability to continue to pursue it in the face of frustrations was decreasing. So, I finally said, "I can't take this anymore. I'm miserable. And I want to see another psychiatrist. You know, I do want to ask him about ADHD."Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key, I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host. I'm here today with Adam Sosnik. Adam is a listener who wrote in and shared his ADHD "aha" moment with us and we wanted to invite him on the show. He's also a lawyer who's based in Florida. Adam, thank you so much for being here today.Adam:Thanks a lot for having me. Really excited to talk to you.Laura: I'm excited to talk to you too. And I love already like the energy that you bring is just it's very, it keeps me up. I like that.Adam: I've been wired for a little bit. I've only walked through this conversation about a thousand times over the past three days, and I tried everything in my power to not do that thing.Laura: Oh, no, it's hard, you know, we're just going to keep it casual. We're just going to chat. And I guess we'll start with you telling me and the listeners when you were diagnosed with ADHD.Adam: Yeah. So, I'm 36 right now. I was diagnosed formally in February of 2021.Laura: Pandemic diagnosis.Adam: A pandemic diagnosis. So, once the pandemic started and I was working remotely, my wife was able to see me and how I worked and what made me miserable, and I'd been miserable for a long time in my job as an attorney. And she was able to see that when I was miserable, my concentration lacked, and I would be walking around the house not knowing why I was in rooms and looking for any kind of distraction or side project other than the work. She said, "Maybe you do have ADHD," because we had previously talked about it. I'd been in treatment since 2005 for what I was told was just anxiety or depression, and I was told maybe a little of ADHD, maybe a little bit of bipolar.Laura: It's that helpful to hear? Just maybe a smattering, right?Adam: A smattering, a touch. I can manage a touch of whatever this.Laura: Right.Adam: You know, I later learned that those things don't have a touch of it. It's just symptom severity. But I have it through and through, and I've been on every medication you could possibly think of for anxiety, depression, bipolar, some OCD-type medication. Nothing worked. Surprise, surprise. So, I finally said, "I can't take this anymore. I'm miserable. And I want to see another psychiatrist. You know, I do want to ask him about ADHD." We had one appointment and at the end of it, he said, "It really looks like this is ADHD." And I had your classic instantaneous reflection on every single second of your life, and I just saw everything differently. It was kind of like those like crime movies where at the end they realize who the killer is, and then the detective starts thinking back to all the different events that he participated in, or she participated in. All of a sudden, they see it from a different perspective. It was just incredible, and it felt awesome. It was just this surge of validation, which validation is probably what I have just been seeking my entire life.Laura: I want to stick with the conversation with your wife for a moment. That sounds like her telling you what she was seeing in you about concentration was really a tip off for you. I'm wondering if you could just speak a little bit more about your thought process when you were trying to concentrate and you couldn't. Like, what was it about that period of time that was obviously the coming together of the comment from your wife and whatever was happening with you, that was a tipping point?Adam: So, I was at the time practicing corporate law, you know. I liked law school. From the second I graduated and started working, I realized I had made a mistake. Absolute first second I walked into work. So, I was miserable, and I felt stuck. The salary was good. I didn't know what else to do.Laura: Why do you think that is?Adam: I have motivation issues. I have impulsivity issues to allow myself to be distracted by things that are more interesting. And so, she was seeing the increase in my inability to sit and do my work. And a lot of that was hard, but also a lot of it as a younger associate is a lot of mundane work, just drafting mundane, boring stuff. And she saw as I got more frustrated and miserable, I was able to do less and less of this to the point where it was starting to impact significantly my interactions with the world around me. You know, my temper was a lot shorter. Traffic was making me even more frustrated than it usually is, and I couldn't relax on the weekends, you know, any time I could be getting a phone call or an email saying, you know, this thing on Monday, we have to do and it's going to rain, it's going to ruin your life. And so just to have that unknown constantly hanging over my head, my happiness and my health and my sleeping ability decreased.Laura: You used the word miserable, which I think is a great adjective to use, but it wasn't like some people may hear the word miserable and they may think sadness or depression, right? And I know that you maybe had been, maybe had a smattering of that or a misdiagnosis of that, but it sounds like the "miserableness" it wasn't necessarily a depression so much as it was "I'm bored, I'm frustrated. I can't make decisions. I'm distracted. I'm constantly waiting for the next thing and that's leading to irritability and moodiness," which is all part of that ADHD cornucopia.Adam: You nailed all of it. And all that manifested almost into a physical discomfort where it's like, if I had a type of sentence, I just couldn't physically do it because it was so painful to focus all of my attention on writing a coherent sentence. And it was physically painful to do, and it would just take me so long to do things. And then I, you know, it was a catch-up and a mad dash, and that never works out. But you're right, it wasn't sadness. I didn't know what it was. I just knew I felt bad. And if you feel bad, it's probably anxiety or depression, because that's what the TV commercials tell you. But every single therapist I had... the balloonist in those depression commercials is not me.Laura: Yeah, and to your point, like your productivity at work wasn't suffering, even though maybe it felt like it was. But it sounded, based on what you said earlier, right, you managed to just push through it.Adam: Yeah. So, with and especially with law — I don't know anything about other careers — you're basically competing against every other person to first to make partner and then to attract clients. And eventually, it would get to the point where I would be of a certain age where you're either on track to, you know, making partner and becoming a bigger deal at work or you're kind of just going to fade into mediocrity. And I kept thinking that that breaking point was going to be coming. Every single day I'd wake up thinking that today's going to be the day where all the peers my age who've been practicing as long as me are going to be recognized as more talented or more reliable. So, that was the constant feeling that I wasn't meeting expectations. And to a certain extent, I really don't think I was, you know, my goal was to do as little work as possible, just get through the day and try and find the pleasure in it, which is really tough when you have to account for all of your hours, you know, billable hours. And it doesn't matter if you're working from 9 to 10:30 at night, if you've only billed for two and a half hours of work, that's all they see as your workday. Every single thing about that career was wrong environmental-wise. It just exasperated all the preexisting conditions that I knew I had, and I just didn't know that put together as a package it's ADHD.Laura: It was ADHD.Laura: I want to hear you talk about what I'll call your second "aha" moment. Your wife approached you about your concentration and that seems like an "aha" that led to your diagnosis. After you got diagnosed, then you had a childhood home "aha" moment that it's extremely resonant for me because I had the same thing. So, will you tell us about that?Adam: I would love to tell you about that, and I hope my parents never listen to this.Laura: I feel the same way.Adam: So, I found out I was diagnosed, and it actually came on that very same day, literally on the way home from a doctor's appointment. My wife was pregnant at the time, 20 weeks pregnant, and she had that 20-week ultrasound. And we found out our daughter was going to be born with what's called a congenital diaphragmatic hernia that spirals into a whole lot of other conditions, but ultimately, it's a lung issue. If you can't breathe, nothing else matters. So, that's when I kind of realized that everything we thought about ADHD was true. So, I was dealing with that literally the same hour that I was dealing with what we found out was going to be a significant life-altering medical condition for my daughter. And we ultimately decided that Florida would be the best place to move to. They had a hospital here in Saint Petersburg, Florida, where they had the best unit in the country to treat my daughter and my parents had moved to Florida. And just for fun, I went through some of the boxes of my old stuff that my parents had — my artwork, my report cards, not looking for anything in particular — and I found in it and I'm actually holding it in my hand right now...Laura: Oh wow!Adam: ...and so it's this 12-page report from when I was five years old in 1992. Apparently, my preschool teachers had suggested that I might not be ready for public school kindergarten, whatever those high standards are. So, I found this in my parents' house and I read through this, and at the end of reading it, I was like, "What the F! You guys didn't tell me about this? It is literally a play-by-play of what an ADHD diagnosis looks like." "Adam is an extremely active boy who is constantly moving or fidgeting throughout the session. For example, he was either shaking his foot or moving around his chair. In fact, his favorite activity was to spin around and around in the examiner's chair. Adam seemed to have a lot of energy, which he constantly needs to keep in check. The level of activity interferes with his ability to focus and to concentrate on work. He seems to manage to harness his energy well for approximately one hour after that amount of time, his attention begins to wander, etc., etc.."Laura: It's like out of a dictionary. Adam: It was like textbook, textbook. And I brought this to my parents, and I said, "Why didn't you tell me about this?" And they kind of thing, you know, they're boomers, we're Jewish. Their parents were first-generation Americans. Their grandparents were from the old country. Mental health wasn't something that was talked about. It was a shanda to say in Yiddish.Laura: What does that mean in Yiddish?Adam: It's just, it's a shame on the family.Laura: Oh wow.Adam: And, you know, it's a stigma. Not that this was openly talked about, but that's just kind of the impression you got just from growing up in my household. And they didn't really know what to say. My mom, I think, said "We just didn't know what this meant at the time, and so, we didn't know what to do." And that's when all of my excitement that I was diagnosed and now I could begin the process of recovery turned into anger without my ability to stop it. I was angry that this existed and that I could have known about this, and I could have brought this to other therapists. Throughout my process. I was angry that the psychologists doing the report didn't say that it was ADHD. The recommendations at the end were to go to a smaller kindergarten and then afterwards to public school, I guess, and go to occupational therapy and to have more structure at home. So, that timeout was created in my home where I sat and looked at a wall to calm down.Laura: That was the, that was the structure?Adam: Exactly. That was the structure. And for a long, long, long time after that, their lack of understanding maintained the anger inside of me. And it wasn't until recently where my acceptance of their lack of understanding kind of became my own understanding in and of itself, right? That open issue that I was angry about was now finally going to come to an end. Finally, that chapter was closed out because I came to that acceptance. And once you accept it, that's the understanding of the situation, and nothing to do but go forth from there. And so, a lot of that anger has gone away. But I got to say that the treatment itself didn't really begin and I didn't really begin to learn coping mechanisms until recently because that diagnosis happened right before we were going to move to Florida permanently for this hospital. And then my daughter was born, and she was in the hospital for five months, continuously hooked up to every machine imaginable. I'm walking around knowing that I have these issues, that I'm not going to be able to manage all this. And surprise, surprise, I didn't, and my mental health deteriorated even further. My relationship with my wife deteriorated even further. So, it wasn't this immediate. "Oh, I have ADHD. Aha!" Now it's time to start addressing it. It was "I have ADHD. I don't know what to do. No one has been able to help me before. I'm angry about it. And now the universe is throwing me a curve ball that no one ever wants."Laura: How is she doing now?Adam: She's doing great. She'll always have some management, but she is doing great. Cognitively, she's healthy. She's doing great.Laura: I want to pause and reflect for just a moment on everything that was happening. You had the pandemic. You have your daughter coming into the world with severe health issues. It's so much to go through and at the same time an ADHD diagnosis. And it sounds like that's a lot, a lot, a lot happening. And then, it sounds like maybe with about a year of processing because you got diagnosed in 2021 and everything that you went through, then you started towards treatment and then there was another diagnosis that came into play. Is that right?Adam: Correct. I also have a kind of an OCD and Tourette's combination called Tourettic OCD, is what the new term for it is. And I kind of figured that one out on my own. And then I did reach out to psychologists in the area, and it was just my process of elimination. I did always have tics, and I knew about that and the tics, I do you remember started when I moved before fourth grade, I moved from New Jersey to New York, and I loved where I lived in New Jersey. I had all these friends. Now I move somewhere where I have nothing, and I had no one. And all of a sudden, I developed tics.Laura: And I don't know much about tics. And I will not pretend to be any sort of expert on them, but I know that from content on Understood that's expert vetted, about half of all kids with chronic tics have ADHD, and about 20% of kids with ADHD have chronic tics. I know that the issues are highly co-morbid. Highly co-occurring.Adam: Yeah, I kind of call it the Holy Trinity, the ADHD, OCD, Tourette's Holy Trinity. And I will say this: the Tourette's and the OCD are child's play compared to what the ADHD does to you, especially as an adult.Laura: Wow, that's so interesting. Tell me more.Adam: So, as an adult, I've kind of learned to suppress the tics. There's always a bubbling energy underneath me that wants to tic. I've learned to kind of deal with the OCD, and it's a different type of OCD. I don't have any irrational fears. The compulsions are exclusively physical. A good example is I could walk through a door and close it and then say, "Uhm, let me just go back and close that door again so that it feels better so that it closes a little better and I can hear it click perfectly." An hour later, I can walk through that door and not even have that thought. So, it's a very odd physical driving urge. But the ADHD, I can't control my thoughts when my instant reaction to something is driven by ADHD wiring. And so that's the part — it's the emotional aspect of ADHD, which has by far scarred me the most, which does and continues to cause the most damage because managing emotions is really important in every single interaction. And you can't hide it, especially engaging with other people. You know, your reactions, you can kind of read them on your face. And so the ADHD, it just was so much more devastating and continues to be and it's so much less manageable and unpredictable than the Tourette's or the OCD. So, ADHD is the nastiest of those three.Laura: I imagine that for some listeners that will come as a surprise to hear that. And of course, everyone's story is different. For some folks, I'm sure that they're OCD or their Tourette's is much more difficult to manage than their ADHD. But I hear you. I mean, the managing emotions aspect of ADHD, which so many people don't even realize is a thing, but that is all tied up with executive functioning challenges. That's really hard. How in particular have you struggled with managing emotions?Adam: I realized my whole life I've been lost in thought. Everything I'm doing, I'm not thinking about that thing. I'm thinking about something else. And so, it took a lot of retraining my muscle memory to pay attention to what I am feeling. And I think that's a really high-level skill for everyone. And so, as a child, as an adolescent, as a young man, I just didn't have the skill. Something was blocking my ability to see the misery and then to connect it to in the moment when I’m miserable, "What am I really feeling?" And I don't know how to better explain it other than it's just a matter of paying attention. And I realize every single thing I do, I mean, I drop things all the time and I'll go to pick something up and I'll drop it immediately, and I believe it's because I'm not paying attention. I go, my fingers touch the thing that I'm going to pick up, and my mind immediately says, "Job done. You've gotten that thing, time to move on." But the fact of the matter is, all that happened was my hand went around it. There's also you have to pay attention to closing your hand and feeling the grip and then lifting it up and walking and recognizing there's something in your hand. And all those are specific tasks and things you have to pay attention to. And if you don't, you're liable to miss one of the steps and I miss steps all the time. Every single thing is multiple steps, and I realize I just don't pay attention to it. I really don't think that's exclusive to ADHD. I think a lot of us walk around diverse neurodiverse everything in between, everything outlying. I think we all walk around lost in thought for the most part, with very little attention paid to what's going on right now.Laura: I just want to reflect for a moment on, you've used the word "miserable" so many times in this interview, and I'm not saying that as judgment. It's just as something that I've noticed, that you quickly tend to follow it up with this moment of reframing what that is. And it seems like a big part of your journey is unpacking those little, tiny tidbits of like, "What do I mean by miserable and how can I turn that around?"Adam: 100% correct, especially because objectively, more comparatively, my life isn't miserable. It's great, but it's hard to see that, and it's hard to accept that when everything is frustrating. And if you can't manage all these frustrations, it's going to tear you apart. And there was no better word other than miserable. And misery builds on itself, and misery is addicting. And once you're addicted to misery, that's your comfort food. And so, to this day, it still feels weird to be happy about something or to start feeling miserable at something and then taking that beat and saying, "Why is going out with my in-laws to dinner making me miserable? Why is planning this project or this meeting, you know, making me miserable?"Laura: And some of those things have nothing to do with ADHD, but it sounds like...Adam: Nothing to do with it.Laura: ...this process has like kind of helped you with self-awareness, maybe on all aspects of your life.Adam: It helps me package the issues together and then attack it, seeing the whole picture.Laura: Well, Adam, I'm excited for you on this journey of finding coping skills and understanding yourself, and glad that your daughter is doing OK.Adam: And she's going to be a big sister, so...Laura: Congratulations!Adam: Thank you. Thank you.Laura: And I want to thank you for listening to the show, for writing in to the show, and for being on the show.Adam: I commend you guys. Your show is so refreshing. I haven't been able to talk to anybody about what coming out means with ADHD. And now I'm listening to all these stories and holy cow, this is a huge event in all of our lives. It's like being reborn, so it's just a super refreshing twist.Laura: Thank you. I really appreciate it. And now you're part of it.Adam: And now I'm part of it.Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at I'd love to hear from you. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently, discover their potential and thrive. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at "ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine!Jessamine: Hi everyone.Laura: Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, Seth Melnick is our executive producer, and I'm your host, Laura Key. Thanks so much for listening.

  • In It

    Unpacking the teen mental health crisis: How we got here and what to do about it

    The teen mental health crisis. How is it showing up in kids with learning and thinking differences? And what can we do about it? We’ve been hearing a lot about a mental health crisis that’s affecting kids — especially teens — really hard. What’s behind this crisis? How is it playing out for kids with learning and thinking differences? And what can we do about it?To help answer these questions, hosts Rachel Bozek and Gretchen Vierstra turn to Dr. Matthew Cruger. He’s the clinical director and a senior neuropsychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Learn how the crisis is showing up in his practice, especially with kids who learn and think differently. Hear Matt’s thoughts on when the crisis started — and why. Plus, get Matt’s advice on how families can help support their kids’ mental health. Related resources Treatment for mental health issues How to talk with your child about social and emotional issuesListen to this episode of The Opportunity Gap for more tips on supporting kids’ mental health Episode transcriptGretchen: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It," a podcast about the ins and outs...Rachel: ...the ups and downs...Gretchen: ...of supporting kids who learn and think differently. I'm Gretchen Vierstra, a former classroom teacher and an editor here at Understood.Rachel: And I'm Rachel Bozek, a writer and editor raising two kids with ADHD. Today, we're talking about our children's mental health.Gretchen: We've been hearing a lot in recent months about a mental health crisis that's hitting kids, especially teens, really hard. It was there before the pandemic, but we know the isolation and anxiety brought on by COVID-19 didn't help.Rachel: And honestly, even if we weren't hearing about this crisis in the news, I think it would still be on our radar. Because speaking for myself, at least, I see evidence of it all around me.Gretchen: I do, too. I mean, I see it in my own home. And I've been hearing from lots of parents in the community that kids just seem to be saying a lot of "What's the point? Why should I do it?" And they're just lacking some of that motivation that I think kids used to have.Rachel: Yeah. Yeah. So I guess the question I have is: What's behind this crisis? How is it playing out in particular for kids with learning and thinking differences? And what can we do about it?Gretchen: So to answer those questions, we're speaking today with Dr. Matthew Cruger.Rachel: Dr. Cruger is the clinical director and a senior neuropsychologist in the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute.Gretchen: In that role, he does clinical work, neuropsych exams, cognitive assessments, and other evaluations for gifted children, as well as kids with learning difficulties, autism spectrum disorders, and ADHD.Rachel: We are delighted to have him here with us on the podcast. Matt, welcome to "In It."Dr. Cruger: Thank you.Rachel: We've been hearing for some time now about a mental health crisis for teens and even pre-teens. And we want to get into how this is showing up for our kids who have learning and thinking differences in particular. But first, we thought it might be useful to look at the problem more broadly. Even before the pandemic, we were seeing a marked increase in depression, anxiety, and suicide among teens. Is that right?Dr. Cruger: Yeah, I think that prior to the pandemic, we certainly recognized there's a couple of things that I think are factors. One is that we don't have enough clinicians to provide treatment for all the patients that need treatment. So families adjust to many of the struggles that their kids have, hoping that they'll get better, when some clinical intervention could be helpful in turning things around.Gretchen: What about what we've heard about the impact of technology and social media? Has that had a negative impact on kids?Dr. Cruger: I think so. Certainly, I think kids are spending a lot more time on technological devices. The impact of that is that they're not necessarily out interacting with other kids. Certainly, we want parents to monitor the kind of content that they're accessing as well, because there can be communications in that context that are problematic for kids and present a way of living in the world that's not as helpful. So the amount of engagement and the access to certain types of content on the on the internet I think is problematic and exacerbates things.Rachel: Yeah, I definitely saw this with both of my kids that when the pandemic hit, the device usage just like went through the roof for so many reasons that we all know and understand. But can you talk a little bit about how that contributed to this crisis?Dr. Cruger: Yes, I think that it was obvious because most of us were home and everything switched to remote platforms. Kids had to be on the computers every day for much of their schooling. And obviously many families couldn't also stop the work that they were doing. And so I think by necessity, some of the technology became — it served as a babysitter, right? For some of the time when kids had downtime. And it is less of an interactive experience, I think, even under the best circumstances.So I think with those increased time screen usage going up, we have pretty good evidence that that can have negative effects on their mental health experience. And I think it's persisted. So even with the return to school, the situation has sort of led kids to have a decrease in their experience, right?Gretchen: I think about engagement with the kids during this time period, right? Whether that was school or family. But like, really school, like I saw at home, at least for me, like engagement go down.Dr. Cruger: Yes, I do feel like — and I'm reflecting on my own kids in particular, who were in third grade and kindergarten at the time. So there are special, unique challenges at those developmental time frames. Right? Kindergartners need to learn to read. That is such a great process to do in person with a teacher who is helping you sound out words, who has books and content right there for you.And third grade when you're really starting to like apply yourself for deeper thinking. That's something where a mentor, a sort of coach, someone who's there as your champion to support you like a teacher could and give you direct feedback. That kind of engagement is really essential to the learning process that we are all used to. So there's no doubt that that was much harder to do. So I think that that clearly had an effect.Gretchen: Yeah, I mean, in my house I had a fifth grader going into sixth grade. So in middle school. That's such a social time for kids. And to be isolated from your peers during all of that, it was really hard.Dr. Cruger: Yeah. I think that during that time frame, the group of kids I was most worried about were kids that were in middle school heading to high school or in the early phases of high school. It's a time of really serious reflection on the material that you're working with in school. And really it's where a lot of those social advancements happen. Really learning where you stand in relationship to others and more complex social encounters and interactions were so important to develop in that time frame. And a lot of those kids I do think suffered. They were sad.Gretchen: So what does all of this look like and sound like in your practice? What have you been hearing from the kids who come into your office these days?Dr. Cruger: Yeah, I think maybe the first piece of things is like a low-level sort of sadness or anxiety about some experience that's sort of persisted. I do feel like kids benefit from the sense that they are going through some of these experiences for a purpose. And I think it's been very hard for us to know how to explain to them why things are organized the way they are. What's the higher purpose, what are they striving to achieve?So that reflects a little bit of the engagement piece, like to be fully engaged in the content of material. But also to feel like school happens in a certain way and we're headed for a certain destination. That seems to me to have been lost.Gretchen: Yeah, like I would say, like in my house, I've heard a lot of "What's the point?"Dr. Cruger: I think that's true. I think there's an apathetic sort of response. It's sort of like it doesn't really matter so much what I do. And I've heard it for a long time, you know, where in focusing on academic work with kids, you know, kids might have for a long time have said to me, like learning math doesn't really matter because I won't use it in my future.But it's maybe like a broader response to the time, like, I guess a feeling of like, I don't really know what the point is or what the goal is of what I'm being asked to do. That's a little bit of a helplessness towards the task and activity.Gretchen: Rachel, I want to step back for a second here and just pick up on something that Matt just said. He's talking about how kids responded to the time. What's that time? All the time Is the pandemic, right? When things really shifted. And I think it's worth unpacking a little bit about what that time was and what it did.Rachel: Yeah, right. Definitely. It's easy to forget from a little distance how just upside down our world was when the pandemic first hit. All of a sudden, a lot of kids discovered that their parents, their teachers, and maybe other people that they always would look to for answers really didn't have much to offer or know what to do.Gretchen: Yeah, I mean, it must have been — I know it was hard for kids to see rules changing all the time, adults complying, not complying. To see, you know, your parents who used to like get up and go out the door to work are now sitting at home in their pajamas on the screen all day. And what's happening there?Rachel: And and the rules about screen time kind of went out the window and, you know, some other rules, too, just because we were all just trying to get through the day. That's a lot.Gretchen: Yup. So it seems like all of a sudden kids are like: All these structures that you have in place are arbitrary and made up. And I'm not going to go along with this anymore.Rachel: Yeah, we got called out. So let's get back to our conversation with Matt.Rachel: We know that you work with a lot of children who have learning and thinking differences. Can you talk about how all of the stressors that we're talking about here may be affecting them in different ways?Dr. Cruger: Yeah. I mean, I think that if you — I guess I reflect on the learning differences that I see. The kids who are struggling with academics, in particular, the inputting of new ideas, new processes for solving problem. They need real guidance on how to manage that material. And that can sometimes come from family involvement, but often comes from direct instruction. They really need teachers who are able to guide them in that process of learning.Kids are struggling to find a source of motivation that they can direct their efforts to. And sometimes they feel like it's hard to know: Will their efforts pay off? And that can sometimes lead to sort of decreased motivation.Rachel: You know, we've been talking a lot about the impact of the pandemic on mental health. But I know there are a lot of other sources of anxiety and depression for kids these days. Things like school shootings and climate change. Do you hear about those kinds of things from the kids that you see?Dr. Cruger: Well, I think you bring up, Rachel, like a set of things that are on my mind. There's a bunch of global issues that kids confront. So it's very common for me to hear kids talk about sort of what we think of as like climate anxiety. You know, that worry that the world is on a crash course towards not being able to exist in the way that we know it. And that is a like a low-level worry and source of preoccupation for kids, even though they're highly motivated many times to do something about that.I think violence and safety is another thing that kids spend their time thinking about. And I certainly also think a lot of teenagers are focused on their own identity development. That's a developmental goal for that age range. And there's so much information about choosing your identity. What are acceptable identities? What are identities that others will not accept? That makes that process, I think, even more complicated for them. So those preoccupations, I think, sort of derail them from knowing how to invest time in the things that they need to do.Gretchen: Right they're figuring out all those questions around sexuality and gender identity. Not to mention, for older kids, they're thinking about what they want to do with their life. Is that something kids come to you for guidance on?Dr. Cruger: Yeah, I mean, I think that a lot of teenagers think there might be only like four or five jobs that a person can have in life, or that college is the only choice.Rachel: Yeah, totally. Although they all seem to have gotten the memo that professional video game player is a thing.Dr. Cruger: There is no doubt.Gretchen: Or YouTuber.Dr. Cruger: Yes. YouTuber Influencer Professional Video Player. Yeah. Yes. I think I did say to my son at one point, not that many people get paid to play video games.Gretchen: Right.Dr. Cruger: He did not believe me. So.Gretchen: You know, not to bring us back to doom and gloom, but for one more moment, I do want to ask about something else has been in the news. Is this whole idea of loneliness — that we have a loneliness problem in the U.S. Are you seeing that come up in your work with kids?Dr. Cruger: I do think that it's worth sort of questioning what are the ways that kids have contact with others outside of school? When do they get to play with each other? I sound like, you know, I have a lot of gray hairs in my beard, which I do. But like, I remember being outside on the street playing football. And we just don't see kids out and engage with each other in unstructured play activities quite as much.And, you know, I do also think like going to your friend's house to play video games when I was younger was sort of boring. You could only play Atari 2600 for so long. But now they're much more engaging and activating processes that the kids immerse themselves in. And so I think it leads to some challenges in how to have contact.Rachel: So how can we best help our young people, you know, as parents, as caregivers, as teachers, whoever's listening. What makes a difference for them? You know, in all of these things, loneliness and the other things we've been talking about.Dr. Cruger: Yeah. I mean, I think most parents decided that they were going to have kids sort of set their kids up for the best future and the best life. So I think just reminding ourselves again of the importance of the parental involvement with kids, I think is the first piece of things. Right?It's been hard to, I think, over this past period of time, to keep our values front and center in our mind because we've had to adjust to what's required in the moment. And so to return again to the idea of, like, what are the most important things for me and my family? I do think there's value in families sort of trying to think of is there a motto that they could have for their family that sort of captures that moment, like "We Crugers stick together" or something like that? It sort of captures the family spirit, but also like a positive element of we're all in this together and we have values that we're trying to achieve.I do think spending more time together is a clearly like an antidote. As annoying as it was for my kids to learn to play pinochle, that was the thing that we focused on learning. Because it gave us time to get away from the screens, to sit down together, to challenge each other. And I think those kind of activities where you're really engaged with each other and having a good time are very important.There's no doubt family meals are also something that we should invest in. It's not always possible and it's not always easy when you're catching things on the fly. But that time where you're sitting down together as a family I think is really worthwhile.I won't say family meetings because everybody calls family meetings and the only people that show up are the parents. But I mean, but that idea that there's time to work together to align your interests. And then I think helping support your kids to find, you know, the one or two or three good friends, and making traditions and routines that they can sort of establish with their peers that are reliable. Like if they, you know, the friends all come over on Friday for pizza or something like that, that might be something that's like low investment but really worthwhile.Rachel: Yeah. I feel like our family meetings always, there's an expectation that there's some, like, amazing surprise. It's like, hey, we're going to have a meeting and it's like, oh, we're going to Disneyworld. Like, No, we actually need to talk about something that's going on in school.Dr. Cruger: That's right.Rachel: They backfired.Dr. Cruger: Taking out the garbage. Yeah.Gretchen: Right. The chore list.Dr. Cruger: Yeah, exactly.Gretchen: So if you think your own child may be anxious or depressed, but they aren't talking with you about it, what can you do as a parent? How do you figure out if they're at risk in some way or if they're just going through a fairly typical high and low of life as a teenager, for example?Dr. Cruger: Yeah, I mean, I think parents need to trust their instincts. I do think that when we have concerns about our children, it's not often just because we're worrying needlessly. It means that we're noticing something that our intuition is sort of telling us we better check in with them about.I think that a safe space for talking for kids is one that sort of models what we know good friendships are about. Right? It's sort of a model of a place where you can share information without someone making designs on how you should improve. Right?Some of the things that might make it easier if you're, you know, the teenagers turning away from you, if there's two parents involved, maybe it's time for the other parent to try to take over. And getting away from the house, going out to eat for breakfast, carefully bringing up a topic that you have concerns about. I think all of those things. You know, a nice soft start works well for all of us. Don't start with a heavy hand when we're raising a concern with someone that we love. And I do think that kids who are going through some struggles do desire solace for those struggles. So if they know that you're available for that, that's helpful.Anxiety is maybe a tricky one because anxious people try to get out of the situations that provoke anxiety. So even talking about the thing that makes you anxious, you really sort of are mobilized to seek to avoid it. The problem is, is that if you avoid it, it just sort of gets worse. And so I think that's one thing that parents should sort of keep in mind, that when your child is feeling anxious, it might make them sort of naturally more reticent to share with you the details of that.And, you know, some mind reading is very problematic. Like, if you say, I know you're thinking something negatively about it, the person you say that to is bound to get irritated with you. But if you say, I've been noticing that you look sort of sad and I want to help with that, you know, can you tell me more about what's going on for you? That kind of mind reading might convey interest and sincere desire to understand. That kind of mind reading is affectionate and maybe positive and might yield a good result.Gretchen: You know, getting back to making a safe space to talk to kids about what's going on. I've really been trying to do that. And I know I've mentioned before that I do a lot of this in the car, which doesn't work for everybody. But the other thing I've been trying hard to do, which is very difficult for me, is not be the advice giver, is to kind of just sit and listen and let them vent. And then when I don't give advice, every once in a while, my daughter will give me this look like, Well, where's your advice? I'm looking for it now. And then I give it.Rachel: Right. But you have to wait for that cue for sure.Gretchen: Yeah.Rachel: Yeah, I think that's great. And I try to do that, too. I definitely have some work to do there because I often jump in with like, well, it sounds like.... And I just offer my read on what happened, which isn't necessarily why the conversations happening.Gretchen: Yeah.Rachel: I do like that approach. and I think they do get to that point where they still want to know what we think.Dr. Cruger: Yeah.Rachel: So what do you wish people better understood about this crisis and how we get out of it?Dr. Cruger: I think my biggest wish would be really thinking about how they can, you know, parents can develop or teachers can develop like a deeper, more personalized understanding of the people that they're interacting with. So time is always tight, but a way to really show sincere interest and engagement, I think is important. Otherwise, it's sort of like almost like commuting culture. We're just sort of passing each other by, sort of missing those moments and opportunities to make deeper contact. So that's why I think what I would wish for it, you know, time and opportunity to take a moment to find out what's going on, I think that would be a real boon for people.Gretchen: That sounds like a good plan.Rachel: Thank you so much for this. It was such a great conversation.Gretchen: Yeah. Thank you so much.Dr. Cruger: Well, thank you. I appreciate being able to talk to you both. I enjoyed the conversation and I appreciate what you're doing.Gretchen: You've been listening to "In It" from the Understood Podcast Network.Rachel: This show is for you. So we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at to share your thoughts. We love hearing from you.Gretchen: If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.Rachel: is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at "In It" is produced by Julie Subrin. Briana Berry is our production director. Justin D. Wright mixes the show. Mike Errico wrote our theme music.Rachel: For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Thanks for listening.Gretchen: And thanks for always being in it with us.

  • Why workplace disability inclusion matters now more than ever

    The COVID-19 pandemic has created a profound shift in workplaces across the United States and the world. “Because we’ve always done it that way” is suddenly out the window. Instead, much of the American workforce has had to get creative and find new ways of working. In the language of workplace disability inclusion, “accommodations” are supports that enable employees to thrive at work. And overnight, we’ve seen millions of Americans using new workplace accommodations. Whether they’re working from home or working with a mask they didn’t need a few weeks ago, many employees are using new supports to get their jobs done. This rapid adaptation has proven what disability advocates have known all along: When disability inclusion is a natural part of the workplace, barriers will fall and employees will thrive. Disability inclusion in the workplace is, at its core, a recognition that employees are human. Employees don’t — and can’t — shed the complexities of their physical and mental selves while they’re at work. After all, we’re people. And everyone’s minds and bodies are affected by the nuances of genetics, accident, disease, and age. One in four adults in the United States has a disability. That includes many employees, doing all types of work. Maybe you’re in that group yourself. Certainly some of your colleagues or employees are. But many people don’t disclose their disabilities at work for fear of discrimination or retaliation. That’s why Understood and the SHRM Foundation are proud to announce the launch of Employing Abilities @Work. This certificate program will help HR professionals develop the skills to build inclusive workplaces and hire, retain, and advance employees with disabilities. The program will cover key topics like: Making the business case for disability inclusion Building a pipeline for talent with disabilities Starting a pilot program The path forward — why now is the time for workplace disability inclusionThe Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines a disability as a physical or mental condition that affects at least one “major life activity.” This civil rights law requires that employers provide reasonable accommodation to “otherwise qualified” employees with disabilities so they can perform the essential functions of their job. The fight for these civil rights was long and fraught — and it’s not over. For decades, people with disabilities have continued to push employers to follow both the letter and the spirit of the law. Because of that history, the sudden embrace of workplace accommodations has been bittersweet for some disability advocates. But it’s also shown what’s possible. When the current crisis subsides, companies will have seen how important it is to provide the support employees need to do their best work. And employees will see workplace accommodations as a new normal. Businesses that practice disability inclusion will be at the forefront of these changes. Companies that had strong disability inclusion programs in place before the COVID-19 pandemic hit have likely been able to adapt more quickly to the changing realities. After all, they were already poised to solve problems creatively, to meet employees where they are, and to recognize and value the humanity of their people. A robust disability inclusion program makes it easier for all employees to perform to their highest potential. When done well, it promotes a culture that celebrates difference. It encourages employees to “bring their whole selves to work” — something many forward-thinking companies want for their employees. This moment of change is the perfect time for organizations to take an honest look at their programs and policies. They should ask themselves, “How can we make our company and our culture accommodating and accessible for everyone?” We’re not the workforce we once were, and we’re probably never going back. The pandemic has brought us face to face with the differing fragility of our bodies and our mental health. We’ve seen the advantage of prioritizing outcome over process. And we’ve been reminded of the importance of our connections with each other as people. Disability inclusion — the acknowledgment of our shared humanity — has never been more important. Business leaders across industries should recognize and call out the role that widespread accommodations have played in any current successes. If we’re to build a more agile and robust workforce for the new economy, we need to remember that it will be made up of humans with diverse needs. With disability inclusion as a core value, we can make the most of this opportunity for change. Nora Genster is a program manager for workplace disability inclusion at Understood. Previously, Nora was an Equal Employment and Opportunity specialist with the Department of the Navy. At the Navy, she also served as a human capital data analyst and executive operations program manager, identifying barriers to equal access to opportunity and formulating and monitoring programs to eliminate these barriers. 

  • How to expand access to technology for distance learning

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous districts and communities have been looking for ways to expand technology access for students, including English language learners (ELLs) and immigrant families. Here are some helpful tips and lessons learned from those efforts.Identifying lessons learned and prioritiesEven before the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers of English language learners (ELLs) nationwide were concerned about their students’ access to digital learning opportunities at home. In a 2019 survey, more than 75 percent of educators reported barriers that limited their students’ access to digital learning outside of school, including a lack of devices, tools, and internet access at home.The pandemic has shone a spotlight on these disparities as districts have scrambled to first reconnect with families and then set students up with technology access to support distance learning. Those challenges, however, provide some useful lessons.For example, educators referred to a single key factor that allowed ELLs to succeed with distance learning. This did not have to do with one-on-one computing initiatives or major donations of devices — although those things certainly made a difference.Instead, the schools and districts that were most successful in those efforts — and they are out there! — were the ones that already had solid relationships with ELL families. The better schools knew their families, the more effective their school-family partnerships around distance learning were.As districts look ahead, they can build a foundation for those relationships and identify lessons learned from distance learning by:Asking students and families what worked or didn’t work well Partnering with ELL and bilingual educators, interpreters, family liaisons, and the PTA to discuss opportunities and challengesEncouraging their staff to network and learn what has worked in other districtsBuilding upon strong family networks that communicate regularly with each other via text, social media channels such as Facebook Messenger, or phone treesSharing questions from technology surveys via phone or text in families’ home languages to increase accessibilityIn addition, districts should keep in mind the following:Families have a legal right to information in their home language.Immigrant families may have unique privacy concerns.Technology surveys that are only online and/or in English may not be accessible to families of ELLs.Sharing tips, questions, resources, and tutorials via families’ preferred ways of communicating is a great way to share information about technology. Finally, it is important not to make assumptions. Many immigrant families may use technology to help with their international communication, and some ELLs are so advanced that they provide technical support for other students and their teachers. Students may also be quite familiar with one kind of digital tool, like apps, but not others.Access to devicesMultiple districts provided laptops or tablets for students. However, it is important to keep in mind the following situations in order to optimize technology access:In many ELL families, multiple siblings shared devices for their schoolwork.Students without devices often used cell phones to complete assignments.Some families did not know that devices were available from their district, and they did not find out about these options in time to get a device. (And in some cases, families did not get any information in their home language once schools closed.)Educators heard from families who were reluctant to take a device home due to concern about damaging the device.Immigrant families may have been concerned that using a device provided by the school would impact their immigration cases under new public charge rules. (It would not, but the new policies have left many families with more questions than answers.)It is important to evaluate what families’ needs are, which may vary greatly from family to family and school to school. Schools and districts may wish to start with a needs assessment and talk with families about their child’s access to a device for schoolwork. It is important for educators to be on the lookout for students who:Do not have a devicePlan on sharing a device with a siblingPlan on using a cell phone to complete schoolworkIf you identify students who don’t have a device for schoolwork, talk with an administrator about whether there are devices or funding options available to fill the gap. In addition to any district programs or grants to expand technology access, local community partners, businesses, or individuals may be able to contribute to a technology fund.Districts may also wish to consider programs that offer a device as part of a digital literacy course so that families learn important technical skills.NotesSchools that have used their own computers and devices to increase student access may have very little technology accessible in the school building itself to support learning.In addition, schools should not assume that educators have devices or internet access at home.Internet accessEven if all students have a device, providing internet access may prove to be another obstacle in distance learning.Here are some of the situations that educators of ELLs shared with us:If internet companies required a social security number and no “past due” bills to register for free access, this deterred some families from signing up.Information about internet access was not available in families’ home languages, or it was too confusing.Families lived in residences whose address was not recognized by the internet company.If multiple families were sharing a residence, there were cases in which the internet company only allowed one registration per address, leaving other families in the residence without an option of setting up their own connection.Students in more rural areas were not able to get a signal even with reliable internet providers and routers.Some families did not have electricity at home, as in the case of migrant farmworkers living in temporary housing or trailers.To overcome these challenges, schools and districts tried some creative solutions, such as:Providing devices with data, where students could connect anywhere and anytimeOffering hot spots, including on buses that would travel to neighborhoods where internet access was an issueOffering free Wi-Fi at the school (or partnering with another institution in the community to provide Wi-Fi) that families could access from the parking lot to download relevant informationPartnering with municipal governments, internet providers, and cell phone companies to expand accessThere is no “one size fits all” solution to this challenge, which is why understanding your families’ circumstances will lead to a better solution for your students and educators.Tech support and trainingOnce students have devices and data, there is still one more important step needed to ensure that students can successfully use their distance learning platforms — training and tech support. Many English-speaking families described being overwhelmed by the number of platforms and log-ins needed for their child or children to complete schoolwork.You can imagine what that challenge was like for ELL students and families who were often navigating new platforms and trying to get their technical questions answered.Multilingual tutorialsTo increase student success, schools and districts might consider offering translated student and family tutorials about the platforms they will be using. Some platforms have translated tutorials available, or districts have created their own. For example, Hartford Public Schools shares this Google Classroom tutorial in Spanish on their website, and the New York City Department of Education has a collection of multilingual Google Classroom tutorials available on YouTube.Technical supportTo identify key needs and priorities around tech support, you may wish to ask families about the challenges they had with technology during the spring. In addition, the following steps can improve technical support for multilingual families:Providing a translated form where families can keep track of their child’s log-in info and any family log-in info they needProviding how-to instructions through short videos or screen shots with highlights or arrows (which can be added through markup features on smartphones)Ensuring that families have a way to ask questions related to tech support with the assistance of an interpreterSetting up a process for collaboration and communication among educators, interpreters, family liaisons, and tech support staffProviding training for families on how to use their device or platforms to support learningProtecting student privacyIt is critical to keep in mind that privacy concerns may be particularly complex for families of English language learners and immigrant students. At the same time, families who are using internet and Wi-Fi at home for the first time may need additional information about how to protect their privacy.Your district may have policies in place regarding student privacy and online learning. For example, some districts restrict the use of videos of students. Check with your school administrator for clarification as needed and also to share appropriate information with families on protecting their privacy in their home language.Offline instruction at homeFinally, there are numerous resources for helping to support instruction at home when technology access is not available (or to complement online learning). You will find many of these resources and activity ideas, as well as tips on how to build upon families’ cultures, languages, and strengths, in Offline Learning at Home: Ideas for ELLs.Partnering for successThere are numerous steps schools and districts can take to expand ELLs’ technology access and we hope this information provides some ideas that might work in your setting. We encourage educators and administrators to keep networking, sharing what works, and developing solutions. Making these efforts a priority early on will yield rewards for the rest of the year, and, perhaps, get everyone just a little closer to focusing on flying the plane we are still building!Adapted from Colorín Colorado. © 2020, WETA. 

  • Distance learning toolkit: Key practices to support students who learn differently

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning has been a challenge for many educators, families, and students. That includes the 1 in 5 students who learn differently.Students who struggle academically or who typically get individual support in school are more likely to fall behind during distance learning, according to one survey. And research shows that students who also come from other underserved communities, including students of color and emergent bilinguals (also referred to as English language learners), have been particularly affected. Download the toolkitA new toolkit — developed in partnership with the National Center for Learning Disabilities — can help educators meet the needs of all students at this critical moment.To create this toolkit, we revisited key teacher mindsets and teaching practices from Forward Together: Helping Educators Unlock the Power of Students Who Learn Differently, published in 2019. Given how much has changed in education since then, we asked, “How do these mindsets and practices apply to distance learning?” To answer that question, we turned to Understood experts and members of NCLD’s Professional Advisory Board. We’re sharing those learnings with you here to help you support all students in your distance learning classroom.

  • This Moment Matters. Black Lives Matter.

    These are painful times. The impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black Americans, and the protests in Minneapolis and around the world have left our team upset, angry, and hurt. Black lives matter, and our team shares the frustration of our country’s failure to deliver meaningful change. As a social impact organization that aims to shape the world for difference, Understood is dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through our team’s collective efforts we will continue to embrace and promote differences of all kinds. This means we are committed to:Reaching people who are systematically oppressed and providing them access to our resources Listening to and amplifying voices from marginalized communitiesEmpowering educators who teach our most vulnerable students in underserved communities around the countryMaking Understood and other work environments places where everyone feels that they can thriveWhile the U.S. has made significant progress on many issues around civil rights and equality, much more must be done. Our team will actively promote diversity, equity and inclusion within and beyond Understood. During this pivotal moment, we refuse to stand on the sidelines, and we encourage others to join us in this critical movement to end racism. - The Understood team

  • School health and safety challenges for kids who learn and think differently

    As schools continue to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, health and safety rules may be hard for kids to follow. Wearing a mask all day? Social distancing? Find out which routines may be extra hard for kids who learn and think differently — and how to help.

  • Helping students cope with change and disruption

    By Lara Thibodeau and Nancy Rappaport Our country, our schools, and our students are facing incredible adversity right now. The COVID-19 pandemic has already produced the largest disturbance our school system has ever seen. Schools shut their doors to in-person learning this spring, quickly entering the tumultuous, uncharted territory of online education. Across the nation, educators and their students grappled with the transition from in-person lessons to teaching on unfamiliar online platforms, all while facing anxiety about health, job security, and a changing nation.Now, we are entering a new school year that will bring new uncertainties and learning formats, likely including hybrid structures that combine distance learning with part-time in-person instruction. There will also be an array of new policies, procedures, and guidelines. With an absence of unifying leadership from the federal government, districts and schools have been left with the unprecedented task of figuring out how to keep students learning while maintaining their physical and mental health in the midst of a global crisis.It’s not exactly a recipe for calm, focused learning.Even in the face of these daunting challenges, however, educators can continue to effectively support students and their families. Indeed, schools have a unique capacity to ease anxiety for students while serving as models of resilience during a historically challenging time. As civic leaders in whom students and families place their trust, educators can take concrete steps to reduce stress, cultivate productive coping mechanisms, and build a generation of resilient and well-adjusted children.Be realisticTo help build students’ resilience, educators must first be realistic with them about the uncertainties we are facing.The Stockdale Paradox can help shed light on why this is important (Collins, 2001). This theory dates back to the Vietnam War, when James Stockdale, a U.S. naval officer, was held captive and tortured as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese for seven years. Later, asked how he survived such a difficult time, he said his ability to maintain a realistic view of his situation was critical to his survival. Prisoners who were overly optimistic fared worse.“They were the ones who always said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ Christmas would come and it would go. And there would be another Christmas. And they died of a broken heart,” Stockdale said.To educators who are used to looking at things through a highly positive lens, the Stockdale Paradox may seem counterintuitive. But though it may sound dramatic to compare COVID-19 lockdowns to prisoner-of-war experiences, the premise is the same. Initially, students were told they might be returning to school in two weeks. Then it was a month. Then graduations were canceled. Then, before they knew it, classes were out for the summer with uncertain plans for a return to school in the fall. There is no guarantee of when things will return to “normal.” And though students are certainly not being held captive, some of their most basic needs—from socializing with friends in the cafeteria to having sleepovers on the weekends—have been stripped from them.Rather than sugar-coating the situation, teachers must help students learn to cope with a new, often disappointing, reality without losing hope for brighter days ahead. They should focus on helping students make the most out of a difficult situation and highlight the importance of maintaining their safety. At the same time, educators should caution students to limit their exposure to the news and social media (which can exacerbate worry) and encourage them to find creative ways to stay busy.Adapting to new routinesSchools can also help students and families deal with anxiety over the continually shifting instructional-delivery plans by setting realistic expectations for blended classrooms and virtual learning. Remote learning is fundamentally different from classroom-based learning, and it should be treated as such. Whereas a typical school day is a full eight hours, elementary school kids should be reasonably expected to participate in only one to two hours of online education daily; for middle and high school students, the limit should be two to three hours and three to four hours, respectively.Indeed, being realistic and intentional about change also means helping students adapt to new instructional routines and settings. We can’t just implement new learning formats without acknowledging the uncertainty and stress they might bring. Some additional ways to help students adjust to changing learning routines include these:Recognizing that unfamiliar and new routines can be anxiety provoking. In particular, students with a history of trauma may have a range of reactions, including hypervigilance, increased irritability, or withdrawing. It is crucial for educators to validate their frustration, maintain consistency, and hold high expectations in a kind and clear way.Explaining to students why these new routines are necessary. Educators can empower students by emphasizing the ways each student plays a key role in keeping everyone healthy and safe.Explicitly teaching new routines and processes to students. It may be beneficial for the school to send videos to students and families so that students know what to expect. Keeping lines of communication open with families and students is also vital.Infusing joy into new routines. Though safety protocols are important and serious, we can allow students the freedom to build joy into new structures. For example, students may come together to make up a class song to sing while washing their hands or decorating their desk dividers.Incorporating virtual movement breaks and centering techniques (such as deep breathing exercises or activities using the five senses.) For students in a heightened, overwhelmed state, this approach can help to calm the autonomic nervous system.Emphasizing students’ strengths. Because new processes can be overwhelming, teachers should ensure they are also infusing their lessons with areas for students‘ competency to shine.Validating children’s questions and worriesThis fall, students will be filled with questions and concerns, ranging from “When can I go to the playground?” to “Will I ever be able to have a normal high school experience?” to “Ms. Jones, are we all going to die?” Children may vocalize these concerns, or they may act out in ways that are seemingly inappropriate. As educators, it’s important for us to recognize that behavior is communication, which can be especially challenging in an online or blended-learning environment.Children who act out in difficult ways are often expressing underlying emotions and anxiety (Minahan & Rappaport, 2012). As educators, we must step back and play detective: What is the child really trying to tell us? We should respond to their questions and emotions with authenticity, honesty, and empathy. Teachers can learn that it is OK to validate a child’s emotions without validating their inappropriate behavior. For example, when a student is running around the room rather than focusing on the class, a teacher might say, “It’s so hard to be looking at the screen! And it’s hard to be so far away from you! Let’s take a movement break and then we’ll figure out how to do this problem.”Some teachers may even choose to be vulnerable (while remaining developmentally appropriate and respecting boundaries) regarding their personal struggles during COVID-19. This strategy may help build relationships and allow for open discussion. It may also be useful to employ a “Yes, and …” approach when validating students’ questions and emotions. A concept originally derived from improvisational theater (Moshavi, 2001), “Yes, and” is a way of taking a difficult situation, recognizing the challenge, and working productively with that struggle. It can help educators model how to hold competing emotions: “Yes, I am upset because school is not going to be the way it used to be, and I’m looking forward to seeing you and my other students and growing together.” Hope for the futureA colleague of ours recently sent a photo from her daughter’s fifth birthday celebration, which was celebrated during quarantine. The photo depicts a young girl in a birthday crown, sitting in a dark hallway with only a single spotlight illuminating her.The photo was a reminder that we are indeed living through dark times. But the spotlight on this child shrouded in darkness reminds us that, as educators, we need to shine the light and find the way for our students. Even during a pandemic, there is reason to have hope. Our kids deserve that.ReferencesCollins, J. (2001). Good to great: Why some companies make the leap … and others don’t. London: Random House.Minahan, J., & Rappaport, N. (2012). The behavior code: A practical guide to understanding and teaching the most challenging students. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.Moshavi, D. (2001). “Yes and …”: Introducing improvisational theatre techniques to the management classroom. Journal of Management Education, 25(4), 437–449. doi:10.1177/105256290102500408This article is excerpted with permission from ASCD Express, a free email publication for K–12 educators by ASCD, in the July 9, 2020, issue, “Ready for the Restart: Supporting Students Amid Change.”

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