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  • Bullying and learning differences

    Bullying is a widespread problem. Many kids bully because they want to feel powerful. So they pick on kids they see as weaker or less likely to defend themselves.Kids who learn and think differently are more likely to be bullied than their peers. One reason is their differences can make them stand out from the crowd. They may have challenges in school, like trouble reading or sitting still. Or they may get special services, like tutoring.Another reason is that struggles in school can affect kids’ confidence and self-esteem. Kids who bully may target kids who seem less likely to speak up for themselves.But not all kids who are bullied are timid. Some may be hyperactive or misbehave (whether they mean to or not). They may get targeted because they are aggressive or easily upset. It’s also common for kids who are bullied to react by bullying others.Read on to learn more about bullying and how to stop it.

  • In It

    Bullying, learning differences, and how to help

    Kids who learn and think differently are more likely to be bullied than their peers. What can families do about bullying? Bullying is a tough topic for anyone to talk about. But for kids who learn and think differently, it can be even tougher. They’re more likely to be bullied than their peers. And it’s common for kids who are bullied to react by bullying others. So what can families do about bullying? In this episode, hosts Gretchen Vierstra and Rachel Bozek get advice from Ellen Braaten, child psychologist and Understood expert. Listen in to learn how to tell the difference between teasing and bullying. Find out what to do if your child is being bullied. Get Ellen’s tips for helping kids talk about bullying — and stand up for themselves — even when they’d rather not stand out.Related resources Bullying and learning differences 5 reasons kids with ADHD get bullied The difference between teasing and bullying StopBullying.govPlus, check out Wunder to connect with other parents and get expert support.Episode transcriptGretchen: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It," a podcast about the ins and outs…Rachel: …the ups and downs.Gretchen: …of supporting kids who learn and think differently. I'm Gretchen Vierstra, a former classroom teacher and an editor here at Understood.Rachel: And I'm Rachel Bozek, a writer and editor raising two kids with ADHD. Today, we're talking about bullying, which is not an easy topic.Gretchen: No, it isn't. It's quite painful for kids and for the people who care for them.Rachel: Yeah. And Gretchen, as you know, we put out a call to all of our various networks looking for a family, willing to share their story of how they dealt with a situation involving bullying. And while some people responded to us privately, none of them wanted to speak about it in a public way. And I totally get that.Gretchen: Yeah, I totally get that, too. I mean, there's a lot of shame and stigma associated with being bullied, and so it's hard to want to share that with the world, right? And then for families who have kids who were bullied or were the bully, they can sometimes feel just terrible that they missed this or that they should have been there, or they should have known about this from the start, and they didn't. And it can feel really terrible for families.Rachel: Fortunately, we have someone here today who's helped a lot of families navigate this tricky terrain.Gretchen: Yup. Ellen Braaten is the executive director of the Learning and Emotional Assessment Program at Mass General Hospital, and she's a psychology professor at Harvard Medical School.Rachel: She's written lots of books and has a new one on the way called "Bright Kids Who Couldn't Care Less: How to Rekindle Your Child's Motivation." She's also an Understood expert.Gretchen: We've had her on the podcast before and we are so happy to have her here again. Ellen, welcome back to "In It."Ellen: I'm so happy to be here.Gretchen: We're happy to have you. And as you know, today we are talking about bullying. And so, to start, I'd love it if you could define for us what bullying is and what makes it different from, say, teasing, which of course, is not great but is handled somewhat differently.Ellen: Great question to start with. I think the two things we have to think about when we're thinking about bullying is power and amount or that it's something that's not a one-time thing. It's chronic. So, what do I mean when I'm thinking when I'm saying power? It means that there's something within the relationship where there's either real power, like, for example, a child might be the captain of the basketball team and so is in a powerful position where they could, you know, do something to somebody else on the team, that means more than just the teammates. And I should say, too, that, you know, when there's a power differential in the relationship, it can be something that's even just perceived. It can be, "Oh, I think that kid is cool" or it's an older child or even just a physically bigger child. Any of those things can be perceived by another child as being powerful. And it also has to be something that happens, like I said, more than just once. Now, teasing is a little bit different because teasing is actually a way of communicating. And sometimes it's not so bad. Sometimes it's really a way of us being social. It's a social exchange. So, for example, a child might have a little bit of a crush on a schoolmate, and somebody might tease them. "Oh, you like Brandon?" That's teasing. That's, it's communicating something. It might not be perceived as funny for the person, but it is done in a way where they're trying to make a social connection. So, not all teasing is bad, but all bullying is pretty much bad.Gretchen: OK, so, then when it becomes a little more persistent.Ellen: Exactly. Exactly. And it can be confusing for parents, too, because, you know, if they hear about a bad incident on the bus, they might think, "Oh, my gosh, my child is being bullied," and if it only happened once, it's just a bad incident that needs to be taken care of. But bullying is much more insidious. It's over and over again. So, it really, it can be something that really wears down on a child's self-esteem if they're the victim of bullying.Rachel: Can you talk us through why this topic may be of particular concern for families with kids who learn and think differently? Are those kids more likely to be bullied or to engage in bullying behavior?Ellen: Yes. So, the short answer to your question is, yes, they are. Now, we don't have a ton of research on this, so I don't want to go over and above what we know. But there does seem to be a relationship between bullying and having learning and thinking differences. One reason that might occur is because a lot of kids with learning and thinking differences have some differences in how they develop social skills. Like, for example, if you're a child with processing speed, slower processing speed, you're more at risk for having social difficulties, not because necessarily you have problems understanding, but because you have problems understanding in a time frame. So, that's one example.Or kids with ADHD who might be impulsive and so might get into trouble and then might sort of be a target for other kids. And then also, if you're not feeling as competent academically, so let's say you're a second grader and you're not reading, you know, at grade level and your teacher calls on you to read something and you can't read it competently. You know, it's sort of like a mark that other kids might — especially other kids who aren't competent themselves — might perceive as being something that they could pick on a child for.Gretchen: Yeah. So, at the risk of asking what may seem like an obvious question, why is bullying such a big deal? And are there long-term consequences?Ellen: Yeah, well, it is a big deal, and it's because there are long-term consequences. So, what happens when we're bullied is a child starts to try and figure out "Why is this happening to me? " And kids don't usually figure out, "Well, that other child has problems of his own" or "Those children are acting inappropriately." But what a child typically almost always thinks is "There's something wrong with me." And those sorts of feelings lead to heightened anxiety, it leads to difficulties concentrating at school because they're always afraid of something happening. But there are long-term consequences, too. And anyone who's been bullied in school and chronically bullied still feels that as they move into adulthood; it can really plague someone for quite a long time because they don't understand.And part of it is there really isn't an easy way to understand this. It is one of those things that is not clearly, you know, there are lots of reasons why people become bullies. And it's never because a person deserves to be bullied. But that's almost never how somebody perceives it, kids especially think "What did I do wrong? There's something wrong with me and I feel unprotected." And then to go out in the world feeling like you're not good enough and unprotected is a very scary thing.Gretchen: Mm hmm.Rachel: So, I get why kids with learning and thinking differences may be disproportionately targeted from some of the things we're talking about and also some of the things that I've seen with my kids in school. But can you talk a little bit about why kids with learning differences may also be more easily drawn into engaging in bullying behavior, which you mentioned, but can you tell us a little more about that part?Ellen: Yeah, so there are a couple of reasons for that. Sometimes when, you know, the development of social skills are where they should be in terms of age-appropriate social skills, you tend to go with what everybody else does. You want to fit in desperately. You're in a situation where other people are bullying and you then just join in because it's hard for you to know the difference. Sometimes kids with ADHD just impulsively join into bullying because they don't have that ability to sort of stop and think and they wind up doing something that they really regret later. But they did it because it was in the moment everybody else was doing it.Another reason is like we were talking before, when you're feeling not great about yourself and you see someone else who's struggling, it can give you just that little bit of feeling like, "Oh, you know, I don't feel great about myself, but I feel better than this person." And so, that's another reason why they're vulnerable to experiencing that. And then also, there's just a simple fact that when we experience something, we learn how it's done, and so we learn to do it. And most of the time, kids, you know, find themselves in a situation where they've been a bully, not really knowing how they got into that situation. And it takes a while to then figure out, you know, how to solve the problem for them and to make sure it doesn't happen again.Gretchen: Ellen, we know that when kids are being bullied, they might not even tell us. And that could be because they feel shame or embarrassment, or they might even fear that telling someone who will then tell someone else will make it worse for them. So, are there signs we can be on the lookout for, so we don't miss something like this?Ellen: So, there are some obvious signs, of course, things, and one of the things that parents never really necessarily think about are things that have gone missing. So, a child has a pair of headphones, a backpack, something cool that they got for Christmas that's not there anymore. Any kind of unexplained bruises, cuts, anything like that, of course, is something to pay attention to. Having few friends, friends they had before and don't have now, a child who doesn't want to go to school. And that could be hard sometimes for parents, because if you've got a child with learning and thinking differences, sometimes they don't love school anyway.Gretchen: Right.Ellen: But if that seems like it's gotten worse, for example. Kids who make up reasons to not go to school or make up reasons to not go to basketball practice or be in a certain carpool. And then the obvious signs of like, you know, not sleeping, not eating right, anxiety, but like I started with, one of the big tells is kids who, you know, lost their lunchbox, lost something that was precious to them. So, the other issue, too, that you have to be aware of is cyberbullying. And in that case, you want to be checking whether or not your child is obsessively checking the phone, obsessively on social media or not checking it at all. So, any big change in behavior around any of those things is important to note.Rachel: Right. OK. So, say you pick up on some of those clues and so you check in with your child and they let you know that they are actually caught up in some kind of bullying situation. Now, what? Can you walk parents through the steps they should take?Ellen: Yeah. So, the first thing they want to do is to get information. So, they want to listen to their child, ask a lot of questions if their child's not forthcoming, ask questions of the teacher, other parents. If it's really the situation where you really feel like this is bullying — not just teasing, but it's something that's really significant — you want to write it down, make sure you've got the story as best as you can, organized in your own head. You're not as a parent responsible to be a detective, but you want to make sure you know you've helped your child make the story coherent or you've made it that way. Because when you're the victim of bullying or experience any sort of trauma, the one thing about your story is, is that disconnected, overwhelmed with feelings, it's hard for you to describe it. So, it can be really important then for a parent to organize that.Want to also make sure that you review the school's anti-bullying policy, so you know what the school is going to do as well. And then if you feel like this really is or even if you're just worried or suspect it is, bring the report to the school, then you want to make sure you're monitoring the school's response. You sort of take it up the chain of command. And if you're really in a situation and I've been in many situations like this as a psychologist, either on one side or the other, you can get legal help. You can, you know, if it's happening where you feel like your child is not protected, you can get legal help. I never feel like that's the best place to start. And some parents do, you know, like whether it's getting an IEP for reading or getting protection from bullying, to bring in the lawyer on the first appointment isn't usually the best way to start a collaborative situation.Now, having said that, if you really think your child is in danger, definitely that is priority number one. But, you know, along the way, you can also, you know, if the bullying is happening in the class, definitely meet with the teacher, you know, ask the principal to join in if you feel like they're supportive.Gretchen: And so, here's the opposite of a bringing in your lawyer to the school, right? Is it ever a good idea to tell your child to ignore the bullying?Ellen: Well, I wouldn't say ignore the bullying, but I would say you could teach your child to have some strategies to deal with the bullying. You know, as a parent, let's say you were in a school situation where you really feel like, you know, the other kids, you know their parents, you know your child. Like sometimes you might have a child who's a little bit overly sensitive to teasing, and this happens a lot where, you know, a child is really being teased in, actually, a typical way but is perceiving it as bullying. In that case, it's not that I would say necessarily ignore it, but how can we help you figure out a way to manage your feelings about this?You know, there are lots of ways to deal with being bullied. And one of those ways is to figure out, like, how do we not react to inappropriate behavior? Because that's basically what it is, somebody acting inappropriately to you. So, what one of those ways is to, you know, not overreact, walk away. Teach your child sort of a kind of a brief, non-confrontational, verbal response to the bully and practice that at home, too. Like, "What would you say if somebody did this?" One thing that stops a lot of behaviors is indifference. So, if you can sort of teach your child to be a bit indifferent to what somebody says, yeah, whatever, that's like the best thing to do. It's also one of the hardest things to do. But things like that, like, you know, how would it feel to just say, "Yeah, whatever" and walk away?You want to also make sure your child's got a lot of, you know, knowledge about themselves, about their strengths, any sort of, you know, areas of difference and be able to own some of that and not, you know, we're more vulnerable when we feel vulnerable about our weaknesses. And so, if you can make sure your child is like, "Yeah, you know, reading is a little bit tougher for me than it is for other kids. So what?"Gretchen: Mm hmm.Ellen: That can be helpful, too. That's where bullying can sort of pinpoint one little part of someone's personality. Just, you know, the fact that they're not good in hockey or they're not a good reader. A lot of times that's where bullying starts. And so, you want to make sure that that doesn't define who your child is and you help them shift their focus onto the things that they're really good at doing. Yeah.Rachel: So, here's a question. What if your kid has an IEP and they're being bullied at school? Does that change the situation or are there specific requirements that the school has because of the IEP?Ellen: Yeah, definitely. If social skills is an area of growth and a goal for your child on the IEP, which oftentimes, not always, but oftentimes if your child is being bullied, there's the opportunity to either add that to the IEP or to make sure that the IEP goals are being followed. So, what kind of goals would that be? Well, it would be things like social skills training, interpersonal skill building, doing things in this could be as part of a goal, increasing self-advocacy so that a child knows "When do I say stop? When do I walk away? When do I seek the assistance of an adult that's near me?" The goal in an IEP shouldn't be to make a child less teasable. It should be to make a child more self-aware and to develop coping skills. Also, for some kids, knowing the difference between sort of like tattling and because tattling when it's inappropriate can also make you more of a target for bullying.Gretchen: Right.Ellen: As well as identifying the difference, again, between sort of playful teasing and hurtful teasing and bullying. And then sometimes in IEPs, you can have just very simple goals, like having some sort of a signal system to use when a child needs an adult intervention or a friend intervention or having somebody who is really available, somebody on the school staff who can help the child make reports or who the child can check in with once or twice a week. So, all of those can be part of an IEP and are, you know, ways to prevent bullying and make a child more proactive.Gretchen: You know, those are good tips to think about for families and schools about ways that the IEP can really support, right? The kid in the situation.Ellen: And you know, I should mention too that there's the other side of this too, like a child who is a bully might have an IEP as well. Some of their goals might be sort of on the other side of it. "When is my behavior being inappropriate? What happens when I act this way?" So, there can be both sides. But definitely being bullied, being a bully, can all be part of a child's IEP and areas of social-emotional growth.Gretchen: So, probably most everyone listening to this right now has seen posters at their kid's school about, you know, don't be the bully or about just bullying awareness, what to do in this situation. And we've got Anti-Bullying Month, which is right now in October. So, have we gotten any better at preventing and disrupting bullying in our schools?Ellen: I don't know if that's really the case. I feel like people are much more aware of bullying. So, that, of course, is going to help. We do know that cyberbullying has gotten worse because it didn't exist before. So, the stakes are much higher than they were. So, even though I'm talking like I feel like an old person talking about how when "Back in my day..."Gretchen: Right?Ellen: But in this day, the stakes are much higher. They last forever. But the possibility of educating your child is also higher, too, because the bad part about social media is that it's out there. The good part is that we can control it. We can mute. We can turn it off. We do not have to engage in this. And, you know, even if you've been the target of something on social media, if you just ignore it, it's just, it will go away. Or the adults, if it's really bad, will take care of it. You know, it's also easier to prove that it's happening as well. So, it's tough, though. It's really tough being a kid these days with this managing how all but all this means.Gretchen: Yeah, I think one of the big differences with just the tech stuff with kids is just that it makes it, I feel like it escalates things, like things move more quickly than they did. I'll say back in the day when I was a kid and like the girls might have been like passing notes, and the notes took a long time to write and then you had to pass it along and then like, you know what I mean? So, like, the escalation didn't happen as quickly as it does now because everything is just a matter of seconds on a phone.Ellen: Absolutely. And you know, back to why kids with learning and thinking differences are more vulnerable is, that's one reason, is that oftentimes kids with learning and thinking differences take a longer time to process something. That's a really good thing in a lot of ways. But when you're, when things are happening really fast and it takes you a little bit longer to read something or interpret something or understand the meaning of it, you are more vulnerable then to being confused by something or a victim of something. So, yeah, I think this time now in terms of how bullying can occur does make the kids that, you know, my favorite kids that we're talking about are much more vulnerable to situations that, you know, are difficult for them to interpret and cope with.Rachel: So, are there resources that you can recommend to families or others who are dealing with a bullying situation, who aren't sure how to handle it really kind of from either side? Where can they go for some additional tips or suggestions?Ellen: Well, Understood has a lot of content on this and I think it's a great resource for parents. There's also the new Wunder app, which is fairly new. And I am on the Wunder app; I have a group called Focus and Social Skills, so I would love to hear from you and answer questions and get ideas about what kinds of topics you might want me to talk about. But sometimes the best place to get advice is from other parents who've gone through the same thing. So, that's kind of the beauty of the Wunder app is you'll be conversing with other parents who have gone through similar situations. And then, the other thing that I would recommend is if you're really worried about this, that something is becoming chronic, you're concerned about your child's mental health more than just like always really down about this situation, but I'm really worried that he's depressed or anxious, seek counseling. It can be very helpful in situations like this.And oftentimes I'm so surprised how just a few sessions of therapy can turn this whole thing around. So don't feel like, "Oh, I'm consulting with a psychiatrist or psychologist. It's going to take forever." Now, you know, sometimes it is indicative of a bigger problem, but oftentimes it's not. It's a situation that can really be an avenue for change and understanding.Gretchen: Well, Ellen, I think we've covered a lot today, and I want to thank you for joining us on "In It" to talk about such an important topic.Ellen: I was so happy to be here and it is an important topic and I just enjoyed this so much.Rachel: Thank you so much. It was great talking with you.Gretchen: So, as Ellen told us, you can find her in the Wunder app, which I want to tell you about it, because it's kind of great. It's a new app that Understood created for parents raising kids who learn and think differently. And it's a community app. So, the idea is that you get in there and you talk with other parents about what you're going through, and you can even join topic-based groups. And so, as Ellen said, she hosts a group about focus and social skills. But there are lots of other groups you can join, like there's ones about ADHD, dyslexia, so we totally recommend that you check it out. So, Rachel, what did you think of this conversation with Ellen?Rachel: I found it so helpful. You know, I know this is a raw and painful topic for a lot of people, myself included. And I really appreciated her kind of, providing that framework for us to understand that it's never a kid's fault when they're the target of bullying and even when they are the one engaging in the bullying behavior in this situation. And, you know, we know that there could be something going on in kids' lives that kind of lead to either of these things happening. And it is just so helpful to have some resources and ideas of where to turn to learn more about this because we know that sometimes this kind of stuff comes up when we least expect it.Gretchen: Yeah, listening to Ellen and some of the things that she shared also just reminded me that this is sort of an issue that lots of families deal with. And so, you know, we're not alone in this and we shouldn't feel alone. So, I'm so glad that Ellen came on to talk with us about it.Rachel: I am, too.Gretchen: You've been listening to "In It" from the Understood Podcast Network.Rachel: This show is for you. So, we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at to share your thoughts. We love hearing from you.Gretchen: If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.Rachel: is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at "In It" is produced by Julie Subrin. Briana Berry is our production director. Justin D. Wright mixes the show. Mike Errico wrote our theme music.Rachel: For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Thanks for listening.Gretchen: And thanks for always being in it with us.

  • Bullying fact sheet

    When kids face bullying, it may seem like they’re the only ones. But it’s a widespread problem. And kids who learn and think differently may be especially at risk. Get essential facts on bullying. Click on the download link above to print this one-page fact sheet.

  • 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.

  • Bullying laws: Your child’s rights at school

    It’s a sad fact that kids with learning and thinking differences are more likely to be bullied at school than other kids. And bullying can have a serious impact. It can damage everything from kids’ self-confidence to their academics. Fortunately, kids have legal protections that require schools to act when kids are bullied.Here’s a breakdown of how the law protects your child against bullying.State anti-bullying lawsIf your child is being bullied at school, the first line of defense is your state’s anti-bullying law. All 50 states have anti-bullying laws. These laws often have the strongest protections for students. And they can help put an immediate stop to the bullying.A typical state anti-bullying law requires a school to report, document and investigate bullying within a specific number of days. It also requires the school to take action to stop it. Many state laws list consequences for bullies. Some have a process for offering services like counseling to the victim and the bully.Laws can differ a lot from state to state. You can look up your state’s anti-bullying law on the government’s Stop Bullying website or through your state’s department of education.It’s also important to look at your school’s code of conduct and to read your school’s bullying policy. School anti-bullying policies round out the protections offered by state law.As you look at your state law (and school policy), here are important questions to ask:How does the law define bullying?Are there examples of bullying listed in the law?Does the law cover cyberbullying or bullying outside of school hours?How do you report bullying?Does the law require the school to report bullying?Is there a timeline for the school to investigate bullying?Is there a timeline for the school to take action to stop bullying?What penalties does the law have for bullies?What happens under the law if the school can’t or won’t stop the bullying?Does the law require the school to train its staff to stop and prevent bullying?What services are available if your child is bullied?Federal anti-bullying protectionsWhen it comes to bullying, state law typically has stricter timelines and protections than federal law. But federal laws offer specific protections that can benefit kids with learning and thinking differences:The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) guarantees kids with IEPs the right to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). IDEA requires a school to act if bullying interferes with a child’s FAPE.Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 also guarantees kids the right to FAPE. Kids with 504 plans are covered by Section 504. If bullying interferes with FAPE for a child with a 504 plan, the school must act.Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) both prohibit discrimination at school against kids with disabilities, which can include kids with learning and thinking differences. When kids are bullied because they have a disability, the school must act.The differences in how federal laws may protect your child can be confusing. It boils down to two key situations:Bullying that leads to a child being denied FAPE: If a child is bullied for any reason, and the bullying interferes with a child’s FAPE, the school must act. Kids with IEPs and 504 plans are covered.Bullying that’s based on a child’s disability: If the bullying causes a “hostile environment” — meaning the bullying is serious enough to cause the child not to participate in some aspect at school — the school must act. Any child with a disability is covered.Here are some example scenarios.Example of bullying that denies a child’s FAPE: A child with dyslexia has an IEP and receives specialized reading instruction. Other kids start making fun of him because his family is low-income. The bullying makes the child feel ashamed. As a result, he stops coming to school and doesn’t see the reading specialist. The child isn’t being bullied because of his dyslexia. But the bullying is interfering with his FAPE.How the school must respond: Once the school knows that bullying is impacting FAPE, they must take steps to stop the bullying. They must also take steps to prevent the bullying from happening again. The school must call an IEP meeting to talk about how the bullying has impacted his education. The team must discuss whether he needs additional services to remedy the bullying, like counseling. As a parent, you have the right to be at this meeting.The process is similar with a 504 plan. The school must determine how bullying has impacted the child’s education and consider whether more supports are needed.It’s important, however, to not just rely on the school. If you believe bullying is affecting your child’s education, ask for an IEP or 504 plan meeting.Example of bullying based on a child’s disability: A child with dyslexia doesn’t have any IEP or 504 plan. But when she reads aloud in class, she does so slowly and with difficulty. Other kids make fun of her for this and call her names. As a result, she becomes withdrawn and tries to avoid situations where she’s called on to read. This creates a “hostile environment” for the child at school.How the school must respond: Once school staff knows about the bullying, they must stop it and prevent it from happening again.In some cases, bullying based on a disability may also lead to a denial of FAPE. When that happens, the school must not only stop the bullying. It also has to call an IEP or 504 plan meeting to discuss how services have been impacted.(To see more examples and to learn more about federal law, see this PDF of bullying guidance from the U.S. Department of Education.)When bullying laws are trickyOn paper, laws against bullying are clear. In practice, though, they can be tricky.When schools have to investigate bullying is a tricky area. The law says that if the school knows about bullying, it must act. But what if there’s no formal complaint?According to federal and most state laws, if a school even suspects bullying, it must investigate. For instance, if a teacher sees kids making fun of another child because she can’t read, the teacher must report it. The school must look into the situation, even if the child hasn’t said anything.Another tricky area? What officially counts as bullying. Not all conflict is bullying. And there can be a difference between bullying and teasing. So how does a school decide if something is severe enough to count as bullying?In this case, a school should look at the definition and examples of bullying in its state anti-bullying law. In general, state laws have broad definitions that cover many kinds of unwanted, aggressive behavior. So you may disagree with the school about whether something is bullying. If that happens, let the school know in writing why you disagree.Federal law is narrower. There’s no black-and-white rule in federal law to decide whether bullying is serious enough to affect a child’s education.So schools are required to look at several factors, including:A decline in gradesEmotional outburstsBehavioral issuesSkipping services provided in an IEP or a 504 planSchool avoidanceAvoiding extracurricular activities that the child likesHow schools can stop and prevent bullyingWhat exactly is a school supposed to do to prevent or stop bullying? There’s no “one size fits all” or simple solution to stop and prevent bullying. But there are some best practices. These include:Disciplining kids who bully othersCounseling or providing other services for kids who bully othersHaving adult supervision, especially in common areas like hallways, cafeterias, and playgroundsProviding teacher and staff training on what bullying behavior looks like and how to respondProviding formalized and explicit instruction for students on what behaviors are expected at schoolOne approach that’s gaining popularity is called positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS). PBIS uses many of the best practices above. It focuses on explicit teaching of what good behavior is. This not only can reduce bullying, but also school suspensions.Keep in mind that stopping bullying can’t be at the expense of the victim. That means that if changes are made at school, the changes can’t burden the child who’s being bullied. For example, the school can’t move a bullied child into a more restrictive environment to limit contact with the bully.Sometimes bullies have disabilities, too. How does the school deal with this situation?If a child who bullies has a disability, the child may have legal protections against school discipline. This doesn’t excuse the school from stopping the bullying. But these protections are aimed at understanding why the behavior is happening and preventing it in the future.What to do if your child is bulliedIt can be hard to know what action to take if your child is bullied. How can you make sure that the school acts to protect your child?First, it’s crucial to document the bullying. Find out what happened, so you can see what laws might apply. It’s also important to make a complaint to the school in an email or letter. Stating in writing what you believe happened can help you protect your child’s rights.Documenting the impact on your child is also key. For instance, is your child reluctant to go to school because of the bullying? Does your child feel more emotional and less able to pay attention? Help the school understand how the bullying is affecting your child’s education, so it’s compelled to take action.Explore steps to take if you suspect bullying at school. And get tips on how to help kids defend themselves against bullies at school.

  • ADHD Aha!

    ADHD and bullying

    People with ADHD are more likely to be bullied than others. Laura and Dr. Andy Kahn discuss why, and they hear a few stories from former guests. Kids adults ADHD likely bullied peers. honor National Bullying Prevention Month October, we’re special episode shed light problem. Psychologist Understood expert Dr. Andy Kahn — ADHD himself — answers Laura’s questions ADHD bullying. behaviors make kids ADHD targets bullying? people ADHD likely bully others? it?You’ll also hear bullying stories number “ADHD Aha!” guests — you’ve heard previous episodes, haven’t.Related resourcesBullying learning differencesThe difference teasing bullyingWhat child bullyGet information transcriptPeach: bullied elementary school. always felt like something different me, felt like always much. like talking wrong time energetic. like lot. Laura: Understood Podcast Network, "ADHD Aha," podcast people share moment finally clicked someone know ADHD. name Laura Key. I'm editorial director Understood. someone who's ADHD "aha" moment, I'll host. Hi everyone. special episode today honor National Bullying Prevention Month, every October. think important topic one doesn't get enough attention comes connection ADHD. wanted dedicate entire episode ADHD bullying. lot guests, like Peach, heard top show, talked bullying podcast. You'll hear clips throughout episode "ADHD Aha!" guests. joining today talk ADHD bullying expert perspective Dr. Andy Kahn. Andy Understood expert learning psychology host Season 1 "Understood Explains" podcast, special education evaluation process. He's licensed psychologist who's practice 20 years. much time, worked school systems evaluations, consultation, supporting families kids learn think differently. Andy also ADHD. Bonus points show. Welcome, Andy. Andy: Thanks much me. Laura: Let's hop right in. Andy, kids ADHD likely bullied? Andy: Yeah. Kids ADHD tend targeted higher number neurotypical kids. certainly there's lot reasons could be. Kids ADHD commonly difficulty understanding interacting socially appropriate way. might always understand social rules enter social situation abruptly. things sort get people's attention way maybe isn't terribly positive social world. certain situations, pushed around, called names awfully easy kids looking sort grab power put somebody else down. always sort joke lots kids ADHD, including child, there's button middle chest. It's imaginary button, people get know us know push button sort wind us get us going. Whether it's talking something we're hyperfocused it's something know makes us really obsess. ways, there's unfortunately lot hooks kids ADHD get drawn bullying interaction. it's really challenging, there's enough things going young people ADHD try navigate world without singled treated, know, really unkind way. Laura: That's really interesting. That's interesting way talk it. first thing thought person ADHD said memories kid feeling like people didn't understand saying — people misrepresented mischaracterized something said. always tried really deliberate everything said, brain racing million miles hour. would almost script things would say head. folks misunderstood something said, would get really — like feathers would get super ruffled would replay conversation them. Like memorized replay them. would poke fun would kind start lose little bit. mean, sound familiar you? Andy: Without doubt. mean, without doubt. think thing is, certain things environments humans, people, triggering emotions sort charge up. someone ADHD, we're trying cope environment, we're trying navigate something may difficult us, become even difficult triggers really easy hit. somebody, know, makes fun you, somebody comes something know upsetting want see blow want see act out. certain kids pretty perceptive that. And, know, it's really difficult see coming. remember phrase — mom saying, "Why let sister push buttons?" always stayed mind someone pushes buttons. kids like me, kids like lot kids I've worked years, button big red, it's center chest it's visible anybody who's really looking paying attention wind up. think that's great target bullying behavior — really easily triggered way people see might even aware of. That's really sort trap folks ADHD. Laura: Let's talk button red bright easy spot. there's interesting information website talks kinds kids likely bullied. don't mention ADHD outright. first bullet that's listed kids perceived different peers, overweight underweight wearing glasses different clothing new school, kids perceived weak unable defend themselves. kids likely bullied. think much line lot kids ADHD. I'd love talk traits kids ADHD make susceptible bullying? Andy: know, think lot around tendencies. think kids think becoming part social group joining social world, skills development kids ADHD different. happen different pace kids don't ADHD. think commonly kids get around age of — think middle school perfect target age talk about. Kids really start appreciate cases reject differences people. see something that's like them, tend hold respond great force. think kids ADHD tend behave way that's like norm. talk word "norm." know, don't don't like word "normal" matter course. It's statistical word, right? think bell curve, normal something see falls right middle. talk norm, way kids tend behave certain phase lives, kids ADHD may fall outside that. it's starting noticed, makes really challenging ability things might come naturally neurotypical child — like enter conversation that's already going on? come try introduce try engage sort social interaction? first go-to behavior really silly really loud interrupt. it's malevolent. It's intended problem people. misses social connection. misses rule. think one challenges kids ADHD kids irritate one another. somebody little bit energetic top, irritate peers. let's go side equation. somebody little bit low-key little passive maybe inattentive really over-the-top behavior patterns, they're really struggling get nuances. may come really mousy, really lacking confidence. that's another really good marker for, oh, here's somebody power over. think bullying behaviors. think it's — trap often focus much kids stereotypical hyperactive ADHD, understand lot obvious things break group norms. often ignore kids inattentive type tend sit fringe, engage often make friends easily. behavior doesn't overtly affect people realm, may less likely singled picked teachers oh, need step help kid. peers, hand, especially peers eye power differentials, bullying behavior, see almost weaker animal fringe larger animal group, they're going go pick individual. it's little interesting kids little passive ADHD — I'm thinking inattentive ADHD — going still picked

  • Signs of bullying in kids with learning differences and ADHD

    It’s common for kids who learn and think differently to be bullied. Their differences can cause them to stand out, and make them targets. The signs of bullying aren’t always clear, though, and can look like other things. Here are some signs to look out for and to investigate when you see them. Physical symptomsYour child starts having frequent stomachaches or headaches. After clearing that this isn’t a health issue, pay attention to when these symptoms are happening. Is it in the morning before school or in the afternoon before sports practice? Does your child go to the nurse’s office complaining of symptoms during lunch every day? AngerAnger can show up in many ways. If your child is being bullied, that can trigger some anger. It can appear as acting out — in class and at home. Your child’s teacher may alert you to recent outbursts in class. Maybe your child is the bully themselves. Pay attention to this emotion and whether you see any patterns.Secretiveness If your child isn’t offering information as usual, or brushes past a question quickly, it’s worth paying attention to other things going on.For example, let’s say you notice some bruises on your child’s arm. When you ask what happened, your child says it was an accident. But a few days later, your child seems scared and asks to skip going on the class overnight trip. This situation is one that can appear as nothing if you’re not looking for the signs.Avoiding schoolKids may refuse to go to school when they’re being bullied. They might also avoid things associated with school, like homework. If they’re being teased at school for their academic performance, school can be an unpleasant place to be and bring down their self-esteem. Withdrawing from schoolKids may stop speaking or contributing in the classroom if they’re being bullied. They might want to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Or they may have internalized the negative things other kids say about them and feel as if they’re not “smart enough” to speak up.Withdrawing sociallyIf your child is suddenly uninterested in hanging out with friends or participating in activities that used to be fun, it’s worth checking up on. Maybe your child asks to quit soccer, even after they worked hard to make the team. When you ask why, your child looks down and shrugs, or says, “I just don’t like it anymore.” If you think your child is being bullied at school, learn about steps to take. Listen to an episode of ADHD Aha! on ADHD and bullying. Then check out a one-page fact sheet on bullying that you can share with others.

  • The Opportunity Gap

    How to get kids to talk about school

    Some kids don’t like to share information about their school day. Get tips on how to get them to open up and share. These tips and conversation starters can help your child to open up.Some kids love talking about school. But some don’t — especially when something is upsetting them, like bullying or struggling with a specific subject. If your child is a bit quiet about how things are going in school, there are ways to encourage them to open up more. In this episode, host Julian Saavedra explains: Ways to ask kids open-ended questionsHow to be vulnerable with kidsAnd why knowing when to stop asking questions can make all the differenceRelated resourcesHow to get your child to talk about schoolGet tips on how to respond when your child is frustrated about schoolEpisode 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 show, we're talking about ways to get your child to open up and talk about school. I'm a proud dad of two. I love my kids, and I love talking to them, whether it be at dinnertime, bedtime. Scratch that, any time of the day. It's really important to my wife and I, and I really like to know how are they feeling, what's going on in their head, how their day was just, what's going on with their life in general. A lot of times kids deal with so many different things on a daily basis, and especially at school, and so we want to know what's going on with it. When it comes to school, some kids love talking about it, but sometimes they don't want to say anything. It is straight crickets, especially if something is upsetting them, if they're dealing with bullying, if they're struggling in a specific subject matter. Sometimes it just goes quiet. The way that you can ask kids questions can really be the ultimate game changer. It can encourage them to talk more. And I want to share some tips that I found really helpful in the Saavedra household. First tip: Ask open-ended questions. Ask open-ended questions. This is like a teacher tip, a life tip, a conversation tip, and especially a parenting tip. If you ask a question that can be answered with one word — those yes or no questions — that's what you're going to get, a one-word answer. I know a lot of parents, the first question they say is, "Did you have a good day?" Listeners, I'm sure you've heard yourself say that to a child before. And I'm asking to tell you, don't do that. Don't qualify it. Because if you say, "Did you have a good day?" Then the child's going to feel like they need to respond by saying, "Yes, day was good." What if it wasn't good? Then what are they going to do? They're going to have to make something up. And so, keeping an open-ended and saying, "How is your day?," or "Tell me about your day." Or "Tell me a story about your day," or "Share some words that explain how your day was." And it leaves it open so that they can fill in the blanks with whatever they'd like. It doesn't qualify it, and it guarantees you're not getting a one-word answer. So, tip number one: Ask open-ended questions. Tip number two: Start with an observation. Kids often have such a hard time answering questions that kind of just seem to come out of the blue. A lot of times they'll hear all these different adults coming at them with questions, and they might think, "Where did this come from?" If you make an observation, it will give the child something to relate to. For example, you might mention something like, "Hey, I noticed that you have more kids in your class this year. What's that like for you?" Or "Wow, your bookbag is pretty heavy today. You have some extra stuff you got to do tonight?" Or "I noticed that a lot of the kids were really excited in the bus line. Tell me about that." There's so many different things that you can use to reference so that it really helps your child focus. And especially for our children with ADHD or learning and thinking differences, making sure that you give a very specific example — almost like a sentence starter — it helps them focus their energy and focus what they want to say into a very specific story. So, tip number two: Start with an observation. Tip number three: Be vulnerable too. That means you, too. When somebody tells you about themselves, it's natural to want to do that in return. Share something with your child and see what you get back. For example, if you're noticing that your child is having a lot of trouble with math and you can relate to that, share that. My son Abraham is in fourth grade right now, and I don't know about y'all, but fourth-grade math is a whole thing that is way different than it was when your host was in fourth grade. And I know a lot of parents out there are trying to learn math as we go, just like I am. And I'm an educator, and I still sometimes look at the homework or the assignments he's getting and I don't know what's going on. I have to ask him to explain it to me. And so, sometimes I'll sit with him and explain "Listen, Dad really struggles with understanding math. I barely made it through Algebra 1 in high school. And even when I went to college, I struggled to get through it. I had to do tutoring, I had to find friends to help me. It's something that I still get really worried about. And I have to evaluate teachers, so I go into math classes, and sometimes I even struggle to know what's going on. So, I have to teach myself and practice a whole bunch to figure it out. So, Abraham, can you help Dad with your math? Because I want to make sure that I'm helping you out. You can help me out. And that little trick of letting your child teach you what's happening, or their child seeing that you don't know everything. It can make all the difference. I'm going to tell you right now, Abraham absolutely loves when he gets the chance to tell Dad "This is how you do long division." "No, Dad, this is the remainder," and we work at it together. So, a lot of times when you have a personal story or a personal struggle with something that's similar to what your child is dealing with — especially when it comes to content — then that's a great way to be vulnerable. Sometimes you can also share experiences about your interactions with other kids. I know that a lot of kids, especially as they get older, there's some issues that happen between bullying or tough relationships with other kids in school. That's a great chance for you to be vulnerable too and share and be real. "Maybe I didn't have the greatest experience when I was in seventh grade either. Let me tell you what it was like for me."Now, I will say, this is not the chance for you to start lecturing your child. This is not the chance for you to say, "When I was your age, I did blah blah blah" because then it just becomes Charlie Brown "Wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah wah." Keep it short. Keep it sweet. Keep it focused, but allow your child to do the talking. The goal is for them to open up. It's not a therapy session for you. It's a chance for your child to open up about themselves. So, tip number three: Be vulnerable too. Tip number four: Avoid negative questions. Avoid negative questions. Now, what does that mean? Asking in a positive way lets your child express concerns. So, for example, you may mention "I heard that you sat with new people at lunch today. What did you talk about?" Not "Why did your seat get moved at lunch?" Or all the things that start with questions about why something isn't happening. Focus on what is happening. Asking questions that have a positive frame allows your child to fill in the blanks. Just like I was saying earlier, really thinking about the question you're asking to allow for them to fill in the blanks is the goal. Thinking about sentence starters — which we're going to get to in a moment — that can really help your child open up is the goal for this. Tip number five: And this might be the most important tip, and probably the hardest one for those of us that are parents, and especially those of us that are educators and love to hear ourselves talk, especially ones that are podcast hosts. Know when to call it quits. Tip number five: Know when to call it quits. It's really important to know when to stop asking questions and leave it for another time. That is incredibly important. That is key. If your kids don't want to talk about something right away, that's OK. They can always come back to you. Talk when they're ready. Doesn't have to be on your time. I'm sure all of us experienced times where we just don't feel like saying anything. We just want a break. We just went through an eight-hour day. We sat through classrooms. We had a whole bunch of stuff going on. We get in the car, we get off the bus, and maybe we just went five minutes to get our mind right. All we're thinking about is a snack, seeing our pets, and taking a breather. At least that's what my kids want to do. So, I try to keep it really short. I'm fortunate where I rush out of my own school, I go and pick my kids up. They hop in the back of the car. I have some music on in the background, usually like a different song every day. I ask them "Tell me about your day. Tell me something that was fun. Tell me something that is in concern." And that's it. It's three questions and we keep it moving. And if they don't feel like talking, they just say, "Dad, can we cut it for right now?" "Cool. No worries. Just listen to some music instead."And sure enough — maybe an hour later when we're doing homework or doing our chores or whatever — they might come over and start telling me some stuff, or they might go and whisper it to Mom because she is usually the one that they go to for everything. So, tip number five, the most important tip, know when to call it quits. All right, let's move on to some conversation starters. You know, for all of those that are trying to figure out like, what are some specific things that we can use? Now that I've given some tips on what to do and what not to do, I want to share some of these conversation starters or other examples of how to say things differently to get your child to open up. I have three really good ones. First, instead of asking, "Was school fun today?" Try, "What was the best thing you did today?" That's a great one, especially for those of us that have children with learning and thinking differences. This is a great way to focus their conversation on a specific topic. Here's a second conversation starter. Instead of asking, "Were the kids in your class friendly?" Try, "Who did you enjoy talking to the most? Who did you enjoy talking to the most?" And again, this gives a very specific person, and that's great information to get. Now you know, if the same child and the same child's name keeps coming up, well, maybe that's somebody that you need to set up a playdate for. Or maybe you need to dig deeper to figure out how can we connect my child with this kid? Conversation starter number three. Instead of asking, "Was your teacher nice?" Try this one. "What was the most interesting thing your teacher said today? So, let's run those back just so that we're really, really clear on these three great conversation starters. First one, "What was the best thing you did today?" Second, "Who did you like talking to the most?" Third, "What was the most interesting thing your teacher said today?" If you use all three of those, I guarantee your children are going to be speaking a lot more. Phrasing questions like this invites your kids to talk. And again, like we said earlier, sometimes kids — like adults, like me, like you, like everybody listening — we just don't feel like talking. Guess what? That's OK. It's all right. So, don't expect every single question to result in this long, detailed answer. The goal is really to have as many small conversations over time with your child. You're setting the foundation for how you all are going to interact forever. That's a really heavy lift. But remember, you have a lifetime and so you don't want to rush it. Take your time and focus on what's important for them. Try some of the conversation starters. Try some of the tips. See what happens. So before we go, I have some really wonderful resources from Understood to help share with you. First, Understood's article "How to get your child to talk about school." Also, get tips on "How to respond when your child is frustrated about school." Until next time listeners, I will talk to you soon. "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.

  • In It

    Coming soon: “In It” Season 4

    Get ready for more parenting stories and tips on Season 4 of In It! Listen to the trailer to find out what’s in store. Join us for Season 4 of In It, a podcast about the ins and outs — and ups and downs — of supporting kids who learn and think differently. This season, host Gretchen Vierstra will be joined by a new co-host, Rachel Bozek, a writer and editor raising two kids with ADHD. Gretchen and Rachel will bring you parenting stories, tips, and expert advice from people who are “in it.” They’ll talk about everyday challenges, bust myths about learning differences, and dive into tough topics like bullying.Season 4 starts Thursday, October 6. Subscribe now! Episode transcriptGretchen: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It," a podcast about the ins and outs... Rachel: ...and 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. Gretchen: So first off, a big welcome to my new co-host, Rachel. Rachel: Thank you. Gretchen: And we are so excited to let you know that Season 4 of "In It" is just around the corner. Like always, we'll be bringing you stories, advice... Rachel: ...and camaraderie. Gretchen: From people who are in it. Rachel: This season, we'll be talking to experts who can help us do some myth-busting around specific diagnoses like ADHD and dyslexia. Gretchen: And we'll be hearing from people who've had to help kids navigate some really tough things — like bullying or getting ready for adult life. Rachel: So, Gretchen, what are you excited to get into this season? Gretchen: I'm really excited to hear from our families out there, our "In It" community, because families have tricks and tips and things to share. And just hearing each other's stories really helps us feel not alone. What about you, Rachel? What are you excited about this season? Rachel: I'm excited to get into some of the things that I see come up in my own home and things that I've seen in homes of families that I know and people in our lives. And then also to get to know the "In It" community from this new seat that I'm in, which I'm really excited about. Gretchen: Season 4 starts soon. Follow it on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode. Rachel: And thanks for being in it with us.

  • The Opportunity Gap

    Black History Month: Celebrating Lois, Solange, and Octavia

    Learn about three pioneering Black women with disabilities — activist Lois Curtis, singer Solange Knowles, and author Octavia E. Butler. For Black History Month, we’re celebrating three Black women who have each been changemakers in their own way: Science-fiction author Octavia E. Butler, who had undiagnosed dyslexiaGrammy winner Solange Knowles, who has ADHDActivist Lois Curtis, whose Supreme Court victory was a landmark case in the disability rights movementLearn about these pioneering women from three friends of The Opportunity Gap. Each of these presenters has been on the podcast before and deserves to be celebrated for their own advocacy work: Poet LeDerick HorneCommunity organizer Atira RobersonBlack Boy Thrive founder Busola SakaRelated resourcesThe official site of Octavia E. ButlerOctavia E. Butler as an author of disability literatureSolange Knowles: Role model for African American performers with disabilitiesLois Curtis, whose lawsuit secured disability rights, dies at 55Episode transcriptJulian: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "The Opportunity Gap." 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.Julian: We have a very special episode of "The Opportunity Gap." Since it's Black History Month, we want to highlight some amazing Black women with different disabilities. Each of them has impacted the world in their own unique way, whether it's performing across the globe, writing futuristic science fiction stories, or fighting against injustice. The reason why we celebrate these Black pioneers is to remember all the contributions, sacrifices, and key roles that changed lives throughout history and today. We have to remember that we are standing on the shoulders of giants. We would not be here without the work of all of these pioneers. This podcast would not exist without the work that they've put in. And so, we want to give them their flowers today.In this episode, we're also going to pass the mic to some of our friends from the podcast. The people you're hearing today are disability activists in their own right and deserve to be celebrated for their work as well. First, I would like to introduce Busola Saka from Black Boy Thrive, a grassroots platform that is all about advocating for black boys who face discrimination in school. She understands this experience firsthand and is building a community with other parents facing the same challenges. Today we have Busola and her son Jimi, who just turned eight and who is the inspiration for Black Boy Thrive. They're going to tell us all about the phenomenal story of the late, great science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler. Take it away, Busola.Busola: Thanks, Julian. I'm so thrilled to share Octavia's story because I believe stories show us the lives of different people and exposes us to different ways of living and different challenges that people face. For example, I love to read. I'm an avid reader and I encourage my children to read as well. We spend a lot of our leisure time reading different books. Jimi, do you know what science fiction is?Jimi: Science with imagination.Busola: Science with imagination. That's right. Octavia was really good at it. She was one of the first Black people and one of the first women to write these kinds of books. And she had dyslexia. Here's her story. Octavia E. Butler was an award-winning science fiction author whose stories explore themes of global warming, injustice, women's rights, and is perhaps most well-known for writing characters of color into futuristic worlds where they have historically been excluded.Born in Pasadena, California, in 1947, Octavia was raised by her mother and grandmother as the civil rights movement was beginning to gain ground. Octavia was incredibly shy as a child, and despite great intelligence, she had a very hard time in school where she struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia and was bullied by other kids. Is bullying okay?Jimi: No, sirree.Busola: No, sirree. Octavia wrote in her personal diaries "When my dyslexia became a problem in school … my teachers told my mother that I was lazy and just not trying." She found her outlet through imagination and self-expression, writing short stories, reading, and spending as much time as she could at the public library. Octavia was determined to become a professional writer, but she struggled for decades to get her stories published in an industry where Black central characters, themes of political injustice, climate change, and women's rights weren't seen as commercially viable. To get by, Octavia worked odd jobs as a telemarketer, potato chip inspector, and dishwasher. Do you think it'd be fun to be a potato chip inspector?Jimi: Yes. Is Doritos potato chips?Busola: No, I don't think so. But if you were looking inspecting potato chips, what would you look for?Jimi: Ruffles.Busola: And you want to make sure that there's no burnt parts, right? So, that's what Octavia did. She inspected potato chips to make sure they were okay. While Octavia was working these kinds of odd jobs, she'd wake up at every day at 2 a.m. to write. Eventually, she published her first novel, "Pattern Maker," and expanded it into a five-part series. She went on to write popular novels such as "Kindred," "Blood Child," and many more, changing expectations about science fiction and paving the way for many other black authors in the genre. She received many awards for her books, one of them being the first-ever science fiction author to receive the MacArthur Genius grant.Octavia Butler passed away in 2006 and leaves behind a legacy of using literature to challenge racial stereotypes and white privilege. She once said in an interview to PBS, "Do the thing that you love, and do it as well as you possibly can and be persistent about it."Julian: Thank you so much, Jimi and Busola. I love the commentary about the potato chip inspecting. It definitely interested me too. I have to say, it makes me just so happy that we're highlighting Octavia. She had dyslexia, yet she was able to become an author. I also remember as a child, reading some of her books, like my mom was even into her books way back in the day. "Kindred" was something that was on our coffee table. And the fact that she was able to highlight all of these amazing Black characters in the science fiction genre is just a testament to the power of her creativity. So, shout out and flowers go to Octavia Butler.The next woman we want to highlight for Black History Month is Lois Curtis. And to tell her story, we have our good friend, LeDerick Horne. LeDerick is a poet, author, professional speaker, disability rights advocate, and special education consultant. Welcome, LeDerick.LeDerick: Hey Julian. I'm glad to be back on the show to shine a light on an incredible activist and to highlight the impact of an amazing woman. Lois Curtis was a visual artist and an advocate for disability rights. Her lawsuit against the state of Georgia fought to end the practice of segregating people with disabilities, and her Supreme Court victory stands as a major accomplishment of the disability rights movement. Lois grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, in the '70s. She was born with intellectual and developmental disabilities that her family were under-resourced to support on their own.As a child, Lois often wandered from home, and in an effort to get her daughter more care, her mother eventually called emergency services, which unfortunately led to her being institutionalized at the Georgia Regional Hospital starting at the age of 11. Her doctors said there was no reason for her to be there, but the state did not allocate any funding so she could live in her community. During the years she was living in the hospital, Lois experienced a low quality of life and was treated with psychiatric medication that kept her heavily sedated. A social worker introduced her to a lawyer at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. And Lois' first question for the lawyer was, "When am I getting out of here?"Through the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Lois found a way to fight for her right to live in her own community. In 1995, Lois filed a lawsuit against the state of Georgia, claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that services need to be provided in an integrated setting appropriate to the needs of the individual. The setting Lois was living in was not only degrading to her quality of life, it was a civil rights violation. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled in Lois' favor in 1999.Eventually, she was able to move into her own apartment with community support and focus on her art. Lois is best known for her portrait pieces. She even presented one of her self-portraits to President Barack Obama. Lois Curtis passed away in the fall of 2022 and leaves behind a profound legacy for all people with disabilities. Her legal victory ensures that regardless of state funding, people with disabilities cannot be unjustly segregated.One of the reasons why I love Lois Curtis's story is because she had a vision for her life that was so big, living in that hospital, there was really no path before her to be able to get her out and living in her community. But she held on to that vision and fought very hard with the support of allies to make that vision a reality. And I remember being in special ed as a teenager, coming up with this crazy idea that I was going to go to college someday, and I didn't see a path for it. No one had explained to me what transition services were, that there were supports for folks with learning disabilities on a college setting. But I held on to that dream, too.And so, I think that she's this incredible source of inspiration for all of us that have a vision for our own lives or for the future of our nation or the future of this world, that through fight and through collaboration, we can all work to make that vision a reality.Julian: Thank you so much, LeDerick. I remember a couple of weeks back where I read her obituary and it just sparked an idea that, you know, we need to put out the information about all of these amazing advocates that we don't really hear about or learn about as much. So, thank you so much, Lois, for all the work that you've done. And we hope that we've done you justice.Our last story is about someone who might not need an introduction, Solange Knowles, and to share her story, we have our good friend, Atira Roberson. Atira is a community organizer at the National Center for Learning Disabilities. She's worked with different organizations, including She's also been very open about her own learning and thinking differences. Okay, Atira. You got it.Atira: Hey, Julian. Thank you. Thank you so much for allowing me to come back on a special episode of "The Opportunity Gap." So, today I get the chance to read to you a little bit about Miss Solange Knowles. Solange Knowles is a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter who was born in 1986 in Houston, Texas. Solange was born into a family of musicians and became an artist in her own right from a very young age. At just 13 years old, Solange was performing as a backup dancer with Destiny's Child. And at 16, she was creating her own music and acting in both film and TV. It was Solange's Grammy-winning album, "A Seat at the Table," which solidified her status as an icon and champion of Black pride. This album spoke about empowerment, joy, self-love, trauma, and Black rage.What Solange means to me as an artist, she is not your typical run-of-the-mill R&B artist. One of my favorite songs from her is "Cranes in the Sky." She's absolutely amazing. I love her voice. It's different, her energy and everything. I love it so much.Many people don't know this, but Solange was diagnosed with ADHD. She didn't quite believe her diagnosis at first. Solange has said "I didn't believe the first doctor who told me. I had a whole theory that ADHD was just something they invented to make you pay for medicine. But then the second doctor told me I had it." Opening up about her ADHD has made Solange a role model to many people in the black community.So, when I think about what it means to me to know that Solange Knowles has ADHD, it makes me feel like, and furthermore confirms, that I am not alone in having someone, a celebrity at that who looks like me. A Black girl, hashtag Black girls have ADHD. You know, we're out there, we're thriving. We're not just surviving. Because if she can do it, you know, so can I, because someone out there, a little Black girl, a little Black boy, needs to see that this is what ADHD looks like. It looks like you. It looks like me and it looks like Solange Knowles. And you can not only have it, but you can have it and thrive. Having such a widely admired artist open up about being neurodiverse will lead to more acceptance and more encouragement for people to embrace their own differences.Busola: Don't touch my hair.Julian: Oh, Solange, Solange, Solange. Thank you so much for being an advocate for ADHD. Somebody like yourself who is able to come out and speak openly about ADHD and own who you are and how it impacts your abilities is such a testament to who you are as a person. And we appreciate it. Atira, thank you so much. Thank you to all of our guests for joining us for this special episode.All of our guests today have appeared on prior episodes of the show. If you want to find out more information about them, please check out our show notes.I want to leave you with a quote from Octavia E. Butler and to help me out with this, I'm going to pass the mic back to our youngest guest, Jimi.Jimi: All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you. Our only lasting truth is change. Happy Black History Month.Julian: You've been listening to "The Opportunity Gap" from the Understood Podcast Network. This show is for you. So we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Is there a topic you'd like us to cover? We want to hear from you. Email us at 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 is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at"The Opportunity Gap" is produced by Julie Rawe, edited by Cin Pim. 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. Thanks for listening and see you next time. 

  • The difference between teasing and bullying

    There’s a lot of information available today about bullying — and more awareness than ever of the problem. We know bullying often happens online. We also know that bullying can be verbal as well as physical. But where does teasing fit into the picture? Is it bullying?The short answer: It’s complicated. Sometimes teasing is harmless and playful. Other times it can be used to hurt others. And even playful teasing can hit raw nerves or be misinterpreted, especially when kids struggle with social skills. Here’s what you need to know about the difference between teasing and bullying, and how to help kids navigate these tricky social waters.Teasing is a type of communicationGood-natured teasing is a way for people to communicate with each other. It’s a social exchange. Many kids tease each other to bond or form relationships. When the best kid on a basketball team misses a dunk, and a teammate says, “Hey, Magic, nice shot,” they can both laugh it off. The teasing shows each other they can joke around and still be friends. Done in the right spirit, this banter can be positive. When kids tease each other about clothes, musical tastes, or behavior, it helps them learn to deal with constructive criticism. It’s part of how they relate.Kids also use teasing to influence each other, and change behavior for the better. If a teen keeps staring at a boy she likes at lunch, her friends might say, “Seriously, are you looking at Kevin again? Just talk to him already!” This teasing teaches a social rule (don’t stare too much) and encourages her to act in an appropriate way. But teasing can also be used to communicate the negative. It’s often used to establish “top dog” among kids. For example, a group of girls might tease one in the group about her weight. Or kids might tease to encourage bad behavior: “What a little wimp, Sam, you won’t even try the cigarette.” Also, what’s playful to one child may not feel playful to another. In those cases, teasing can lead to hurt feelings. With these negatives, why not discourage teasing completely? Like any communication, teasing has its purpose. Some topics that are awkward to raise in serious conversation are easier to raise through teasing. Teasing can also be fun. Think, for example, of the back-and-forth banter that happens in any romantic comedy.Bullying is meant to hurtVerbal bullying is different from teasing. It’s not done to make friends, or to relate to someone. Just the opposite: The goal is to embarrass the victim and make the bully look better and stronger. The tricky thing is that bullying may start out as teasing. But when it’s done over and over and is meant to be hurtful or threatening, it becomes bullying.Verbal bullying includes calling a victim names, taunting, and sexual harassment. It can happen in person, through texting, and online through social media and email.Bullying also involves an imbalance of power. Bullying victims usually don’t provoke it. Rather, kids may not be able to defend themselves because of their physical size, or because of their social position in school or in a group. And if a victim gets upset, bullies typically don’t stop. The bullying may even get worse.Unlike kids who are being bullied, kids who are being teased can influence whether it continues or ends. If they get upset, the teaser usually stops. Teasing and kids who struggle sociallyTeasing can be hard to understand for kids who struggle with conversation or reading social cues. One big challenge is knowing how to respond. Some kids can’t yet tell if someone is teasing them in a good-natured way, or trying to bully them. This can be confusing. It can lead kids to say or do inappropriate things. Many kids also have trouble making friends. This can lead them to put up with teasing that hurts because they want to remain part of a group or be liked. Sometimes, kids who are trying to tease end up bullying. For example, a child may say something mean-spirited to another, thinking it’s playful. This can lead to an argument. Or a child may react angrily to a comment that’s friendly, which may cause other kids to keep their distance. To address these struggles, it’s important to teach kids about the rules of conversation. Help kids sort out when teasing is OK and when it becomes hurtful or borders on bullying. One way to do this is by role-playing with them. This lets kids practice a situation where they get teased, don’t like it, and need to respond. Questions to ask kids about teasing Maybe you’ve heard that kids are teasing your child or your student at school. You can ask a few questions to see whether it’s good-natured or harmful:Are the kids who tease you your friends? Do you like it when they tease you?Do you tease them back?If you told them to stop teasing, would they?If you told them that they hurt your feelings, would they say they were sorry?If the answer to any of these questions is “no” or “I don’t know,” then it may be a case of negative teasing or even bullying. It’s important to find out more.Find out how to teach kids to defend against bullying. And learn what steps to take if a child is being bullied at school.

  • The Opportunity Gap

    Simone Biles and why role models are hard to find

    She’s an Olympic champion, a Black woman, and an advocate for people with ADHD. So why don’t more kids of color know about Simone Biles? Simone Biles is the most decorated female gymnast in history. She’s also a Black woman and an advocate for people with ADHD. So why don’t more students of color know her story? Hosts Julian Saavedra and Marissa Wallace explore what being a role model means and why some stories rise up more than others. They talk about how shame and stigma prevent more people of color from talking about their challenges. The hosts also share thoughts on how parents and schools can help kids who learn and think differently find role models to look up to.Related resourcesRead what Simone Biles tweeted about ADHD.Check out Tupac Shakur’s poem, “The Rose That Grew From Concrete.”Watch videos about athletes who learn and think differently, like Olympian Michelle Carter and NFL player Lawrence Guy.Get tips on finding mentors for kids with learning and thinking differences. Episode 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. In this episode, we're talking about Simone Biles and positive role models for kids of color who learn and think differently. Marissa, what up? How's your week? Marissa: Well, it's funny. I was actually able to walk Lincoln home from school today, and I told him that I'm going to talk to Uncle Julian tonight. He's like "Uncle Julian?" I'm like, "Yeah, remember him from Philadelphia? Uncle Julian?"Julian: Well tell the little guy I said hello. And my children both say hi to everybody. I'm really excited about this episode today because we're talking about a topic that I think is near and dear to both of us: the idea of role models and the idea of really lifting folks that our students and even us can be looking up to.So I'm excited because our producer, our amazing, intelligent, and stupendous producer who has a wealth of knowledge, Andrew Lee, he is going to share some research that he was able to do on Simone Biles to start off the show. So Andrew, tell us a little bit about Simone Biles, please. Andrew: Julian, you're like way too kind. But thank you for that intro. You know, when you gave me this assignment, I was thinking about Simone Biles, the gymnast, and I knew a little bit about that, about her Olympic background. And yes, she is considered the most accomplished female gymnast in the history of the sport, 32 Olympic and world championship medals. She has got like four moves named after her. What I found out when I did a little bit of research is that Simone is so much more than just a gymnast.In 2016, she started to really open up about her learning and thinking differences. That year I was reading that hackers published some of her medical records about ADHD. And she responded to them and she said, you know, having ADHD and taking medication for it is nothing that she was afraid to let people know. So now, you know, as I read some of the news articles about her, it really seems like she's charting this new course as an advocate for mental health.And this last summer Olympics, there was quite a few news articles about how she took a stand for mental health by withdrawing from competition. And this September, she actually testified in Congress about the abuses that she and other gymnasts experience in U.S. gymnastics. So, sometimes when you hear about like a famous sports star or, you know, a famous personality, you just think about their big accomplishments. And one of the things that I've found out is that she actually had quite a bit of trauma in her childhood, you know, as a foster child, that was a part of her experience. And also she faced a lot of bullying. It was just interesting to hear that beyond the sort of the medals and the jumps and the moves, there's so much more to her. So that was really interesting, Julian. Julian: There's just so many things we can say about Simone. And I think about the idea of a rose growing out of concrete, right? Where she has so many things that were struggles, but out of those struggles came this beautiful person that even now continues to deal with struggles.Yet she brings out the best in a lot of people around her. You know, I think that her story is really a great starting point to dive in, to talking about role models and kind of making sure that we give, give the flowers now while we can, that Simone is somebody that is with us presently and she's somebody that deserves our respect and admiration.So Marissa, tell me about your thoughts on Simone. What do you think? Marissa: Yeah. Well, first I appreciate your use of figurative language and just how you describe and talking about the rose from the crack, giving a shout-out to Tupac there. So I feel like I already know, I feel like you're already setting the stage for who she is, which is obviously so much more than a gymnast and knowing her experiences.And I do think that, this past summer, just how much she was in the news. And of course there's always two sides to every story and everyone has their opinion with Simone, but I don't think any of that takes away from her accomplishments. And I don't think any of that should take away from what she did overcome to get to the point where she's at.And I feel like that's the trajectory and that's kind of like the journey of a lot of role models. It's not just them evolving into those positions without having a life history — experiences that make them who they are. And I think that's an important piece of the conversation that I hope we can get into today. When we talk about our students, and we talk about those who face trauma, who face learning and thinking differences and might oftentimes feel alone or feel like they aren't going to be able to achieve because of that.Julian: Like the fact that she was able to talk openly at one of the highest, most important parts of her career. And she had the wherewithal to prioritize her mental health and then continue to openly discuss how she is somebody who lives with learning and thinking differences. I mean, talk about courage and really doing things for the greater good. Why is it so important to have folks out there doing this? Is it going to make an impact?Marissa: Yeah, I definitely think it helps when you have these people that are in these positions where we look up to them, but we don't always know how they got to that point. But I also think that there's a lot that is left hidden. And so if that part of who they are is hidden, it doesn't have that relatability. And I think that's the piece that makes role models, especially role models for some of our students who have thinking and learning differences, that missing piece is like, oh, well that person has achieved greatness, but they don't understand because they haven't struggled in school. or they haven't struggled with academics or behaviors like I have.So therefore, like they made it to that point because they don't have this, you know. They probably don't know Michael Jordan — he is an individual who has some learning differences and he has ADHD. And there's other athletes out there that have later on come out and expressed some of their challenges that they overcame to get to the place where they're at now.Julian: I'm going to something that you may disagree with, but I would venture to think that Simone's story is not as prevalent in our schools as it should be. And I would even guess that her role as a role model, even though like we, as adults are talking about her a lot, I don't feel like I hear my students talking about her unless we bring it up.Marissa: I agree. Julian: Unless it's something that is really made popular by social media or something to that effect. And I wonder why is her story not elevated everywhere and popularized everywhere.Marissa: It's surprising sometimes to hear who students do consider their role models, like who they are looking up to, especially for my middle school kids. So I work with primarily eighth graders. So a lot of our conversation is getting ready for high school. And then talking about what life after high school is going to look like and explaining that success can look like many different things. And when they're sharing their role models, the majority of them are social media personalities, not even like athletes anymore.Like I feel like it's veered away from me hearing about like, oh, you know, I want to be like this football player, this basketball player. And a lot of it, I've really heard, is people from TikTok or like a YouTube. That's what I'm getting a lot of when I ask students who their positive role models are. And I think it's really telling for the time, and it's hard cause sometimes I'm like, I don't even know who that is. But like, I don't think there is a lot of conversation, in my experience over the last year or two, that really talks about Simone or talks about people like her, who have these really important stories and really important messages to provide our students with.And now you're at the high school level. So I'm curious as to what you're hearing, as far as who they talk about these days.Julian: Yeah, I mean, social media folks that are in that vein, the Real Housewives still get a lot of, they still get a little bit of love, but it makes me think about what are we doing to elevate and — I wouldn't want to say commercialize — but what are we doing to like get people that we would consider positive role models like in front of kids?Marissa: They're there though, right? These role models are there and they're there for all of our students — for our students of color, for students with learning and thinking differences. And they are relatable. I think it's like you said, it's just a matter of what is in their direct line. Right? And what are they spending their time on? I would even venture to say that a lot of students were either uninvested in the Olympics and therefore, if they're not even watching the Olympics, they might not even know who Simone Biles is. So I think it's a charge for us to incorporate that.Julian: Yeah, I was about to say, I'm going to challenge you. I'm going to challenge you. You need to make sure that in your classes next week, you put Simone on blast and make sure that they know. I'm going to do the same at school. I'm going to make sure that we put Simone's name out there, get her story out there more.Marissa: It's more than just Simone though, right? Like I'm glad she's like our starting point for this conversation. But I think too, like I say, you got to go back to that relatability. Because for some of my students, Simone's not going to be the person they relate to. However, they might relate, or they might want to know about the fact that, you know, Will Smith as an adult has been identified with ADHD. right? So like here he is, he is already this famous person. He already is this personality. And then through his adult life, he has been challenged with making sure that he is not being seen by his label, right? Which happens a lot of times, if they're not used the right way, then they create this stigma. So I think it's a matter of how do we bring these stories to life? How do we find the relatable person, right? Or multiple people — more than one person to kind of be like, look, here's a list of individuals that you probably have seen in movies on the screen in some capacity. And do you know who they are? Do you know their story? Do you know what they've overcome? So they've done it, like you can too.Julian: But then I guess the flip side is, both of us are making pretty big assumptions right now. And I say that because right now we're both talking about famous people or people in the public eye that can be considered role models. And we need to put them in front of our students and make sure that they have these people, but we're assuming that the people in their lives aren't already doing that. Or that they don't already have people they consider role models and we just don't know about it.Marissa: Right. I'm glad you brought that up because as I was putting all these people on pedestals, all these famous people, there was like this nagging in my head that's like, well, wait a second. Role models don't always have to be people on television or in social media, right? Like role models or the people that you interact with on a day-to-day basis. And I think that is something to speak about and you're right. We made a ton of assumptions. However, my push to that is while we're making a ton of assumptions, I'm also pushing that I do feel because I've asked this, especially in my role as an eighth-grade teacher, I ask a lot about high school and afterwards, and I'm sad to say that there are very few students that do share that their role model or someone that they look up to even in the simplest forms is like a family member, a neighbor, a teacher, like I'm not getting that much of that information. And I don't think it's happening enough at school either, right?Julian: Like the idea of role models in general.Marissa: Right. And diverse role models. I think that's the piece of it too. Julian: I do think everybody has a role model. Everybody has somebody that they're looking at. It's just whether they acknowledge it or not, whether they actually take the time to sit back and think, do I have people that I'm looking at and watching them move? And I do think there's an opportunity. Small plug for the podcast, closing the gap on opportunity. But there's an opportunity for us to really elevate people who do have learning and thinking differences, but are in everyday life. Imagine the power of some of our top athletes that also receive special education services. If they came out and just said it. Imagine some of the teachers that are coaches or everyday people that just come out and say, listen, I have different struggles, too. Mental health is a thing. It's OK. It's OK to be you. And going back to that relatability piece, I mean, that's really where it falls.Marissa: Right. And it starts with us, like you said, there's just these moments where it's, oh my gosh, wait, what role have I personally played in this or not played? As a hearing-impaired individual, I could have been someone who shared my story and I didn't. I always took it upon myself to just handle it. Like this was my disability. This was my issue. And I never expected others to like, I don't know, to like, be part of the process. And I think I missed an opportunity to close the gap. Julian: Do you share that with your students now? Like if I asked your students, do you know that Mrs. Wallace has the hearing impairment? Would they know?Marissa: Some of them, yes. I feel like it all kind of came together and I had the epiphany when we went virtual, going back to in person. And so I was teaching undergraduates at the time. And going back to teaching in person during the pandemic obviously would mean that we would all be wearing masks. And so having that conversation that I felt that it would hinder my class because I read lips. So if my students are sharing things with me and I can't read their lips, like just how that would change the dynamic of my class. And so I had to have lots of real conversations, so I think it started there. And now it's kind of seeped into the students that I work with in middle school, where I am trying to be more open about who I am and the things I've had challenges with. I feel like I didn't really have to think too much about my hearing impairment until the pandemic and until they took away one of my accommodations. And so I have to think about it. Julian: I appreciate that you were able to open up like that and be honest. We can't talk about things if we're not living it ourselves. Like how do we find a way to get rid of that stigma a little bit, and to let people be open with the fact that we're all kind of in the mix? Like everybody, everybody has something going on, but especially it's, it's very much just out there for those with learning and thinking differences a lot harder to get people to be open about that. Or maybe not, maybe it's changed. Marissa: I think it is changing. And I think that is something that lends itself to this conversation and something that hopefully we'll also allow not only for our students, but for just individuals in general, to feel more comfortable sharing and discussing what they've experienced. Because like you said, it knows no race, it knows no class, right? Like mental health is there. And it's not specific to one type of individual.Julian: I gotta be honest, though. And, and really keep it as real as can be. There's definitely still a stigma for men, and specifically Black men, to admit that mental health struggles are a thing. And to admit that learning and thinking differences are a thing. I mean, that's a fact. I can say from anecdotal evidence, from my role as an educator, within my own life experience, just society in general has trained us to put up the facade that we can deal with anything. Admitting struggles is a sign of weakness.And if we show any sign of weakness, then that gives somebody else a chance to take advantage of us. I'm even starting to see a little bit of that just in the way that I watch my son and his friends play, right? I'm sure you're going to start seeing that with your son. And even at that young age, there's already a societal push for our boys to start hardening themselves a little bit and to present a face to the world that is one of strength and one of not having to deal with problems or issues that we're celebrating Simone for saying. But I wonder like how many of our men might've come out and said the same thing. And there have been, there's been some, but it's few and far between. Where do we go with that? How do we go in a place where we start to unpack all of the societal pressures on our boys, especially our Black boys, by just getting them to get to a place where they admit that mental health is a thing. And we need to talk about this. And if we're having learning and thinking differences, it's OK. Marissa: That's the question. You just posed the biggest issue as to why I think sometimes these natural role models don't become as obvious for our students or don't exist in the way that our students need them to exist, right? Because they're not sharing some of these stories or there is, like you said, that stigma or the societal reasons that we do put on especially our Black and brown boys to not discuss it or not talk about it.And I think it's important that we start to have the conversation about what are some actual, instead of just kind of talking around it or talking through it. What are some tangible things that we can discuss to start to close this idea or to change this idea, to transform this idea, right? That there has to be the stereotypical way that we see learning and thinking differences. That's a mindset shift.Julian: You know, as a white woman, do you feel like there's more role models that have expressed their issues or the idea of having learning and thinking differences? Like making it OK? Is that more prevalent in white society than in marginalized communities or not? I'm actually just curious. What's your experience? Marissa: I'm really thinking about it. And I think we have to highlight the learning and thinking differences. As much as I know, I kind of like was putting down social media and stuff before, you know, I do have those influencers that I follow and those people that give me some inspiration and share their stories. Honestly, I cannot think of a single person at all, white or Black, that speak on learning and thinking differences. I'm stumped by this and that's jarring. Like I'm sitting here and I'm like, wait, what? And like, even now as an adult and someone who's been in the field of education and special education for almost two decades, I don't have a single person that I could say would be like a role model that shares or talks about learning and thinking differences. So what does that say?Julian: That's something for just our listeners to really be thinking about. Think back to your own childhood experience, your own educational experience. Were there people who you would consider role models who actually embraced differences if they had any? I mean, I know that the time that we're in now is vastly different than when we were coming up. But, you know, just the fact that we're discussing learning and thinking differences in a public space is way different than it was when we were kids, right? And I wonder just in terms of the next steps. I don't know if I know exactly what to do next. I do think that there are role models that are people like Simone. People who do have a public platform to discuss and really be out there with their learning and thinking differences and how they live with it. I wonder how can we get more of our kids — our own children and our students — to be open about talking about learning and thinking differences and not attaching a negative connotation to it. Just saying what it is. It just is. ADHD. It just is.Marissa: I think one tangible step is we have to create space now that we're more comfortable and that we identify that everybody does learn differently and that's OK. I think we motivate people to share their stories, because storytelling and sharing experience is known to be one of the best ways to create those bonds and relationships. And we know that students are going to achieve more when they feel safe and when they have those relationships with others.Julian: Problem solved. We figured it out. Tie with a bow. Marissa: This is one piece. Julian: I appreciate the fact that we're searching for some ways to encourage our schools, to encourage our parents at home, to make sure that you find a way to incorporate conversation around learning and thinking differences in your everyday lives and to seek out role models, whether they be famous people or people that are in the public eye or whether they be family members. Maybe you have an aunt, maybe your kids have a cousin or a friend or somebody they look up to — a coach that is willing to talk about their own struggles or their own triumphs, right? So again, I'm going to go back to the challenge of one, make sure that you're sharing Simone Biles' story, and two, share more about your own story, as much as you can. Marissa, it's been a great conversation today. I appreciate it. Marissa: I appreciate it, Julian. And this is definitely one that I think not only are we pushing for our audience to really think things through, but I think it's leaving both of us with some thoughts and next steps as well. And that's what this is all about.Julian: Thank you so much for joining us. I hope that as you're thinking about your next steps, think about what you're going to do tomorrow. What conversation can you have related to learning and thinking differences? Do your own kids know about Simone Biles? Do my own kids know about Simone Biles? My daughter does, but I need to make sure my son and daughter do. And find ways to uplift positivity. Thank you so much. We'll be back very soon.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.

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    From rebellion to biomedical research: Working in a lab with ADHD and dyslexia

    Jacquelyn Spathies faced hardships growing up with ADHD and dyslexia. One teacher saw her potential, and now Jacquelyn works in a federal research lab. Growing up with ADHD and dyslexia, Jacquelyn Spathies didn’t picture herself one day working on a doctorate in biomedical studies. Teachers told her she wasn’t trying hard enough and discouraged her from dreaming big. Kids bullied her about her school supports. Like lots of kids with dyslexia, she felt like an outsider, and she found acceptance in a rebellious crowd. Then Jacquelyn went to community college, where she found encouragement from the right teacher. She discovered her love for research and science. Now Jacquelyn works in a federal lab, where she researches topics from coronavirus to eczema. Tune in to hear Jacquelyn talk about self-advocacy in the workplace, and how “othering” it can be to grow up with a learning difference.Related resourcesVideo: Being a scientist with dyslexia Work advocacy 101: Asking your boss for what you need to thriveVideo: A Harvard graduate on growing up with dyslexiaEpisode transcriptJacquelyn: I think in college, I just kind of suppressed it and was like, I'm fine, I can do this. I'm passing my tests just fine. And then when I graduated and I started my job, my work actually offered a class on like diversity and inclusion. And one of the things they talked about was learning differences. And it was actually in that class that I realized, oh my gosh, like, that's me.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.When the pandemic first hit, my next guest was working in a federal lab, helping other scientists learn more about the virus spreading across the globe. Jacquelyn Spathies didn't grow up dreaming of a career as a scientist in a white lab coat. In fact, as a teen with ADHD and dyslexia, she was rebellious and didn't always feel confident in school. It wasn't until college that she found her calling in research and biology. That passion has led her to research topics from coronavirus to eczema. She's now on her way to receive a doctorate in biomedical studies from Vanderbilt University. Welcome to the show, Jacquelyn.Jacquelyn: Thank you so much for having me.Eleni: So let's start from the very beginning. What was it like, you know, growing up with ADHD and dyslexia? How did you feel about it?Jacquelyn: As far back as I can remember — right? — which is when I'm in elementary school and, as any mother is very concerned for their kids and wants them to have equal opportunities as their peers, my mom, you know, was very concerned and wanted to make sure I got the treatment or the diagnosis that I needed. And so growing up, she definitely sent me to certain classes and made sure I had my IEP and medication for ADHD and things like that, and just like assisted time on tests and whatnot and so forth. And so that was kind of like me and my sister were both raised that way. In high school, I kind of goofed around and didn't really focus as much. But once I was in college, that's when I started to really take ownership over my work and kind of found that study habits that worked for me, and just communicating with my professors and letting them know. One of the nice things about going to community college was that I had a small classroom size, so I could have that one-on-one kind of intimacy with my professors to just let them know like, "Hey, I'll probably be the last one taking this exam," like blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And they're normally very understanding and they'll work with you because again, they can in that kind of setting. And so that was kind of how I entered college. It wasn't really until then that I started to develop more of an interest in school and STEM specifically.Eleni: The reason I asked how you felt about it is in our research we talk to, you know, a lot of kids that feel like really different at school, and they don't necessarily understand why. And it sounds like you got a lot of support. But, you know, we often hear from people that they still feel really like alone in their experience. And they look for, you know, a community to belong to and like feel normal and things like that. So even though you were getting that support, were you out about it? Like, did you talk about it? Did you feel any shame around it or like were you proud of like, you know, thinking differently? And how did that kind of show up for you?Jacquelyn: I wish I took pride in it, but I definitely didn't. I think especially when you're younger, you don't really think about it and you just feel embarrassed. Like you're automatically the "other" because you have to get up and you have to leave the classroom, right? And the teachers like, OK, everyone who you know, you know who you are. Go ahead, go take the test. And so we all get up and everyone kind of knows. I remember one time being at the local gas station and I was like buying gum, and I was like, I have $5 and I can buy this many packs of gum. I was like doing the math. And these kids, these boys who I went to school with saw me, and they were like, "How do you know how much to buy?" Like, "You can't do math," like making fun of me because they knew I was, you know, like getting my tests read to me and things like that. So again, like, oh, like they notice when I get up and walk away and that's, that's bullying, right? Like, that's proof. And, and so of course, I remember those little moments and yeah, it is embarrassing.Eleni: I really appreciate you sharing that because, you know, we often hear that being bullied or, you know, feeling "othered" or different and feeling rejected like kind of builds upon itself. And, you know, people end up rejecting school or whatever other system they feel contributes to that otherness. You talked about how you kind of goofed off in high school. Do you think that there was a link there?Jacquelyn: Yeah, I kind of have an interesting story for that, actually. So it was around the time I was applying to graduate school, which was this past October. And there was a lot going on just in my life in general, right? Trying to balance work and applying to school and just, you know, social life and relationships. There was a lot going on, and I had to go through a government clearance for my job. And I ended up getting the phone call for the government clearance like around that time. And they found some stuff on my record that like I didn't report because to be completely honest, I didn't remember and thought it was important to report. So anyway, now I'm going through and I'm having to like relive these, like, you know, these mistakes and these rebellious, this rebellious stage I had in my youth. And he's asking me questions like, why did you do this? Blah, blah, blah. And I'm like, oh my gosh. Like, this is not what I should be going through. Because now I'm thinking about this part in my life and oh, you know, I'm a terrible — I'm not going to be a doctor, like blah, blah, blah. I'm not worth it. So of course it kind of brings me down. And I mean, it was it was a lot. It was really hard. I thought I was going to get like fired from my job, like, this is going to ruin my career.And I went home and I just started researching ADHD and dyslexia, and kind of trying to see like how it had affected me. And I came across some blog posts. People are talking about how like they kind of associate with delinquents because at least there they're accepted. And I'm reading all of these things and I'm thinking, oh my God, that was me. That was me. I can definitely relate to a lot of that because it's true. I was very rebellious, right? The bar was set really low. I felt like I couldn't accomplish much. I didn't receive that motivation, I guess, or at least that's how I viewed it.And so, you know, looking at the rebellious kids, it was like, OK, well, at least I fit in here. They accept me. They're kind of the outcasts, right? And just kind of like realizing that and associating it with, oh, my gosh, like, it's not my fault. I have accomplished so much and I've kind of overcome that and reflecting and journaling and thinking about these things. And I got the government clearance — surprise! I didn't get fired from my job. It was fine. But of course I was worried, and that was what kind of got me spiraling down that path. But it ended up leading to my ability to forgive myself. You know, I've apologized to my parents because I definitely gave them a run for their money growing up. But it really made me realize, like, OK, like I'm not alone, I'm not the only one. And that I have really grown from it and kind of come out on top. And that's not who I am anymore. And I'm proud to say that, you know, if I can do it, I think anyone can, you know?Eleni: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, it's really interesting to think about that impact, as you said, of like feeling othered, feeling different, being bullied. And then, you know, like everybody is looking for like friends and a community and people they can connect with. So like sometimes it's not, you know, necessarily on like positive terms, right? Like it's just, you know, we just like especially as teens.Jacquelyn: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And I think for me, it was like, you know, those parent-teacher conferences where you meet with your parents and the teacher is like, "Oh yeah, Jacquelyn's, you know, she's a good student, but maybe if she just tried a little harder." Or, you know, things like that, it was, it was never very, like, motivating.Eleni: Yeah, I can totally see why it's not motivating if, you know, at the parent-teacher conferences saying, oh like "If only she tried harder," and you're already thinking that like I'm trying so hard I'm actually trying more. We often hear like people feel like they're trying harder for less of a result, which is like really tough. You said that, you know, it wasn't really until you got to college that you started to show some interest in STEM. You know, one thing we hear is sometimes it really only takes like one mentor or one champion to, like, make a big difference, to provide either, like aspiration or encouragement or confidence. Do you want to talk about what that moment was for you and how that influenced your path?Jacquelyn: Yeah. Yeah. And I definitely also believe that because again, I think being othered and kind of carrying that like burden of shame is a huge kind of burden to carry. And it's true, I think the one mentor who kind of sees potential in you is really all it takes. And I definitely can remember my Intro to Biology professor at community college was like, you know, the one person who I really wanted to make proud. Like I would, you know, go to his office hours and just eat lunch and we would just talk, right? Like he would motivate me. And he was so impressed by some of the things I would say. And so I wanted to get an A just to impress him, you know what I mean? And I ended up really falling in love with biology. And, you know, I still keep in contact with him to this day. And again, community college means when I go home, I get to see him. So I kind of visit him every so often. And he's still a huge motivator in my life and I give a lot of thanks to him. And it is kind of crazy because that was really all it took, right? You know, my mom, my dad, didn't matter if they wanted it. It mattered if I put in the effort and wanted it. And it was, you know, the right time for me to meet him, you know, the right person, the right circumstances. I was in the right mindset, and I think it really kind of worked out well.Eleni: Yeah. Talk to us a little bit more about like how you went from that first like intro biology class at community college to, you know, where you are now.Jacquelyn: I knew I wanted to do science. I'm not quite sure why. I was just like, science is exciting. It's interesting. That's what I want to do. So I was taking a bunch of science classes, and that's when I met my biology professor and that's when I decided, OK, this is what I'm going to do. And then I determined, you know, I'm thinking, OK, do I want to be a nurse? Do I want to be like a doctor? You're kind of surrounded by a bunch of people in scrubs and and you're thinking more clinical stuff. And then I realized that I don't really want to work with patients. I think I want to do, like, lab work, more like behind the scenes kind of stuff. And I remember telling him that, like, I think I want to do research. And he was like, "If you really want to do research, you have to get your PhD." Looking back, it really was like that moment from there on, every class I took, every job I took was to kind of beef up my resume, so that way I could apply and get into PhD school.And so from there, I then went away to university. I went to a local state school in Illinois called Eastern Illinois University. I was able to do research in a professor's lab in neurobiology. And so I gained some lab experience. And then I then graduated in December 2019. And so lockdown kind of started. And again, I just graduated with this degree that was very applicable to kind of what was going on. And so I was thinking, OK, well, how can I use my talent and my degree to kind of aid in this global pandemic? And then I moved out to D.C. a couple of months later and ended up doing research on COVID-19, and so it was an epidemiology study. But I've been here for about two years now, and I really do love kind of research and where I'm at and all the hands-on experience that I've been gaining from there.Eleni: I was actually going to ask you what attracted you to science, but you said you're not really sure. Like was there something that, you know, steered you more towards like the lab and research work?Jacquelyn: I mean, there's a couple of aspects to it. Number one, I just think the mental stimulation. I guess the questions, right, the unknown questions and the ability to be curious. I think that's the big one. I like working with my hands, right? Like I get to, you know, do experiments and mix liquids and run analysis and do things. So I'm not sitting at a desk all day, right? There's data analysis stuff that you do, but there's also what's called wet lab stuff. So you're working with patient samples or you're doing cell cultures. So you get to work with your hands, which I think is really good for me. It's not a desk job. It's not mundane, and it's also challenging, right? It's mentally stimulating. So I kind of like that challenge. And the fact that I get to work with my hands I think is really good for me.Eleni: On this show, this idea of working with your hands really comes up a lot. And I wonder if you've thought about how that might relate to your ADHD or dyslexia, and if you could talk about that.Jacquelyn: The first thing that comes to mind is the challenges that are presented, because with research and with specific experiments, you know, following those steps, if you think about like a recipe, right, if we're baking a cake, following each step and making sure you know what comes next is really important. So if you make a mistake, if you zone out for a second, you know, you have to be very much so focused on that experiment if it's going on right now. And so I think there can definitely be some challenges that require like for me, one way to overcome that is to really like double-check my work, you know, look at it, you know, and double-check and make sure, OK, this is the right concentration. This is what I need to do. Because God forbid I add it and then it's the wrong concentration and I have to start all over. So there's definitely an aspect of that that I've had to kind of realize in myself and adjust in my work — and not only just me, but to let the people I'm working with know like, hey, can you double-check my numbers, right? Like, have someone else look it over. You know, have that communication with your co-workers. And then once I figure it out, right, which really doesn't take too long — it's true. I think that keeps me engaged. And I agree that with my ADHD, wanting to always kind of be up and moving and active is stimulating. And I need that in my day-to-day life. Like I need, you know, hands-on kind of stimulation in order to be satisfied in my day-to-day.Eleni: So when you were talking about having to follow steps of an experiment as though they are steps in a recipe, like I love that analogy. And I think for people that are not scientists, that's like a really straightforward way of thinking about it. Are you trying to say that like perhaps one of the challenges is because either because of your ADHD or your dyslexia, you might miss a step or misinterpret a step? I just wanted to clarify that's what you meant.Jacquelyn: Yeah. Yeah, I would say that like it's a very complicated process sometimes. So one small change can make a big difference. And so really making sure that I take note of everything that I do and that it follows exactly, you know, what I did the first time is really important. And then the payoff to that is when you actually see those results like science in action, it's very satisfying, right? Like when you get the results you're looking for and the experiment works in the end, it's like, oh my, you know, it's that great, you know, light bulb moment or just kind of, what's the word? Like the gratification to see, like, wow, science really does work. It's cool, like, 'cause we can't see — normally the recipes we're working on are on like a molecular scale. So I can't see the molecules or the proteins, but by the end, if I get, you know, like a fluorescent kind of signal or a positive result, I'm like, oh my gosh, it worked. Like, look, there's the protein, finally! Like, you know, so it's really cool to kind of see the evidence in the science in action.Eleni: Totally. Yeah. And you mentioned earlier in the conversation, you know, one of the things that you were concerned about as you became an adult was that if you talked about your differences, that you might be judged or people might think that you don't know what you're doing or, you know, whatever it might be. And you said now, like, you know, you try and communicate or like get people to double-check your work and things like that. How else do you advocate for yourself? Or how else do you think about, well — I guess how else have you overcome that fear that you might be judged?Jacquelyn: Yeah. Yeah, that's a good question, because it took me a while to even realize that that was a difference or something that I had to deal with that other people didn't. Because I think in college, I just kind of like suppressed it and was like, I'm fine, I can do this. I'm equal, you know, I'm passing my tests just fine. And then when I graduated and I started my job, my work actually offered a class on like diversity and inclusion. And one of the things they talked about was learning differences. And it was actually in that class that I realized, oh, my gosh, like, that's me. You know, like this is actually — like this is something that people struggle with or something that I struggle with that people don't. Like oh my gosh. You know, I've never thought about it in that way before. Like an invisible disparity, right? People don't know, but it's something that I have to deal with.And then that was when because, yeah, that was kind of when I started noticing those little differences maybe in my day-to-day that other people don't have to kind of struggle with as much or deal with as much as I do. And that's when I started kind of accepting it and kind of owning it, right? And I think the biggest thing was just communicating it with my co-workers. I mean, maybe not like your boss directly, but the person training you or the people you're surrounded with on your day-to-day, like just letting them know, "Hey, I might zone out and have you repeat something." Or like, "Hey, you know, I might need to double-check my work" or blah blah blah, like making sure they know. Because I guess my fear is that I'll make a mistake and then they won't trust me, right? Like, oh no, we can't have her do the experiment. She's going to mess it up. It's like, no, I know what I'm doing. You just have to kind of work with me here. Or like, "Hey, can you repeat yourself? I totally zoned out, you know, I want to make sure I know what you're talking about." And so kind of letting them know why made me feel comfortable in asking them those questions. Because I knew they knew why I was asking.Eleni: The fact that your workplace offered that training is pretty amazing. I'm actually working on a project at the moment, speaking to workplaces and a bunch of organizations. Think about DEI, but disability and like differences often like neurodiversity is often left out of the conversations. That's really amazing that you were given that training. And, you know, it's really common for us to hear that people feel really like validated in their experience and they hear that like others are experiencing something similar.And what's really interesting is, you know, you talked about you kind of like pushed it aside for a really long time and like repressed it and ignored it. What that does for a lot of people is it means that you can't necessarily work on that self-awareness of how it impacts you both in terms of strengths and challenges and being able to like own some of the challenges and ask for support where you need, but also really zone in on some of the strengths that come from difference too. So I'm glad that you finally got there, you know, even if it took a little bit longer and that you're like owning it now. That's really great.I know you talked a lot about, you know, how satisfying it is when you run an experiment and it works. What happens when it doesn't work?Jacquelyn: OK. So that is probably more than 50% of research is failing. I will tell you that right now, that is something that everyone struggles with, is you will make mistakes and that is not easy. It's embarrassing to go to your boss and say, I'm so sorry, I have to redo this. You know, you feel bad because maybe you wasted money, you wasted resources. But it's all a learning experience. Like, you make those mistakes now, and like, everyone has to make those mistakes. Like the top researchers who you admire, guess what? They had to go through that, too. And so that is something anyone and everyone in research has to accept and realize at some point. And it's really, really hard to do, but it's just a part of it. If you don't learn from them, then there's no growth. But the mistakes are inevitable. You have to just learn from them and move on.Eleni: I think it's so important to normalize failure. And, you know, a lot of people that are not in the science world like really think about the fact that science is built on failure, right? Like, you know, it's a constant learning, constant iteration, constant experimentation. And, you know, just like knowing that that's just part of the process, right?Jacquelyn: Yeah. Yeah. That is a big part of it. Technically, the main project that I'm working on now started because I wanted to optimize my protocol, and the experiments I was doing to try and optimize it kind of led me down this rabbit hole that then resulted in the project I'm doing now. And I never ended up optimizing that protocol. It never ended up working. But the experiments and data I gained from that gave me an idea, which then resulted in the project I have now.Eleni: That's so cool.Jacquelyn: Yeah, a lot of it is just curiosity-driven. Sometimes you don't really know what you're looking for, but it might kind of elucidate itself in time.Eleni: Definitely. Thank you very much for being here.Jacquelyn: Thank you so much for having me.Eleni: 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 the difference, and we welcome you to join us in achieving our goals. Learn more at "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is produced by Grace Tatter. Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music is 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. Thanks again for listening.

  • Video: My experience with dyslexia and bullying

    Listen to David talk about what it was like to be bullied because of his learning disability. Hear what he wishes he could tell his younger self, and why he thinks it’s so hard for people with learning disabilities to find support. David’s story is part of Understood’s “The Many Faces of Learning Disabilities.” For more stories, check out this collection of resources.

  • The Opportunity Gap

    Supporting kids’ mental health: Kier Gaines on fatherhood, self-care, and social media

    In part one of our conversation on mental health, learn about the unique ways a parent’s journey can influence a child’s mental wellness. Get tips on how to support kids’ mental health. From the decisions they make to the words they say, parents play a huge role in supporting their child’s mental health. Kids may not always be looking to their parents to be perfect or pillars of strength. But they are looking for healthy ways to cope when life treats them unfairly. So, it’s essential for parents and caregivers to make mental wellness a priority. This episode of The Opportunity Gap explores the importance of good mental health for kids who learn and think differently and their parents. Listen as Kier Gaines, a licensed therapist and digital creator, explains:  The unique challenges of parenting and how it impacts kids’ mental health Social media’s influence on kids’ self-esteem and social interactions  Ways parents can promote good mental health to their child Related resourcesHow does social media affect mental health? It’s complicated.UCLA Health MARC Guided MeditationsMental Health America: Self-help tools Kier Gaines’ Instagram and YouTube channelsWunder by UnderstoodEpisode 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. But 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 back, listeners. On today's episode, we'll kick off Part 1 of our conversation on the importance of mental health through the lens of Black fathers. We'll talk about the unique challenges parents of color often face and how these challenges impact kids. We'll dive into the world of social media and talk about how it influences kids' mental health. And we'll highlight resources that promote good mental health for kids and their parents.To help me get into this, I want to introduce today's guest, Kier Gaines. Kier Gaines is a licensed therapist and public figure who uses his platforms to amplify the importance of mental health. He's inspired millions of people to be more proactive in their own journey and reframe the way they think about life and especially parenting. He's been a speaker at events — wait for this one — at the White House. At the White House. At the White House. Yes! And honored by Sterling K. Brown and Oprah Winfrey on OWN's "Honoring Our Kings, Celebrating Black Fatherhood."Welcome to the show, Kier. It is so nice to have you here, brother. So nice to have you.Kier: Appreciate you, man. Thank you for having me on.Julian: An illustrious guest here. I don't know what we've done to deserve this, but I really appreciate you being here. As your biography shows, you've done a lot of powerful things so far. And, you know, we like to just kind of jump in and talk shop a little bit and hear from people and hear what their experience has been. So first and foremost, Kier, what's bringing you joy in your life right now? What's just giving you life right now?Kier: I'm a huge football fan. And in football, whenever a player struggles in their first year, in the second year, once they start to grasp the concepts of the game, they always say the same thing. They say, "The game as starting to slow down for me." It's just like this clichéd thing that players say, and it's supposed to signify that this job used to be like drinking water from a fire hose and now maybe drinking water from one of those high-pressure hoses that cleans off a deck. It'd still knock your tongue backwards, but it isn't as bad as it was before. And I'm finding joy in the fact that I'm getting used to the more exhausting parts of adulthood and parenthood. I'm finding real happiness.Julian: OK. All right. I love the analogy, too, now: as the game slows down for you.Kier: As the game slows down for me.Julian: So let's talk about that a little bit. So both of us are parents. Both of us are parents, right? And parenting, as you know, is a journey. And if I'm being 100 percent honest, it's a journey that comes without a manual, and there is no blueprint for it. For most of us, we just learn as we go.Now, for myself, I grew up in a single-parent household. My father passed away when I was 7. And so Mom, shout out to Michelle Saavedra, you are the number one. She raised us up on her own. And I just remember she did everything she could to take care of us, but also prepare us for what was out there. And a lot of times things got a little difficult. And I know that stress is something that so many single parents carry, especially when it comes to the mental health of being a parent without a blueprint, but also doing it on your own.When you were being interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, you also shared that you, like I, grew up in a single-parent household. As we both have families of our own, can you talk a little bit about why it's so important for parents to take care of their own mental health?Kier: Parenthood is such a consuming position. It was while watching my mom do every day by herself, because looking at it through an adult lens, I realize that my mom was depressed. And we know in the mental health field that depression and uninvolved parenting go hand in hand. So it's because parenting is such a consuming job and it's such a consuming ask, there are pieces of you identity that can get lost in trying to keep it up, in trying to do what you need to do to just make it from day to day. And it does adversely affect your kids.But since people do change their entire identities because of parenthood, I don't enter that when it comes to the mental health space if I recommend that someone see a therapist or encourage someone to see a therapist, because it de-centers you. I'm not going to say, Julian, you could be a better father if you come to see a therapist. That's not the central piece. When you're a better you, by default you're a better father. So we say, Julian, I want you to come therapy so that you can be good for you. And then all of the people that are under your tree will eat all the fallen fruit. At least that's the big idea.Julian: And I think about that. That can speak so much to so many other aspects of life, right? Like, if you yourself are mentally healthy, then all these other aspects of your life will start to fall in place. Those of us that are parents, especially because, like you said, so much of our life is consumed by that identity. And so I appreciate that. Appreciate that. You're saying it de-centers the identity of parent and focuses on everything that encompasses you as a person.Kier: That's right. Take care of you, the person. And actually, I think there is — I don't know if it totally puts you in the mindset of centering yourself. I think it increases the likelihood that you'll be receptive to that mind state. Listen — me included. My daughter had a doctor's appointment other day. So did I. Guess whose doctor's appointment got canceled. Mine.It's easy to preach that. But in all actuality, all of the stresses and the guilt-inducing responsibility of parenthood can make you self-sacrifice and self-abnegate sometimes. So something you got to constantly remind yourself of for sure.Julian: I saw what my mom did for me and my siblings and how hard she worked, and how she made sure that we had what we needed. And when I got the chance to become a father myself, I said, I'm going to do my best to really do this thing right. It's a goal that we all try to aspire to.But I wonder if I've been placing this pressure on myself, like this pressure that subconsciously it starts to bring in these feelings of, Am I actually doing this right? Am I actually a good father? And because I didn't have my own father around, I don't really have a clear model of what it was supposed to be. Can we talk a little bit about that pressure that sometimes we as parents place on ourselves?Kier: Oh, man, it's the pressure. The pressure comes from larger society. The pressure comes from sociological best practices, right? We get pressure from comparing ourselves to our upbringings. We get pressure from contrasting and moving away from our upbringings. I grew up very poor and I don't wear that as a badge of honor. It's something I feel like negatively impacted me, and I do a lot to make sure that my daughters aren't in that situation. Probably sometimes overdeliver and do way more than I actually need to to meet their needs.So when you take all those different angles that the pressure is coming from, you're not getting beat up, bro. You getting jumped, you know, by all these expectations. Some of the things that I do to counter that, because I do understand that as my reality, is I had to reframe my idea of comparison. I know we say comparison is the thief of joy, and sometimes it is. But comparison is also a really amazing tool to help you evaluate where you are amongst your peers.I like to talk to my friends. Hey man, your kids doing this? And then when I hear other people respond, I feel a little more human. So my kid isn't the only one that doesn't flush the toilet. OK. I thought it was just me, dog. And then you continue to talk to people. You realize they struggle in their parent journeys, too. And humans, because we're such social creatures and because society sometimes is comprised of just made-up rules that we've just followed along for hundreds and thousands of years sometimes, we don't always know if we're doing a good job. And sometimes we need to see someone else struggle to have permission to be in our own humanity, you know?Julian: And I think it's interesting that as Black men and Black fathers, there's a very unique lane in the parenting ethos, right?Kier: Absolutely.Julian: I hear that, you know, me and my boys, we go back and forth like same thing. We compare, am I supposed to do like this? Am I going too hard on them? Should I ease up a little bit?Kier: Oh, I'm so glad you mentioned that.Julian: Right. And even — and that's pressure, right? That's something that even above that's something that induces anxiety, too. And again, as society already has this very strong current of what the vision of a Black man should be, I'm always kind of balancing like, where do I fit in what that balance is. Is that something you experience too?Kier: Oh, absolutely. Every single day of my life. I'm by definition, cisgender, six foot one, dark-skinned Black man. It's very easy for me to not say the right thing or for me to misinterpret my own understanding of something and alienate groups of people at one time, just from not fully understanding where I am or understanding the nuance or context in the way people talk and the way people identify, and the way people express their lived experiences. So I'm always really careful of that.Julian: I want to transition over to social media, because that has been a big portion of your life recently. You have this incredible following on social media, right? 400,000 followers on Instagram, 50,000 on YouTube. Couple of years ago, you went viral for posting a very transparent video on fatherhood. Listeners, the link will be in the show notes, so please check that video. I watched it about six times. You received a great response from people. And I got to ask, what's it feel like to go viral? And were you surprised by the response that you got?Kier: I was completely surprised, but it was beautiful. Came right after George Floyd was murdered. I think the world was in a place, our collective consciousness, to hear Black men another way, to hear about fatherhood in another way. And I think that the tone was different than a lot of content that talks to men.We don't talk to men with warmth, and it's always very hustle culture. Go get it. You got to do this. And I mean, everyone sounds like a drill sergeant. And even though I get that's stereotypically how we think men connect to messages, we see that it ain't. We see that that does not work.You work in the schools. You work with young boys. Even when they got those tough exteriors, you get them behind a wall and you start talking calmly to them, and you get to see a different person. In those boys, the only difference between them and the men that they'll grow into is a couple years' time and some experiences. They're the same person for the most part with very similar needs. So I think that's why the video hit like that. But I don't know — man, I ain't never expect all of this. You kidding me? And I didn't think anybody would care at all.Julian: I guess I'm personally interested, like, what was the spark that told you you needed to start doing this? Like, where did it go from — you said you were an educator and you're now a licensed therapist. What made you decide to say, I need to get some content together, I need to get my thoughts out there?Kier: It just felt good. It felt good. I started off doing fatherhood content, and in the process of that, in the process of this video exploding, I passed my licensure exam to become a therapist. And it just took me a while. I've always created content. I've been making content since 2000, 2001, on a big fat VHS camera with VHS-C tapes.Julian: We're going way back. Was this MySpace? Or are we talking Black Planet?Kier: Oh, we talking Black Planet, bro. We talking about MySpace top 8, yeah. We talking straight Black Planet and all those. But yeah, I just, I don't know. I don't think it was a singular thing that inspired me. I always liked to put my thoughts on tape, and I created — I got through this master's program and I started treating people and I started learning more about this counseling world. And there's so much information. You got degrees and stuff, academics. Academics will talk over your head all day "with a marginal propensity of the neurofibromatic." They love words and jargon.Julian: $20 words. Those are the $20 words. You gotta break it down to the five sometimes.Kier: Got to break it down to the five sometimes. Make change for me, bro. I don't care about — I don't care how smart you are. I just want to get better. So I was able to find a way to synthesize that. And here we are, three years and almost half a million people later.Julian: You know the videos that you do and continue to do, they're dope, right? Like, they're just content that needs to be out there. And to me, it's content that is part of that better side, that positive influence that social media can have. As a father, as again, as an educator, I appreciate that. I like to see positive messages, thought-provoking work. But then there's also a lot of challenges that come with social media.Now, as my role as an assistant principal in an urban high school, a lot of my day is consumed with conflicts that stem from social media: the chats, the group chats, all the beef that comes from the instantaneous sharing of things, the video, all of that — from bullying, altercations, the insecurities that students have because of what social media says. I'm interested to hear your take. As somebody who is a content producer of positive work out there, what is your take on the impact of social media on mental health?Kier: Oh, well, social media, we know — I think what you just said, research is already back that all of the heaviest negative mental health outcomes have been linked to heavy social media users. Suicide ideation, anxiety, depression, body dysmorphia. You go into — social media can be linked to an increase in some of those conditions and outcomes.But man, it also has so many positive aspects. We're social creatures. Social media is one of the most powerful tools in the world. You can figure out how millions of people think within a couple hours. You have access to so much data, you have access to so many tools and resources that can help you better your life. It's one of those things where I think social media exacerbates conditions that we already struggle with. I think that exists with a lot of things we grapple with.If I'm self-conscious about myself being poor, my mind is likely to drift to content that will look at a lifestyle that I wish that I had, and start to unfairly compare myself. We here — we know all of the social media reoccurring things that we talk about. You're watching other people's highlights. People don't talk about their downside on social media.But I don't know if people understand how incredibly curated the content is, and especially our children. And when they see that, they see the guy in the Bugatti who's 19 years old. Dude, you know, he is a one of a billion, but there's billions of people. And what if there are three of those guys on this kid's timeline? And now it's an overrepresentation of what exists in the larger world.Julian: Well, I think what you did say, though, we're a tool. And I think for our listeners, understanding that aspect of it, that if we frame the phone, social media, the instantaneous communication, the technology as a tool, all right. Like it's not just the end all be all. If like anything the tool is used for a purpose, then that tool can be harnessed for positive or harnessed for a positive purpose. So I appreciate that part.And, you know, again, as a parent educator, and I wonder, you know, for years, again, somebody who is a content creator, but somebody who also is a mental health specialist, do you have any concerns for your own situation as a parent? Do you have any concerns for how you're going to implement social media in your own household?Kier: It's tough to safeguard your children when there's access, when they can have access to the internet remotely. But the best thing you can do to safeguard your children is to have open and honest and transparent conversations. My daughter's 5 right now, so the extent of her usage of social media, she plays Roblox. And sometimes we'll be on Roblox and there will be somebody who requests for her to be a friend. And we got all the parental settings on there that safeguards the kids as much as they can.But I'll use that as an opportunity. Oh, who is this person? Do we know this person? Why don't we talk to strangers? What can happen if we talk to strangers? And we're not big on fear mongering in the house. Fear stops you from doing things, but not for a reason that is intrinsic to your understanding. You just know you're not supposed to do it. We try to explain it — like this is what can happen if you do this thing — and allow her to ask questions and feel comfortable coming to us asking questions.The second part to that for me is my baby's 5, my oldest is 5, my youngest is 16 months old. And I remember when my my oldest was 4 months old, I was such a judgmental parent. "I'll never let my kid have a whole bunch of screen time." Or "I'll never let my kid eat snacks an hour before dinner." And all of my "I would never let" have become my "I allow far too often.".So I don't want to — I'm not a John Wayne, two guns blazing, talking about what I'm not gonna to do when it comes to the internet. But my daughter understands what I do for a living. And with us, having a heightened level of visibility it's really important for us to talk about all of those fundamental ground rules of social media. For her, the one we establish right now, she watches YouTube. And we say, if there are no kids in the video, then you can't watch it. Because sometimes there's adolescents and pre-teens in this concert she enjoys, she's a really smart kid, but she's still 5 years old. We don't want her to be overexposed. So when she's on social media, we're in the background. When she's engaged, we're engaging too. Even if it's passively listening to the content she listens to it, and just having a level of involvement.Julian: I love the idea of open communication and modeling how you're using social media with her so that she sees that example. This is how we can use it to benefit us. And again, that positive way.Kier: Oh yeah, for sure.Julian: Parents, we really want to protect our kids. That's something that going back to that — yeah, you know, that that vision of what parenting is supposed to be: keep them safe. And we don't want them to see violent videos or read cruel comments. We want them to be confident in the way they look. But the reality is we can't always control or monitor everything that they see or hear. Do you have any helpful tips or ways for parents or kids to engage in positive social media, like any specific tips that you could provide?Kier: Yeah, I think it goes back to that open communication piece. That open communication piece and having — whenever kids come in to counseling, teenagers, I don't work with them very often. But when I do work with them, one of the most difficult things is having the parents understand there's a particular level of privacy that this young person enjoys while they're in counseling. And within that comes this unique power struggle. You know, the parent is the ultimate authoritative piece. I need to know every single thing.And what we learn in therapy sometimes is that the way that the parent responds to things that make them uncomfortable or things that they don't want to hear dictates directly how open that child is with them. I'm not saying that it be easy. My daughter's 5. She tells me things that make me fly off the handle sometimes. I don't always do a good job of that, but I am always practicing getting better.I use little opportunities. She told me something alarming. And I'm like, OK, baby, tell me more. I'm fighting it back. But it's important that she feels like she could be open and honest with me. We can't stop the bad things from happening, but we do have a solid foundation by which we can have almost any conversation for when those things actually do occur.Julian: I think it's also about just making sure that you're very intentional about the accounts that you and/or your child are following, making sure to monitor which accounts they have. And just making sure that there's age-appropriate boundaries for what pre-teen versus a teenager might post.Kier: I agree. Can I add something else to that? I think that's a really good point. Adding those boundaries and trying to stay consistent with them. Children, even teenagers, preteens, adolescents, these are individuals that took a brain that understood nothing and then learned language and then made use of it. They are very good at figuring out patterns. And when you're inconsistent, they'll see the pattern.Sometimes we got a rule on the way to school. Sometimes my daughter can't have her app, but sometimes I'll break the rules. In therapy, we call it norm in the room. Norm in the room is when you walk in and there's a group of people and you let every — you let everybody know what the expectation is and what the boundaries are before you say a single word. You norm the rule. Everybody knows what they expect.And you can norm your child in very similar ways. Whereas having the pre-conversation, hey, I'm going to let you play with your iPad today for extra hour or so because Daddy has to do ABC. That way, even though it's a deviation from the daily plan or from what you typically do, they have context as to why, you know, and it's not a complete disruption of the pattern of the rules that you establish. Because that consistency is key with kids, but it's very hard to keep up.Julian: That's funny you say that. That's — my kids get a little bit of extra Netflix any time Dad is recording a podcast. So they get excited when it's Dad's turn to do the podcast is oh, we get a little extra Netflix today. But again, the pre-conversation, the giving the rationale and pulling the curtain past of your thinking so that there's that open communication between parent and child.I want to just ask you a ton of questions myself because I think a lot of the conversation you can have for me will be helpful. But I appreciate just coming on and sharing your expertise, sharing your journey, sharing you know, who you are as a person. And I just want to personally thank you for joining me today.Listeners, before we go, I want to share some resources that promote good mental health. We'll also linked to them in the show notes. Kiers' Instagram @KierGaines, and his YouTube channel.Kier: Spell it out for them.Julian: UCLA Health, Free Guided Meditation, Mental Health America, and of course Understood's Wunder app. Be sure to check these out. They're all incredible. Kier, thank you again. I appreciate you, brother. I really appreciate what you're doing.Kier: I appreciate you. I appreciate all the work you do in the schools. I only had one — I only saw one Black male from the time I was in pre-K till sheesh, maybe 10th grade. So just your presence in the school and you actually caring about the kids that walk through those doors? It reverberates throughout their lives, whether you know it or not, man. So even off this camera and this platform, thank you for everything you do. It is critically impactful, man.Julian: Thank you. I appreciate that. And it's good work. It's the work that needs to be done. So, listeners, thank you so much for listening. I'll be back soon.Kier: Yeah, thank you.Julian: You've been listening to "The Opportunity Gap" from the Understood Podcast Network. This show is for you, so we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Is there a topic you'd like us to cover? We want to hear from you. Email us at 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 is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at "The Opportunity Gap" is produced by Tara Drinks, edited by Cin Pim. 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. Thanks for listening and see you next time.

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    Building a finance career with ADHD and no college degree

    Whitney Valentine-Wafer has ADHD and never finished college. By believing in herself, she built a nontraditional career as a finance professional. Whitney Valentine-Wafer has ADHD and never finished college. She’s served as chief financial officer for several organizations and built a career as a nonprofit finance professional. Her journey includes employers like Creative Commons and the San Francisco Ballet. Whitney shares how she was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult — and how she found her way despite being fired from several jobs in her 20s. She says the key was reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work for her brain. Listen to her career advice, including how temping is a great way to try out different work roles.Listen in. Then:See a list of famous business people with learning differences and ADHD.Hear the story of a real estate agent with ADHD who loves her work.Learn about different paths after high school.Episode transcriptGretchen: If you like listening to this podcast, then check out "In It," a podcast that explores the joys and frustrations of supporting kids who learn and think differently. We chat with parents, teachers, and sometimes kids about topics that aren't talked about enough. Ready to listen? Subscribe to "In It" on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.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.Whitney Valentine-Wafer never finished college, but she was able to become the chief financial officer for several organizations. Today, she's a consultant on financial matters for not-for-profits. For years, she didn't know she had ADHD, and was only recently diagnosed as an adult. Welcome to the show, Whitney.Whitney: Thank you!Eleni: Whitney, you never finished college, but you ended up as a chief financial officer, and you've worked at some really interesting places. I would love to hear some of the highlights of cool places that you've worked, that you're proud of.Whitney: Yeah! One of my very favorites, I was the chief financial officer for 4505 Meats, which is both a packaged pork rind company and also a barbecue restaurant group.It's especially amusing to me because I am a vegetarian. I also worked in a lot of nonprofit spaces. So I worked for the San Francisco Ballet, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Creative Commons.Eleni: We recently did some research that revealed five common catalysts that kind of force adults to confront personal challenges relating to thinking and learning differences. And one of the things that comes up a lot is seeing others go through some sort of identification process or close relatives being diagnosed themselves. I believe that this applies to your story. So I thought that would be a nice place to start. You went undiagnosed for a really long time. So if you could just tell us a little bit about what prompted your diagnosis.Whitney: You know, it's very funny because my daughter was diagnosed many years ago. It hadn't occurred to me that would be applicable to me, and I hadn't really thought about it. And I am in my early 40s, and women who were growing up in the '80s and '90s, it was so rare to see an ADHD diagnosis. And so, you know, I spent my whole school career doing absolutely the bare minimum on the last day before a project was due and scraping by. And for some reason it just never flagged for anyone. And I was talking to my mom about it a few years ago, and she said, "Oh yeah, I have ADHD." This would have been really helpful to know.I started really putting a lot of pieces together, and my husband's really addicted to TikTok, and so he started sending me ADHD TikToks, and saying, "Have you thought about the fact that you might have ADHD? Because everything here is applicable to you." And you know, when I was talking to the therapist about it, she really was able to highlight all of the ways that, you know, in my career, I have kind of accidentally failed up in some ways, where I was really not successful at lower-level jobs that didn't require a lot of creative thought. Terrible at it. I was fired multiple times in my 20s. I just was having a really hard time finding the right fit. But then, as I got more and more complex roles, I would really thrive in them.And I didn't really understand that that was partly, just, that's the way that my brain works. When there's a challenge, it's easier for me to do really well.Eleni: Yeah, I love that. And that actually relates to something else that we hear commonly in research. Often, when people are struggling, people don't recognize that's related to a thinking and learning difference in that moment. But then we hear, especially with late diagnosis, that once people recognize what might be going on, they start to reflect back on, like, childhood and past struggles.Whitney: Yeah, it absolutely reframed 30-plus years of failures that I had, been, like, "Maybe I'm just really bad at everything." And I think that one of the big pieces has been really helping my daughter navigate a remote first year in college and really trying to help her find tips and tricks to get the ADHD to work in an environment that isn't ideal for her, and made everything click for me like, "Oh, I just developed all of these tips and tricks over the years, trying to make sure that I kept a job."Eleni: Do you want to talk a little bit about some of the struggles you had, particularly around that time, where you said you were fired from a few jobs and how that might actually relate to your ADHD?Whitney: So I ended up in my career path because I had been a temp. I said, "Oh, I need to pay some bills." And I started temping, and it turned out it was something I was really great at, and partly just because it was a new, interesting job every other week. And so I ended up in a longer-term role in a pretty large organization.I had been temping as a staff accountant level, and when I had been working there, the CFO for the whole organization had come up to me one day and said, "Hey, I have an assistant controller role that is for a different division, and I think you would be perfect at it." And so that job was really interesting to me. And that's really the job where I learned how to budget. I had the opportunity to work for the president, and he took the time to sit down with me and say, "I know you haven't done this before, but let's talk about what I think about when I'm doing this process." And it was a little bit like getting to learn on the job as opposed to taking classes. It was a really interesting role and really made me feel excited about what I was doing. And then the person who had hired me left, and there were a lot of changes. And so I transitioned into a slightly different role at that same organization, and it was awful. It was absolutely one of the worst jobs I've ever had. And it was really just a lot of kind of data entry. And the more miserable I would get, the less I would be able to motivate myself to do it. So not only was this job boring and monotonous, but I was falling behind because I couldn't motivate myself to do the work.And so I ultimately got let go. And it sort of forced me to say, "OK, what wasn't working about that job?" And I was able to really say, "OK, I just don't want to do data entry. That was not interesting." When previously the role at the same organization had been build a budget and put together presentations and do analytics.Eleni: Yeah. Yeah. So I just wanted to touch on that and just say, you know, it's really interesting because obviously the "worst job" is really subjective for people. And it really depends on people's, like, own preferences and strengths. And I think it was really interesting that you, after that job, you reflected back on, like, why wasn't that the right job for you?So I wanted to talk a little bit more about what you learned about yourself in those times where you were in a job that you really hated, and also what encouraged you to keep going and figure out what was the right environment for you.Whitney: Yeah. So I moved across the country and I had to take another lower-level job than what I had previously been doing, which is actually at the San Francisco Ballet. But I had a boss who was able to really sit down with me and say, "Here's how we can make this job interesting for you." You know, really said, "I know that you're overqualified for this, but let's figure out how to get you into the right role moving forward." And I learned so much from her that it really helped me going into my next few roles.I really tried to think about all of the areas that I can really make a positive difference. Reflecting on the ways that I have had bad fits in jobs, I think have made me a way better manager of people. All of my staff for the last five years have been willing to follow me anywhere. And I think that's partly me reflecting on the things that I don't enjoy or I don't excel at really has made me a little bit more receptive to understanding when there are other areas where people who work for me don't excel at. And then talking with them about how we can reorganize a team to make sure that everyone is doing the things that are the best fit for them or how we can make it so that the less desirable parts of the job aren't overwhelming. Because I definitely know that in the jobs where I have been let go, it's that the part of the job that doesn't work for me is overwhelming. And then I recognize that cycle in myself where I get overwhelmed by something that I absolutely don't want to do and I'm dreading, and then I fall behind and then it sort of spirals out and, you know, I can be down working on just raw data. But if I do that all day every day, I will eventually burn out, and my brain will just stop caring about it.Eleni: Yeah. So it sounds like you did a lot of self-reflecting and now you're really aware that tends to be the pattern for you. So what is it about finance that you find exciting and that you find really works with your brain?Whitney: Yeah, there's two big pieces. One is that, in a lot of ways, finance feels like a giant puzzle to be solved, right? So it's, how do we get the answer that we're trying to get in terms of either growth or kind of end results, and how do we get the information in a way that is really clear for everyone? That's another favorite part of the job for me, is I love to make a presentation. And it turns out that you make a lot of presentations when you're at that higher level.So for me, it's not just solving the big picture problem, but it's also solving how to tell the story of what's happening at the organization. So how do you paint the picture that you need to tell to whoever that audience is? One of my very favorite things is thinking about how do I present the same information in four different ways so that the person who is getting the information understands it in a way that makes sense to them? And that particularly applies to me when I think about how a lot of times I haven't really understood what somebody's asking me, and then I now am really good at asking a lot of clarifying questions so that I can get to the root of what the question is. But I really love being able to interpret information and be able to package it in a way that whoever is receiving that information can understand and get what they need out of it. And that, to me, has been really satisfying.Eleni: Do you have a particular moment where you had that realization or things really turned around for you and you were able to find your place in your group?Whitney: Yeah, I absolutely have, actually that has been. I always say that I had a moment, which I always called, like, whatever the opposite of imposter syndrome is, happened to me in 2015. I had come out of a really challenging role where the fit was really bad, and I had stayed at a job for four years and it just, I had been feeling really discouraged. And I said, OK, I'm going to just go back to temping for a little bit.And I ended up at an organization which was a children's clothing company. They had a brand-new CFO. I talked to him, I said, "Everything's a mess. I just need you to know that they don't really know what they're doing. None of this makes sense. I am happy to work with you." So he actually hired me on, brought me on as director of finance, and we started to build a budget. And I said, "This is bad. The budget, like, all of the templates we're using are bad and none of these numbers make sense." And I went through and I dug in and I rebuilt everything from the ground up. And I said, "We're going to go bankrupt." And my boss said, "No way. Absolutely not. That's not the case." And I walked him through it and he said, "Oh, you're right. We are going to go bankrupt." And we did actually go bankrupt. But I remember the moment that I had spent so many years saying, "OK, do I really know what I'm doing?" And I was on a call, me without my degree, being the expert, answering questions to two sets of lawyers on this call so that we could do all of the filings for this bankruptcy.And that was the moment when I said, "Oh no, I'm, I am way smarter than I've been giving myself credit for." And after that moment, I have never doubted my ability to do what I can do. Because after that, even when I was doing jobs that were boring or parts that were really tedious, I said, "OK, I just need to get through this. I just need to figure out how I can plan out by week, month, year so that we can barrel through this." Where previously I had been like, "Oh, maybe I'm just bad at this," rather than "No, this is just a boring piece of the work that I don't particularly find engaging, but I need to make sure that I'm getting it done and over with."Eleni: Yeah. And that's such an important distinction. It's "Am I bad at this or do I just not enjoy it?"Whitney: I think that until I'd had that moment where I suddenly realized that I did know what I was talking about, that kind of prior to that, I just assumed that I was bad at things. And now I say, "Oh, no, I just don't like this particular piece."Eleni: And now that you've gone through that, is there anything that you feel like might have helped you come to that realization sooner or get on the right path?Whitney: I think it would have been really helpful if I had been able to either recognize or somebody else had been able to recognize, "Hey, something weird is going on here that you're either absolutely doing amazing or you're just absolutely failing." And I wish that I knew what I know now, but I don't regret any of the path. There are definitely pivotal moments in my life where I think that if I had understood what my challenges were and how ADHD was creating an impact, that I definitely could have had a different trajectory. I think I could have finished my degree really easily if I had understood why I was having such a hard time. I maybe would have left jobs sooner if I had realized that they were a really bad fit for me.Eleni: Yeah. I think the fact that you didn't finish college and had not a very traditional trajectory is actually super interesting. And yeah, I agree, like, particularly uncommon in finance. Most people do follow more of a traditional education path to get to finance.Whitney: The thing that everyone says that is both a compliment and a huge frustration of mine is, "You have such an unusual background." And I think it's because typically most people who work in finance have done "go get your degree, go get your MBA, work for two years with the consulting firm, and then go be an executive at these organizations." And I worked my way up through every possible job. It's been a struggle sometimes because some people absolutely don't care about it because 20 years of experience is a lot of experience. And some people really care about it and it's sort of absolutely a nonstarter for them.Eleni: So I know that you mentioned that you're consulting now, and so I would love to hear about why that works so well for you. Whitney: I have had a real opportunity to be exposed to a huge range of scales of organizations. And so I've been able to really help a lot of kind of smaller nonprofits think about how to both budget and how to manage pieces. A lot of organizations, when they're smaller, don't necessarily think about building that longer-range plan and build in a longer-range cash forecast. And because I have sort of been living and dying by cash in these smaller organizations, that's one of the skills that I learned how to do really quickly. Here's how we can build both a budget and then also here's how we can translate that budget into what your cash flow looks like.Eleni: Yeah, it's interesting how all of your experience, like, you're able to refer back and be able to figure out, like, what applies where.Whitney: Yeah, that's one of my favorite things. And as I have slipped between different industries, fundamentally, at the end of the day, finance is finance. One of the most fun jobs I had was working at the Conservatory of Music, and it wasn't a good fit, but I did have one very fun piece of that job and that was teaching musicians how to budget. Because it was all of these faculty who were orchestra musicians and professors of music. And if you can teach an orchestra musician how to make a department budget, you can teach anyone how to make a budget.Eleni: OK, so I would love for you to share any advice or insights that you have for other young people with thinking and learning differences that think maybe college isn't for them.Whitney: I think that what I learned as I've gone through this process is, for me, I found that temping really worked well. I got a huge range of opportunities, and I got to understand the things that I was good at and to also show that even though I didn't have the background on paper that they were looking for, that I was in fact more than capable of doing the job. And so that ended up really being my secret to success. And if your brain works that way, it can be a really great way to find the right fit — and also to find out what's not the right fit because temping definitely early on gave me the exposure to a huge number of organizations. And that was a great way to gain a lot of experience without having gone a traditional path.Eleni: Thanks for being on the show, Whitney.Whitney: Thank you so much for having me. It was really a pleasure.Eleni: 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.

  • How to tell if your child is being bullied online

    Online bullying is a widespread problem that can happen to anyone. But kids who learn and think differently are more likely to be targets, just like they are with in-person bullying.There are a few reasons for this. Kids with learning and thinking differences may have trouble with social skills and making friends. They may also have low self-esteem. Other kids may see them as “different.” Many kids stay silent about online bullying. They may not know what counts as cyberbullying or how to deal with it when it happens. Kids might also feel that any attention from their peers — even if it’s negative — is better than none. And they don’t want adults to take their devices (or social media accounts) away.Signs of cyberbullying Your child may not tell you about being cyberbullied. Here are some things to watch out for:Your child suddenly stops using their devices for fun things, like playing their favorite game. Your child hides their devices from view and avoids using devices around you.Your child quickly turns off or changes the screen on their device whenever you’re around. Your child seems nervous or jumpy when a text, email, or notification pops up. They may become withdrawn. Your child mentions things like “There’s a lot of drama at school” or “I have no friends.”Your child doesn’t want to go to school or seems uneasy about going. How you can helpOngoing cyberbullying is serious and can harm kids’ mental health. It can put them at risk for anxiety and depression and make it hard to focus at school. If you suspect your child is being bullied online, don’t wait to act. Have a talk: Start the conversation by sharing a childhood bullying incident. Or bring up a recent news story about cyberbullying. Ask your child if they’ve experienced online bullying. Explain that this can include things like someone spreading rumors or creating fake profiles.If they resist, persist: If your child won’t talk about it, or seems to hold back information, don’t let it drop. Calmly say that it’s part of a parent’s job to keep their kids safe. Explain that you’d like to check their devices. You’ll want to look at the browsing history and anything they deleted. Older kids may be resistant to this. Let them know you can look together, and that you’re only looking out for hurtful content. Step in and stop it: If you find out your child is a target of online bullying, you can do a few things to stop it. Have your child let the bullies know that adults are aware of the situation: “My parents bought this phone for me, and they can see everything.”If that doesn’t work and the bullying is intense and frequent, you may need to take one or all of these three steps:Talk to the parents of the kids who are bullying your child. Let them know what’s happening and its effect on your child.Reach out to your child’s school counselor or principal. Every school should have anti-cyberbullying policies and procedures to help.If neither of those strategies works, you may need to get law enforcement involved. Print out or save evidence of the bullying in case you need to show it to the police. Learn more about cyberbullying. Understand the difference between teasing and bullying. And find out what to do if your child is doing the bullying. 

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    Building an ADHD starter kit

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

  • How to defend kids from bullies

    Kids who learn and think differently are often the target of bullying. Families and teachers can’t always be there in person to stop it. But there are things you can do to help kids defend themselves. And state laws make schools take action when kids are bullied.The first step is to make sure kids know what bullying is. Bullying is serious, hurtful behavior that happens more than once. It’s done on purpose by someone with power.Kids might have trouble knowing that someone is a bully. Bullies can be charismatic or have friends who encourage their mean behavior. Use the word bullying when you see it happening, so kids have the words to name it.Make sure kids know they won’t get in trouble for sharing bullying experiences with you. If they open up, validate their feelings. Say “Bullying is not OK” and “You don’t deserve this.” Let kids know there are steps you can take to put a stop to it. Partner with teachers, coaches, or other trusted adults to help protect kids from bullying.

  • ADHD Aha!

    Impulse buying, negative bank balances, and the ADHD tax (Paulette Perhach’s story)

    Writer Paulette Perhach had money coming in but struggled to keep it in her bank account. An ADHD diagnosis brought her struggles into perspective. In 2016, Paulette Perhach wrote a piece proclaiming that all women need an emergency fund — what she calls an “f-off fund.” But when she struggled to secure an emergency fund for herself, she suspected she might have ADHD. Paulette, a successful author and writing coach, put off the evaluation because she couldn’t afford the $260 price tag.In this episode of ADHD Aha!, Paulette talks about her trouble with impulse buying and online shopping. She shares her family’s history with money issues, including bankruptcy. And she and Laura have an emotional exchange about the ADHD tax.  Related resourcesWhat is the ADHD tax?ADHD and managing moneyPaulette in the New York Times: “For women with money issues, an ADHD diagnosis can be revelatory” See more of Paulette’s writing on her website. Episode transcriptLaura: Hi listeners. "ADHD Aha!." I'm excited for you to hear my interview today with writer Paulette Perhach. Paulette became known in the finance industry for her written work, in particular for a piece she wrote about why all women need an emergency fund, which she calls an "F*** Off Fund." And yes, that stands for what you think it stands for. I realize, listener, that you may have kids nearby, so heads up that there will be some curse words in this episode. Paulette told me about the moment she realized that there was tension between what she advocated for and her own trouble with money. Paulette: I am globally known for being an advocate of saving money, and I'm waking up to negative bank balances multiple times in a month, and I just had to be like, "OK, something bigger is going on here." Laura: In our conversation, Paulette speaks frankly about money. How much she was making, her trouble managing that money, and her family history with bankruptcy. It got more emotional than I expected. It's funny how talking about money can do that. From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood, and as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host. I'm here today with Paulette Perhach. Paulette is a writer whose work has been published in the New York Times, The Washington Post, Glamour, Marie Claire. I could go on and on and on. She's also a writing coach and author of the book "Welcome to the Writer's Life." Welcome, Paulette. Thanks for being here today. Paulette: Thanks for having me. Laura: To start things off, I would like to ask you to share with our audience what's an "F*** Off Fund?" Paulette: So, an F*** Off Fund" is money that I suggest every woman have, to tell someone to f*** off if an f*** off is deserved. Laura: So, when you were writing about this for Billfold, did the act of writing about it help you kind of understand your own financial situation? Paulette: Well, I was in a time when I was working at a corporate job. I'd come back from Peace Corps — like totally broke, total disaster, which was entirely my own fault — and ended up getting a job at this corporation for the first time. I had been a reporter, an intern, a reporter, a Peace Corps volunteer, and then I was writing proposals for a $50 million tech company making six figures. And suddenly I had money in the bank. And I was like, "Oh my God." And I used that money to pay off my student loans, I was really proud of myself, and then also just had thousands in the bank. And I could re-see some of these scenarios from my life and how they would have gone down if I had had a few thousand dollars in the bank at the time. Laura: And, did you manage to manage that money OK? These are very personal questions, it can be very personal to talk about money. But we're going to be talking a lot about money and the ADHD tax today.Paulette: Well, I think I'm gonna write a financial memoir, so I better get used to it. Laura: OK, well, there you go. So, you were making money, and you had a steady income coming in. What happened then? Paulette: That job kind of imploded. And, you know, it was the company, the two founders of the company had a meth lab in their 20s that exploded. So, just leave that piece of information there. Laura: We'll leave that one right there. Yep. Paulette: And so, I was like, "OK, I'm going to do it. I'm going to freelance and be a freelancer and go out in the wild." And I traveled to South America for three months. And I think the situation is always that, like, people with ADHD crave chaos. Like we kind of, I'll say rather, we hate restrictions or in my experience, I hate restrictions. And, you know, one of the things that I thought about calling my financial memoir is "Too Far," because I'm always traveling too much and then putting myself in a bad situation financially. And then that was kind of my "aha" moment was like, "Oh my God, I have become globally known for this idea of an 'F***Off Fund,' and now I've screwed myself out of mine." Laura: So, this situation helped you understand that you might have ADHD. You just talked about, you know, this as an "aha" moment. If I understand your chronology right from here, you eventually wrote a piece for the New York Times, right? Called "For Women with Money Issues, ADHD Can Be Revelatory." Can you talk to us a little bit about why you wrote that piece and what was going on? Paulette: Well, through the "F*** Off Fund," I became very well-known in the personal finance industry. And as I wrote in my proposal for my book, I am hilariously well-connected in the personal finance industry for someone who is so bad with money. So, I started getting invited to speak at things like, you know, an early retirement retreat. And I'm like, "This has got to stop." And, you know, I mean, in some ways I am doing well, like I have kept that retirement account, right? That's like it takes the threat of a 40% hit on the money for me to actually not touch it. Laura: All right. Because if you take it out, then they take 40%, OK. If you take it out early. Paulette: I've never, you know, actually looked into it. Yeah. Laura: And for anybody listening please like research before. Yeah. Don't take this as gospel at this point on how to work with your 401K.Paulette: So, it was so funny that, you know, I just had this roiling feeling of like, "Oh my God, I feel like this hypocrite." But I'm like, "You know what? I wrote about that because I know the experience of not having that money." And learning that I have ADHD after, years after that piece came out, I just wanted to talk about what I'm up against and realizing what I'm up against. And I think in the piece, I did simplify it too much about saving, you know, and then it was very humbling to struggle, to continue to struggle. Like, I am a boss bitch. I have been published 17 times in the New York Times. I am a dedicated writer, like people who know me know I am a hustler. So, the money coming in, I'm really good at that, and I really bring a lot of value to people and things should be more settled at this point. I'm good at what I do. I'm a good writing coach. I have a software for writers. I design. Like, I am out here working it, you know? But that 3 a.m. "Am I going to make payroll?" wake-up call comes calling. Laura: And if I remember correctly, the price of an ADHD evaluation kept you from getting evaluated for a while. Is that right? Paulette: Yeah. So, that was the year I wrote my book. I got $9,000 from my book. And you know, once you take out taxes and what my agent got is very little. I worked from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. that year. I made myself stop working at eight, and I made $20,000 that year. And my book went on to be selected, as you know, one of Poets & Writers' Best Books for Writers. I was really proud of that. So, $260 was not lying around at that point in my life. And because I misunderstood ADHD, I thought all I was going to find out was, "I have a hard time paying attention sometimes." Laura: What else were you struggling with other than money management? Paulette: Definitely not being able to wait for the right moment to do something or say something. Just like blurting out doing things without proper preparation. I can't niche down in my writing, I want to be five different kinds of writers. I've always had trouble sleeping. I definitely have a lot of like, I’m picking my nails right now. I have a lot of like, body-focused, repetitive behavior. I have to get gel on my nails or I will bite them and they'll be bloody stumps. Yeah, all that, just like a total lack of... It's like there's a me inside observing this other entity that I can't control. Laura: Oh, that's really interesting. Can you say more about that? Paulette: It's like watching a landslide go down a hill where you're like, "Ooh, I wish that weren't happening. But like, it is happening." And I remember, I mean, when I was in college, like eBay came out... Laura: Oh geez. OK. Paulette:And I had a major eBay problem because it's the dopamine of bidding and winning, the dopamine of shopping, the dopamine of things showing up. Like, literally, my friends were like, "So many packages are arriving, you've got to stop." And yeah, just always being like, I just called myself a chaos monster. Laura: When did you get evaluated for ADHD ultimately? Paulette: Ultimately, I got evaluated late 2020, I believe. You know, I had it scheduled for the middle of the day and then like something else right after, like I was going to do something right after. And the person giving me the test was like, "Well, we don't have to get 20 out of 20." Then he was like, "Yeah, like, you know, definitely have ADHD." And I was just like, "Woof, like, I need a minute." There's a lot, a lot of feelings. Laura: Yeah. What was the journey of those feelings for you? Paulette: I think it was mourning all the effort I put into trying to fix things as if I weren't neurodivergent. All the self-hatred around my actions and my lack of control. Laura: We talked sometimes about the ADHD tax, which I think people automatically associate with money. And there is a financial component with that. You may spend more money because of a million ADHD-related reasons. There's also an emotional tax that comes, and I'm kind of seeing that, if I can say, I see you like, tearing up a little bit there. Do you wanna speak to that? Paulette: Yeah. I think it's like, kind of always knowing, "Something's a little different about me." You know? Which a lot of people go through and in many different, you know, identities and ways of being. But to be like, "Oh, this whole time I thought this, and then yes, there is." And I think it's like this space opening up for self-compassion where that had not been there for a long time. Laura: Have your financial management issues impacted anyone else in your life? Paulette: I think probably my mom, you know, for sure. And I wrote an article about that, like coming back from Peace Corps and just, you know, moving back in with her and using her car. And, you know, I don't have children, but I am the age that my dad was now when my family went bankrupt. And so, thinking about those parallels in our life is a lot. But yeah, I think just mostly like my friends and not wanting to be that person for my friends. I want to stand on my own two feet, you know? Laura: Asking them for loans and relying on them for things or... Paulette: I think more like they have stable, steady lives. And so, you know, being like "Having an apartment in Seattle and, you know, going to South America. Can I crash in your stable city life for a week?" that kind of thing.Laura: Yeah. Paulette: Yeah. No, it would feel really bad to ask a friend for a loan at this point in my life. And I haven't gotten there, but mostly because if I needed money, I could go to my mom. You know, which not everyone has that privilege. Laura: Yes. You're right. Not everyone has that privilege. And yes, it's also painful for you and a valid thing to have a lot of feelings around. I want to get really specific about what it means to be, "bad with money." And the reason I'm doing that is because I'm asking you hard questions about how trouble with money management, financial management has impacted your life. And I'm not just doing this to get, you know, a rise out of you of course, I'm not trying to just showcase hard stuff. I want people to understand that, I think we have a perception as a society of what it means to be "bad at money," and that what we associate with being "bad at money." And I want to reframe it in the context of ADHD and your experience through ADHD. So, we can kind of like, take the blame off of you and others who may be going through this and think about the brain-wiring that is associated with this. Paulette: I know, and that's a really hard part, because I know that there are people out there just be like, "Get your shit together and just do what the rest of us are doing." And I can see that argument. And that's an argument that, like, that little man lives in my head. And so, you know, having that ADHD community really helps. So I think, what it means to be "bad with money" is to know that you have these long-term goals, but not to be able to resist in the present moment. Like, the present moment is this bubble you're always in. And to feel like you can't control what you're going to do in the future. And you know, we've done everything like freezing credit cards. And yeah, so it's just been such a struggle. It is like there's that thing of like, there's two wolves inside you, like that's what it feels like. Laura: When people say — or if we think people are saying, or even if they do directly say it to you or anyone — to "get your shit together" when it comes to money, what do you think they actually mean? Paulette: To quit focusing on self-pity and just start focusing on a plan. Laura: There you go. Like, focus on a plan. What's hard for people with ADHD? Planning. Executive functioning skills. What are other things that people say or that you worry people might say in terms of money management challenges? Paulette: Just that ADHD isn't real. That's just people trying to sell medication. And I guess just like, "The problem is you are defective and you are immoral."Laura: Immoral? Paulette: Like, the word that comes to my brain is like "You've squandered your opportunities," which I feel like I have. Laura: Well, you're a boss bitch. Let's not forget that. Paulette: I do believe that. Laura: You are! Paulette: But, yeah. Is just like that scene in Alien where I also have, like a chaos monster sticking out of my stomach with a credit card. I might choose another image if I could. I don't think that's working.Laura: How did getting an ADHD diagnosis, did it change your approach to money? Did it help? Paulette: Yeah. I mean, I stopped trying to do all the things that just, you know, like regular people can do for money management. Laura: Like what? Paulette: Like "Out of sight. Out of mind," right? For example, I have, like, such a sweet tooth. And, like, all I want to do is eat sugar. I have, like, Craisins in my house, if I'm lucky, I do not keep sugar in my house. Right? So, same kind of thing where it's like "I can't be on mailing lists and get emails from stores without going in there and shopping." There are people who can be on those lists and not impulsively just go buy three sweaters with this feeling of like, that you are body-surfing a seven-foot wave. That's what it feels like when I'm like, impulse buying. Like, something, some force is like pushing me, and like, nothing else can be done. Laura: Yeah. So, did having an ADHD diagnosis reduce maybe some of the emotional burden that you were feeling? Paulette: Yeah, definitely brought on a lot of self-compassion. That was a beautiful thing, and community. And those kind of reinforced one another. The more I heard other people talking about things, the more I felt like, "Oh, OK, that's from my ADHD." I swear to God. I'm like, the number of times I have seen some memes and been like, "Oh my God, that's from my ADHD." Laura: You've met and talked with a lot of friends of the pod, I like to say, folks who have been on the show too. Doctor Sasha Hamdani, Cate Osborne, many others. Has it been helpful to have that community? And what sorts of things have you heard or learned from them? Paulette: Oh my God, it's been transformative. Yeah. Doctor Sasha especially, I think just, you know, learning so much about having compassion. You know, I think even after my diagnosis, you know, I don't want to become the friend that only talks about ADHD. But it was hard. Like even my mom, who has ADHD, was like, "You talk about it a lot." I was like, "The disorder that has wrecked a good portion of my life for four decades. Like, yeah, I'm still processing it talking about it," you know? And so, I'm very grateful to the people who have been, you know, creating content that is truly helpful and helps me feel less alone. And, you know, I think coming from a place of self-hatred is never a good place to create change from anyway. So, really coming from a place of self-love is so much nicer. Laura: And what's your relationship like with your mom? Paulette: No, my relationship with my mom is one of the greatest blessings of my life. Laura: I can't help but you know, remember that you said that your family went through bankruptcy, and I'm wondering if there is any connective ADHD tissue there. Paulette: Oh, yeah. Laura: Maybe. Yeah, you see it sometimes when you get your diagnosis — and it's hard because you don't want to diagnose your family and you know — but... Paulette: Oh yeah, my dad had ADHD. Yeah, 100%. I mean, I am his daughter and he was an entrepreneur. And I was like — you know, as we're sitting there with no food in the cabinets — I was like, "Just give me a day job, just give me a corporate job." I remember thinking that when I was eight years old. I was like, "I am going to work in an office. It's gonna be great." Now look at me. You know, I'm like Little Miss Freelance. And it was just, you know, it was a very loving family and financial and visual chaos. You know. Laura: Paulette I want to take a moment and contrast some things here that I find fascinating, just selfishly. Because I'm an editor and I started my career as a writer and I went to journalism school. I hate writing, I hate it, I love to edit. Writing for me is excruciating. I do have a lot of interest in it. I love the written word. I think I'm good at editing the written word, but I cannot find it within myself to put pen to paper for any personal projects and even sometimes within my own job. I find it such an emotional hurdle to get over that, like, blank-piece-of-paper thing. And I just want to highlight that, that you have these financial management struggles when you are interested. I mean, your portfolio of written work is incredible, and your ability to self-start and plan and be a freelancer, it blows my mind. I tried to be a freelancer for like three months. I was like, "I cannot do this. I have to have a job with more boundaries or else I am going to flail." And you have made it work despite — I know you're struggling with some things — but I mean, everyone go to Paulette's website, You have so much to offer there. You teach a writing course and meditation, all the things that like I'm a woman with ADHD, I can't do those things. OK, I'm going to end my rant now, but tell me about that juxtaposition, like how that manages to come so easily to you? Paulette: Well, it doesn't.Laura: Well, it looks like it comes easily to you, just given how prolific you are. Paulette: And I think that's the thing. It's like, there's so much on both sides. Like, there's so much effort and organization and force toward my writing career and then and toward financial stability. And then there's so much like, impulsivity and chaos and disaster on the other side, too. And you know, what I've said before is, like, people are always impressed by the fences I put around my life. Like I designed a software for writers, and people are just like, "Oh, what a beautiful fence you have around your life." And it's like, if you're at Jurassic Park and they have a 50-foot electrified fence, it's not a little lamb that's in there, right? It's a freaking dinosaur. So, like the fences I've built for my life reflect the internal chaos that I struggle with. Laura: But even just building those fences takes all those skills that can be tricky for people with ADHD. So I just want to acknowledge that. Paulette: Thanks. I'm a boss bitch. I am also a boss bitch. Laura: You are a boss bitch. You really are.Paulette: And? Yes, and? Laura: It's been really lovely to talk with you, and I really appreciate your candor and your vulnerability. A lot of times, the things that people with ADHD struggle with can be the butt of jokes. Or people brush them off like, "Oh, it's just no, it's just no big deal. Just get your shit together. Just deal with it. Right? Like I'll just be here on time. Oh, you're such a space cadet. Deal with your money issues." There's a lot of pain that comes with that, both from externally and internally. And I'm grateful that you went there with me today. So thanks for taking the time. Paulette: Thanks for having me. Laura: It's Please check it out. Check out all of her amazing work. Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at I'd love to hear from you. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently, discover their potential and thrive. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at "ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine!Jessamine: Hi everyone. Laura: Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show. For the Understood Podcast Network, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, Seth Melnick is our executive producer, and I'm your host, Laura Key. Thanks so much for listening.

  • 5 reasons why kids with ADHD get bullied

    Kids who learn and think differently are often the targets of bullying. But for kids with ADHD, it can be even worse. One reason is that some ADHD symptoms and behaviors are very noticeable. They set kids with ADHD apart, which gives bullies more power. Bullying isn’t just physical. It can be verbal, too. It also doesn’t have to take place in person. Kids can be bullied online, via text, and on social media. Being mean and excluding kids can also be types of bullying. Understanding why kids with ADHD are more likely to be bullied can help you troubleshoot problems and teach kids strategies and skills. Here are five reasons ADHD can make kids stand out to potential bullies.1. Trouble following social rulesKids with ADHD can have a hard time learning and following social rules. And they may not remember the rules in the moment when they’re interacting with others. Trouble with executive function makes it tough to keep track of the dos and don’ts in social settings. Many kids with ADHD struggle to pick up on social cues like body language. So, they may not realize how people are responding to what they’re saying or doing, or what the situation is when they start interacting. 2. ImpulsivityImpulsivity, a key symptom of ADHD, can create a lot of problems for kids with ADHD. They may interrupt a lot, overshare, or accidentally be rude. They can also play too roughly, grab items from people, and do or say things without thinking. All of these impulsive behaviors can lead to kids with ADHD being picked on. 3. Trouble managing emotionsTrouble managing emotions is another aspect of ADHD that can make kids stand out. It leads to behavior that can make kids easy targets for bullying. Kids with ADHD can get fired up fast and struggle to keep their emotions in check. They might get angry over small things and not let it go. Or get overexcited or cry easily and often. And if other kids respond, they may overreact to that, too.4. HyperfocusHyperfocus is a part of ADHD that many people don’t understand. But kids with ADHD often get so focused on things they find interesting or fun that they can’t pull themselves away or stop thinking about it. So, a child might keep repeating the same thing during a conversation. Or stay on a topic for too long when the conversation has moved on. They might continue to do a classroom activity that they really enjoy, even though the class is doing something else.5. Low self-esteemSome kids with ADHD have a hard time with academics. Seeing their classmates learn the material more easily can impact their self-esteem. That lack of confidence can make kids more likely to be picked on and less likely to stand up for themselves.Many kids with ADHD get a lot more negative feedback at home, at school, and in social situations than their peers. That can also lower their self-esteem and make them feel unsure of themselves. Bullying comes down to an imbalance of power. The more you know about it, the better equipped you’ll be to stop it and help kids cope with it. Get the facts about bullying. Learn the difference between bullying and teasing. And find out how to give praise that builds self-esteem.

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    Changing focus between two jobs fights off my ADHD boredom

    Rachel Basoco’s two jobs keep things interesting for her ADHD. She works full time at Fidelity, and part time at 11:11 Media, Paris Hilton’s company. Rachel Basoco ADHD, works two different industries. She’s full-time director advancement growth digital communities Fidelity. also works part time 11:11 Media, Paris Hilton’s company, building Web3 community. considers “the finance bro finance bro’s girlfriend.”Having two different jobs makes planning workday easier Rachel. flexible schedule, pivoting one project another brain gets bored. positions, works passion: fostering community.Listen week’s episode hear Rachel developed community among Latina business owners. Plus, gather advice self-advocating managers.Related resourcesADHD boredomWorkplace accommodations fact sheetA day life employee ADHDEpisode transcriptRachel: stayed one place one time bored, would picked skill set today.Eleni: Understood Podcast Network, "How'd Get Job?!," podcast explores unique often unexpected career paths people learning thinking differences. name Eleni Matheou I'm user researcher Understood. means spend lot time thinking find jobs love reflect learn are. I'll host.Rachel Basoco next guest. Rachel ADHD. passion community building, two jobs two different industries. She's full-time director Advancement Growth Digital Communities Fidelity, financial company. also works part-time 11:11 Media, Paris Hilton's company, working building Web3 community. Rachel diagnosed ADHD last two years. reflect together past experiences shaped self-image things like boredom taught pay attention ignites her, also guided seek supports positions make shine. Let's hear builds work work her. Super excited show, Rachel.Rachel: know. Yay. Exciting talk way.Eleni: know. actually haven't talked much work, funny. feel like bunch friends New York City where, like, literally took year even find day job was.Rachel: Yeah.Eleni: there's many things talk about. So, exciting. Rachel friend New York City. know overlapping communities, feel like it's appropriate we're going talk community community building conversation. know, know you're two jobs moment, maybe could tell us little bit them.Rachel: Yeah, definitely. Exactly said, work two jobs, I'm always kind picking jobs there. mean, think way brain works. something's exciting new, do? jump in? need structure life. So, work two roles.My full-time role Fidelity. director Advancement Growth Digital Communities there, extensively helping build digital peer-to-peer space community financial wealth advisors, kind creating space find sense belonging amongst one another digital space. really isn't something like size we're looking build it.And part-time, every week go I've building digital presence digital community Paris Hilton. So, web3 community manager there, really kind maintaining community Discord, working VP Growth design really we're moving Paris Hilton audience. so, two roles have. kind joke, I'm finance boyfriend finance boyfriend's girlfriend.Eleni: love that.Rachel: like day, I'm calls talking market capital gains. afternoons I'm talking about, know, simple life glitter and, know, unicorns rainbows. so, really love kind duality day jobs.Eleni: Yeah, really polar opposite. It's great. love it. would love hear little bit like setup, know, works you. Like, like it? Like, relate like brain works?Rachel: Definitely. mean, think something that's really super helpful roles I've like massive over-communication managers, like boundaries place. Like don't calls 9 a.m. night owl need night owl need able work kind like way work, sometimes day might look like paper, like people do, like 8 5 9 5, know, right? can't work way. need take breaks. need moments it's, stop I'm focus something else come back it, it's exciting get bored quickly.So, know, typical day way I've structured might look like, hey, two three meetings, rest day like open space actually block calendar like focus time. get decide, focus time used Paris project Fidelity project? really depends priorities, allows kind go back forth without getting bored one them.Oftentimes find I've bored certain task, like can't focus. I'm logged like brain. might logged like green computer, right? putting best energy. I'm putting best effort. can't productive I'd like be. so, it's honestly strange like "Hi Rachel brain, productive actually need to, like, stop things boring something else that's exciting." so, it's really nice kind make balance.Eleni: take time figure kind work situation works best you? Like, led that? Rachel: think, yes. mean, honestly, I'm thinking about, like past roles losing mind boredom, nothing exciting, nothing new. like sitting room, like office like 8 5, then, like, everyone would leave, I'd like didn't get anything done today. ultimately ended happening like, bored job, like making like started building company side. so, like, ended building first online marketplace made Latinas.Eleni: That's amazing.Rachel: like, "I'm bored like, hate..." used work fashion "I like, hate I'm right now. Like, I'd really love create online community space people buy things made Latinas, talk mean Latina in-person events."And honestly, got community bored job needed creative outlet needed something else do. telling you, like don't structure, don't two things do, brain it. It'll like start...Eleni: Create something else.Rachel: like, "Let's something else. Let's try something else."Eleni: Yeah. wondering, like, tools strategies kind needed day day support challenges maybe need less found like environment?Rachel: Yeah, mean, definitely think like work later afternoons evenings week. so, think work-from-home work flexible work schedule helpful that, allows tap like productive, creative, focused times. Like, honestly, like hours 7 p.m. like 11 p.m., I'm probably focused day. yeah, could like sit like hammer like lot, like super focused.But hours probably 2 p.m. 4 p.m., I'm always like, "I'm useless right now." Like there's much like, jump-start unless it's something that's new exciting kind create a, again, faux excitement around it. tools resources really like a) learning structure day works me, productive. b) also able communicate team managers people work firm boundaries, think took figure out.I mean, wasn't diagnosed ADHD year half ago, two years ago. so, didn't know. thought like, "There's something wrong me. can't like everybody else?" it's actually not, like can, needs structure format.Eleni: Yeah. Yeah. diagnosis changed way perceive challenges?Rachel: Yeah, think oftentimes kid, especially young girl looking back, it's like obviously, ADHD, you're Chatty Cathy, like book like first grade, talking book, talked turn, teacher like, write thing come back home this, like talking book like, "Rachel talks much class. Rachel does, know...." know, like was, yeah, like wasn't, know, think diagnosis young boys young girls different.And ou

  • What to do when your child is the bully

    Kids who learn and think differently are often bullied. But they sometimes do the bullying, too. Hearing that your child is bullying others can be really upsetting. But there’s a lot parents can do to help.All kids do things that might seem like bullying sometimes. An episode or two of excluding, picking on, or being mean to other kids doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a larger problem. But if your child is repeatedly doing these things, or being physically or verbally abusive, it’s time to act. Kids with differences might bully because they:Feel the need to gain control. Are being bullied themselves. Have trouble managing emotions. Struggle with social skills. Feel frustrated and powerless over challenges.Even if there are reasons for the behavior, bullying is never OK. Kids need to know that when they’re mean or threatening to other kids, they’re being a bully. Teaching kids to manage their emotions and actions is a step toward stopping bullying in its tracks. Here’s how.Make sure your child knows what bullying is.Don’t assume your child knows what counts as bullying. Kids who learn and think differently may misread situations or not realize how their actions are impacting others. For example, a child with ADHD might not know when teasing becomes bullying. You may need to explain that it crosses the line when it’s a pattern of unwelcome behavior and the other person tells you to stop or acts like they don’t like it.Be clear that you’re not OK with bullying.Tell your child that you don’t think it’s funny, cool, or acceptable to hurt others or make them feel bad. That goes for siblings as well as peers. If your child’s school has anti-bullying policies, review them with your child. This can help your child understand that there are rules in place and expectations in other places besides home.Calmly talk through bullying incidents.What did you do?Why was that a bad choice?Who did your actions hurt?What were you trying to achieve?Next time, how can you achieve that goal without hurting other people?Don’t let bullying slide.You may not think these incidents are that serious. But your child needs to know that bullying isn’t allowed and there will be negative consequences. No matter what, your child should apologize to the victim. Then, your child might lose a privilege. That might be TV or cell phone privileges or missing a favorite activity. Stay on top of your child’s behavior.Who does your child hang out with? How does your child spend their time? What does your child do online? Try to monitor how your child acts in different areas of their life. Call out bullying behaviors as soon as you notice them. This helps kids begin to understand more fully what is and isn’t acceptable.Get others on board.Talk with your child’s school and the adults in charge of outside activities. See if you can get everyone on the same page when it comes to expectations. And find out if they can help your child work on developing better social and problem-solving skills. If they’ve had success in stopping bullying with other kids, they may have other good advice.Learn more:The difference between teasing and bullying ADHD and bullying Bullying fact sheet 

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    Disability inclusion and how to ask for accommodations at work

    Claire Odom is a psychotherapist with ADHD. She’s also a disability inclusion consultant who has advice on navigating the workplace. Claire Odom has always worked in the disability inclusion world, even before she knew she had ADHD. When she related a little bit too much to everyone’s answers in an ADHD focus group, she knew it was time to get evaluated. Now, Claire is a psychotherapist at a private practice that embraces neurodiversity. She’s also a disability inclusion consultant for Understood’s Workplace team, which focuses on building stronger, more equitable, and more inclusive work environments. Listen to this week’s episode of How’d You Get THAT Job?! for advice on how to navigate the workplace with learning and thinking differences.Related resourcesUnderstood’s Workplace resourcesAccommodations: What they are and how they work32 examples of workplace accommodationsWhat is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)?Episode transcriptClaire: You are entitled to reasonable accommodation, you're entitled to supports in the workplace to accommodate your disability or your learning and thinking difference. I'm not asking for special treatment. I'm asking for what I'm owed, what I'm due.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.My next guest is actually part of the Understood family. Claire Odom is a disability advocate that works on our Workplace team at Understood. She was already working in the disability inclusion world when she discovered she has ADHD, and has since delved even further into the space. She's also a therapist in private practice, working predominantly with neurodiverse folks. In this episode, she shares how her two roles are both contributing towards creating more functional, inclusive, and enjoyable workplaces for people with disabilities, particularly those with learning and thinking differences. Welcome to the show, Claire.Claire: Thanks so much for having me, Eleni.Eleni: So, you were full-time at Understood. Now you're still around as a consultant. I'm curious to hear what you're up to and what you're doing at the moment.Claire: I am a disability inclusion consultant with Understood, working on a lot of their different workplace programs, in particular supporting our training efforts and our disability inclusion assessment efforts where we work with companies to help them become as inclusive of people with disabilities and learning and thinking differences as we possibly can.And then my other hat is that I am a psychotherapist working with people of all ages and of all needs and demographics, but with a particular emphasis on people with disabilities, people with neurodiversity — neurodivergent folks — up here in the Hudson Valley.Eleni: I know some of your work at Understood is, you know, kind of like doing a little bit more hands-on assessments of organizations that, you know, are interested in taking the next step in terms of disability initiatives. And, you know, you might like audit what's their existing practices and how things are going. What are some of the things that you look for and like what is like a good kind of functioning, inclusive workplace? Like what does that actually look like?Claire: What an interesting question. Because often as part of, you know, working with Understood, we don't know till we get there, right? So I think, you know, pretty much any organization would benefit from a lot of intentional thinking about inclusion.But as an employee, I think what I would look for is flexibility, right? The understanding that there can be lots of different pathways to the same goal and that those pathways can be equally, you know, useful or valid or whatever else. I also think that one thing that I really, really notice is does an organization offer accommodations full-throatedly and at the very start of an engagement, or even just through the application process? It's such a big sign to people, I think, and it's something that really indicates a way of thinking about disability in the workplace that closely related to action. And I think that is powerful for for me and a good sign.Eleni: What are some of the biggest gaps that you see? Like, is it in that early kind of engagement? Or is it in other areas?Claire: It's changing so much. I think that when I first started in this world, the biggest gap was just talking about it at all. Nobody talked about disability in a workplace setting except for kind of activists in the space. So it's been really encouraging to see how much this conversation has advanced and grown in the past, like 20 years.One of the biggest gaps I see is that a lot of people see the word "accommodation" and they think to themselves, "Eww, that's expensive." And so there's kind of this immediate fear of opening up the conversation, maybe? And so I think that the drum that I beat the most is how inexpensive, how easy to implement, how available so many accommodations are.And they could be as simple as, you know, a quick thing that you sort of overlay your existing systems. They can be a screen reader that gets added, which I know for a variety of different disabilities, learning and thinking differences that could be helpful. It can be adding closed captioning to meetings. As someone with ADHD, a closed caption meeting is the difference between me paying attention and me not. So, I think that just the beginnings of the accommodations conversation, I think there's a gap there that once people are educated and know what we're actually talking about when we talk about accommodations, it's pretty quick to close.Eleni: Yeah. I know one piece of research that I think we worked on together or that our teams worked on together was back in 2020. And it was, you know, this notion of building trust and comfort, like with a direct manager, is actually like really an important element in terms of like being able to have a conversation about, like, needs and challenges and, like, potentially accommodations.I guess without giving away, like, the whole training, like, what is one thing that you would want managers to know about? Like how to be more inclusive or accommodating to people with learning and thinking differences?Claire: I think the most powerful thing as a manager that you can do is one, to know what your organization's accommodations policy is, and two, to feel comfortable talking about disability and accommodations in the workplace — knowing what you can say, knowing what you can't say, and feeling ready to have that conversation. Because it's going to come up, right? People are going to come to you and say, "Hey, I can't do X, Y, and Z because of this condition," right? Like, there are going to be situations in which disability is going to enter into your role as a manager. And just knowing the facts I think is is hugely important.Eleni: So yeah, let's look at your other jobs. So you also work as a licensed psychotherapist, working with neurodiverse folks. I imagine how they show up at work probably comes up a lot in some of your conversations. So I'm interested in like how you apply some of your workplace expertise in your one-on-one work.Claire: Yeah. It's been — it's been interesting being able to draw on that world of experience as well. Because you think of it as being such a different kind of setup: psychotherapy versus, you know, going to work every day. But I think again, the concept of accommodations is something that's very relevant to my work.Now I ask new clients if they have any sensory issues that we should be aware of as we start our work together. I ask every new client if they need any sort of accommodation. You know, people say things that can be really interesting and creative and surprising when, you know, you kind of open up that safe conversation to talk about, hey, what sensory stuff really bugs you out? What would really be detrimental to our daily or our our regular conversations here if I have it going on?So yeah, I have a huge, huge bucket of sensory toys and fidgets that is always at the ready, because I have several clients who just are able to better talk about the tough stuff if they have a fidget spinner or if they have a puppet, or if they have one of those like sequins, you can flip the sequins back and forth. Pieces of cloth. Yeah.Eleni: I have a pillow like that. It is so popular when friends come over. I never really made the connection. But you're right. It's particularly popular with my neurodiverse friends.Claire: Definitely.Eleni: They'll just be sitting there the whole night, just, like, doing that.Claire: That is such a soothing feeling, that back and forth, because it's smooth on both sides. It just — it is very satisfying.Eleni: That's so funny. Wow. Yeah. I'm just making that connection now.I mean, I don't know the average age of the people that you work with, but do you provide them any advice with like how they might talk to their managers about, you know, their work style or their challenges, or like, as you said, some of their sensitivities?Claire: Well, so I work with people across the life course. My youngest client's 4, my oldest client's 70. So it's really everybody is welcome. But yeah, absolutely. I would, I mean, I think I would help any client prepare for any difficult conversation or stressful conversation if that was within the scope of our treatment together. And I think especially helping folks with barriers to neurotypical communication styles, for instance, like really spending that time to help people practice what they would say. And, you know, effective communication skills are definitely a part of the world of work that I do. Even up to like scripting with people, you know. Would you like to sit together and script how you would say this to your manager, to your teacher, to your colleague, your co-volunteer — you know, anybody in any of these venues of life where we maybe aren't expecting or accepting of neurodiversity.But also, you know, I am pretty open to talking about, you know, potential accommodations that people could benefit from. I write letters for my clients who are in the school system or in college to help them advocate or identify accommodations that can help them succeed in in their school settings.Eleni: Help people kind of sort through what kind of environment might be a better fit for them? Like say they're in like a work environment that doesn't support them, or they have those conversations and they're not met, you know, where they deserve to be met. When would be a circumstance where it would be appropriate, let's say, to have that conversation, talk to a manager or, you know, go through more formal means versus just moving on from that place?Claire: If ever you are coming to your manager or to HR to talk about changes or supports that you need in a work environment relevant to a disability or learning and thinking difference, that is an accommodations request, right? You have opened up what we call the interactive process there. And so you are in a territory where you are protected and where you have a right to receive the accommodations that are going to help level the playing field for you.I want to be very careful and state here that I am not a lawyer, and I am not an ADA expert. Really. I think about it a lot. But you know, I am not in a position to give legal advice. But, you know, I think just that confidence that — this is an entitlement. You are entitled to reasonable accommodation. You're entitled to supports in the workplace to accommodate your disability or your learning and thinking difference. So having that confidence, knowing that that's true, believing that that's true. Like I'm not asking for special treatment, I'm asking for what I'm owed, what I'm due.And then I think the other thing is really preparing, doing some research. A resource that I use all the time is, which is a government-run website that is a pretty exhaustive resource of supports and accommodations that are broken down by kind of area of need. So OK, I struggle with executive function. What are the types of things that have been helpful for that?, too, has lots of great resources that can help you sort of think about things that might work for you.So coming to that conversation prepared with some ideas for solutions is always going to be — I think it's going to be helpful. It's going to help things move from planning into action a little more swiftly.Eleni: So, I worked on a piece of research a year or two ago. What is time? We kind of talked about some of the common catalysts that lead to adults confronting their own personal challenges with learning and thinking differences. And I remember when we first met, you had kind of shared your own ADHD realization story. I think it's a really good one. So I would love for you to share that with us.Claire: Very early on in my work with Understood, I was mostly focusing on the world of developmental disability. But I had the chance to help facilitate a focus group of young people with learning and thinking differences. And as we were facilitating this discussion, I found myself more and more saying, well, wait, but that thing you're describing, that's what everybody thinks and feels, right? You know, like, well, sure, it's hard for everybody to concentrate on textbooks for protracted periods of time. Like everybody has issues with like memory and, you know, everybody else sort of — everybody has confusion about calendars. And by the end, I was like, oh, my gosh, I really never — yeah, I think I might have a learning and thinking difference.So, I ran home that night and spent a lot of time on Google and decided to get formally assessed. So at 34 years old, I was formally assessed and diagnosed with ADHD inattentive type, and it explained so much about some of the things that I sort of thought of as my inherent weaknesses, and has really, really helped me adapt better to the world.Eleni: I think what's really interesting is that you were already at Understood when this happened, so there must have been something that kind of drew you to this world. And like I know up until that moment you'd already kind of dedicated your whole career to like, you know, working towards creating more like, inclusive workplaces for people with disabilities, like including learning and thinking differences. What do you think drew you to that path if wasn't, at that point, this personal connection?Claire: Yeah, I mean, I think part of it's just sort of a happy accident, right? Like when I finished college, I really didn't know what I wanted to do. And I kind of fell into this world of disability support services and disability inclusion and really found a lot of connection and meaning through that work. Like really, really enjoyed finding ways to communicate with people who, for instance, didn't speak or, you know, people who were deaf from birth and had not used sign language previously. Things like really being able to be creative and find different ways of connecting.And I was able to kind of use that connection as the driving force, I think, in pretty much all of the work that I've done since. But it definitely deepened — my connection with the work definitely deepened when I realized I wasn't talking about, you know, making the world better just for other people. It was also actually more than indirectly for me. You know, it really changed how I thought about accommodations in the workplace. I'd ask for them now. It's just a more rich connection now that it's me as well.Eleni: Can you talk a little bit about, like, you know, your own challenges and your own discoveries over the years. And kind of how you discovered what works and what doesn't and what you've kind of, you know, done as a result?Claire: Yeah. Getting the ADHD diagnosis really changed how I approached some of my quote-unquote shortcomings. Right? They really helped me move from this sort of confusion and frustration with myself to a more, like, solutions-oriented approach.So I know for me that time and scheduling are things that are enormous challenges, and that there are limits on how much I can strategize around that and change that. So, you know, being able to think about checks and balances that can help keep me oriented in time throughout my day. Like I am going to have to have somebody else double-check any travel planning that I make. Because if I do it on my own, I will book the wrong weekend. And I will lose hundreds of dollars in transfer fees or whatever else.And knowing that I can do that without thinking that I'm just some space cadet who can't get it together. It's more like, this is the organic setup of my brain. And I can call on supports in order to work with that.I also think in terms of gravitating towards clinical work, towards psychotherapy, I think that it also helped me figure out work and activities and ways of thinking that are more naturally pleasurable or in sync with how my brain works. I am really able to focus and connect when I am in these, you know, one-on-one conversation setups. Those in-depth conversations are very natural fits for the way that my attention naturally gravitates. Whereas having to build a very long PowerPoint presentation is something that is a lot more of a — requires lot more accommodation for me. How's that say? How's that sound?Knowing that there are types of work and ways that I can work that are better fits for where my attention naturally gravitates has been really transformative for me too. Because I think I was really trying to force myself into, you know, if I just work hard enough, if I just focus hard enough, if I just set enough Pomodoro timers, I will suddenly snap into being able to focus on things that my brain doesn't want to focus on. And having that freedom to think differently about how I think has been really revolutionary for me.Eleni: Yeah. And I think that's a nice way to phrase it. It's like you're not forcing yourself. And that's kind of related to the environment talk, too, right? Where it's like, hey, no matter how many things I do to like, accommodate this, you know, it's not actually going to change the way my brain works. It's still going to be, you know, a more challenging task.Claire: Yeah. Accommodations can only get you so far. Can't make you like a job necessarily. So yeah.Eleni: How do you think about yourself and your differences? Or like how you understand yourself and your differences now compared to how you used to, having gone through that?Claire: I just have a lot more patience for myself, and understanding for myself. It's a lot easier for me to be kind of mindful of my own self-talk, you know — what am I saying to myself? And is it true? Now that I have this overlaying ... ADHD, it's — rather than excuse, it's explanation, if that makes sense. It helps me to walk that line of taking accountability without falling into the trap of guilt.And I'm really thankful for that because I think prior to this understanding of attention deficit, I, you know, wasn't thinking about tools that could help me maintain a feeling of not being overwhelmed, and was just kind of in overwhelmed crisis world more often. And just knowing what's going on to a certain extent has really helped me work within the way that I think, without necessarily like trying to mask it or, you know, hide my disorganization from people. It's a more — God, I'm going to use the word "self-actualized" — view.Eleni: It's a great word.Claire: Like I'm more at the top of Maslow's hierarchy. Yeah, I'm just like — I'm more aware of how I function and I'm more OK with it.Eleni: Well, I'm very happy for you that you were able to come to that place.Claire: Thanks, Eleni.Eleni: To get to the top of the pyramid. Woo!Claire: Sometimes they dip down. I try to stay toward the top.Eleni: Well, yeah. Thank you so much for having this conversation with me.Claire: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Eleni. This has been super fun.Eleni: You've been listening to "How'd You Get THAT Job?!" from the Understood Podcast Network. This show is for you, so we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at with your thoughts about the show. Or maybe you'd like to tell us how you got THAT job. I'd love to hear from you.If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at"How'd You Get THAT Job?!" is produced by Margie DeSantis and edited by Grace Tatter. 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. Thanks again for listening. 

  • What is cyberbullying?

    Cyberbullying is the use of digital communication tools (like the internet and cell phones) to make another person feel angry, sad, or scared. Online bullying is like in-person bullying in two key ways. It’s done on purpose. And it tends to happen more than once. Examples of cyberbullying include:Sending hurtful texts or instant messagesPosting embarrassing photos or videos on social mediaSpreading mean rumors online or with cell phonesIf you’re trying to figure out whether your child is being cyberbullied, think about whether the hurtful behavior is intentional and repeated. If the answer is no, the offender might simply need to learn better online manners. If the answer is yes, take it seriously.

  • Parenting Behavior with Dr. Andy Kahn: Your Guide to Getting Through the Hard Stuff

    Trailer: What Now? A Parent’s Guide to Tantrums and Meltdowns

    Listen to the trailer for Season 1 of this how-to podcast, which teaches practical strategies to manage outbursts and other challenging behaviors. Watch or listen to the trailer for What Now? A Parent’s Guide to Tantrums and Meltdowns. Over eight short episodes, you’ll learn practical strategies to help you respond more effectively to your child’s outbursts — and manage your own stress along the way.Host Dr. Andrew Kahn is a licensed psychologist who has been working with kids, teens, and adults for more than 20 years. In this how-to podcast, he offers tips you can use in the moment and skill-building exercises you can practice ahead of time.  Season 1 of What Now? A Parent’s Guide drops Thursday, Oct. 5.Episode transcriptAs a parent, you may feel like your child's tantrums or meltdowns come out of nowhere and can last an agonizingly long time. But what if I told you it doesn't have to be that way? This is "What Now? A Parent's Guide to Tantrums and Meltdowns." My name's Dr. Andrew Kahn. I'm a licensed psychologist and a dad. I'll be your host. Over eight short episodes, I'll teach you how to calm your child during tantrums and meltdowns, how to prevent future outbursts, and how to manage your own stress along the way. Listen to "What Now? A Parent's Guide to Tantrums and Meltdowns" wherever you get your podcasts or watch it on Understood's YouTube channel at

  • Small success: My son with ADHD stood up to a bully

    One day at school, my youngest son Benjamin, who has ADHD, saw another student being bullied. Benjamin has two older brothers — both of whom have experienced bullying. One brother has serious developmental and learning differences, but never gives up. He even was part of the Special Olympics a few years ago. The other brother is an incredibly gifted but quiet kid who has trouble with social situations.When Benjamin saw the bullying in his school hallway, he remembered everything his brothers had gone through. So Benjamin went right over to the bully and told him to stop — and the bully did! As a mom, I’m proud of all my sons. They’ve all taken on challenges with grace. But what Benjamin did was special because I know how much he cares about his brothers and our family.— Sarah P.Sarah is a mother of three children with learning and thinking differences.Learn steps to take if you suspect bullying at school. Read how to help your child defend against bullies. And find out what one mom did when she found out her daughter was being bullied by mean girls because of her learning differences.

  • In It

    The power of self-advocacy for kids at IEP and 504 meetings

    Self-advocacy is important for thriving in school, at work, and in life. So how do we help kids build their self-advocacy muscles? Self-advocacy is the ability to communicate your needs. It’s important for thriving in school, at work, and in life. But it’s not something that comes naturally for kids — and even most adults. So how do we help kids build their self-advocacy muscles?In this episode, hosts Rachel Bozek and Gretchen Vierstra talk about self-advocacy with Melody Maitland, a director of student services and former special education teacher. Melody believes that kids deserve a seat at the table in IEP and 504 plan meetings, and that we should prepare them with self-advocacy skills.Hear how she helps kids learn to speak up for themselves, starting with self-awareness. Get tips for building your child’s self-advocacy skills at home. And learn why adults are often the biggest obstacles to kids learning to self-advocate.Related resourcesWhat is self-advocacy? Download: Self-awareness worksheets for kidsCan I ask for self-advocacy IEP goals for my child? Episode transcriptGretchen: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It," a podcast about the ins and outs...Rachel: ...the ups and downs...Gretchen: ...of supporting kids who learn and think differently. I'm Gretchen Vierstra, a former classroom teacher and an editor here at Understood.Rachel: And I'm Rachel Bozek, a writer and editor raising two kids with ADHD. Today, we're talking about how to help kids who learn and think differently become powerful self-advocates.Gretchen: Our guest for this conversation is Melody Maitland. Melody is a director of student services at Capital City Public Charter School in Washington, DC. She's also worked in the classroom as a special education teacher.Rachel: We wanted to talk to Melody because so much of her work revolves around the idea that middle and high school students deserve a seat at the table for IEP and 504 meetings.Gretchen: Melody strongly believes that's a great place for kids to start building self-advocacy skills.Rachel: We're delighted to have her here with us today. Melody, welcome to "In It."Melody: Thank you so much for having me.Gretchen: As you know, we asked you to come talk with us today because we're interested in learning more about self-advocacy when it comes to students who learn and think differently. And so I think we need to start off with a definition first. What exactly do we mean by self-advocacy? Because I'm pretty sure we're not talking about writing, you know, a congressperson or a letters to the editor, right?Melody: So essentially when we say self-advocacy, we're talking about students being able to speak up about their needs, especially as students, and being able to articulate their preferences and just overall being able to speak for themselves.Rachel: Melody, I know in your role as a director of student services, you've worked hard to make sure there's a seat at the table for students when it comes to IEP meetings, 504 meetings, that kind of thing. Why is that such an important starting point for you when it comes to student self-advocacy?Melody: Yeah, so at least in my experience, if students are not in the room where decisions are made about them, they don't really have a meaningful opportunity to advocate for themselves. And I really feel like, just like we build skills across reading, writing, math, we also have to directly and explicitly teach these skills in the area of advocacy.So what that looks like in practice is preparing students to meaningfully participate in their meetings. And then once they understand those plans, being able to advocate for those things directly in the classroom, in the hallway, in their extracurricular activities, and beyond.Rachel: So, when you say prepare the student for a meeting like that, and I'm kind of asking this for myself right now because I have a meeting kind of like this coming up for a 504 conversation at a middle school. So this is pretty on the nose. What do you mean by preparing the student?Melody: Yeah. So for me, the first thing to know about advocacy is it's very individualized. So I always start with self-awareness. Does the student I'm working with know their interests, their needs, their strengths, their challenge areas? Do they know what a 504 plan or an IEP is? Do they know what they have that plan for — their diagnosis, their differing ability, disability, whatever we call it. And really just engaging in those conversations, because there tends to be this culture of nicety like we don't want to tell them because we don't want them to feel bad.But in doing so, we create more stigma by not talking about it, right? That silence speaks volumes about how we view differing abilities. So it starts with that self-awareness. And then really comes the communication piece in supporting them and being able to communicate those needs and strengths and challenge areas.Gretchen: When should we first start involving kids in these school-based conversations? I mean, can we start with really young kids? Is that OK?Melody: I believe so. I mean, everything's about the developmental appropriateness, right, depending on the student's age, but also their level of comfortability with certain conversations. I mean, this is where parents play a huge role. They know their child. They're experts on them, what they feel comfortable with. And that's why this has to be a partnership between the school and parents, right?If it's not, what I've seen happen is that the school has a very specific definition of advocacy, has prepared a child in such a way they show up at a meeting. The parent comes and they look like, what is going on here? No one has told me my student's going to be here. I wanted to have that conversation with my child about this very specific area. So that partnership is really critical.Gretchen: That is such a good point. It's sort of like, you know, when teachers tell parents like we should be on the same page. What I'm talking about in the classroom is what you should be talking about at home so that we're speaking this common language and nobody's wondering what the other one is talking about.I have a question about all this. What about if your school isn't set up this way, right? Where there's never been kids who attend meetings and it's just not this way at all. How is... You, the parent who wants your kid to have these skills — how can you make this happen? How can you, you know, do this without disrupting the system of the school? I mean, are there tips for that?Melody: Well, first, I think we should disrupt the systems of the school.Gretchen: OK.Melody: Right? Like, and you would hope that it comes from the side of the school, but sometimes that's not always the case. And as a parent, it's perfectly all right and within your rights as a parent to say "My child will be included in this meeting." Right? And that might not make people feel comfortable. But it — the way I explain it, because I've been in settings where students were never part of their meetings. And that is a huge shift, especially for adults.And the way I explain it is: Let's just say I am struggling at work. I have some challenges. And I need support for those specific challenges. So a group of people meet about me to put together some supports and accommodations that are going to support me. And then as I'm going through work every day, all these things are being imposed on me. And I'm really confused about why is my boss doing this all of a sudden? Or why does so-and-so, you know, why are they interacting with me this way? I don't think that that would necessarily support my growth as an adult.Now, if you're a kid and now all these people are like, "Oh, well, you're going to be in this small group and you're going to get extended time." And that can be really confusing about why that's happening. And that will cause a lot of potential externalizing behaviors, disruptions. When there is a lack of information — right? — people create their own narratives.So what is the narrative that that child is creating about themselves if we're not actually just being transparent with them about why? Kids can handle the hard stuff. Sometimes I don't feel like adults can, but that's what we have to do. And so disrupting the system, like any kind of marginalized identity, is what is required.Gretchen: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.Rachel: Yeah. This really hits home for me because I'm, as I mentioned, you know, in the process of basically reviewing my middle-schooler's 504 because it's a little bit — it feels a little stale. And I've been kind of signing off on it as we go along. And I reached out to the school recently to say, like, I think we should meet and kind of take a look at what needs to be freshened up a little.And I was thinking about like, oh, well, maybe my child should be at this meeting. And then I was like, I don't think that's usually how those meetings work. And I kind of just was like, oh well, OK. But now I'm like, well, maybe he's going to come to the meeting.Gretchen: So you need to be a system disruptor.Rachel: Maybe. Or maybe they're like, "Why doesn't anybody ask if their kid can come?"Gretchen: Right.Rachel: You know, because I have actually found the teachers to be super responsive and open to these kinds of conversations. But a lot of times I'm like, well, it's probably easier to do it if he's not there. But that's really not helping him.Melody: Yeah, I also find kids are really the experts of themselves. We might put all these supports in place and they say, actually, this is the one thing that I need that's going to make a difference. And now we don't have to invest so much energy into things that are not working.Gretchen: True. I have another question related to all this, because it's so interesting to me. It just gets tricky, I think. Because I know that for some families, especially maybe families who moved here from other countries who aren't as familiar with the U.S. school system, this idea of advocating and speaking up and having your child come to the meeting and say "I disagree with that" to a teacher is tough. Have you come across that in your work, and how have you helped?Melody: Yeah, 100%. And I have had tricky situations where sometimes there are disagreements, maybe culturally or just in terms of parenting style, like, right, a more authoritative parenting style. That's like, you know, you don't get to say that you disagree with this. And I have had instances where I've had to ask the student to leave.And those are the times where it's my job to advocate and really have those direct conversations. I hear you and I'm validating where you are coming from and what that looks like at home. And we are at school, and that's kind of where my turf comes, right? I am an advocate for the student first. And if I can say, "Let me explain why I think your child is saying they disagree with this," they're more likely to say, "Oh, OK, that makes sense," because it's coming from me. It shouldn't, but that's where we are.These can be hard conversations. I frequently work with parents who have a specific desired future that they've envisioned for their child. Right? And that doesn't always match the child's vision, their future desires, or maybe their preferences, or maybe their needs. So we really have to let the child lead the way in having these conversations.Many times what this looks like in meetings is a student will say, "I don't think that really works for me" or "I would like to try this." And we all know as adults, I don't know if that's really going to work. But we have to let them try, and we have to let them see if it doesn't work in a structured and secure environment. Because if we don't listen to those small things, they won't tell us those big things. And they won't feel like their voice actually matters. So utilizing those moments to elevate and let the student actually lead.Rachel: Can you talk about some of the other work you do with your students to help them develop their self-advocacy skills?Melody: I think — and I talked a little bit about this, the self-awareness piece. What does learning look like for you? And especially when we're talking about middle and high school students. They start to see the differences and a lot of times they don't have the language to understand or express what is happening.And I often find that if they say something like, "I have a really hard time sitting down, but everyone else in my class doesn't." And then really talking about — I actually had this conversation earlier this week with a student. Like, "Why do you think that is?" And they said, "You know, we're reading 'Percy Jackson' and they talked about Percy Jackson has ADHD. I think I might have that, too." And sure enough, that was the differing ability that the student had the diagnosis. And then we just kind of talked about it.You know, it's not always easy and sometimes it's a much slower process that involves the student finding out more information about their diagnosis. Luckily, I've gotten the opportunity to work in 6–12 settings, so I've gotten to see them when they're 11 and 12 all the way to 18. And you can see that progression over time. Advocacy is not built overnight. It's a marathon, not a sprint.Gretchen: Yeah.Melody: Exactly. So we might not see the fruits of our labor immediately. But over time, students at their own pace — right? — will be able to articulate what does this mean for me? What is a plan? What am I entitled to in the classroom? What do I want to do when I grow up and how do I get there? So like everything with IEPs, 504s, it's just very individualized.Gretchen: Those sound like really constructive conversations you're having at school. Can we have those same types of conversations at home to help our kids build self-advocacy skills?Melody: Yes, most definitely. I find that the communication at home and having the open conversations is really important. And sometimes I've had parents say, "Well, I don't really know as much about this," or "You know, when I go to the IEP meeting, there's a lot of jargon." And I understand. But especially when you have a student who's had a lot of training in self-advocacy and they know more than their parent, that can make for some really interesting conversations. And I just — beyond like letting the child lead the way, really making sure that we're continually educating ourselves so that we can have those informed dialogs.But also, it's OK to say, "I don't know." Right? Let's research this together or let's go — you know, you're having this challenge as it relates to focus in your class and this accommodation isn't working. How about we work on writing an email to the teacher? I, as the parent, am not going to write it for you. But I will sit here and ask prompting questions and support you in that process — so that that the student is advocating for what their needs are, but in a very supported way.Rachel: As kids get older and more independent, how much responsibility do we want — do we as their parents, as their teachers — want them or expect them to take on in terms of getting the supports they need? And, you know, like, how does that change as they progress through middle school and into high school? And then, of course, afterward.Melody: In my perfect world, you know, by the time a student is a senior, they should be able to clearly explain every part of their plan. They should be able to say what their differing ability is, how it impacts them, what they need, what they want their future to hold, what supports they're going to need to get there. And more and more as they get through high school, actually co-creating those plans and leading the entirety of that meeting. That's kind of where we want to get, because once they leave us — we have a lot of support in K–12. And then kids leave.And we know, I mean, all we have to do is look at labor statistics, right? And employment rates. I mean, individuals without disabilities are almost like three times more likely to be employed and that's even when we account for equal educational status. So if we're not really training them to have those real-life conversations, not just the reading, writing, academic skills. It really doesn't matter what we did in K–12 if they can't generalize to the real world.Rachel: What are some other obstacles to kids being able to advocate for themselves? What gets in the way of that?Melody: I have found in my work the biggest obstacle are adults. Because there are some — like everything in schools, I think there's a lot of shifts in schools. Like even if we think about grading, right? We all — and when I went to school it was a traditional grading system, ABCDF. And now there's mastery-based, standards-based grading and there's numbers. And parents are like, "Well, what does that really mean?"It's the same thing with self-advocacy. It's not something that maybe all of us have experienced as a child. And so it's really hard to support that development in our own students if we've never experienced it. And there's, you know, ageism, like there is all the other isms. And sometimes we don't believe as much in the voice of a student because of their age. But at the end of the day, if we don't harness their knowledge and really tap into it, we only do a disservice later, because then they're not building that skill set of being able to identify what their needs and preferences are. And then they go out into the world really unprepared.Gretchen: Yeah. I think you — Melody, the statement you said earlier about like a lot of times the adults get in the way. I really think you're right. I mean, I just, I think part of it for some of us is that this is just new to us. Right? Like, I know when I went to school, nobody told me I could ever speak up about anything that wasn't working for me.I still have a memory of being in the school cafeteria and being given only the bun to a hot dog. And the lady had forgotten to put the hot dog in. And I didn't say anything. Because I was like, I can't. Now I don't even eat meat anymore. But that's beside the point. But I just, I still have that memory of myself not being — thinking, "Oh, I guess I just won't eat a lot today, because I'm too afraid to ask this woman to give me the hot dog to put in the bun."And so I sometimes bring that story up with my kids. I'm like, "I did not want you to be the kid who doesn't get the hot dog. Like you need to get the hot dog." But we know that this idea that I just shared, right, this ability to be able to speak up for yourself, especially for people who learn and think differently, it's super important and it doesn't end after school. So how have you seen your own students take these self-advocacy skills into the world after they graduate?Melody: I'm humbled to say I've had the opportunity to be a part of a lot of students' journeys. And I think the thing that most excites me as I see kids going to college or supported employment is them being able to go to the disability services office and saying, "I had a 504 plan. This is what it was for. These are the accommodations I need." And to see them know that they know how to do that, they get the support. And sometimes that might still require some role-playing or some prepping or supported conversation, but they can do it.And I have seen kids who have differing abilities, especially the ones who can advocate, be the highest-performing students in the school. And other adults — because there there tends to be a lot of gap between performance between kids who have disabilities and kids who don't — for them to gain a different perspective. Having a different ability doesn't mean lower performance.Sometimes they're — you know, I've heard the language of superpower. And the more students know about their differing ability, their disability, and can articulate that, they can start to see, "Oh, wow, these are ways that this really supports me." And it's not always just a deficit mindset, right? So that's the kind of things that I've seen with students over the years.Gretchen: Well, Melody, this was a fantastic conversation. I know I learned a ton. So thank you for being with us today.Rachel: Yes, thank you so much. And I've got a few notes for myself.Melody: Thank you so much for having me.Gretchen: Before we go, we have a favor to ask. On this show, we talk a lot about finding joy and celebrating successes when it comes to raising kids who learn and think differently. But what about the fails?Rachel: What about the fails?Gretchen: Let's be real. We all make mistakes. So let's bond over those kinds of moments, too.Rachel: You know, those days when you are so exhausted, so done, you find yourself saying or doing the opposite of whatever you think a good parent or caregiver would say or do.Gretchen: Like when you get that midday call from your kid sweetly asking you to bring their trumpet to school because they forgot it. And you lose it on them, and you find yourself yelling so loudly that the school office staff can hear you.Rachel: Or your kid seems less than grateful for a present they get, because it's not exactly what they wanted. And your response is to say, "If you don't like it, I'll just send them all back." Even though of course you won't, because you're not a monster.Gretchen: Yeah. So let's laugh and maybe cry about these all-too-human fails together. If you have a story to share, send us a voice memo at Tell us how it started, what you were thinking and feeling, and how it ended. If you'd rather send an email, that's fine too. You can also send that to You can be anonymous or use your first name. Just know that submissions may be played or read on the podcast. And thanks. We can't wait to hear from you.Gretchen: You've been listening to "In It" from the Understood Podcast Network.Rachel: This show is for you. So we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at to share your thoughts. We love hearing from you.Gretchen: If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything you 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.

  • When mean girls bullied my daughter because of her learning differences

    Like other parents, I’ve heard stories about mean kids. I’ve watched television interviews of parents who have tears in their eyes as they talk about hazing. But bullying is something I never thought would happen to my child — until it did.Our daughter is 12 and in sixth grade, and she’s an amazing child. Funny, loving, kind, sweet, and smart. She makes me laugh every day, and she hugs our family about 10 times a day. She ends every phone call with an “I love you.”She also struggles with executive function. She started showing signs of these issues in early grade school. We noticed she was disorganized and had trouble following multi-step directions.She also has a hard time understanding social cues. Sometimes she talks out of turn, or doesn’t know what to say or do in a social situation. And because she’s so caring about others, she can be very sensitive and emotional. All of this makes her feel a lot of anxiety in school.Thankfully, she had excellent teachers in grade school. Together with the school, we worked on her organization skills and helped her create schedules to manage her time. We also talked with her about her anxiety and helped her learn strategies to be calm in different situations.All of our work paid off as our daughter entered fourth and fifth grade. She was way more organized and getting good grades in school. Socially, she had many great friends. She played two sports — tennis and swimming — and hung out with her teammates a lot.But as she entered sixth grade, we started to notice slight changes in her personality. She was a bit more distracted. It seemed like she was thinking of something else all the time. She started making excuses for missing team outings. And she’d ask me odd, out-of-the-blue questions like, “If I said X to my friend, we’d be good, right?”Then one day she asked me to drive her to school, instead of carpooling with her friends. As we drove, she asked if I could drive her tomorrow, and the next day. That’s when I stopped the car and asked her what was going on.At first she was too embarrassed to talk. “I don’t want you and Dad to feel sorry for me,” she said. But I kept pressing her. Once she started talking, it all came out.It turns out that one of her sports “friends,” whom she’d known for years, decided that our daughter was “dumb.” This girl made digs at her like “You’re not the smartest one, are you?” Or “You play tennis, but you’re not even good at that.”Our daughter said it started out as honest teasing. She tried to laugh it off, but it kept happening and got worse.Led by this mean girl, the group started to prank our daughter. Once, when our daughter sat down at lunch, everyone stood up and walked away. Another time, the girl commanded her, “Do this or I won’t talk to you again.”Our daughter tried to talk to this girl to ask what she did wrong. “We’re just teasing you!” the girl told her. Telling me this, my daughter was almost crying.I was shocked. We had known these kids and their families for years.What made it tougher was that the kids were sometimes nice to my daughter. And when they did bully her, it was often subtle. It wasn’t like the mean texts and tweets you sometimes see on social media. Sometimes, our daughter said, the bullying would stop for days, only to start up again later.Our daughter didn’t understand why this was happening. My husband and I decided we needed to talk it out with her. We told her it was hard to know what was going through the girl’s head.Maybe she was jealous of our daughter’s sports success or good grades. Maybe she saw our daughter as “easy prey” because of her learning and social issues. This could be a power play, we said to our daughter. No matter what the reason, we told her, “This is wrong and it’s not your fault.” There’s a lot more going on here than “teasing” or the girl’s “bad mood.”At first, we wanted to confront the girl’s parents. But our daughter asked us not to, so we didn’t.We knew the girl’s parents were very hands-off. We also suspected they would blow off the bullying as “teasing.” And if the girls in the group found out our daughter “tattled” on them, things might have gotten even worse for our daughter.So instead we decided to try to handle it on our own. We taught our daughter strategies to deal with the mean girls. We role-played different situations, and what to say when the lead girl made insensitive comments to her. We practiced how our daughter could react if the group started picking on her. It was like a sports team for social skills — we coached her every day, reviewing what to do and not to do.We also knew this group of girls wasn’t good for our daughter. We limited the amount of time she spent with them and encouraged her to make other friends. That helped, too. Slowly, our daughter made new friends and learned how to manage the social stress from the group of mean girl “friends.” She also learned a harsh lesson about how people can act in hurtful ways. It’s a lesson we wish she could have avoided. But we’re stronger from going through it.Read more about the difference between teasing and bullying. See signs of bullying. And get tips to help your child deal with cliques, along with step-by-step advice on what to do if you suspect your child is being harassed or bullied at school.

  • In It

    Back-to-school action plan: Setting goals and getting organized

    Starting a new school year can be overwhelming, especially for kids who learn and think differently. Get tips for making it more manageable. For many families, the new school year brings a real mixed bag of emotions. There’s the excitement of a fresh start combined with jitters about all of the unknowns. For families of kids who learn and think differently, there may be IEPs or 504 plans, and new teachers to connect with about all these things. It’s a lot to think about — and to navigate.In this episode, hosts Gretchen Vierstra and Rachel Bozek talk with returning guest DeJunne’ Clark Jackson, an education consultant and parent advocate. She’s also the mom of two kids, one with an IEP. Tune in for back-to-school strategies that have worked well for DeJunne’ and her family. Find out how she sets goals with both of her kids, keeping in mind their strengths and challenges.Related resources Download: Back-to-school update for families to give to teachersDownload: Goals calendar for kids who struggle with planningMy kids have different strengths and challenges. Here’s how I set goals with them.Hear more from DeJunne’ in this episode about parent-teacher conferences from last season Get back-to-school tips from executive function coach Brendan Mahan in this episode about building executive function skills Episode transcriptGretchen: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It," a podcast about the ins and outs...Rachel: ...the ups and downs...Gretchen: ...of supporting kids who learn and think differently. I'm Gretchen Vierstra, a former classroom teacher and an editor here at Understood.Rachel: And I'm Rachel Bozek, a writer and editor with a family that's definitely in it.Gretchen and I have been away from our microphones for most of the summer, apart from a bonus episode here and there. But with the new school year very much upon us, I think we're ready to jump back in.Gretchen: Actually, here in California, school has already been going on for a few weeks. But that doesn't mean we couldn't use some tips on how to help our kids get off to a good start.Rachel: Not to mention what to do if things get bumpy fast.Gretchen: So to help us with that, we've invited back DeJunne' Clarke Jackson.Rachel: DeJunne' is a former teacher and school counselor based in Baton Rouge. Now, she works as an educational therapist and student advocate.Gretchen: She's also president of the Center for Literacy and Learning, a nonprofit that supports teachers who teach reading.Rachel: And she's a parent of two kids, one with learning differences and one without.Gretchen: Last time she joined us, we talked about how to prepare for parent-teacher conferences. And we will never forget her describing herself as "the five-inch binder mom."Rachel: We're so glad to have her back with us today. DeJunne', welcome back to "In It."DeJunne': Thank you for having me. So glad to be back.Gretchen: We are so happy to have you back. And last time we had you on the podcast, you talked about your two kids. And I know one of them learns and thinks differently and has an IEP. And I'm wondering if you're talking to your kids before school starts, and what kinds of conversations you're having with them.DeJunne': So, yes, I am having conversations with both my boys, age 9 and 14. So we're going into the fourth and the 10th grade. My oldest, of course, is the one with learning differences. So their conversations are the same, but different.And so we actually started having those conversations at the end of last school year. So we don't reserve those conversations for just the start of this upcoming school year. Mostly because my boys really try to avoid knowing that school is starting. So we — I really want to capture their attention when they're in this mindset of like being open to having those conversations about what the next school year looks like. What did this last school year look like?And my conversations with my 9-year-old look a lot different than my 14-year-old because his conversations are, you know, a lot around like social norms and expectations and, you know, our friendships in the social media realm and navigating teenager hood.Gretchen: Yeah, I'm so glad to hear you brought up social things. I'm wondering, especially with your older child, do you kind of reflect on last year in terms of academics and then set academic goals for the following year? Talk a little bit about that.DeJunne': Yeah. So we set academic goals for both kids. One thing about goal setting, though, our expectation is that both kids do their best. And it varies per subject. So we lean into the strengths.And if I know that science is your jam and you're good at it, then we set the expectation to match your ability. And if it's an A and we know you can perform at an A, then we set that expectation at an A. And if math is your challenge and we know you struggle through it and you show up every day to try your best and be your best, and if your best in math is a C on your best day, then a C is what we, you know, high-five you for.Rachel: I really like that — leaning into strengths and challenges. Because sometimes it can be easy for us to say, well, you got an A in science, so that means you can definitely get an A in math too, right? And then that can feel really defeating for your kid, because maybe they can't get an A in math too.DeJunne': And this is coming from an educator. So when I tell my friends this, they're like, Oh my God, I can't believe like, you don't want, you know, you don't want to to breed this like Harvard, you know?Even with my youngest, who, you know, who performs really well academically, and at the end of the day, I just want to create human beings that are, you know, wonderful law-abiding citizens, that are helpful, that have good hearts, and who are proud of themselves because they showed up every day and did their best.And so sometimes you just need to lean into those strengths. And then really appreciating and celebrating the strengths that are nonacademic, right? So having and appreciating the fact that your student may not excel. They may be a straight C student. But they're an extremely talented artist. Or they can play an instrument really well. Or they excel in sports.And that's the thing that keeps them going. That's the thing that helps them show up to math class every day that they hate. But they're doing it because the goal that you set is, you know, for them in order to get to that area of strength and to continue in that, you sort of tied in, you know, well, you know, we're going to make sure that we maintain our C average in all these subjects in order to support your love of art or go to this art showcase this year, you know. And so you just want to make sure it all marries together.Gretchen: Well, I'm going to switch gears a minute and get to a kind of more nuts-and-bolts question. A lot of times for many kids, the new school year also comes with like new organization methods. Maybe it's like a new folder. Or maybe they've gone to like the Dollar Store and gotten some caddies to organize things in. And it's going to be great. I'm going to be so organized with my pens here and this here.And then perhaps after a month or two, all this flash of new caddies and whatnot starts to fall apart. Do you have any strategies for this — of how to set like organization kind of goals that will actually work and won't break the bank too?DeJunne': Yeah, this — honestly, a very transparent moment as a parent. This has been one that we've struggled with. We had a laundry list of things that didn't work. We've tried binders and dividers and labeled folders and journals and agendas. And I think that's sort of where you begin. You try. And if it doesn't work, you try a different way. And you just keep trying something until it works.And we've, for a number of years, lived for a checklist. I mean, checklists got us through everything — from waking up in the morning, to tying our shoes, brushing our teeth, you know, taking our medicine, getting out the door. If we did not have a checklist, it did not get done.And that's one thing that we realized: Our kiddo was a minimalist. So the more things we gave him, the more frazzled he would be and trying to remember how to use those systems. Right? So that's why we we sort of came to the conclusion of, Oh, this is why a checklist was so easy, because it was simple.And so now we function with one notebook. We don't even have the fancy notebook with the divided sections. Because we tried that — like math, science, social studies. Everybody's getting written in one section. We do one folder and pray to God that all the papers get into the folder. Sometimes they are crumpled up at the bottom of the book bag most times. Rachel: But they're there.DeJunne': Yeah, but they're there. And then his computer and his phone are the most valuable assets for us, because his phone, the notes app — and of course I'm talking about the oldest kid with the learning challenges — the phone, his notes app. It's a running record of God knows what, but it gets there. And then his computer because his teachers in the communication, everything is on that computer. That's what we've sort of teetered along those lines.But yeah, we've struggled through a number of years because we wanted it to be all nice and pretty with the caddy and the different colored pens and the highlighters and stickers and, you know, and that works for some. And I say, go for it. And Dollar Tree will be your best friend, you know? But for some, less is more.Rachel: So for families with kids who learn and think differently, and maybe they have IEPs or 504s and maybe they don't. But they still want to kind of level-set at the beginning of the school year. Who should they touch base with? Teachers or school counselors? Specialists? And like, when is the right time to do that? Should they wait for their parent-teacher conference? Or, you know, how much time should they give for a conversation to happen that's just kind of like, hey, just want to touch base.DeJunne': Yeah. So I want to preface my answer by saying, yeah, there are categories of parents who have sort of been in this space of students with learning differences. I would probably be categorized as the crusader parent, right? I've been in this fight for a long time. I am probably the one that's on the horse with the shield, you know, with the sword in the air leading the calvary behind me.And so have to say that, right, because it depends on where you are in this journey. So I say that because my answer is everyone. Who you should touch base with is everyone at the start of the school year. Elementary looks much different than high school. Those "everyones" look a little different on each campus.But I also say that with — I use the sort of target or dartboard model when I work with the "everyone," you know, sort of model. I look at those who are closest or have the most touchpoints to my kiddo. So I may start with his classroom teacher. And of course, elementary, you'll know, it's probably just, you know, one teacher and maybe the school counselor. That's your core.But if your kiddo has an IEP, then of course the core is the IEP teacher of record. Then maybe your next ring could be the assistant principal or the dean or whomever. He may have a next touchpoint with your kiddo. Maybe your kiddo has some behavior challenges, so you may want to reach out to the dean of students or the vice principal who handles your behavior, you know, concerns. And then the next one might be the principal.But are sort of these layers, right, that you're building out from? But at the end of the day, I need everyone to know, hey, here's my kid. He has an IEP. I want to make sure you're aware and that you have a copy, and that he has those things in place on day one. And that I am his parent and that I am here to support you and to support him. And reinforce what is happening in the learning environment. And I want to do this outreach campaign at the beginning of the school year.To your point, I don't wait to parent-teacher conference. Because those usually aren't scheduled until like September, October, and by then it's too late. I don't want to talk about how he's underperforming at that time. I want to get it out and get it ahead of time.Gretchen: Right. Because your kids are starting in August. So October would feel like a long ways in.DeJunne': Forever away. So we want to get it ahead of time. Some send letters. I'm sure we've seen all the the letters that float around on social media that introduces their kid. I think those are so cute. I like the in-person, you know, feel so that we can put a face to name. I don't want to give too much information. I want them to get to know my kid for themselves, and just give them sort of that surface level of information. But just really as an introductory.Gretchen: Well, I know we're close to our end DeJunne'. But I do have a question that I think a lot of families might be wondering about, which is, you know, school starts fresh, start, you know, reset. Maybe a month in, oh my goodness. Things have not gone as we thought.Like maybe there's some, you know, bad interactions with other kids or teachers, you know, like my teacher, I don't like them. Or, you know, there's been a couple of failed tests or whatnot. Who knows what it is. But this you know, it's not the the glory you had hoped for. So how do you not despair? How do you not despair as a parent? And how do you help your kid not despair when that happens?DeJunne': It's difficult. You just you want — your immediate instinct as a parent is probably to fix it, right? You just want to fix it. You want to make it all better. I'd probably say that if things are looking doom-and-gloom in the beginning, that there's probably, you know, some transitioning pains, some growing pains.Because remember, this is new, especially your younger kiddos, new teachers. You're not doing it like Miss So-and-so did it. This is not how I'm used to it being done. It's new for them. That doesn't mean that it's necessarily bad. It's just different, you know? And so helping them understand the difference will really help as you talk to them through those things.I could probably say that there's probably a lack of communication or miscommunication or misunderstandings somewhere. I don't recommend just, you know, jumping in to trying to fix it. You know, have conversations for the goal of understanding and be proactive versus reactive. Really get into there and, you know, work with your child's teacher. Or work with whatever information that you need to know to be able to gain an understanding and awareness of what's going on. Instead of, you know, having them just adapt. Like, oh, get over it, you know, you'll get used to it.Encourage them to self-advocate. You know, it's so important and it's so underrated to have kids have a voice. And I think it comes from that, you know, that old-school parenting, that mindset that kids are, you know, to be seen and not heard. And I think we've done such a great job of trying to change that and have our kids be heard as we talk to our kids more and give them a voice. And have them know that it's OK to speak up.You know, teaching them, like, how do I politely interrupt. You know, even like sort of the process by which we speak up and that we use our voice. And so encouraging them to self-advocate. So if something doesn't sit right or feel right, or they believe that they are misheard or misunderstood, then how do I tell my teacher that? So even just giving them permission to have dialog with their teachers that they want just a better understanding? I think that that's a great place to start.Rachel: Yeah, and the teachers appreciate that. The teachers appreciate that.DeJunne': Yeah. Yeah. And they should. And if they don't, then that's a different conversation we can have.Rachel: Yeah, well, that is all so helpful. I have one more question. Any other advice you have for parents and caregivers or maybe even for teachers and support staff as we get settled into the new school year?DeJunne': Give grace. Our kids are trying. And if they're not trying, find out why. And I think when we get to that, we'll discover those strengths and pull out the things that they need help discovering. And I think we'll get our kids, you know, those goals that we set for them, they'll accomplish. I'm excited for our kiddos.Gretchen: I'm excited, too. Especially after talking to you today. I feel like it was a pep talk for us. Thank you so much for being with us, DeJunne'.Rachel: Thank you.DeJunne': Thank you for having me again.Gretchen: You've been listening to "In It" from the Understood Podcast Network.Rachel: This show is for you, so we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at to share your thoughts. We love hearing from you.Gretchen: If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.Rachel: is a resource dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at "In It" is produced by Julie Subrin. Briana Berry is our production director. Justin D. Wright mixes the show. Mike Errico wrote our theme music.Rachel: For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. And Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Thanks for listening.Gretchen: And thanks for always being in it with us. 

  • How to get your child to talk about school

    Some kids love talking about school. With others, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to share even a few details about their day — especially if something’s upsetting them, like bullying or struggling in school.If your child is on the quieter side or is very private, there are ways to ask questions that will open up a conversation instead of shutting one down. Here are some key things to keep in mind.1. Ask open-ended questions. If you ask a question that can be answered with one word — yes or no — that’s what you’ll get. A one-word answer. Try asking open-ended questions instead. Example: “What was the best thing you did at school today?”2. Start with a factual observation. Kids often have a hard time answering questions that seem to come out of the blue. Making an observation gives your child something to relate to. Example: “I know you have a lot more kids in your class this year. What’s that like?”3. Share something about yourself. When someone tells you about themselves, it’s natural to want to do that in return. Share something with your child and see what you get back. Example: “We always played dodgeball at recess. What do you and your friends like to do?”4. Avoid negative questions. If you think something isn’t going well, your questions may come out in a negative way, with emotion-packed words like sad or mean. Asking in a positive way lets your child express concerns.Example: “I heard that you sat with new people at lunch today. What did you talk about?”Here are other examples of how to say things differently to get your child to open up.Afterschool conversation startersPhrasing your questions this way invites your child to talk. But don’t expect for every question to result in a long, detailed answer. The goal is to have many small conversations over time. It helps to find natural moments to talk — like at dinner or riding in the car — when you’re not in a rush.Sometimes kids, like adults, just don’t feel like talking. It’s important to know when to stop asking questions and leave it for another time. But if there’s something urgent or serious going on, you’ll have to ask direct, specific questions and push for an answer.Looking for more conversation starters and responses to use with your child? Find out what to say when your child:Gets frustratedDoesn’t want to go to schoolSays “I’m dumb”Gets a report cardIs distracted or unfocusedYou may also want to read why one mom stopped saying “have a good day” to her son.

  • The Opportunity Gap

    Wisdom for families from LeDerick Horne, poet with dyslexia

    Growing up, LeDerick Horne couldn’t read. Today, he’s a poet, activist, and person thriving with dyslexia. Hear his advice for families of color.LeDerick Horne Black man, poet, activist, person dyslexia. He’s spoken White House. wrote definitive book hidden disabilities. life could turned differently.As child, LeDerick couldn’t read. labeled “neurologically impaired” put separate special education classes. struggled find place Black man America learning differences. says one mistake could led prison worse, like many classmates.In episode, hosts Julian Saavedra Marissa Wallace talk LeDerick people made difference life. LeDerick shares advice help kids color learning differences thrive. Stay tuned end episode special reading LeDerick poem inspire family.Related resources Video: challenges African American learns thinks differentlyVideo: LeDerick Horne, poet activist learning disabilitiesTo Black America learning disabilityEpisode transcriptLeDerick: words describe this, "you're dumb" "you're stupid," neurological, biological roots behind mind works way does. label, part gives community. able say, "I dyslexic like Harry Belafonte dyslexic. dyslexic like Muhammad Ali dyslexic." could start making connections, narrative connecting people's narratives. just, that's empowering. It's uplifting act. That's why, like silences, it's never going golden. always give words experience.Julian: Welcome "The Opportunity Gap," podcast families kids color learn think differently. explore issues privilege, race, identity. goal help advocate child. I'm Julian Saavedra.Marissa: I'm Marissa Wallace. Julian worked together years teachers public charter school Philadelphia, saw opportunity gaps firsthand.Julian: we're parents kids color. personal us.Welcome back, everybody. Julian Saavedra here. Hey, Marissa, what's going on?Marissa: Hi, Julian. Oh, know, excitement building today.Julian: Somehow, someway, incredibly fortunate continue really phenomenal people podcast. guest spoken United Nations; spoken White House. Black man, poet, activist, person living dyslexia. Welcome, welcome, welcome, Mr. LeDerick Horne.LeDerick: Hello, hello.Julian: Um, want make sure jump actual interview portion show. explained specifically one disability we're going focusing on.We're focusing dyslexia. Dyslexia learning disability reading. may also something student hard time reading comprehension, spelling, writing. making sure speak dyslexia, we're specifically focusing idea reading.Marissa: Thank you, Julian. Thanks clarifying listeners. thank you, LeDerick, incredibly much. beyond grateful you. want take back early days. would love tell us, tell listeners, school like world look like time?LeDerick: think different points time school times challenging, times uplifting. started education private school, Catholic school New Brunswick, New Jersey — St Peter's. kindergarten first grade, first time. first grade second time. know, remember kid. remember enjoying school around kids, even would struggling academically. recall first family, recommended placed back district. eventually recognized someone needed evaluated. initially given label neurologically impaired. great teacher, Ms. Priscilla Yates, first special ed teacher, much love poured every one us, feeling still today, investment caring had. also remember school district started gifted talented program, brand-new thing.And Ms. Yates really encouraged go part class. remember stepping first time feeling totally overwhelmed. I, point, I'd special ed years, realized moment, think I'd become institutionalized. placed environment little interaction students outside special ed, felt overwhelming. Middle school, lot emotion around, think, identity fit world, thought got good putting front OK. internally OK. got high school, challenging putting front maintain. got winter junior year, always describe emotional breakdown. primarily motivated think, one, stress trying like pass normal, also fear knowing going happen graduated high school. I, time know, like weren't really much way transition planning, knew I, like, wanted go college, didn't think folks like could go college read books solve complicated math problems, just, time. career goal seemed like always going like manual labor. depressed clearly showing signs needed mental health support.I'm fortunate I've totally won parent lottery. supportive family. think I've also resilient, used horrible time opportunity rebuild bounce back. started talking going college then, yeah, world changed me.Julian: Wow. love you're able reflective, like able look back identify specific moments time school career shifts. call like points diversion. one two three paths could chosen, path chose led specific outcome. So, thank that.LeDerick: Oh, you're welcome. Yeah, no, point divergence piece think important because, moment, I'm clear, like have, friends growing jail time. know, got involved kind behavior. And, would try point folks like, I'm pretty bright guy, many classmates, people brilliant.But think much around much support have. then, sadly enough, think it's also role dice. Like plenty times where, know, — don't know, encounter gone wrong way, maybe wouldn't today. also know I, existential dread think carried long time young person just, didn't think going live past 25. didn't think cards me.Just breakdown, know suicidal. I've described past like — clearest thing remember like wanting get altercation police officer that, get locked I'd shot killed. police officers name it: call death cop. And, um, yeah, are, dark times, fortunate none took place. given little bit time work little bit step potential.Marissa: That's really raw real, I'm appreciative you're point, obviously, life go reflect understand everything got exactly are.Julian: you, discover dyslexic? occur you?LeDerick: Uh, language interesting. gets label dyslexia doesn't. definitely think label privilege, right? So, grew New Jersey. born '77, I'm part first generation students really able take advantage Individuals Disabilities Education Act creation special education. state, one labels tossed around lot, particularly boys particularly boys color, "neurologically impaired." carried throughout entire time. like either went neurologically impaired class went behavior class, right? remember kids behavior class. But got college. my, uh, Middlesex County College, were, great support program students learning disabilities, attention issues, also provided evaluations. five years getting ready transfer university, asked evaluated. was, actually fun experience point, won many battles. learned write. I'd become math major. I'd like become strong self-advocate. And sitting evaluation, laughing places would struggle spelling reading, you. also like, slam dunking, like, remember, spatial relations question, lady

  • 8 steps to take if your child is being bullied at school

    Maybe another student is sending your child mean texts on social media. Or maybe kids are picking on (or even threatening) your child at school. When there’s bullying at school, it can be emotional, upsetting, and scary. But there are concrete things you can do to find out what’s happening and put a stop to it. Here are eight steps to take if your child is being bullied at school.1. Care for your child.Before doing anything else, care for your child’s needs. It’s OK for kids to be sad. But you want to make sure they don’t harm themselves or others. Try your best to remove your child from the bullying situation.Saying “I love you” can be a big boost to your child. Just listening to whatever your child wants to share helps, too. When you show that you care about your child’s feelings, it empowers your child to share the full story.As you go through the remaining steps, make sure you always return to this one. Caring for your child is an ongoing responsibility.2. Get the facts (and document them).Ask your child gently but directly whether anyone is doing anything that makes your child feel upset, uncomfortable, or embarrassed. Use open-ended questions to encourage your child to share. Once you have a basic idea about what’s happening, see if you can learn specific information, too. You can ask things like: Are you getting mean messages on social media? Who is sending them? How many? When?Next, reach out to others who may know more. You want to find out what’s been happening, who’s involved, and when and where it has taken place. (Think carefully, though, before you reach out directly to the students or adults doing the bullying.)Be sure to gather any documents that show the bullying. You can save emails or texts and print them out. You can also take screenshots of social media or online forums, as well as save voice messages.3. Write down and tell the bullying story.Write down all the details of what you’ve learned. Try to create a timeline of what happened when. If you feel your child can handle it, review the timeline together. (This may not happen all in one sitting.)Tell someone else — like a trusted friend or family member — the bullying story. Ask for feedback: Did you explain everything clearly? Did you stick to the facts? Were you too emotional to share what happened?4. Review the school’s anti-bullying policy (and any state laws).Check your child’s student handbook or the school district website for its anti-bullying policy. This will give you the steps you need to take to report bullying. There should be information about how to contact the staff members who can help.All 50 states now have anti-bullying laws. Look at your state’s law. It may give you additional rights, like a time limit for the school to take action.5. Report the bullying to the school.If the bullying is happening in class, meet with the teacher. Ask for the principal to join if you feel it’s needed. If the bullying is happening outside of class or at recess, go directly to the principal.Ask whether school staff have seen the bullying and how they’ve responded. Share your child’s bullying story and any supporting documents. During the meeting, ask what the school is going to do and when. Follow up in writing (an email works), describing what you discussed.6. Monitor the school’s response.Once bullying is reported to the school, state anti-bullying laws may require a specific process of investigation and action. Ask the school to send you written updates on this process.Monitor what actions the school takes. If the bullying continues, document any new incidents. Let the school know about these new incidents and ask what it’s going to do. As always, make sure you connect with and comfort your child during this time.7. Take it up the chain of command.If bullying is still going on two weeks after you first reported it, contact the school district superintendent both by phone and in writing. You may also want to write to the local school board.Share all the facts you’ve collected, including how you reported the bullying to the school, the name of each person you’ve spoken with, and what happened afterwards. Ask for help with ending the bullying. Save any responses.If there are still no changes, reach out to your state department of education. The state may have staff that will investigate bullying. Your local Parent Training Information Center may be able to give advice, too.You can also go to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR). The OCR protects public school students with disabilities from discrimination. You can file an OCR complaint about the bullying.8. Get legal help.If bullying is still happening, contact a lawyer. A lawyer with experience in education law can help if you’re still not seeing results. Here’s where you can find legal help.

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    Career advice from an ADHD coach, and how he got there

    Brendan Mahan has ADHD, and a drive to help others. Putting these together led him to become an ADHD coach. Hear his story and advice.Brendan Mahan ADHD — drive help others navigate ADHD journey. young age, Brendan knew wanted help people. college major options left little room that, forged path. Now, he’s ADHD coach podcast host. parenting marriage workplace, Brendan’s got covered. he’s remind it’s OK ADHD.On week’s episode How’d Get Job?!, Brendan talks stack different skills perfect combo works best you. Find consolidating hobbies good move people ADHD. get Brendan’s tips finding right career, self-advocate, employer red flags look for.Related resourcesVideo: Thriving work ADHD40+ career examples people learn think differentlyI’m finally letting go shame ADHD learning disabilitiesEpisode transcriptBrendan: lot do, sort subtextually, I'm working with, folks, give people permission ADHD. spend lot time saying, "That's OK, you're allowed."Eleni: Understood Podcast Network, "How'd Get Job?!," podcast explores unique often unexpected career paths people learning thinking differences. name Eleni Matheou, I'm user researcher Understood. means spend lot time thinking find jobs love reflect learn are. I'll host.Do ever feel like need coach help get work life really day? know sometimes do. next guest made career coaching, specifically ADHD coaching. Brendan Mahan ADHD executive functioning coach host ADHD Essentials podcast. helps people manage challenges ADHD life. I'm going talk Brendan built career ADHD coach. I'm also going ask biggest challenges people learning thinking differences workplace tackle them. Welcome show, Brendan.Brendan: Thank you.Eleni: would love start beginning. Like, firstly, mean coach, general?Brendan: So, coaching is, it's counseling, right? Like, it's thing. Coaching focused skill-building goal setting goal achieving. comes ADHD coaching, there's absolutely psycho-educational stuff happens around like "What ADHD?" "How work?" "Why make mistakes make?" say ADHD. So, I'm working client, oftentimes I've similar struggles they're facing. that's part makes good client come we'll working together I'm like, "Oh, I've made mistake. know navigate one," right? might perfect solution them, least beginnings idea. meet client, I'm like super expert guy knows everything come bring problems stuff, right? know tendencies are, know struggles much better do. lot trying ask good questions, trying help people get clear goals values really want don't want, sorts things.Eleni: Yeah. going ask, typical scenario someone might come you?Brendan: adult clients work typically going kind transition. might looking job. might starting new job struggling job they're risk losing don't clean challenges. folks come they're struggling marriage trying understand better. work parents kids struggling ADHD parents ADHD they're trying navigate kids effectively.Eleni: Yeah, sounds super helpful. So, know already talked ADHD and, know, that's one reasons that, know, you're really great you're able empathize experience like bring own, personal story that. know preparing interview, told became person needed growing up. So, I'm curious, like, coaching way person? Like, person needed growing up? guess.Brendan: needed someone understood worked really someone understood ADHD could normalize me. people kind didn't exist. ADHD back "That kid problem," right? "That kid can't sit still attacking children running hallways screaming something." wasn't me. space cadet. tuned hyperactivity, thoughts. wasn't coming physically much. So, needed someone could guide help understand couldn't meet success. smart, kid everybody like, "Yeah, really bright. doesn't apply himself." applying much could. didn't know else apply myself, that's looked like wasn't applying myself. didn't know study. didn't know break big task small chunks. didn't know attack project. get hooked something get interested something, teachers didn't understand it. wrote essay history comics 1980s. like, junior year high school. Yeah, big comic book kid sent areas comics didn't read high school. got like C-plus never worked harder anything. I've never engaged anything. turns phrase things thought clever clever according junior year English teacher, know? so, kind interests imagination didn't match school wanted. didn't get grades sometimes felt like deserved result.So, say became person needed, that's really mean, I'm talk kid parents say like "We don't know assignment. don't know get kid clean room," whatever. say, "Yeah, that's OK. That's ADHD. Like, we're going learn this. We're going work together figure get stuff done." also, lot do, sort subtextually, I'm working folks give people permission ADHD. spend lot time saying, "That's OK, you're allowed."Eleni: Yeah. it's interesting said big part normalizing struggle, that's big part podcast exists, know, sharing stories like normalizing challenges struggle, also demonstrating success, right?Brendan: pulled somehow. I'm sitting guy two master's degrees runs business married wife — I'm going get wrong. no, 2004 — 18 years, we've together 18 years, that's long time. That's big deal people ADHD circles. often don't pull off. identical twin sons 13 years old we're making work.Eleni: That's amazing.Brendan: Yeah. So, yay success!Eleni: Yay success!A big part podcast talking people got careers today. would love hear little bit story also like, know, sharing struggles encountered along way.Brendan: Yeah. story, think, story stacking skills lot ways. high school, early childhood development class. meant like learned young kids also worked preschool existed basement high school. led Future Teachers Program, like place kind went shadowed teacher worked little bit. far back as, that? like 14, 15 years old, kid stuff. kind figuring out. went college majored psychology, didn't give wanted. wanted learn counselor. undergrad psychology really history course. It's like history psychology. Like, here's Sigmund Freud Howard Gardner kind stuff. didn't care. like, "What? helping people? want learn help people." So, shifted English try become writer. English department like, "You could take two classes writing entire major." like, "But psychology going make learn history experiments won't let work people learn counselor? English won't teach write. They'll teach read criticize books." insanity. Like drove nuts. That's ADHD part. part that's like, "I don't care world works. care think world work want better."So luckily, UMass program. They'll let design major, ended designing major, called creative writing sort marketing purposes. really majored comic books, comic book passion still learned stories work. brought myths legends built major. like, "Well, superheroes

  • 8 common playground problems and how to help

    Some kids with learning and thinking differences may have trouble with playground social rules and equipment. Here are common playground problems and how to help your child avoid them.Being bullied or witnessing bullyingKids with learning and thinking differences can be the target of bullying. Bullying is different from teasing in that it’s repeated and often escalates over time. It can include name-calling, insults, threats, exclusion, and even physical violence.How to help: Be approachable and proactive. Explain what bullying is and make sure your child knows they can come to you (or a teacher) if they experience it or see it. Tell your child it’s OK to walk away if they feel unsafe or if using words to defend themself isn’t working. Learn more about what to do if you suspect bullying at school.Being too aggressive with other kidsKids with learning and thinking differences sometimes lack impulse control and have trouble filtering what they say. They may push or shove other kids, run without paying attention, or be unknowingly insulting. It’s also possible they don’t realize when they’re being too forceful.How to help: Set ground rules for physical aggression, so that your child knows the consequences ahead of time. Encourage your grade-schooler to use words instead of their body to communicate. Remind your child that getting hit or shoved hurts: “It’s not appropriate to hit other kids. If you want a turn, ask, ‘Can I have a turn please?’ ”Dealing with winning or losingKids who have trouble with impulse control and regulating their emotions may gloat about winning and make other kids feel bad about losing. Likewise, they may get really upset when they lose a game and then insist others cheated. (Read an expert’s tips to help impulsive kids cope with losing.)How to help: Point out that if your child makes other kids feel bad, they aren’t going to want to play with your child anymore. Remind your grade-schooler that playground games are just games and that it’s OK to feel good about winning, but it’s not OK to make others feel bad. Teach phrases that show good sportsmanship, such as “Good game!”Not being able to handle the equipmentKids with motor skills issues, like dyspraxia, may have a hard time using playground equipment. Climbing ladders, using the monkey bars, swinging, and even sliding require being able to coordinate many different body movements.How to help: Practice when the playground is free. Your child may feel less self-conscious when other kids aren’t around. You can help your child break down the steps and practice doing the things they like best. You can also try these fun activities to help your child improve gross motor skills.Not taking turns or following directionsOn the playground, kids have to share, take turns, and communicate with others. Whether they’re playing an organized game or waiting their turn, this can be hard for kids with learning and thinking differences. That’s because paying attention, understanding social cues, and processing information can be trouble spots.How to help: Model taking turns and sharing. Practice the language your child needs to know, such as “my turn,” “your turn,” or even “listen to me!” Let your child know it’s OK to ask a peer or a teacher to clarify and break rules down into steps. Explore other ways to help your child interpret social cues.Not wanting to play with other kidsPlayground time involves social skills. This includes sharing, taking turns, and joining conversations. Your child may not be sure how to start a conversation or how to ask to join a game. Your grade-schooler may not understand when other kids are inviting them to play. This can make it hard to develop friendships.How to help: Practice what your child can say to other kids. “Hi, I’m Tiffany. What’s your name?” and “Do you want to play on the monkey bars with me?” You can also help your child figure out when it’s OK to join a large playground game without specifically asking. Get more tips on how to help your child fit in and interact with peers.Taking risks on playground equipmentKids with learning and thinking differences can have trouble with impulse control and may act before they think. And kids with sensory processing issues may not feel pain as strongly as other kids. This can result in risky behavior like jumping from too high, swinging too hard, or roughhousing too much with other kids. (Read more about how sensory issues can impact motor skills.)How to help: Talk to your child about taking a breath and thinking before they act. To lower the risk of getting hurt during falls, visit playgrounds that have sand, wood chips, or synthetic turf, and make sure your child is supervised.TeasingThe playground is a ripe teasing ground. Some of it is good-natured joking around: “Whoa, you’re super-fast with those new shoes.” And some of it is just mean: “Those new shoes are really ugly!” Kids with learning and thinking differences can have a hard time telling the difference between the two.How to help: Explain the difference between teasing and friendly joking. Show your child the body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions that go with each. You can also help your child practice things to say when they are teased. For example, “I didn’t like that,” or “That hurt my feelings.”

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    Engineering my career as a woman with ADHD

    Kellie Williams is an engineer with ADHD. Hear about the obstacles she’s faced in this male-dominated field, and how she came to thrive. As a female engineer with ADHD, Kellie Williams is breaking ground in a male-dominated field. She’s thriving now, but the path wasn’t easy. She’s faced harassment and dealt with obstacles like ill-fitting equipment made for men. Hear about her experience. And find out which tools and accommodations she uses at work for her ADHD.Listen to the episode. Then:Download a graphic of leaders in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) who learn and think differently.Learn about eight women who made a difference for kids who learn and think differently. Episode transcriptEleni: 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.So, I'm very excited to introduce Kellie. Kellie is an engineer with ADHD working in sustainability, and she's also one of my closest friends. We met shortly after both of us moved to New York City, about four and a bit years ago at this stage. And she's one of the first people to be really open with me about her differences, how they impact her day to day, and like also how best to support and understand her. So, I thought it would be really great to have her on the show and learn more.So, let's start with where you landed in your career today.Kellie: Yeah. So, I'm a mechanical engineer. I've done a lot of different types of jobs. I've worked on building design. I worked to design security equipment for the world's largest prison equipment company. I've directed an energy and sustainability department for Texas' largest school district. I've done energy consulting, construction commissioning, and now I work for a New York City utility company as a strategic planner in the energy efficiency department.Eleni: Wow. That is a lot. So, Kellie, you mentioned that you are a sustainability engineer. What does that mean?Kellie: Sustainability engineering, energy engineering — this could be something from developing clean energy technologies or to improve efficiency for existing equipment or buildings, so reducing greenhouse gas emissions or, in my context, I work in the building spaces. So I'm looking at how are the lights, the equipment that keeps the buildings cool and dry, and all the programming that goes on behind the scenes. How do we get that to operate in a way that reduces the energy needed to run the building? And that way it reduces the greenhouse gas emissions. And then on the other side, which is more upstream, is looking at like, can we do solar wind, other renewables, that can benefit the environment?So, in terms of sustainability, as it is today, it's really about environmental impact. How do you reduce it? And there's a lot of different ways you can do that.Eleni: So, like, what do you like about where you've landed at the moment?Kellie: I really like that I get to choose what I can hone in on and that it's contributing to a larger goal, being climate mitigation that I'm personally very interested in and have been interested in since I was a kid.Eleni: Yeah. So, what makes you so passionate about climate issues?Kellie: I don't know where to begin. Climate issues — it's an existential threat that we have to solve for. I think about my family, my nieces, you know, the world that they're going to inherit by us.This is such a deep question, where we're facing an existential threat. And to me, it's my personal biggest priority. It's almost like when someone says, "Who are you?" What am I, why am I doing this? And I think climate mitigation is something that is so important. It impacts everything. It impacts the economy, the quality of our air and our water, the ecosystem. It touches on so many things. It's so important that it's the only thing I can really focus on. It's the only thing that I can continue to chase is solving this problem. And I just have this inherent interest in helping it, and maybe it's partially related to being empathetic. I don't like to see communities suffer because of climate change or animals being displaced or, like, going extinct.It's really sad. You know, I think we should be good stewards of our earth and of our resources and our environment. So, I want to see that. I want to be a part of something that is contributing to make things better. And that's why I'm really interested in climate. Eleni: It's so, so important. And how has that interest influenced, like, some of the other earlier decisions you made in your career?Kellie: I graduated college during the recession. I did not have a lot of options. So that's how I landed with this prison equipment company job. And it wasn't the most feel-good, fuzzy job that I imagined myself doing. But it made me realize that I had to pursue a passion because I dreaded coming into the office every single day.And eventually I found one that really hit the spot and that was doing energy efficiency and energy management. And once I hit that stride, my career grew very rapidly because I was very motivated. I was in my twenties, a manager, a very young manager. And I was a total go-getter, so much energy, and I felt like nothing could stop me.Eleni: So you mentioned, like, it's really important for you to have something that you're really passionate about. I would love to know how that relates to your ADHD. We've heard a lot of people talk about motivation, but I would like to hear about your unique experience with that.Kellie: For me, if I'm not doing something that is contributing to a large goal or feels worthwhile, like I have purpose, I just don't see the point in doing it at all.So I know a lot of jobs they're really important, but for me, I feel like I need to be needed in order to keep going. Otherwise I just lose motivation and it just feels pointless, and I struggle to continue to do that type of work.Eleni: Totally.Kellie: So once I find something that I really like, I've tried to find a way that I can hyperfocus in a way that is beneficial to me, because I've hyperfocused in ways that are very harmful.So, I have to be really disciplined and set up structure for myself to think: "What is this contributing to? Is this a question that needs to be asked now? Is this going to be a worthwhile exploration?" And if it's a "yes," and if it's a "yes, now," like the near term, then I can usually follow that. And that can be pretty beneficial.Sometimes it looks like coming up with really innovative ideas or very collaborative ideas or thinking on the fly. So, with ADHD, for me, it manifests as racing questions, and I will sometimes get caught up in the wrong question. Or sometimes it's the right question, the very obscure question, and I get to chase that, and that's like chasing the white rabbit, and then it leads me down to a really cool solution sometimes.Eleni: And I can also see how, if you're chasing the wrong thing, that can also be a challenge.Kellie: It's horrible, disastrous.Eleni: So I think that that's a really good segue to hear about maybe some of the challenges that you face with ADHD, perhaps in the lead-up to, like, becoming an engineer. And then also — actually, let's stop there.Kellie: OK. So, I actually took some notes because I knew I was going to forget. This is a very meta thing right here because you put, like, what's in the challenges, so, OK. Remembering things, um, especially when I'm under pressure. I had test anxiety like nobody's business. I've blanked out on the simplest things, even formulas like the Pythagorean theorem, which is very simple for an engineer; you learn that in middle school.So my challenges were gaining enough confidence to believe that I can have the answers when I need them, which took a lot of exercise and practice and, like, all the cheesy affirmations. So, I went through all these things to help me through the test anxiety. So, once I got through that and I was doing well and making good grades, that helped. But actually, what was challenging about this? I was undiagnosed until my sophomore year, and my boyfriend at the time, who is now actually an ADHD coach — Eleni: Oh, wow. I didn't know that.Kellie: He said, "Kellie, I think you might want to get diagnosed. I see that you're really struggling." And so I got diagnosed and I actually thought — I had so much self-doubt. Am I even smart enough to pursue engineering? I had so much, like, imposter syndrome, like, who are you? There's no — you've never even met an engineer. How are you going to be an engineer? You don't even know what they do. You don't even know what they look like, how they act, nothing. I had no model for this.So, when I got tested and they said, you actually have like an above-average IQ. And I was, like, what? Who, me? I'm smart? Are you sure? They got those scores mixed up. But then they gave me some tools and medication, and that completely changed everything. It was so much easier to study. I had all the tools I needed in order to get through my degree.It took me six years. I worked full time, and some of those semesters, it was really challenging. But I made it, and I did it, and that is one of my biggest accomplishments in life.Eleni: So, you mentioned tools. Do you want to talk a little bit about what some of those tools are and how you came up with them or how you discovered them?Kellie: Yes. Trial and error is how I came to learn what works for me. The most unfortunate part of all of this is I finally figured out what my best study strategy was in my final semester of college.Eleni: Six years later.Kellie: Six years later. But the good thing is I was able to use that for the rest of my career. If I didn't have to study so hard and put all that time into figuring out how I learn best, I wouldn't have been able to succeed as much in my career because I did all the work ahead of time.So, now, if I have a certification I'm studying for, or if I'm learning about some, like, new technology, it is so much easier for me to internalize it. I've learned that I need to externalize my memory. I need to externalize my time constraints, and I use a little cube with the minutes, like five minutes, 10 minutes.I use tools to keep me on track. The one thing that helped me through all this is giving myself permission to use the tools and not feeling shame about it. And saying, "You know what, this is what I have to do to get things done, and that's OK. And it's going to be OK. And, yeah, it looks different because I'm at work.I've got all these, like, noise-canceling headphones. I have the cube. I'm in the corner because I cannot be distracted. I tell people if you see me at the office with my headphones on, send me an invite, do not disturb me, because I will go off the rails and you're really going to screw up my day. So, it's socializing and normalizing what I need to do to get things done.And because I've been successful, I am very confident in standing out in that way and being very vocal in what my needs are.Eleni: So, while you were talking about tools, you mentioned this cube. What is it?Kellie: I have this yellow cube. It has the numbers 5, 10, 25, and 45, and a blink on each side. When I flip it for that number of five, it will give me a five-minute countdown. It'll beep and it'll blink. So, if I have my noise-canceling headphones on, I can see it blinking. I just, like, put it in sight, and it has a countdown timer.Eleni: Oh, wow, that's so interesting.Kellie: I use the cube for task management. So I use this to set goals and to have a reminder. Now, fortunately, I can usually remember what I was working on, what I needed to do before the timer goes off.I don't know how long things actually take me. I thought dishes took me one hour. I timed myself; it takes me less than five minutes to put up dishes and less than five minutes to put them in the washer. I use this thing not just for work, but I use it for life tasks because now that I have a data point to say, "No, dishes do not take you an hour to do; you have a machine to do this for you." It feels like an hour because I hate dishes. But I just say, "Look, get the clock, gamify." I use the cube to gamify tasks. Oh, I'm going to win — I can beat the clock. And so I use it for getting ready, doing my chores, sending emails. I'm only going to let myself do research for 45 minutes undisturbed, and then I'm going to take a five-minute break or a 10-minute break. So I use it to task manage, time manage.Eleni: I have been witness to this. I don't know if you had the cube while we lived together because leaving the house when we would go out, I'd be, like, 10 minutes away from getting ready, and it'd be, like, 45 minutes, 60 minutes later. "Kellie, where are you at with getting ready? Like, what's happening in there?"Kellie: It's bad sometimes — I didn't have the cube back then.Eleni: How do you think mood relates to ADHD and how that varies day to day?Kellie: Oh my gosh. As a new engineer, when I graduated college, I looked at everything as, like, so technical and mechanical. And I really ignored feelings; I ignored emotions. And I was doing a disservice to myself because I needed to acknowledge "I'm feeling really irritable" or "I'm feeling really sad" or "I'm really, really happy." And if I can work my tasks around that mood, it's much better. So, if I'm feeling really introverted, I might just do the research task that day, bump it up a week early. And if I'm feeling really social, I'm going to do all my collaborative activities then. So, I just try to work with these moods, work with these needs, instead of resist. Eleni: Yeah. It's all about having self-awareness. Before you started work, did you have any idea, like, how any of your differences would impact you at work, and were there any surprises or things that showed up that you didn't expect?Kellie: So, some surprises were, I had one of my doctors tell me I was a highly sensitive person, and I just took that as emotional and some sensory things. But the way it showed up in different jobs, as it still shows up, is surprising to me still. Like, construction noise and dust, and just, like, the sound and texture of grit underneath my shoes really bothers me. In New York City, I was commissioning construction projects, meaning that I'm checking to make sure that the work they said they were going to do was actually done.And I'm walking new builds with, like, where the steel frames are up and they're just put in the concrete floors, or I'm doing a retrofit, where they've put in an air conditioning unit at Grand Central Station or at Penn Station. And I have to inspect the whole thing, and it is damp, dark, gritty, dirty, loud. There's jackhammering next door, because they're doing all this work. There's dust everywhere. My senses are completely flooded, overwhelmed. My hands are dry because, you know, you have to pick up tools to open panels and like do electrical work with multiple layers of really itchy material, heavy boots, two layers of gloves for electrical work. Plus tools. Eleni: In potentially suits that don't fit, right? Kellie: Yes. I've had to do electrical work in a suit that was three sizes too big for me — a men's suit — because they only had electrical equipment for men. It drives me crazy. And I learned that I can't force myself to be happy in these roles, and I have to honor my sensitivities and just work with it instead.So, now I have a better job. Now I'm working from home, and I love that because I get to shield myself. But what I've learned is that I need to avoid certain types of work. It sounds good on paper, but in practice it is just terrible for me.Eleni: Yeah. So when you were pivoting between jobs, were you doing so with the awareness or with the knowledge that, "Oh, I need to move away from like this particular environment; I need to do something differently?"Kellie: Yes. There's a lot of intentionality behind the work I was seeking. Right now, I'm in this strategic planning role. I wanted to do more project starting. I'm great with idea generation. I'm great with getting people jazzed up and onboard for a new initiative. I am not great at finishing a project or following the instructions. It is not for me. And I learned that in my previous roles in New York City being an energy consultant or construction commissioner, I had to do copy-paste. So repetitive, different building but same procedure. Not for me. I cannot do that. So I learned, "Oh, what's the pattern here between all these different roles I've had?" The pattern was, I love starting things. I like new initiatives; I'm going to do that. And I'm doing it now. And I love it.Eleni: I'm so pleased for you that you are able to, like, make that connection. So, earlier in the conversation, you mentioned you really enjoy managing people and you really enjoy collaborating, you know, knowing you, as well. It kind of links to having like a really strong sense of empathy.Kellie: Yes.Eleni: And it's being able to read people. And so, you're really, like, attuned to what other people are doing in the room.Kellie: Yeah. When you said that, I just got goosebumps on my legs because, I don't know, I am so sensitive to the minor differences in people's behavior, voice inflection, micro-expressions. Even working in a virtual environment has been really interesting because you remove so many layers of that communication and my ability to read, which makes it feel more anxiety producing.But you just learn to, oh, it'll find its way. You will find a way; you'll learn how long the silences are and what to pick up on in different people. But I think, because of the sensitivities, I am very empathetic, and I can try to view a problem from the lens of whomever that stakeholder is. And with that, I can already do a lot of information gathering and hypothesize and then present it.And they're like, "Oh my gosh, you're so good." Or — no one's ever asked this to me before. I'm so glad you did, though. These feel like superpowers in a lot of ways.Eleni: Oh, totally. Also, it makes me think about this trope around engineers not being emotional. In a way, you're kind of debunking that or re-creating what it means to be an engineer.Kellie: I love this question. So, mechanical engineering has some of the least representation from females in the entire engineering industry.Eleni: Yeah, and engineering on its own is not well represented, let alone —Kellie: Oh my gosh. Engineering on its own is so far behind with gender parity. Well, mechanical is even further behind. Senior year of my engineering degree, I was the only female still in some of those classes. It, actually, the number of women actually decreased as I continued.Eleni: Wow.Kellie: A lot of women drop out. Being an only female engineer, yeah, I had a lot of harassment just straight up. I had so much anger in that; I felt discounted for being a young female engineer. I felt discounted because I have learning differences on top of that. Having people say, "Who do you know; who hired you?" There's rumors about how I got this job, blah, blah, blah. I thought I had to adapt. I thought I had to assimilate in order to be successful. At some point, I was said, "Screw that; I'm not doing this. I'm going to be my authentic self." It actually took therapy and a lot of reading about how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. And a lot of that I was able to connect with my experience with ADHD.Eleni: Yeah.Kellie: So, it was really cool because I had decided I'm not going to act like a man, act like this man engineer who's 30 years my senior. There's so little representation of women engineers in my field that I had to pave the way because I was the only one. And I thought, "I get to make this change. I get to decide what this role looks like, because I am the first."Eleni: Yeah, it's interesting you bring up the idea of assimilation, how it links to ADHD. One thing that I've been hearing in my research is that there's almost, I'm going to say, a spectrum, but it's, like, there are people that think of their difference as something they need to assimilate. In other words, something that they need to hide, versus all the people that say "No, I'm going to own this and feel real pride around it." And there's, like, a real dichotomy there. And I think making that shift away from assimilation to pride is really what allows people to let go of shame or really see the superpowers that you talked about. Kellie: I am me, and I like it! Eleni: So, if you were speaking to someone who wanted to become an engineer, and perhaps they have ADHD or they're a woman, what advice would you give to them? Kellie: I would recommend that they seek out something like "engineer for a day" and others, these groups, especially with communities of color, women, groups for young female engineers, there's all of these segments of making engineering accessible to young kids from all different backgrounds. If they could find a group that can provide some level of exposure. Do the work, test it out. You've got to try on these jobs, go do a site visit, try to learn if you can from somebody and just spend a day on a construction site. Because, as a mechanical engineer, there are so many different avenues that you can go into. I could do energy. I could do design, airplanes. Like, it's all over the place.And it's not always on a construction site. There's a lot of times when you're just at the desk, reviewing drawings. Put on their glasses and like a literal magnifying glass and just marking up drawings, doing all these checks and balances. It can look like a lot of different things. So, figuring out how much of your time is going to be in the field versus in the office.I'm someone that likes to do both. So, I initially sought out jobs that would give me that flexibility to go explore in the field and also be in my desk, like doing research, having enough conversations with people to find out what is the good blend for you. And also look into your own personal life to see, are you a homebody? Do you like to explore things? And see if you can replicate that into your work. Eleni: I love that; such good advice. Thanks so much, Kellie, for being here and for sharing your story. Kellie: Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited to share this. Eleni: 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. 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