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133 results for: "assistive technology"

  • Assistive technology for math

    When kids and adults have trouble with math, assistive technology (AT) can offer a lot of support. Many AT tools for math — like calculators — are common, inexpensive, and easy to get. Others are lesser known, but can be just as useful.Use this guide to learn about what tools are available, and where to get them.

  • Understood Explains Season 2

    ADHD treatment without medication: What are my options?

    There are many ways to treat ADHD without medication or in addition to medication. Learn about options ranging from behavior therapy to free apps. There are many ways to treat ADHD without medication — or in addition to medication. Learn about a wide range of ADHD treatments, from therapy to free apps and tools. Host Dr. Roberto Olivardia also talks about social and workplace supports. Listen as he answers common questions, like whether diet or supplements can help with ADHD.Can ADHD be treated without medication? [00:51] What is cognitive behavior therapy? [01:54] What are some common coping mechanisms for treating ADHD? [04:19] How can social supports help with ADHD? [05:53] How can assistive technology help with ADHD? [07:53] Should I change my diet or take supplements to help with ADHD? [08:43] What about workplace accommodations for ADHD? [09:41] Key takeaways, next episode, and credits [10:31] Related resourcesWhat is cognitive behavioral therapy?8 common ADHD myths5 oddly specific ADHD strategies that help me at workHow to ask for a workplace accommodationCan “color sound” help us get things done?Episode transcriptYou’re listening to Season 2 of Understood Explains: ADHD Diagnosis in Adults.Today’s episode answers the question “How can I treat ADHD without medication?”My name is Dr. Roberto Olivardia, and I’m a clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of experience evaluating people for things like ADHD. I’m also one of the millions of people who have been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. I’ll be your host.My goal here is to answer the most common questions about ADHD diagnosis. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot about ADHD in general. We’re going to do this quickly — in the next 10 or so minutes. So, let’s get to it.Can ADHD be treated without medication? [00:51] The answer to this first question is…ABSOLUTELY! While it’s true that many people benefit from ADHD meds, it’s very common for people to learn to manage their symptoms without medication. It’s also not unusual for someone newly diagnosed with ADHD to start out taking medication and eventually stop using it once they’ve got other helpful supports in place.There’s an incredible range of non-medication supports, and this includes everything from working with a therapist to setting calendar reminders on your phone. But for today’s episode, I’m going to group non-medication supports into four big categories:Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBTCoping mechanismsSocial supports, andAssistive technologyNow, these are all pretty fancy-sounding terms for what are actually fairly simple ideas. I’m going to spend the next few minutes telling you a bit about each one and how they can help you thrive — with or without ADHD medication.What is cognitive behavioral therapy? [01:54]CBT’s a common form of talk therapy:It gets you to look at your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.It shows you how to replace negative thoughts with more realistic, positive ones.And it helps you change behaviors that are causing problems in everyday life.As a psychologist, I spend a lot of time doing CBT.Here’s a recent example: One of my patients, who is a college student, said to me, “There is no way I can write a 40-page thesis, so why try?” He was doing what psychologists call catastrophizing. This is a common kind of thinking trap — or cognitive distortion — where people assume the worst will happen. Unfortunately, this kind of thinking is especially common among folks like me who have ADHD.But the good news is that CBT can help us catch ourselves having these kinds of distorted thoughts and reframe the way we’re thinking or responding.So in the case of this college student, I helped him stop and think about the accuracy of what he was saying. Instead of “There’s no way I can write this super-long paper,” he realized what he was actually thinking was “I am overwhelmed at the thought of writing this paper,” which is totally valid. Reframing his thinking helped him start taking steps to get parts of the project done, like outlining the paper, scheduling time to write each section, getting support from his professor. And you know what? He ended up writing a great 40-page paper!I use CBT all the time to help my patients. I also use it to help myself. In fact, this past weekend I ran a 5K, my first since the pandemic started. I was a bit out of practice, and right around the first mile-marker, I was having a lot of negative, unhelpful thoughts, like “You used to run 5K’s with ease. You ran a half-marathon. But now you’re totally sucking wind and you’re barely a full mile in.” Not helpful. But I noticed those thoughts and replaced them with more positive ones, like “I’ve done this before and I can do it again. I’m grateful that I’m healthy enough to even try to run a 5K.” So these are just a couple examples of how CBT can be such an incredibly powerful tool for treating ADHD — because it helps reframe thinking in ways that can positively impact our behavior. And, just so you know, I did indeed finish that 5K last weekend. I was a hot, sweaty mess, but I was a hot, sweaty mess who made it to the finish line!What are some common coping mechanisms for treating ADHD? [04:18] There are so many strategies or mechanisms that can help you cope with ADHD. It’s really a matter of finding the ones that work best for you. Many people find that exercising daily helps “burn off” the excess energy that often comes with ADHD.Making to-do lists is another common coping mechanism, although you have to watch out and make sure your list doesn’t get too long. Using color-coding can also help you prioritize what’s on the list.And when you’re working on something, it’s often helpful to take short breaks every hour or so. Even if it’s just a minute or two of breathing exercises, that can help clear your mind so you can focus on whatever needs to get done.The key is to develop coping strategies that are healthy and effective. For example, you may think that drinking a few beers every night helps you relax so you can fall asleep. But the alcohol may be affecting the quality of your sleep in ways that make you feel even more tired the next day. And drinking too much can be harmful to your health in other ways too.A more effective strategy to help you unwind at night might be to avoid caffeine late in the day, do some light stretching before bed, and then maybe listen to a boring podcast — although hopefully not this one. 😄When it comes to developing coping strategies, I always tell my patients: As long as it doesn’t hurt you or anyone else, go with it. Also, keep track of the strategies you’re trying. Sometimes it can take multiple tries before something sticks — or before you decide you need to move on to a different strategy.How can social supports help with ADHD? [05:53] Social supports can come in many different forms. At home, it can be telling your spouse or roommate how ADHD affects your brain — not as an excuse, but to help them understand what’s challenging for you. At work, a social support might be asking a co-worker for help getting started on a new or confusing task.My social skills have always been a big asset for me, especially when I was growing up with undiagnosed ADHD. Connecting to other people was a powerful source of stimulation for me. Building relationships with my classmates and teachers helped me be more present, which helped me pay attention. But after I was diagnosed with ADHD, and I understood some of my behaviors better, I was able to explain to family and friends why I struggled with certain things — like procrastinating in school or hyperfocusing on things I like.I wasn’t using ADHD to make excuses. I was enlisting the support of others to help me figure out what I needed to succeed. One big point I want to emphasize here is that leaning on social supports doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone you have ADHD. It just means you’re reaching out, engaging with the world, and asking for help if needed — instead of isolating yourself and letting your problems snowball. When it comes to social supports, I often tell my patients two things…First, there is no shame in having ADHD. Never let shame keep you from asking for what you need and using any supports that are available to you.Second, don’t apologize for having ADHD. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions out there, so you may need to educate people when you’re enlisting their support. No, ADHD isn’t about being lazy or unmotivated. No, it’s not something kids grow out of as they get older.And if you want help debunking these and other common ADHD myths, check out the resources we link to in the show notes for this episode. How can assistive technology help with ADHD? [07:52] There are lots and lots of apps and other tools that can help people with ADHD get organized. Some of this technology may come built into your phone. For example:Use a timer to help you focus on a task for a set time period like, say, 30 minutes, and then take a one- or two-minute break. Set up auto-pay for expenses you know you have the funds to cover every month.Use a “brown noise” app or a “pink noise” app to help you concentrate. These apps play sounds that can drown out distractions and keep you focused.Once you have the right technology supports in place, they can be super helpful. But be patient and keep reminding yourself that technology gets easier once you learn how to use it. Should I change my diet or take supplements to help with ADHD? [08:43]There are definitely some changes you can make to your diet to help with ADHD, like avoiding caffeine late in the day so you don’t make it harder to wind down at night. There’s also some pretty good research that suggests consuming more omega-3’s — like the kind found in salmon and sardines — can also help manage some ADHD symptoms. But there’s not as much research to support taking supplements like zinc or ginkgo biloba or St. John’s wort. The big cautionary note here is to talk with your doctor before you start taking any supplements. I’m urging this for two reasons:First, because supplements could affect any prescription medications you might be taking.Second, I want to mention, just in general, that too much of anything — even if it’s a good thing — could have unintended effects.So be sure to talk with your health care provider.What about workplace accommodations for ADHD? [09:40]So this is a huge topic that we could do an entire podcast on, but I want to at least mention here that you can ask your boss for workplace supports to help with your ADHD. One example might be wearing noise-canceling headphones at work. Or asking to have important meetings earlier in the day rather than late in the afternoon when it might be harder for you to focus. There are laws that protect people with disabilities from discrimination in the workplace, and there are a lot of free or low-cost things that can help improve your productivity with ADHD. So think about talking with your manager. And be sure to check out the show notes for this episode, where we’ll include resources on how to ask for workplace accommodations.Key takeaway, next episode, and credit [10:30]OK, listeners, that’s it for Episode 6. The key takeaway I’m hoping sticks with you from this episode is that there are lots of non-medication treatments and strategies for ADHD that can help make your life easier. Be your biggest supporter, and don’t be afraid to advocate for what you need to succeed.Thanks for listening. I hope you’ll join me for Episode 7, which explains how to prepare emotionally for an ADHD diagnosis.You’ve been listening to Season 2 of Understood Explains from the Understood Podcast Network. 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’ve mentioned in the episode. One important note: I don’t prescribe ADHD medication and I don’t have any affiliation with pharmaceutical companies — and neither does Understood. This podcast is intended solely for informational purposes and is not a substitute for a professional diagnosis or for medical advice or treatment. Talk with your health care provider before making any medical decisions.Understood Explains is produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, who also edited the show. 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. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at

  • Assistive technology: Questions to ask the school

    Kids who have an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan sometimes need assistive technology (AT) to help them learn or show what they know. You and the school can work together to choose the best tool for your child. Asking questions along the way can help. Here are some to consider. You can also download and print a list of these questions. Assistive technology and your child’s needs How will AT help my child work around challenges and learn more successfully? Which of my child’s strengths will work well with certain tools or devices? What will be done to make sure the AT is included in my child’s regular lessons? How will we know if AT is helping my child at school? Will my child’s AT be reevaluated every year? Assessment of assistive technology Is there a qualified professional on staff who can assess tools and pick the right one? If not, what outside professional will choose my child’s AT?What happens at the evaluation and what will be included in the report? Will my child be able to try out various tools and devices? How long does it take to get the tools after they’re agreed on? What happens if the selected device or tool isn’t meeting my child’s needs? Assistive technology settings and situations Who will train my child to use the tool, and who else will be trained?When will my child use AT? Will my child be able to use it during tests?Can my child use the tool at home (for homework) and during breaks? Who’s responsible for maintaining, fixing, or replacing the device? What happens to the tool if we change schools or if my child moves up to a new school?By asking these questions, you’ll get information and position yourself as a partner with the school. Your questions might even help you get a more helpful AT tool for your child.Learn about common AT tools schools use. Find out who pays for assistive technology.

  • In It

    Coming soon: “In It” Season 5

    Join us for Season 5 of In It. Listen to the trailer to learn more. Join us for season 5 of In It, a podcast about the ins and outs — and ups and downs — of supporting kids who learn and think differently. Hosts Gretchen Vierstra and Rachel Bozek will continue to bring stories, tips, and advice from families and experts. They’ll cover topics from ADHD and puberty to helpful tech for kids. Season 5 starts Thursday, September 7. Subscribe now!  Episode transcriptGretchen: Rachel!Rachel: Gretchen!Gretchen: Are you ready for Season 5?Rachel: Very exciting.Gretchen: Woohoo! So let's get started.From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It." I'm Gretchen Vierstra.Rachel: And I'm Rachel Bozek.Gretchen: And we are so excited to announce the start of a new season of "In It."Rachel: We've got a bunch of excellent conversations lined up, along with the stories and expert advice you've come to expect from this podcast. So, Gretchen, any upcoming episodes you want to highlight here?Gretchen: One I'm really excited about is actually on assistive technology. And I'm excited about it because it's something that can be great for our kids. And a lot of us don't even know what it is. What about you, Rachel?Rachel: I am really looking forward to one of our first episodes for the new season, where we're going to talk about getting our heads into the game for the new school year.And we have an episode coming up where we'll be talking about puberty and ADHD, which I think will be super interesting for a lot of families.Join us. Season 5 starts in just a few days. Follow us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts, to make sure you never miss an episode.Gretchen: And thanks for being in it with us.

  • Assistive technology for writing

    Technology can be a huge boost for people who struggle with writing. A keyboard, for example, can help people who have trouble using a pen or pencil. Assistive technology (AT) tools like this can make the physical act of writing easier. AT can also help with spelling and grammar, and with organizing and expressing thoughts in writing.To understand the options, here’s a guide to AT tools for writing, and where to find them.

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    ADHD, invisible disabilities, and making the digital world accessible

    Albert Kim is passionate about digital accessibility because of his ADHD, dyslexia, and invisible disabilities. He wants you to join him. Albert Kim first got interested in digital accessibility because of his ADHD, dyslexia, and invisible disabilities. He wanted to make websites and apps usable for everyone, including himself. After all, he uses a screen reader and text-to-speech to read text online. But when Albert started to explore a career in digital accessibility, friends discouraged him. They said it wasn’t a good career path. Albert decided to try anyway. Within a few years, demand for his expertise exploded. People who had discouraged him before were now asking about jobs. In this episode, Albert shares how to start a career in digital accessibility, and why he wants others with learning differences to join the field. He also talks about the challenges of being a first-generation college student and immigrant from South Korea. Related resourcesConnect with Albert on LinkedIn or Twitter to learn more about digital accessibility.Read about our commitment to accessibility.Check out free assistive technology tools online. Episode transcriptAlbert: So I started talking to different people around me who are working in tech industry, but then most people were discouraging. Most people actually didn't even know about this field. Most people didn't really recommend it. But growing up in such a hardship raised by a single mom and everything, yeah, it is challenging. I get it. But I went through a lot of challenges already.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.If you have a learning or thinking difference or a disability, you might've heard of the word "accessibility." This means making things as usable as possible by as many people as possible. Well, our next guest, Albert Kim, is an accessibility expert. He also has ADHD, dyslexia, and other invisible disabilities, which is part of the reason he feels like he found his calling.Hi, Albert, welcome to the show.Albert: Yeah, thank you for having me.Eleni: So, I thought a nice place to start would be just like, kind of explain it, what it means to be an accessibility expert. I'm on the product team at Understood. And so I work really closely with the experience and design team, and I've actually worked on a few accessibility projects, so I'm pretty familiar. But for our listeners, I thought it might be valuable for you to explain what it might mean to be an accessibility expert and just describe it to them as simple as possible.Albert: Basically, the work that I'm doing, accessibility specialist role, it actually focuses on digital accessibility. So just like buildings, there's a law to make it accessible for people with disabilities or anyone to be able to access for wheelchair users and things like that. Digital space, same thing for digital products, whether that is like an app or a website, it needs to be accessible for everyone. So I basically help companies make these digital products accessible to everyone. And it's not just people with disabilities, because disability has three different categories, like permanent, temporary, situational. For example, my mother, as she gets older, her vision is lower, and so her text size has to be bigger, and things like that. So it's a really interdisciplinary subject. It involves human/computer interaction, design, computer science, and psychology. So yeah, it's a very fascinating subject area.Eleni: I think one thing that we talk about UX is really I'm trying to understand the state of the person using the technology, whether that's like an emotional state or a physical state, and designing with that in mind.Albert: Yeah, of course, mm-hm.Eleni: I would love to hear why accessibility is so important to you and why you chose to dedicate your career to accessibility.Albert: For me, accessibility is really important because I deeply empathize with the struggles. I myself have disabilities. I was born with some disabilities and also attained some growing up. And so for me, the representation and advocacy for people with disabilities is really important.Growing up, I was born in a South Korean family. And South Korea has a lot of stigma toward disability, especially invisible disabilities, like mental health and things like that. And my parents have never gone to any school. They never got any formal education. So, for me, growing up, I've never really seeked out for any medical help or any diagnosis for my disabilities. And even when I became adult and tried to seek for medical help by myself, my parents were against it. Because they just simply didn't want their child having a diagnosis of a certain disability and things like that.So having gone through such a struggle, even within my family, in my environment, in my society, wanting to be accepted as who I am, I deeply empathize with such struggle for anyone, honestly, not just people with disabilities. When I came across this subject, this field, for me, it was like a calling. It was like a life mission. And especially, even within digital accessibility, these invisible disabilities that cognitive and learning disabilities, as well as mental health, have not been traditionally covered much. Which it was very absurd to me because if not accessibility area talks about these issues, then where else can we talk about it, right?Eleni: Definitely.Albert: So, kind of felt like a calling, and I feel like I had to jump in and really bring more representation of people with disabilities, similar disabilities that I have, in this field.Eleni: That's definitely something that I've heard in my research too. When we talk more broadly about diversity and inclusion, often disability is left out. And then even within the disability spaces, invisible disabilities are left out of that conversation too. So there's, like, a number of layers. And as you said, learning disabilities in particular are often, you know, not considered. I would love to hear some examples of where you've noticed perhaps digital platforms not being as accessible as they could be for learning disabilities and, like, a common mistake or gap that you see on these platforms.Albert: I think one of the challenges I have is the reading comprehension difficulty due to my dyslexia. And because of that, I use screen readers a lot. And a lot of websites, actually majority of websites, are inaccessible. And one of the most common thing is these screen readers are assistive technology that requires specific technical compatibility.But many websites are not designed and developed with these assistive technologies in mind. So for example, if I'm trying to use a screen reader to read the content, sometimes it might skip, like there is no, for example, alt text for images, or there is no coherent orders, and it's just really not the pleasant experience.So those are one of the biggest challenges. And also in terms of, from the mental health aspect, a lot of contents that might trigger mental health traumas, there is no trigger warning or the contents might be just dangerous subjects, right? Dangerous things. And being able to write contents in plain language rather than overcomplicating things. And a lot of it is design content. Those are the biggest parts that I find a lot of issues.Eleni: And I know you mentioned that you didn't necessarily see some of your diagnoses considered, so I thought it might be helpful for the audience, if you feel comfortable, to share the learning differences that you have.Albert: Yeah, thank you for asking, because I know there's a lot of stigma toward disabilities, and I know many times people tend to not to disclose. And I was advised not to disclose if I don't feel comfortable to, but I try to disclose as much information as possible, because I want to break that stigma a lot. And I have cognitive and learning disabilities, such as ADHD, dyslexia, OCD. I also have anxiety and depression, as well as PTSD. So, it's quite a lot, but these are the diagnoses that I got and been on medication for them. And I'm really fortunate to be able to find a good medical team who was able to help me out in this journey.Eleni: Yeah. I'm happy to hear that for you too. And thank you for being vulnerable and sharing all of those diagnoses. It is really important sometimes to be more open because that's setting an example for other people that might feel a little bit more shame, and it really reduces stigma around it, just talking about it.So you mentioned that when you discovered the accessibility space, you felt like it was truly your calling. I want to hear more about how you discovered it, you know, set you on that path.Albert: Actually, to share that story, I do need to share a little bit about my background because I think it's all connected.I was born in a family with domestic violence. So my mother, my sister, and I all escaped from my father. So, I was mostly raised by a single mom. I'm a first-generation college student, and we couldn't afford the cost. So I had to take a pause in my college. And at that point, I was trying to find out what can I do in terms of my career?And while I was going to college, I actually tried three different startups. I thought business success to be my fastest route to become financially independent and free so that I can support my family. So I tried different startups.And then I went to South Korean military because of the compulsory military service. And in the military, I served as a telecommunications specialist. And that was, like, the first time I kind of interacted with these more of a computer and technical things. And then after I came out, I was doing more of a digital consultant work. But then because of my startup experience previously, I got recruited by my friend and I was brought in as a business development manager. And while I was working for this tech startup, I realized, oh, like, in order for me to really get into this field, I do really need to understand more about computer science and coding and web development. So I started doing a UCLA Extension certificate in web development applications programming.And while I was studying that subject, I came across digital accessibility. At first, I was very fascinated by the subject because I never, ever imagined there is an existing field for this specific digital accessibility. And when I came across, I felt like, like, this is super cool. To me, it was kind of like looking at robots or AI, so I automatically got drawn to it and I started looking up, oh, so what are the digital accessibility guidelines for people with invisible disabilities or people like me? And I couldn't really find much resources. Oh, that's strange. Maybe I did a poor research. So I started reaching out to different people on LinkedIn and also attending different events and conferences to see maybe if I attend these professional events, I'll be able to hear more about that subject. But I still couldn't find much information. And then I realized, oh, wow, so most of the digital accessibility conversations were focused on physical disabilities, blind, deaf, and motor. But invisible disabilities have not been covered much. So, that's when I felt like, oh, it's my calling. And I need to really get into this field and try to bring more representation.Eleni: Yeah. And that's something that we also hear a lot, where people identify, like, an opportunity or a gap and for people that are more risk-averse, it's like, oh, but like that's uncharted territory. Whereas for others, it's like, well, that's actually really exciting. You can be the pioneer in that space if no one is doing it. And as you said, there's definitely a need for it. Like, you identified a personal need for it. So, there must be others feeling the same way, right?Albert: First, I didn't know how to start. So I started talking to different people around me who are working in tech industry. But then most people were giving me advice that was discouraging. Then most people actually didn't even know about this field existing. And second, most people didn't really recommend it. Like, it's an unclear career path, and the companies that have accessibility teams are only the large companies. So, I heard a lot of discouragement. But growing up in such a hardship, raised by a single mom and everything, yeah, it is challenging. I get it. But I went through a lot of challenges already, but I still overcame. So why not try? And what an interesting life because after I got into this field, shortly after, the demand has soared extremely a lot. So compared to two years ago, there was an article talking about the job increase in this field was 70 percent in one year.And because of the COVID and how the digital transformation is occurring, and a lot of government services and public services are also transitioning to digital, there is this soaring demand for making websites and apps accessible for everyone so that public services are available for everyone. So now the people who were discouraged at me before are now coming to me and saying —Eleni: Congratulating you.Albert: Congratulating me and also asking for help. They want to learn more about it.Eleni: Yeah. And I think that takes a lot of courage to block out societal pressure and other people's opinions. And just really look inward in terms of what you want and being guided by that.Albert: And I think that neurodiverse people are actually very strong at that because we've overcome that kind of stigma, always resisting.Eleni: Definitely. Yeah. We talk about that a lot. You know, if you already feel othered in whatever way, then it's actually a lot easier to go against the status quo and go against the grain because you already are. And I think it's really important to point out some of the strengths and positivity around neurodiversity.Albert: Yeah, thank you. I really hope that more and more neurodiverse people pursue this field because there's a huge demand for neurodiversity representation in this field. And it's a really, really fascinating subject that I think a lot of people will find very meaningful because you get all the benefits of working in the tech industry, like flexible location. And most companies are nowadays remote and flexible hours. But at the same time, you do work that actually benefits people with disabilities and humanity. So, it just gives me a lot of life fulfillment and meaning in my work and everything.Eleni: Oh, that's so beautiful to hear. You know, you mentioned flexibility in the tech industry and how perhaps working in tech could be a little bit more inclusive or more accessible. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that and why that's important to you?Albert: If I were to work at a traditional company where the business practice and work environment is very traditional, it would be very challenging. Because of my disability, sometimes I need to have flexible work hours. Also being able to work remotely at my home where I feel comfortable gives me a lot of room for accommodating my disabilities. And another thing is I feel like the tech industry, the culture and the community itself, is very supportive. It's all about, like, supporting each other, open-source projects, and we're all trying to help each other, so that is a huge plus for people like me, who is a foreigner, in a foreign country, without a college degree. And then being a first-generation college student with a lack of guidance, it means so much to have that kind of support, especially digital accessibility community. Because a lot of people in digital accessibility resonate and empathize with people with disabilities and actually having disability is a huge, huge strength, because you have a deep insight and understanding of users with disabilities. And that is very precious and highly appreciated skill and experience in this field. So I think that was one of the biggest part was the people in this field were just very welcoming, loving, and supportive, and that is really hard to find in other fields, I feel like.Eleni: And you also mentioned not finishing college and some of the challenges that you had from a financial perspective. But I would love to hear perhaps some other challenges that might've been related to, like, your learning and thinking differences or your other mental health challenges.Albert: A lot of challenges are so subtle and embedded in my life that I don't even know it exists. For example, I have a hard time with estimating time. So my doctor was telling me because of my low executive functioning in my brain, if I'm estimating a time for a certain work or certain task, I can pretty much assume that it is going to be wrong. And another thing is balancing my focus. It's very hard to balance my focus.For example, I have ADHD and I get distracted to a lot of environmental stimuli. So when I'm working, I turn off a lot of other noises in my room and try to be able to focus so that I don't get distracted. But at the same time, I have OCD as well. So for me, there's no middle ground. And it's, like, either I'm very distracted or I'm very, very, very focused, maybe too focused, to the point that I'm not prioritizing certain tasks and moving forward. It's kind of like a bicycle when you're riding a bicycle on a downhill, it's hard to stop for me. It's very hard to stop when I'm going down already into the path of ADHD. So learning coping mechanism to help me balance that has been very challenging.Also another thing is, because of my anxiety, new environment, where it's my first-time experience, for example, let's say that I'm trying to go to medical school. I've never been to medical school before. Then there's lots of new information out there that I don't know. To me, that is a huge uncertainty, and that overwhelms me a lot. So it gives me anxiety and it triggers my OCD a lot. So I get obsessed about like reading things and learning things because I'm so anxious that I feel like if I miss one word, I might miss a huge chunk of information.So it took me a long time to really learn the coping mechanism that it's OK to fail. It's OK to try. And whether or not you fail, you will learn something, and it'll be good for you. So, just there was constant struggle but definitely I think as first step was getting medical help, and it helped me tremendously.Eleni: That was super interesting to hear how your different diagnoses interact and how they show up for you, and how one can actually then trigger the other. And since you started talking about advice, I thought that would be a really good segue to ask you about other advice you have for young people with thinking and learning differences, particularly those that might be interested in getting into the accessibility space.Albert: The main thing that I really want to convey to people who are going through a similar struggle as I am is that you are not alone. I'm here, there are ton of other friends around me who have similar struggles. We are here. And you are heard, you are accepted, you are loved. So I think finding community is really powerful.I started this community called Accessibility NextGen, because I wanted to build a supportive community for anyone who wants to learn about digital accessibility, to be able to help each other and make more friends, literally, like, that was the main reason why. Because when I was trying to get into this field, it was so challenging, and there are people, a ton of people, who are more than happy to help you.I and tons of my friends want to help people with disabilities and especially neurodiversity to get into this field. So please let me, let us, help you by reaching out to us, or connecting with us, or just shooting a DM anytime. The name of the community is Accessibility NextGen, and it's on Meetup.Also, you can find me on LinkedIn, Albert Kim, or my Twitter handle is djkalbert, but the Slack channel is actually invitation-only, so once you actually message me, I can send the invitation and then go from there.Eleni: Thank you so much for joining, Albert. And thank you for all of the work that you do in the accessibility space.Albert: Well, thank you so much, Eleni, for having me today. And I hope that my story will at least help someone feel that they are not alone. So, thank you.Eleni: I hope so too.This has been "How'd You Get THAT Job?!," a part of the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, tell someone about it."How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is for you. So we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Go to to share your thoughts and to find resources from every episode. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G, slash that job.Do you have a learning difference and a job you're passionate about? Email us at If you'd like to tell us how you got THAT job, we'd love to hear from you. 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 "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" was created by Andrew Lee and is produced by Gretchen Vierstra and Justin D. Wright, who also wrote our theme song. Laura Key is our editorial director at Understood. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors. Thanks again for listening.

  • Assistive technology for auditory processing challenges

    Auditory processing challenges isn’t an actual diagnosis. But the struggles it refers to are very real. People with these challenges don’t recognize the small differences in the sounds of words. So, they may mishear questions or have trouble following instructions. They may also be easily distracted by background noise. But assistive technology (AT) can be a big help.Here’s a guide to AT tools and where to find them.Types of AT for auditory processing challengesThere’s a range of AT tools for auditory processing challenges. They address different areas of difficulty.Personal listening devices (PLDs). These tools can help people hear voices more clearly. People who are speaking, like teachers or managers, wear a clip-on microphone. The mic transmits their voices to an earpiece or personal speaker used by the person with the challenges.Some PLDs are called frequency modulation (FM) listening systems. That’s because they rely on the same FM frequencies radio stations use. Some newer PLDs use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth to transmit a voice. Apps are also available that allow an iPhone or iPad to work as a PLD.Sound field systems. These are specialized speaker systems for classrooms or meeting rooms, which often have sound issues. There may be areas where sound echoes or is muffled. These systems broadcast speakers’ voices to speakers placed in certain locations in the room. This helps to distribute their voice evenly throughout the room, so everyone can hear it well. Systems may include a pass-around microphone for people to use during discussions. Sound field systems can be installed permanently. Others are portable and can be moved to different rooms.Noise-canceling headphones. These tools can help block out background noise for people who are sensitive to sound.  Some people may find it helpful to connect their headphones to a white noise app that plays sounds like rain or static. Some people use them when they need to listen to audio (for example, text-to-speech from their device). They can listen through the headphones to help filter out distracting background noises.Audio recorders. These allow people to record lectures or discussions. Later, they can listen (several times, if they want to) if they didn’t understand or missed things the first time. Users are also able to pause the recording or play it at a slower speed to improve understanding.Some note-taking apps and devices allow people to synchronize their handwritten or typed notes to the audio recording. This can make it easier to navigate an audio recording. The user can simply tap on a note later to hear what was recorded at that time.Captioning. This tool allows people to read text that matches what’s being said. This can make it easier to understand spoken language. A classic example is closed captioning on television and movies. Auto-captioning is available with a number of platforms and apps. You can turn it on during Zoom meetings and PowerPoint presentations. It’s also available in YouTube videos. Just know that it may not be completely accurate. That’s because it uses speech recognition software.Newer voices for text-to-speech (TTS) software.  TTS software lets people see text and hear it read aloud at the same time. The text is spoken by a computer-synthesized voice. This may help people who struggle with reading skills. But certain voices may be hard to understand for people with auditory processing challenges. It can take some experimenting with different voices and reading speeds to find what works. And some of the newer TTS voices (often called “neural text-to-speech”) are very human-sounding. Another option is audiobooks. They use human voices for narration.Where to get AT for auditory processing challengesSome AT tools are easy to find. Audio recorders and headphones are sold at electronics stores and online. Many tools are available on a range of platforms. These include mobile devices, computers, and Chromebooks. Some tools are already built in. Note-taking tools that link recorded audio with notes can be bought and downloaded to the user’s device.Captioning is available for free on most TV programs, movies, and remote meeting apps like Zoom. The same is true for most websites that have videos. But you may need to contact a specialized company for devices like a sound field system or a personal listening device. If you’re looking for AT for your child, you can ask if their school will provide these tools.saLearn more about auditory processing challenges. And explore classroom accommodations to help with auditory processing.

  • Understood Explains Season 3

    IEPs: The difference between IEPs and 504 plans

    Learn the key differences between two common plans for school support, and which one might be right for your child. The terms IEP and 504 plan may come up a lot when you’re looking into special education for your child. These school supports do some of the same things, but one can provide more services and the other is easier to get. And it’s important to know the differences in order to get your child the support they need. On this episode of Understood Explains, host Juliana Urtubey will break down the differences between IEPs and 504 plans, and which one might be right for your child. Timestamps [00:53] What is a 504 plan?[02:16] What’s the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?[08:15] Can my child have an IEP and a 504 plan at the same time?[09:36] Should my child switch from an IEP to a 504 plan?[10:45] What do multilingual learners need to know about IEPs and 504 plans? [11:58] Key takeawaysRelated resources504 plans and your child: A guide for familiesThe difference between IEPs and 504 plans (comparison chart)10 smart responses for when the school cuts or denies servicesUnderstood Explains, Season 1: Evaluations for Special EducationEpisode transcriptJuliana: As you look into getting your child more support at school, you're likely to run into the terms IEP and 504 plan. They do some of those same things, but one has a lot more stuff and the other is a lot easier to get. On this episode of "Understood Explains," we explore how these plans are similar and how they're different, and which one might be right for your child. From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "Understood Explains IEPs." Today we're going to learn about the differences between IEPs and 504 plans. My name is Juliana Urtubey, and I'm your host. I'm the 2021 National Teacher of the Year and I'm an expert in special education for multilingual learners. And speaking of languages, I want to make sure everyone knows all the episodes this season are available in English y en español. Let's get started. [00:53] What is a 504 plan?OK. So, what's a 504 plan? Before we get into the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan, I want to quickly explain what a 504 plan is. This is a tailored plan that removes barriers to learning for a student with disabilities. The goal is to give the student equal access to learning. To do this, a 504 plan often includes assistive technology, meaning things like screen readers, noise-canceling headphones, or speech-to-text software. Many 504s also include accommodations, which are changes in the way things get done. A common example is getting extended time on tests or getting to leave the classroom to take short breaks. And the other thing I want to mention is that some 504 plans include services like speech therapy or study skill classes. This doesn't happen all that often, but services can be part of a 504. So, the basic components of a 504: Assistive technology AccommodationsServicesRight about now, you may be thinking that 504s sound a lot like IEPs, Individualized Education Programs. And you're right. These two plans have a lot in common and can provide a lot of the same supports. But there are some key differences. And that's what the whole next section is about. [02:16] What’s the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan?OK, so what's the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan? I'm going to focus on three key differences: First, IEPs provide special education services. Students with IEPs may spend a lot of time in general education classrooms, but the heart of an IEP is the specially designed instruction to help a student catch up with their peers. For example, a student with dyslexia might get specialized reading instruction a few times a week. The IEP also sets annual goals and monitors the student's progress towards reaching those goals. So the key thing here is that IEPs provide special education. 504s on the other hand, do not provide special education. There are no annual reports or progress monitoring with 504s. What 504s do is remove barriers to the general education curriculum. So 504s can be good options for, say, a student with ADHD or written expression disorder, who doesn't need specialized instruction but does need accommodations, like sitting in a less distracting part of the classroom, or showing what you know in a different way, like giving an oral report instead of taking a written test. To give you a more detailed example, I want to talk about a student of mine named Brian. He had a 504 plan to help accommodate his vision impairment. To make the plan, I talked to Brian about what he needed, and I worked with the school's assistive technology department to find some helpful tools. We learned that Brian had an easier time reading and writing when he used a slant board to help raise up the paper. He also benefited from having what's called "augmented worksheets." Rather than having a bunch of math problems on one sheet of paper, Brian would get several sheets, so the problems were spread out and enlarged and he could see them better. With these supports, Brian could do all the work on his own. And to create his 504, a school staff member wrote up the plan and included my suggestions for accommodations and assistive technology. And the only thing we needed to get started was his parents' consent. And this brings me to the second big difference between IEPs and 504s. They're covered by different laws, and IEPs come with a lot more rights and protections than 504s do. So, for example, IEPs are covered by the federal special education law, which is called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. This law is very focused on education and one really important detail about IDEA is that it says parents are an equal member of the team that develops the IEP. But that's not true for 504s. 504 plans are covered by an important civil rights law called The Rehabilitation Act of 1973. This law bans discrimination against people with disabilities in several key areas. It has a big section about employment. It has a big section about technology, and it also has a big section about education. This is where the name "Section 504" comes from. So, IEPs and 504 laws are covered by different laws. And one difference between these laws is how much schools are required to involve parents. With a 504 plan, parents don't have to be equal members of the team. Schools don't have to involve parents in creating this kind of plan. They just need a parent's consent before starting to use it. Although I want to mention that many schools encourage families to help create the 504 plan, schools aren't required to involve them. There are also different rules about what schools need to do to make changes to these plans. With 504s, schools have to let parents know if a significant change is being made to the student's 504 plan. But the school doesn't have to send a written notice about this. With an IEP, schools have to send parents a letter and have a meeting with the full IEP team before they can change the IEP. And if parents want to dispute the changes, the school has to keep the current plan in place while the dispute gets resolved. With either of these plans, families can ask to make changes, but families have more rights and protections with IEPs. We'll talk more about IEP rights and dispute resolution later this season. There's a third big difference I want to mention. IEPs are harder to get than 504s. The process for determining who is eligible for an IEP takes more time and it involves more steps. Students need to have a disability to qualify for either plan, but to get an IEP, kids need to go through the school's comprehensive evaluation process. You can learn all about this process in season 1 of "Understood Explains."OK, so kids need to be evaluated by the school to get an IEP. By contrast, kids don't need to get evaluated by the school to get a 504. This kind of plan is easier to get, but it's less likely to include specialized instruction. So for example, let's look at students with ADHD. The main thing they'd need to qualify for a 504 is a diagnosis from their health care provider. But to qualify for an IEP, those same students would still need to go through the full evaluation process through their school. It's the same thing with dyslexia or depression or a hearing impairment or any type of disability. It's pretty quick to start getting accommodations and assistive technology through a 504. It takes longer to see if a child qualifies for an IEP. We're going to talk more about this later this season, but for now, I want to briefly mention the two eligibility requirements to qualify for an IEP. The evaluation team has to determine that you have a disability and that the disability impacts your education enough to need specially designed instruction. OK, that's a lot of info, let's summarize quickly before we move on. 504 plans are meant to remove barriers in general education classrooms. IEPs provide specialized instruction. They take longer to get, but they come with more supports, including legal protections and annual goals. [08:15] Can my child have an IEP and a 504 plan at the same time?Can my child have an IEP and a 504 plan at the same time? Yes, it's technically possible to have both an IEP and a 504 plan, but it's unlikely your child would actually need both. That's because an IEP can include everything that's in a 504 plan and more. For example, if your child has speech impairment and ADHD, the IEP can include speech therapy as well as accommodations related to that ADHD, like reducing distractions in the classroom and helping your child get started on tasks. There are, however, some situations where it might make sense to have both kinds of plans. For example, if a child has an IEP and gets a temporary injury, like a broken hand and needs some writing accommodations until it heals. Rather than going through the hassle of adding and removing those accommodations from an IEP, the school might choose to add them via a 504 plan. Another example of when a school might use both an IEP and a 504 plan, is if the student has a medical condition that doesn't directly impact academics, like a peanut allergy. So, there are some special cases where both plans might be OK, but in general, if your child has an IEP, keep it to that single plan. It's easier for you and for teachers to manage just one plan instead of two. [09:36] Should my child switch from an IEP to a 504 plan?Should my child switch from an IEP to a 504? So, this happens a lot, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe your child has made a lot of progress and no longer needs specialized instruction. For example, let's say your child has dyslexia and their reading skills have improved, and now all they need are tools or accommodations. This can include extra time on tests and digital textbooks that can highlight the text as it's being read out loud. Both of the supports could be covered in a 504, but if you think your child still needs specialized instruction, you can advocate to keep the IEP. We'll get into more specifics about this later in the season, but for now, I'll just put a link in the show notes to Understood's article on what to do if the school wants to reduce or remove your child's IEP services. The other thing I want to mention is that it's possible to move from a 504 plan to an IEP, but your child will need to be evaluated by the school and it takes longer to qualify for an IEP. We have a whole episode coming up about deciding who qualifies for an IEP. [10:45] What do multilingual learners need to know about IEPs and 504 plans?There are two really important things that multilingual families need to know about IEPs and 504s: First, getting your child an IEP or 504 plan does not put you or your family members at any greater risk of immigration enforcement. It's completely understandable that families with mixed immigration status might have concerns about getting formal supports at school, especially if it involves filling out paperwork with personal information. But all students in the United States have a right to a free, appropriate public education, no matter their immigration status. Plus, schools are considered sensitive locations, which means immigration enforcement cannot take place there. I'm going to talk more about this in a later episode that is all about multilingual learners. But for now, the one thing I want to mention is that formal supports in school, whether they're part of an IEP or a 504, should happen in addition to being taught English as an additional language. It's not an either or situation. You don't have to choose between disability support and language instruction. If your child needs both, your child can and should get both. [11:58] Key takeawaysAll right. That's all for this episode. But before we go, let's wrap up with some key takeaways. 504 plans are covered by a civil rights law that bans discrimination against people with disabilities. 504s remove barriers to general education. IEPs are covered by special education law and provide specially designed instruction and services for kids with a qualifying disability. Both plans can provide accommodations and assistive technology. And last but not least, specialized instruction is a core feature of IEPs, but it's not very common in 504 plans. That's it for this episode of "Understood Explains," tune in for the next episode on IEP myths. You've been listening to "Understood Explains IEPs." This season was developed in partnership with UnidosUS, which is the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Gracias, Unidos! 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've mentioned in the episode. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at  Credits Understood Explains IEPs was produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, with editing support by Daniella Tello-Garzon. Video was produced by Calvin Knie and Christoph Manuel, with support from Denver Milord.Mixing and music by Justin D. Wright.Ilana Millner was our production director. Margie DeSantis provided editorial support, and Whitney Reynolds was our web producer. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer.Special thanks to the team of expert advisors who helped shape this season: Shivohn Garcia, Claudia Rinaldi, and Julian Saavedra.

  • Assistive technology that’s built into mobile devices

    Did you know that most smartphones and digital tablets have built-in assistive technology (AT) that can help with learning and thinking differences?The range of AT features varies depending on the device’s operating system. But iOS devices like iPhones, as well as Android devices like Samsung Galaxy phones, all have built-in AT tools. You don’t need to buy special apps to use these built-in AT features.Here’s how some of the more common tools can be helpful.Built-in accessibility features in iOSiOS is the operating system for iPhones and iPads. Unless stated otherwise, the AT features below can be activated on iOS devices through Settings > Accessibility.For trouble with reading: iOS has two text-to-speech (TTS) options that are helpful for people who have trouble with reading. Both are found under Spoken Content. Speak Selection lets users select blocks of text to be read aloud. And Speak Screen reads entire pages of text. In both TTS options, users can choose to have the words highlighted as they’re spoken. This feature can help make following along much easier.The voice and reading speed for the TTS can also be changed. If a word isn’t read correctly, the way it’s said can be adjusted using the Pronunciations feature.For trouble with vision: There are iOS features that help to change things like the text font and size. Users can also temporarily zoom in on their screen. These changes can be found in the settings of the device. For trouble with writing: There are several iOS tools that can help with writing. The first is the built-in dictation (speech-to-text) feature. This feature lets users write with their voices instead of typing. It can be activated by pressing the microphone button on the bottom-right of the onscreen keyboard. There’s also built-in word prediction called QuickType in the onscreen keyboard. As users type, it suggests words to use in their writing.Both Dictation and QuickType are active by default. They can be turned on and off by going to General > Keyboard. To turn Dictation on or off, use the Enable Dictation toggle. Turn QuickType on or off with the Predictive toggle. For trouble with motor skills: Some iOS features may be helpful for people who have difficulty with fine motor skills. For instance, Dictation may be helpful for people who struggle with keyboarding. There’s also a feature called AssistiveTouch (under the Settings >Accessibility > Touch category) that lets users customize hand gestures, like gestures for zooming in and out.For trouble with focus: iOS devices come with a built-in web browser app called Safari. The Safari Reader feature can remove ads and visual clutter from the web browser to help with focus. To activate Safari Reader, press aA on the left side of the search bar.Guided Access is another accessibility feature that can help with focus. This feature is often used by parents and teachers. It allows them to disable the device’s Home button so kids get “locked” into a certain app. Guided Access can even disable specific parts of an app that may be distracting.For trouble with organization: iOS devices also come with a built-in calendar app that can help with remembering important dates. Using calendar reminders is one of the ways phones can help kids and adults get organized.Apple laptop and desktop computers use an operating system called macOS. It has many of the same built-in AT features as iOS.Built-in accessibility features in AndroidMobile devices powered by Google’s Android operating system come with some AT features similar to those in iOS. These can be activated in the Android device’s accessibility settings and apps.For trouble with reading: TalkBack is a screen reading feature of Android that uses TTS technology to read aloud text from websites, email, and more. The tool’s voice can be changed, and the reading speed can be adjusted.For trouble with vision: Like iOS, Android devices allow you to adjust text font and size, and temporarily zoom in on their screen. These changes can be found in the settings of the device. For trouble with writing: Like iOS, Android has built-in dictation. By pressing the microphone button in the onscreen Google keyboard, users can type with their voices into any app. The keyboard also has built-in word prediction, which is active by default. It suggests words that users might be trying to write as they type.For trouble with motor skills: Accessibility Menu is a feature that displays an onscreen menu of actions that require motor skills (like adjusting the device’s volume or taking a screenshot). It then offers easier onscreen gestures (usually just a tap or small finger swipe) to complete those actions.For trouble with focus: If a user is easily distracted by an app’s bells and whistles, Android’s Digital Wellbeing and parental controls section (found under Settings) can help. The features here can limit the time spent in an app, set up do not disturb mode, and more. For trouble with organization: Like iOS, Android devices also have a built-in calendar tool. This tool can help kids and adults remember important dates and tasks.More about assistive technology on mobile devicesLearn more about examples of assistive technology and questions to ask when considering an AT tool.

  • Understood Explains Season 3

    IEPs: How do kids qualify for IEPs?

    Host Juliana Urtubey explains the school evaluation process for special education. Kids don’t just get an IEP all of a sudden.Schools have an evaluation process to decide if a child qualifies for special education services. This includes getting an IEP. On this episode of Understood Explains, join host Juliana Urtubey as she discusses the evaluation process and requirements for getting an IEP. She’ll also share what to do if the school says your child doesn’t qualify for an IEP and more. Timestamps[00:37] How do kids qualify for IEPs?[03:14] Does my child need a diagnosis to get an IEP?[04:45] How do I request an evaluation?[06:12] What if the school wants to wait to evaluate my child?[08:10] What if the school says my child doesn’t qualify for an IEP?[08:49] Key takeaways Related resources Understood Explains Season 1 on special education evaluationsDownload: Sample letters for requesting evaluations and reportsWhy your child’s school may deny your evaluation requestEpisode transcriptJuliana: Kids don't get an IEP all of a sudden. The school needs to do an evaluation and decide if your child qualifies for special education. I'm going to explain how this process works. From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "Understood Explains IEPs." On this episode, we'll talk about how to get an IEP and what to do if the school says your child isn't eligible. My name is Juliana Urtubey and I'm the 2021 National Teacher of the Year. I'm also an expert in special education for multilingual learners, and I'm your host for this season of "Understood Explains," which is available in English y en español. Let's get started.[00:37] How do kids qualify for IEPs?How do kids qualify for IEPs? There are two big things that need to happen to qualify for an Individualized Education Program, or IEP. The first thing is, your child needs to get an evaluation. Public schools have a whole process for evaluating kids using a team of professionals. It's free for families, and I'm going to talk more about this in a minute. The second big thing is called eligibility determination. This is what happens at the end of the evaluation process. To qualify for an IEP, the school needs to determine that your child has a disability and that the disability negatively impacts how your child is doing in school. There's a jargony phrase that schools use for this. "The disability needs to adversely affect your child's educational performance." And by the way, educational performance can be viewed very broadly. It's not limited to academics. Kids can qualify for IEPs because they have a disability that affects their attention, behavior, social skills, etc. So to recap, to get an IEP, your child needs to get evaluated by the school and the evaluation team needs to find that your child has a disability that adversely affects your child's education. OK, so where did these requirements come from? They're part of a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. or IDEA. And there are three things that I want to highlight about this part of the law. First, public schools have a big responsibility. They must identify and evaluate any kids who may need special education. This is called Child Find, and it's the first step towards getting kids the support they need to thrive in school. Second, not all kids with disabilities will qualify for IEPs. Maybe your child doesn't need specially designed instruction or services. Maybe all your child needs is some assistive technology or classroom accommodations. If so, the school may recommend a 504 plan, which we talked a little bit about in Episode 2. Third, to qualify for an IEP, the school needs to determine that your child has a disability that falls into one of the 13 categories in IDEA. Now, this doesn't mean the law only covers 13 disabilities. It means that there are 13 really big buckets of disabilities. For example, ADHD is covered under the category called Other Health Impairments. This season we're going to have a whole episode about disability categories. But, for now I'll just say that even if your child has a really rare disability, they can still qualify for an IEP. The key thing is that the disability needs to adversely impact your child's education. [03:14] Does my child need a diagnosis to get an IEP?Does my child need a diagnosis to get an IEP? This is a very common question, and the official answer is no, or at least no in the way most families think about having to go to a doctor to get a medical diagnosis. Schools don't diagnose kids. They do something a little different, which is identify a child as having a disability. So no, you don't need to get a diagnosis from your health care provider. But if you want to, you can share a diagnosis with the school evaluation team. OK, so what does an evaluation look like? Schools do special education evaluations for free. And they have to complete them within a certain time frame, usually within 60 days. But this can vary a bit from state to state. The team will use this time to gather data from a bunch of sources to help decide if your child qualifies for an IEP. Evaluations often include special tests, observations in your child's classroom, and interviews with family members and teachers. And if your child is learning English, their language instructor will help with the evaluation too. As a parent or guardian, your participation is really important. The team cannot evaluate your child without your permission. And the more you work together, the more you can help keep the evaluation centered on your child's strengths as well as your child's needs. If you want to learn more about evaluations, check out the first season of "Understood Explains," which is all about getting evaluated for special education. [04:45] How do I request an evaluation?How do I request an evaluation? So, before we get into this, I want to mention that there are two ways to start the evaluation process. Either the school can reach out to you in what's called a referral, or you can request an evaluation. Season 1 of "Understood Explains" has a whole episode about this exact topic. Here are some highlights. The first step in requesting an evaluation is finding out who you should send the request to. Your child's teacher should know. But this is also a good time to ask the school's front office if there's a community liaison or a family support provider. Lots of school districts have this type of person who can help you navigate the system. The next step is to put your request in writing. Write an email or a letter that includes the month and day you sent it, because that date is important. By law, schools must respond within a certain time frame, which varies from state to state. As you're writing your letter, be sure to describe why you're requesting an evaluation. Try to be as specific as possible. You can say things like, "My child has a lot of trouble with spelling. He studies hard, but he can't remember how to spell even the most basic words. And I'm concerned he may have a learning difference or disability. He may need more support at school." If you need help getting started on your letter, we have some templates on I'll put a link in the show notes. [06:12] What if the school wants to wait to evaluate my child?What if the school wants to wait to evaluate my child? This can be a tough situation to be in. I know a lot of parents don't want to be seen as the squeaky wheel, or maybe feel like it's not their role to tell the school what to do. But you know your child best. So, if you think it's time to evaluate your child, advocate for it. And remember, special education law says that schools need to be actively looking for kids who may have a disability. Now, I want to be clear. Schools don't have to say yes to every request for an evaluation. But sometimes schools want to wait for reasons that aren't allowed. And I want to give you two examples. If your child is struggling, the school may try an instructional intervention. But here's the thing about interventions. They're designed to take several weeks so the school can see how your child responds to this kind of intensive instruction. The goal is to give the child effective support and time to show progress. But let's say you're pretty confident that you're seeing signs of dyslexia or ADHD or whatever you think might be going on with your child. You don't have to wait until the end of the intervention to ask for an evaluation. You can wait if you want to. Or you can remind the school that an intervention is not a valid reason to delay or deny your evaluation request. Another example is if your child is an English language learner, or what I prefer to call a multilingual learner. It's not uncommon for multilingual kids to fall behind their peers while they learn formal academic English skills. So, the school might just think your child needs more language instruction and not special education. But that's not a valid reason for delaying an evaluation. You can request an evaluation for special education even if your child is still learning English. One thing that can be a big help is to let the school know if your child is struggling with things like reading or speaking in your home language. Understood has an article about some common reasons why a school might deny your request and how you can respond. We'll put a link in the show notes. [08:10] What if the school says my child doesn’t qualify for an IEP?What if the school says my child doesn't qualify for an IEP? So, if this happens, you have some important rights. Schools have to explain in writing how they made their decision. If you disagree, you can get something called an independent educational evaluation. And in some cases, the school may even be required to pay for this private evaluation for you. You can also ask for mediation with a neutral third party or a due process hearing, which is kind of like a mini trial. And we're going to talk more about your dispute resolution options later in the season. [08:49] Key takeaways OK, before we go, let's sum up what we've learned with a few key takeaways. First, your child doesn't need a medical diagnosis to get an IEP. The school needs to do an evaluation and find that your child has a disability that negatively impacts their learning. You can ask the school to evaluate your child, but the team cannot get started until you give your consent. And lastly, you have a lot of legal rights in this process. Remember, you know your child best. And you can be a powerful advocate to help your child thrive. All right. That's it for this episode of "Understood Explains." Next time we're talking about IEP disability categories. You've been listening to "Understood Explains IEPs." This season was developed in partnership with UnidosUS, which is the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Gracias, Unidos! 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've mentioned in the episode. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at CreditsUnderstood Explains IEPs was produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, with editing support by Daniella Tello-Garzón. Video was produced by Calvin Knie and Christoph Manuel, with support from Denver Milord.Mixing and music by Justin D. Wright.Ilana Millner was our production director. Margie DeSantis provided editorial support, and Whitney Reynolds was our web producer.For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer.Special thanks to the team of expert advisors who helped shape this season: Shivohn Garcia, Claudia Rinaldi, and Julian Saavedra.

  • Assistive technology platforms: The basics

    Assistive technology (AT) comes in different shapes and sizes. You may encounter assistive technology without realizing it, like built-in tools on your mobile device. Understanding the different platforms can make it easier to figure out which tools will work for you.Here’s what you need to know about platforms for AT.Basics about platformsA platform is a foundation of technology that AT tools can operate on. It’s typically a hardware device controlled by built-in software called an operating system. There are two main platforms to use AT on:Desktop and laptop computersMobile devices (includes smartphones and tablets)Anyone can use AT tools like text-to-speech, dictation (speech-to-text), word prediction, calculators, and more on each of these platforms. Some tools are built into the operating systems.You can also add tools to each platform:You can add new tools to computers with software.You can add new tools to mobile devices with apps.Using AT on one of these platforms is different from using a single-purpose AT device, like an audio recorder. A single-purpose device can do only a fixed number of things, such as record and play sound. It can’t add new functions.Desktop and laptop computersMany AT tools were first developed for desktops and laptop computers. Here are some of the benefits of using computers for people with learning and thinking differences:Operating systems such as Windows and macOS come with built-in AT tools, like text-to-speech and dictation.They have plenty of storage space for documents, videos, photos, and other files.They have built-in microphones and speakers to run different AT features and offer the ability to add on more powerful external microphones and speakers as well.They typically have built-in physical keyboards, which is helpful for people who prefer touch typing.Desktop and laptop computers also have some drawbacks:Desktop computers aren’t portable, and laptops aren’t as portable as mobile devices like smartphones and most tablets.They can be expensive.Mobile devicesIn recent years, many people have started using AT on mobile devices. Here are some of the benefits:Like desktops and laptops, mobile devices come with built-in AT tools. For example, iOS and Android have basic text-to-speech.AT tools can be downloaded through apps onto mobile devices from the iTunes App Store (iOS) and Google Play Store (Android).These apps are often more affordable than software designed for desktops or standalone AT devices.Smartphones and tablets are portable.Smartphones and tablets have touch screens, which some people prefer.Apps can take advantage of the camera on mobile devices to scan documents and add photos to projects.Some mobile devices are less expensive than desktop and laptop computers.There are some drawbacks, too:Mobile devices generally have less storage space than desktops and laptops, and it can fill up quickly.Mobile devices have smaller screens than most laptops and desktops, sometimes making it difficult to see an entire page or project. When using the device’s on-screen keyboard, even less of a page or project is visible.Understanding these different platforms can help you choose the right AT tool. Use this list of questions to ask when choosing AT tools. Learn more about the assistive technology that’s built into mobile devices. Get tips for learning to use an AT tool if you’re just starting.

  • Understood Explains Season 2

    What if I don’t really have ADHD?

    Doubting the accuracy of your ADHD diagnosis? Find out how to tell if you got a thorough evaluation and if you might need a second opinion. Doubting your ADHD diagnosis? Do you still think you have ADHD even after your doctor said you don’t? Or maybe you got formally diagnosed but aren’t sure you really have ADHD? Host Dr. Roberto Olivardia gives tips on how to think about whether you got a thorough evaluation — and if it may be time to get a second opinion. Get answers to common questions about ADHD misdiagnosis: What do I do if my doctor told me I don’t have ADHD? [01:04]What if I don’t think my ADHD diagnosis is accurate? [03:54]Anything else I need to know about getting properly diagnosed? [07:18]Key takeaway, next episode, and credits [07:57]Related resourcesHow ADHD is diagnosed in adultsADHD and perfectionismADHD and overcoming imposter syndromeEpisode transcriptYou’re listening to Season 2 of Understood Explains: ADHD Diagnosis in Adults.Today’s episode answers the question “What if I don’t really have ADHD?”We’re going to look at two sides of this question. What if I think I have ADHD but was told by a doctor that I don’t have it? And the flip side: What if I got an ADHD diagnosis, but I’m not sure it’s accurate? My name is Dr. Roberto Olivardia, and I’m a clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of experience evaluating people for things like ADHD. I’m also one of the millions of people who have been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. I’ll be your host.My goal here is to answer the most common questions about ADHD diagnosis. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot about ADHD in general. We’re going to do this quickly — in the next 10 or so minutes. So, let’s get to it.First, for people who were told they don’t have ADHD…What do I do if my doctor told me I don’t have ADHD? [01:04] I want you to think about whether you got a thorough evaluation. To help with this, I recommend you go back and listen to a few episodes from earlier this season:Episode 2 can help you think about whether you saw a qualified provider or if you might want to go see someone who has more training in how to diagnose ADHD in adults.Episode 3 digs into the breadth and depth of the questions that a comprehensive evaluation should ask. And Episode 4 is good to listen to if you got evaluated online and aren’t sure if it was legit or not. Now, let’s say you did get a thorough evaluation. One reason some people don’t qualify for an ADHD diagnosis is if they only started struggling in certain areas pretty recently. Many evaluators will disqualify an ADHD diagnosis for that reason alone, because the official diagnostic guidelines say there needs to be evidence of impairment or struggle before age 12.But there are a lot of reasons why adults with ADHD may not say we struggled as kids. Maybe you grew up in a highly structured environment or your parents did a lot to help make things easier for you. Maybe you had a much less demanding schedule and didn’t need to use as much organization or  time-management skills as you do now. Maybe, as a kid, you could ace all the tests without doing the homework, but you couldn’t keep “winging it” when the demands got a lot harder in college or at work. Or maybe as a kid you were a perfectionist — the complete opposite of a slacker. Perfectionism is surprisingly common among people with ADHD. It’s also not unusual for high-achieving kids to feel totally burned out by the time they become adults.If any of these things sound like you but maybe didn’t get captured in your evaluation, you may want to consider reaching back out to the evaluator or getting a second opinion.Another really important possibility to consider if you weren’t diagnosed with ADHD is that you could be struggling for other reasons. For example, maybe you’ve been under a lot of stress recently. (Um, hello, global pandemic…) And that stress could be causing a lot of symptoms that look like ADHD. Whatever the source of your struggles, your concerns are still valid. And there are still plenty of things you can do to help. All of the non-medication treatments that I talked about in Episode 6 can help people who have ADHD and people who don’t have ADHD — things like developing coping strategies, leaning on social supports, using assistive technology, starting cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT can help everyone.And if you didn’t qualify for an ADHD diagnosis because you’re struggling with something else, like a mood disorder, substance-abuse problem, or trauma, that is super important to find out so you can start getting the right treatment. What if I don’t think my ADHD diagnosis is accurate? [03:54] This is a very common question, and I want you to think about three possible reasons you’re doubting your diagnosis:How thorough your evaluation wasHow effective your ADHD treatment plan has been, andHow much you tend to doubt yourself in generalLet’s focus on any evaluation concerns first. I want you to look back at your evaluation, and use all the info we discussed in Episodes 2, 3, and 4 to help you think about whether you got a thorough evaluation by someone who has a lot of experience with ADHD.In particular, I want you to think about how narrow or broad the questions were. Did the testing only seem to ask about ADHD? Or did the evaluator seem to consider whether you might have something in addition to ADHD — or something that can look a lot like ADHD, like a learning disability, anxiety, depression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder?ADHD rarely travels alone, so chances are that another condition or diagnosis will be present alongside the ADHD. But this is important to tease out, since there can be overlapping symptoms. And sometimes people get an ADHD diagnosis when it’s not ADHD at all. Next, I want you to think about whether you’re doubting your diagnosis because your ADHD treatment doesn’t seem to be helping. If you’re taking ADHD medication, go back and listen to Episode 5, where I talk a lot about the importance of partnering closely with your prescriber to find the right medication and dosage. This is definitely a trial-and-error process. Keep in mind that, regardless of whether you’re treating your ADHD with or without medication, your progress can be gradual. It’s not like flipping a switch.And if it turns out that you have another condition in addition to ADHD, then you may need to focus on treating that first and your ADHD second. One other thing to consider here is that as an adult, you can choose what to do or not do if you're diagnosed with ADHD. No one else has to know. You can put your evaluation report in a drawer and wait to see how you feel about it. A diagnosis requires nothing of you unless you choose to do something with it. Think of your diagnosis as a key that can unlock access to services and supports, if you want them. But you get to decide when or how or if you want to use that key. And lastly, I want you to think about whether you tend to doubt yourself a lot in general. Many people with ADHD are very good at doubting ourselves. Go back and listen to Episode 7, which talks about ADHD and imposter syndrome. ADHD, or any diagnosis for that matter, isn’t meant to be an excuse, but rather an understanding of what’s going on that then guides you to treatment or a plan to make things better. Ideally, a diagnosis will lead to self-compassion. But let’s face it. Many people with ADHD can be really harsh on themselves about a lot of things. So instead of dismissing everything with a quick “I’m an idiot,” try to make room for more accurate thoughts, like “I have ADHD, and that makes it hard to get things done on time. So I need certain supports to make sure I can finish what I need to finish.” Bottom line: If you’re doubting the accuracy of your ADHD diagnosis, you can always get a second opinion. Talk with your doctor or therapist about why you’re concerned, and together you can come up with next steps to help you feel more confident about your treatment plan.Anything else I need to know about getting properly diagnosed? [07:18]There are two last things I want to mention.First, getting an accurate diagnosis can not only help you — it can also help the people around you. Whether it’s ADHD and/or something else, getting the right treatment can help you be a better version of yourself, which can help in all of your relationships, and at home, and at work, etc. Second, ADHD tends to run in families. The same is true for other mental health issues, like anxiety and depression. So the more you understand yourself, the more you can understand and support other members of your family.Key takeaway, next episode, and credits [07:57]OK, listeners, that’s it for Episode 8. The key takeaway I’m hoping sticks with you from this episode is that I applaud anyone who is trying to understand themselves better and get the help they need. You deserve to be happy and healthy — and with the right support, you can get there.Thanks for listening. I hope you’ll join me for a special bonus episode, where you’ll hear from several folks about their experiences getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. I’ll share my story too. You’ve been listening to Season 2 of Understood Explains from the Understood Podcast Network. 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’ve mentioned in the episode. One important note: I don’t prescribe ADHD medication and I don’t have any affiliation with pharmaceutical companies — and neither does Understood. This podcast is intended solely for informational purposes and is not a substitute for a professional diagnosis or for medical advice or treatment. Talk with your health care provider before making any medical decisions.Understood Explains is produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, who also edited the show. 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. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at

  • Assistive technology for reading

    For people who struggle to read text, technology can be a lifeline. An audiobook, for example, allows them to read a story they might not be able to read with a traditional book. Assistive technology (AT) tools for reading are inexpensive and easy to find. These tools exist on computers, smartphones, and other digital devices. But there are also low-tech options. Some of the most useful AT tools for reading are not digital.Keep in mind that using AT doesn’t keep people from learning to read. Experts say audiobooks can actually help kids become better readers. Plus, using AT can help people become more confident and independent. At the same time, if someone struggles to read, it’s important to get the right teaching to improve. AT tools alone will probably not improve reading skills.

  • Understood Explains Season 3

    IEPs: Setting IEP goals

    Learn how IEP teams set annual goals and how the IEP will measure a child’s progress. Plus, see how you can get involved. Setting IEP goals can feel tricky. They should be attainable, but not too hard or too easy — it's a bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears.However, setting these goals is a big part of developing your child’s IEP, or Individualized Education Program. In this episode of Understood Explains, host Juliana Urtubey breaks down how IEP teams set annual goals, how parents can help, and how the IEP will measure a child’s progress. Timestamps[0:44] How do IEP teams set annual goals?[4:22] How can parents help set annual goals?[7:01] Are my child’s IEP goals aiming high enough?[8:24] How will the IEP measure my child’s progress?[11:30] What do multilingual families need to know?[12:31] Key takeawaysRelated resourcesHow to tell if your child’s IEP goals are SMARTFAQs about standards-based IEPsDownload an IEP goal trackerEpisode transcriptJuliana: A big part of developing your child's IEP is setting annual goals. But how can you tell if these goals are aiming high enough and if your child is getting enough support to reach these goals? From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "Understood Explains IEPs." On this episode, we're going to talk about how to help set IEP goals and measure your child's progress throughout the year. My name is Juliana Urtubey and I'm your host. I'm the 2021 National Teacher of the Year, and I'm an expert in special education for multilingual learners. And as a reminder, all this season's episodes are available in English y en español. OK, let's get started. [0:44] How do IEP teams set annual goals? How do IEP teams set annual goals? Each year, you and the school will work as a team to develop your child's IEP or Individualized Education Program. As a team, you'll prioritize which skills your child will work on over the next 12 months. These are the annual goals, and the IEP also provides specially designed instruction or SDIs to help your child meet these goals. I like to think of IEP goals as a staircase. Each step is one of your child's, strengths and we go step by step, floor by floor, until your child catches up with their peers. And there's a whole team of people who develop these goals. The IEP team includes a special education teacher, a general education teacher, and a school psychologist, or some other type of expert who can interpret your child's progress data. As a parent or guardian, you're a member of the IEP team too, and together you'll talk about three key things that go into setting each goal. The first is looking at your child's present level of performance. The team needs to know what your child can do right now. This includes looking at academics as well as social and emotional skills. And a quick vocab note: As the team talks about your child's present levels of performance, you may hear acronyms like PLOP or PLP, or you may hear PLAAFP, which is short for Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. And here's the reason why goal setting starts by looking at your child's present levels. For every need that gets identified now, there should be a plan to address it. OK, so that brings us to the second key part, which is setting the annual goal or target to reach a year from now. The team will set annual goals that are ambitious but attainable. We want to aim high but also be realistic. And this is where special educators like me do something called backwards planning. We look at where we want your child's skills to be a year from now, and then we plan out all the steps we need to take to help your child reach those goals in this time frame. And that leads us to the third big part of setting IEP goals, which is specifying benchmarks or short-term objectives. These are the smaller steps that will help the team measure your child's progress over the course of the year. We're going to talk more about how to help set these annual goals or targets, and also how to track your child's progress. But before we do that, I want to remind you that IEPs are about setting goals and providing supports. The IEP team knows how to help kids make progress without overwhelming them. And here's an example. Let's say you have a fifth grader who has dyslexia. We'll call her Ariana. Ariana's reading skills are several grade levels behind where they need to be. The team will set goals for which skills to improve, like reading smoothly and accurately. The IEP will specify how much-specialized instruction Ariana will get to help make progress in these areas. Let's say the team decides she'll meet with a reading specialist for one hour, twice a week. But the IEP will also specify what assistive technology she'll get, like audiobooks, so she can keep up with her classmates in things like science and social studies. And the IEP will include accommodations, too, like getting extra time on tests or giving oral reports instead of writing out her answers. These kinds of supports will help Ariana keep learning fifth-grade materials as she works on meeting her IEP goals. [4:22] How can parents help set annual goals? So, how can parents help set annual goals? It's OK if you're not an expert in education. You're an expert in your child. You're also an equal member of the IEP team and here are some of the ways that you can help set the annual goals. First, you can suggest different kinds of goals. Academics are important, but so is getting organized, managing emotions, replacing negative behaviors. These are all common goal areas in IEPs. Remember that IEPs are individualized. So, you can advocate for whatever it is you think your child needs. I once had a student who was afraid of climbing stairs. So, we set an IEP goal about practicing using the stairs to get from one class to another. As you're thinking about which goals to prioritize, I want to be clear that there is no maximum number of goals in an IEP. But the trick is finding the right number of goals for your child. You want a number that's manageable and not overwhelming. Another thing you can do is ask how you can help at home. Should I be reading to Ariana? How can I set up a homework area to help her get her work done? What do I do if neither of us understands the directions for her homework? You and the school can also look for ways to help your child enjoy what they're learning. To try to keep it fun and feeling like these goals are reachable. Another way you can help is by asking about SMART goals. Now, SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Results-oriented, and Time-Bound. Setting SMART goals can help the team avoid using vague or hard-to-measure goals. Smart goals are very precise. For example, here's a SMART goal for reading fluency: By June 1st, Ariana will read 115 words per minute with 95% accuracy on four out of five tries. The goal can include other details too, like the grade level of the text she's reading, and maybe also the type of text like fiction or nonfiction. And remember that the IEP will include the present level of performance. So, it will say what Ariana's starting point is, like 80 words per minute with 85% accuracy. So, the IEP will show exactly how much progress the team is aiming for in a year.You can help by using the SMART acronym to ask questions like "Is this goal specific enough? Is it measurable?" etc. If you want to learn more, I'll put a link in the show notes to an Understood article that shows the difference between a SMART goal and a not-so-SMART goal. [7:01] Are my child's IEP goals aiming high enough? Are my child's IEP goals aiming high enough? So, this is a really tough question. In the SMART acronym that we just talked about, the A stands for Attainable. But writing attainable goals can feel a little like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It can be tricky to make the goals not too easy, not too hard, but just right. So, there are two things that I want you to keep in mind when it comes to setting goals that are aiming high enough but are attainable. First, your child's IEP goals must be tied to the standards of their current grade level. Think back to Ariana, our fifth grader. Even though her reading fluency is a few grade levels behind, her IEP goals need to be tied to fifth-grade standards. Schools want kids to stay connected to what their peers are learning, and ultimately to stay on track to graduate. But the second thing I want you to know is that there's still some flexibility here. Just because Ariana's IEP goals are tied to fifth-grade standards doesn't mean she has to achieve grade-level reading this year. She just needs to show steady progress towards achieving grade level. Understood has a good article about standards-based IEPs. I'll put a link in the show notes and in the next section we're going to talk about what you can do if you think your child is not making enough progress. [8:24] How will the IEP measure my child's progress?  So, how will the IEP measure my child's progress? At the beginning of this episode, I mentioned that annual goals need to do three key things: Look at your child's current skill levels, set goals or targets to reach a year from now, and include short-term objectives or benchmarks to monitor your child's progress.I want to focus on the last part now. You may hear the school use different terms for this, like benchmarking and progress monitoring. Benchmarks are many goals or milestones that can help the team measure how much progress the student is making towards reaching the annual goal. Some states may require a certain number of benchmarks for each goal. For example, I taught Nevada for many years, which required three benchmarks or milestones for each goal. As a parent, you can ask the team about the benchmarks in the IEP. You can also ask for the IEP to include how often you'll receive progress updates. For my students, I would send out IEP progress reports so that they would arrive at the same time as quarterly report cards. I timed it this way so families could look at their child's grades and general education, and at the same time see the growth their child was making on their special education goals. OK, so we've talked about setting goals and using benchmarks to help monitor your child's progress. Now let's look at Ariana again. Earlier in the episode we talked about a SMART goal for reading fluency. It said that by June 1st, Ariana will read 115 words per minute with 95% accuracy on four out of five tries. As part of setting this goal, we need to come up with benchmarks to hit along the way. The benchmarks could be reaching 85 words per minute by December 1st and 100 words per minute by March 1st. And these are building up to reach that June 1st goal of reading 115 words per minute. OK, so let's say it's March 1st and Ariana is still far below that 100-word benchmark. The team may want to meet and talk about options. Like whether to adjust the goal or possibly add more services or supports, like maybe a third session each week with the reading specialist. But remember, the team is looking for ways to support your child without overwhelming your child. You can always reach out to the special education teacher or case manager to ask about your child's progress. It's good to be in touch with them on a regular basis. But you also have the right to request an IEP meeting and suggest things like more goals or services. The team doesn't have to say yes to your request, but it does have to explain in writing why it thinks the current plan is sufficient. And if you disagree with the school's decision, we've got a whole episode about that later this season. But for now, I want to encourage you to use Understood's IEP goal tracker. This is a good template for keeping track of benchmarks or mini goals and other progress monitoring data. And it can help you jot down any questions or observations you have along the way. I'll include a link in the show notes. [11:30] What do multilingual families need to know about setting IEP goals? What do multilingual families need to know about setting IEP goals? There are a few quick things I want to mention if your child's learning English. First, if you need a translator at the IEP meeting, the school needs to provide one for you. And the school should translate the IEP for you too. Second, the IEP should be clear on how much time your child will spend getting special education services. It will also specify how much time your child will spend getting language acquisition services. Special education and language acquisition aren't the same thing. The team should explain to you what a typical school day will look like for your child. And last but not least, you can ask the school to provide specially designed instruction in your child's home language. This might not be possible, but it's good to ask. It's also good for your child to keep learning in more than one language. OK, before we go, let's wrap up with a few key takeaways. [12:31] Key takeawaysIEP goals are created using three key components: Looking at how your child is performing in school now, setting goals to reach a year from now, and specifying smaller steps towards reaching those goals. IEP goals should be SMART, specific, measurable, attainable, results-oriented, and time-bound. And there's no limit on the number or type of goals that should be in an IEP. It all depends on what your child needs. All right! That's it for this episode of "Understood Explains." Next time, we're diving deep into how IEPs can help with behavior. You've been listening to "Understood Explains IEPs." This season was developed in partnership with UnidosUS, which is the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Gracias, Unidos! 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've mentioned in the episode. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at  CreditsUnderstood Explains IEPs was produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, with editing support by Daniella Tello-Garzon. Video was produced by Calvin Knie and Christoph Manuel, with support from Denver Milord.Mixing and music by Justin D. Wright.Ilana Millner was our production director. Margie DeSantis provided editorial support, and Whitney Reynolds was our web producer. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer.Special thanks to the team of expert advisors who helped shape this season: Shivohn Garcia, Claudia Rinaldi, and Julian Saavedra.

  • How assistive technology can help kids with note-taking

    It’s not uncommon for some kids with learning challenges to have trouble taking notes. And to struggle in different ways. Some have a hard time jotting things down while also listening. Some have trouble keeping up with what the teacher is saying, so their notes are incomplete. For others, writing by hand or keyboarding is difficult.Assistive technology can help get around some of these difficulties. Many AT tools have built-in technology features that help with many challenges, including note-taking. Why some kids have trouble taking notesMany learning challenges can make note-taking hard, including difficulty with:handwriting or typingreadingspellingfocusworking memoryorganizationprocessing speed  For example, kids who have trouble with executive function may struggle with organizing their thoughts and how they take down notes. Kids with slow processing speed may take longer to process what the teacher is saying and then fall behind in note-taking. Dyslexia impacts both reading and spelling. So kids with dyslexia might end up with notes that are hard to understand. And kids who have trouble handwriting may end up with notes that are hard to read.Ways AT tools can help with note-taking in classListening and writing at the same time is a common challenge for kids in the classroom. AT tools can help. Many of these tools are common devices and services people use in their everyday lives.  Sometimes students can use a simple digital recorder to capture what the teacher is saying, if it’s listed in their IEP or 504 plan. But it’s hard for some students to listen to an entire lesson again. Another option is for students to use a recording app on their AT device, like on a tablet or computer. These apps often allow students to take notes and record audio at the same time so that the two can be linked together. That way students can go back and listen to specific sections from the lesson. Other tools that can help include:A graphic organizer (paper or digital) to help organize notes An outline of the teacher’s presentation, given to students ahead of timeA digital camera to capture information instead of jotting it downA smartpen or note-taking app that records audio and links this to handwritten or typed notes Ways AT tools can help when taking notes from text Taking notes from books, articles on websites, and teachers’ presentations or handouts can be tricky, too. Some kids may have a hard time with reading comprehension. And some may have trouble determining what’s important to jot down and what’s not. Note-taking apps can be a huge help. Many apps allow students to highlight text in different colors to help keep thoughts organized. Some can also add comments (similar to writing in the margins) and voice notes.Graphics organizers are another option to consider — both digital and low-tech. They’re especially good for kids who have trouble organizing their thoughts while taking notes. How to find featuresReady to look for an AT tool to help with note-taking? Computers, tablets, and smartphones have common built-in features like dictation and visual supports that can help kids take notes. Learn more about AT tools in schools. Looking for more help with note-taking?Learn strategies for note-taking. And try these five tips to help kids take better notes in class.

  • In It

    Homework battles: What really matters

    Homework. It’s a source of battles in many families. But does it have to be? How can we make homework less stressful for everyone? Homework. It’s a source of battles in many families. But does it have to be? How can we approach homework so that it doesn’t cause so much stress for our kids — and ourselves? In this episode, hosts Rachel Bozek and Gretchen Vierstra talk all things homework with special education teacher Shira Moskovitz. Hear Shira bust common homework myths, like why the best time to do homework isn’t always right after school. And why it’s OK if your child’s homework station is a bit messy. Plus, get tips on how to give kids homework support while fostering their independence. Related resources FAQs about homework for kids6 steps for breaking down assignmentsEpisode 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 homework.Gretchen: Oh, homework. It's the source of many afterschool battles in my household. And I know I'm not alone here.Rachel: No, you're not. So what can we do to make homework time more productive and less of a struggle?Gretchen: To answer this, we're delighted to be talking today with Shira Moskovitz.Rachel: Shira is a special education teacher in New York City, with expertise in technology and dyslexia.Gretchen: Shira, welcome to "In It."Shira: Thank you.Gretchen: So homework. I'm guessing as a fifth-grade teacher, this is something some of your students struggle with.Shira: Most definitely.Gretchen: Oh, most definitely. OK. So what do you hear from your parents and caregivers who come to you with questions or concerns about homework? What are their main concerns?Shira: I think that most parents are worried that if they don't get it all done, a catastrophe will happen. And I think my biggest perspective as a teacher is to debunk that myth. There is no catastrophe.Gretchen: There is no catastrophe. Great.Rachel: So what would you say are the overarching issues that get in the way of kids doing their homework? I mean, if you can just lay out kind of the top few that come to mind, and then we can tackle them one at a time or however it works for you.Shira: Sure. Well, I'll start with probably the biggest one that applies to every child is that they are tired after a long day of school. And they come home and there's more work. That's the biggest issue.The second issue, maybe they didn't understand the skill exactly in class, or they don't totally understand the instructions. So they come home and there's an adult at home and they say, "Help me with this." With what? Not exactly sure. I don't totally get it. I need help. And if the child is struggling, the parent is definitely going to be struggling, because the parent wasn't with me in class.Gretchen: Mm hmm. So we have a few areas we love to tackle when it comes to homework challenges. And I'm going to start with the first one that we mentioned already, which is that hurdle of getting kids to actually sit down, maybe not sit down, but do their homework, right? Especially after that long day of school when they're tired and maybe they went straight from school to other activities. And so now it's even later and they're hungry. You know, especially kids who have trouble focusing. Kids with ADHD might have a hard time getting going on this. So what is the advice that you tend to give students and families about the first hurdle: getting on the homework?Shira: Definitely. So I would say kind of like what you said is that it's not necessarily that they need to sit down. A lot of parents talk about setting up a homework space, and that is definitely something that you want to do with your child. But make sure it's a space that your child is comfortable with. Your child should be driving that decision of where homework is done, what materials they use. At the end of the day, if they're lying down on the floor or they're sitting on a cozy cushion and they feel more comfortable that way, or they're standing and they can get their work done, that's what's best. So ask them. Let them make that choice of where's the best place to do their homework.The other thing is really helpful is consistency. So having that consistent space and that consistent time. If I know from this time to this time I'm doing homework, my expectation becomes part of this routine. So setting up a set space and a set time, even if it's not the most conventional space or not the most conventional materials, whatever your child feels most comfortable with, that'll be the — produce the best homework results.Gretchen: So what about the most conventional time? Because I know, you know, when I was a classroom teacher, families were like, well, I want them to get it done right away so that I know we have dinner, that we get ready to bed and it's over. But not all kids want to do it right away.Shira: I definitely agree. And I think that as a child, I didn't want to do it right away. And there's two things I want to address there. One is basic needs being met. If your child is hungry, they are not going to do homework. I know that if I'm hungry, I'm not going to be productive. So maybe it's not a full dinner, maybe it's a snack. Maybe that's part of their homework space is that there's a snack there. And if that's what your child needs, that's OK.And other than that, knowing that if your child does best with homework after dinner or after a shower, that's OK. The homework still gets done. And if you create that routine for them with that expectation that, OK, we're going to eat dinner and then do our homework, or going to eat dinner, change, shower, and then do homework, whatever that may be. As long as they know that that's going to happen Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, they'll be ready for that.Gretchen: Rachel, I know you had a perspective on time, right?Rachel: I do. And my question — I'll give you a spoiler alert — is about getting your homework done in the morning. And one scenario that I've seen in my own house is if there's an activity like right after school or within an hour or so of getting home from school, there's not really time to make homework happen in a, you know, kind of calm the way it should be done way. But then at the same time, if they come home from, you know, softball practice or basketball practice or something and then go straight into dinner, then they're tired and like kind of done.And for me, I'm sometimes for myself after like a full day of work or sitting at my computer, if I need to like take care of something else, I'm like, you know what? I'm going to do that first thing in the morning. So when my daughter, who's in fourth grade, is like, "I'm going to do my homework in the morning," I'm kind of like, "Yeah, I get it." What do you think about that? Because mornings are not always really set up for getting homework done. But also like sometimes her brain is in a better place to do it at that time.Shira: Right. I want to challenge what you said that mornings aren't set up to do homework. They would be set up if you made it set up. If that's your routine, if mornings are the best for you, why is that not the best time to do homework? It very well could be with a nice, you know, you know, you could have your cereal and homework, especially when some of the homework is a little more passive, like reading a chapter from a book. There's no reason you can't do that with breakfast. You most definitely can.Gretchen: What do you think, Rachel?Rachel: I like it. I like it. I think the answer to my own question there is getting everybody up earlier, but maybe that is the answer.Shira: I definitely think it takes some flexibility on the parent's part, but also knowing each individual kid. Maybe one child needs homework in the evenings and one child needs homework in the mornings, and that is a lot of extra work for us. But if it's a pressure point at home, setting up differentiated routines for our different children is something we're doing anyway in other areas of life. And homework can just be one of those things.Rachel: OK. So we've talked about when and how to get our kids to actually sit down and do their homework. But once you get over that hurdle, what do you do about a kid whose tendency is to just rush to get it over with as fast as they possibly can?Shira: I think this happens more when children have a lot of homework to do. That's a big reaction — I have seven assignments to do tonight, so I'm going to try to get through them as quickly as possible because TV is waiting. My friend is waiting. Dinner's waiting, whatever it may be.I definitely recommend framing at home. The emotions around homework in general are very tense — and often very tense for the parents as well. So if we frame homework for our children in a way that it's not a race to the finish line. There's not this pressure to get everything done, but just to practice the skills you learned at school that day. Our perspective is different. Our child's perspective is different. Hopefully the quality is different, even if they don't get through every single math problem. They do three and they do them really well. At the end of the day, they practice that skill more than rushing through 17 problems or whatever it may be.Gretchen: That makes total sense. I love the framing idea. Let's say that we've, you know, set up this tone that, you know, while we want you to practice your skills and if you're not going to get through all of them, that's fine. But you'll need to at least, you know, accomplish like maybe three or focus on this for 10 minutes. Are we supposed to hover and make sure they get that done? Or what are we supposed to do as parents in that situation?Shira: I would really say ultimately it depends on the child. But no, the goal is independence. This is not your homework. I always tell my students, "Your mom and dad went to fifth grade already. I know they know this stuff."So I ask parents to be as hands-off as possible in this situation. If you know your child is not yet independent and they do need more frequent check-ins, then do that for them. But I would explain to them the goal is "I'm checking in because I know this is hard for you, and this is something that we've discussed is a way that will help you. But one day the goal is that you can do this on your own."But check-ins are only one way to make sure that they're getting done. You can also do things that help foster independence, like having them set a timer for themselves. And they say, "OK, in those 10 minutes, I'm going to get through two problems," and then they have to self-reflect after the 10-minute timer rings. Now, granted, does that take a certain level of independence when the timer rings to reflect on that goal? Yes. But maybe that's something that the first couple of times you can do with them and then they can do on their own.Rachel: I have a question on the organization front — or really the disorganization front. You know, sometimes for us in my house, the biggest hurdle to getting the homework going is the organization factor. You know, it starts with like, "Hey, how much homework do you have?" Or "Do you have homework?" And it's like, "No, I don't." Or "I just have this one quick thing." And then later you find out that it's actually like not one thing and they're not quick things. But regardless of how much there is, sometimes it's also just like, where's your pencil? You know, like the most basic thing leads to, like, the meltdown. And I mean, do you have any suggestions for just being set up, especially if they're not doing the work in a conventional workspace? Like if we're at the kitchen table or we're, you know, kind of just somewhere else in the house besides a desk — that "having it all together" piece of it.Shira: Yes. So I think this is another thing that you want to let your child drive. My favorite activity is going to Dollar Tree and letting my child pick out the pens and pencils and highlighters and the caddy, because that's for me, the conventional learning space is not going to work for homework, you know. So if you have a caddy and it sits on the floor, or if you've a lap desk with materials, and if your child owns that, this is mine. I picked out my Superman pencils. You want all those different pencils to go back in the container at the end of the night because you want them there tomorrow.Will it solve everything? No. Because that still comes down to organization at school, which as a parent can be frustrating, but you can't really control. Because if there is no system in place or the system in place doesn't work for your child, yeah, you're not going to know. But that's a conversation you can have with your teacher. "Hey, you know, my child struggles with knowing the homework. What are some tools we can set up so that my child comes home with an agenda or with a list" — whatever that may be that works for your child. And it's OK to ask for that type of thing, even if it's not what works for the rest of the class, so that you do come home with the most positive potential outcome.Rachel: I think that the caddy suggestion is actually really great because who doesn't love a good caddy for their markers and pens and pencils? And, you know, one thing that came to mind as you were talking about that, though, was the executive function piece, right? So what I've seen is we'll get, you know, the most kind of amazing setup for that kind of thing. And then it's still like everything's on the floor next to it. And so, you know, maybe that's just, you know, the executive function, you know, challenges for some kids, I think, will still probably come into play. But I think it is a great start for them to have something like that to work with so they can kind of carry it around.Shira: Right. I think that if you're talking about executive function, really, is it a problem if all the materials are on the floor or does it just look messy so it bothers us? I would say that if their zone of doing homework includes papers and pencils on the floor next to them, maybe that's their done pile. As long as it gets put away at the end, that's OK.Rachel: I like it.Shira: Teaching into, you know, where to get your materials, how to put them away at the end. What it looks like in the middle may look like a mess to us. And if that's what works best for our child, that's the best mess that they can have.Rachel: That's great. Done pile. I need that.Gretchen: You know, speaking of executive function, let's talk a little bit about time management. I know that sometimes kids may look at an assignment and it's overwhelming, right? And they don't know — they think it might take too long or too little time or they don't plan for it. And I know lots of teachers recommend chunking assignments, breaking it down. Can you maybe talk to us about how you help kids manage their time when it comes to assignments at home?Shira: Yes. And that's actually the first thing I wanted to say is that I wouldn't ask parents to chunk an assignment for a child if they don't totally know the background of the assignment. So let's say we do have a bigger project for a whole end-of-unit assignment. And if you're a parent in that situation and this seems overwhelming to your child and you're not sure, don't feel that pressure to come up with a timeline on your own. Reach out to the teacher. Because what I do is I will give an outline to the whole assignment.And sometimes I'll even give a heads-up to the parent. I haven't told your child about X, Y, and Z, but this is what's coming. So in week one, I recommend doing this. In week two, I recommend doing that. So I wouldn't ask a parent on their own to figure all that out, but I'm very happy to collaborate with a parent. Or maybe I send home a timeline, and the parent's like "This is still overwhelming." Great. Let's break it down further.But don't as a parent feel that overwhelming sensation that your child feels and then drown in it. Because like I said in the beginning, our attitude towards homework and this space that we have at home will be mirrored in our child. So we have this positive outlook. Our child can have that positive outlook. So we say, "That's OK, we'll figure this out. Let's get the teacher's help." That's what your child is going to do the next day. They're going to say, "It's OK. I'm going to go to my teacher and get help." As opposed to spiraling.Gretchen: Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, I have found at home as a parent, sometimes when I — at first there's some overwhelm, right. They say, oh, my gosh, it's so big and I have so much to do, blah, blah, blah. And I will give space for a little bit of venting. And then I say, "Did your teacher kind of break it out into smaller assignments? Is there anywhere where you have an outline?" "Oh, oh, yeah. I have it here somewhere."And sometimes I think that as parents, we need to — we might have to dig a little with our kids to ask for this chunking information because it's there. But they're — maybe their feelings are in the way, right? And they're forgetting that it's there, because they're just so stressed about the big assignment.Shira: Right. And definitely validate. And I want to say in general that sometimes the assignment is not very big. But for some reason it feels very big for our child. Maybe it's just that one worksheet and today that's feeling really big. And I do encourage families to set a time limit or a question limit, whatever that may be, even if you're not going to get anywhere near finishing it. We don't want our child —I don't — and as teachers, we don't want our students to go home and feel this just overwhelmed or negative feelings about learning. Then the homework wasn't productive. Maybe they got it all right. But if that negative emotion comes back to school the next day surrounding this work, we still have a lot to deal with.So I would rather, "OK. You only got two done. That's fine. That's what felt like your max for that day. OK. Maybe another day won't feel as overwhelming." But I really want parents to cut off. Homework should not be that stressor, should not be the thing that's spiraling. We know the concept of homework may be overwhelming. But when it comes down to doing it, if it really is getting overwhelming, that's where as a parent you can say, "OK, we've had enough for today."Gretchen: Sounds good to me. I just wanted to check in on one particular area. So if you know your kid has dyslexia and so they have trouble with reading, or they have dyscalculia, so math is more difficult. When you're home working with your child, first of all, I wonder, do you do those things first because they're hardest? Do you save them for later because they're hardest? And what kinds of supports do we suggest to families? I mean, I'm sure there's some that they already know of from meetings with teachers and such. But I'm just wondering what your advice is around that.Shira: Well, I would say about which comes first. That's your child. Your child is driving this homework scenario, right? So your child's going to pick whether that comes first or that, you know, because the least favorite thing for last or smack in the middle. But I would also say about tools: Mimic whatever is going on in school. If your child's able to read in school because they have assistive technology, you should have those same resources at home. And specifically with assistive technology, because you mentioned dyslexia, but really it applies to lots of disabilities, lots of times on a child's IEP, they'll say this works best for them with the support of X, Y, and Z technology. And oftentimes the school itself will provide that technology. And what a lot of parents don't realize is that that technology is not just for school learning, it is for learning, which means that your child can bring that device home every single day as long as they bring it back the next day.Gretchen: That is such a good tip.Shira: Build on to that. Are there virtual math manipulatives that we can use? All these things that are free and available — use them. But especially please, please, if they're using them in school and being successful with them in school, use them at home. You don't want to reinvent the wheel. If this is working for them, make sure it's continuing to work. And specifically about assistive technology, parents can ask the school to get trained in the apps or tools that your child is using so that you know how to use it the best way, just like your child's teacher did. So that it shouldn't be any different than what they're doing in school.Not to say that it's going to be easy. Any of these tools, assistive technology or these manipulatives, don't suddenly erase a learning or thinking difference. But if it's a support that was determined to be necessary, then don't take that away from your child at home. Then you're signing yourself up for some challenges.Gretchen: I love that advice of make sure you're getting those tools at home, ask for them, and ask for the training. I think the training is key. So thank you, Shira, for mentioning that.Rachel: Yeah, because nobody wants to be like sitting on YouTube trying to figure out how to use this thing that, you know, the teacher probably could have shared.Shira: Especially during a homework crisis.Gretchen: Yes. Especially when you're hungry, when you're...Rachel: "Hold on a minute. Let me — let me check YouTube for 15 minutes. Just hang tight. Hang tight."Rachel: So this might be our last question, but I think it's a really important one. What is your biggest piece of advice regarding homework? Like, what do you find yourself telling families the most?Shira: I think it comes back to the emotions. There's a lot of stress for parents about homework, and we inadvertently pass that on to our children. And that stress comes from so many different things. I'm worried that my child isn't doing well. I'm worried that I don't know the skill well enough to help my child. I'm worried that it's not all going to get done. All the things we discussed.So when we change our perspective on homework, that it all needs to be right, that it all needs to be done, that it needs to be perfect — any of that — and we're just having a more positive outlook on homework, we're more likely to let our child drive those conversations, pick the space, pick the time, pick all of those things. And if we're relaxed, they'll be relaxed. And will it all get done? Not necessarily. Will it all be perfect? Not necessarily. And all those things are OK. And if we accept that as parents, our children will accept that as students.Rachel: That's so helpful.Gretchen: That's great advice. Thank you so much for joining us today, Shira.Shira: It's been my pleasure. It's been great to talk to you.Gretchen: By the way, you can find more great tips and insights from Shira on Understood's Wunder app.Rachel: Should we explain what that is for anybody who doesn't know?Gretchen: Yeah. Good idea. Wunder is a free community app for parents and caregivers raising kids who learn and think differently. So it's a place to connect with other parents who get what you're going through.Rachel: There's all these different groups there on topics like ADHD or dyslexia. The one that Shira leads is called "Ask an Expert: Dyslexia, Tech, and Learning," where she gets into some of that stuff that we talked about today, like how parents can get comfortable with the assistive technology their kids are using at school. So if that sounds interesting to you, go check it out.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 that 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.

  • The first assistive technology I recommend to parents

    Assistive technology. Maybe you’ve heard that it can be a game-changer for kids with learning and thinking differences. But with all the options and tools available today, you may not know where to start.In my work as a technology consultant, parents often ask me: “What’s the first assistive technology I should get for my child?”My quick answer is almost always: “Text-to-speech.”Text-to-speech converts electronic words into spoken ones. It can also highlight them as they’re read aloud. This can help kids with learning and thinking differences interact with text.It might surprise you that I recommend this technology for all kids with learning and thinking differences — even kids who don’t have reading issues. The reason for this has to do with the importance of literacy.When my wife and I had our son, we began reading to him right away. For the last 10 years, our bedtime routine every night has included reading aloud from books by Dr. Seuss, Beverly Cleary, and E. B. White.It’s almost an instinct — something deep inside tells us, as parents, that reading to him is the right thing to do. We’re also both trained educators. So we know the importance of reading to kids at an early age.But helping your child develop a love of reading isn’t easy. Parents of children with learning and thinking differences may have an uphill climb.Fortunately, text-to-speech can help.For children who have trouble with reading, text-to-speech can make it easier to sound out words. It can also help kids remember words that need to be learned by sight. With this kind of reading support, it may be easier for kids to gain meaning from what they read.Text-to-speech can help kids with attention issues, too. It highlights words so kids can follow the text with their eyes as they listen. This can help them focus on reading for longer periods of time.For all kids, text-to-speech provides a multisensory way of learning. That’s because they’re using both sight and sound to read. By using more than one sense, kids can gain a deeper understanding of what they’re reading.It’s very easy for your child to try out text-to-speech. And it’s a wonderful way to dip your toes into the world of assistive technology.Keep in mind, though, that it’s important to get books at your child’s reading level. The ability to see and hear text can do wonders for kids. But text-to-speech can’t help your child identify the main idea, define hard vocabulary words, or determine the plot or theme of a book. To work on these skills, you’ll need digital text at the right reading level for your child.That said, here are a few examples of text-to-speech tools I recommend to families to help their children get started. They are all free options:NaturalReader (Windows and Mac computers, Chrome, iOS, Android)Built-in text-to-speech on mobile devices (iOS, Android) and Apple computers (OS X)Talk–Text to Voice (Android)SpeakIt! (Chrome)I’m happy to say that my wife and I succeeded in developing a love of reading in our son. This summer, he walked out of the library each week with a stack of new books.With the help of text-to-speech technology, I believe your child can learn to love books, too. But his versions may live on an iPad or computer!Interested in free digital books with text-to-speech? Check out Bookshare.

  • The Opportunity Gap

    Preparing kids for life after high school

    How can high-schoolers and their families prepare for life after high school? Get advice and tips from a college advisor. For kids with learning and thinking differences, preparing for life after high school often brings up many emotions and questions. “What’s next for me?” “Will I have the same accommodations?” “Will I be successful in my studies?” In this episode, Julian talks with Sudi Shayesteh. Sudi is the director of the Office of AccessABILITY at Hunter College. Learn about the challenges students who learn and think differently face when transitioning out of high school. And get tips on how to team up with the school to better prepare students for this transition.Related resourcesAfter high school: Different ways to thrive 7 things to know about college disability services Life after high school: Tips to get your child readyEpisode transcriptJulian: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "The Opportunity Gap." Kids of color who have ADHD and other common learning differences often face a double stigma. And there's a lot that families can do to address the opportunity gap in our communities. This podcast explains key issues and offers tips to help you advocate for your child. My name is Julian Saavedra. I'm a father of two and an assistant principal in Philadelphia, where I've spent nearly 20 years working in public schools. I'll be your host. Welcome to Season 3. On today's episode, we're exploring the unique journeys kids with learning and thinking differences face when transitioning from special education to higher education or education beyond high school. So many students will leave high school, and they don't really know about all the resources that are available to them at the college level. So, we're going to talk about some of the challenges that students commonly face when making that transition. I am really excited to welcome Sudi Shayesteh. Sudi is the director of the Office of AccessABILITY at Hunter College in New York. She brings a wealth of knowledge and over 20 years of experience in higher education and disability services. Sudi: Good to be here. I'm so happy to be here. I'm looking forward to our conversation. Julian: Awesome, awesome, awesome. So, Sudi, this is something like really near and dear to me. And so, I'd love for you to just to start us off by telling us, why do you do this work? How did you get into the work you do in disability services? Sudi: Well, I am by license and training, a school psychologist, Julian. And for my post-grad degree, I did some studies and certification degrees for bilingual, working with bilingual students with disabilities. And eventually, I landed a job at New York City College of Technology. That's where I was doing some internships, and they called me and offered me a job as a learning disability specialist. Now, seven years later, I landed this position as the Director of Office of AccessABILITY at Hunter College, and I haven't left since then, which was 2005. I love working with college students. I love working with college students with different type of disabilities. I started with learning disability and then, through job I learned that it doesn't end there. Disabilities are sort of, interconnected. One disability results in another one and becomes secondary, tertiary to another form of disability. So, it's all sort of interconnected. And that sort of inspired me to continue with the work. And when I was at City Tech —  New York City College of Technology — that's where I did most of my work with the transitional trainings and collaborating with high schools, working with high school junior and senior students, coming and visiting the college and answering questions and providing training, so forth and so on. So, it's been kind of constant movement, constant growth, constant learning, while I'm also trying to help families and students with disabilities. Julian: Wow. You have a pretty packed career so far. You've done a lot of things, and especially at the higher education level. Being at Hunter for so long and being in this role, education has transitioned a lot in the time that you started to where we are at now. Can you talk to us a little bit about how your specific field has evolved since you started? Sudi: Sure. Well, yes, you're right. I started this in 98, and I can say with confidence that when I started, the focus wasn't on transitional training then. And even when the K to 12 towards high school — let's say high school administration — the IEPs were only created during the last year of the students' high school transition. And there wasn't much time to get to know these students, what their abilities, what are their disabilities, what are their likes and dislikes. Nowadays, the IEPs are created as early as kindergarten now. As soon as someone is identified as having a disability — as soon as a child is identified as having some sort of a difficulty, or identified as neurodiverse, or having a developmental, psychological, any kind of a disability — the parents get involved, the administration gets involved, the guidance counselors, the specialists get involved, and from the get-go, they sit together and decide what is the next best step. So, this is a huge step forward towards understanding that the identifying disability and sort of troubleshooting or addressing the needs of students with disabilities is not going to be all done in one year towards the graduation. This is a continual work. This is something that parents and administration have to work on it from the get-go. So, they get their students ready by the time they hit high school years, and hopefully by then they're ready to move on to the next level and transition even, whether it's into higher education or a job or some sort of career. So, there is a big change that I can see it has happened since. I can also see that the assistive technology has been integrated into teaching the students in the classrooms. Assistive technology, it was very much limited those days. Tape recorders, considered as assistive technology. Now we have all these kind of assistive softwares and hardwares for visually impaired, learning disabled, hard of hearing students. Name it and they're all incorporated into the classroom learning and outside the classroom environment. So, these are all the, a lot of big changes that have happened. Julian: I really want to hone in on the idea of transitions. For those of you listening that have children or students with learning and thinking differences, you might hear the phrase "transition planning." You'll find that in the body of an IEP or in the process of writing an IEP. And as somebody, again, who is an administrator at the high school level, I get to see transition planning on both ends: when middle school students are doing transition planning into high school and then as we're planning for transitions out of high school, we really sit down as a team. And like you said, the family, the student, the teachers, the administrators, the whole team kind of forecasts or plans out, what does that transition going to look like? And a lot of times we find that transition planning starts at the very beginning of the process. So, we're looking further down the road and we might be looking three, four, or five years down the road, as to what things look like, like this backwards planning transition period. So, I'd love to kick the further part of the conversation off with just defining, what are these transitions we're talking about and what can they look like? Sudi: There are transitions from high school to college, there are transitions from high school to career and then there are transitions to from high school to further trainings. So, there are different type of transitions that are out there. But each group of students needs a certain level of training and readiness before they hit that plateau, if that makes sense. Now, so, for instance, for students who are just transitioning to higher education, these students, they need to know what they're facing by going to college. They need to know that there's a huge difference, there's a gap between the way higher education approaches learning and the way that high schools do. The way the classroom is structured, the way the hours are structured, the way that the guidance counselors and parents are involved in high school versus the level of their involvement, if any, in higher education. Then there's a whole lot of transitional issues in terms of lack of socialization skills. Is throwing someone from a pond into an ocean, sort of the example I usually give, for students that are not familiar with college and college atmosphere and challenges. It's really throwing someone into the ocean and telling them "Learn to swim." So, there is a big transitional issue, so what's going to happen to them? There's a great deal of training, a great deal of conversation, communication and exploring the options for that particular student. And I always say, involve them in the conversation, have a talk with them, see what are their thoughts. What is it that they think they cannot do versus where is it that they think they can do or they're interested to do before you make any decisions. And then, look into the resources and sources they're out there to see if there are any companies, agencies, any sort of sites that they would provide some sort of a training. We are talking also about cultural differences. The cultural differences among students that are visually impaired, the blind, might be very different from cultural differences among students who are deaf and hard of hearing versus cultural differences among the students with autism, right? In the spectrum. Julian: And that's the truth, right? And you mentioned earlier how some disabilities may intersect with other disabilities. And when you were talking about the cultural differences  — depending on what disability or learning difference the student may have — it made me think there's another layer too, with cultural differences based on race or gender or nationality, ethnicity, and how those also play a part in what that transition may look like. Now, you also mentioned how this is not just about higher education, right? Like, we know that the majority of students across the nation do not attend higher education. Like there's other options that our students go into. And I'm speaking specifically around trade schools. I'm speaking about military or even the world of work. What does it look like for students who are not college-bound? All right, so say I'm a student who has an IEP and I'm choosing to enroll in trade school. Or maybe I have a 504 plan, and I've enlisted in the army. Are there resources available for them to prepare for their journey, too? Sudi: Definitely. There are a lot of resources citywide. I mean, there are programs that focus on helping the student to equip them with practical skills, certifications, job placements. Or for example, schools might collaborate with local businesses or trade schools to offer vocational training and courses in fields such as, let's say, carpentry, automotive repair, or culinary arts. Just give the students some sort of a hands-on experience and give them some sort of industry certification, which is very empowering when you think of it. Is very empowering, is right in the, you know, where it should be. And so, the emphasis is on preparing business students through internship, apprenticeship, community-based programs that aligned with their employment or post-high school plans. And there are tons of programs across the city that help students with that. There's CUNY Career Success, there's, there is New York City College Line, there's New York State Career Zone. There are a whole lot of platforms out there when you check the online, that their main goal is to help students make appropriate decisions as to where they want to be in future, what is their career path. Whether it's through sorting out online evaluations to find out their skills and aptitudes and abilities and interests and all them, and then then match them to the next best thing that might be available there for them. So, there's a whole lot of resources there. And, I can talk about, right Julian? A whole lot of information out there on your website. I was checking it and I was just, "Wow!" Presenters, the wealth of information, the links, the workshops that you offer in terms of time management and organization and studying skills. All these are tailored towards different learning styles, different learning disabilities, abilities, and so forth and so on. Then, there is the LDA, Learning Disability Association of America, a huge organization. I've been familiar with them for years and years. There's Landmark College, which is a college for learning disability students, and they actually offer workshops, trainings and for event professionals that are already in the field. Then there's LD Online. So, there's a whole lot of resources out there. When you go out there and check, "How am I going to help my son or daughter transition with certain type of disabilities?" Julian: Listeners, I hope you are all taking copious notes because Sudi just dropped some gems. She gave an entire list. Don't worry, if you weren't taking notes we will link all of the things that she mentioned in our show notes. Really quick expert tip for our listeners: When you're in the midst of an IEP meeting, you should definitely ask for career exploration. What is career exploration look like for your child? And that can be as early as fifth or sixth grade and as late as 12th grade. But definitely ask for career exploration and opportunities for career exploration to be written into the IEP. Because that's going to really encourage the idea of exposure. Everything that Sudi was mentioning, relates to the idea of exposure. Our students need to be exposed to all the different options they have out there, and this is going to help the transition process because it gives your child agency, so they can have a part in figuring out what is it that they want to do. It's not just about what you want for them, it's about what they want for themselves. One of the proud parts of the school I'm blessed to serve, is that I am able to help students have career exposures to a variety of careers throughout the city of Philadelphia. And we're able to send our students out to different internships, and they are able to earn industry certifications. So, many students can graduate with the certification in a career of their choice. And if they choose to go to college, they can do that. If they choose to go to work, we hope that they prepare them for that too. But the key is exposing them. And so, I'm wondering as we're thinking about this idea of exposure and transition, what's another challenge you see as students are transitioning into a college space? Sudi: The first year is extremely difficult for students that they feel like an outsider, that they don't belong there because they don't know enough about college environment. And the reasons was that — with or without a disability — was what we talked earlier about, lack of familiarity with the college environment. And it wasn't so much about the students' ability to study and learn. It was a lot about the students' lack of information about the differences between college and high school, and the differences that we talked about also about the whole structure. So, we see that a lot. We see that. So, a lot of campuses like Hunter, we have a hub for students. We have a center where students can actually come hang out while working on their homework assignments or taking exams, but meeting other students, collaborating with other students. We also have transitional, not transitional, but mentoring programs. Where there is one-on-one mentoring using graduate students, whether is a mentoring program for students on the spectrum. But actually having someone that is more senior to them, sit with them, talk with them, show them the loops, and tell them, "Don't worry, we were where you are right now, but you gonna learn it." But, get their minds ready before they get there. That these are the things we need to do. Proactivity in that term is very important. Julian: So, Sudi, I want to ask a real-life scenario question. Let's say that my daughter is graduating high school with the class of 2024, and she has decided that she is going to matriculate at Hunter College. And let's say my daughter has a current IEP in 12th grade, and the IEP has support services for ADHD. Let's just use that for examples. What does it look like for the time that she leaves high school until August of 2024, when she packs her bags and shows up at one of your beautiful dormitories? What kind of support services would happen while she's still in high school? What would happen during her first year? Like, what is that going to look like? What can I expect as a parent in terms of support services? Sudi: So, I would definitely have their guidance counselor or other counselors, to have their IEP, 504 and Psychoeducation evaluations ready. Hand it to them and tell them how important it is that these documentations to be shared to the Office of Disability Services once they get to college. That's very important. Sometimes students come in and register with our offices, and we have to send them back to collect certain documentations. They don't even know what those documentations are. They don't know which office has them. They don't even know some, some of the students don't even know what kind of disabilities, you know, they were diagnosed with. A lot of them coming into our offices when they come in from high school, they come in blank, completely. Not knowledgeable about what's going on with them or what's written in their documentations. It's very important that they get familiar with their documentations, their disabilities, and why they need these accommodations. That's very important. And telling them that, yes, this is yours. Put it in your bag, save it somewhere in your bedroom. So, the day you go to college, the first stop you make after you get accepted to that college. Take a copy of this to the Office of Disability and meet with someone and discuss what is available to you. So, that's step one. Julian: Got it. So, find the Office of Disability at whatever college you're attending, and bring copies of your IEP and any other evaluative work with you so that they can have that on file. Sudi: And then, as soon as you — some offices are larger than others — but I'm sure someone is going to be assigned as advisor or a counselor, and have a conversation. Participate in student clubs, participate if they have any time management, study skills workshops. I would say, take advantage of any kind of a workshop there are out there that get you familiar with what college life is about. You know, go to orientation meetings, go to welcome meetings. And anything that the college has set up for freshmen students entering the college. A lot of times the students miss these orientation activities and later on — or they don't even know who their academic advisors are — so they have to get somewhere or they have to go meet the advising office, meet the Office of Disability Services and all that. It's not just about taking classes and passing the courses, is really about also getting to learn about the resources that are available on campus. And go into those offices and get familiar and get to meet someone and have a conversation. Julian: Got it, got it. Now that, you know, my hypothetical daughter — which, by the way, my daughter's only eight years old, so I have a long way off for this — but let's think my hypothetical daughter is there. She has gotten to know her mentor at the Office of Disability Services. She's thriving, but one of her friends also has an IEP, and one of her friends might be struggling. What kind of programs or resources do you know of that our listeners can really rely on to be effective? Sudi: Well, their best resource while on campus is the Office of Disability Services. Because they do workshops and trainings. They do one-on-one, they do group. They do actually sit down with the student and explore the documentations and go through what is doable, what is not, in terms of their skills and abilities, and interests. But yes, there are these organizations out there that I mentioned to you like or New York City College Line. They can go and have a private mentor or private, you know, advisor or hire even someone to consult with. But when in college, the best the student can do is take advantage of the accommodation provided, and when they can, have a conversation. Julian: Got it. So, listeners, Office of Disability Services. They should be at any higher education institute that you are choosing to attend. All right, Sudi, last question. Just thinking about this entire conversation we're having about the idea of transitioning into higher education. And you shared a wealth of resources. You shared some very clear steps for families to take. Is there anything that you can think of that educators or parents or students or all three together can work together to ensure that adequate support systems are in place for students with disabilities. Sudi: The first thing I would say, let's respect our difference. Julian: Yeah, that's a word. Respect our differences. Yeah. Sudi: And the second is, collaborate. Communicate, collaborate. During the collaboration process, involve the student in the conversation. Don't make just decisions without the student sitting there. And you might think you know them better than them, but you don't. They know exactly who they are, what they can and cannot do. One thing we do when we sit with a student or have a conversation with them we'll say, "Tell me about what is it that you feel like you cannot do in the class? Explain to me what happens when you try to listen. Explain to me when you're trying to listen and take notes. Explain to me what happens when you are taking exams." They know. Maybe they cannot verbalize it the way we want to, but they know exactly what's happening to them. Then with that information, you can work. You can understand how this disability is hitting the student and how you can be helpful to them. So, clear communication, having a clear communication channel, involve the student in this planning transition planning, and leave the channel for future communications and dialog open with the educators, with parents, with the students. Just making sure that everyone understands the students' needs. And, that this whole collaboration process empowers everybody. Empowers the students, empowers educators, the parents, and, it's like a joint advocacy process for the student. And no one would benefit more than the student, of course. And I think during this process, everyone learned so much from each other. I mean, the family learns from educators, the educators learn from specialists, the specialists learn from the family. So, the student learns from all of them. So, this collaboration is really big. Julian: Sorry, I can't thank you enough. You know, this being your first podcast experience, I think you were made for this. You have such a soothing voice, and you might want to consider getting one started at Hunter College. To our listeners out there, if you have a high school student that's looking for a college experience, I would strongly advocate you take a look at Hunter, because Sudi will definitely take care of you. And the Office of Disabilities across colleges around the country are doing great work. And the key is that, if you have a child that is interested in going to college, you can go. They should go and there will be support there when they get there. So, do not think that having a disability or having a learning and thinking difference should bar you or prohibit you from going to college. You're going to do just fine. Before we go, I do have some resources from Understood to share: "After high school: Different ways to thrive." It's an article by the amazing Understood team. And "7 things to know about college disability services." Another article that you can find on Sudi, thank you again so much. I really appreciate you. Sudi: Thank you so much Julian for this opportunity. I really enjoyed this time. And I feel like that there was a lot to share, I understand. But one thing that I would really encourage everyone to do is ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. Don't take no for an answer. Don't just go for they say, "Well, he cannot do it. He should not do it or whatever they might say." Even in college, you can ask why. You can ask why. You can say, "OK, I understand. What is the next best option because I don't want to just leave it at that. So, what is the best I can do after this point on? Are there any vocational trainings if someone cannot make it in college?" Don't just shut it off. So, this conversation, this collaboration, this helping the student to get to know themselves, their skills, their abilities, their aptitudes. It's so important to have these realistic conversations. The family, and especially as advocates together and educate the student about themselves and what they can and what they cannot do, and how their disability affects their learning, so they can maximize on the services that are available for them out there. Julian: You heard it first, listeners. Have the conversation, have the communication to maximize the opportunity. Sudi, we appreciate you. Until next time listeners, thank you so much. "The Opportunity Gap" is produced by Tara Drinks, edited by Cin Pim. Ilana Millner 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. Thanks for listening and see you next time. 

  • What is assistive technology?

    People who learn and think differently can use technology to help work around their challenges. This is called assistive technology (AT). AT helps people with disabilities learn, communicate, or function better. It can be as high-tech as a computer, or as low-tech as a pencil grip. It’s a type of accommodation that involves tools. Assistive technology has two parts: devices (the actual tools people use) and services (the support to choose and use the tools). Students who struggle with learning can use AT to help with subjects like reading, writing, and math. AT can also help kids and adults with the tasks of daily life. And many adults use these tools on the job, too. Assistive technology devicesThere’s a wide range of AT devices for people with learning and thinking differences. Simple AT tools include highlighters, organizers, and timers. Other AT tools are high-tech and depend on digital devices. For example, an app with text-to-speech technology can read aloud for people with dyslexia. There are hundreds of these tools. For examples, explore:Assistive technology for readingAssistive technology for writingAssistive technology for mathAssistive technology for auditory processingAssistive technology servicesGetting the best use out of assistive technology requires more than just having a tool. That’s where AT services come in. AT services is any support that helps people with disabilities to choose, get, or use an AT device. Some examples of AT services include:Evaluation performed by a doctor or specialistTraining to help a person learn what a tool can do and how to use itHelp with repairing a deviceWithout these services, assistive technology may not be effective. AT tools and services work together to help people thrive. Myths about assistive technologyThere are lots of myths about AT. Some people wrongly believe that using AT is “cheating.” Others worry that people who use AT may become too reliant on it.One of the biggest myths is that using AT will prevent kids from learning academic skills. Education experts say that’s not true.At the same time, keep in mind that AT can’t replace good teaching or instruction. And it won’t “cure” a learning difference like dyslexia or ADHD.Watch a video debunking five myths about AT.Selecting and using assistive technologyFinding the right AT tools and learning how to use them can be overwhelming. Use these tips for learning to use an AT tool. For students, another approach is to ask the school to recommend AT. Read about when and how schools are required to provide AT to kids. For employees, talk to your manager about workplace supports. This list of questions can also help with choosing a tool. Learn ways to tell if an AT tool is not effective for you. Consider free trials and other cost-free options for trying out a tool. 

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    Lessons from a chief marketing officer with ADHD and dyslexia

    Nathan Friedman is the co-president and chief marketing officer of And he has dyslexia and ADHD. Learn how he got into the C-suite. It’s the last interview for How’d You Get THAT Job?! For this special episode, our guest is Nathan Friedman, co-president and chief marketing officer at Nathan was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a child. Early in his career, he didn’t openly discuss his learning and thinking differences. But now he recognizes the value of being vulnerable and embracing them. Today, Nathan is helping shape the world so people with learning and thinking differences can thrive. Nathan went from a political science degree at Washington University in St. Louis to the world of marketing. He started as an assistant account executive at Ogilvy and at 27 became their youngest managing director. He went on to start his own company before joining Understood, where he oversees marketing and provides operational and strategic support. Listen to Nathan’s insights into the power of advocacy, finding relatable role models, and creating a supportive network. Related resourcesWhat is an inclusive workplace?What is self-advocacy?Nathan’s Adweek article: How learning to navigate dyslexia landed me in the C-suiteEpisode transcriptNathan: How do you build advocacy? It starts with people having others to look up to in this space. It's somebody that you can relate to. So, how do you find those everyday heroes, people that are inspirational to you and understand how they got there?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.This will be our last episode with a guest before our final summary episode. I'll be chatting with Understood's co-president and chief of marketing Nathan Friedman. Nathan was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia as a child. He's since learned what coping skills work for him, how to self-advocate, and how to advocate for others. He started with a political science degree from Washington University in Saint Louis and then leaped into the world of marketing. Starting as an assistant account executive at Ogilvy, he worked his way up from there to be the youngest managing director when he was only 27. Nathan stayed Ogilvy for over 15 years before moving on to create his own company and then coming to Understood to be our CMO. He's passionate about our mission to shape the world so that those that learn and think differently can thrive. I'm so happy to have him on the show today. Welcome, Nathan.Nathan: Thank you for having me, Eleni, and honored to be your last guest on the penultimate episode.Eleni: So, why don't we start with who you are and what you do here at Understood.Nathan: Sure. Nathan Friedman, co-president and chief marketing officer of Understood. And my role really spans not only marketing but a lot of the operational and strategic support for the organization. So, it starts with brand and strategy all the way down to creative production. How do we engage and reach and deliver impact to audiences, both on platform and off?Eleni: So, taking a step back, rumor has it that you are a poli sci major. I did my research internally.Nathan: Is that a rumor or is that what you looked at on my resume?Eleni: Actually, I just asked around what things that I should know about you. So, what made you go down the marketing route? What was interesting to you about marketing, communications, advertising, whatever it was? What piqued your interest?Nathan: You know, it's an interesting journey that I had to get that first job. I, as you mentioned, was a political science major at WashU in St Louis. I wanted more of a liberal arts background, and I thought I was going to go into law or something of that nature. I did not come from a long line of lawyers and decided that was not the right path for me.Eleni: Do you think there was anything about your experience with dyslexia and ADHD that kind of shaped or influenced your decision to go down that path?Nathan: Back then, it was more about how do you get that first job. You know, whatever you need to pay the bills. I worked two jobs at first. I worked at a retail store, and I worked at a large goal agency because large goal agencies at that point didn't pay any money. So, in order for me to pay rent and go out and, which was going to be more important than just eating, you know, I had to work two jobs.Eleni: So, it sounds like you casted a wide net at the beginning. But then, was that first job in marketing or advertising?Nathan: Yes, it was in marketing communications. So, I really focused on that area at first because it was one of the more interesting areas at the time. And I think it was really about how do you get that first meeting with somebody and perseverance and then kind of just trial and error. I was picky about the type of areas I knew the first job would not necessarily be my last job, so, how do I get a job and then I can learn on that job and get transferable skills so I could do what I wanted to do?Little did I know that I would be in that first job for 17 years, and so, that was a huge growth opportunity clearly for me. And I think I leveraged the abilities that I had gleaned from my differences to my benefit within that role. But it didn't come until I was actually in the role that I could understand how they could be of importance.Eleni: It sounds like you weren't as intentional about where you wanted to start off, but once you got there, there were things about that role that made you stick around for a really long time. So, what was it that led to you kind of sticking with that, that made you realize that it was actually for you and worth pursuing and like continuing down that path?Nathan: So, there were a few reasons. Let's put a couple of things into context at that time, right? I think as I got that job, one year into it is when everything started to fall apart in the economy, followed by the terrible and tragic events of September 11th. So, there were no jobs for a while. So, I held on to the job that I could, and that was a very difficult time personally because you saw every single one of your friends get laid off and try and find new jobs.And a lot of people were out of work for a while, I think what it enabled me to do, though, is leverage my skill sets and innate curiosity to grow, raising my hand for new challenges, working around and through the opportunities I had to gain skills and knowledge and my abilities or superpowers to able to digest complex problems and sort them and in my own mind, to sort of get it out as quickly as I want to, was a benefit in a client-driven organization. I think my upbringing combined with my differences, allowed me to engage and build trust in people that were well above my tenure.Eleni: Do you want to talk a little bit about how you feel your upbringing influenced that?Nathan: Everybody's upbringing plays a role in where they are, what they do. I think, you know, my parents encouraged me to work at a young age, so it was always about, what do you want to do? How do you want to live your life? And so, you know, I got a first job at 15 at a hardware store, and I always worked. One could say it was an avoidance and one could say it was more of an opportunity for me to keep me busy. I needed multiple things. I couldn't focus on one thing or another.So, I had four jobs during the summer, three internships, or it was just a drive that I had. And I think that led me to have a variation and understanding of what different types of roles would be. So, I worked at a record store, and back when record stores were a thing. I worked at a hardware store being a cashier, I worked at Banana Republic, I worked at Sony Music. I thought I wanted to do music for a while, and then I sat around at 14 concerts in one week with earplugs in, and I'm like, "This is the worst thing ever for me." So, I decided that wasn't for me.So, you know, it's trial and error and then finding out what in listening to yourself and being like, "This actually doesn't excite me. This doesn't interest me." And that's why I've always encouraged people to try internships because then you actually get a little inside peek into what people are doing on a day-to-day basis, because what people say they do and what people actually do are two different things.Eleni: You mentioned that it wasn't until you were in that first job that you recognized how your differences and your upbringing could play into strengths for that role. Was there anything else that kind of stands out to you that were big like "aha" moments in terms of how your differences could be strengths in the agency world?Nathan: Yeah, I mean, and an agency world, I think back then is very different. So, I want to preface it with that, right? I still had a, I mean, ironically a typewriter on my desk as well as a computer. So, like there are differences in the way things work now than then. And there's a lot of differences in awareness of things like ADHD, dyslexia, etc. I think I knew my writing wasn't as strong as it could because I didn't quite grasp, or I didn't see structure and sentences and things like that. So, I had people review my writing a lot and that helped me get better.But also I explained, "Hey, I need help. I need someone to proof this for me because I'm not as strong in this area." Not everybody's as vulnerable as that. And especially in work environments where it's more competitive. I think that helped. I think I also had an innate ability to understand what people were saying when they really weren't saying it. So, they said they want bananas, and I'm like, "No, they actually want peaches. Like that's not what they want. They don't want bananas." And it's like, "You don't know what you're talking about." And we go in there and they'd be like, "Where are my peaches?" And I'd be like, "Told you!" So, I think those are a couple of examples.Eleni: That's interesting.Nathan: Yeah. And also, finding the right rhythm helped me because, you know, in agency environment, you're tracked by the hour. So, there's a lot of pressure to deliver things on time, which then leads to a whole bunch of complications. And when I found I did not have the deadlines, I found I would just like wander off in my mind and not necessarily be able to complete a task.Eleni: It's interesting because, you know, you always hear about agency environments being incredibly fast-paced and pressure. There's a lot of pressure to deliver. But for you, actually, the deadlines is what made it work. I've heard you mentioned like you have really high bandwidth, great output than like the average person. You're the youngest managing director at Ogilvy at 27, which is impressing that you've won a bunch of awards. Like, how did you become aware that you have a faster processing speed or don't think similarly to other people? And like, how were you able to adapt your working environment and your communication style and your differences to others?Nathan: It takes a while, and it took a while. It wasn't great off the bat. It's still a work in progress. I've always been able to process quickly and understand things differently and that my ability to do that in front of senior people earned me the trust that I knew more than my tenure, or I was able to do things differently. And I was lucky enough to have mentors who saw that and believed in me and gave me the opportunities.Eleni: So, you said that they were aware that you thought differently. Did they know why?Nathan: They're aware I was different.Eleni: Yeah.Nathan: And I think I talked about the outcomes of it, not the ADHD or dyslexia. I talked about, "Hey, I need X" or "I need some more time to think about this," or "Let me come back to you." Like, it wasn't like, "Hey, I have ADHD, let me do it." That wasn't the case. And again, a very different work environment. You could still smoke in offices. There was no generation above me to look up to whether it was LGBTQI, so there was no one really who had talked about it because you kept that stuff to yourself.Eleni: It's interesting to think about how visibility has made such a big difference. And yeah, as you said, having older mentors.Nathan: Well, we talk about that a lot here at Understood, right? With ADHD or dyslexia, whatever the difference is, the first step is awareness and issue awareness when you know about it and you can relate it to somebody, you know, that reduces stigma and then drives advocacy.Eleni: So, you mentioned that you would talk more about like the outcome of what your need was as opposed to naming the difference. I'm curious how things have changed for you now compared to then.Nathan: I think being at Understood gives you an opportunity to be more vulnerable with those things and those things being like having differences. In the past, I haven't had the space to do so because it was more of a yes or no environment in a lot of different companies. I truly believe that if you have a difference or no matter who you are, you need to find a job that suits you and then work to be the best you can in that role.I think I need to be more aware of myself and self-awareness of, "OK, I've already answered the question that you're asking me in two seconds in my mind, but you're going to continue to go on for three minutes. And I and I just like I'm lost, and I have no idea what you're saying anymore." Like, that's where I have to catch myself. And so, a lot of it was more around self-awareness and I think understanding that people do have differences, and then me adjusting my style to the individual has been another important element.And nothing's perfect. I'm not perfect. I'm far from perfect. And I think I'm lucky enough to have direct reports and the team that give me direct feedback that I can incorporate into how I work with them.Eleni: How do you lead by example on your team? Like in terms of appreciating different working styles, accommodating for different working styles, whether officially or not, like in the way that you mentioned, where it's talking more about like outcome than like specific diagnosis.Nathan: So, I think that goes back to understanding what motivates people and how people work and having that conversation directly. I think it's all grounded in what the role is and what the role needs to do. Shared expectations. And maybe this is a unique point of view, but it's important not to use your learning difference as a crutch or an excuse, because for me that invalidates the actual importance of having a difference. So, this has not happened, it's just an example, somebody is like, "Well, I can't do that because I've ADHD," that's just to me seems like, "Well, if you can't do part of your job because you have ADHD, why are you in that job? Let's talk about what supports you need."So around this day I can't do that, the conversation would be "Hey, can I talk about how I can get this done? Because I have a difference." And I want to see people thrive and advance and work. But nor do they have to lean in to figure out what your strengths are, what accommodations you need, or even what assistive technology or anything. I've shifted people's work schedules, we changed people's hours, we've moved people's desks, we've given people technology, we've given a whole bunch of things that aren't necessarily technically accommodations, and some of them are, but some are really easy and, you know, they need to work in a brighter area near you, whatever it is.Eleni: Yeah.Nathan: You know, and I think that's....Eleni: It's like being creative.Nathan: It's being creative about it, but it's also having the person have the ability to say, "This is what I need to get the job done."Eleni: What would you say to individuals that are struggling to find like the right place to work for them given their differences and you know, how they might kind of discover and also leverage their unique strengths and skills to be successful?Nathan: There's a few things people can do in order to find the right environment for them. One is understanding what it is, what environment are they looking for, and then doing research. Research, both looking maybe there's some lists about most inclusive employers or talking with people who potentially work at some of the places that they're considering. It's really hard because a lot of times what you see is not what you get.And so, you know, how do you feel comfortable if you see other people more comfortable talking about that? Generally, it means that there's a more accepting and more belonging effort in the culture. Look at their, do they have a DEI&B program? Do they have initiatives regarding groups and inclusive environments? Those are telltale signs of people who are putting that in the forefront of the business and making sure that the people feel like they belong.Eleni: I've heard you talk about how, like your differences have shaped your leadership and decision-making approach and have helped you succeed as a leader and also in your role as a co-president and Understood. Could you give some specific examples of skills or strategies that you've developed specifically around leadership that you can relate back to your differences?Nathan: Sure. So, I think, you know, carving out time, very distilled, quiet time for me, I carve out an hour every day. I kind of have an idea of what I want to focus on, and I just kind of let myself go within that space. How I structure the meetings, what I put in the afternoon versus the morning is also another ability for me to structure and oriented the day that is more beneficial to me and my personal style. And then making sure that there's enough time to digest materials beforehand.Eleni: I'm curious to hear what you have to say to leaders that have differences themselves and you know, how they can kind of leverage their positions to further the goals around like awareness and advocacy.Nathan: I think what you're really asking is like, how do you build advocacy? And it starts with people having others to look up to in the space. It's somebody that you can relate to. So, how do you find those everyday heroes and everyday people that are inspirational to you and understand how they got there? And I think that also relates to your own personal growth and organization, knowing what your strengths and opportunities are. How do you make sure that you have people around you that can do some of the work that you're not great at? Whether it's subject matter or skill, that is another thing to realize is it's not just about you, but it's like, how do you form part of a team to get the work done?I think, you know, I've never done anything traditional in my life. I think it's important to show that there are people who have different backgrounds, different skills. I mean, I have two beautiful kids with a lesbian couple that is not traditional, right? And so, talking about that has opened the door to other people asking about that. So, if I opened the door to people talking about it, they can come up to me and talk about my experience as well. And from there they can drive what will help them in the working world.Eleni: I know we talked a little bit about intersectionality. Like, is there anything else that you'd like to talk about from your experience as someone who is again, neurodiverse, how that's kind of fed into your experience? Nathan: Yeah, it's fascinating. I think I've become more aware of this now than I have been before. It never really factored in in the past, and I didn't even think about it in that construct until recently. And I think there's a lot of different struggles and differences between having a learning thinking difference and being LGBTQI+. But I think the similarities are around coming out and disclosure is a coming out and people don't realize that it can be traumatic for people if it's not handled correctly.And it just starts with that driving issue awareness. Being gay 15, 20 years ago was a lot different than it is today. I am aware that people who do have ADHD or dyslexia in way more severe cases that I do, struggle in different ways. And so, it's important to realize that not everything is the same. If you have an invisible disability, some people can do things and not other people with the same disability can or cannot do. So, it's incredibly complex, it's incredibly personal, and there's a lot more that we all can do as individuals, family members, friends, co-workers to help people.Eleni: I think this was a great conversation. Thank you.Nathan: Thank you, Eleni, for having me on your podcast, and congratulations. I appreciate you having me. Thank you so much.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. 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 That's the letter U, dot org slash 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.

  • In It

    Busting myths about learning differences and ADHD

    There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about learning differences. Let’s get the facts to debunk them.  There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about learning differences. Is ADHD just about hyperactivity? Is dyslexia a vision problem? And do kids outgrow learning differences? In this episode, host Gretchen Vierstra shares common myths about learning and thinking differences for co-host Amanda Morin to bust. Listen to Amanda debunk these myths with the facts. Learn why these myths persist and how you can help fight against them. Plus, hear the misconceptions that Amanda, Gretchen, and their producer believed before they learned the truth about learning differences.Related resources6 common myths about learning and thinking differencesWhat are learning and thinking differences?When gifted kids need accommodations, tooEpisode transcriptAmanda: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It." On this podcast, we offer perspectives, stories, and advice for and from people who have challenges with reading, math, focus, and other types of learning differences. We talk to parents, caregivers, teachers, experts, and sometimes even kids. I'm Amanda Morin. I'm the director of thought leadership for Understood. And I'm a parent to kids who learn differently.Gretchen: And I'm Gretchen Vierstra, a former classroom teacher and an editor here at Understood. And today, we want to do some myth busting. There's lots of misconceptions out there about learning and thinking differences.Amanda: And it's totally understandable that there are misconceptions, because a lot of what we've learned over the years about these differences is complicated. It's counterintuitive, and we are still learning, too.Gretchen: Exactly. I don't know about you, Amanda, but I can still remember some of the ideas I had way back when, when I started teaching at a mere 23 years old, that I now know were totally not true.Amanda: Me, too, Gretchen. I think I started teaching when I was 21, and I don't know about you. Do you have, like, examples that stick in your mind of your misconceptions?Gretchen: Yes, totally. You know, as a general education teacher, one of the things I thought I knew about ADHD was that I would be looking for kids and probably mostly boys who were hyperactive. I wasn't thinking about the fact that it could be a student who was quietly not able to focus, right? Couldn't finish the book, perhaps couldn't get through a whole test. I really wasn't thinking about that. I only thought about hyperactivity.Amanda: I think me too. And I wonder how much of that is about when we started teaching and how much of that is about just sort of that expectation that, you know, you see it, you see ADHD in that — that it's like the boys who are running around and bouncing off the walls and jumping off the top of the playground and all of those kinds of things. But we now know that's not true. ADHD, the "H" is hyperactive, but there's also attention deficit in that, right? So that inattention matters as well. There are kids in classrooms, there are kids all over who maybe don't show those hyperactive or impulsivity kinds of things. That's a common one, right?Gretchen: It is. And also, what about the fact that I, going into teaching, thought it would mostly be boys and that the boys would definitely be the hyper ones? I mean, I will admit that is what I thought. And I know that's not true.Amanda: Yeah. And I think, like, I can take that as an early intervention specialist, we often saw boys first, you know, because boys tend to have hyperactive-type ADHD a little bit more often than girls. And that's the first thing people notice. But the truth of the matter is inattentive-type ADHD, that distraction, that daydreaming, that kind of thing, it's also really common. And it's not just girls who have that. So you see it in girls and boys, but it's not the kind of thing, like in a classroom, it's not the kind of thing that like jumps out at you. Because when you're trying to manage all of these kids, the things that are like literally popping up are the things that you're paying attention to more.Gretchen: That's right. What about you, Amanda? Is there any particular idea you had about learning differences that tripped you up as a teacher or maybe as a parent?Amanda: Oh, my gosh. Yes. So as our listeners know, I have kids who have learning differences, too. When I first started this with my own kids, you'd think because I had experience in the classroom that I'd notice it and I'd not have these myths. But I remember thinking with one of my children. I remember thinking like, "Why doesn't he just try harder? He can do all of these amazing things." And it's like what teachers would say to me: "He's just not trying hard enough."I didn't do a real good job at first of pushing back on that and saying, you know, this stuff he needs to learn and has trouble with. I think I may have accepted it more than I should have. And I — that's a whole other thing. But as a teacher — gosh, you know, you have that one kid you remember, you know? I remember from maybe my fifth year of teaching, right? So more years ago than I'm willing to say. But I will say that this child is now probably has her own family, let's just say, right? Had a really hard time learning how to read and do letter sounds and stuff like that, but was also kind of like balky about it. Wouldn't do it and was sort of tuned out a lot of the time. And and I kind of chalked it up to she was being stubborn. And as I look back at it, I realize like she was telling me with her behavior that she was having trouble. And I think that now I would definitely have a conversation with that child's parents and say, "I think we're seeing some signs of reading issues. I think we're seeing some signs of inattentive, maybe ADHD, maybe...." You know, I wish I'd had that conversation and like, I still think about that. And I wonder, you know, how is she doing? What did her rest of her school career look like?Gretchen: I know. It's hard not to focus and blame ourselves for things that we may have missed. The word "blame," though, right? Also reminds me of something else that I think comes up, which is hearing people blame parents for their kids' behaviors. Actually, not just behaviors, but the learning differences themselves. I've heard things like, "Hmm, maybe you just didn't read enough to your child," for a student who has dyslexia. Or "Hmm, are you setting boundaries? Maybe that's why your child has ADHD." I've even heard things about like, "Maybe you're feeding your kids too much sugar." These are all myths, right? This blame that we're placing? These are all myths, aren't they?Amanda: They totally are. And the sugar one, I don't know how many times I've heard that. You know, "If you change his diet a little bit, you know, he'd be calmer." And I kind of have this like maybe if I change his diet, I'd be calmer, but I don't know if he would be calm, right? But I think you're right. Like, I think a lot of times people are looking for a place to put blame and they don't do it deliberately. I think they do it weirdly. They're trying to be helpful. They're trying to say, like, well, if you just tried this, probably it would get better. But what it comes out to, like parents like me, what it is, is like you're not doing it right. And that's really hard. I am going to do the thing where I put our producer Julie on the spot and ask her to chime in. Because Julie, you've worked with us for a few years now, and I'm wondering, what didn't you understand at first or maybe still don't understand about learning differences?Julie: Yeah, I think there's a lot of things that I didn't understand and that I'm still learning. I'm a little embarrassed to tell you this one, but it is true that a lot of times when people ask me when I'm working on it, I'm telling them about this podcast, I'll say it's, you know, for families who have kids with learning and thinking differences. And then I say, like, you know, ADHD or dyslexia, and then I sort of trail off.Gretchen: You mumble and....Julie: I feel like I know there are others and some of them we have actually done episodes on. But I wonder, can you spell out for me, what do we mean when we say learning and thinking differences? Amanda: I can do that. OK. So at Understood in particular, we have sort of what we call core issues, right? Issues that we specifically focus on. And the word "learning differences" encompasses a lot of things. But when we talk about some of our core issues, they're actually learning disabilities. And so dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. So that's one of them. There's written expression disorder, which is sometimes known as dysgraphia as well, another learning disability. And then dys-cal-cu-luh — or dyscalculia or however people say it — is a third learning disability that we also focus on. And then we also focus on ADHD, which is not a learning disability, but it can get in the way of learning. And that's another myth. A lot of people think ADHD itself is a learning disability. And then the last thing that we focus on as a core issue and Understood is language disorder. So receptive language, the ability to make sense of what other people are saying to you. And expressive language disorder is the ability to take your thoughts and put them out verbally and have other people understand you. There are other differences. Those are just the ones that we particularly focus on. So now you can go answer that question differently or have people listen to this podcast.Julie: Exactly.Gretchen: No more trailing off.All right, so we've just learned a lot and we're ready to learn more. Because there are actually quite a few misconceptions that we've come across. And I'm so happy that Amanda is here to help us sort through some more of them. So, Amanda, are you ready to tackle another one?Amanda: Indeed.Gretchen: So here's one we hear a lot. It's the belief that a child who is diagnosed with a learning disability will grow out of it. Does that actually happen?Amanda: Oh, that's a really common one, right? It doesn't happen. If you have a learning disability, you have a learning disability because your brain is just processing information differently. What may happen is kids, as they grow older, have more strategies. So they've learned how to accommodate for themselves. So it looks like they maybe they've outgrown some of the things you saw when they were younger. But it's not that they're outgrowing a learning disability. I think that does a disservice to all of the adults out there who have learning disabilities. Because at 18, you're not like, oh, no learning disability anymore. It may change what it looks like and how it shows up, but it's not that it doesn't exist anymore.Gretchen: And what about ADHD, though? I've heard different things about this.Amanda: There is a very small percentage of people, and this is not my expertise, so I want to be really cautious in saying. There's a very small percentage of people who do sort of outgrow the symptomology of ADHD, but it's a very small percentage.Gretchen: All right. Well, here's another one. And I think this is something I held on to for a while when I was a kid. When I first heard about dyslexia, I thought dyslexia was either a vision problem or I thought it was just seeing letters backward and that's it. But we know that's not the case, so please explain, Amanda.Amanda: I think we think that because you see it a lot like in TV and stuff like that, when somebody has dyslexia, you see like the words are swimming on the page or in front of them or that kind of a thing. It's not. I think we're just going to say that. It's not just that. It's not a vision problem. You know, people with dyslexia may have vision problems, but I'm sitting here with my glasses on. I also have vision problems and no dyslexia. I think one of the best things I heard is somebody that we work with who has dyslexia. She said to me, "It's not that I can't read, it's that I had trouble learning how to read, right? I had trouble with the sounds and putting the sounds together in the language." So that was really helpful to me to realize what dyslexia is, is more about that language learning and the being able to decode the sounds and being able to get the vocabulary and get all of that put together. And people who have dyslexia may often have difficulty with sort of their spoken language as well, like retrieving language when they're talking. So that's why it's called a language-based learning disability.Gretchen: Got it. All right. Well, here's another point of confusion, I think, that has to do with kids who are what we call twice exceptional, or 2e. Can you explain what 2e means and how does it throw people off?Amanda: I'll do a quick one and then I will also put a plug in for the fact that we did an episode on twice exceptionality that people can go back to and listen more about. 2e or twice exceptional means that you have a child or adult who is intellectually gifted and also has a disability. It doesn't have to be a learning disability, and I think that's important to note, too. But when we talk about it, we're often talking about kids who have learning disabilities and are also intellectually gifted. And what throws people off there is this myth that, like, you know what, you can't be gifted and also have a learning disability. And it's just not true. One of the things that I think people — and I probably held this misconception as a teacher when I first started, too — is that it sort of cancels each other out, right? But you can have a learning disability and also be in like AP classes. And you can have accommodations in all of those gifted classes. And we all have things that are difficult for us and are not difficult for us. So I think it's just a magnitude thing to think about it that way, too.Gretchen: That's a good way to explain it. All right. Here's the one that people have trouble pronouncing: dys-cal-cu-li-a or dys-cal-cu-luh? I know, I think I say dyscalculia. In any case, this is often described as just math dyslexia. But that's not really how we should be describing it, is it?Amanda: No, no. I've heard people say it's also just like significant math anxiety, which it is also not. Again, I'm going to go back to the brain part of this. It's the way your brain is wired and the way it processes information around math. I actually like the word "dyscalculia" because I can remember it sounds like calculator, so it makes me remember that it's math, right?But you know, it impacts sort of the ability to learn numeracy, which is kind of a fancy way of saying like all of those underlying concepts about numbers — you know, counting, one-to-one correspondence, knowing that a numeral matches a group of numbers, knowing patterns and shapes, estimating, proportionality, all of those kinds of things that are math concepts that we actually use in everyday life. So it's not just about being anxious about math. It's about those everyday skills. You know, people may also have trouble with, like, calculating the tip, you know?Gretchen: Yeah. I never thought how helpful those tip calculators on the end of a receipt. I always thought they were just trying to push me to give more money. But really, maybe it's an accommodation. I should think about it that way.So speaking of accommodations and things like calculators, a lot of people have confusion around this. They see some of the tools that some people might use as accommodations as cheating. So, for example, I'm thinking of assistive technology, things like dictation apps, or audiobooks, or even the calculator. Are those things cheating? Are we stopping people from learning or doing things in the way that they should? I'm using air quotes right now. Or are those things just accommodations? What's the what's the deal here, Amanda?Amanda: It's not cheating. Like, I'm just going to say that flat out. It's not cheating. I've heard that, you know, with kids with a written expression disorder, people say, like, my kid refuses to write, and I think they just want to use the computer. Or, you know, this kid will only read comic books and that's not really reading. And like, those things just aren't actually true, right? These adaptations, these accommodations are actually helping us learn. And what's really interesting is that everybody uses accommodations in their daily life, right? The example I often talk about is way back when, when you used to go to crowded restaurants or whatever, right? And there was a lot of noise going on, and if there was a game on the TV or whatever, oftentimes you have the closed captions on because you can't hear over the crowds, right? My Mr. 12 — we talk about Mr. 12 sometimes, right? He uses closed captions all the time on the TV, not because he needs the closed captions, but because it helps him process the language. He uses the closed captions as an accommodation. But you know what? It helps everybody. Those kinds of things help everybody.Gretchen: Yeah, exactly. And as a former English teacher who filled my classroom with books, I would like to just point out that graphic novels, comics, magazines, all those things counted as reading is my classroom.Amanda: Reading is reading.Gretchen: Reading is reading. Exactly.Amanda: Well, and I would add to that audiobooks, right?Gretchen: Yes. Audiobooks, too. Exactly. Yep. All right. I think one last thing here. A pet peeve, Amanda, that we were talking about just the other day. We were saying how we are not fans of hearing things like, "Oh, I'm so ADHD today," or "You'll have to excuse me, I'm a little OCD." Explain. Why don't we like that so much?Amanda: Gretchen is watching my face do a whole thing right now. I actually have OCD, so that one is very personal to me. It's just like I get frustrated when people use it as a shorthand for explaining what they're having trouble with, right? I have OCD, and I will always have OCD. And so I don't get to put it to the side. "I'm OCD today and I'm not OCD tomorrow and I'm not," you know, like — and so when people use those phrases like, "Oh, I just, you know, I'm so ADHD today" or, you know, "I'm a little OCD," it feels like it sort of diminishes the experience that people have on a daily basis. You know, you don't get to put it away. You don't get to have days when you're not ADHD. It doesn't acknowledge that there are people that this is their whole experience all the time.Gretchen: Yeah, exactly. All right. I think we've covered a lot. Is there anything else, Amanda, that you think we should address?Amanda: I think maybe just that these are just a few of the myths that are right there, right? There are tons of myths and misconceptions which are — that's very hard to say. So the more we bust them, the less we have to say "myths and misconceptions." So just, you know, take a moment to think through. And if you don't know, ask. And if you don't have someone to ask....Gretchen: Write in or ask us.Amanda: Right? I know!Gretchen: Write in or ask us, or go to, where we have a ton of articles on many of these myths. We've got articles that are called like "7 Myths About ADHD," for example. I don't know if it's seven, but you know what I mean. We've got lists. And so if you go to a, you can find some of these lists and they can explain things. And, you know, if you have someone in your family who maybe is questioning some of the things that perhaps like your child is is learning, they have a diagnosis and a family member saying "that's not true" or "that's not real," send them these facts. We've got fact sheets and we've got myth-busting sheets. And you can send those along to people to help, you know, better educate them and give them the tools so that they can talk about it.Amanda: Send the tools. And I think that what that does is take some pressure off you for having to be the one who feels like you're always educating other people. And we will put links to — I wouldn't — probably not all of them, because we have so many of them. But we'll put links to a lot of them along with other resources in our show notes for this episode, so that you out there can start educating other people and be a myth buster on your own.Gretchen: That's right.Amanda: You've been listening to "In It" from the Understood Podcast Network.Gretchen: 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.Amanda: And if you liked today's episode, please share it with the folks around you — other parents, your child's teacher, or other people who may want to know more about learning differences and debunk some myths of their own.Gretchen: Understood is a nonprofit organization 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. Andrew Lee is our editorial lead. Justin D. Wright mixes the show, and Mike Errico wrote our theme music. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. And Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Gretchen: Thanks for listening and for always being in it with us.

  • 9 examples of assistive technology and adaptive tools in school

    Assistive technology is one of the core strategies to help with learning and thinking differences in the classroom. Some adaptive tools are low-tech and some are pretty fancy. Here are some common examples.1. Audio players and recordersKids may find it helpful to listen to the words while reading them on the page. Smartphones and tablet computers come with text-to-speech software that can read aloud anything on the screen. And many e-books have audio files. If a student has trouble with writing or taking notes, an audio recorder can capture what the teacher says in class. Then the student can listen to it again at home. Devices like laptops, tablets, and smartpens also have a recording feature.2. TimersWristwatches, hourglass timers, and apps can help kids who have trouble with pacing. If kids have a hard time transitioning from task to task, timers can help them mentally prepare to make the switch. Timers can be used as visual aids to show how much time is left to complete an activity.3. Reading guidesReading guides are helpful tools for kids who have trouble with visual tracking or who need help staying focused on the page. These plastic strips highlight one line of text while blocking out surrounding words that might be distracting. The strip is also easy to move down the page as kids read. There are even free Google Chrome extensions with this same accessibility feature for reading on screen.4. Seat cushionsKids who have trouble with sensory processing or attention may find inflatable seat cushions helpful. These cushions give kids enough movement and stimulation to help maximize their focus without having to get up and walk around. A standing desk, slanted cushion, or balance ball chair are other helpful options.  5. FM listening systemsFrequency modulation (FM) systems can reduce background noise in the classroom and amplify what the teacher says. This can help with auditory processing as well as with focus. The teacher wears a microphone that broadcasts either to speakers around the room or to a personal receiver worn by the student. FM systems are also used to help kids with hearing impairment, autism spectrum disorder, and language processing challenges. 6. CalculatorsIf a child is having trouble with math, a calculator may help. There are even large-display calculators and talking calculators. A talking calculator has built-in speech output to read the numbers, symbols, and operation keys aloud. This can help kids confirm that they pressed the correct keys.7. Writing supportsIf a child has trouble with writing, try using plastic pencil grips, a slant board, or a computer. Basic word processing programs come with features that can help with spelling and grammar issues. For kids whose thoughts race ahead of their ability to write them down, different kinds of software can help. With word prediction software, kids type the first few letters and then the software gives word choices that begin with that letter. Speech recognition software allows kids to speak and have the text appear on the screen. These kinds of software are built-in features on many smartphones and tablet computers.8. Graphic organizersGraphic organizers can be low-tech. There are many different designs you can print out that can help kids organize thoughts for a writing assignment. There are also more sophisticated tools, like organizing programs that can help kids map out their thoughts. 9. Enlarged paper/workspaceIf a child has trouble with writing or organizing their ideas, writing their answer in smaller spaces may be tricky. Worksheets with larger paper or more space between questions is a low-tech way to help kids show their thinking. It’s also a way to help kids get as much credit for their work as possible.High-tech or low-tech, there are plenty of assistive technology tools to help kids. Learn more about finding the right assistive technology in school.

  • Understood Explains Season 3

    IEPs: Does my child need an IEP?

    Get tips from a special education teacher on how to tell if your child needs an Individualized Education Program (IEP) — or if you may want to wait.If your child has been struggling in school, you might be wondering if they need special education. And once you start exploring special education, you’re going to run into the term IEP, which stands for Individualized Education Program.But what exactly is an IEP, anyway? On this episode of Understood Explains, host Juliana Urtubey will cover IEP basics and how to figure out if your child needs this kind of support. Timestamps[00:57] What is the purpose of an IEP?[03:27] What’s in an IEP?[05:42] Does my child need an IEP?[07:42] Should I wait to get my child an IEP?[10:05] What if my child is learning English? [11:36] Key takeawaysRelated resourcesUnderstanding IEPsAre my child’s struggles serious enough for an evaluation?How to help if English language learners are struggling in schoolSeason 1 of Understood Explains: Evaluations for Special EducationEpisode transcriptJuliana: So, your child is having some struggles in school and you're wondering if they might need an IEP. But what does this mean? On this episode of "Understood Explains," we'll cover IEP basics and how to figure out if your child needs this kind of support. From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "Understood Explains IEPs." My name is Juliana Urtubey and I'm the 2021 National Teacher of the Year. I'm also an expert in special education for multilingual learners, and I'm so excited to be your host for this season of "Understood Explains."Quick note about how we're going to structure the season: Most of the episodes focus on information that's important for all parents or guardians to know. But we also have a few episodes that are tailored for different groups of families: families with younger kids, older kids, and multilingual learners. And all the episodes are available in English y en español. OK, let's get started. [00:57] What is the purpose of an IEP?So, what's the purpose of an IEP? Before we answer that question, I want to quickly explain what an IEP is. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program. It's a formal plan that details the special education instruction, supports, and services that are designed to help a student with a disability make progress in school. IEPs are covered by a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. This law applies to all public schools in the U.S., including charter schools. If your child qualifies for an IEP, you'll work with the school to develop annual goals and monitor your child's progress throughout the year. So the purpose of an IEP is basically to be a road map, showing how the school will help your child catch up with their peers. It might surprise you to know that IEPs are very common. Nearly 1 in 6 public school students has an IEP. That means millions and millions of kids have Individualized Education Programs. And each IEP is customized to a student's needs. So if your child has dyslexia, the IEP might specify an hour of special reading instruction a few times a week. Or let's say your child has ADHD and autism. Maybe you and the school think your child needs to be in a smaller classroom to get more individualized instruction throughout the day. These are the kinds of details that get spelled out in an IEP. And it's important to know that most kids who have IEPs spend most of their day in general education classrooms. By law, IEPs need to keep kids with their peers as much as possible. There's one other really important thing that all parents need to know. Having an IEP is not a sign of low intelligence. I've taught many, many kids, and all of my students have unique strengths and needs. But sometimes, people's strengths can be overlooked if they have a learning difference. For example, during my first year of teaching, I had a student named Abelardo, who really struggled with reading and writing. The most I had ever seen him write was "Yes," "No," and his name. But one day, we discovered that Abelardo was selling candy and fun school supplies out of his backpack. And he was so good at it. He even had charts to keep track of his inventory and charts to show what was the most popular. And his charts were even color-coded. It was clear to me that Abelardo had incredible math, reasoning, and entrepreneurial skills. But he needed formal supports to help him with reading and writing. So remember, kids can do really well in some areas and still need an IEP to help them thrive in school. [03:27] What's in an IEP?Let's get into a bit more detail and talk about what's in an IEP. There are lots of important parts, but I want to give you an overview of four key things in an IEP. First, there will be a section detailing your child's present level of educational performance. This is the jargony term for how your child is doing in school. You might hear the school use acronyms for this, like "PLOP," or "PLP," or "PLAAFP," which is short for "Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance." This part of the IEP outlines the student's strengths, challenges, and how their classroom scores compare to their peers. This section may also mention some of your child's behaviors or interests, like the subjects they enjoy and how they get along with other kids. Next, there will be an "Annual Goals" section. This describes what progress the IEP team is hoping to accomplish. It will list each goal and break down shorter-term objectives to reach along the way. And later this season, we'll have a whole episode on how you can help the school come up with these goals. The third main part of an IEP is the "Services" section. This part details how the IEP will help your child meet the annual goals. This section lists any services your child will get and for how long, such as 30 minutes of speech therapy twice a week. There are also a gazillion different kinds of services that can go into an IEP. Anything from mental health counseling to physical therapy to training in things like social skills or time management. Remember that “I” in IEP is short for "Individualized," which means the IEP can include whatever special services your child needs to make progress in school. And last but not least, is the section that details the accommodations, which are changes in how your child does things at school. This section of the IEP is often called "Supplementary Aids and Services." It could include things like more time on tests and a seat at the front of the classroom to help your child pay attention. It could also include assistive technology like text-to-speech software or audiobooks. The other important thing to note is that an IEP is a legal document. And later this season, we'll have an episode about your rights during the special education process. [05:42] Does my child need an IEP?All right, here we go. One of the biggest questions: Does my child need an IEP? Sometimes the answer to this question is very clear: "My child is blind and needs to be taught how to read Braille." But sometimes the question is harder to answer. Here's an example: "My child has ADHD and needs a lot of support to get organized and follow directions. Will classroom accommodations be enough to help my child make progress in school? Or does my child need specialized instruction?" Schools look at a bunch of different kinds of data to figure out which kids qualify for an IEP. And to help you understand this process, I recommend you listen to the first season of "Understood Explains," which is all about evaluations for special education. We'll include a link in the show notes. But the school cannot evaluate your child for special education unless you give permission first. So you play a very important role here. If your child is struggling in school and you're wondering if these struggles are serious enough to need an IEP, I want you to ask yourself a few questions:Why an IEP now? What got you thinking about this? Was it something a teacher said or that your child brought up? Are your concerns new or have you been worried for a while? Thinking about what prompted your concerns can help you talk about them with your child's school or health care provider. How are your child's struggles getting in the way at school? Is your child having trouble with a certain subject like reading or math? Is your child struggling socially or with things like concentrating in class? Try to write down a few examples, even if you don't know the root cause. What are you observing at home? Does homework take hours and hours and often end in tears? How often is your child worried about school? How intense are these worries? Is your child wanting to stay home from school because it's too hard? These are the kinds of questions that can help you get ready to talk to the school about giving your child more support. [07:42] Should I wait to get my child an IEP?Should I wait to get my child an IEP? OK, so you've noticed your child is struggling and you think school supports might help. There's a very common question that parents ask themselves next: Is now the right time, or should I wait? I've worked with a lot of parents who wanted to wait because they were hoping their child would grow out of their challenges. But I found that the sooner we meet children's needs, the better. Being proactive can help kids in many different ways: academically, socially, emotionally. So if you're wondering if your child needs an IEP now or if you can wait, I want you to do three key things:First, ask the school what kind of interventions they've tried with your child and for how long. Interventions are much more formal than simply giving a student some extra help. They typically take place over several weeks, and during that time the school keeps track of your child's progress. If you think your child's skills are improving with the intervention, you may decide to wait to ask for a special education evaluation. But you don't have to wait. You can ask for an evaluation at any time. The second thing I want you to do is find an ally at your child's school, whether it's a teacher or an aide or another staff member. Sometimes schools have family liaisons. You can ask the front office to guide you to one. Having a relationship with someone you trust at the school will help you understand the process, ask questions, and get help for your child. And the last thing I want you to think about is time of year. Remember, you have the right to request an evaluation at any time, but practically speaking, it's better to avoid asking during the first few weeks of the school year unless you had concerns from the previous year. And likewise, it's better to avoid asking for an IEP at the very end of the school year, when school's winding down for the summer. So, those are a few concrete things you can do to help you think about whether now is the right time to talk about an IEP, or if you want to wait. As a general note, I know many families may be reluctant to speak up or be seen as the squeaky wheel at school. And in particular, I know some Latino families may not feel like it's their place to tell the school how to educate their child. But I want to be really clear here. Schools in the U.S. want families to tell teachers when they're worried about their child's progress. And teachers want to partner with families. So I encourage you to talk with your child's teacher and share your concerns — whether you're asking for an IEP or not. [10:05] What if my child is learning English? So, this next question is near and dear to my heart: What if my child is learning English? Before we dig into this, I want to note that schools use different terms to describe students who speak languages at home, in addition to, or other than English. Many educators use the term "English language learners." I prefer the term "multilingual," and better yet, "linguistically gifted."The important thing to keep in mind is that all children learn languages at different rates, and that's OK. It can be hard to become fluent in English while also learning to read, write, and do math in that new language. But there are ways to tell if a child's struggles are due to a language barrier or something else, like a learning difference, such as dyslexia. We're going to talk more about this later this season, but for now, I'm going to put a link in the show notes to an Understood article to read if your multilingual learner is struggling in school. It includes lots of good questions to help think about whether your child might need an IEP. And there's one more thing I want to mention while we're on this topic. Learning more than one language cannot cause a learning difference or disability. All children, even children with learning and thinking differences, can be multilingual. Families often ask me if they should stop speaking to their child in their native language because they worry it's causing harm. That's just not true. In fact, educational experts recommend that families keep using their home languages. Speaking multiple languages is good for a child's learning and brain development. [11:36] Key takeaways OK, we've covered a lot of information in this episode, so I want to wrap up with a few key takeaways to help you think about whether your child needs an IEP:Think about how much or how often your child is struggling. Being proactive can help your child in the long run, not just academically, but also socially and emotionally. Kids can do really well in some areas and still need an IEP to thrive in school. All right. That's it for this episode of "Understood Explains." Tune in for the next episode to learn the difference between IEPs and 504 plans, which is another common type of school support. You've been listening to "Understood Explains IEPs." This season was developed in partnership with UnidosUS, which is the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization. Gracias, Unidos! 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've mentioned in the episode. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at Credits Understood Explains IEPs was produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, with editing support by Daniella Tello-Garzon.Video was produced by Calvin Knie and Christoph Manuel with support from Denver Milord.Mixing and music by Justin D. Wright.Ilana Millner was our production director. Margie DeSantis provided editorial support, and Whitney Reynolds was our web producer. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer.Special thanks to the team of expert advisors who helped shape this season: Shivohn García, Claudia Rinaldi, and Julian Saavedra.

  • Video: 5 myths about assistive technology

    Is it “cheating” to use assistive technology (AT) like dictation and text-to-speech? Does it give kids an unfair advantage? Hear from Jamie Martin, assistive technology consultant, on these and other common myths about AT tools.

  • The Opportunity Gap

    Bullying, shame, and parenting guilt: Reacting to real stories

    Hosts Julian Saavedra and Marissa Wallace respond to three audio stories of bullying, shame, and parenting guilt. Has your child ever been called names because they struggle to read? Do you worry that your child’s learning differences are your fault? This episode features three audio stories from the Understood family about bullying, shame, and parenting guilt around learning differences and ADHD.Hosts Julian Saavedra and Marissa Wallace react to each story, and offer their thoughts and advice for parents and caretakers. Listen in for practical strategies from our teacher hosts on how to respond. Find out what a “lunch bunch” is and how it can help kids gain friends and confidence, even in virtual settings. And feel less alone by hearing what you might share in common with others.Related resourcesVideo: Jade, an eighth grader, talks about how it feels to have reading challengesManju Banerjee on how stigma impacts the Asian American communityVideo: Collin Diedrich on imposter syndrome and learning differencesEpisode transcriptJulian: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "The Opportunity Gap," a podcast for families of kids of color who learn and think differently. We explore issues of privilege, race, and identity. And our goal is to help you advocate for your child. I'm Julian Saavedra.Marissa: And I'm Marissa Wallace. Julian and I worked together for years as teachers in a public charter school in Philadelphia, where we saw opportunity gaps firsthand.Julian: And we're both parents of kids of color. So this is personal to us. Welcome back. How are you, Marissa?Marissa: I'm all over the place, but I'm good. You know, it's the end of the school year. You know how that life is.Julian: Today we're talking about some exciting slash interesting things that are really important for everybody to be a part of, and — like always. And so today it's really about somebody that's a parent of color. And you're in a position where you're exploring school options and potentially special education services. That can be really tough. We know that that's a really hard position to be in.Marissa: What makes it scarier and more complex, right, is that you hear so many different opinions and so many different scenarios. And this happened at this school, or this happened to my child. And so it's really challenging to know like what direction you should go in. And to be honest, I think there's also like a lack of conversation around learning and thinking differences in a productive way. And that is not always highlighted in the right way in our school settings, in our social media, in the news, or even within our own communities.Julian: In general, the conversation that sometimes happens behind closed doors or over a text message or in the line at pickup, it needs to be happening out loud. We need to elevate that. And especially for our children of color who have learning and thinking differences, you know, they will always have to deal with double discrimination.So as parents, as caregivers, sisters, brothers, teachers, educators, aunties, uncles, whoever we — you need to make sure, and we need to make sure, that we're supporting our children and to change some of those stigmas that are out there one day at a time.Marissa: And so our goal today really is to start breaking down some of those stigmas. Break down some of the worries and the concerns that our listeners have. And we figured one of the best ways to do that is to kind of jump in with some stories from our Understood family. And we're going to start with a really special individual named Jade. Jade is an eighth grader and she's sharing her story about her experiences with reading challenges.Jade: My name is Jade. I'm in the eighth grade. And reading is a huge struggle for me. Teacher would ask me to read in front of the class aloud. I'd open my mouth, but no words would come out. Not because I couldn't speak. Because I couldn't read the words on the page. They were jumping around, backwards, blurry, sideways, D was a B, W was an M. I just kept it all to myself. Like no one can relate to me. This is just my problem and I have to deal with it. I have to find a way to deal with this. Oh my gosh. I can still remember the names. Um, idiot, dummy, you know, slow, special ed. It's like every day, going through that takes a piece of you. After a while you're just like, you get this numb feeling like it just doesn't bother you anymore. That's when you get really worried. That's when you should get really worried. When you get this numbing feeling when someone calls you, you're like, I don't care. They're right. That's the worst feeling in the world.Marissa: I think that that story and those sentiments are similar to how a lot of our students feel. And I think it's important that we don't want our children to feel alone in their journey. You know, we don't want them to feel that they're not smart or that they're incapable of things. So as a vice principal, what are some ways that you help building community with your students who have learning and thinking differences?Julian: That's heavy to hear this young lady talk about how she's experienced these horrendous name-calling situations in class. You know, I can almost imagine the kids calling out and saying it while she's attempting to read, to have to work herself up to even get to a point where she can read out loud. That's heavy. That's a lot. And you and I both know kids can be mean. Adults can be mean. But kids can be mean sometimes. And they might not know exactly what they're doing, but it doesn't change the impact it has on the person receiving those words.And so when I think about Jade and I think about the children that experienced things similar to her, as educators and as adults in the lives of children that experienced that, the first thing is making sure that we listen. And we listen with empathy. And we give them a place to just share what they're feeling and what their emotions are without judging.So as somebody who is involved with kids every day at school, and I do have a position of power where I'm able to interact with kids and adults and shape some of the experiences that kids are having, I want to really make sure that we're impressing upon everybody involved: Let's make sure we're listening when kids are crying out for help.Because what I heard when Jade said that is a cry for help. And what I heard is that the emotion in when she described it is something that really spoke to me. I work in a high school. And high school students are in the midst of trying to figure out how they socialize with each other. And we have a large population of students with learning and thinking differences.And in some cases, the interaction between the kids who have those differences and the kids who might not, it's tenuous. Sometimes there's issues between them. And sometimes the kids don't necessarily understand each other. So what do we do as adults? We have to make sure that we create the environment and the circumstances possible where positive interactions can happen.For example, there was a number of my ninth-grade boys where we're having some issues with one particular student. He has autism, and part of the way that his autism impacts him is his social awareness of reading on cues is a little bit difficult for him. He doesn't pick up on some of the social cues that some of the kids are giving him.And a couple of the boys were interacting with him, but it was more of a situation of I'm laughing at you and not laughing with you. So they were making him say things to girls that they thought were funny and he thought, oh, this is me making friends. And what he didn't realize is that they were actually making fun of him, right?So we caught wind of this, and I spoke with the teacher and I spoke with his mom. And she's well aware of this happening. It's not the first time it's happened in his life, and he really desperately wants friends. So we devised a situation where we said, let's take some of those boys, the ones that are very popular, and we're going to go to his classroom and we're going to hang out on his space and his comfortable space with his teacher and his friends that he's with. And we're going to hang out and do something on his terms. And so I took a couple of the most popular boys and we made a big deal of headed over. We headed over to his classroom and we played a game of Uno. And he beat the pants out of all of us, but it was such a cool experience because the ninth-grade boys, when they got to go and be in his classroom, in his turf, on his area, in his comfort zone, a couple of them said, you know, Mr. Saavedra, I never got to really hang out with this crew. I want to come back again. I had a lot of fun. And Mr. Saavedra, it made me feel a little bad that we were saying those things to him. I wish we would've known better. And when I think about, if we would have just been more proactive about creating more interactive situations like that, then we could have avoided some of the potential harm, just like Jade experienced.And so what I think about people like ourselves who have positions of power to create the experiences, and create the environment for interaction, the most important thing is to think about both sides. Not only thinking about the students who have learning and thinking differences, but also the other side of the equation too, and making sure everybody is feeling comfortable.Marissa: I think that the goal is to hear more opportunities like that, where you can identify and then make an action plan to address it and end up with a better result. And I teach eighth grade. So like Jade's story is like super touching and personal because I was teaching middle school, and it's already such a transitional year.There's a lot going on in middle school. And that eighth grade year is so important. 'Cause you're getting ready for high school, for building that independence, all those things that are happening makes me super sad, is a lot of my students in the virtual school that I'm at, they have made the choice to be in these virtual settings because of just the intense amount of bullying and trauma they experienced in their schools and their in-person settings, that both their families and the students themselves, 'cause they are 13, 14 years old, so they are able to articulate, I can't be in that setting because I can't deal anymore with getting harassed or traumatized because of my learning and thinking differences or how I'm different than the other students, you know? And it just, it breaks my heart in the setting because they have now come to a place where they feel safe, right? And we know that students need to have a sense of belonging and need to have a sense of safety to really like, be able to meet their full potential, to be truly engaged in education. Started really towards the end of last year, when I started to find ways to connect, because that is always the downfall, right?Families are always like, this place is amazing. And academically it's really supporting my student. However, like, they don't go outside. They don't get to interact with their peers in person. And so I get that. So one thing that I've done that has been really important is I do something called the lunch bunch and it seems so simple, but it's just creating community.I feel like that's such a big piece of it because once you create community, it really helps to break down some of the stigmas, because you have opportunities to share. A lot of these kids have very similar likes. Like their activities and what they enjoy doing, whether it's video games that I don't understand, or social media or TikTok dances, or, you know, whatever it is, they all have similar interests, right? Or art. A lot of my kids are very artistic, so they come together and they share their interests. And then it doesn't — like once you bond on something that you have in common, it makes the differences like less observable.Julian: So for our listeners, then how do you create a lunch bunch virtually? Does everybody just show up with their lunch and turn their screens on?Marissa: Yeah. And I always have it where I at least have an icebreaker or I have a game like this. You'd be surprised what's out there. Like we have played all kinds of like, it's called Blooket. There's all these like challenges you can do. We've done like trivia. So I always start with something, right? Something to like, get them going, thinking, interacting.And then I always make sure that I also allow for like free talk, right? Like just let them be kids. Especially because the way that our school is designed is our kids are in classes for a lot of their days. And then they're already just with their family. So the lunch bunch for a lot of them is the only way where they can have just like actual social interaction with other kids.So it is, it's all through Zoom. Literally the 50 children that I work with, all of them are invited. They don't always come. You know, um, I invite other kids sometimes like, hey, can my friend from this class come? Sure, absolutely. OK.Julian: That's cool. You know what, actually I was thinking about during the, uh, the pandemic and quarantine, how you remember when a DJ D-Nice had like Club Quarantine and, you know, everybody would show up on Instagram and he put music on, like, it sounds like that where like people have something to come together and share.Or our parents out there, what do you think they should do? Should they ask for a lunch bunch too? Or like, what do you, what do you think they can do to help with some of this stigma?Marissa: I mean, I think that's a great idea. Like I think that there's something to be said about finding ways that don't seem so educational. You know what I mean? Like things that are like that, that come, that are obviously done in an educational setting, but that don't come across as, this is an informational meeting about blah-blah-blah because I think that turns off people. I think that's another thing that I think parents could really benefit if parents, caretakers, and even students, depending upon their age, if you just create a random, I just want to hear it, I just want to hear your feedback. I just want to have a conversation. And then as the professional, you go in with certain guided questions and just let people engage in a dialogue. A lot comes out of that. You know, parents asked for a lunch bunch, cool. Like set it up, you know. If they ask for some type of, I think, try to make it less isolating, try to make it a group event of some sort.Which now let's shift gears a little bit since you brought up parents, right? And caretakers. I think that's another important piece of the puzzle where there's a lot of stigma when it comes to parents. I'm excited to introduce this next clip. This is a really important kind of tidbit for our listeners out there. She is a really unique individual. She works at Landmark College, which is a really cool college that's specifically geared towards individuals with learning and thinking differences. Here is Manju.Manju: Culturally, Asian Americans and Asian Indians or Far East parents, are often of the mindset that this is somehow my fault that my child has learning and attention challenges. And I didn't do a good job of parenting, which is as far from the truth as it possibly can be. What often happens is students and our children pick up on what the parents are feeling. And if you're feeling the stigma and you're feeling ashamed, just know your daughter is picking it up. Julian: What's interesting about what she had to say to me is it's lifting up another side of the experience of people from different cultures that we don't hear about a lot. We say people of color, and people of color encompasses a really big umbrella of different ethnicities and cultures.And she specifically spoke on the experience of Asian Americans. And even within that group, there's a whole bunch of different cultures represented. But by and large, there is definitely a stigma present for people, and those that come from communities that aren't historically represented in the larger context of education, is that the number one thing we have to think about is any sort of these learning and thinking differences that appear are not the fault of a parent. It's not a parenting flaw. It's not a mistake that a parent made in the raising of a child. This is part of who your child is. But thinking on this, you know, I think in general, any parents, for you, Marissa, what do you think is some advice that you might have for parents that might feel like they're struggling to ask for help?Marissa: Yeah, and I think that's a big piece of it. I think that there is how Lincoln had to receive early intervention. And I remember even though, as an educated professional who's worked in the business of learning and thinking differences, like, why is he having this speech delay? Julian: Those are questions you had for yourself? Like you started questioning things for yourself?Marissa: Absolutely. There's been at that point nine years in a career of education that dealt with learning and thinking differences. Just getting that news and having to go through the process of him getting evaluated, I still had these questions. Did I not read to him enough when he was, you know, like there was just so many, like random thoughts that I had that was like, what mistake? Right? What misstep did I do as the parent, as the caretaker, that caused, right, this learning and thinking difference for my child, right? As the adult, you first and foremost have to educate yourself, get knowledge on understanding it because once you start getting that knowledge, you'll realize it's not something you did. Once you start doing the research and learning what exactly these learning and thinking differences are, there's not going to be anything that's going to say "It is your fault, Mom. It's your fault, Dad. It's your fault, auntie. That's not going to come out. Instead, you're going to understand that these are just what you deal with. And it's just the way in which your child is going to experience the world. And I think once you're educated, it helps you then to have a different attitude. And remember your kids are like sponges, right? So they feel, and they feed off of whatever you're feeling. So the best thing you can do for your child is to really get to a place where you've accepted it and where you have put that stigma aside. So I think that's my biggest piece of advice. Get yourself in a place where you're comfortable with it, so that you're not projecting this like negativity or this stigma onto your child, because that's only gonna hurt them. In addition to the conversations that you have with your students at your school, and I know you've shared some before, like interactions you've had with families and parents. I am, you know, curious like what is going on or what is something you can think about that has occurred with a family about this particular feeling and the stigma, especially with parents of color. Julian: Thank you for the question. I think it's a combination of asking for help, but also like you said, the acceptance portion of it. And it all depends on what part of the journey the child and the family is on when it comes to learning and thinking differences. Like when somebody's first finding out that this exists within their child, they might be at a different place than if this is, you know, years and years and years into this understanding what they need to do for their child to be successful. And I've said many times the most important piece is the idea of trust. There has to be trust established between the family, between the school, and with the child, right? Like we've said many times, the three-legged stool. If everybody is not on the same page and equally putting in effort, then the whole thing is going to fall apart.And so we try to make sure that in those meetings, we make it comfortable for everybody. We're calm, and I deal with teenagers. And as we know, teenagers, their emotions are on their sleeves and they can go from zero to 100 really fast. So it's really important that we think about how we say it just as much as what we're saying.And so, as we do that, we also ask lots of questions of the child. Hey, how are you feeling about this? Or tell us more about your experience, or what do you think? Ask us any questions you might have. Because we want to make sure that at the end of the day, the child is feeling like they are getting support. So we've been intentional about trying to connect those families and saying, hey, why don't you all talk to each other and share some of your experiences?Why don't you come together and just talk through what it's like, just like you and I, it's better to hear information from another parent sometimes than it might be from the school, you know what I mean? So that's something that has really helped. And I think, especially in schools with lots of families of color, the idea of trust is really important. And building community is really important. So finding people that are trusted and people that are respected in the community to be that conduit for connection is something we work really hard at.Marissa: We obviously like to have lots of conversations around our families and our parents and our next clip that we're going to hear I think it connects to this, because as parents, as caretakers, one of our biggest fears, right, is that, and you kind of relaying this, is that you don't want your child to be treated differently. Right? You want them to receive what they deserve. You want them to have an equitable educational experience, and you don't want them to be isolated.So I'm looking forward to diving into this next clip. We have an individual named Collin. And Collin speaks on this imposter complex. He is now an adult with a PhD, and he's going to share some of his experience and what it was like going through schooling all the way from elementary school to being a doctoral student and what that looked like.Collin: I feel that the best way to treat students with learning disabilities or how I want to be treated with learning disabilities is saying like, OK, I just need, I need a specific accommodation, and that's it. And it's not a big deal. This is, I just need a reasonable accommodation. I don't want to be treated differently beyond the accommodations in my IEP. And I don't want to be called stupid. The accommodations I got in elementary school were the same accommodations I got when I was in graduate school, getting my PhD. So I think getting diagnosed early and getting those accommodations is incredibly important. Julian: Do you want to remind everybody what an accommodation is?Marissa: So an accommodation can be a variety of things. So an example of one would be something like, for example, assistive technology in the sense of having a text reader. And meaning that if a student or an individual has a hard time with reading fluency, so they might be dyslexic, there might be a lot of blurry or jumbled letters or words. And so it's not that they can't, or they don't understand. It just may take them a longer time to read. So an accommodation is something where it's not changing what we're giving them or asking them to do. It's accommodating them in this case, the text reader would read it for them. So therefore they're not stressing about actually reading it. They're able to listen to it. Like an audiobook sometimes could be used. A lot of my students use audiobooks, or there's so many different programs out there where it'll actually like, you can highlight what you would like to be read aloud. And the computer program will actually read it out loud to the individual.Now that we've heard from a few different individuals on race and the lack of opportunities with learning and thinking differences, how does it all kind of come together? Like what I, and that's a heavy question.Julian: It's messed up. This world is messed up. We gotta do better. But there's a lot of hope. And just thinking about the three different clips we heard, right? There are people from different racial groups, people from different generations, people with different roles. So all of them spoke with different experiences, but I think the theme from all of them is the idea that education is a right. And it is a right that should be experienced by everybody. And it should be experienced by everybody to a place where they are getting the services that they deserve. And then Collin coming through talking about this inspirational situation where not only is he understanding and well-versed in the accommodations that he knows he needs to help him, which speaks a lot to, we know what his experience was like. And sadly, if we went around the country and looked at students of color who have learning and thinking differences, the vast majority of them may not be able to say the same things that Collin can say.So really it's more about how can we find opportunities out there to support our students who are not getting the services that they deserve. And so the intersection really comes down to unlocking some of those opportunities that are there and making sure that the help is being received. So the stigmas that are coming with special education comes from a real place.It is the reality for many, many, many years, students of color and families of color were not receiving the appropriate services that they deserve. That's a fact. And for many, many years, and in many cases, even today, they still are not. And so, like, public education is a right. It's not a privilege. It's something that everybody should receive.I think it's something that is present, but it's getting way better than it has in the past. And organizations like Understood and organizations that are out there who are really actively trying to bridge the gap and close that gap to try to break that down and help families understand what they deserve, that's really where we got to get to the workMarissa: Yeah. And I think there's something to be said about some of the younger generations too. I think that there's a lot more push and a lot more acceptance. I think that's part of the hope as well.Julian: It's so many things that are hopeful things. There's a lot of really extraordinary things going on. And it's more about figuring out how we can make more connections between the people that need help and the people that can provide help. And at the very least sharing experiences, speaking up about what's going on on the day to day, and finding people that have common experiences, and finding people that are dealing with the same things. The more that those conversations are uplifted and the more those conversations are occurring, the better it is for everybody.So I love the fact that we got to hear from three different people who shared their own experiences, because it makes those that are listening — it's just that comfort that you get when you're like, oh wait, I know what you're talking about. I'm going through the same thing.You've been listening to "The Opportunity Gap" from the Understood Podcast Network. Do you have something you'd like to say about the issues we discussed on this podcast or a topic you'd like us to cover? Email us at We want 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.Marissa: Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at "The Opportunity Gap" is produced by Cin Pim. Briana Berry is our production director. Andrew Lee is our editorial lead. 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.Julian: Thanks again for listening.

  • The Opportunity Gap

    Are IEPs different in wealthy schools?

    Does special education differ for the rich and the poor? Listen as the hosts take on tough questions about IEPs, race, and money.Choosing a school is a huge decision for families with kids who learn and think differently. One concern is whether special education is better in high-income schools. Another is how IEPs serve kids in racially diverse or low-income schools. Hosts Julian Saavedra and Marissa Wallace take on tough questions from Understood users about how IEPs differ between schools based on income. They discuss how race, diversity, and wealth play a role in the special education services that kids get. Related resourcesLearn about school options like neighborhood and charter schools. Avoid 5 common mistakes that families make when choosing a school.We want your feedback! Email your thoughts about the show to transcriptJulian: Welcome to "The Opportunity Gap," a podcast for families of kids of color who learn and think differently. We explore issues of privilege, race, and identity. And our goal is to help you advocate for your child. I'm Julian Saavedra.Marissa: And I'm Marissa Wallace. Julian and I worked together for years as teachers in a public charter school in Philadelphia, where we saw opportunity gaps firsthand.Julian: And we're both parents of kids of color. So this is personal to us. Marissa: Hey, Julian, how are you? Julian: I'm chillin', chillin', chillin', what's going on? Marissa: I'm sure you're chillin', and then I heard you had a day off today. That must be nice. A nice Thursday off?Julian: Yes! It was the first day off without children in I don't know how long and, you know, I like to cook and dabble. So I made a tomato soup. Four different types of tomatoes and some basil from the garden. See, Marissa, you didn't know I got down like that, did you?Marissa: Oh, my goodness. I guess it's just the jealousy of the time that you had to make that delicious tomato soup when I put chicken nuggets in the air fryer for my family.Julian: Well, to each his own.Marissa: That sounds amazing. If you freeze any of that tomato soup, you know, I'll try it out next time.Julian: It'll be gone by the time you get here — it's probably gone right now. The kids probably eating it while we're recording, so — Marissa: Man.Julian: I'm excited for today! Andrew's in the building. What's up, Andrew?Andrew: Julian, I'm always here. By the way, the air fryer is probably the best kitchen appliance ever invented. I use it all the time.Marissa: Absolutely! Most valuable player. Like, it literally got us through the pandemic. So thank you, air fryer. Julian: So going into today and our conversation, Andrew, what are we talking about? Andrew: Yeah. So this is the topic that you all have asked that we take on. And it's the question of whether special education differs in wealthy schools versus so-called low-income schools. I've been with Understood for a bunch of years, and we answer a ton of emails, and, let's be real, most of the emails are from white, affluent parents. Not all of them. And for this show, I pulled some of the hardest parent questions about this topic. I just have to warn you, uh, these are pretty uncomfortable questions, but I think they will be really interesting and important to get your perspective on.Julian: Excellent, excellent. And it's OK to have uncomfortable conversations. We're not asking those questions? Then we're not going to really find any solutions. Marissa: And I think it becomes more comfortable when you talk about it. When we explain what special education is, when we explain what an IEP is, an Individualized Education Program, like, there's so much power in having something individualized to meet the needs of students.Julian: Right. So what's our first question? Andrew: OK. So here's the first question. If my family is in a wealthier school district, a more suburban school district, will the services in the IEP for my child be better than if my family is in a low-income school district?Marissa: I guess the starting point is to understand that a student will receive services through an IEP, which is an Individualized Education Program, once they have an evaluation. So that's the first piece of it. And that's all under federal law. So it's not an option under that law. They are required to have a free appropriate public education. So that's the first thing to think about with this question, right? If you're a public wealthy school or a public low-income school, it doesn't change what you're held accountable to, like, the law stays the same no matter where you are. Does that mean, though, the harder part to talk through and unpack is, does that mean that doesn't influence where you're located and what services you get? Julian: Here's where I want to open up some thoughts for a second. Number one, there's a lot of misconceptions about what happens in a quote-unquote low-income district. A lot of people that are not in the education world normally only have their exposure to schools through friends and family and by word of mouth, or by what the media tells them. A lot of times people will base where they choose to buy a home, the biggest purchase of your life, they choose that based on what certain scores are for certain schools or what the reputation of that district is. But that does not necessarily equate to the quality of teaching happening in those schools. If anything, I would argue the teachers that are in the most high-needs, underprivileged areas are, in many cases, some of the best teachers that we have in the business because income and financial things and poverty and systemic racism and oppression, all of those things are not a product of the schools, necessarily. There are things that the schools have to deal with and manage that wealthier schools might not have as much of. When it comes to what's happening in the building, we can't just blanketly say that there's going to be a vast difference in the quality of teaching and the quality of the experience of a typical student in a wealthy versus low-income school.Marissa: And I agree with the statement, as far as, like, the quality of your educators. I think an area to talk about, though, is access to certain actual opportunities depending upon the district. I just had a conversation with a parent and she explained to me, like, her rationale for doing exactly what you said, Julian. She chose to move to a wealthier school district in the thought that her child would be better served because of the access to supplies and the access to technology and computers and things of that nature that she knows her kiddo needs, assistive technology. And she was fearful that the school where she was currently living in a lower-income district, wouldn't provide that.And I do think about certain things, like, I lived in — we all obviously lived through this pandemic, right? And I currently, and my child right now is going to the lower-income district school. And kids at the district that was wealthier, they already all had laptops. So when everything went virtual, they didn't miss a beat.Kids had their laptops, they picked them up. That's it. My kiddo's school district that he's in now, when this all happened, it was months before kids had laptops. Months. Because they had to actually physically get money and funding to have laptops. So I think there's access issues. And that's the hard part, because I think there are fantastic educators, especially working in a city school for the majority of my career, I agree that, like, the best humans and the best educators, I 100 percent believe were in the schools that I worked in. I've never worked in a wealthy school district. Julian: Then let me ask you this one. So, Lincoln, your son, he's multiracial. So if you had the option, would you keep him in the place you're in, where there's not as much access to technology or those types of resources as quickly as the wealthier district, but he might be in an environment that's more diverse, that might be more reflective of his culture? More often than not, wealthy districts are also very white districts.The way this country is, there's not many majority minority districts that are also wealthy. Like, it just doesn't exist. Like, there's not that many out there. So, if you had a choice, would you put him in a situation where he might be one of two people of color in a class of 25, but they have all the resources in the world, they have everything they need? Or would you keep them in the spot that he's in, where it's more diverse, but he might not have the fancy new laptop or the MacBooks and all that?Marissa: Jules. This is so — you and I have been having this conversation since our kids were babies, about school. And so I can honestly, now that it's happened, right, and I'm really happy with the choice that we made of keeping him at what again is termed the "low-income" district in our area. And one of those reasons absolutely is that idea of diversity. Like he's one of 20 kids, and he has every race, truthfully, in his class and his, like in the overall kindergarten, in general. He does not have a laptop yet. So, I know that his cousin who goes to the wealthier school already has theirs and brings it home and all that jazz. But I'm really happy with our choice because, one, he's already talking very openly about others and different cultures. And two, like, there is something to say, he has an amazing teacher, and it's like, that's the hard part, right? You never know who your kid's teacher is going to be. And we both know, as educators, the relationships and the ability of your teachers to have strong classroom management, all of those other things are really more important. A lot of times, for me, anyway, as a parent, I want to see that more than any item. Because you can give my kid a computer and be like, "OK, now go ahead and teach yourself." Or you can have an amazing teacher like Lincoln has, who each day is actively there, like, putting on a show, teaching these kids to read and in two languages, right? They're a multilingual classroom. So I am, I'm very happy with our decision. And, being fully transparent, he went to preschool in the wealthier district and, two years in a row, both of his years of preschool. And he was the only child of color in his entire preschool for two years, and both years, his teachers made comments about his behaviors and how much energy and how it was hard for him to sit still and keep his hands to himself and all that. To the point that last year, his teacher suggested that I have, she was like, "I know you're in education, so I'm sure you'll have a conversation, but you might want to hurry and get him evaluated as a kindergartner." And I just was like, "Oh, OK, thank you." But this year, none of that, the teacher has never mentioned — she hasn't passed any judgment about his ability. And of course, if that's something he needs, we'd be onboard and we would do it. But it's just ironic to me how, like, two teachers in a predominantly white, very suburban, wealthy district were very quick to tell us that our 3- and 4-year-old was potentially going to need services, right? And now he's school-aged in a school that is more diverse and low-income. However, I feel like he's thriving.Julian: So that's a conversation that every parent and every family has at some point when you're deciding, like, when, where are you going to settle? And the school environment usually is one of the bigger drivers of that decision. When you're out there thinking about, where are you going to set some roots? Really think strategically about your own values as a family. What is important to you? And to dig deeper into that question of, like, the IEP, will it be better in a wealthy district, will it be better in a low-income district?Marissa: It depends. Julian: What does that word "better" mean? For some people, having the resources and having the technology is going to be really important. So, maybe that's better to you. And for some people of color, being around people who are diverse and, for some people that are not of color that choose to actively put their kids in a situation where they might grow up differently than they did. That's something that's also really important too. So it's really about deciding as a family what's important.Marissa: As you were talking, just, a thought popped into my head, though, that I think is extremely important. We, you and I, are talking because we have choice. We have to keep in mind that not all families have choice. Not all families can sit there and make this decision to move to a wealthier district. And that shouldn't be what we're telling families. I mean, I'm pushing back a little bit because my bigger answer for this, or the bigger issue is, because it is federal law it shouldn't matter where your child is going to school. They have the right to receive those services based on this legal document, the Individualized Education Program, and that is federal law. So, like, we have, you and I have privilege by making that choice, where we do have to think about our families, that they don't have that; they're going to go to school wherever they live. And so I think we have to push that back on the schools. It's gotta be the school responsibility to provide those services. And I think it's gotta be us talking to our parents and our families that they have the right to ask for those services, and they have the right to no matter where their kid goes to school to get those services.Julian: Right. Agreed, and appreciate the push and the perspective. But I would still say it always goes back to what is most important within that IEP? What are the particular aspects of that IEP that you want to make sure are happening? How are you going to communicate that to the school and to the IEP team during meetings? How are you going to communicate that to your child? How are you going to make sure that your child is very clear on what they deserve and what kind of services they should be receiving?Marissa: Absolutely.Julian: And so it's really about thinking deeply amongst yourselves as a family about what's important. And then having those pre-conversations before you walk into any sort of meetings or before you have any interaction with the school, have you talked together first so that you're ready to jump in and demand that you get what the law has dictated you deserve. All right, Andrew, what do we got next? Andrew: Yeah, that was, that was really real, Marissa. At some point, I think you and Julian should do a show for parents of color with learning and thinking differences about how they choose or what are your tips or thoughts about choosing a school district? If they have that option. Maybe they don't. But if they do have that option, it would be great show. So the next question is, and I can remember this one very early when I was working at Understood. And I recently spoke to a speech-language pathologist about this issue. Here's the question: Is it true that sometimes kids are on IEPs when they don't actually have a learning disability or a problem with speech and language; it's just that they never got taught the basics? And if I feel like my child is in this situation, should I be OK with the IEP? Now I know from reading this email that this comment did not come from someone who is wealthy, upper-class, white, and suburban. That's just my sense of the email. Julian: I mean, I'm going to be honest, just listening to the question, it already seems to me that this person might need to do a little bit of a mindset shift. For example, they said they don't actually have a learning disability or a problem with speech and language. Anytime we talk about learning and thinking differences, it's about differences, not necessarily deficit. So when I think about this person, I'm thinking that they need to think about, what do they think special education is? How do they feel about IEPs in general? And that's a journey for everybody. I know for a fact that there's many parents that think about the words or the acronym IEP, and they automatically go to "Something's wrong with my kid." They automatically go to, "I don't even want that; don't label them this, because that means they're going to get tracked or they're going to get put in a different place." And that's a societal thing that, for many years, there's always been a negative connotation when it comes to special education.I mean, so, if I'm a person that is wondering, "Should my child be identified? And what was the process for them to be identified?" I might be asking myself, well, "How well do I know my child's abilities? What part did I play in the initial evaluation process? Like, was I there and present for all of that? And then have I been tracking their progress as clearly as the school has been tracking it?"So it really puts it back on the parent to figure out, how well do I know my kid, and how well do I know their learning style, and how well do I know their abilities? And what is it that's making me question whether or not they should have this IEP or not? Marissa, thoughts? Marissa: You did an excellent job speaking on what gets lost in this whole process a lot of times, which is, like, what's the cause — what's the cause, what's the why behind my kid needs this? And I think my short answer is yeah, you should be OK with it, because, again, like, an individualized education plan cannot be a bad thing. So, like, I think there's a lot of different ways in which this can feel worrisome and troublesome for families who are, like, "Well, maybe it's just they're just missing some fundamental skills or maybe their kindergarten and first-grade teacher was not that great and they didn't teach them things. And now they're fifth graders and they still don't know how to do math computation." And there's a lot to unpack, but I think that it shouldn't be a bad thing. Like they shouldn't be something that people shy away from. If it's something that's going to help your child to learn and if it's something that's going to help them to make progress, which is exactly the purpose, right? Like, we want our kids to make progress in the educational system. We want them to learn. I do feel like this question needs a mindset shift. But at the same time, there's so much variability, and there's also subjectivity in doing the evaluation process. So we don't — I don't know, you're right, your kid might've just been labeled because of an actual need or they might've been labeled because maybe they had a bad teacher, and I hate to say bad teacher because I was like, there's no bad teachers, but I'm not —Julian: It's a good movie, it was definitely a good movie, but — an effective teacher, that's the word, effective.Marissa: Thank you. It's like, I don't like using the word "bad" teacher. It just sounded wrong because I know everyone's out there trying their best to be amazing teachers. Andrew: OK, wow, that was a pretty tough one. So this next question, based on the email, it seems like this person was at a, I don't want to say no-excuses charter school, but I don't know what the right word is for the charter schools that are a little bit tougher or have more rules or discipline. So the question is, if my child is at a public charter school and they get identified for special education or an IEP, will something happen? Will they lose their spot? What's the downside here, or is there a downside? Marissa: Yeah. What stood out to me with this particular question is the word "public charter school." So just to be very clear with families and parents, if it is a public charter that is receiving any federal funding, they cannot kick your kid out for having an IEP. That is part of the law. So, like, if it's a public charter school and, like, this kiddo would get identified and they would try to exit them or kick them out of the school or, or lose their spot, as a parent, I would know my rights about that.If it's a public charter getting federal funding, then, like, you really should feel confident that your child has a spot. And if they try to do something shady, then, I don't know, call me, I'll help you out. Andrew: Yeah. Typically we refer people to the local parent training information centers in their state. One reason is because a lot of this stuff is very local, as you know, and there's nothing more valuable than having a local advocate.There are a lot of volunteers actually out there, and, you know, I'm in the process right now, even of trying to become a volunteer, a volunteer advocate in the local school district near me. Julian: Here's the thing. Every charter network is different, and the way that charters are built and how their charters are written vary from city to city, from region to region. And so to say that a public charter school, like, you could make blanket statements about that. It's just not possible because they're all very different. But if you dig into some of the research, you'll find that many of the no-excuse model charter schools in their earlier days definitely had a harsher approach to discipline and management. And in many cases, especially in the earlier days, the population of students with special education services was much lower in charter schools than in traditional public schools. So, you might have a typical public school with 25 percent of the students having IEPs. Whereas in a charter school down the street, maybe 10 percent or 7 percent of the students have IEPs.And it wouldn't necessarily mean that they were forced out. But I've heard of stories and I've heard of situations where students were strongly encouraged to find a school that might better serve their child. That was a real thing. So I can understand where this question is coming from. But on the flip side, the school that Marissa and I worked at was a very high-performing charter school, and we had a high number of students with special services, and we encouraged them to come to our school. We encouraged them to stay with us; we encouraged them, in many cases, if they weren't receiving services at their public schools, we would go and say, "Hey, we're a great option. Come to us. We have what you need." And so there's some schools that also seek out students with learning differences to come to their schools because they pride themselves on doing really well with offering services. So what I would say to this person is really do more research. There's records out there that you can find online for every school.So you can go back and look and see, how have they done with their students in the past? How many students start with them, and how many students end up going through their whole program? So that you get a better idea of what your child might experience if they go there. Andrew: Moving on to the last question. The question in a bluntest way is, do IEPs differ for the rich and for the poor? Are IEPs different for wealthy versus marginalized kids? Do you have any thoughts about that? I feel like this is a big philosophical question that's underlying a lot of the parent and family questions that we get, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.Julian: It's like, obvi, but no. Yes and no, right?Marissa: It's not, yes. There's this connection between all of these things. As a parent, for all of our families, for anyone who has children in the school system, right? You can't deny, because school is an institution, it's where we send our babies to spend the majority of their day, you can't not address that wealth and class and race isn't going to all come together as far as what a child's experience is going to be in the classroom. So whether it's intentional in some places or not intentional, that there is going to be impact. I was talking to a parent, and her daughter has Down syndrome and they were very aware and involved and, you know, in her process of, like, making these decisions and choosing to go to the wealthier school district for her, it was about that assistive technology piece. Like, her kiddo did need computers. She couldn't handle working with a school district that was going to tell her no, you know, and that happens a lot. She was struggling with, well, "We just, we don't have that. We can't do that." And she was honest, though, she was transparent with me and said even now in the school that she is in, which is a wealthier school, she's having different types — she's not having nos when it comes to, like, materials or supplies. But now she's getting no to, like, inclusion, which to me is scary. Now they're, like, "Well, we have all this money and we have all this material, so we can actually create this classroom that looks this way, where she can get pulled out and put into," which, and maybe that works, maybe there's families or children where that type of environment might be what the family wants for their kid. But for her, she wants her daughter to be fully included. So now she's five years in, and they made this choice because she's got the coolest keyboard and she's got the best headphones and she's got all the things, but she is fighting and battling because they tried to, like, sneak on this document that she was only going to be included for 20 percent of her day. And they're, like, "No, we want her included for 80 percent of the day." So now they're, like, really grappling with did we make the right choice of sending her to this wealthier school where she's yes, she's had all the things, but now, like, fundamentally, in mindset, that doesn't jibe with what we want, which is for her to be included. Julian: Be careful what you wish for. Marissa: Yeah. It's so situational. It's so, like, need-based, and that's the thing — it's gotta be based on your kid, your circumstances, what you want. And so, yes, wealth is involved, and those things you have to think about, but Julian, you said it perfect before. It's like, what is, what are your values?Julian: So, to answer the question, Andrew, it really is about what is the purpose of school and how is it going to play a role in that family's life. But really figuring out: What are your values, what do you care about, what's important to you, and how are we conversing about it? Even when it's uncomfortable, even when this is a hard decision to make, and all of us are going through it. And it's not a stagnant decision, right? Like, just because you make a decision in kindergarten, that decision might change in third or fourth grade. And then that decision might change again in high school, right? It's a constant reevaluation of, like, is this working for us or not? And it might be hard to get out of it, but we have to do what's best for our family. And, ultimately, everybody out there, you do what's best for your family. That's what's most important.Well, it has been a really great conversation. Thank you so much for joining us and listening. If you have any more questions, we'd love for you to send them our way. And so this is Julian and Marissa signing off "Opportunity Gap." Thank you so much, Marissa. Good night.This has been "The Opportunity Gap," a part of the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "The Opportunity Gap" on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.Marissa: If you found what you hear today valuable, please share the podcast. "The Opportunity Gap" is for you. We want to hear your voice.Go to to find resources from every episode. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G slash opportunity gap.Julian: Do you have something you'd like to say about the issues we discussed on this podcast? Email us at We'd love to share and react to your thoughts about "The Opportunity Gap."Marissa: 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 "The Opportunity Gap" is produced by Andrew Lee and Justin D. Wright, who also wrote our theme song. Laura Key is our editorial director at Understood. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors.Julian: Thanks again for listening.

  • Where to find free assistive technology tools for reading, writing, and math

    Assistive technology (AT) doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact, there are many free options to help with reading, writing, and math.Keep two things in mind before you look for a free AT tool:First, know what you need the tool to help you with. For example, do you need something that helps you take notes or reads aloud text? If you’re not sure, ask yourself questions for choosing an AT tool. Second, know which operating system your device or computer use — Apple iOS, Microsoft Windows, macOS, Google Chrome OS, or Google Android. Here’s where to begin your search for free tools.Tools you already haveMany computers and mobile devices have built-in tools for learning, vision, and hearing needs. On most devices, you can open the Settings app and go to “Accessibility” to see what features you have.Companies also offer lists of their accessibility features. You can look up what’s available for PCs, Macs, iPhones and iPads, Chromebooks, and Google Android devices. Demo versions of apps You’ll notice that many apps have free and paid versions. The free versions usually have limited features. But maybe that’s all you need. Give them a try to get a sense of an app’s usefulness before paying for the full version. Short-term free trials of tools Another “try before you buy” idea: Many services have free trials of 7–30 days. If you find a tool that you think might fit your needs, give it a trial run. Some will require that you use a credit card to get started. Then they will bill you automatically once the trial ends. Put a reminder in your calendar to keep track of when the trial ends. That way you can cancel and not be charged for services you don’t want.Free apps/extensions (but beware) Many apps and Chrome extensions are free, but watch out for potential privacy and security issues. Don’t just click to download without considering what you’re giving the vendor access to (like personal identifiable information) and what they may do with it (like sell to third parties). Review the policies before downloading and entering personal information. Web apps — interactive webpages with free built-in toolsThere are some great apps you can access online for free — without downloading. For example, the Math Learning Center has apps with virtual manipulatives, like number lines and pattern shapes, to solve math problems in different ways.  Another app, Bookshare, has one of the largest collections of accessible digital books available for people with a documented “print” disability. That includes dyslexia. These books can be used with various TTS apps and websites. It can also be used with Bookshare’s own free Bookshare Reader app that works in web browsers.   Borrow a device for free to find out if it’s a good fitEvery state has an Assistive Technology Act Program, which offers free, short-term loans of devices to people with disabilities. You may be able to try a device for several weeks at no cost.Want to learn more about assistive technology? Explore different types of AT that can help with reading, writing and math. 

  • Checklist: What to ask colleges about assistive technology

    Students who use assistive technology (AT) to help with learning and thinking differences may want to ask prospective colleges about what AT services are available on campus. Here’s a list of questions to ask colleges about their policies and programs.Assistive technology policies What’s the name of the office of disability support services at this college? Is a specific person responsible for dealing with AT for students with various issues? What’s required to be eligible for AT accommodations at this college? What documentation is required and when? Who should get it? Will students need to describe how AT devices have aided them in the past? Will students need to provide an explanation of how AT will help them complete required coursework in college? Does approval to use AT resources require reauthorization? How often? Who on campus can help students figure out what AT tools they qualify to use? How quickly can they expect to get them? Does this college allow use of AT tools for exams? If so, do students need to take exams in an AT lab or other setting, or can the exams be taken in the classroom? Do students need to make special proctoring arrangements for exams that are taken with AT assistance? Will the office of disability services make or help make those arrangements for students? Will the college make print materials available in an electronic format, audio tape, or large print? If students use screen-reading software, is the college web content compatible with all devices? (For example, course registration software, library databases, class discussion boards, and notes.) How do students let professors know about their AT accommodations? Who should professors talk to if they have questions? Who coordinates AT accommodations (during lectures, while doing assignments, and taking tests) between the professor and the disability office? Access to assistive technology Are there accessible computer stations and AT devices in areas on campus other than the AT labs (such as in dorms or libraries)? Will students be able to borrow equipment from an AT lab on campus? How many AT labs are there? Are AT tools available 24 hours a day and on weekends? Do students need to sign up for time slots in advance? What specific resources do AT labs on campus provide? (Make sure to ask specifically about what is needed and software that is compatible with students’ devices.) What type of training is provided for certain AT tools? Are manuals or online tutorials available? If students want to ask questions of other students who are using AT tools, will somebody be able to put them in touch? Does the school maintain, update, and repair its AT equipment regularly? If something goes wrong, how quickly is it fixed? Will the college order and pay for AT devices that students need that are not already available? Who can help if there is a problem accessing school-related information and materials?Students can refer to this checklist when investigating prospective universities. Students may want to think about these questions, too.

  • 5 questions to consider when choosing assistive technology tools

    Are you exploring assistive technology (AT)? Whether you’re looking at tools for your child, your student, or yourself, there are many options. But it can be hard to know which ones might help. Here are questions to ask when considering AT tools. 1. Does the tool address the user’s needs or challenges?The tool must address the need or challenge the user is facing. Consider: Does it leverage strengths to help make up for weaknesses?Does it reduce the impact of the challenge?Does it support or enhance learning strategies?2. Is the user willing to use this (or any) tool?Some people — kids and adults — are reluctant to use AT. They may not want to look “different” from their classmates or co-workers. Or they might have had a poor experience in the past with similar tools. Understanding the reason can make it easier to choose a tool the user will be more comfortable with.3. Is the tool compatible with other technology?A tool that doesn’t work with the other technology a person uses isn’t very helpful. If everyone in the office uses Macs, avoid tools that require a PC. If all the students in a class use Chromebooks, look for Chrome extensions that have the needed capabilities. 4. How easy is the tool to learn to use?In specific, ask: What learning resources are available? Are there cheat sheets or video tutorials? Is there training for users and for people who work with them, like parents and teachers?Is there a simpler tool or strategy that would work just as well and produce similar results?Is there technology support to help set up the tool and address problems?5. Does the tool makes sense for the task or environment?Think about where the tool can and can’t be helpful. For example, speech-to-text for in-class writing isn’t practical. Recording certain class discussions or work meetings for replay later may be prohibited.One of the best ways to know if a particular tool is a good fit is to try it out. Most AT companies offer free versions and trial subscriptions that allow users to “test drive” a tool.Learn more:Find out what questions to ask the school about assistive technology.Explore tips to learn how to use an AT tool.Read about where to find free tools and low-cost AT tools.

  • 8 ways to use virtual assistants as assistive technology

    Virtual assistants are designed to make it easier to do everyday tasks, like playing music and controlling the lights. They can also serve as assistive technology (AT) and be a big help for people with learning and thinking differences.Assistants are voice-activated and hands-free, and they can respond to questions and commands. They’re built into devices like smartphones, tablets, and smart speakers, like Amazon Echo and Google Home. Here are eight ways virtual assistants can help if you have a learning and thinking difference.1. Help with spellingYou can ask a virtual assistant how to spell a word you’re having trouble with. It's a little trickier if the word has more than one spelling, like beat vs. beet. The assistant may give you options for multiple spellings. You can also clarify which spelling you want. For example, to spell the vegetable beet, you can say “Alexa, how do you spell beet root?”2. Give definitions and synonymsYou can ask virtual assistants for the meaning of words you don’t recognize. You could say “OK Google, what does dyslexia mean?” You can also ask for synonyms if you want to change particular words in your writing. You could ask “OK Google, what’s another word for happy?”3. Help with sounding out wordsYou can ask how to pronounce a word by spelling it out. For example, you could say “OK Google, how do you pronounce p-h-o-n-e?” 4. Read books aloudSome virtual assistants can read aloud books that are text-to-speech compatible. For Amazon Echo, you just have to say something like “Alexa, read Fish in a Tree from my Kindle.” If you have an Audible account, you could ask Alexa to play a particular audiobook just by saying “Wuthering Heights.”5. Help with mathVirtual assistants can be a big help for people who have trouble with math. You can ask for basic calculations by saying “Alexa, what is the square root of 25?” or “OK Google, what is 32 percent of 500 dollars?” If you need help with unit conversions, you can say something like “OK Google, how many degrees Fahrenheit is 25 degrees Celsius?”6. Set timers and alarmsIf you have trouble staying on task for a certain amount of time, you can say “Alexa, set a timer for three minutes.” If you have difficulty getting started on tasks, you can set alarms to prompt you to begin. For example, you can say “OK Google, set an alarm for 4:30 p.m. called take out the trash.” 7. Create to-do listsIf you have trouble keeping track of appointments, assignments, or chores, you can use a virtual assistant to create a to-do list. You can add tasks to your list with a command like “Alexa, put clean the bathroom on my to-do list.” To access the list, you can say “Alexa, what’s on my to-do list?”8. Manage calendar eventsKeeping track of due dates and events can be tricky for people with executive function challenges. Virtual assistants let you manage calendars by voice. You can add events with a command like “Alexa, add calendar event.” To hear what’s coming up, you can simply say “OK Google, what’s on my calendar for Sunday?”Devices that use virtual assistants can be a game-changer for people who learn and think differently. They provide easy access to support at home, at work, and at school. Learn more about assistive technology and how speech-to-text features work on devices.

  • 5 tips to learn how to use an assistive technology tool

    Assistive technology (AT) is a big help for people who learn and think differently. These tools empower people to work around their challenges and do things for themselves. First, you have to choose a tool. Then you have to learn how to use assistive technology. Trying out these tools can be intimidating. “Am I using this tool correctly?” “Is this a helpful tool for trouble with reading?” These are just some of the questions you might ask when using assistive technology for the first time.If you’ve recently started using assistive technology for your child’s learning differences or for yourself, you may have the same questions. Here are some tips for learning to use an AT tool for the first time. 1. Explore the tool’s capabilities.Knowing what an AT tool can (and cannot) do is key to getting the best use of it. Visit the tool’s website and look for a “features list.” Here you can learn about the tool’s capabilities. This is also a good place to find out if features vary on different operating systems. 2. Take advantage of reference guides and video tutorials. Skipping over a tool’s learning manual can be tempting. But spending some time exploring these guides can pay off. Vendors often include resources like videos and guides in the “support” or “learn to use” section of their website to show people how to use the tool. Some vendors also have video tutorials on their YouTube channels. And it’s common for AT specialists and educators to film their own “how to” videos and upload them to YouTube.3. Set your preferences.AT tools, especially those that help with reading and writing, allow users to set their own preferences. For example, when using text-to-speech (TTS), users can adjust the reading speed and line spacing to help make reading less difficult. Explore the preference options in your tool to find how they can best support you. It may take some trial and error — and that’s OK. 4. Make sure the tool is also accessible at home.If an AT tool is helping you at work or at school, it may also be useful at home. But some tools may only be accessible on a school’s or workplace’s network. That’s usually because of the tool’s account type or membership. If you’re a parent and caregiver, talk with their child’s teacher to ask if the tool can also be accessed at home or on a mobile device. If you’re an adult in the workplace, talk with your manager.5. Try it out. Use an AT tool for a few days or weeks to test it out. (Some vendors offer users a free trial to try out an AT tool.) You can take notes about which features are helpful and which supports you still need. Afterward, you can review questions to decide whether the tool is working for you. If an AT tool isn’t the right fit, consider trying out a different option. Assistive technology tools can make everyday life easier for people who learn and think differently. Watch an expert debunk common myths about assistive technology. And learn about assistive technology that’s built into mobile devices.

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