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306 results for: "executive function"

  • Executive function issues: Possible causes

    Kids with executive function challenges have trouble with a group of key skills we use to solve problems and get things done. Kids with these challenges may struggle with working memory, flexible thinking, self-control and other skills.Experts don’t know exactly what causes trouble with executive function. But here are some likely causes and contributing factors.GeneticsKids who struggle with executive function often have a parent or other close family member who does, too. That includes kids with ADHD — a common disorder that is a problem with executive function. But not everyone who has a problem with executive function has ADHD.Differences in brain developmentResearch shows that certain areas of the brain take longer to develop in people with weak executive skills. These parts of the brain may also be smaller. These areas control working memory and emotional control. It’s important to know that trouble with executive function isn’t a matter of intelligence. Differences in brain chemicalsThere are two main chemicals in the brain that help with focus and impulse control. They are norepinephrine and dopamine. Research suggests that the brains of people with weak executive skills may not use norepinephrine effectively.Co-occurring conditionsAll kids with ADHD have weak executive skills. Many kids with dyslexia do, too. Executive function challenges are also common in kids with neurological conditions, mood disorders, and autism. There are many ways to help kids who struggle with executive function, both at school and at home. Learn more about executive function and the brain. Find out about classroom accommodations for executive function challenges. And discover games that can build executive function skills.

  • ADHD Aha!

    Executive function and ADHD shame in women (Katy’s story)

    Women & ADHD podcast host Katy Weber felt like she was in suspended animation during the pandemic. Then she learned about executive function. Katy Weber’s ADHD symptoms took center stage pandemic. stuck “waiting mode” experiencing “time blindness.” learned executive function dug signs ADHD women. pandemic, stereotypes surround ADHD never felt relatable Katy. diagnosed, started talking women ADHD found community. Now, sees ADHD shows children, she’s getting support need — earlier got it. Katy ADHD advocate coach host Women & ADHD podcast. Katy Laura podcast, it’s Katy’s turn hot seat!Related resourcesLaura Women & ADHD: Laura Key: Anxiety, perfectionism, ADHD “aha” momentsADHD girls: Overlooked?How explain relationship ADHD executive function challenges7 tips talking child’s teacher ADHDEpisode transcriptKaty: really struggling complaining therapist felt like suspended animation time. ideas didn't ability felt like literally sitting couch phone hand, knowing next time going interrupted. like first time ever even heard term executive functioning.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.Laura: I'm today Katy Weber. Katy ADHD advocating coach, founder Women & ADHD, LLC, host "Women & ADHD" podcast. Oh, gosh, start, Katy? start? Well, we've before. Katy got chat show — fabulous, recommend everybody check — I'm excited Katy today answer questions story "aha" moment. So, welcome, Katy.Katy: Yeah, thanks me. I'm excited get chance sit chat again.Laura: like start guest asking: diagnosed ADHD happening life point?Katy: Yes. So, like call pandemic diagnosis. officially diagnosed November 2020, think kind self-diagnosis journey really started fairly soon lockdown really struggling complaining therapist felt like suspended animation time. kids home, husband home couldn't get anything done like waiting next catastrophe happen around remote learning Wi-Fi Zoom like things. next thing know, kids needed eat again. felt like suddenly this, like many mothers time, like full-time butler chef housekeeper, yet time, know, heightened anxiety, felt like doomscrolling time couldn't go anywhere. difficult time many us.When describing therapist, really kind zeroed inability anything right kind waiting mode felt like unstructured time ability really feel like accomplishing anything. therapist, diagnosed ADHD years ago middle schooler diagnosed, she'd gently kind suggesting look years, dismissive like, "I don't know you're talking about." stereotypes hyperactive little boy, like, kind offended. like, "Do really feel like immature, petulant child?" think was...Laura: I'm sorry.Katy: ...right? Like, totally offended. like, "What talk... ADHD?" didn't relate level really didn't take time think connection making conversations. lockdown, like, "Dude, like, really look looks like, especially manifests women." that's remember like taken online ADHD test, generic one adults, things kind related to. lot DSM questions like, "Do feel like you're run motor?" like, "I don't know even means, guess? Don't all? Like, even that?" so, scored kind moderately didn't really think much it.And took one specifically women ADDitude Magazine, one written Sari Solden, like wasn't talking fidget spinners need move, right? Like talking core shame around clutter and, know, questions like, "Do hate people show unannounced?" know, really sort got lot social emotional elements ADHD never occurred me. that's hit realization — many us — like, "Oh, OK, I, right, see is." that's, kind like, yeah, spring summer 2020.Laura: ADHD symptoms think struggling pandemic? Walk typical day like maybe point symptoms experienced throughout day, time.Katy: Oh, yeah. mean, think mean, we... it's often called like waiting mode. feel like hear called even think it's element time blindness feel like can't start something know there's appointment looming, doctor's appointment 1 p.m., can't anything leading that. didn't realize focus issue anxiety issue. sort something never thought much about. think going time early pandemic lockdown internalized hyperactivity like, "Oh goodness, time, myself, right?" people like baking bread. And, know, see projects, people like home projects time everybody things. impulse, right? Like ideas. like, "This great time invest business start new one."And like, know, ideas didn't ability felt like literally sitting couch phone hand, knowing next time going interrupted. like first time ever even heard term executive functioning. Like, never heard term diagnosed realizing executive functioning plays sort decision-making kind knowing next step is. So, felt like divide thoughts ideas percolating mind, also feeling like ending day, accomplished virtually nothing.Laura: feel slightly relieved I'm person struggles "Oh, something's happen like hour. So, can't focus anything else moment." happened yesterday. daughter going playdate waiting friend show up. so, hour friend showed up, started get super anxious, things wanted do. kind like creepily waiting doorway needed to. struggling much, waiting event start could start next event. I've never heard anyone else explain like that. So, thank you.Katy: Well, remember also, too, another wonderful thing ADHD is, time blindness, like moment realization sitting down, pick kids school — pick three — around 2 o'clock, kind started waiting mode sitting around parsing phone like, "I don't want start anything I'm going leave hour." literally 5 minutes leave, coat one shoe saw dog food kitchen floor something, started sweeping mopping kitchen floor 5 minutes leave decided done right then. So, ended late pick kids.And even though literally done nothing hour, 5 minutes like, thought head, something could easily 5 minutes. think that's another thing lot us struggle with, like, long task take us? so, moments I'll sit around hour nothing, we'll late, thought would take 5 minutes completely reorganize kitchen cabinets.Laura: feel like better understanding personally run motor phrase means?Katy: mean, yes no. guess still don't. mean, use example still don't really understand means. think lot sometimes comes idea many us, we're diagnosed adulthood, don't realize everybody thinks way operates way. Right. so, term, feel like you're run motor? like, who? Everybody feels way. Like, felt like was, like, akin asking breathe oxygen. Like, it's like, yeah, right? heart beats.And so, think,

  • Executive function and learning: Ways to help your child

    Kids with executive function challenges can struggle with learning in different ways. Organization and time management can be especially tough. But there are strategies that can help. Explore strategies to try at different ages.

  • In It

    Executive function skills: What are they and how can we help kids build them?

    Messy backpacks. Forgotten lunches. Missing assignments. How can we help our kids get organized this school year? Messy backpacks. Forgotten lunches. Missing assignments. How can we help our kids get organized this school year? What strategies can we use to support kids with ADHD and other learning differences? In this episode, hosts Amanda Morin and Gretchen Vierstra get back-to-school tips from Brendan Mahan, an executive function coach and host of the ADHD Essentials podcast. Brendan explains what executive function skills are — and how we can help kids build them. Learn why we might be asking too much of our kids sometimes, and how to reframe our thinking around these skills. Plus, get Brendan’s tips for helping kids get back into school routines. Related resourcesWhat is executive function? Trouble with executive function at different ages Understanding why kids struggle with organizationEpisode transcriptAmanda: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "In It." On this podcast, we offer perspective, stories, and advice for and from people who have challenges with reading, math, focus, and other types of learning differences. We talk to parents, caregivers, teachers, experts, and sometimes even kids. I'm Amanda Morin.Gretchen: And I'm Gretchen Vierstra.Amanda: And this episode is for all those folks out there like me saying oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. How is it the start of a new school year already? How is summer over? And I don't know what I'm going to do because my kid doesn't know how to do school anymore.Gretchen: Yes, this transition can be especially stressful for parents of kids with ADHD and other learning differences. Maybe you had your systems down last year, like how to get your backpack organized or where your child does their homework after school. But will your child remember those things? And are those even the systems you need this year?Amanda: That's why we wanted to talk to Brendan Mahan. He's an ADHD and executive function coach. He's also got his own podcast, "ADHD Essentials."Gretchen: All right. Let's dive right in.Amanda: So Brendan, as an executive function coach, I would imagine that this start of the school year is a really busy time for you. What are you hearing from parents as they're facing down the beginning of a new school year?Brendan: It varies. Sometimes it's really specific. Like my kid struggled last year and I'm worried about how they're going to do it this year. Sometimes it's my kid's going into middle school, what do I do? Or my kid's going into high school, what do I do? Or I want my kid to get in a college and it's right around the corner — help. Like that. It's that sort of thing, right? But a lot of what I talk to parents about is like pump the brakes. Like, your kid is going to be OK. The school year hasn't even started that much yet.Amanda: OK. So I want to dig into all of that. But first, could you just explain what we're even referring to when we talk about executive function skills?Brendan: So executive function is the ability to do something, right? It's like the ability to execute. So planning and decision making, being able to correct errors and troubleshoot, being able to navigate it when things change and shift, when expectations are different and being able to handle that adjustment. It's understanding time and our relationship to it. It's sustained attention and task initiation. There's emotional control and self-awareness and self-understanding. It's kind of a broad category. There's a lot hiding underneath it.But it boils down to being able to do the thing. It's those adulting skills that, for one, we don't really expect kids to have yet anyway because it's developmental. But also we want them to have it before they're supposed to have it. And that causes its own sort of challenges.Gretchen: So I wonder, do kids tend to slide in executive function skills over the summer?Brendan: I don't know that they slide. I think the academic context of executive function slide. Sometimes we're still using some of those executive functions during the summer. Sometimes we're using more of some of them. You might have a kid who struggles to keep himself organized at school, right? But he's been playing with Legos all summer long and his Lego organizational skills are on point. And maybe that transfers to the classroom and maybe it doesn't.Summer is often when kids are much more self-directed. They're much more curious and exploratory. There's more space for that. So that stuff is going to grow when it may have slid during the school year, because they didn't get the opportunities that they might get during the summer.Amanda: I'm going to go back to something you said, though, because it piqued my curiosity. We expect kids to have executive function skills before they're developmentally ready for it. Why do we do that? Or how do we stop doing that? Or what should we be doing instead?Brendan: I'll go for all of it. Like, how big of a jerk do you want me to be?Amanda: Realistic. Let's go with realistic.Brendan: The answer to that, and this is me being a jerk, is kids not having executive functioning skills is inconvenient.Gretchen: Right.Brendan: Right? Like it makes our lives harder that they can't follow 10-step directions.Gretchen: Brendan, can you give a kind of a general overview of what skills I should expect of typical kids in like grade school and up? So I'm not asking for things I shouldn't get.Brendan: So breaking it down into, like, elementary school, middle school, and high school. It's at least academically how we break things down. So we should expect elementary school kids to be able to pay attention. But there's high school kids who have trouble with that, right? So like, that's kind of an illustration on executive functioning challenges. But broadly speaking, we're expecting elementary school kids to pay attention, control their behavior and impulses, follow one- to two-step directions, and be able to change their behavior to follow rules as necessary.Amanda: The kindergarten teacher in me is going to pop in here and say, "pay attention" is a really like nebulous one, right? Because when I was teaching kindergarten, it was like, pay attention for 10 minutes was about as much as they could could do, right? So I just want to caveat and say, yes, pay attention. I also think about how old the kid in front of you is, for how long they can pay attention.Brendan: True. And absolutely like 10 minutes for a kindergarten kid, and sort of add a few minutes per grade level kind of thing. But also, what does "pay attention" mean? Right? I'm really glad you called that out. Because for some teachers, "pay attention" means sitting with their back against the back of the chair and their legs against the bottom of the chair and their hands folded on their desk and looking at the teacher and — and like, I did that in school. And I did not know what was going on. Because my imagination is way cooler than anything my teacher had to say.Amanda: It may be time to narrate for our listeners that Brendan is standing up as he records, and I'm sitting a swivel chair and swiveling back and forth. Yet we are still paying attention.Gretchen: We're paying attention. So then what about middle schoolers that I know Amanda and I have.Brendan: And I do, too. Yeah. For the middle school kids, we want them to start to show that they can think in order to plan an action. We want them to be able to plan ahead to solve problems, even. Right? Like this is a problem that I might encounter when I do my social studies project or whatever. We want them to be able to follow and manage a daily routine. So an elementary school kid not knowing where they're going on a given day? We might not worry about that too much. Middle school kids, we start to go, oh, wait a minute, you should know what's happening. I want to caveat this, though, because some middle school schedules are a nightmare.Gretchen: A day, B day, short day.Brendan: Yeah. We also for middle school kids, we want to see them beginning to develop this skill of being able to modify their behavior across changing environments. Do we expect to see this because it's developmentally appropriate? Or do we expect to see this because that's how middle school works and it's necessary that they can? I don't know.Gretchen: It makes me think I'm asking too much.Amanda: Makes me think I'm asking too much, too.Brendan: Yeah. One of the things that I often talk about with my clients, with my coaching groups, is when a kid is struggling, we want to wonder: Is it the fish or is it the water? Right? Like, is this kid struggling because there's something going on with them? Or is it the kid's struggling because there's something going on with the environment that they're in? Probably it's both. And oftentimes we focus on the fish instead of looking at the water. So I tend to champion like, let's address the environment that the kid's in.Amanda: As a parent staring down the school year, what do I do right now to start bolstering those skills?Brendan: So if school hasn't started yet, I might be talking about things we can do during the summer to kind of get ourselves squared away so that the beginning of school goes more smoothly, right? Start going to bed a little bit earlier now, so that when school starts and you have to go to bed a lot earlier, you can make that transition more effectively. Or give your kids like a few more responsibilities for the time being, so that when school starts, you can take those extra responsibilities away and replace them with the school responsibilities that are coming. Which doesn't mean they should be writing essays at home. It just means that they should be doing a little bit more in terms of chores or something, so that they're used to not being as relaxed and on as much screen time as they were in the summer.And if school is already started, then it's like trust the teacher, right? Like let's communicate with the teacher. Let's find out what it is that they're doing in their classroom. Are they seeing challenges or red flags already for your kid, or maybe orange flags? Is there anything we need to be on top of right now? So don't wait until the problem happens, like solve the problem in advance instead of solving it after things have gone haywire. And pivoting really quick, because one thing I didn't do is I didn't talk about high school.Gretchen: Oh, yeah. High schools.Brendan: So emerging skills in high school: We expect them to start to be able to think and behave flexibly. We also want to see them begin to organize and plan projects and social activities. Now, social activities, yes. But like, why do they have to be able to organize and plan projects? Because that's how high school works, right? And that skill has been building since middle school, maybe even since late elementary school. But now we're starting to expect more independence and it should be an easier process.We also want to see them adapt to inconsistent rules. And it happens in lots of ways, right? Like I just left English class and now I'm in math class and I can't shut up because I was talking a lot in English and it was fine because we were doing group projects and now it's a solo thing in math, right? That's hard. But we start to expect that. Yeah, you have like three-minute hallway time and then you got to be ready to go behaving totally different for a new subject.Gretchen: That three-minute time is like, I've got to say, as a teacher, even I had trouble switching, right? You're going from one class to the next and there's no downtime to readjust. That's tough.Brendan: Yeah, but that's time on learning, right? That's like you've got to be learning, learning, learning. Which is silly, because we know we need time for our minds to wander in order to cement that learning and sort of lock it in. And if we don't give kids any time that's downtime to have their minds wander and be a little spacey, they're not going to be able to anchor in that learning as effectively as they might otherwise.Amanda: Well, I will say that as a parent of kids who have ADHD, I have often been the parent who was like, you don't have to go do your homework right away. And I know that that's sort of antithetical to like all what a lot of people say. You know, come home from school, do your homework, get it done, then do your other stuff. But my kids weren't ready to. They needed that time to sort of breathe or let their brains breathe or whatever they needed to do. We can have the homework station all put together, but it doesn't mean we have to put the kid at the homework station the minute they walk in the door.Gretchen: Right.Brendan: Right. And how much of that is coming from your own anxiety?Gretchen: Just get it done, man. Go to that seat and do it, right?Amanda: OK, so what's the conversation sound like if I am trying to get my kid in the game, get their head in the game, and not put my anxiety on them? What's that conversation sound like?Brendan: A lot of that conversation is happening inside of you and doesn't need to be shared with them, right? Like, because you got to work on your own stuff before you can have this conversation. You have to figure out what is it about, in this case, homework, and doing it as soon as I get home, or is having my kid do it as soon as they get home. What is it about that that makes it so important to me? It might be that transitions with your kid are wicked hard and you don't want to have another transition. You don't want to have to battle them to come and do homework at 5:00. So it's easier to avoid that battle because they're kind of still in school academic mode. So you can at least get them into it better.And that might be because you're doing it wrong in terms of what activities you're having them do before they do homework. Screen time is not a plan before homework, unless you know you can trust your kid to pull out of that screen and go into homework. If there's ever a battle around getting out of screen time, then they need to do something else before they do their homework.Gretchen: Yeah. That brings me to a related question, Brendan, which is sometimes kids have it together executive function wise, especially when they love something, right? But when they don't like something, all of a sudden I see the skills go away. And I wonder, OK, are they struggling or is it that they're just choosing to not have those skills in that moment because they don't want that for that thing?Brendan: When we're talking about kids, it is never useful to decide that they're choosing to not do or do anything. Because all that does is vilify the kid and make us, as parents, feel more justified in being meaner to them. Instead, we always want to assume that our kid is doing the best they can. And we always want to assume that they are trying to do well and want to please us. Those are my fundamental assumptions at all times. And have I screwed up? Yes. There was a period of time when my kid was struggling, like a lot of kids right now. Post-COVID, there's a lot of anxiety stuff going on with kids.My kid is one of them, man. And I was wrapped up in my own anxiety as a result of his anxiety, and I wasn't thinking as clearly. And we started battling. And we had one particular rough battle that my wife got caught in and I sat down on a bed. I can still see it. I can see myself sitting on the bed and going, I'm doing it wrong. Like we should not be battling. This is not the relationship I've had with my kid for the last 13 years. What am I doing wrong?And I literally went through in my head the slides of the parent groups that I run. And I hit this one slide that is like everyone is doing the best they can. Your kids want to please you. They want to succeed. And if those things don't feel true, it's because there's a skill set that's missing or there's a resource that they don't have that they need. And I was like, he's doing his best, and his best is not up to my standards. And that's because something else is going on. I knew what that something else was. It was the anxiety stuff that's going on. And I was just like, oh, the skill set that he's missing is the anxiety management skills that he needs.But it wasn't that he couldn't do the stuff that I want him to do. It was that he couldn't manage his anxiety. And the only reason I started banging heads with him was because I was so anxious that I couldn't bring the skills that I usually have to bear to navigate the challenges that he was facing and help him out. So it makes sense. It happened to both of us at the same time, and that's why we were banging heads. And our relationship changed from that day forward.Amanda: I'm going to push, though, a little bit, because I really I'm super curious about the kids who say to us, like, I'm just not feeling it. Like, is there something below that, you think?Brendan: What's below when you're not feeling it? Like there's times when we're not feeling it either, right? And there's something below that, too. Sometimes it's I haven't slept well for a week, and I'm just done. I don't have the mental capacity to do this. Sometimes it's I haven't moved my body in like a month and a half and that's affecting my get-up-and-go. Sometimes it's I'm chock-full of anxiety because someone in my house has a chronic illness or I'm afraid of COVID or or my parents are getting divorced or whatever, right?There's all kinds of reasons why kids might not feel it. And if they say, I'm just not feeling it, there's two really good responses. One is cool, then you don't have to do it. Like figure out when you can. Give me an idea when you might be able to do this, and we'll do it then. The other answer is, I totally hear you that you're not feeling it and I get it. I can tell that you're not feeling it, but unfortunately you still got to do it. How can I help you get this done?Gretchen: I like that language.You brought up not wanting to battle your child and none of us want to battle our child. But in thinking about going back to school, we might be getting feelings from last year of oh my gosh, the backpack was so disorganized. Oh my gosh, why didn't you bring home your homework assignments? So how can we start off the year better, but get some of those basic skills under control?Brendan: So I have some videos on "How to ADHD," Jessica McCabe's YouTube channel, on my Wall of Awful model. That is exactly what we're talking about right now. The idea behind the Wall of Awful is that — I'll do like a two-second thing. Watch the video. It's like 14 minutes of your life. The gist of the Wall of Awful is that, like, we have certain stuff that we do that we fail at or struggle with. And as a result, we get these negative emotions built up around that task. And we have to navigate those negative emotions before we can do the thing.So if we've battled with our kid about school a lot, as school comes back up, we have a Wall of Awful for navigating school as much as they do. So we get in a fight and argue about stuff. Just put your shoes on, or whatever. And sometimes it's that petty, right? Like we're yelling at our kid to put their shoes on, even though they have 10 minutes before they even have to get on the bus. And it's not about the shoes. It's about all of the battles we've had about school for the last seven years or whatever.So to get ahead of that, talk to your kids before school starts about how you have conflict when school starts. And ask them, like, what do you notice about this conflict? What do you need for me to help avoid this conflict? Or this is what I need from you to help avoid this conflict. What do you need from me to help give me what I need, right?Because that's what parenting boils down to. Parenting boils down to what does my kid need from me in order to be better? So whenever I have a conflict with my kid or my kid is struggling, I'm always asking them, like, what do you need from me? And sometimes what they need from me is for me to intentionally give them nothing so that they can figure it out on their own. Sometimes that's what I'm giving, is like independence.But if that doesn't work, I need to be ready, like a safety net with, like, other stuff, right? Like, oh, you also need me to, like, bust out a timer and remind you that those are useful. Or break this task into smaller, more manageable chunks. Or, as I had to do for one of my kids recently, text the dad of one of their friends that he wanted to hang out with, because he just didn't have it in him to text his friend. And we had that conversation. I was like, cool, then I'll text the dad. Not a big deal.Amanda: Sometimes my kid doesn't know. My kid's like I don't know what I need from you. So as parents, having those examples of what you can then say: Is it this? Is it this? Is it this? What else would you add to that list?Brendan: First I would add if the kid says "I don't know," say to them, "You don't need to know. I don't want the answer to this question right now. I can, like, take a few hours, take a day." Because when we put a kid on the spot, anxiety spikes, executive functions shut down. They don't know. But if we give them some thinking time and some grace, then they can come back later and tell us stuff. Or maybe not. Maybe they come back an hour later and they're like, I still have no idea.Then we start giving them examples — examples that are informed by what we already know about our kid. Do you need me to get some timers? Do you want to sit down with me and I can body-double you while you work on this? I got some knitting to do, or I have to pay the bills. Like we can sit at the kitchen table, you can work on your thing, I can work on my thing. Do you want help breaking this down into small, manageable chunks? I know sometimes you struggle with that a little bit. Would it be useful to maybe call up Sally and have Sally come over or do a Zoom with you and you guys can work on this together? Would that be helpful? Like, and something else that you thought of, because I am running out of ideas? Like, what do you think?Amanda: So we're all about executive functioning today, which always includes time management. And Brendan, I know you said you had somewhere to be. So I just want to thank you so much for sharing all of these insights and advice with us today.Gretchen: Yes, thank you so much, Brendan. So much for us to think about.Brendan: Thank you for having me.Gretchen: Brendan has lots more to share with families who are working on building their executive function skills. Go to That's where you can also find his "ADHD Essentials" podcast.Amanda: You've been listening to "In It" from the Understood Podcast Network.Gretchen: This show is for you. So we want to make sure you're getting what you need. Email us at to share your thoughts. We love hearing from you.Amanda: If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include resources as well as links to anything we mentioned in the episode.Gretchen: 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. For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer.Gretchen: Thanks for listening and for always being in it with us.

  • Executive function challenges and learning: 6 ways to help your grade-schooler

    Your child’s trouble with executive function may become more obvious in the later years of grade school. It’s a time of transition for kids, with a growing number of school demands. The more help and support you can provide, the smoother that transition will be.Executive function challenges can impact learning in many ways during grade school. Here are some common challenges and ways you can help.Learning challenge #1: Difficulty following stepsYour child has to write a paragraph on a story the teacher read in class, but can’t figure out how to organize the information.The role of executive function challenges: It can be hard to plan out work steps. Kids may have trouble coming up with a strategy for tackling an assignment.How to help: Teach your child to write a “hamburger paragraph.” The top bun is the sentence that introduces the idea. The burger and fixings are the details that back up the idea. The bottom bun is the sentence that summarizes and holds everything together. This type of graphic organizing tool can help kids at different grade levels handle all sorts of writing assignments.Learning challenge #2: InflexibilityYou try to help your child double-check answers to long division problems by using multiplication. But your child gets upset and says it’s not the way the teacher showed the class to check their work.The role of executive function challenges: It can be hard to see that there’s more than one way to solve a problem. Kids may think in very concrete terms.How to help: Have your child show you the teacher’s method. See if the teacher can show your child a few different ways to check that would be acceptable.Learning challenge #3: Struggles with prioritizing informationYour child wrote a book report, but it’s missing the most important plot details in the book.The role of executive function challenges: It can be hard to prioritize information. Kids may struggle to sort out the key details.How to help: Help your child learn active reading strategies, like imagining the book as a movie. It can help your child figure out which details are necessary to retell the story.Learning challenge #4: Difficulty gauging their own workYour child has trouble knowing which operation to use on word problems. Even after you’ve gone over the clue words to look for, your child doesn’t know what to do.The role of executive function challenges: It can be hard to self-monitor work. Kids may not be able to tell if an answer looks reasonable.How to help: Help your child create a list of phrases that signal addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Teach your child to underline the phrases when reading a word problem and write the symbol above them. Your child can compare the underlined phrases to the list before setting up the equation.Learning challenge #5: Poor time managementInstead of working on a long-term science project a little at a time, your child tries to do the whole project a few days before the presentation.The role of executive function challenges: It can be hard to manage time. Kids may have trouble estimating how much time a project takes to complete.How to help: Ask if your child’s teacher can provide a breakdown of all the different steps to the project. You can help your child create a project calendar that sets up due dates over the span of a few weeks. In time, your child can learn to create project calendars without your help.Learning challenge #6: Trouble controlling emotionsYour child is working on a group project and gets mad when the other kids want to do things a different way. The role of executive function challenges: It can be hard to control emotions. Kids may struggle to understand or accept other people’s points of view.How to help: Practice situations together — you can pretend to be a classmate. Role-play scenarios that might come up, including differences of opinion. Let your child practice statements like, “I don’t understand your idea,” or “Here’s why I’m suggesting this idea.”Grade school — especially the transition from third to fourth grade — involves demands that your child may not have faced before. It can be tough for a child with executive function challenges to manage the changing expectations. But there are ways to help.

  • In It

    Adulting and executive function skills: How to help your child thrive after high school

    Sending kids off to the adult world can feel both scary and exciting. How can families best support their kids who learn and think differently? Sending kids off to the adult world can feel both scary and exciting. How can families best support their kids who learn and think differently? In this episode, hosts Gretchen Vierstra and Rachel Bozek talk with Dr. Karen Wilson, a clinical neuropsychologist who works with a lot of college students. She shares some of the common challenges kids face in the real world — many related to trouble with executive function. Get her expert advice on how families can help their kids manage the demands of adulting. Then, the hosts hear from a parent who’s “in it” when it comes to helping kids become adults. Tune in to get tips from Danielle Janson, a mom of twins with ADHD who are in their first year of college. Related resources Life after high school: Tips to get your child readyExecutive function challenges and learning: 6 ways to help your child after high schoolEveryday challenges for people who struggle with executive functionEpisode 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. A few episodes back, we heard from high school counselor Jennifer Correnti about how to prepare our kids to take the big leap from secondary school to whatever comes next.Gretchen: Today, we're gathering insights on how things look from the other side of that big leap. Mostly, we'll be focusing on the transition to college, but we'll be talking about other paths, too.Rachel: Later, we'll hear from Danielle Janson, a mom in Virginia whose twins, Jake and Sara, are just finishing up their first year of college. Both of them have learning and thinking differences that made this transition a little daunting.Gretchen: But first, we're talking to Dr. Karen Wilson. Karen is a clinical neuropsychologist in Los Angeles.Rachel: She's also a professor at UCLA and supervises assessment of children and adults with learning, thinking, and social emotional difficulties. And in that capacity, she works with a lot of college students.Gretchen: We were so delighted to have her share her expertise with us. Dr. Wilson, thank you so much for being with us on "In It."Dr. Karen Wilson: Thank you so much for having me.Rachel: Welcome. So, what are some of the most common struggles that you hear about from students at the beginning of their college career?Dr. Karen Wilson: Yeah, I think the kinds of challenges that I am hearing from young people, but oftentimes it's coming from their parents, the difficulties are frequently related to problems with executive functioning.I can think of one client of mine who called her parents very upset because she was falling behind in all of her coursework, and she was really fearful of failing her first semester in college. And the parent in turn reached out to me, and as it turns out, when we kind of looked at what was happening, this young woman was having trouble managing the multiple demands of college life. And what that parent realized was that she had actually been functioning as her daughter's frontal lobe all her life.So, if you think about during this transition to college, this young person who has had her mother wake her up in the morning, help her, you know, navigate to school, has kind of checked in with her daughter. Do you have everything in your backpack? Did you turn in that assignment? All of that feedback and that encouragement was now removed when her daughter was in college and the mother didn't even realize that she had been providing all of this support and scaffolding. Now she has to do her own laundry. She has to manage her own finances, manage her social life, get to places on her own.And so, navigating all of those added things was really creating a problem for this young woman. She had kind of developed the skills to address her learning and thinking differences, but didn't have to kind of manage more in real life, if that makes sense.Gretchen: Oh yeah, that does make sense.Rachel: It does make sense.Gretchen: Makes me think, well, I don't have one high schooler, but I think about this, and I think about, am I doing too much of the executive function stuff for them? And I feel like it might be this, just that kids are just so overwhelmed at school with so many things that sometimes I personally feel like, well, I better do that because they've got all these other things on their plate. How in the world are they possibly going to take care of their basic needs? I better do that for them.Dr. Karen Wilson: I see exactly what you're saying, and I think a lot of these families who have young people who've had these learning and thinking differences for some time, they have been there all along to ensure that their child is getting the support that they need to thrive and reach their full potential.But there is a time when you have to kind of back off. I mean, you don't back off completely all at once in ninth grade, but you do so a little bit at a time. And what that does is it gives young people the opportunity to see that there are some things they can handle on their own.Rachel: That's good to know.Gretchen: Yeah.Dr. Karen Wilson: One of the skills that's really important for students to learn early on are those self-advocacy skills. You know, I've worked with another student who, you know, evaluated when he was in second grade, in fourth grade. And then in high school, I remember getting a call to my office and it was from the student —all along the mother had been making the appointments — and it was from the student who said, "Hi, do you remember me? You evaluated me when I was in sixth grade. I'm now going to be going to this university and I need to get updated testing. I need it by this date. And this is the person you need to send it to."And those are the calls that I love to get. This student was ready for the transition and the parents had said, you know, "You're an adult now. You need to call Dr. Wilson and make your appointment." And I think that taking some of those responsibilities and also having the self-advocacy skills to be able to say, "This is my profile, this is what I need in order to show up as my best self" is really powerful.Gretchen: And can I just say that the skill of making a phone call, I feel like that's so underrated, right?Dr. Karen Wilson: I absolutely agree with you because some students don't know what to say or "What do I say when I get on the phone?" That is another, you know, skill that students have to learn. I mean, you have to call the Learning Disabilities Office and say, you know, "I have a test on Monday. I need accommodations. What paperwork do I need to bring to my professor?" Because that office is not going to send the paperwork automatically to your professor. That student has to ask for what it is that they need.Gretchen: Yeah. And they're not going to send a text message.Dr. Karen Wilson: They will not.Gretchen: They've got to make an old-fashioned phone call and know how to do that.Dr. Karen Wilson: Absolutely.Rachel: So, if a student is struggling academically, who should they turn to first? Is this, should it start out as a conversation that they have with their professor before they kind of take it to another space on campus? Or should they go to support services immediately?Dr. Karen Wilson: It depends on the class, and it also depends on why they're struggling. You know, are they starting only because they don't understand the material or are they struggling because they've got too many classes and they're just overwhelmed with the sheer amount of work that they need to do?You know, if it's the content that they're not quite grasping, definitely start with the professor, go to the office hours, and get some clarity on what it is that they you don't understand. But if it's, you know, "This is too much. I've got five classes, I can't keep on top of all of the expectations, it feels overwhelming," then by all means, go to the student services office and talk about maybe reducing your course load.Gretchen: Yeah. And you know, that again, brings up another life skill that I keep thinking about. Talking one on one with a professor, like I remember as a student myself the first time going to office hours thinking, "What is this? " And I was scared. So, I mean, are there ways to prep students to be able to do that?Dr. Karen Wilson: I think you have to know what you want to ask and what it is you're struggling with. And if you write it down, that is often helpful. What is it you don't understand? Bring your notebook. Bring your textbook. If you're having trouble, you know, taking notes, bring your notes and show what you've been doing just so you're prepared for that conversation.Gretchen: Yeah, I guess preparation is key.Dr. Karen Wilson: Yes.Gretchen: And I feel like maybe having your kid practice that a little bit at the high school level, right? Like, get a little practice, going to your teacher and having those lists and talking about some things that you need to cover.Dr. Karen Wilson: Practice is so key. I'm so glad you said that because high school is a great place for students to get that practice in developing those skills. And for them to keep in mind that there's oftentimes, and there will be, a generational gap between the student and the professor.So, what has to work for communication with your peers is not going to work with a professor. They've spent so much time, this generation, communicating using technology, and they haven't had the opportunity to interact in real life with another person, advocate for their needs, you know, express what it is that they know, what they're struggling with. And that is a skill that they will have to practice before they make that transition because your professors are not going to be responding to a DM.Rachel: So, how does medication fit into this picture? You know, of all of what we're talking about, are there special challenges for students in terms of staying on top of their meds now that they're out on their own? Tell us a little bit about that.Dr. Karen Wilson: It can be a challenge. And again, it depends on the young person and how much support they've been receiving at home, right? If you have a parent who's put your medication beside your breakfast every morning, that's going to be a very different and more challenging situation to manage all of that on your own versus the student who's already been managing and been responsible for taking their own medication through high school. And if you have been reminded by a parent, now's the time to set up reminders for yourself, whether that be an app or on your phone, some strategy that will help you remember now.The other thing is when you need a refill, when you run out of medication, when you're getting close to the end of your prescription, you've got two pills left in the bottle. Can that be a cue for you to request your own medication refill? And so, you know, a parent who might be listening can practice that with their child and say, you know, "For the next two months, you're going to manage your own medication." Obviously, they're going to oversee it and make sure things are getting done. But you'll be able to see where there are gaps. And, you know, if you see the empty bottle that's been sitting there for two days and your child hasn't said, you know, "I need a refill," then you know where the support is going to be needed moving forward.Gretchen: What are some things that parents, or maybe the young adults going, should maybe be more concerned about than they actually are at the time?Dr. Karen Wilson: Yes. You know, emerging adulthood, regardless of whether you have learning and thinking differences, is a vulnerable time from a social and emotional point.Gretchen: Oh, yeah.Dr. Karen Wilson: And what I mean by that is that if students are going to develop anxiety or depression, this is a critical time when oftentimes that does begin to manifest for the first time. And so, making sure that a student has the social and emotional support as they're making this transition is really important.And so, even before they go off, you know, that young person can be excited about making the transition, having that conversation, saying, you know, "I know you're really excited, but sometimes, you know, students who are making this transition can feel lonely, can get depressed, can get really anxious. If you start to feel those things, I want you to reach out to me so that we can make sure you get the support that you need."Gretchen: Well, let's talk a little bit about something different. We've been talking a lot about the challenges for kids who go to college. But what about those who take a different path, whether it's they go to work or they take a gap year or the military or something else? What are you hearing from those kids or parents about things they might be struggling with?Dr. Karen Wilson: I think they're struggling with a lot of the same things, but just in different ways. They may not have the college demands of managing classes, but if they've decided to get a job right out of high school, they also need to be at work on time. They have to finish their responsibilities, they have to notify individuals if they're not going to be there.They also are also facing the same vulnerable time where there are higher rates of depression, higher rates of anxiety. And they're, we already know that there's kind of this loneliness epidemic for all young people. And so, if you've got friends who you were really close to when you were in high school and now, they're off attending college, you know, across the country, then that can increase the loneliness that an individual might be experiencing. And loneliness, we know, puts you at greater risk for depression. And so that can also be something to keep an eye on.Gretchen: And I imagine if kids are struggling with executive function things like getting to work on time, right? Or getting a task done on time at work. That's a little different than if you turn in a paper late and you get a bad grade. The repercussions could be like you don't have a job anymore or like, it affects other people in the workplace. And so that, I imagine that might be tough to handle.Dr. Karen Wilson: Absolutely. And then obviously, that has an impact on self-concept, how you feel about yourself. "Can I do this? Can I get another job? Can I get any job if I can't handle this one?" And so, there can be a lot of self-talk that happens as a result of those challenges.But it's also an opportunity to, again, develop and practice those skills in a work environment, right? And may not be your career job right out of high school, but you can figure out what you're strong at, what your weaknesses are, and what kind of job you do not want in your future.Rachel: Yeah, that's true. Yeah. First, jobs are sometimes really good for that. So, we've talked a lot about some of the things that can trip kids up when they're embarking on this new phase of life. What can you tell us about the kids who have really blossomed? Can you think of an example and tell us what they're getting right?Dr. Karen Wilson: I have a lot of examples, and I would say that in general, the students who have those great outcomes and thrive in a college environment or thrive in their first job outside of high school are those that understand their learning and thinking differences, can self-advocate for what it is that they need, and who have the social and emotional support as they make that transition.So, they have a good group of friends that they can check in with. They know that they have the support of an adult in their life, whether that's a parent, a mentor for students who are transitioning to college, you know, many of them who've gone on to graduate and again, thrive in life are those that can in that first year continue to have a tutor or continue to work with an executive functioning coach or an educational therapist as they made that transition to kind of help them navigate that transition period.And then the other thing is really those students have really thrived, as are those students who've really been able to kind of see what it is that they need and to have put in place in their living environment to support them and help them succeed.One of those is making sure that you're getting enough sleep because, you know, college we talked about all of the distractions and consistent sleep is essential and even more important for students with thinking and learning differences so that they can. Thus, their attention system, their executive functioning system. We know that students who don't get enough sleep are at greater risk for emotional struggles and social difficulties. So, those students who have said, you know, "I need this amount of sleep, I know what you're doing, but I have a class at 8 a.m. I need to get some sleep."So, those students who again, can self-advocate with their roommates about what it is that they need to do exceedingly well. And then also those students who are, who get involved in extracurricular activities, you know, not overscheduled, but get involved with clubs and feel a sense of belonging with their university do extremely well. All of those things in place are setting you up for success.Rachel: Yeah, and I think a lot of that can totally apply, you know, in other settings as well. So, if you are taking a gap year or get a job right out of school, but you want to maybe like volunteer at an animal shelter or get involved with a food co-op or there's like all these different ways to find that sense of belonging. So, I think those are great ideas and hopefully recipes for success. Well, is there anything we didn't cover that you want to mention, Karen?Dr. Karen Wilson: You know, one thing I guess I would say, I mean, we've covered so much and I think one of the things I would say is that, you know, students who have a learning and thinking differences are incredibly resilient. And we can give them the opportunity to see that they have all of the innate skills that they need in order to achieve what it is that they want to achieve. Many will continue to need additional parental and societal support, but once they have that and we can pull back a little, they can really soar.Gretchen: Well, thank you for being on the show with us today.Rachel: Thank you so much. It was so great to speak with you.Dr. Karen Wilson: Oh good. I hope it was helpful.Rachel: Very helpful.Gretchen: Very helpful. Dr. Wilson shared so much good advice.Rachel: She did. I have to be honest, though, I know it's still a few years off, but I have such a hard time imagining my kids managing all the things in college, which is why I was so grateful when a good friend of mine, Danielle Janson, agreed to talk to us about what it's been like for her.Gretchen: This year, Danielle sent not one but two kids off to college.Rachel: Yep, they're twins. Their names are Jake and Sarah. And here's how Danielle describes them in a nutshell.Danielle: They are about to complete their freshman year of college. They go to two separate colleges, both very different kids. My daughter has always been a theater kid singing, dancing, all that. And my son is a total sports kid. Both have diagnoses of ADHD along with anxiety, and my daughter also deals with some depression.Gretchen: We asked Danielle if she remembers what she was the most worried about before they left for school.Danielle: Dealing with professors and so many different personalities and new people. That was a fear. Definitely with my daughter's depression and anxiety, sending her away to college. Like does she have a support system up there and how are we going to have all those things in place for her?Rachel: Those were some of her big-picture concerns. And then there were the worries about how Jake and Sara would handle day-to-day life.Danielle: You know, you always fear medications. Are they going to take them? Are they going to take them on time? Are they going to remember to go get the refills? Also waking up in the morning.Gretchen: Some of these challenges were things they could work on before school started. And they did. Both kids took on the responsibility of managing their meds for a few months before they left.Rachel: And they both reached out to their universities to determine what accommodations they would be entitled to once they got there.Gretchen: Once the school year started, there were a few bumps in the road. Both kids had to figure out how to manage anxiety when faced with new experiences like socializing in a big crowd or making presentations in front of a large class. But they knew to ask for help and they got through it.Rachel: As for academics, they both proved capable of advocating for themselves when they needed to. Though for Jake, at first, it took some parental nudging.Danielle: For example, he had a class. He was taking music and it was a tough class and he just really "Jake just goes talk to the professor." So, he did, and the professor sat down with him is like, "Let me see how you're studying, and let me see how you're taking notes." And the professor pointed out like, "Hey, Jake, all this information is on the slide. You don't need to reinvent the wheel. Add notes that are what I'm lecturing about that's not on the slide."Gretchen: Sarah also showed herself to be an excellent self-advocate.Danielle: For example, she had a professor this semester who's kind of old school and first day of class, he said, "Hey, no computers, no iPads, no phones, nothing. I want to see none of it." So, Sara just simply met with him after class and said, "Hey, I have accommodations, I need to use an iPad to take notes." And he was like, "Great, thank you so much for telling me you have permission to use it."Rachel: Danielle's got a lot of pro tips after her kids first year of college. Jake learned a little late, unfortunately, that at his school, kids with learning and thinking differences are entitled to early registration so they can get into classes that best meet their accommodations. Apparently, this privilege is common at other schools, too.Gretchen: Also common, a free note-taking service for students who have a hard time listening and taking notes at the same time. The note-takers are fellow students, they never know who they're taking notes for, and they get paid to do the work. So, it's a win-win.Rachel: You know, Gretchen, with all these preparation strategies, sometimes it's hard to remember the big picture, like why we're sending our kids off to fend for themselves in college or wherever they choose to go. I asked Danielle about that, and I think she offers some really good perspective. What are you hoping they get out of this experience?Danielle: Well, I think we're just hoping that they learn how to be comfortable in their own skin and to just go to the beat of their own drum and know that they can do things in their own time and at their own pace. You know, to develop like a sense of self-worth and a professional life and, you know, just see all the things that they have within them to offer to this world, you know? And mine and my husband's hope for them is just as we've always said, like "We just want productive members of society. That's all we ask for."Gretchen: Yeah, that seems like a pretty healthy outlook. Well, Danielle, you've given us such good advice for families getting ready to send their kids off to college. Thank you so much for all of it.Rachel: Thank you so much. This was really great.Danielle: Thank you for having me.Gretchen: Danielle gave us so much great information. One other tip she gave was about ADHD medication, which we know can be a hot commodity on campus where some kids may be using it recreationally.Rachel: Yeah, I thought this was a really good tip. So, what she told us was that she and her husband actually sent both kids to school with a safe to keep their medications locked up and just keep them safe.Gretchen: That is such a great tip. And in fact, that makes me think that our listeners probably have some great tips. So, if you're someone who's recently pushed your kid out of the nest, whether to college or job or whatnot, we'd love to hear from you. If you've got some great tips to share, please feel free to email us at 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 Eric co-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.

  • Executive function challenges and learning: 6 ways to help your child after high school

    Executive function challenges don’t go away after high school. They continue to have an impact on kids, whether they’re in college or trade school, on the job, or navigating everyday situations. Your support can help your young-adult child build self-advocacy skills during this new phase of life.Learning challenge #1: Difficulty making decisionsYour child doesn’t know what to do after high school — go straight to college or trade school, or get a full-time job.The role of executive function challenges: Trouble with executive function can affect the ability to self-monitor and figure out strengths, weaknesses, and even passions.How to help: Encourage your child to make an appointment with the student advisor in high school or the school’s guidance counselor. Together they can explore options and gather information about specific programs that match your child’s strengths.Learning challenge #2: Managing tasksYour child doesn’t know the steps to take to meet goals for after high school.The role of executive function challenges: Executive function issues can make it hard to break big tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.How to help: If your child is still in high school and has an IEP, the law requires that the IEP outline transition goals for after high school. IEPs should begin including transition goals at the age of 14. The IEP should provide specific information about what community services are needed and available to help your child meet these goals. Learn more about how IEPs can help teens prepare for life after high school.Learning challenge #3: Staying on top of thingsYour child needs help finding work, educational opportunities, or life skills assistance.The role of executive function challenges: Your child’s trouble with executive function can affect everyday activities like keeping appointments and paying bills.How to help: Check out the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT). This government-sponsored center provides families with information and resources to help make a plan for life after high school. You may also want to learn how vocational rehab services can help your child with the transition from high school to work.Learning challenge #4: Trouble planningYour child has decided what to do after high school, but still needs to fill out applications or apply for jobs.The role of executive function challenges: Trouble with executive function can make it hard to know how to create a plan and get started on something.How to help: Acknowledge that your child isn’t lazy — just stuck. Help break down the job hunt or application process into manageable steps so your child knows how to start. Work together to create a short list of the basic things needed for job applications.Learning challenge #5: Adapting to new situationsYour child is getting into trouble at work because it’s taking longer than expected to get into the routine.The role of executive function challenges: Trouble with executive function can make it hard to juggle information. What may seem to others to be a simple task can be difficult.How to help: Encourage your child to speak to the human resources department at work about learning challenges. Doing this could open up more resources to your child and also protect against job discrimination. (The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from firing employees because of a disability.)You can also look into getting a job coach who can shadow your child at work and provide real-time feedback to help turn things around. Look for free or low-cost resources at your state’s vocational rehabilitation department.Learning challenge #6: Staying organizedYour child is going to college or trade school and is struggling to make it to class on time and with the right materials.The role of executive function challenges: Trouble with executive function can affect a person's ability to organize and plan for enough time to accomplish things.How to help: Help your child come up with a daily checklist for what needs to be done to get out the door on time — as well as a checklist of materials needed for each class. Do a couple of practice runs to get a good sense of how much time is needed. Help your child use sticky notes and cell phone alarms as reminders. Writing important schedule information on a whiteboard in a high-traffic area of the house can also help.After high school, there are fewer supports in place to help your child navigate executive function challenges. Your guidance is still a valuable asset, though. You can coach your child to seek out support to recognize and use strengths.

  • ADHD Aha!

    ADHD and messiness (Jeannie’s story)

    Jeannie talks through the executive function challenges she faces when she tries to tidy and clean up.Kids and adults with ADHD can have a hard time keeping things tidy. That’s true of Jeannie Ferguson, a plus model in Brooklyn who describes herself as “messy.” Jeannie was diagnosed with ADHD in college — and her wife, Tash, also has ADHD. Jeannie describes in detail what goes on in her brain when she tries to tidy and clean up her home. She shares what led to her ADHD diagnosis, and why as a Black woman she hesitated to get evaluated. And she answers a burning question: What’s it like when two people with ADHD get married?Related resourcesADHD and messinessWhat is executive function?Tools and tips to get organizedEpisode transcriptJeannie: I was in college, and I come across a finance professor and he actually recommended that I go and get tested for ADHD, because I would zone out in his class. I would be writing the grocery list. I would be doing homework from another class. I had no interest in his class. However, him speaking to another professor and, you know, the three of us talking and having a laugh, he asked that professor, what were her grades in your classes? And she said, she'd get A's and A-pluses. But he said, well, she has failed my class for sure. I definitely think you need to go. And I had my reservations about going, because, in the African American community back then during that time, that's not something that you spoke about. And I didn't want that stigma on me that I was crazy, or I was slow, that I didn't know what I was doing or what have you. I put it off for a little while and I finally went and, yeah, the diagnosis was definitely a positive one.Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!" — a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.I'm here today with Jeannie Ferguson. Jeannie is a plus model who lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her wife, Tash, who also has ADHD. Welcome, Jeannie.Jeannie: Thank you for having me, Laura.Laura: So, Jeannie, you used the word "mess." I think you said, "I'm a mess." Tell me what you mean by that. What does that word mean to you, and how does that relate to your ADHD?Jeannie: So I can never get my home clean all at one time, in a certain amount of time. So I have to start in my bedroom. I'll go, I'll make up my bed. I'll put my shoes back in the box. I'll put all of my clothes, I'll hang them back up, whatever it is, perfume, if it's sitting out or whatever, anything, just putting it in order. I'm dusting, wiping things down. If I step out of my bedroom and go into the bathroom, I know it's time for me to clean the bathroom. So now I am turning on the shower with Ajax in the tub, and I'm taking stuff off of the cabinet. Cause now we're going to clean the cabinet. So now my bedroom is not complete. Because I need to now take the clothes off the bed, even though I made it. But now the clothes that was on the chair is on the bed and has to be put away. I haven't done that yet. I've walked out.My phone may ring. It may not be near me. It may be in the living room. Now I'm in the damn living room. And I'm like, oh, OK, so now I know I have to sweep the carpet. I don't like the vacuum. I like to sweep. I'm going to sweep the carpet. I'm going to polish the wooden table. OK, so I'll start with that. I'll answer the phone, but now that I'm talking, I put it on speaker. Now I'm cleaning that. The bathtub is still running. Let's not forget the bathtub is still running. The clothes are still on the bed, but I've started in the living room. So now the living room is half clean, because I hung up, but now I'm like, oh, I have to go to the bathroom. Now I go to the bathroom. I use the restroom. I'm now moving everything around. I'm washing my hands. Oh, let me clean the tub.The clothes are still there. The living room, I haven't finished sweeping. There are six different piles of dirt in the living room. Then, you know, the couches, I have pillows that I need to fluff those. Oh, wait, I have a coffee cup and a cereal bowl in the kitchen I need to clean. And I usually wipe my stove off or what have you, because this dust or what have you.Oh, so nothing is complete.Laura: Jeannie, that was an amazing walk through your ADHD brain.Jeannie: Oh, yeah. That's at least three times a week, Laura.Laura: You just ran the gamut of almost every executive functioning difficulty that can lead to quote-unquote messiness, and ADHD, like starting and finishing cleanup tasks, paying attention to what you're doing, keeping track of what you're doing, not getting distracted from what you're doing. I mean, that was a journey. I really appreciate you taking me through your house like that. I could visualize every aspect of it.Jeannie: Well, now the weird thing is if my wife has to clean something, she's a carpenter. So she builds things. She will build you a cabinet. She can build you a home. That's what she does. And she deals a lot with the different tools and stuff like that. She will literally sit and her focus is taking each screw and putting it where it belongs. So it may be 50 different screws. She will sit and organize.Laura: Ooh, interesting.Jeannie: And then she'll put that away. Then she'll go to the kitchen cabinets. My kitchen cabinets are in order, honey. Totally in order, she will play Tetris and put things away where I can see everything and I can get everything. That's not how it was for me. As soon as I clean it up, I can't find anything. I'm still looking for a pair of shoes. They're new shoes. I don't know where I put them because I had cleaned the closet.Laura: So it sounds like Tash gets really, like, hyperfocused on the organization aspect of it, which is really interesting. And then there you are, and it's almost like you seem to, you thrive in the clutter, or like, does it bother you?Jeannie: No, it doesn't bother me because I know where it's at. I know that I tried on, literally, I'm telling you what's there now. So my sister and I have a shoot on Sunday. I have an orange sweater that I know I want to use for the shoot. I did not hang it up. I'm not going to fold it. I'm not going to put it in the closet where the rest of the things are. I'm not going to do that, because if I do, I'm not going to find it. I'm going to leave it laying on this chair until I leave out the door on Sunday.Laura: Hey, good strategy if that works for you.Jeannie: I'm OK with the clutter. As soon as everything is spotless, I start to get anxiety because I feel like I lost something. I don't know if I threw it away. Did I throw it away? I don't know if I'm going to be able to find it. Is it there? I don't know. It's really bad. It becomes bad. Sometimes I cry.Laura: You cry, Jeannie?Jeannie: I do. If I have a lot of things going on, I put it in the calendar first and foremost. I have two calendars. So I have one that my wife and I share that I have to put things in there so she'll know to remind me. Because that calendar will remind her to remind me to look at the calendar that I know is going to actually alert me.So it becomes really bad. And just the other day, she's like, "I need to know what's wrong because you're not sleeping." I couldn't sleep because the next day I had a shoot and I had to get everything together. Not, did I not pack? Did I have these shoes, did I not? So I'm up at 4:00 in the morning and the shoot is not until 1 p.m.There is nothing for me to do, but my anxiety gets the best of me. And I'm thinking I'm going to forget something because I'm so used to not being organized that it scares me. So, you know, I cried the other day. I was like, "I don't know what to do."Laura: Yeah. That sounds really exhausting and stressful. There's the aspect of remembering what you need to do and then remembering to do the things that help you remember what you need to do. And it's a lot to manage.Jeannie: It is.Laura: This word "messy" is a really loaded word, right? I think the word "messy" or "messiness" can imply laziness. And we hear that a lot at our organization. Like people write in — parents or people with ADHD — saying, you know, "My kid or myself, I'm not lazy. I want to do this, but I just — I have trouble getting it done." So I'm just curious, like, how do you perceive that word "messy," and what does it mean to you?Jeannie: I sometimes think that I am lazy. I know that I have to do something and it's like, oh, OK. You have to call the studio and, you know, book, the studio. Eh, I'll do it tomorrow. It's messy because you, as an adult, know that you have to handle business. This is your livelihood. You have to do it. But in your mind, it's just like, I can do it tomorrow. But I will get excited if I clean up the mess. If I, on my list — because I also make lists. That's the only way I'm going to get through life is with a list. I learned that. I completed, Laura, a whole list of 10 things in one day. And I was so proud of myself. I was excited. I was on it. I was like, look it, you did a good job. But two days later it was like, OK. So I have to call again. I'll wait until tomorrow.Laura: You don't seem lazy to me at all. It sounds like you have a thriving career. You have a wonderful home life. And just hearing you describe your day to day, whether or not things get done, I can tell that you're either trying or you are getting them done. So, like, you definitely don't seem lazy.Jeannie: But I do feel that way. I feel very lazy. If I know that I don't have to leave out until 1 p.m., if I sit down, I am there until 11:30. I'm not moving. I know I have to answer these emails. Yes, I have to get dressed. Waiting until the last minute sometimes is, it can be bad, as well, thinking "Oh, I got time." And then you look up like, "Oh, I only got 15 minutes," you know, to get out the door, to get to the train on time, or what have you. It seems very lazy at times to me.Laura: I mean, a lot of people with ADHD, myself included, like, I know I get really hard on myself when I feel like I'm not performing to my top potential. And, like, when I can feel my ADHD blockers, like my trouble with organization or trouble getting started on something, I know why I'm unable to get started or to finish something. And I know that it's, like, in some ways it's beyond my control. But I still, I get really down on myself and it's, it's emotional.So, lists. What other kinds of things do you do to cope?Jeannie: Well, besides the lists, I go back to my calendar and look at things that I accomplished. Like, OK, so I know this day I had a one-on-one training, and then at night I had a Zoom and then, you know, I had to meet friends for dinner, and I accomplished all of these things.So this day, Wednesday, the 23rd, I did that. On the 29th, I have to do the same thing. So what did I do? I'll go back and think about how did I start the day. Did I get up early, you know, on your phone, it tracks everything — the time you got up and you started to touch your phone. Oh, so this is the time you was up or what have you. I'll go back and I'll track absolutely everything and go, OK, so I started at this time and I made good time, and I know I had to start an hour and a half earlier than what it takes. So I'll go back and literally look at the things that I've already done.Laura: Oh, that's interesting. That takes a lot of diligence, too. You're looking back at your accomplishments, which hopefully is like a confidence booster as well. Like, you managed to do X, Y, and Z on this day. Now let's replicate it and then continue to improve. So it sounds like a lot of work.Jeannie: It is, it is.Laura: Jeannie, I want to talk about your diagnosis and evaluation journey.Jeannie: So I, because I am a lot older than what you may think. I won't tell, but I am way older. I'll tell you offline. I was in college and I had come across a finance professor and he actually recommended that I go and get tested for ADHD, because there was certain classes that I kept failing. Just, I can't get past this one damn class, for whatever. I just kept failing. Picked up this class again. I got to pay for it. I have to take this damn class to pass. And he said, "Jeannie, I'm serious. I really think that you should go get tested." I'm not thinking that he was serious. African Americans don't go get tested for crazy. We not crazy. We don't do stuff like that. That's in my mind, because that's what I was taught. You don't talk about it. You don't say anything about, you know, the kid might be slow, you know, in learning and will have a learning disability, you know, slow to learn or what have you, may have a learning disability. You don't talk about stuff like that. A lot of times, you know, from my era, they brush it under the rug. But he said, "Jeannie, I really think that you should go and see." I procrastinated for many, many weeks. And I'm like, this man is crazy. There's nothing wrong with me. Until again, taking different tests and doing different things, and realizing that these classes had caught my attention. I am focused. I am here. I can retain all of the info that I need. When it comes to him, I'm not interested in this. Am I even going to use this? And with my degree, like, mister, please. But when I finally thought about it, I said, you know what, let me just go. I'm thinking it would be a blood test. I don't know why. Of course, ignorant to the whole thing, thinking it was a blood test. And they start asking the questions. How do you feel when you — can you complete certain things? That was one. Are you excited when you complete these things or do you feel like, OK, job well done, and you move on to something else? No, I'm excited the whole time, like we focused, this day belongs to me. This is me, you know, the different things that they would ask. Then I realized, like, all of these things are true. Like what the hell? I'm crazy. Crazy. So I was in college when I was diagnosed, but that's how it came about. I didn't tell my mom and my sister, because again, I didn't want the whole stigma of, you know, Jeannie crazy.So I've never told anybody. But now they all know, and they understand my craziness.Laura: Your wife, Tash, also has ADHD. Isn't that right?Jeannie: Yes. The two of us together. I am a mess. She is kinda sort of OCD. My attention span is very short and I feel so bad for her. If we are watching a movie and if I lose interest, it definitely is. When I met Tash, I didn't know that she had ADHD as well.And she was, she was a model as well. And she's from Texas, I'm from New York, and I was there training.Laura: She was a model, and she's a carpenter. Now this is, this is the coolest relationship I think I've ever heard about.Jeannie: Oh yeah. She was a model at first. And I had come down to teach a class, a runway class in Houston, Texas. And she was very hands-on even there. She was building stuff. She was putting stuff together, very handy or what have you. When she and I finally started to talk and get together, I was like, well, let me just tell you this now, because I'm not always focused. And I kept saying, "What? What did you say?" I'm like, "OK, so let me just tell you this, because I said this about 20 times since we've spoken in the last 10 minutes. I have ADHD. I'm not focused on what you're saying right now. I, it's not that it's not important or I'm not engaged in this conversation, but I have about 75 things running over in my head with what I have to do tomorrow. I apologize. I'm all over the place, and you have to learn how to speak Jeannie eventually." And she said, "I understand."What, you understand Jeannie? Because if you don't know how to speak Jeannie, you won't get through any of this. She said, "No, I understand. You have ADHD. I do too." I was like, "Really? Oh my goodness." Then I got a little quiet, Laura, because I was like —Laura: Wait, but that's so exciting. OK. I'm excited though.Jeannie: Like, how the hell is this going to work out? We two crazy-ass people and you have ADHD too. This is going to be one hell of a relationship.Laura: But at the same time, were you also thinking, "Oh, I found my people."Jeannie: Somebody who can understand. Absolutely.Laura: Yeah, because you didn't share it with your family, right, because you were worried about the perception of that. And here you go, you shared, you took a leap, and now, and then you got married.Jeannie: Yes. It was all legal. What are we going to do? We're going to be crazy together for real.Laura: It's all legal now your, our ADHDs are bound together forever.Jeannie: Forever. Till death do us part, we're going to be crazy together.Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha!" from the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "ADHD Aha!" on Apple, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, tell someone about the show. We rely on listeners like you to reach and support more people. And if you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at I'd love to hear from you. You can go to to find details on each episode and related resources. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G slash ADHDAha. Understood is a nonprofit and social impact organization. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at "ADHD Aha!" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine. Jessamine: Hi, everyone. Laura: Justin D. Wright created our music. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. And I'm your host, Laura Key, editorial director at Understood. Thanks so much for listening.

  • Executive function challenges and learning: 6 ways to help your high-schooler

    Between classes, social life, and extracurricular activities, your child’s brain is working overtime in high school. It’s also a time when executive function challenges can create unique learning obstacles. Here are six common challenges and ways you can help.Learning challenge #1: Trouble switching gearsYour child is getting low grades on tests that alternate between multiple-choice and short-answer questions.The role of executive function challenges: Kids with executive function challenges can have trouble shifting gears from one way of doing things to another.How to help: Speak with the teacher about accommodations that can help with executive function challenges, such as letting your child take a version of the test that uses only one type of question.Learning challenge #2: Difficulty planningYour child has decided to apply for college or trade school. Application deadlines are looming, though, and your child still hasn’t filled any of them out.The role of executive function challenges: Kids can have trouble figuring out where to start or seeing how a big task can be broken down into smaller tasks.How to help: Help your child break big or overwhelming tasks into more manageable steps — a technique teachers call “chunking.” For instance, take an essay question on a college application and have your child write out the steps involved on individual notecards: come up with thesis, create outline, write opening paragraph. Your child can then complete them one at a time.Learning challenge #3: Trouble giving detailsYour child designs a great science experiment but is having trouble writing up the report.The role of executive function challenges: Kids who have trouble with executive function may have a hard time recognizing and describing the details that make up the bigger picture.How to help: Videotape the science experiment so your child can replay it while writing up the report. Encourage your child to use a graphic organizer, mind map, checklist, or other system to help organize thoughts on paper.Learning challenge #4: Not monitoring their workYour child’s creative writing paper is confusing to read. It keeps switching tenses and point of view.The role of executive function challenges: Kids who have trouble with executive function often don’t check their work or realize when they’re making mistakes.How to help: Encourage your child to read written work out loud to see if it makes sense. At first, you may need to have your child read the draft to you so you can point out inconsistencies. Learning challenge #5: Gets overwhelmed easilyYour child starts off the year in a number of advanced placement classes, but drops them after a month because “it’s too much work.”The role of executive function challenges: Kids who have trouble with executive function can easily become overwhelmed by what looks like a daunting amount of work.How to help: Encourage your child to use course outlines to help plan and predict assignments. Show your child how to use a daily planner to map out the overall workload. The textbook’s website and other resources recommended by the teacher can also help your child get through the material.Learning challenge #6: Processes information slowlyYour child is having trouble keeping up with class discussions — and gets angry when it’s hard to get a word in edgewise.The role of executive function challenges: Kids who have trouble with executive function may process language more slowly than their peers. They may also have a hard time finding the words to say and keeping emotions in check when they get frustrated.How to help: Practice conversation skills with your child, including how to say things like “Can you give me a minute to think about that?” and “I have something to add — just give me a minute to gather my thoughts.”Like other learning and attention issues, difficulties with executive function don’t disappear over time. With help, high-schoolers can learn to leverage strengths and advocate for themselves. These are valuable skills they’ll carry into adulthood.

  • ADHD Aha!

    Anxiety, imposter syndrome, and ADHD (Mallory’s story)

    Mallory Band was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety at age 8. Now she’s an executive function coach who helps people with ADHD cope with imposter syndrome and more. Mallory Band was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety when she was 8 years old. She has two brothers with ADHD, but their ADHD looked different. They were hyperactive on the outside. But Mallory felt hyperactive on the inside. She struggled with perfectionism, people pleasing, and big emotions. As with many women who have ADHD, imposter syndrome set in as she got older. Mallory’s “aha” moment came well after her ADHD diagnosis — when she was in graduate school learning about executive function. It was the first time she had stopped to think about how her own brain worked, and how burnt out she was from pushing herself against it. Now she’s an executive function coach who helps people with ADHD lean into the power of saying “no.” Related resourcesMore from Mallory: Imposter syndrome at work: How I stopped feeling like a fakeADHD and anxietyADHD in girlsEpisode transcriptMallory: I was diagnosed when I was 8, but that's certainly not when I had the "aha" moment. I was having these big emotions, I was experiencing imposter syndrome, but I didn't know what that was. Not until I was in grad school when I started to take a deep dive into learning about the brain and learning about the science of learning and teaching and understanding what's actually happening with my brain wiring. Things were making sense.Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood, and as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.I'm here today with Mallory Band. Mallory is an executive function coach and an ADHD advocate who lives in Maryland. Mallory, you wrote into the show and you had said that you were diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety when you were 8 years old, and immediately I was like, "Whoa, that's awesome," to have those diagnoses so early in life. I was maybe projecting, I don't know if it felt awesome to you, but let's start there. How did you get both of those diagnoses so early in life?Mallory: My dad is still a practicing psychiatrist, and my mom was a special educator for over 40 years, so they were certainly well versed in this world, even, you know, 25, whatever, years ago when things were a little bit different and we didn't know as much. But I guess also having two older brothers who had some similar challenges with ADHD, although those traits permeated themselves in different ways.Both of my brothers would get really angry at each other and get into fights and be out of control at times. And I wasn't physically hyperactive like that. Certainly impulsive. But I think a lot of it was my mind was really hyperactive, but I sort of took on some of the traits of just having these huge emotions and keeping it together during the day at school. But then when I would come home, things would sort of unravel.And I think my parents were sort of keen in understanding that something's up. This is not what every 8-year-old is experiencing or exhibiting. But I was really lucky in the fact that, you know, I was sort of in the majority in my family where there were five of us, four of us, who have ADHD. So, it didn't feel super different, and it was just sort of, we sort of kind of fed off of each other. And just that was the norm for us.Laura: So, five people in the family, so all three of the siblings have ADHD. So, it sounds like, if I'm doing my math right, one of your parents has ADHD, too, is that right?Mallory: Yes. My dad was diagnosed as an adult and it was like, "Duh!," when he got diagnosed. "Of course you have ADHD. It's very obvious."Laura: You mentioned that your brothers are, they're maybe more, quote unquote, classically hyperactive and you're more hyperactive in your brain. How else were your symptoms distinct or similar?Mallory: I think that they would physically get into fights. I think my middle brother certainly was very hyperactive, was bouncing off the walls, would do things very impulsively, like our neighbors had a trampoline, so we also had a basketball hoop. So, he like, thought it would be a good idea to wheel the basketball hoop over to the trampoline to try to make like slam ball. And of course, it got stuck in like all this. And he would just do stuff without thinking. And I think, you know, a lot of it was like the really extreme procrastination of he would not pack his lunch and I would hate to be late for school, so it would drive me insane. So, I would just do it for him and pack his lunch and get everything cause we needed to get out the door because he was procrastinating. He wasn't ready, you know. So, I think he probably was just, "Oh, great, if I don't do it, she'll do it for me." So, sort of like having that bit of enabling, but also like I was so anxious for him to get out of the house so we cannot be late for school.Laura: So, you're coming home, you're falling apart when you come home from school, which a lot of parents don't realize, that's a sign of trust. Like, it may be frustrating for parents, but you feel comfortable letting go when you get home. Where does your parents take it from there? What did they investigate?Mallory: Yeah, I think part of the way that my ADHD and anxiety, and I really still, even as an adult, find it really hard to untangle what is what and sort of what the differences are, because I think they are really, at least for me, really intertwined in how they present themselves. But I would be able to keep it together all day at school. And then when I would come home, it would just be there was so much pent-up anxiety, and kind of overwhelm.And the way that my anxiety permeated itself was I had the need to complete everything all at once. If there were things that were not complete or things that were looming over my head, that was the most uncomfortable kind of situation for me to deal with even in kindergarten. So, before I was 8, you know, I would come home, you'd get a homework packet, and it would be due on Friday and you'd be assigned it on Monday. And I couldn't get over the fact that there wasn't an option. I had to finish it on Monday or else it just something bad was going to happen or just, it didn't feel right, and I couldn't stop myself.So, it was almost like I was going into overdrive, which is I think, different in that aspect where it wasn't the typical procrastination or we couldn't get started, but it was I couldn't stop myself until it was done. And that was a lot of the emotional dysregulation thrown in there and not being able to sort of discern what priorities were because everything was an urgent task.But I can really remember that as early as that kindergarten example. And of course, there was a lot of screaming and crying and yelling at my parents because, you know, I was frustrated at them. But really it was I was frustrated with the brain that I have. I didn't understand what to do with it, how to work with it.Laura: So, talk me through what — and I've even had experts on this show talking about the connection between ADHD and anxiety, and it is really difficult to parse out where one stops and where one begins — but tell me what you think is happening there. How does ADHD contribute to that mindset and how does anxiety contribute to it in your experience?Mallory: It is really challenging because I think we've got the anxiety piece where the rumination is going on and thinking about all of these things that were in the past and thinking about, "I should have done this differently, I should have done that differently," but then also sort of having those fear thoughts, thinking about the future of "What am I going to do about this? What am I going to do about that?" And sort of coming up with all of this sort of false scenarios, you know, that might never even come true?And I think part of that with having some of the emotional regulation on the ADHD side and the impulse control, where I know this isn't helpful, but I can't stop myself, let me keep going and see what, let me just try to solve this problem and not having the foresight to understand that this is actually only getting worse if I allow myself to keep going instead of pumping the brakes.Even with all of that being said, I do find it extremely challenging to discern what is what. I think it certainly makes it more intense having both and certainly the way my ADHD presents itself, having anxiety thrown in there or layered, I guess layered in there, I'd be a better illustration of how it really is, makes it even more challenging to figure out what is what. But I think they sort of just tag team against me and for them almost a complementary way and makes it much more challenging to navigate through life with that dual kind of threat going against you.Laura: Whoa, that is really well said. That layering in. When you got diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety, what was your awareness and vocabulary like around ADHD and anxiety at that time?Mallory: You know, my parents said, "We're going to do this testing and you're going to try medication, you know, having various tutors and things like that, all throughout school. And I will also sort of say, of course, that we know it has nothing to do with your intelligence." And I was somebody who was that straight-A student.But on the backside of that, I was burning myself out and creating a lot of these really bad habits in terms of perfectionism and imposter syndrome and all of these things, having no idea that maybe this isn't the norm. Not everyone is coming home and having a three-hour meltdown just to do 20 minutes of homework where it could have just been done and you were over with it.So, I had extra time, I had tutors and stuff, but I was lucky enough where that didn't really feel different to me because my brothers had those accommodations as well, and it just was like," Oh, well, they're cool. So like, that's fine, whatever."Laura: So, you were diagnosed at 8, but it sounds like your "aha" moment came much later. That was when you were in your 20s. Can you describe in a little bit more detail what was your actual "aha" moment around ADHD?Mallory: Really, it was when I was in grad school, I was at Hopkins and we were doing a lot of reading and work around mind-brain teaching and that was just so fascinating and so eye-opening where it was really just in the brain, and that was my first really kind of deep dive into what's under the hood and what's going on and what might be happening in my brain and how that actually impacts my life on a daily basis. I'd never actually taking the time to think about this makes X, Y, and Z tasks a lot more challenging, or you're actually figuring out ways to do daily tasks that other people might not need to do.But unbeknownst to me, I'm sort of coming up with my own system or my own structure, and it was just kind of fascinating and things were making sense. My behaviors were making sense. The feelings of imposter syndrome were making sense, the manifestations of perfectionism were making sense. And it's been a huge learning journey and not to feel, you know, "Woe is me," or "This is so hard. Life is so hard." Well, sure, life is hard, but life is hard for everybody for different reasons.But I think being able to be patient with myself, to actually understand what is going on in my brain, how my brain works, and then trying to play to my strengths instead of always pushing against it and just going in a one way street of "I have to do it this way because that's always how I've done it," and actually learning how to best support myself. And that was a pretty cool experience, even though it was almost 20 years after my original diagnosis.Laura: Were you feeling like an imposter up until that point?Mallory: Oh yeah, definitely. But I really hadn't heard of imposter syndrome, and I hadn't heard of rejection sensitive dysphoria at all. I sort of think about these three things for me are really tightly intertwined and how they impact my life on a daily basis. I didn't have the label or the words, but those were the feelings that I was experiencing.And I think with the education, with understanding my lived experiences more, having a label or having something to put on how I was feeling, and then also understand, "Oh my gosh, there's so many other people who are also feeling whatever I'm feeling," just felt like I wasn't the only one who's like some weird person who is experiencing these things, but it's actually quite normal. And that just brought forth some comfort in this journey.Laura: For anyone who's listening who hasn't heard the term imposter syndrome, could you define it for them?Mallory: Definitely. For me, what I think imposter syndrome is, no matter what your accolades are, no matter what your credentials are, whatever you achieve, it doesn't matter because you're never going to be good enough. You're always feeling like someone's going to catch you and call you out for being a fraud or saying that you don't belong no matter how experienced you are, whatever background you have. It really comes from a lot of this insecurity and just never feeling good enough, feeling like everything comes from, "Well, I got the A because I was lucky the teacher put a curve on the test. It wasn't because I studied really hard. It wasn't because I'm really smart and I worked very diligently to prepare." So, your efforts don't actually impact anything. It's all luck.And on the other side, someone's going to always be there to catch you and call you out for doing the wrong thing or from making a mistake. And I think that's where, in my mind, perfectionism for me ties into imposter syndrome and feeling like you have to be perfect and there's no room for making mistakes or messing up because then you're going to be caught even sooner for being an imposter and not belonging. And you don't want to stand out and be different. You sort of want to just blend in and mask.Laura: And what's the ADHD layer on that in your experience? How did ADHD interplay with the imposter syndrome in particular?Mallory: I would say it's kind of masking some of these traits that might not be as desirable. Like, for example, I'm someone who has a really hard time with blurting things out and interrupting people. So, when you're in a meeting, it's like, "Well, how did this person get hired? They can't even wait their turn. They don't even know the etiquette of having a conversation. What's going on there?"And I think part of it, too, is making any type of mistake that just like wasn't an option ever. Not because that's what my parents said. I was actually putting these expectations on for myself. You had to be perfect. And if you weren't, well, bad things were going to happen. Someone's going to find out, and someone's going to figure out other characteristics about you. "Oh, you're not perfect and you're really annoying, so you don't ever stop talking. You don't know how to take turns in a conversation and your legs are always bouncing and you often have really big reactions to things."It just depended on what it was, but then it was sort of a domino effect where one thing led to another led to another. And I didn't want to be exposed as here were some traits that were maybe different, or that I guess rather I wasn't really comfortable with or didn't understand it like in the ADHD world, that's really normal.Laura: I've been trying to restrain myself a little bit during this interview. I've been trying to keep myself from saying too much. Like, "I totally relate to that. I totally relate to that." But anybody who listened to the first episode of this podcast knows that this is very similar to my story, ADHD and perfectionism. And my "aha" moment came after my diagnosis when I finally realized, "Oh, this actually is a big deal in my life."And it sounds like that's similar to you, because clearly you had supports in your life as a child and as a young adult in your family and you were learning about the supports that you needed to cope with ADHD symptoms. And then, am I right to hear that you're basically on the brink of burnout, right? because you were just pushing yourself way too hard?Mallory: Absolutely. And even after I had this "aha" moment, I was still, it wasn't like, OK, the next day I flipped the switch and changed. I was still pushing full force and then sort of just realized, "Oh my gosh, I'm exhausted. This is too much."And with just going through different life experiences and having different challenges arise, kind of understanding that you have to work on your cognitive flexibility too because you really will continue to burn out. Life is going to do whatever it's going to do. It's going to happen no matter how good of a person you are or how prepared you are, things are going to happen that you don't want to deal with.So, trying to build in some of that cognitive flexibility to help alleviate feeling exhausted all the time and really just being a little kind and gracious and patient with yourself. Because if you're not doing that, nobody else is going to do that for you. So, you have to be the one to take the lead on that.Laura: Yeah, I'm going to oversimplify for a second, but, and this is what struck me when I got your email that day, I was like, "Wow, here's someone who was diagnosed much earlier than I was, who had supports throughout her life and a better understanding at least of what was going on than I did, and yet still had this "aha" moment later in life like I did." So, it just felt, that felt very important. It felt like that was like a little nugget of truth. Like the most important thing, I don't know, at least in my story, was a little bit of a mindset shift, right? And I'm wondering if you can, it sounds like that was the same for you. If you could put a fine point on, what was that mindset shift for you?Mallory: Yeah, you know, I think I was sort of in an environment that, you know, was dealing with some really challenging people and that is not something had ever been in before. That's another thing not having them brought up yet, but another part of my ADHD and I think of feeling insecure was being a people pleaser, having to say yes to everything because I was insecure and wasn't, you know, I needed to be perfect. So, I didn't want people to be upset with me. That thing where someone's like, "Hey, can I talk to you?" I'm like, "Oh my gosh, what have I done?" And trying to jog my memory and see why this person, you know, it's like horrifying for me. And for the first time in my life, like having to put up boundaries felt extremely uncomfortable.But that sort of something where that mindset shift started to take place, where it's like, just because I'm doing something doesn't mean I'm stuck here, doesn't mean I have to stay in here just because you want to switch or leave or do something else. It doesn't mean you're quitting, but you're trying to figure out what's the right path for you. And I realize for me, I am so, such an emotional being, I am so intensely empathetic, I care too much. And that actually is a disservice to me, you know, letting people walk over me and saying yes to everything because I didn't want to upset people.But going through that experience where people might not have had the best interest for me or were trying to take advantage of me and realizing that, "No, just because I have some of these challenges doesn't mean I'm not good enough, doesn't mean I don't deserve the best for myself and I'm able to put my foot down. I don't have to say yes to everything. I can set boundaries, even if that makes other adults uncomfortable. That's too bad."Part of that mindset was, "I'm not in control of how other adults feel," and that was something I know it sounds really ridiculous, but I didn't understand that until truly a year ago. It does feel awkward, it does feel bad to shut people down or say no to things. But that was leading to burnout. That was leading to way more anxiety than I needed to be dealing with because I already, my baseline feels pretty high.Laura: We haven't really touched on it yet, but if you couldn't tell already by the way that Mallory has been talking and how motivational it is, Mallory is an executive function coach and works with a lot of young people. And I have to share with you, Mallory, that as I was getting ready to do this interview, I was feeling so much of what you were talking about earlier. The "I need to get everything done at once," and I have to tell you, I have like a task list right now completely unrelated to the podcast of things that I need to do. And I was like, "How could I possibly stop what I'm doing right now to do a recording for a podcast?" And then I had this moment of relief, and I was like, "Wait, Mallory is an executive function coach. Maybe she can help me work on this during the interview."Mallory: I love it. And I would say too, like for me, when I don't write things down, when I let things stay and fester in my head, that's where the anxiety wheel starts to spin and go wild. So, I really do think, you know, first and foremost of writing things down, but also thinking about things in terms of priorities. So, what are the few things that absolutely need to be done today thinking about as like a triage approach of whatever's bleeding, you have to work on that. If it's a call for a cut, like that's going to be OK. You might not have to deal with that today.It might not feel good to let that sit, but it is kind of cool to be able to see that, "OK, well, it's still going to be there tomorrow. I survived. We've survived every single day. We've always gotten everything done." So, sort of trying to rely on past experiences, too, because I don't know about you. But again, yes, definitely having things that are unticked on my to-do list does not feel good, but also feeling exhausted and cranky and angry or whatever doesn't feel good either. So, there has to be some type of middle ground. We have to be able to have some type of balance.Laura: Yes. And I have to ask you about when you're working with young people on strategies, I'm going to quote something you said earlier, this voice in your head that tells you that, "Life is hard for everyone. I don't deserve to say no. I don't deserve help." It's something I hear so many times from my guests on ADHD Aha! Those thoughts like they layer on, to use your expression, they layer on to all these good coping strategies. What do you say to help people cope with those kinds of thoughts? The "I don't deserve to say no."Mallory: First and foremost, I think the best type of conversation that we can have is being vulnerable from my end and sharing my own experiences where this is when it worked, this is when it didn't work, and acknowledging, "Here are certain examples of where I need help," and helping other people learn how to delegate tasks and just to really to normalize that. Because I think as a child I didn't realize like, "Oh, my parents don't have it all figured out. They don't know everything." And you sort of, that's what I thought of just, "Adults know how to do everything."And I think part of, at least for me, part of what I'm realizing is, "Everyone's winging it." We're all sort of just trying to figure it out and do our best and helping kids and young people understand that, sooner or later we're going to need to get comfortable with self-advocating, we're going to need to get comfortable with saying what we need. So, practicing it in a safe space, even if it's just role-playing between you and I for a while. The hard thing really is we can't force anyone to do anything until they're ready, until they understand why we need to do this, why it's important, why it matters.Laura: Do a lot of the young people you work with have imposter syndrome in addition to ADHD?Mallory: Many of them do. Many of them certainly have low self-confidence, low self-esteem, and sort of feeling a bit alienated. And I think part of why I really like doing this work is because I can see my pieces of myself in a lot of them and trying to think back of, "What did I need at this age? What did I wish I had? Can we have some of these conversations now that we know a lot more, now that there's a lot more research out there, that we just, a lot of this is much more normalized now?" So, trying to bridge the gap and make this just more normal.Laura: Mallory, it's been really great to talk with you today. It's been very validating, I think is a good word to say it. And I think the work that you're doing is so cool. So, I just want to say thank you for spending this time with me and for all the work that you're doing.Mallory: Thank you so much for having me, Laura. This was really a great opportunity. I really appreciated chatting with you.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.

  • Executive function skills: They can be hot or cool

    We all know it can be a lot harder to think things through in the heat of the moment or when we’re frustrated or angry. But why is that? What’s happening in our brain? To understand why kids — and adults — make decisions differently depending on whether the stakes are high or low, it helps to learn about hot and cool executive function skills.Hot executive functions refer to the self-management skills we use in situations where emotions run high. Cool executive functions refer to the skills we use when emotions aren’t really a factor. (You may also hear cool executive skills referred to as cold executive skills.)You might know from personal experience how hard it can be to resist temptation or to stay focused on a boring task. It can also be difficult to break an old habit or even to stop from responding in anger in the heat of the moment.These are examples of deliberate self-regulation. They require some concerted conscious effort to accomplish. They were harder to do when I was a child and could be quite frustrating when I was a teenager. And sometimes they’re still challenging for me as an adult.I’ve always been fascinated by the executive skills needed to give this kind of effort. As a scientist, I’ve studied how the brain develops these skills. My research also looks at how emotion and other factors can affect the way we use three core executive skills:Cognitive flexibility: Thinking flexibly about something, including seeing things from another point of viewWorking memory: Holding information in mind and working with it, like when adding two numbers in your headInhibitory control: Stopping impulsive responses and resisting distractionWhen a researcher or a clinician wants to test executive function skills, they’re usually tested in a low-stakes way. This is why they’re referred to as “cool” executive skills. For example, a widely used test of working memory asks kids to remember a list of numbers and then say them in the reverse order, from last to first. This test is challenging, to be sure. But it’s not overly emotional. What happens in our brains when the stakes are higher? We use “hot” executive skills to help us control our emotional reactions. Skills like flexible thinking also help us figure out how to approach — or avoid — things that really matter to us.Labs like mine use brain scans to see the different pathways the brain uses when the stakes are high or low. Hot and cool executive skills rely on closely related parts of the brain. They typically work together to allow us to solve problems, accomplish a goal, and learn efficiently. The brain can quickly shift back and forth between them.The marshmallow test — with a twistAngela Prencipe and I conducted a study with young children that illustrates the distinction between hot and cool executive skills. To do this, we took a look at the famous marshmallow test. And we gave it a twist.In our study, 3-year-olds sat at a small table with Angela, a PhD student, who asked the kids to help her solve a problem. Angela can have one candy to eat now, or, if she waits until they’re done playing games, she can get four candies to eat later. What should Angela do?Most children told Angela she should wait and get more candy to eat later. A wise choice. However, when 3-year-olds themselves were given the same choice (Do you want one candy to eat now, or four candies to eat later?), they usually chose one candy now.The 3-year-olds gave perfectly good advice to others in the cool executive function condition (decide for Angela). But they failed to follow that good advice themselves in the hot executive function condition (decide for themselves). They gave in to temptation.It’s often easier to think objectively about a stranger’s difficult choice than about our own. That’s because we’re not personally affected by the consequences of that person’s decision. We can stay cool.Hot executive skills allow us to think more objectively about our own meaningful decisions. These skills can help us resist temptation for the sake of a more important goal.Knowing about hot and cool executive function skills helps us make sense of this phenomenon. Kids need a certain level of cool executive skills to weigh Angela’s alternatives (more later vs. less now) and choose to wait for a larger reward. They can easily imagine that she will soon be happier with more. Most 3-year-olds already have these skills.But when choosing for themselves, these children not only had to weigh the same information (more later vs. less now), but also had to resist temptation (candy now!). This is too big a challenge for most 3-year-olds. Their hot executive skills can’t handle it. They typically opt for immediate gratification.Similar distinctions between hot and cool executive function skills can be seen in older children. Think about risky decision-making and teens. An emotional context like peer pressure helps explain why some teens choose to drink and drive even though they know they shouldn’t.As a scientist, I’m interested in these moments. But I’m interested as a parent too. How can we help our kids make good choices?Helping kids improve hot and cool executive function skillsDeveloping strategies ahead of time can be helpful. Role-play can help kids prepare for stressful situations. Practicing what to do or say might make it easier for our kids to make the decision we hope they’ll make.Both hot and cool executive function skills can be improved through practice. One way to help practice these skills is by reducing the demands placed on young children’s executive skills so the task is challenging — but not too challenging. This can be as simple as giving one direction at a time. Or removing hot, desirable distractions so kids don’t have to work so hard to stay focused.Parents can give kids chances to exercise and grow their executive skills in situations they can manage. This allows them to practice their skills successfully.As kids’ executive skills become better through practice, the challenge can be increased. This will help strengthen those skills even more. In this way, parents can help kids acquire deliberate self-regulation skills. These hot and cool skills will help them solve a wide range of problems, from doing well in school to making smart choices as a teenager.

  • ADHD Aha!

    ADHD and the “model minority” mask (Emily’s story)

    Emily would hide the ADHD symptoms that made them feel like a failure to their traditional Asian family. Getting an ADHD diagnosis changed that.Emily Unity’s challenges with executive function and sensory processing seemed very similar to those of their mental health clients with ADHD. Emily does peer support work for young people in Australia. Ultimately, it was their interactions with other youth with ADHD that led to their own ADHD diagnosis. Emily talks about masking their ADHD symptoms and feeling like a failure to their traditional Asian family. They also discuss how stereotypes of Asian people as a model minority made them feel shame and guilt. And they share how they finally felt seen and “broke the mask” when they were diagnosed with ADHD.  Related resourcesEmily’s article: How culture shaped my ADHD diagnosisThe difference between ADHD and sensory processing challenges What is executive function?Episode transcriptEmily: I was very honored to work with a lot of really diverse young people, particularly a lot of young people that have been diagnosed with ADHD. When they shared their stories with me, that was the first time that I really, really felt understood. And I was really able to relate to what they were saying.And I was like, "Yeah, that makes so much sense to me. Like, I really relate to that. Here's an example of how I also had that experience," and they were like, "OK, you should probably check that out because you potentially have ADHD." And it was maybe, like, the 20th person I've worked with that had said that, that I was like, "OK, I should probably get this checked out."Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.I'm here today with Emily Unity. Emily is a young person who lives in Australia, and she refers to herself as a miscellaneous blob. I'll let her tell you why that is.Emily: Hi! Thanks so much for having me. My name is Emily. My pronouns are she/they. I definitely feel like I am a miscellaneous blob because there's just so much about me that doesn't necessarily discretely fit into certain categories. I've just found myself to be really interested in the world in general and really attracted to very weird, niche things that don't really have anything in common. So I'm culturally diverse, and sexual and gender diverse, and also neurodiverse. But also, like, even career-wise, I've been an artist and an engineer, and now I'm a mental health advocate. And this is just me, just now, and so if you talk to me in a week, maybe everything will be different. But I just love being a weird blob and existing in spaces that are new. And it's just, yeah, not, not really able to describe myself in a very succinct way.Laura: I love that. So why don't you tell our listeners what it is that you do?Emily: So about 50 percent of my work is, like, policy advocacy, but I'd say the other 50 percent is peer work. So I've always been really passionate about mental health, and I've been volunteering since a young age. And when I went and did my studies in, like, postgrad psych, I found that it was a little bit too rigid for me or didn't quite sit with me too well, so I went in and found other alternative things of therapy.And one of the pathways that I went down was peer work. And peer work essentially is when you have a lived experience of a mental illness and you work alongside someone else that has that lived experience as well. And it's much more mutual than a psychologist and patient relationship, like, you're working with each other, you're walking alongside each other, and your journey, like, neither of you, uh, recovered in a binary sense. You're consistently working through things, and it's very reciprocal and lovely.I found that, like, in my journey, it was definitely such a big catalyst for me to find other people that really understood what I was feeling because they had lived it and were still living it. And that was such a game changer for me. Instead of talking to someone who felt like they were trying to fix me or felt like they didn't quite get it, it's been absolutely game changing for me and apparently game changing for a lot of the young people that I work in.Laura: And through that work, you actually started to hear a lot from clients with ADHD, is that right?Emily: Yeah, definitely. So I didn't think that I was necessarily neurotypical before peer work, but I was really labeled with, like, certain labels, like depression and anxiety. But through doing peer work, I worked with a number of young people that had diagnoses of ADHD and were in, like, quite formal treatment settings. And it was then that they were sharing a lot of experiences with me, and what they were saying were a little bit too relatable. So they highly encouraged me to go seek out that pathway for myself.Laura: So tell me about the too-relatable things. What were you hearing from your clients about ADHD that perked your ears up, so to speak, and made you think, "Is this related to anything that's going on with me?"Emily: There were, like, these small anecdotal things that they would tell me, particularly with, like, sensory stuff. It was, like, overstimulation of like, "I'm sorry, I can't hear what you're saying over the sound of my shirt tag being itchy and, like, the one strand of hair touching my face." Like, I was like, "Oh yeah, I totally get that." And they're like, that's not tied specifically to my depression or my anxieties; I should probably explore that more. Or, like, understimulation, with trying to go to sleep and then the latent noise in your brain being too loud so you need to put on something else to sort of drown that out. And then lots of, like, executive dysfunction, like, "Let's clean the table, but before that, I should clean the sink, but oh, I need to take the trash out. Oh, I should get changed." And there's just all this, like, stuff going on and then feeling like you can't do any of it because there's too much and not enough happening. And like, I tend to info dump a lot, which I'm currently doing, which is like —Laura: At my request, thank you.Emily: Putting a lot of information there, going down these tangents because I'm just so passionate and focused on it. It's just all those small cognitive and sensory things that — it just happened over and over again and hearing my young people's stories and just being able to relate to them way too much. But also being able to see the immense amount of, like, pleasure and understanding that they had within themselves once they got help.Laura: Tell me a little bit more about the sensory stuff that you're referencing. I think it sounds like sensory overload, right? Like, a lot of information coming in and also, like, seeking out sensory stimulation, which can be pretty common with ADHD. Because, you know, we can look at, like, trouble with self-regulation or trouble switching gears as leading to sensory overload. Tell me a little bit more about your experience with that.Emily: From a very, very young age, I used to go on ski trips overseas, and my mom would get me to wear gloves because it was freezing. And I just, I really hated wearing gloves because I felt like the world was completely on mute. Like, I just felt like I was experiencing the world through this really thick shield. And that's because I realized later that, like, my touch sensors were dulled, and that was such a big thing for me. And, like, nowadays to manage even my anxiety and, like, lots of my ADHD, I do a lot of stimming, which is, like, self-stimulatory behavior of trying to regulate my sensory input. So if there's not enough, like, I'll tap my hand a little bit or I'll play with a fidget toy. Or if there's too much, then I'll try to, like, redirect that somewhere else. Sometimes I'll eat some food that's just so good. Like, sometimes I really love peanut butter on toast, but I will not be able to concentrate on what the other person's saying, because I just really love the peanut butter. So yeah, just be aware of that, I think, to be able to communicate with the other person in that environment and be like, I'm really sorry. I do want to listen to what you're saying. Can I please just finish, like, what's happening in my mouth? For me, there's so many small things. Like, I need to take out the trash. I need to take out the trash, I need to take out the trash, but there's a plane flying overhead and I can hear the sound of the plane, but I need to take out the trash. Because of that, I can't listen to the plane or take out the trash. It's very silly. I feel like that sort of executive dysfunction is something that was really lovely to understand about myself. Because normally I would just beat myself up about it and be like, "You're useless. Like, why can't you do anything? That makes no sense that you can't take out the trash because there's a plane."But I think it's about being, like, a lot more kind with myself and having that language to really communicate what's going on with me. Because I think for a lot of people around me, they just see me, like, frozen, like, "Ah, I can't do anything," and they can't help and they can't understand.Laura: You're talking about executive functioning difficulties, which, I have to be honest, Emily, it kind of surprises me. In my interactions with you, I've found you to be one of the most organized people I've ever interacted with.Emily: Thank you. I highly appreciate that. People tend to say that quite a bit about me. And I think, honestly, it comes from a place of sort of being forced into that. So I was only diagnosed with ADHD quite recently, like in the past couple of years. And I think because I was sort of punished for a lot of the symptoms that I exhibited from ADHD, I hid a lot of it, or I, like, built up different structures in my life to just cope with it. When I hear any sort of constructive criticism, I take it on quite personally. I'm working on that, obviously, but I definitely used to carry a lot of criticism with me all the time.I was just, like, compulsively trying to organize myself because I felt really awful anytime that I let anyone down with my dysfunction of not being able to remember things, you know. So now I have, like, spreadsheets upon spreadsheets and lists upon lists, just trying to get to that point where I can be accountable for my own actions and people don't have to be, like, let down by me all the time, which I definitely felt a lot when I was younger.Laura: You felt like you let people down.Emily: Yeah, intensely. Laura: Can you say more about that? Emily: So I grew up sort of surrounded by a lot of expectations. I come from a first-generation immigrant background — like, my mom is a refugee and my dad's a migrant. And I think a lot of people from those types of backgrounds, they come to a new country and they want to just flip that narrative around as quickly as possible. And so, they want the best for their children, they build up this, like, really amazing life. And I grew up so privileged. But in doing so, I had so many expectations on me: to be smart, to be good at everything, to get a good husband and that sort of stuff, to find, like, a privileged, pristine, and prestigious career path and be this perfect human. But I'm so imperfect as a person and now I've come to love that. But at the time, I definitely felt like it was a bad thing. And I just really tried my best to shape myself into something that I wasn't. And I think that's why my ADHD went undiagnosed for so long is because I was really good at that at the time within, like, school settings, and I really benefited from a lot of the routine and structure that was imposed on me. But when that was taken away after school, everything fell apart. Laura: How did it fall apart?Emily: Not having, like, class in the morning consistently and not going into all these specific things. I would just not be able to function. It was sort of the first time in my life. Like, I definitely had that ADHD symptom of, if something is not interesting, it is almost physically painful to do. But I had people around me at the time that the expectation and, like, the fear of letting them down was so much louder. And like, I would just be able to push through it, push through the pain, because, like, that pain of letting them down was so much more important to me.But when I finished school, I was just, like, completely moved away from, like, most things that I knew. And I think because of that, I also moved away from a lot of the active, like, expectations and, like, the criticism. Which is partially a good thing, but also the, like, physical pain that I felt not being able to do something that I wasn't interested in, that was everything. So I fell into, like, a lot of, you know, following the, like, I call it, like, the ADHD demon. And I mean, it in, like, a really wholesome way. I love my ADHD demon, but they would lead me down these, like, really, like, interesting and beautiful pathways, but they were completely nonproductive and definitely derailed the life that other people had sort of set up for me in terms of going and getting, like, this set degree or in doing this job.I just started pursuing a lot of miscellaneous things, which now I'm entirely grateful for. But at the time it just felt like I wasn't in control. But I was still having, like, the best time.Laura: Is that related to, um, this idea of masking that you talked about in the article? For our listeners, Emily wrote a beautiful article called "How Culture Affected My ADHD Diagnosis." And in it, she talks about the "model minority mask." There's a quote from your article — you say there was this model minority myth that claimed all Asians are obedient and academically gifted. And you go on to talk about how model minorities are supposed to be quiet and well behaved, and they're meant to be high achievers.Emily: Yeah. I studied so hard in school. I, like, I really tried. And I think because of that, I ended up being quote-unquote high achieving. But I think at the time, I didn't afford myself that sort of "Hey, you did it" feeling. Because I assumed that if I was good at something, particularly in school, it was just a product of my genetics because I'm Asian. Like, I genuinely just thought that because I'm Asian, I have to be good at this. And anything less than 100 is, like, a complete failure. And I'm not just letting myself down. I'm not just letting my family down. I'm letting down, like, the entire collective that is Asian people, which is a ridiculous sentiment. But I definitely felt that at the time; that sort of model minority mask of me pushing myself and being this, like, high-achieving, quiet human. It just goes against every, like, stereotypical idea of what ADHD is. When someone thinks about ADHD, I think, particularly when I was younger, I thought it was, you know, a young boy that's, like, restless in class, like, the class clown. But for me, I was, like, just, I felt all this weight of expectations. I felt like if I acted out, if like, if I was fidgeting with anything, it was a bad thing and I would be punished for it. And so I just really contained myself, even though it was, like, sometimes physically painful to sit still. And I just did everything that was expected of me because I, I just felt like there would be severe consequences to not just myself but, like, the people that I love if I didn't.And I think later on it took me so long to take off that mask. It was, like, permanently on my face. But that sort of high-functioning, quote-unquote, which I think is a really humble term, like, high-functioning aspect, I was demonstrating was used to deny me support. There was like, "You're too smart to have ADHD. You're too intelligent to, like, need support. Like, why aren't you working up to your full potential?" And that was just so distressing. And I just always felt like I was too Asian to have ADHD. Like, Asians can't have ADHD, you know — you're meant to be good at math. And, like, you're meant to be organized and quiet. And I just felt this huge imposter syndrome of "I don't deserve help," which is something that I felt when I was a lot younger, but it just translated so easily into the ADHD context as well.Laura: That sounds really exhausting, Emily.Emily: Yeah. It really was, like, just this internal battle in my head.Laura: Did you burn out at any point?Emily: Yeah, I think there are a couple of points where, like, ADHD definitely feeds into a lot of my other diagnoses, I suppose. Once one thing sort of starts falling down, everything else falls down, as well, like a house of cards. And I think it's just, it's incredibly difficult for me, at the time, to understand what was going on. I think particularly with ADHD, because I didn't have the understanding or the label or the medication, I just felt like I knew who I was and I was just an obedient, high-achieving human. And then suddenly, without all that structure, I couldn't be that person. And I just had this huge identity crisis that was also a part of exploring my own identity and nothing really made sense.So I did have a lot of breakdown points that were not just burning out from work or study. There were also, like, burning out from just, life, from having to, like, discover who I am by, like, trial of fire. I just want softness and understanding. And I just, I couldn't find that.Laura: I wrote down something from one of your emails. I'm writing down a lot of things that you say, by the way, Emily, you're a very great communicator. But you said diagnoses are ways to communicate myself. I thought that was really lovely that you said that, and I'm hoping that you can share a little bit more what you mean by that.Emily: This is, like, a fairly controversial opinion, but it's something that's widely shared, I think, within particularly complex mental health. I think that diagnoses are sort of ways that we try to categorize people to help them on a certain path. And I think clinical psychology is really good in that sense that, like, you can investigate certain experiences and then have treatment pathways that are, like, evidence-based.But I think that they can be really, really harmful — diagnoses. I think that they can be a label that, like, becomes, like, who you are, and people tend to just minimize the complexity of your experience down to just a certain label. But I found that diagnoes for me, the benefit of it is being able to communicate who I am and find my shared people. Like, I wouldn't have been able to find you if I didn't identify by the label of ADHD. And I think that, like, that label for me is something that is very positive, but I think for a lot of other people, it's very negative. It's a way of just saying like, "Hey, like, this is something that I have been labeled with, necessarily, and you can go and look it up for yourself." And I think that was just excellent for me, like, growing up. You know, when I was diagnosed with depression or anxiety, or, like, certain other things, people that I loved that weren't really able to understand me could go and look that up on their own time. And particularly because I didn't have the language to explain to them, "This is how I'm feeling." Then it would be a lot easier for us to come to that sort of shared ground.And I think ADHD for me has just been — it's not that I should have a favorite diagnosis or anything like that, but it's been such a wholesome experience coming and finding more people that really identify positively with that label. And now it's like, this is my kin, this is how we are. And it's lovely to have that shared experience, whether it be good or bad, it's just nice to be a part of that team.Laura: Yeah. Your ADHD demons can hang out and have fun together, right? Emily: Exactly! Yeah, yeah.Laura: I appreciate that you laid out what can be the downside of diagnoses and labels, but also talking about what the positives can be. The downside, I think, if I got this right, that you mentioned is that they can be an excuse to minimize certain things. Is that something that happened with you growing up? Because you had other diagnoses, did your ADHD, quote-unquote, stuff kind of get pushed to the side?Emily: Absolutely. I think that when you get labeled with certain things, particularly within, like, very formal clinical settings, whatever experience that you have later, this is not generalizing all mental health professionals, but, like, the ones that I engage with tended to tie different symptoms down to what was already on my record. And so because of that, I was misdiagnosed with a number of things. Like certain eating disorders were actually, like, diagnosed by itself instead of attributed to, like, different sort of body dysmorphia things that I was experiencing, or, like, identity crises. I had a lot of my experience that was tied down with ADHD to just, "Oh, you're, you're just really depressed or, like, you're really traumatized from this thing." Like, PTSD and depression and anxiety all have overlapping symptoms with ADHD, but there's a lot that I was experiencing that was just ADHD. Like, it wasn't explained by all the other labels that I had. But I think those things were just sort of glossed over. It'd be like, "Oh, OK, you already have this label. So we'll just try to funnel it into that." It was such a struggle to get a diagnosis because I think a lot of the psychiatrists that I engage with either had this stigma of ADHD, particularly women with ADHD, and then particularly nonwhite people with ADHD. Because there's a lot of cultural nuance that came into my presentation. And I think it took a really long time to find a psychologist or a psychiatrist that really understood that. I genuinely cried when I found the psychiatrist who was able to validate my experience. And I remember reading the notes, that they were, like, explicitly, "Emily was able to hide her symptoms within the structure of her family and within the culture that she was raised in. But away from that structure, everything became a lot more apparent." And so that was what brought, like, all the things to the surface and, like, broke the mask, so to speak. I never felt so seen in my life.Laura: Thank you so much for being here with me today, Emily. It's been such a pleasure to talk with you.Emily: No, really. It's such a pleasure to talk with you as well. I really love these conversations, and it's really nice to find people with that shared lived experience. If any of the things that I've shared today, like, really resonate with you, I just want to let you know that, like, your experience is really valid with just the way that it is, and that you really don't need a shape yourself into someone else's idea of who you are, whether that be, like, you don't necessarily identify with ADHD or you don't identify with any sort of label; you're valid in just who you are and how you're experiencing the world is completely important without needing to translate that to someone else's idea of mental health.Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha," from the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "ADHD Aha" on Apple, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, tell someone about the show. We rely on listeners like you to reach and support more people. And if you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at, or leave us a voicemail at 646-616-1213, extension 702. I'd love to hear from you. You can go to to find details on each episode and related resources. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G, slash ADHD Aha.Understood is a nonprofit and social impact organization. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at "ADHD Aha" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine. Jessamine: Hi, everyone. Laura: Justin D. Wright created our music. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. And I'm your host, Laura Key, editorial director at Understood. Thanks so much for listening.

  • Executive function challenges and learning: 6 ways to help your middle-schooler

    If your child has trouble with executive function, learning difficulties may become more obvious in middle school. It’s a bumpy time for kids anyway. The more help and support you can offer your child, the smoother the middle school years will be.Learning challenge #1: Trouble planningYour child’s English teacher has assigned a book report. But after an hour of working on it, your child is still stuck on the first few sentences.The role of executive function challenges: Kids may have difficulty creating a plan for getting from the beginning to the end of the assignment.How to help: Show your child how to use a graphic organizer, such as a concept tree or a mind map. Your child can use these tools to put thoughts on paper before beginning to write.Learning challenge #2: InflexibilityYou try to help with long division using a different technique than the teacher. Your child gets frustrated and insists it has to be done the other way — even though both approaches seem confusing.The role of executive function challenges: Kids who struggle with executive function can have trouble thinking flexibly and changing the way they approach a problem.How to help: Ask if the teacher would show your child different ways to approach the same type of problem. Your child will then have a teacher-approved “bag of tricks.” It might also help to learn the teacher’s preferred technique and reinforce that strategy at home.Learning challenge #3: Poor working memoryYour child reads a chapter of a book but is unable to summarize what happened.The role of executive function challenges: Kids often have weak working memory skills, making it hard for them to keep information in mind long enough to use it. How to help: Use active reading strategies like highlighting key words and writing notes in the margins. Encourage your child to stop after every paragraph or two to take notes. Later these notes can be compiled to summarize the chapter.Learning challenge #4: Not monitoring their workYour child makes the same careless math error on every homework problem, even after you checked the first one and pointed out the error.The role of executive function challenges: Kids often have trouble self-monitoring their work and recognizing when the same mistake has been repeated.How to help: Help your child create a checklist of what needs to be double-checked on assignments. It can be as simple as asking, Did I follow all the directions on this problem?Learning challenge #5: Trouble with time-managementYour child has long-term projects due in three different subjects. Instead of staggering the work, your child tries to do them all a few days before they’re due.The role of executive function challenges: Kids may have trouble prioritizing tasks and estimating how much time a project will take.How to help: Ask if your child’s teacher would provide a project calendar that breaks down the project into smaller pieces due each week. A points system could encourage your child to complete these smaller steps on time. Eventually, your child can create the calendar.Learning challenge #6: Not understanding other viewpointsThe teacher reports that your child can be rude and dismissive of other students’ ideas when working in groups.The role of executive function challenges: Kids who struggle with executive function can have a hard time understanding other people’s points of view and opinions different from their own.How to help: Role-play scenarios in which you pretend to be a classmate. Use active listening skills, such as making eye contact and asking your child to clarify things when necessary. Also, let your child practice “I” statements: “I have trouble understanding people when they talk fast.” Middle school involves a lot of juggling that your child may not have encountered before. It can be tricky for a child with executive function challenges to adapt. But there are strategies you can try at home to help with organization, flexible thinking, and other skills.

  • ADHD Aha!

    Sex, intimacy, and ADHD

    How might ADHD affect your sex life? Find out from sex therapist Catie Osborn on this bonus episode. How might ADHD affect your sex life? Host Laura Key chats again with sex therapist Catie Osborn, this time about how executive function challenges can affect sex and intimacy. Spoiler: Sex is a task, and people with ADHD can struggle with task management. Related resourcesADHD and hormones (Catie’s story)ADHD, loving intensely, and impulsivity (Ange’s story)8 dating trouble spots for teens with ADHDEpisode transcriptLaura: Hi, everyone. Laura here with a bonus episode. On our last episode, I had a great time talking with sex therapist and neurodivergency specialist Catie Osborn about her ADHD "aha" moment. So check that out if you haven't already.But there was more to our interview than that. Catie and I also talked about ADHD and sex, and we're sharing that part of the interview here with you now. Our conversation isn't graphic in any way, but we do speak openly about how ADHD symptoms can create challenges around intimacy and sex. So there's your heads-up. Catie shares some great insights that I hadn't considered before. I really enjoyed this conversation, and I hope you do, too.I'd love to hear you talk about how ADHD can affect someone's sex life.Catie: Oh, God, how long do you have?Laura: Big giant question.Catie: I'll say here — I'll do, like, my little mini introductory elevator pitch. So as ADHD is often affected or affects executive function, things like task management, task prioritization, finishing tasks, starting tasks, emotional regulation, remembering stuff, all of these sort of things that like your brain does get you through the day. Well — spoilers: Sex is a task.Sex is a thing that you have to remember exists. Sex is a thing that is often linked to focus and emotions and that kind of stuff. And so, yeah, about 40 to 50 percent of people with ADHD struggle with sexual disappointments and/or "differences" is what I'm going to say. Because I think, like a lot of people are used to hearing like "sexual dysfunction." But the reason why I like to distinguish between disappointment and dysfunction is because dysfunction is often like something medical, like there's something prohibiting like climax or something like medically. Whereas sexual disappointments are more like, oh, my neighbor just started mowing his lawn and it's taken me completely out of the moment. And now I am not going to be able to focus on this intimate exchange that I'm having with my partner. Now I am sad and disappointed. You know what I mean? So it's not like medically anything happened. It's just that your focus and your attention got pulled in that direction and it's going to be disappointing.Laura: That's a great reframing. That's really helpful.Catie: Right? It's really helpful. And that's something that I actually learned while I was working on getting my certification as a certified sex educator. And really like how that journey came about — and this is, I think, maybe a really good sort of like framing of this entire conversation — is, so I had to take a lot of classes. And I was in a lot of different classes talking about sex and sexuality and stuff.Because I didn't go into becoming a certified sex educator to specifically talk about neurodivergency. That happened because of the lack of education that was happening in that training basically is what happened. I just wanted to educate about sex and sexuality because I think it's fascinating. But then I started realizing in all of these classes, the conversation always sort of was like, nobody here is struggling with executive function. Nobody in this conversation is struggling with memory issues or time perception issues or rejection sensitivity or whatever it may be.And that really came to a head during this one class where I had this professor who was extremely neurotypical, and he was talking about like something that a lot of clients will come in and talk about is when sex gets interrupted. And isn't it so awkward and strange when sex gets interrupted? And he was like, just reassure them, just tell them it's no big deal, you know? And then he said this — and this is the part that has been seared into my consciousness — is he said, the moment is not precious. If you have to pee, if the neighbor starts mowing his lawn, the moment isn't precious. Just jump right back into what you were doing. Just remind him the moment is not precious.And I was in the back and I like raised my whole ass hand and I was like — and that. But that was when I realized. I was like, every moment of living life with ADHD, that moment is precious because at any moment you — like and I don't want to speak for the group, but at least in my experience, I live on this like razor's edge precipice of "Am I going to finish the thought? Am I going to stay on task? Am I going to get distracted? Am I going to notice that the dog bowl needs water or the neighbor is going to mow the lawn or whatever?"And I was like, where is that conversation? Where is that conversation for the people who every day that moment is precious, and you might not even realize that moment exists? Like, where is that conversation? And so then I was like, well, I guess I'm going to have it.Laura: Good for you.Catie: And so, yeah, I mean, I'm not like — and I want to be very clear, I'm not the only person doing this work. There are so many incredible educators and people who are doing it. I just have the honor and privilege of, I think, being good at talking about it. So I get to do this, you know. And there has been thankfully like a lot of great work done in the past decade or so. Again, just in terms of like, even just studying ADHD and sex is kind of a new thing. And so there's like new information coming out all the time about it and just like there's so much good stuff happening.But yeah, I mean, sex is so complicated and it's so big and I don't think we think about it in terms of how much physical and emotional stuff has to go right just to get to that moment of intimacy. And then when you add ADHD on top, holy cow, it can be challenging.Laura: This is a very random thing to compare it to. But I mean, when we're talking with parents about trying to build empathy about what kids with ADHD may be going through, and like when we say "Go get dressed," that seems like it's just so simple. Just go get dressed. But then when you break it down into a set of visual instructions? Oh wow, there are like seven steps in here that are involved, right?Catie: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Sex is a series of tasks. You know, the joke that I always make is like, especially in ADHD brains, like, your brain doesn't really make a distinction between, you know, remembering that sex exists and remembering to make a chicken salad sandwich. Like it's just information. The emotional weight that we ascribe to that, that is a separate process in the brain, you know.But even more than that, like past just the initial complication of ADHD, you also have to remember that about 40 to 60 percent of people with ADHD also struggle with depression and anxiety. Ninety-five percent of people with ADHD, give or take, struggle with sleep issues. People struggle with rejection sensitivity. They struggle with food issues, sensory issues, all of these different things. And so it's like not only is it just the ADHD effect on sex, but then it's like most people who have ADHD are also dealing with other co-morbidities at the same time that also go into their sex life, that also affect things.You know, if you're dealing with anxiety or depression, you might be less likely to want to engage in intimacy. If you're dealing with sensory issues, you might be less likely to find a intimate activity that you enjoy. If you've got sleep issues, you know, and you're having trouble sleeping with your partner, that can build, you know, a sense of being disconnected and far away. Like it just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger the more you sort of like pull the thread, you know.Laura: I'm sure you give different types of advice to all different types of people with different struggles and whatnot. But like, is there one top piece of advice or piece of information to keep in mind, in addition to sex is actually a series of tasks.Catie: I have two pieces of advice. And the first one sounds like a little bit like a flowery speech, but I promise it has a point. But one of the other things that many people with ADHD deal with is this idea of all-or-nothing thinking, where if it's not worth doing perfectly, it's not worth doing at all. But there is also interesting — and it's I think one of the most counterintuitive ideas that has ever been introduced into society — is that there is this prevalent idea, I think, due to how we present love and romance and intimacy in movies, of "if they love me, they would just know." If they really love me, if they really were the perfect partner, they would know, you know, that I need to hear "I love you" every day. Or they would know that I want to be touched in this way. Or they would know if I've come to climax during sex.And there's no kind way to say this. But all of that is a lie. Like real intimacy, real communication between partners comes when you get rid of that idea that "if you loved me, you would know." You are allowed to advocate for your own needs. You are allowed to look at your partner and say, "I need you to tell me you love me every day before you leave for work. It is really important to me that I hear those words of validation." It is OK to show your partner on your own body how you like to be touched, how you enjoy being touched. It is OK to look at your partner and say, "I have sensory issues and I really don't enjoy kissing, but here are some other things we can do instead."But when we take that idea of like mind-reading, "if they love me, they would know," and tie it in to that idea of all-or-nothing thinking, I think sometimes there's this lie that we tell ourselves that there is this perfect way to have this conversation, that there's this one perfect speech that you have with your partner and it magically fixes all the issues and, you know, you tearfully hug each other and everything is fixed. And what I always say is that the biggest part of neurodiversity is that things are always in flux. Things are always changing. You're going to wake up and you're going to have more energy one day than you did the next day. You're going to have more focus one day than you do the next day.And so letting go of that, letting go of the idea that there has to be this perfect conversation. It can be imperfect, it can be clunky, it can be awkward, it can be weird and uncomfortable. But isn't that moment of being uncomfortable — isn't that moment of vulnerability in which you really look at your partner and you give them the gift of telling them what you need, what you want, what you like, giving them that information in order to support you, in order to really give you the opportunity to be loved and appreciated and cherished in the way that you need. Isn't it worth that conversation?And that conversation can be ongoing. It doesn't have to happen all at once. It can change month to month, day to day, whatever. That is my biggest piece of advice, is that you have to be willing to communicate. And you have to be willing to be vulnerable in a way that might be scary. Because a lot of people that I work with have never done that before. They've never sat down and say, "Actually, when you do this, it feels terrible. Can you please never do that again?" And this is people who've been married for 30 or 40 years, you know, and that can be a big conversation to have. But I think giving yourself the grace and kindness to have that conversation, to open that dialog with a partner, it can be life-changing, you know, it can be absolutely life-changing.Laura: That's really powerful. I know when I go into — my husband and I communicate constantly, but whenever I feel like there's something that needs to be quote unquote fixed, I'm like, OK, we're going to jump into this conversation and we're not stopping until it's resolved. And I get like very stuck on it. I kind of perseverate on it, right? And that is something that has taken me a lot of time to even a tiny bit like pull back and be like, no no, we can continue to talk tomorrow. Like, let's move on. Let's watch a movie, you know.Catie: Exactly like, right. You don't have to do it all at once. It can be minute, especially if it's a big change, you know.Laura: That's hard. That is really — it sounds so simple, but it's so hard for a lot of folks with ADHD, right? All right. What's your second thing?Catie: Oh, don't make orgasm the goal. That was way easier. It's much less flowery. But so many people go, it's not sex if there's not an orgasm at the end. Right? It's not worth it unless we both, quote unquote, finish, you know. It's so funny to me how like revolutionary the idea of like, just don't worry about orgasm, just worry about being there with your partner and connecting with them and, you know, finding ways to, like, give each other pleasure. You don't have to make orgasm the goal.And for a lot of people with ADHD, sometimes just taking away that pressure, that is like, again, it's life-changing of like if it doesn't happen, it doesn't and that is OK. But this is still a valid, intimate experience in which I got to share a connection with my partner. That is — that's extremely basic but I think extremely valuable advice.Laura: It's not basic, though. I think people have been trained that that is the goal.Catie: Yeah. And it's like, you know, it has to happen at the same exact — again, it's sort of like media of, you know, everybody's going to always like finish at the exact same time. It's going to be perfect, it's going to be like doves flying around. And Céline Dion is there for some reason. Like, I just like, no. It's like sex can look like whatever. You know, intimacy can look like whatever you need it to be. It doesn't have to be sex. It does not have to be a sex act. It can be as simple as, you know, lying on the couch and doing like dopamine-giving activities like a backrub or head scratches or, you know, like I'm like, for whatever reason, I love, like, hand massage, you know. It's like that's not sex, it isn't even close — in the room with sex, but it's still intimate. It still connects you with your partner, you know.Laura: Thank you. Even just that — I know that you probably have like encyclopedias' worth of great information and tips that you could share. But even what you just shared was really interesting, really helpful.Catie: This is secretly my pitch to have a sex podcast on Understood.Laura: I mean, you're selling me. We're going to talk more.Catie: This whole thing has just been a secret audition.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. 

  • Executive function strategies for your child

    Parenting a child who has trouble with executive function can have its challenges. But there are specific strategies and tools that can make everyday life easier for you and your child. Explore the strategies below, focusing on what might work best for your child.

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    Why this clinician with ADHD decided to work with foster kids

    Robert Benjamin calls himself an “absent-minded professor” because of his ADHD. Hear how he turned his strengths into a career working with kids.Robert Benjamin describes himself as an “absentminded professor” because of his struggles with working memory and organization. Robert always knew he wanted to work with kids. He focused on strengths like emotional IQ to get a job managing therapy services for foster kids and their families. Hear how he handles job challenges that come with ADHD and executive function issues.Listen in. Then:Watch the video story of Lena McKnight, who went from high school dropout to college student and youth advocate.Listen to a podcast episode about a teacher with ADHD dedicated to his students.Check out a video from an Understood team member about thriving with ADHD at work.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.Bobby Benjamin works at a foster care agency, where he's the director of clinical services. That means he's a licensed social worker, and he supervises a team of clinicians who work with foster kids and their families. He describes himself as an absentminded professor, because he has challenges with memory and organization and that type of thing.So, Bobby, could you give our listeners a sense of what it is you do at your job?Bobby: First, I'm very happy to be on the show. Just very pleased to be here. I work at Cayuga Centers, which is a foster care agency. I work in the Bronx, New York, office. So, I think my job is to see the big picture of how to maintain the well-being — emotional, mental health, well-being — of children and families in foster care.So the people who work under me we call clinicians, who are, like, individual therapists. I supervise them. So I'm not doing any one-on-one therapy, but my job is to make sure that they have guidance, give the therapist support, especially when they're dealing with a hard case and maybe need to process it. I would say my main job is to be a guide to the clinicians and to hold lots of meetings.That is my wheelhouse is to hold meetings among various people and bring people together and talk.Eleni: So, how does ADHD show up for you in a typical workday?Bobby: In terms of a typical day for me, I think one thing I have to be very attentive to is just my level of energy that I could bring to something, and having some very intense exercise in the morning before work really helps to be much more focused.So, that's one thing that makes me feel more present. The other thing is, the morning is really when I do things that I know are going to be difficult for me that are maybe high importance but very low reward. I've had my gigantic thing of coffee, and that helps me feel able to take on maybe those administrative things that I would normally at the end of the day, not having any energy or effort or focus on. So, I have to do that in the beginning of the day. And I'll often have some very high-intensity music in the background. Lately, my interest for that has been, like, trip-hop. So, like, very intense beats that don't have lyrics, which is not my normal taste in music, but that's what works for me, focus-wise. The other thing is, a lot of my day is about meeting with people and talking about problems. And one thing I have had to think about is, I will tend to just schedule meeting after meeting. And so, by the fifth meeting, I am completely useless. But if I don't have any meetings, if I don't meet with anybody and I'm just sitting alone in my office, I won't get anything done, either, because I need some kind of stimulus. And meeting with people and talking is very stimulating for me.Like, I'll have a whole meeting where we plan all the, like, psychiatric appointments for the next week. And just having to run that meeting is very engaging for me. And so, I'm like, OK, how's Jaquan doing on his medication? How many pills does he have left? OK, we can last for two more weeks. So, we’ve got to schedule him no later than next Friday, and then bing bang boom, I'm going through all the kids that have to be seen by their psychiatrist or else they're going to run out of their medications. So, if that helps me focus on gathering information, maybe I could have done this offline, but talking to people really helps organize me.Eleni: So, when we last spoke, you mentioned you had a really meandering path in terms of how you got to where you are today. Could you give me an overview of how you found your way?Bobby: I guess the first thing I think about is, I worked as a camp counselor from when I was, like, 14, until, I think, 21 was when I stopped working at that camp. I liked working with kids who were younger than me. I remember I would often look out for the ones that were being left out and try to comfort them, because I had gone through a similar experience when I was a little kid. So, I think that might've been part of it, this idea that I like working with kids. When I was in high school, one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Donnerbeer, gave me a book called "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat," which is by Oliver Sacks. And he's a neurologist who has, like, really interesting cases of basically when the brain goes wrong and the strange experiences that can create for people, and, actually, the surprising resilience that people have in still being able to operate.And I think reading that, I was like, "Oh, I want to do that." So, that got me really interested in psychology. Great thing about college is that you get a very expansive access to lots of different disciplines. And so, I meandered a little bit; I went into a little bit of computer science, a little bit of anthropology, and I liked this holistic view of who people were.So, I lost track of the wanting to be a psychiatrist in particular, and then kind of mid-college, I struggled a lot with writing papers. My way of writing papers was to procrastinate until the day before, and then use the energy of just sheer terror to then turn out a bunch of pages of stuff. And that worked really well for me until my second semester sophomore year.And then it didn't. And then all of a sudden, I think lots of things come crashing down. I get diagnosed over the summer with ADHD. And a lot of things started to make sense for me. And that's how I got into Eye to Eye, doing mentorship with kids who have learning differences and ADHD. So, out of college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. But I did know that I really enjoyed mentoring and working with kids with learning differences.Eleni: You know, it's really common for us to hear that people reach almost a breaking point, which often triggers some sort of diagnosis or just feeling like, "Yeah, I can't really do this anymore. I finally need to do something about this. It's not something I can ignore or minimize or deny any longer." And that kind of prompts them to get help.So, it's actually not unusual for people to get a really late diagnosis, in college. And I think partly the reason for that is there's a lot of innate structure in school. And then getting to college, people lose that structure.Bobby: Right. It's so interesting, because you're completely in control of your time. There's no person watching you, telling you, "Hey, you haven't gotten to your homework in a while" or "Hey, it's dinnertime." It's all internal. And I was not very good about that. Eleni: So, Eye to Eye is actually an Understood partner. And I would love you to tell me from your experience, like, how did that help you learn more about yourself and also what you enjoy doing, which you mentioned was mentorship?Bobby: Well, what Eye to Eye is, you're with a group of a bunch of other people who also have learning differences and ADHD. So, I think one thing Eye to Eye does just right off the bat is it connects you to a community of people who are going through the same things you're going through. Before getting connected with them, I had no idea — I thought I was diagnosed and unmoored and just by myself.So, I think one thing that Eye to Eye does is just create that sense of community. They're really good about that. We had a local elementary school that we went to, and we were meeting with fourth graders who had learning differences and ADHD. And boy, at that age, like, doing well in school is your identity. And so it's so much a part of your identity that it's really hard just emotionally.And so you get paired with maybe one or two kids that you're following through the whole curriculum. And what you see is, like, you're paying attention to their strengths, and then they start to think about their strengths. And they're thinking about ways of coping. And then also you start applying some of these things to yourself.Because, I remember one time I was talking to this 10-year-old girl through, like, how to advocate for yourself. And then I thought to myself like, "Well, I need to advocate for myself. That's something I need to do just for me, not just to teach her about." So, it was also just really helpful. I think sometimes teaching can be a great learning tool as well. Eleni: Definitely. Bobby: Just to see them develop over the academic year where you have this very, like, quiet, reserved child who like, maybe isn't thinking much of herself, to being able to say, like, near the end of the curriculum, "I have ADHD and I'm proud." It's just an amazing thing.Eleni: That's awesome. And you mentioned that through this experience, you were able to learn how to also self-advocate for yourself. What does that mean to you, and, like, how do you ask for what you need?Bobby: Some of it is, I think, just being very up-front about where my challenges are. I might say, "OK, you're telling me something verbally — great, but can you follow it up with an email or something? Because I am going to get distracted and forget." Sometimes I'll put that in the context of "I don't have the greatest working memory," but other times I just put it in the context of "This kind of works better for me if you follow it up with an email." And people usually are pretty accommodating in terms of those kind of asks. Eleni: Do you talk to your work colleagues about your ADHD?Bobby: I tend to focus on the symptoms that impact other people versus talking about a diagnosis. Because sometimes when you say you have ADHD, especially for somebody who is on the more inattentive end of ADHD, like, people get basically the opposite impression. They'll say, "Well, you don't seem hyperactive; you don't seem like you're bouncing all over the walls."Because that's not my experience with ADHD, so I tend to really focus on, OK, what are the things that are really going to impact you? Well, one thing might be, if you tell something to me, am I going to need a reminder? And so, another thing I'll say is, "Well, if you haven't heard back from me by the end of the day, remind me again tomorrow morning, because I might've gotten caught up in something." Eleni: You know, that might also be the case for some of our listeners. They might not know that there are different types of ADHD. Can you describe what is the difference between inattentive and hyperactive ADHD and how that shows up for you? Bobby: Sure. So, hyperactive ADHD is kind of what people normally think about when they think of ADHD. They think about the boy in class who just seems to have a ball of energy. And he's, like, running around the class, touching everything, maybe super impulsive. And then you have the inattentive type, who might be very quiet and instead, maybe an unkind term for them would be, like, a "space cadet." But you might be sitting there thinking about, "Oh, I wonder what we're going to have for lunch today." Not paying attention, maybe, to the grammar lesson that you didn't find very interesting. So, what tends to happen is inattentive ADHD tends to get missed, because it tends not to present as a problem. Because kids tend to be quiet and to be maybe well behaved, but you tend not to notice the ones who get lost in their own attention as much.Eleni: Yeah. So earlier you mentioned the word "space cadet," and you said that that could be an offensive term. Has anyone actually outwardly called you that when you were younger, as a kid, or even as an adult in the workplace? And how has that come up?Bobby: I think people, at least when I was a kid, would notice when I spaced out. My mom put it in a much friendlier way. She called me the absentminded professor. And I think that's a great encapsulation of who I am, is that it acknowledges that I'm very absentminded and sometimes space out, but it also acknowledges that I am intelligent and that I am smart. And that those two things are different. My ability to pay attention and my intelligence are different things.Eleni: And you also mentioned working memory.Bobby: Yes. Eleni: How might having inattentive ADHD impact your working memory? Bobby: So there are two ways. One is I might not have 100 percent of my attention on you and you tell me something, and I haven’t processed it. And so there's no memory to form. The other way though, is that sometimes even if I am paying attention, it's completely clear — it just doesn't store. Or, like, imagining working memory is a bunch of papers on my desk. And so they're all going to be ready to be filed at the end of the day, but then somebody slams this big pile that scatters all the rest. And so I've lost those other bits of memories, because maybe something big that grabbed my attention wipes those away.Eleni: That's a great visualization. Bobby: Yeah. Eleni: And before you started your current job, did you have any idea how challenges with working memory might show up for you at work or, like, maybe something that showed up that you didn't expect? It could have been a challenge. It could have actually been a skill or a strength that you didn't expect, but in the environment that you're in, you realize that actually this could work in your favor.Bobby: The one thing I didn't realize could be a strength is kind of my ability to shift. Because I've noticed that I'm very good at pulling out conflict and pulling out when I think — and this can sometimes be a disruptive thing. This is sometimes perceived, maybe, as being disruptive. But in some meetings I'll notice when maybe not everybody agrees, but we're going along with something. And I tend to be pretty good at calling that out. And I think impulsivity that I have is about really voicing where I hear disagreement, and that leads to some very productive conflict. But other people might sit back. I guess that's more the impulsive end of ADHD, but you might sit back for fear of stirring the waters. And I'm very OK with stirring the waters because I know that conflict can often produce better outcomes, get more consensus, actually, in the long run. So, I tend to be more comfortable with conflict.Eleni: And it sounds like you're able to pull threads together or maybe notice things that are under the surface that other people are overlooking.Bobby: Yes. And I think that stems from the ADHD. I think it's the variable attention, meaning that sometimes I'm looking for things, whereas other people might be focused on the strict content of the meeting. And I might be noticing that somebody is quieter than they usually are. I think in terms of how it affects my work and maybe how people perceive it, is it can be sometimes difficult to prioritize. The thing I often ask of people who supervise me is "What do I really need to focus on today? If I need to get something done today, what does that need to be?" Because my attention shifts so easily, it can be hard to prioritize and stick to maybe something that gives me less of a dopamine hit, but it's actually really important, versus things that I am enjoying doing more, but could probably have been pushed off until later.Eleni: So I want to bring it back a little bit, because we started talking about your meandering path. And you mentioned that originally you were interested in psych, you got to college and you became part of Eye to Eye, realized that you really enjoyed mentorship, that kind of, like, reinforced the previous experience that you had as a camp counselor, where you were also interacting with kids. And that's kind of as far as we got in terms of your journey. So I would love to hear a little bit more about how those things led you to your current role as director of clinical services. And also, I know that you said your path was quite meandering, but you also told us that the ADHD mind often follows inspiration.Bobby: Right. Eleni: So could you talk a little bit about how that applies to you and, like, ultimately how that got you to where you are now?Bobby: When you're talking about the difference between having a goal at the end of something versus exploring your interests, I think about that in terms of the way that people think about sailing, for example. Like, sailing, you might have a map of your destination, and then you just chart a course toward that destination. Whereas other people, other cultures, will kind of navigate by going to the next landmark or by going along with the currents and with the prevailing winds, but you might go from one point to the next, along the way. And so I think of my path as kind of like that. I'll start on, like, maybe one island. I kind of see what might be next there, and I'd sail to that next island. And it pushes me one way or the other. I don’t have any sense of if I'm going to end up being in Australia or Japan, but I kind of might be able to see the next way point. Eleni: I would love for you to sail me back to Australia. Bobby: I've never been to Australia, so I would love to go.Eleni: So, tell me, what were the islands that you stopped at along the way to get you to where you are now?Bobby: I graduated from college, and I think that feeling was maybe feeling lost at sea, not really knowing which way to go. But I thought about what I did know, and what I did know is that I really enjoyed working with kids. I really enjoyed Eye to Eye. So maybe I could work with kids like that, with kids who have learning differences. And where can I do that?So, the first place I went to was a school. And I think a school is almost, like, a collection of islands, because you get to see different islands of teachers. One island might be a history teacher, a math teacher, or a social worker, or a principal, and you get to see all those different roles and you can see maybe that island has a volcano and you want to avoid that one, but this one looks pleasant. It's got some swaying trees, and maybe it's got a nice river going through it. And so you sort of head toward that. So at the time, I'm sort of, I guess, in this archipelago? Is that a collection of islands? And the schools are great for that. The name of the position was instructional assistant, but I got to go into a bunch of different classrooms.I briefly thought about teaching, and I did sort of enjoy some of that. But I was noticing, hey, a lot of these kids have difficult economic circumstances. Like, one of my kids was having trouble in class not just because he had dyslexia, but also because he had spent the night before until 2 helping to watch his 2-year-old sister because his mom had to work late.So when I saw that, I could see that there are these circumstances. There are these people's lives that are really actually impacting their academics. And I wasn't going to be able to help him by tutoring him on a math problem, at least not in that moment. And so I thought, "Well, where do I go to do that? Where do I go to help?"And that led me to social work. So I went to get my master's in social work. I guess I had a prevailing wind, or I guess a crosswind pushing me to a different island where I was working with adults who were homeless. And that got me a picture of poverty. Because working with kids, you're not just working with kids. You're working with their parents, as well.And then I got blown back on course. I worked in an elementary school doing counseling with elementary students and just really enjoyed that work. So then I moved with my spouse down to New York. We're charting a new course in the sea and I think — I remembered that a friend I had met in my grad program was himself a foster child.And so I thought, "I wonder what foster care is like" — that would meet this need of wanting to work with a vulnerable population and wanting to work with kids, that would combine those two. So perhaps naively at the time, I thought, "OK, let me apply to be a therapist." And then that got me connected to Cayuga Centers. And then I guess I took a very traditional path of rising through the ranks.Eleni: Yeah. I would love for you to tell me what is it that you really love about your job? And why you think it is ultimately, like, a good fit for you, whether that's the work itself or the environment?Bobby: Yeah. I love my job in some sense because it's a job that not a lot of people want to do.I find that very valuable — is that not a lot of people want to work with kids who've been through some of the most difficult experiences and sometimes come at you with a lot of anger that is displaced from their circumstances, from what they've had to deal with. And I like at least the potential for it being a reparative experience. Being somebody that could be safe in maybe a world that doesn't feel very safe. And to bring that to kids who have been through some of the worst experiences that a kid can go through, it's really affirming. And I think that's how I can maybe deal with the fact that progress is very slow. Just knowing that I'm making some kind of impact day to day on people who really need me to make an impact.Eleni: I'm so happy you found that for yourself and then also other people have you. Bobby: Thank you. Eleni: Thanks for being here, Bobby.Bobby: Yes. Thanks so much for having me, Eleni.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?!" 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. Thanks again for listening.

  • ADHD Aha!

    ADHD and marriage (Rachel and Jon’s story)

    Jon Gardea has ADHD, and his wife Rachel doesn’t. Hear how ADHD impacts their marriage, and how leaving the Mormon church prompted Jon’s ADHD discovery. Jon Gardea ADHD... wife Rachel doesn’t. helped spot signs, though, including hobby graveyard. Jon got diagnosed, clear ADHD impacting marriage years. explanation created positive mindset shift relationship, bringing even closer. Rachel hosts YouTube channel called “Post-Mormon Parenting.” episode, Jon also talk leaving Mormon church contributed Jon’s ADHD discovery. Listen heartfelt honest discussion get behind-the-scenes look ADHD marriage.Related resourcesPost-Mormon Parenting YouTube ChannelHow explain relationship ADHD executive functioning“Setting aside” ADHD better parent husbandEpisode transcript Rachel: I'd like really got TikTok, started showing things ADHD more, like, oh gosh, oh, wait second. There's symptoms this, manifestations this, idea before. oh, goodness, Jon. Like describes well. Specifically, whoever watching talking hobbies would start different hobbies would get super them, enjoy super-short period time. done.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.I'm today Jon Rachel Gardea. Jon ADHD. Rachel not. Jon Rachel, welcome show. Thank much here.Rachel: Thank you. Yeah, we're really happy here.Laura: First, need say first time show interviewing two people time. could interesting certainly first time life interviewing married couple. could also interesting. Could introduce people listening know they're listening to?Rachel: Jon hit hand tell go first. I'm Rachel, I'm non-ADHD partner relationship. grew Connecticut, yay, East Coast. live Arizona. met college we've married 14 years three kids, ages 9, 7, 5. I'm stay-at-home mom. spare time like YouTube videos fun stuff like that. Whenever little bit spare time, — know little kids too. know —Jon: spare time.Laura: There's spare time. So, Jon, you?Jon: actually grew Phoenix, grew Mormon. born conservative religious family ended going regular steps Mormon Church. boy, young man, went mission 19 21. went Taiwan. one point speak Chinese fluently. I'm rusty now. ended BYU, Brigham Young University Utah, 20s. met mutual friend singers, choir together ended sort hitting there. ended getting married I'm nurse. nurse 13 years now, really enjoy that.Laura: raised nurse. tons respect nurse.Jon: mom's nurse too.Laura: Yay, nurses. Yes. great. Never let get school sick.Jon: Show thermometer.Laura: Show proof. Right, right. .Jon: fever 101 going go school.Laura: Exactly.Jon: learned fiddle mercury thermometer.Laura: way.Jon: would either put light bulb make go up. learned shake right get right sweet zone wouldn't suspicious go doctor, could skip school.Laura: may ask sing me, way, point, spontaneously erupt song, I'm OK too.Jon: OK. OK.Laura: So, Jon, diagnosed ADHD?Jon: last year.Laura: "aha" moment? led seek evaluation ADHD?Jon: spurred research, so, don't know exactly found, want talk first?Rachel: Sure, yes. current 9-year-old, maybe like 7 8 time. messaging pediatrician saying, "I think might ADHD, maybe, possibly? It's really affecting grades anything, sure makes life little bit difficult home. get evaluated?" pediatrician like, well, doesn't really something big deal. seems fine, like contact year, know, we'll discuss it's affecting grades whatever. kind left alone, back mind, I'm still looking things thinking like, wow, he's classic — whatever know ADHD. He's got hyperactivity attention deficit. kept trying learn it. think watching TikTok. I'd really gotten TikTok.You know say TikTok knows shows things didn't even know TikTok knew first. It's little bit eerie, started showing things ADHD more. like, oh gosh, oh, wait second. There's symptoms this, manifestations this, idea before. oh, goodness, Jon. Like describes well. Specifically whoever watching talking hobbies would start different hobbies would get super them. Like really, really them. would research heck spend hours hours buy accoutrements stuff, enjoy super-short period time. done. We're done. New hobby. Next! realized potentially least ADHD thing, thought, man, Jon bipolar? like exactly going on?Jon: goes manic phases obsessed something.Rachel: Yeah. he'll depressed. happened, too, time lot of, would say like mental turmoil, lot like anguish, lot self-reflection us doing. Because, Jon said, raised Mormon Church recently stopped believing that. us kind crisis meaning lives. Jon particular really hard time mental health time. seeing psychiatrists therapists. brought him, hey, maybe let's talk psychiatrist see ADHD.Laura: react that, Jon?Jon: like, OK, that's basically, uh, maybe, don't know. Anything's possible point. mentioned showed me — think showed TikTok. guy talking obsessions. He's like, new hobby. I'm going hobby. I've bought things hobby. goes room it's complete, like podcasting, audio recording setup, it's like suspended mike boom everything pop filter everything. he's like, nah, ah, I'm done hobby. interest hobby. And, like, oh God, that's totally me.Like summer, like, going learn violin. bought new violin none rent. started going lessons really nice conservatory.Rachel: 'Cause can't anything halfway, partially, mediocre. Like get best stuff. like best lesson.Jon: That's right.Laura: you're going start hobby, start right.Jon: That's right. Exactly.Laura: Don't finish it. you're going start right. Yeah.Jon: Start right. Well, don't intentions quitting. I've got, like, dreams able play, like, Mendelssohn things head, know? I'm going able play amazing violin piece. I'm like watching videos Hilary Hahn violinists, I'm like, inspired. I'm going lessons. suck, course. don't apply myself, course. I'm distracted whatnot. lasts four half, five months, about, would say, long —Rachel: That's longest you've ever spent hobby.Jon: — last. think mentioned maybe like two months stopped going lessons maybe month after. like, oh. started considering different hobbies I've done. Like I've done guitar, I've done ukulele, I've done violin, I've done necklace making beadwork.Laura: ever consider hip-hop dancing? moment time like, I'm going become hip-hop — people listening can't see me, I'm like gangly uncoordinated, would really bad. dream. dream. hip-hop dancer.Jon: never ambitious. impressed.Laura: didn't make past even like thinking it. close, yeah.Jon: Yeah. No, definitely understand. Like, started obsessing K-Pop, probably longest obsession.Rachel: Oh, that's true.Jon: it's become like part life now.Laura: drawing hobbies? feel like body? like impulsiveness regular interest levels getting distracted?

  • How executive function challenges impact teens and young adults in the workplace

    Handling the demands of work can be tough for teens and young adults with executive function challenges. With every job, they face new people, new routines, and new responsibilities. And their old coping strategies may not work with the new tasks.Here are some areas where weak executive function skills might cause trouble at work for your teen or young adult child:On-the-job efficiencyWeak spots: Planning, prioritization, time managementWorkplace reality: Employers may provide specific job training. But they assume employees know how to plan their time and get their tasks done.How problems play out: Teens and young adults who struggle with executive function may not know how to attack projects. They may lose track of time — while working or on a break — and miss deadlines. They may also have a hard time figuring out which tasks should come before others.For example, your child may be expected to update the company’s email list. But your child may not realize that this task should take a backseat to more urgent ones, like printing out reports for the day’s big meeting.Flexibility and adaptabilityWeak spots: Transitioning, organization, short-term memoryWorkplace reality: Work isn’t always predictable. Responsibilities change. Workstations move. Schedules shift.How problems play out: Your child may not be able to adapt easily to changes at work. For instance, a kitchen worker may have trouble moving from the salad prep station to the appetizer station, even if both positions use similar skills. In a fast-paced workplace, supervisors might not have the time or patience to help.Diligence and detailWeak spots: Attention, short-term memory, organizationWorkplace reality: Employees are paid to be responsible and dependable. They’re expected to be on time, prepared, and equipped to do their job.How problems play out: Parents and teachers may cut some slack for “goof-ups” like losing a book or forgetting to bring a pencil. But a boss will probably be less tolerant. Leaving an important flash drive at home or forgetting about a meeting can make your child look bad. It can also reflect badly on the entire team.On-the-job diplomacyWeak spots: Impulse control, self-monitoringWorkplace reality: Work can be frustrating. A boss may be difficult. Things can be rough at home. Still, employees are expected to control their emotions and check their private issues at the door.How problems play out: Teens and young adults might think they’re doing just great on the job. They may become angry or defensive if a supervisor or boss disagrees. Sharing too much or not filtering comments can also be a problem.For example, they may tell other employees what their therapist said at their last session. Or they might be too blunt. That could mean telling a co-worker, “The way you’re stacking those shelves looks ugly. You should do it my way.”You can’t advocate for your child at work the way you did at school. But there’s still a lot you can do to help.Take steps to help ease the transition to work. Help your child adjust the organizational skills used for school to a new job. And encourage your child to make a list of supervisors and co-workers to turn to for help.You may also want to talk about the pros and cons of disclosing executive function challenges at work. The employer may be able to provide accommodations that can help your child succeed.

  • ADHD Aha!

    Diagnosed with ADHD during the pandemic (Scott’s story)

    Getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult during the pandemic helped Scott make sense of his childhood. Hear about his “light bulb” moment. Sometimes ADHD only makes sense in hindsight — like when you find out who the killer is in a murder mystery. During the pandemic, actor Scott Watson’s trouble with focus hit a tipping point and made him wonder if he had ADHD. Once he got diagnosed — and after stumbling across a handy acronym — he could see how ADHD had impacted him his whole life. Host Laura Key talks with Scott about his executive function skills, ADHD medication, and the pros and cons of hyperfocus.Related content What is executive function?All about ADHD medicationADHD and hyperfocusEpisode transcriptScott: I had my "aha" moment in 2020, when I was sitting at home trying to work remotely. And I just couldn't do it. It was something that wasn't hard. Something I've done before should not be a challenge. The idea of doing the task was just so monumentally daunting that I would just sit in front of my computer and avoid it for hours. And it was like, "Why can't I focus?" No matter how much coffee I drank or how many jumping jacks I do. So, yeah, I think the pandemic was really the moment where I was like, I need to do something.Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.I'm here today with Scott Watson. Scott is an actor who lives in Brooklyn, New York, and he has ADHD. Welcome, Scott.Scott: Hey, how's it going?Laura: Great. I'm so happy that you're here with me today. Let's jump right in. Tell me about your "aha" moment. When did you realize that you had ADHD, and how did you realize that?Scott: Like a flashbulb moment. It's hard, cause it's kind of like a movie where you find out who the killer is at the end, and then you go back through the whole movie and you're like, "Ah, of course it was that guy — look at all the clues." And that's our lives. When we find out we have ADHD, it's "Oh yeah, that makes total sense."But, yeah, I think the pandemic really was a big key. And for me, I was recently formally diagnosed this year. And I had been working from home and I just could not focus on getting the work done that needed to be done. And that just started to bring up a lot of things my entire life, where I was struggling to do things like this, that I've done a million times, that are not challenging, but I just have no interest or ability to do them.And I started doing some research, and then I came across this acronym on the internet that was incredibly helpful to me and was eye-opening, which was ICNU, which is interest, challenge, novelty, and urgency. And if a task does not fall into this category, for people with ADHD, those are the tasks that our brain struggles with the absolute most to complete.It was just such a light bulb moment of that acronym, because it was like, "That a thousand percent defines every test that I struggled with in my life." A lot of things started to break through with that realization.Laura: I really relate to that, especially what you say about looking back. It's like you struggled for so long and then finally it clicks and you look back and you're like, "Oh, I get it now."I think you said that you're from Michigan, is that right?Scott: I am, yeah.Laura: I'm from Ohio. So, from the same area. I know we're supposed to be enemies.Scott: Bitter rivals!Laura: But when you look back at growing up, as a kid in Michigan, can you pinpoint times when you were struggling and you're like, "Oh yeah, that was the ADHD that whole time."Scott: All the time.Laura: Tell me about them.Scott: ADHD can kick in at any time, but just being a kid, it's a lot easier to kind of ignore because kids are kids. They're impulsive, they're creative, they're full of energy, things like that. But I just remember around third or fourth grade, stuff that was so easy for me stopped being easy.And I went from breezing through A's and my grades to suddenly just not doing my homework. Coming home, being like, "OK, I need to do this — I need to do this math homework," setting it aside, and then, before I knew it, it was 10 p.m. and the homework was not done. That inability to focus on getting that done just continued to snowball through middle school and high school.And I think like a lot of people with ADHD, I'm no Mensa member, but I'm not dumb! But it was so frustrating to know that I had the capability to get this stuff done but I just wasn't. And that leads to all sorts of self-loathing, depression, all sorts of things. But, yeah, with the diagnosis, just looking back, especially in college, too, even though I got a theater degree — so, I was on my feet pretending to be a bird, so that was a lot easier for my ADHD brain — but just, like, the gen-ed subjects, it was the same thing. I just couldn't write a paper about cultural anthropology. It just didn't happen.Laura: It's not interesting enough for you.Scott: Yeah, it just didn't check the boxes. And that was the other thing. Occasionally, there would be assignments in school, like, in fourth grade I drew every single United States president, because I realized that I didn't know the names of all the presidents. So I did an incredible amount of research into who they were. I drew a portrait of every single one of them. This was not for an assignment. This was just me going down something that caught my hyperfocus. And I spent weeks and weeks and weeks on that while my homework just built up slowly beside me, and my parents were like, "This is great, so happy you're so excited about this, but, you know, your math homework is not done."Laura: Yeah. And I'm not surprised to hear you say that around third and fourth grade was a really telling moment for you. That's around the time in school when assignments start to get trickier, you have more to manage, and that's where that executive functioning difficulty comes in that you're referencing.A lot of people get confused about hyperfocus. They think, "OK, you have ADHD. So how are you able to hyperfocus on things that are so interesting to you, but you can't focus on other things." And what a lot of people don't understand is that ADHD can make it hard for you to shift your attention to something. It can also make it really hard for you to shift your attention away from something. And that's where the hyperfocus comes in. Do you use hyperfocus to your advantage right now in your life? Or is it a detriment ever? Talk to me about that.Scott: Yeah, it seemed to be, back in the day. It was many years before I realized that that's what happened.I've always liked to write. That was always something that I was passionate about. And that hyperfocus would click in when I was writing sometimes. And I knew after a while that I had to sit at my computer and chain myself to my chair and just kind of wait for that to happen. And sometimes it didn't, and it was so frustrating.It was like being Superman and only shooting lasers out of your eyes every fifth time. You just never know when it was going to click in. But when I saw that acronym — interest, challenge, novelty, and urgency — all of a sudden, a lot of things started to make more sense.It was like, OK, what helps me write? A deadline. And what do I like to write about? Things that I don't necessarily know about. So then there's the interest, drawing in, doing all this research; challenge, trying to do something I've never done before; and novelty of just writing something new. And that's what I've always really loved. I loved the first draft, getting it all out there.The second and third draft, no, not really. So, there's like 36 stories that are unfinished on my Google Drive.Laura: What you say about needing to basically chain yourself to a chair in order to get something done, it really reminds me of something that I heard from one of our experts. His name is Tom Brown, and I heard him say something like this before I got diagnosed, and it really stuck with me. And I'm paraphrasing here, but he said something along the lines of, you know, in order for someone with ADHD to really focus on something that they don't care about that much, that they're not interested in, it's almost like you have to have a gun to their head. Which I know is a very dark way of putting it, but it feels so true. And it reminds me, oh, this is so real, right? This is legit. This difficulty.Scott: Absolutely. Urgency — with chores, with all these things, it would just reach a certain point where I would look around at my car or my room or the shattered remains of my life. And I would just be like, "Enough." And then I would clean for hours. Hours and hours and hours.So it was like, build up, build up, build up, build up, build up, until it was urgent. And then the hyperfocus would click in, and then I would clean obsessively. And then, you know, rather than just, like, maintaining that cleaning schedule, I would go back to the "OK, I'll just throw my stuff on the ground" until another month had passed and things had built up. It's so frustrating. Because you're like, "Why am I like this? I know what I need to do so that this doesn't happen, but I just don't do it."Laura: It's the way your brain is wired. Let's talk a little bit about — boredom isn't a symptom of ADHD, but it can be the result of ADHD and that need for stimulation. Did you experience a lot of boredom growing up? Did you ever get in trouble for seeming bored or daydreamy?Scott: Yeah, especially as I started to get older through middle school and high school, I would just cover my notebook in doodles and sketches and things like that. I remember sitting in geometry class in my sophomore year of high school, and every day it would be the choice of "I can try to listen and be here in class," and just like excruciating torture of that. "Or I can just escape into my head and draw pictures of, like, Homer Simpson riding a rocket."Laura: Based on what you're telling me, it sounds like hyperactivity wasn't the symptom that you struggled with, or at least not the most. Is that accurate?Scott: That's pretty accurate. That's hard to look at from my own personal perspective; I was definitely a very active kid, like, my brother and I would go outside and he would come back sparkling clean and I would come back just like Pigpen from Peanuts, just, like, covered head to toe in dirt somehow.Laura: Sounds fun.Scott: Yeah. It's fun. And I loved to run when I was a kid. So there was definitely, like, an excess of energy that I was siphoning off. But I do have fidgets with my legs and things like that, where I'll be sitting in one place and my leg will start going up and down or shaking and things like that. It's all totally unconscious. But as I've gotten older and, I think this is relatively common, the whole hyperactivity thing has faded away a bit.Laura: Right. Of the symptoms of ADHD, it's one of the ones that can subside maybe more than others do.Scott: Yeah. And I would say that one, if it was ever there, subsided pretty quickly, which added to the confusion, because that's the one that the ADHD diagnosis seems to be first and foremost for a lot of people or an easy indicator when you're young that this person might have ADHD is that they are just, like, bouncing off the walls.Laura: Exactly. While you may have had some excess energy and were a bit fidgety, it sounds like that wasn't your primary symptom, hyperactivity. We typically associate boys with ADHD as being hyperactive. So, it's interesting to me that that's not the thing that really came to the forefront for you. And also makes me wonder if the fact that hyperactivity wasn't your big symptom, do you feel like that's potentially why you flew under the radar for many years?Scott: Yeah, absolutely. And, also, you know, I was growing up in the '90s in a very small, small town. So, the kind of things where students can maybe get a little bit more of an individual focus or they're surrounded by other, like, neuro-atypical students. So they can be like, "Well, this person clearly kind of is a part of this group that we've seen before." I think the fact that I was able to maintain a certain level of grades, that I wasn't crashing until certain parts of high school, did allow me to fly under the radar.Laura: Does your family know now that you have ADHD?Scott: No. I haven't talked to my parents much about it, honestly. Not that they would be opposed to that diagnosis. But I think a lot of times with parents, there can be a certain amount of guilt that something could have been troubling their child as they were growing up and they missed it or didn't know. And that's not necessarily fair, because we know so much more about ADHD now than we did even 10 years ago.Laura: I really feel everything you're saying. I grew up in the Midwest in a relatively small town and, you're right, I mean, we have to be fair. There's a lot more information about it now. And I feel you — sometimes I don't want to talk about it with my family because I don't want them to feel bad about anything, that, like, they did anything wrong.But I do wonder sometimes, you know, maybe it would be helpful if I were more open about it with my family, because sometimes I notice them struggling with some of these symptoms too. And I don't think they're as aware of it as I am.Scott: Being diagnosed as an adult, you have built up strategies on your own without even realizing it to cope with ADHD if you're not specifically getting therapy for it or using medication. And for some people it's a completely debilitating thing, and they cannot function. And for other people it's more insidious or confusing, but, you know, you work up strategies to get stuff done. And it can be kind of hard, for example, if you see the symptoms of that in your parents and they're in their 70s, to be, like, "You know, would a diagnosis at that point be helpful, because you've lived your whole life with this?" And being diagnosed at 35, I would say it is helpful. Like how useful to have an answer for a lot of questions that you didn't even know that you necessarily had.Laura: What treatments or treatment or strategies do you use to manage your ADHD?Scott: The thing that I was most hesitant to do was to take medication. And I think that's why I put off getting a formal diagnosis for so long, was because the idea of taking medication to be normal was not a great thought for me. Because I thought, well, if I take medication every day to get to baseline, where does that leave me? But that was a bad way to look at that. That was just my own neuroses. So eventually I was like, well, what do I have to lose? I should try medication to see if it helped. And I did try a couple of different things. And then eventually I got on to a stimulant medication, a relatively lower dosage that was extended release.It was just a game changer. And it's hard to describe the difference between your brain before and your brain after. But I think it can kind of be described as like somebody who puts on those colorblind glasses for the first time and they don't even know what they're not seeing. And then all of a sudden they're like, "Red! Holy crap, that's red, and that's green!"And that was me going through my email inbox, just being like, "I can organize this. I didn't even read this email. We're putting labels on stuff. This is great." Or just, like, looking at the dishes and being like, "I'm going to do those right now." Or arriving early for an appointment — that was great.Laura: What's that about?Scott: I don't know. It's like, "I'm not an hour early or an hour late to this."Laura: Good on you. I know that there's this myth, it's really pernicious, that's out there that, like, using medication is a crutch. I think it takes a lot of bravery to use medication as a tool. Scott: Absolutely. And it is so unfair to say that medication is a crutch. I challenge anybody who wears glasses, who wears braces, who drives a car — because, by the way, we can't go 80 miles an hour with our legs. There are things that we do every day in our life that make our lives a little simpler.Laura: Scott, are you ever impulsive?Scott: Yes. Extremely.Laura: Are you comfortable giving me some examples of that?Scott: Oh, sure. I won't give you all the examples. What are, like, the two halves that it kind of falls on? There's impulsivity, and then there's hyperactivity.Laura: Impulsivity and hyperactivity often go hand in hand, yeah. But impulse control is an executive function.Scott: Right? Which I lack. Yeah. I mean, I was always, like — especially during college and high school — I was bad with money. I was bad with money. My first paycheck from my fast-food Subway job, I was like, "I'm getting a PlayStation 2; I'm getting a game." It was, like, any money that was in my account was there to be spent on the first thing that kind of caught my fancy.I would start collecting things, like I would get all into that. Like, I started just collecting old Nintendo games during college, out of nowhere. And then pretty soon I had 300, and then I lost all interest in it.Laura: Oh, man. That sounds really fun, though.Scott: It was very fun until the thrill went away, and then I just had 300 Nintendo video games.Laura: You could probably get a lot of money for those these days.Scott: Yeah, absolutely.Laura: If you have Bubble Bobble or Bubble Boggle or whatever, I would buy that for me. I love that game.Scott: Oh, yes, Bubble Bobble. That game is amazing.Laura: You're an actor. I know, from what I've read about you, you do a lot of physical acting. Is that right? You use your body a lot in your acting. Scott: Yeah, I've got training in theater, focus in Shakespeare. And what I love to do was always like, zany, crazy clown, or play like 36 different roles. Like this one has a limp, this one has an eyepatch. Or some commedia dell'arte clowning stuff. The physical part of it was always really so helpful because when I would reach for that energy that I needed for the performance, it was there. And being an actor kind of checks off that acronym again, especially the urgency and the novelty. If you're in a play, if you're in a commercial, TV show, film, every day is different, and it's always urgent because if you forget your lines or screw up a take, yeah, there's pressure. There's pressure whether there's, like, a Broadway house of 1,500 people looking at you or if there's 35 guys in cargo shorts just like "Get the take so we can go to lunch" kind of thing. Laura: Scott, tell me what you love most about your ADHD brain. Scott: I love how creative it can make me. And I love that feeling when I get excited about something and I'm in the zone. It's kind of like an out-of-body experience where I'm so focused. This especially happens when I'm writing, because I write plays and screenplays and stuff. But when I'm just, like, writing dialogue and two characters are talking to each other, it's like I'm there just watching them talk. And that ability to really zone in and kind of lose myself in the details, it's just an incredible experience. Laura: Well, thank you so much for being here with me today, Scott. I am so grateful for your candor, for your insights, and I just really relate to you on so many levels. Thank you so much for being a champion for people with ADHD. Scott: This was such a great experience. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about it. And this is wonderful. Laura: You've been listening to "ADHD Aha," from the Understood Podcast Network. You can listen and subscribe to "ADHD Aha" on Apple, Spotify, or anywhere you get your podcasts. And if you like what you heard today, tell someone about the show. We rely on listeners like you to reach and support more people. And if you want to share your own "aha" moment, email us at I'd love to hear from you. You can go to to find details on each episode and related resources. That's the letter U, as in Understood, dot O R G, slash ADHD Aha. Understood is a nonprofit and social impact organization. We have no affiliation with pharmaceutical companies. Learn more at "ADHD Aha" is produced by Jessamine Molli. Say hi, Jessamine.  Jessamine: Hi, everyone.  Laura: Justin D. Wright created our music. Seth Melnick and Briana Berry are our production directors. Scott Cocchiere is our creative director. And I'm your host, Laura Key, editorial director at Understood. Thanks so much for listening. 

  • Understanding executive function challenges in your child

    You may not know that much about executive function. But you see it in action every day. It refers to a group of skills that are key to learning and managing daily life. When kids struggle with these skills, it can have a big impact.Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, plan, set goals, manage time, and get organized. Kids with these challenges often struggle in school. But they’re just as smart as their peers.There’s no formal diagnosis for when kids struggle with executive function. But tests can show which skills your child has trouble with. That can lead to extra help at school. It also lets you know how you can best support your child.The more you understand about trouble with executive function, the more you can do to help. This overview can answer your basic questions and lead you to more in-depth information. You’ll also find strategies to help your child manage the challenges.Signs of executive function challengesKids develop executive function over time. A lot of growth happens in early childhood.But research shows that the areas of the brain that are responsible for executive function keep developing into the 20s. So, for many kids, the challenges lessen.Here are some of the skills kids may struggle with:Holding on to information (working memory)Understanding different points of view (flexible thinking) Thinking before they act or speak (self-control) Paying attentionOrganizing, planning, and prioritizingStarting tasks and staying focused on them until they’re doneRegulating their emotionsKeeping track of what they’re doing (self-monitoring)Part of executive function is how fast you process information. Some kids have slower processing speed, which means they need more time to take in and respond to information.Since executive skills develop over time, kids can struggle in different ways at different ages. Here are some signs you might see at various grade levels.Preschool–grade 2Gets frustrated easily, and gives up instead of asking for helpHas trouble following directionsOften throws tantrums over minor thingsInsists on doing things a certain wayAnswers questions in vague waysGrades 3–7Starts a task, gets distracted, and never finishes itOften mixes up school assignments and brings home the wrong booksHas a messy desk and backpackWants to have friends come over, but never sets it upSeems to focus on the least important point in a discussionMiddle school and high schoolLoses track of timeOften does risky thingsHas trouble working in groupsForgets to fill out job or college applicationsIs overly optimistic or unrealisticIf some of these signs sound like ADHD, there’s a reason. ADHD is a problem with executive function. But kids don’t have to have ADHD to have trouble with executive skills.See a complete list of signs at different ages.Dive deeperRead about how these challenges affect young adults.Learn more about why some kids have trouble starting tasks.Understand the three types of self-control.Finding out if your child struggles with executive functionThere’s no diagnosis for problems with executive function. But you can still find out the exact skills your child struggles with. This happens through an evaluation, which schools do for free. You’ll also find out about your child’s strengths.Some specialists do private evaluations, but this is usually expensive.Executive function is complex, so it can be tricky to evaluate. But there are specific tests that look at a wide range of skills involved in executive function. These skills include:AttentionSelf-control (or “inhibitory control”)Working memoryOrganization and planningConcept formationThe ability to shift from one task to another (set shifting)Kids who have trouble with executive function often struggle in other areas, too. Testing should be done as a full evaluation that looks at other areas like reading and math.Dive deeperRead about “Goldilocks” parenting and how it can help.Find out what the Batman effect is, and how pretend play helps your child.Find out how to request a free school evaluation.How you can help your child with executive function challengesThere are lots of strategies to try at home to help your child manage these challenges and improve skills.Here are some things you can do.Play games that can help build executive skills.Use picture schedules to help younger kids get organized.Discover more tips for organizing your child’s backpack.For more ideas, check out this collection of executive function strategies you can try at home.There are also things the school can do. Talk to your child’s teacher about what types of support your child might get.With the right support, kids who struggle with executive function can improve skills and feel more confident. Learn how to improve your child’s self-esteem and help your child stay motivated to work on challenges.

  • Understood Explains Season 2

    Should I get tested for ADHD?

    Wondering if you have enough ADHD symptoms? If it’s worth the effort to get tested? Host Dr. Roberto Olivardia shares his own adult diagnosis story. Are you wondering if your ADHD symptoms are too mild to get tested? Or if there’s enough of a benefit to getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult? Host Dr. Roberto Olivardia shares his own diagnosis story as he answers common questions about whether to get formally tested for ADHD as an adult:  Should I get tested for ADHD? [00:48]Can I diagnose myself with ADHD? [03:44]What else do I need to know if I think I might have ADHD? [05:17]Key takeaway, next episode, and credits [08:41]Related resourcesADHD symptoms at different agesWhat is executive function?ADHD and eating disordersADHD and substance abuse (Peach’s story) Episode transcriptYou’re listening to Season 2 of Understood Explains: ADHD Diagnosis in Adults.Today’s episode answers the question “Should I get tested for ADHD?”My name is Dr. Roberto Olivardia, and I’m a clinical psychologist with more than 20 years of experience evaluating people for things like ADHD. I’m also one of the millions of people who have been diagnosed with ADHD as an adult. I’ll be your host.My goal here is to answer the most common questions about ADHD diagnosis. Along the way, you’ll learn a lot about ADHD in general. We’re going to do this quickly — in the next 10 or so minutes. So, let’s get to it.Should I get tested for ADHD? [00:48]You might be wondering if you have enough symptoms, or if there’s enough of a benefit, to go and get a formal diagnosis as an adult.To answer this question of “Should you get tested,” I’m going to make two predictions about you, based on the fact that you’re listening to a podcast about diagnosing ADHD in adults. I predict that, number 1, you’re an adult, and number 2, that you made it through childhood without being diagnosed with ADHD. And if I’m right, then you and I probably have a lot in common. I made it through many years of school without an ADHD diagnosis.    I was 35 when I was diagnosed with ADHD. Up until then, I had been doing sort of OK, finding ways to cope with certain challenges and trying to avoid everything else that was hard for me. So I could have kept doing those things and still be a fairly successful adult. But I am so glad I got diagnosed, and here are four reasons why:First, soooooo many things make sense now about my childhood.Everything from my numerous sleep problems, like the massive effort it took me to shut my mind off at the end of the day, to the immense energy it took me to stay awake in Mr. Burke’s history class my junior year of high school. Second, my ADHD diagnosis has helped me understand what kinds of things I need to thrive at work.My favorite quick example here is fluorescent lighting. I finally understand why it drives me crazy and that if I’m going to get any work done, it needs to be in a room with soft, warm lighting.People like me who have ADHD are very sensitive by nature, and too much or too little sensory input can make it harder to be in the present moment and stay focused. Third, I understand now how my ADHD can affect my relationships.As someone who gets bored easily and seeks out stimulation, I was always attracted to novelty, drama, taking risks… Sometimes that opened me up to risks that worked out really well, hanging out with many of my friends who also had ADHD. Other times, that didn’t work out so well, because we didn’t always make the best decisions. And last but not least, I understand how ADHD affects my impulse control. Because of my ADHD, I know that if I like something, I run the risk of liking it too much. The idea of eating until satisfied versus eating until I’m stuffed, saying no to buying something I really couldn’t afford, or restraining myself from some mischievous desire were just some things I had to work on throughout my life, even today.There’s lots of research that shows people with ADHD have a significantly higher risk for addictive behaviors. And it’s essential for us to know this about ourselves.So, listeners, I can tell you from my personal experience that getting diagnosed with ADHD as an adult not only helped me understand myself better. It helped me start figuring out what kinds of supports I need to thrive in all aspects of my life.Can I diagnose myself with ADHD? [03:44]So this is a very common question, and the answer is a hard no. Self-diagnosis may be popular on TikTok and other social media platforms. But it’s not a good idea, and here are three reasons why:Reason number 1: There are a lot of conditions that can look a lot like ADHD. A quick online quiz won’t be able to tell you if you’re struggling to pay attention because you have ADHD, or if it’s something else.  Stress or depression or anxiety or even sleep apnea can look a lot like ADHD, and an online platform won’t be able to pick apart the differences like a professional would, especially if you’re only being asked a few questions.Reason number 2: ADHD is a matter of degree. Everyone gets distracted sometimes. But that doesn’t mean everyone has ADHD. Diagnosing ADHD involves looking at how often you have certain symptoms and how much those symptoms affect your daily life.Reason number 3: Self-diagnosis can lead to the wrong DIY treatments — or to no treatments at all. And the whole reason you’re wondering about ADHD diagnosis is so you can help yourself feel better and function better, right?So for all of these reasons, it’s much, much better for you to work with someone who has a lot of training on how to accurately diagnose ADHD. A quick quiz can be useful as a starting point, but please don’t let it be a stopping point. Get tested by a professional.What else do I need to know if I think I might have ADHD? [05:17]This season of Understood Explains is going to cover a lot of territory, everything from which kinds of professionals can diagnose you, to how to prepare yourself emotionally for an ADHD diagnosis, to how to treat ADHD with or without medication. Each of these topics gets their own episode. But before we wrap up this one, there are a few big-picture things that I think are important for you to keep in mind as you’re thinking about getting tested for ADHD:The name “ADHD” is kind of misleading.ADHD’s full name, “attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder,” often confuses people in a couple different ways. “Attention deficit” doesn’t mean that people with ADHD lack attention. It means we have trouble regulating our attention. Our brains are often trying to pay attention to too many things. We have trouble filtering out the unimportant stuff, so we get distracted by things like background noise. We can also focus too much on one thing and can’t shift our attention away from it. Hyperfocus can be a big challenge for people like me with ADHD.“Hyperactivity” is another confusing part of ADHD’s formal name. There are three types of ADHD, and two of them involve hyperactivity. But you don’t have to be hyperactive to be diagnosed with ADHD. You can just struggle with attention. What used to be called “attention-deficit disorder” or ADD, is now called the “inattentive type” of ADHD. So that can be confusing to a lot of folks, too.There are two other terms that are important to know as you’re thinking about ADHD: “impulse control” and “executive function.” “Impulse control” isn’t part of ADHD’s formal name, but it’s one of the three main symptoms of ADHD: trouble with attention, hyperactivity, and impulse control. Those are the three main symptoms.“Executive function” is another really important term in the world of ADHD. Executive functions include everything from our ability to manage time and make decisions, to how we plan and prioritize, to how we physically organize our stuff. It involves how we remember information, how we regulate emotions. Many people — and many women in particular — are surprised by how much ADHD can impact emotions, whether it’s trouble managing our feelings, or the shame we feel about clutter, being late, etc. But all of these things are executive functions. And this is probably the biggest piece of the ADHD puzzle that can really have a significant impact on undiagnosed adults. It’s really only been since the mid 1990s that people started talking about the idea of ADHD in adulthood. And a lot of folks might not know what it looks like in adults and how it can be connected to other issues they might be experiencing, like a binge-eating disorder or a gambling addiction or porn addiction. The good news is that if you do get formally diagnosed with ADHD, the diagnosis report will often include recommendations on how to help with addiction and risk-taking, as well as other challenges like organization. There are lots of inexpensive apps and tools — like setting a timer on your phone — but it helps to know which areas you’re struggling in so you can start focusing on how to help.Key takeaway, next episode, and credits [08:41]OK, listeners, that’s it for Episode 1. The key takeaway I’m hoping sticks with you from this episode is that if you suspect you may have ADHD, meet with a health care professional who knows a lot about ADHD and can do a clinical evaluation. We’re going to spend the whole next episode talking about what kinds of health care providers can diagnose ADHD in adults. But for now, I want you to focus on why it’s a good idea to do this. I’ve found the majority of people are actually relieved and feel a strong sense of validation when they get diagnosed with ADHD. A diagnosis isn’t meant to make you feel bad. In fact, it’s the opposite. When I was officially diagnosed, I immediately started connecting dots and realized behaviors that may have seemed confusing or “out there” suddenly made more sense. And if you don’t have ADHD, but some other diagnosis, that will be just as important. Remember: Knowledge is power! Now that we’ve covered why you might want to get evaluated for ADHD, you’re ready for the rest of the season. Thanks for listening, and I hope you’ll join me for Episode 2, which explains “Who can diagnose adults with ADHD?”You’ve been listening to Season 2 of Understood Explains from the Understood Podcast Network. If you want to learn more about the topics we covered today, check out the show notes for this episode. We include more resources, as well as links to anything we’ve mentioned in the episode. One important note: I don’t prescribe ADHD medication and I don’t have any affiliation with pharmaceutical companies — and neither does Understood. This podcast is intended solely for informational purposes and is not a substitute for a professional diagnosis or for medical advice or treatment. Talk with your health care provider before making any medical decisions.Understood Explains is produced by Julie Rawe and Cody Nelson, who also edited the show. Briana Berry is our production director. Our theme music was written by Justin D. Wright, who also mixes the show.For the Understood Podcast Network, Laura Key is our editorial director, Scott Cocchiere is our creative director, and Seth Melnick is our executive producer. Understood is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people who learn and think differently discover their potential and thrive. Learn more at

  • Video: Executive function and the brain

    How do kids develop executive function skills? It comes down to practice, says Philip Zelazo, Ph.D., a professor and researcher at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota. Watch as he describes what happens in the brain when we use executive function skills. He also talks about how kids can practice these skills.

  • ADHD Aha!

    Depression, relationships, and the myth of the ADHD “superpower” (Max’s story)

    Max Willey’s ADHD diagnosis has led him to a more stable life — and to seeing ADHD as a “glorious curse,” with downsides and upsides. Max Willey, an expat living in Norway, often found himself overwhelmed by complex tasks as a kid. There were too many moving parts, and his brain was always racing too fast. A teacher thought he might have ADHD. But it wasn’t until adulthood that Max was diagnosed “by accident.” He was feeling depressed and was struggling with some relationships. When he sought treatment, he was diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and depression all at once. Max felt relieved. And he’s come to see ADHD as a “glorious curse.” It has its downsides — but also allows him to feel and do wonderful things.  Listen in as Laura and Max unpack this and more. Related resourcesADHD and creativityTrouble getting work done is real. Executive function challenges may be the culprit.ADHD and depressionEpisode transcriptJessamine: Hi, everybody. This is "ADHD Aha!" producer Jessamine. Before we get into the episode, I wanted to give you a heads-up that our guest, Max, shares his experience with depression. And there is a brief reference to suicidal ideation. Max's telling of his journey back from that dark period is important to his story, and we hope you will find it as insightful as we did.Max: Just recently, the realization that came to me was that I don't need to turn everything up to 11 in order for it to count. Sometimes it just needs to be showing up. These little things — they count. More than the gigantic, titanic, Herculean efforts. And with that, it's very liberating.Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host.I am here today with Max Willey. Max is a content and video producer and expat living in Oslo, Norway. Max is also a listener who wrote in. And one of the things that stuck out to me in the letter that he sent in to our "ADHD Aha!" email address was that he referred to ADHD as a glorious curse. Welcome, Max. Thanks for being here today.Max: Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure.Laura: Let's get started with when were you diagnosed with ADHD? What was going on?Max: The official diagnosis occurred when I was 31.Laura: So that was a few years ago.Max: A few years ago. Unofficially, my first-grade elementary school teacher picked up on some unattentiveness, inability to complete tasks. And that was brought forth to my parents, but nothing was really done.Laura: Tell me more about what led you to get diagnosed when you were 31.Max: Well, let's see. The childhood symptoms were, I mean, a touch of hyperactivity. The main thing I remembered from kindergarten was just that complex instructions were very difficult, and I lost interest very quickly.But at the same time, I felt that everyone around me was going so slowly. Like, if it was something that interested me, then I just soaked it up like a sponge. If it was animals or planets or facts about UFOs, I just ate that up.But if it was following through on complex things, then I was hopeless. I still remember the very first project I didn't complete. It was the, you know, those little hand printed — like you traced your hand for the turkeys for Thanksgiving?Laura: Yeah.Max: There were just too many moving parts for me to really wrap my head around. I was like four and a half, five years old at that time. And I just remember having this uncompleted turkey on my desk for a week. It just sat there and it was this constant reminder of my first failure.Laura: Wow. That's kind of amazing how vividly you remember that.Max: It just stuck out to me. Perhaps because, like, I've gone back in my mind so many times, I've ruminated so many times about these things and just been like, that was a sign and I should have seen it.I remember reading comprehension and math were also big issues because it just felt like everyone was running circles around me. I just completely did not get it. Until I was put in — this was in third grade — I was put in remedial reading and math. And they just took everything at a snail's pace. And I just remember, wow, this is fun. I can do this.Laura: I wonder if there was a struggle with reading and math, or if it was the effort that needed to go into learning — the kind of, the ADHD symptoms around that? Or maybe a combination of both. Have you struggled with forgetfulness?Max: Oh, yes. That was one of the things that drove my mom crazy in particular. It has been a specter over my life — forgetfulness. And like it just built up to such a state where, like, sometimes I would forget a piece of paper. I'd forget a piece of homework. I would forget to do this thing, or I would forget that. I mean, all throughout my childhood.And it drove my mother crazy. She would ask me, "Why did you do this?" or "What happened?" I would tell her "I forgot." And she would either mock me and say "I forgot! I forgot!" like that, or say, "Max, I'm going to get you a tombstone. And it's going to say 'Max Willey, I forgot' on it."The problem was, I thought it was normal for parents to do that to their kids. It's been a point of contention for not just me and her, but me and other people. Forgetfulness is a big issue that I've had to tackle.Laura: I think a lot of times when we talk about people with ADHD and we talk about forgetfulness, I think what we're really talking about is trouble with working memory, which is related to executive functioning issues. People with ADHD, their brain makes it harder for them to have strong working memory.So you've been carrying around this information that you had been identified as potentially having ADHD when you were a kid. You remember these struggles. So what led you to get evaluated for ADHD as an adult? What was the turning point there?Max: Well, it happened actually by accident. Because I was originally being treated for depression. There was a period between 2016 and 2019 where I had a serious personal decline. I was stretching myself thin with freelance work. I was working with someone who was very cynical and exploitative, working for them almost every day, on top of working nearly full time at a part-time job. And also starting a master's degree, which I didn't finish.It was a lot. And throw in multiple failed personal relationships into the mix. That pushed me over the edge. But it was a slow decline, I would say, from the early 2010s. And I just got to a point where I was showing all the classic signs of depression. Lack of interest in things, rumination, ideation of suicide, poor sleeping habits, poor eating habits, not exercising. It all just balled into one.And I was just like — I was in such a hole that I was just like, I can't keep going on like this. I need to get help. And so I went to the doctors. My general practitioner told them what was happening and they immediately fast-tracked me to a therapist's office. I was screened for different symptoms, and they identified ADHD. Plus generalized anxiety and depression.Laura: How did it feel? That's a lot of diagnoses to receive at one time. How did that feel?Max: I felt actually relieved. As crappy as I was still feeling, I was happy that I was getting help. I have this range of like mood from like 100 being like, you're living your most ideal, perfect life. It's heaven. Zero? Dead. You're gone. You don't exist. Like I went from 40% to at the end of the treatment, around 70%. So far, more stable. Still a long road ahead.I went through group therapy for ADHD. I actually met some people that I knew that I was surprised that they were there. I was like, What, you're here? You're one of the best people in your class. Like, that's a surprise. And they're like, Yeah, like, likewise. You know, I just. I didn't expect you to be here. It was fun to have that kind of camaraderie. And it was very nice to know that a lot of the symptoms that I was having were quite normal.Laura: Right. And to see them and people, it sounds like, who you admired or were in your eyes high achieving. Probably a good reminder that you can thrive with ADHD.So one thing I remember, Max, when we had our initial interview, you were like, my view of ADHD isn't all sunshine and roses, right? I remember you talked about the glorious curse, which I guess isn't totally a negative thing because you've got this word "glorious" there. I want to hear you articulate what you mean by ADHD as a glorious curse.Max: Absolutely. In my research of ADHD, I have heard more people than I can count call it a superpower. And the term just seems so saccharine sweet and just so like Oh, we're going to have fun. Whee! You know, just like — and I just was like, it's not a superpower. I mean, it's a curse.Because here's the thing. The glorious part is it opens up vistas of creativity and energy and dynamism that people just don't understand. Like when you are fired up, you get fired up. You just can do all the things. You feel like you have divine inspiration. The gods have just shone down a light upon you, and you are at the very center of what you were meant to be. It shows you that, off in the distance, off on the horizon. This glorious city in the clouds.But between you and that is a deep valley of sharp rocks and obstacles that you have to get through to get there. It's like the ADHD part oftentimes makes it impossible — or not impossible, but just very, very difficult and tedious to get there. So that's where the curse part comes in.It's glorious in that you can see the potential of who you can be, or even just things that just light your heart on fire. Brings out the best in you. But at the same time, it's like trying to sprint up a mountain with the ball and chain. So that's how I feel about that.Laura: Very — really beautiful imagery that you use to describe that, too. It really resonates with me. I feel like a good manifestation of this glorious curse is something that you described to me when we originally talked, which you actually had mentioned as being a big "aha" moment for you: writing your thesis.Max: Yes. I took my very first bachelor in humanities at the University of Oslo. And usually you have a year and a half to do your thesis. They clear your schedule and they just say, Just do that. And I took almost three years to get it done, because it was all of the things that hamper completing a task through — following it through.It was just the task was a bit complex. I was doing it by myself. And the longer I went without contacting my advisor, the more pressure I felt to deliver. And also fear of his wrath that was just building exponentially with every week, with every unanswered email. I just felt the pressure increase. And so I delayed. And I finished it and handed it in four minutes before the deadline. And that was my last chance.And one of the biggest symptoms, one of the biggest things that stood out to me was — aside from the things I mentioned, where the putting the pressure on myself and expectations from my advisor and just this pressure to deliver this perfectionism — was it again boiled down to my reading comprehension was too slow for my brain. And it — just like sitting there in a quiet environment, just like reading sentence after sentence. And then just my brain felt like I was holding my breath underwater. And you know that feeling when you just try practicing holding your breath for as long as you can, and it starts burning in your lungs? That's what it felt like in my brain.So it was frustrating. It was very, very difficult. It was a topic that I loved, too. And it was it was just so interesting. But the thing is that when you get into the nuts and bolts of it — doing the actual work — that's when the passion can evaporate. That's when you'd be like, I have to set up a schedule to actually do these things. I have to write two pages a night. It turns into work. It goes from being a passion and an interest to being an obligation.You know, a lot of people can say like, Oh, that's childish. Then you're not serious enough. Or you know, grow up, which I've heard before. But it's like that's the point for a lot of people where they fall off. And then it's like, I can't do this. I'm giving up.Laura: This race to the finish line. Handing in your thesis four minutes before it's due. I mean, that to me is exactly what you described with the glorious curse. You're sprinting up a mountain with a ball and chain. All of this was happening during what you called that decline time period that led up to your ADHD diagnosis, right?Max: Just before, I would say. Like it was this in-between phase where I graduated from my second bachelor, in media and communication studies. It started around there where one personal relationship ended very badly. And then I just had a string of bad relationships. And it really affected me because I had a lot of guilt.But the depression part — one of the main like points where I've ruminated on in that dark period was just like, You never follow through. You never complete tasks. You're never going to be anything. You are going to be surrounded by a graveyard of dreams. And that's essentially what I was feeling at the darkest points. It was like being awake at three in the morning. So tired but my brain is just on. And I was just thinking of all the points in my past where I could have changed things. Or thinking about how I'm never going to amount to anything because I never complete anything.Laura: Wow, that's really powerful. So you've got anxiety and depression kind of feeding off of and ruminating on what are essentially ADHD symptoms. So you're ruminating about your difficulty with these kind of every day.Max: Yes.Laura: Executive function skills, completing tasks.Max: And even up until that point, before my diagnosis, I just thought it was a personal failing. I just thought it was me. I had notes dating back to like 2011. Like "goals for my life" type thing. One of which was "Learn to be consistent. Follow through on tasks." Like on sticky notes I would have on my chalkboard.Laura: Oh my gosh, I did the exact same thing.Max: Yeah. God, why are we like this?Laura: Well, these like, giant ideas I've evolved from, you know, sticky notes to, like, emailing them to myself because that doesn't put any pressure on you to have an email to yourself that says, "Figure out next five years." Or like, "Get better at focusing" or whatever. It's like kind of this all-or-nothing approach, right? Where it's like we're not allowing ourselves — maybe because it's so difficult to break down tasks — we're not allowing ourselves to take these things in chunks. And instead it just looks like this big, giant gray cloud of things we will never get to.Max: The I think most destructive aspect of it, from what I've experienced, is like the older you get, the more that you rely on friends, on your financial stability, your health. And all of these things needs to be maintained. So I mean, that has always been a challenge for me.And like especially in the last few years when I was diagnosed with depression, you know, there are times where you just want to vent to a friend. You just want to meet up with someone that you feel safe with. And you just want to talk about everything that's on your mind, talk about what's in your heart.But for me, that was difficult because I realized that I have not maintained friendships, because I was under the presumption that if you get along with someone, you know, that connection will be there. Right? And I mean, at least in my twenties, I never really considered that maintaining friendships required effort. I always was under the presumption, very naive presumption, that like, oh, we've got chemistry. It'll come back like that. No.And that really was a bitter awakening in the last few years, just wanting to talk to someone who isn't your therapist, who isn't your significant other, who is not your parents, and just dump all of the stuff out on a table. And not just like talking about your problems, but also growing, you know, becoming an adult parallel with your friends. That's something that, you know, is very, very important, I think. And no one tells you that you have to maintain friendships. Growing up, at least no one told me. So that's — that was one of the things that really hit me in the teeth.If you find people of value in your life, you do need to touch base with them often. It's just I've never been good at consistency. So it's more of just the repetition of that effort has always been difficult, because then that falls into the routine. It's less novel and interesting, and it just kind of falls into the routine. Like the thought of maintaining something is just like, ugh, work. It's automatically in a work category and then it no longer becomes fun. I mean, this limiting mindset, that's kind of how I approached friendships for a while.One of the things that I realized just very recently, and this has been in due part to therapy, is that the reason why I was so averse to things like maintaining effort, maintaining fitness, or maintaining financial health or, you know, maintaining friendships, is that my presumption of what it takes to do that work has always been skewed. It has been contaminated by a perfectionist mindset, an all-or-nothing mindset, that any effort that you do has to be turned up to 111 in order for it to count.And with that corrupted mindset, every time I thought of doing work to maintain these things, I immediately was just like, I'm too tired. I cannot do this. Because I assumed that the effort it took was this monumental effort. But something that my therapist told me was that — it was more of a rhetorical question. She asked me, like, with those things, those assignments at work or the effort it requires to maintain certain habits or hobbies. Could you have done any better there and then with the knowledge that you had? And I was like, obviously not. I mean, I did the best I could. And she's like, There you go. You did the best you could with the knowledge you had.And that changed my mind is that maintaining things, half of the battle is showing up. And just recently, the realization that came to me was that I don't need to turn everything up to 11 in order for it to count. Sometimes it just needs to be showing up. Or sending a message to a friend. Sending them a funny meme or gif or saying, Hey, what's up? You know, just like what's new in your life? These little things, they count more than the gigantic, titanic, Herculean efforts. And with that, it's very liberating. And with that, it's more hopeful, I think.Laura: So, Max, you're here talking with me now, which means that you have a level of self-awareness. You're aware of your diagnoses. You're aware of what you're struggling with. I know that you've got coping strategies in place now. And am I right that you even can joke about some of this now?Max: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. I mean, that's the best part is just like my girlfriend. We've been together for five years, and she knows better than most the struggles, but also the humor. And we joke constantly about it. Early in our relationship I told her that, like, I envision my ADHD as a tiny baboon in a control center. He's watching stuff on his phone or got like 20 tabs open. And he's just like going from one thing to the next. He pushes a button here and there. Or he gets hyperfocused on one thing and just like lets the whole thing just melt down.It's easier sometimes to laugh at it — only if you are trying to fix it. Like if you're trying to actually deal with it, then yeah, sure, you can laugh. That's the thing. Like now I'm a grown-ass man, you know, it's on me to fix this.Laura: Do you need to fix it, or do you need to cope?Max: Well, I mean, yeah, maybe a little bit of both. You know, find strategies that work.Laura: I like that better, Max. You use the language that you want, but I like that better. I'm just telling you.Max: Yeah, OK. Healthier.Laura: Max, it's been really nice to talk with you today. I really appreciate your perspective. I love the imagery, the beautiful images that you use. And I appreciate your realism. I think it's necessary.Max: Thank you for this opportunity to talk with you. Just one parting point I think I'd like to make is just that life can be very beautiful with ADHD. I'm not trying to have this like, "oh, poor me" type mentality, you know. And it can be a very powerful tool if wielded correctly.My hope for other people is that they do have an opportunity to find a balance between the gloriousness of the curse so that they can actually get to those perfect vistas that they envision for themselves.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 ways executive function challenges can impact math

    Executive function skills play a big role in math success. They allow kids to apply the math knowledge they already have, plus build on it to acquire new math skills. So when kids have executive function challenges, they may run into trouble with math — even if they understand it. Here are some common difficulties.1. Rushing through math homeworkSome kids with executive function challenges can be impulsive or impatient. They may rush through homework, which can lead to errors. With math problems, kids need to have a good understanding of the directions. But kids with executive function challenges may not take the time to really look at the assignment or think about what they’re supposed to do. Instead, they tend to just dive right in.For example, they might assume that the math homework involves addition because it did yesterday. In their rush to get started, they don’t notice that in today’s assignment, all of the problems have a minus sign, not a plus sign. So they end up getting all of the answers wrong.2. Having trouble applying new math rulesLearning new things involves shifting gears as the activity changes. That takes flexible thinking skills. It also requires that kids stop and reflect before they respond. But kids who struggle with executive function may fixate on what they already know. They might have trouble stepping back and seeing that they may need a new strategy to complete a problem.Let’s say they’re learning fractions. Kids who have trouble with flexible thinking might insist that ¼ is bigger than ½. They know the rule that 4 is bigger than 2. But a bigger number as the denominator means that the fraction is smaller. They have to keep this in mind and use a new rule for deciding which is larger.3. Giving automatic answers to math problemsSome kids with executive function challenges respond to problems based on habit. Instead of looking at each situation as different, they give an automatic response. When it comes to math, they may get stuck on approaching equations in a certain way. And that can lead them to ignore crucial pieces of information.Let’s say they’ve been practicing addition. They answer 3 + 3 with the number 6. Then they see 3 − 3 and write down 6 for that one, too. It’s not that they don’t know how to do subtraction. But when they see 3 and 3, they have trouble overriding their tendency to answer based on the first thing that comes to mind.4. Getting lost in the middle of complex math problemsKids rely on working memory to keep up with complex math problems. They have to hold on to information — like a formula, an answer from a previous step, or the steps of the problem itself — so they can use it later to complete the problem. But kids with poor working memory skills can get lost in the problem.Here’s an example. When doing long division, kids who have trouble with executive function can forget that they need to bring down the remainder after subtracting. They can’t remember what to do next and give up, or they come up with a wrong answer.Also, kids might have to show their work on complex math problems. Often they’ll use scratch paper to show the steps they’ve taken to arrive at the answer.But kids with executive function challenges can struggle with organization. They may scribble information across the paper in a disorganized way. And that can make it hard to move from one step to another with the correct information.5. Not catching mistakesKids have to use self-monitoring to keep track of how they’re doing as they go. Some kids with executive function issues have trouble stepping back and reflecting on their work. They may not realize their answer doesn’t make sense and that they should go back to see where they went wrong, or get help.Some kids with executive function challenges might finish their math test early. But they don’t go back and check their work, even though they have time. They’re so confident that they did everything right that they see no need for a second look.How to helpIf executive function challenges are getting in the way of a child’s ability to do math, there are strategies that can help.Start by having the child look over the assignment. Then, have the child underline the directions and highlight key pieces of information. Those include things like directions or even plus and minus signs. Find out if the child knows how to do the problems or needs help. Encourage asking questions like, “Is this the same as the last problem, or is it different?”Next, help the child create a personalized checklist of things to look out for before deciding that the work is done. Finally, teach how to check the work, either with a calculator or by reversing the operation to see if the answer is the same.For families: Get more ideas on how to help your child with tricky math homework. If you suspect your child has trouble with executive function, but aren’t sure, you may want to consider an evaluation. For teachers: Learn about classroom accommodations for executive function challenges.

  • ADHD Aha!

    ADHD and creativity (Kenny’s story)

    Kenny Friedman is a creative director with ADHD. ADHD-related boredom is his superpower. Kenny Friedman is a creative director with ADHD who’s driven to constantly do more and better. And yet he calls himself an underachiever. (Stay tuned to the 18-minute mark for a mini “aha” moment on that.)Kenny has been diagnosed with ADHD twice, but his true ADHD “aha” came after his second diagnosis. He realized ADHD is actually what makes him so creative and great at his job. Yes, ADHD has its ups and downs. But for Kenny, his ability to get bored quickly allows him to always be innovating and improving his ideas. Kenny grew up as the class clown and still holds that title today. Join a conversation with Kenny and host Laura Key on ADHD and creativity. Also in this episode: Is there a connection between punk rock and ADHD?Related resourcesADHD and creativityADHD and boredomThe 3 areas of executive function Episode transcriptKenny: I realize that my superpower is ADHD. It's a good thing for me, and it's the thing that helps me create and get bored and then come up with something new and see things at that speed that I need to to do what I do. And I realize for me, I need ADHD to be the person and the creative that I am. Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host. I'm here today with Kenny Friedman. Kenny is a creative director who lives in the Chicago area. So let's get started, Kenny. Tell me about your diagnosis. When were you diagnosed? How old were you? What was going on at that time? Kenny: I actually had two different diagnoses — two different points in my life. The first one was when I was about 11 or 12. It was right around when people started realizing that ADHD was a thing, and I was that classic underachiever in school. And I got diagnosed. It was weird. I don't really remember it because it was so long ago. But I remember going to neurologists and things and going through all the tests, and then I was prescribed medication at that time. So I think I started that in either end of fifth grade or the beginning of sixth grade. Laura: And around — I don't want to give away your age if you don't want to. But when was that? What year? Kenny: That would have been like '85? It was either in fifth or sixth grade. So it was around '84, '85. Laura: OK, great. Well, I'll do the math at home later. I'm just kidding. Kenny: I'm like 23. Laura: Yeah, 23-year-old Kenny. So you said you were acting out. Can you give me an example of how you were acting out? Kenny: I mean, I've always been and still am, I guess, in a way, the class clown. And I think it came from — I was bored in school and I needed to entertain myself. So anything from cracking jokes to doing weird things to like literally getting up in class and walking around. I would often leave class. I would, you know, finish an hourlong test in like 15 minutes and then leave for 45, just because I couldn't sit there. So that was the only thing I knew how to do is to go to the bathroom or pretend to go to the bathroom for 45 minutes. And, you know, after a while, teachers didn't like that, I suppose. Laura: Was it teachers who were noticing behavior like that who recommended an evaluation? Kenny: Yeah, my teachers definitely noticed it. My parents probably did. I know my mom, she's older, so she's never been confirmed, but she's more ADHD than I am, I would say, just based on the way that she is and her impulse control and things like that. But it was really obvious. And then if you compare me to my sibling, we were very different. So I was definitely the one that was acting out and getting in trouble. Laura: How did your parents react to your evaluation, getting diagnosed? Were they mad at you for acting out? Were they supportive? Kenny: My parents were definitely mad at me for acting out because I was underachiever. Because I would test well in the tests that I was taking and honestly leaving early. But I was then not doing as good in school. So that was a constant struggle. And because all my report cards would say — literally all of them said — if Kenny spent half the time on his school that he did acting out, he would be getting straight A's. So they were supportive. But that said, they were also going through a divorce. So I don't think I was the focus, and I think having me diagnosed was a nice thing for them to understand and it was one less thing for them to have to deal with during that. Also, my father was a pharmacist, so he got it right away, the need for medication and all that. Laura: At that age, were you aware of what you had been diagnosed with? Did you have a name for it or not? Kenny: When I was diagnosed, I mean, it was — so again, it was a long time ago. And I think my belief is that that's when the conversation about ADD and ADHD started. So I was given both of those titles. I had no idea what it was. There was another kid in my class who went through testing, and I remember they said, "Oh, no, he doesn't have ADHD. He just eats too much sugar." Which I don't even know if it's a thing, but you know that. Laura: It's a mess. Kenny: Yeah, that's what was going on at the time is he didn't have it, so it must be sugar. So I didn't really know what it was. I knew that I was different than everybody else because I was the only person that had this at the time. I didn't really understand it. I know that it spoke to the reasons why I was doing the things I was doing, but there was no understanding like there is now. You know, I literally — I don't think I met anybody else with an ADHD diagnosis until I was maybe in college, or maybe after. Laura: How does that make you feel? You said you felt different. Did you feel like you stood out? Did you feel like you fit in? What was going on with you? Kenny: I mean, I've always not necessarily cared about fitting in, so it didn't hurt in any way. I was always in scenes, that — I mean, I was a punk. So not fitting in was probably a good thing. Laura: That's really interesting to me. I had a little kind of flirtation with punk scene in high school and college, and I don't know, is there any connection to like ADHD mindset and the punk scene as you see it? Kenny: Probably. I bet you a lot of the people in the punk scene skew towards ADD or something, right? Because in that scene, there's a huge DIY movement. And I do think for me, one of the things that I see is I got bored, so I would need to do things myself. So it wasn't necessarily DIY, but I think a lot of people I know that are musical are, you know, ADD, ADHD, and there is that whole movement of doing things yourself. And I think when you have that brain that's always going, you need to find something to do yourself so you can put that energy into something good and kind of stop the madness of the brain. Laura: That's really interesting. I never thought about it that way. And when you said that, the first thing that came to my mind is like how short punk songs often are. Kenny: Yeah, they are short. I say that I like to go see a band whose songs are like two and a half minutes long, but then like they're like under 2 minutes. And again, I don't know if it's just the music that I like, but one of the worst musical experiences of my life was going to a Dead show, because then you go, and there's this song that's 5 minutes long, and it just goes on forever — for like 30 minutes. And it's like, I get it. And it's technically a great solo, but that could have been seven songs. Laura: Yeah, move on. Kenny: Yeah, I'm done. And that gets to that — like, again, I don't know if it's connected. I only know my brain as my brain. But yeah, I get bored. Like the world that I'm in right now, you know, I'm in the creative field and that ability to get bored quickly helps me. Probably helps musicians. It probably helps other people with ADHD that are in the creative field, because they get bored quickly and they do their thing and then they move on to the next thing and they keep growing. Laura: I went to a Sonic Youth show in my teens and there was like 10 minutes of plucking the same guitar note. And then I was just like, I about lost my mind. Kenny: It's funny you say that because you'd think I'd like Sonic Youth because it was in the whole thing, but it was — their songs are too long. Laura: They're so long. They're great. They're so long. Yeah. Well, I mean, we're obviously like making a lot of bleeps here about ADHD in music, but it's still interesting to talk about it and like it pertains to your life and to a smaller degree, probably my life. When we first started chatting, you mentioned you had two diagnoses. And so we talked about the fifth or sixth grade one. What's the other one? Kenny: When I was in sixth grade, I was diagnosed and they prescribed Ritalin for me, and it didn't really work for me. I probably only took it for six months. From 12 to about 27, 28, I was unmedicated, and I just learned how to be me off of medication. But then I got a job at a brand and it was — the life there was very corporate. And that was a time where I realized, OK, having ADHD is a hurdle to me. Like all throughout my life, it wasn't necessarily a hurdle, but in this case it wasn't a good thing. It was very obvious that I was very different. So I went and I got diagnosed again because I wanted to get medicated for it so I can work through like these long meetings and the expectations that the people at this company had for me. I was prescribed medication and it helped me in that environment, helped me in that corporate environment. And I think most people are in environments where it does help them. But for me, in this creative environment where I had to keep coming up with ideas, I felt like that part of my brain just wasn't firing on all cylinders. So I stopped taking it again. Switched jobs for many reasons, but I haven't felt that same sense of "You're not the same" since I left that job. And I think it's because in my industry, in the creative industry, in the ad industry, the marketing and all that kind of industry, my gut is — and again, this is stereotyping — but my gut is that a lot of people from generations before and generations before in that industry, the creatives, probably a large amount of them had ADHD. I know quite a few now that do, so there are built-in checks and balances that help them. And what I mean by that is we have producers and project managers to make sure that we get things done. I mean, that's not all they're doing. They're doing a lot more. But like one of the things is I have a producer who used to send me meetings to look at certain emails because they knew that I wouldn't look at my emails because I'd forget. And that's what they do is they help drive the project along. And I think they're that part of the brain that I just don't have access to, which is organization and, you know, some of that executive functioning that we talk about. Laura: Yeah. Shout-out to all the producers and project managers. Jessamine, I think you may be listening since you produced the show. Shout-out! Kenny: I literally can't do my job if I don't have a good producer, project manager, because it's something that I can't do. Or I can do but it would take so much time and energy out of it because it's just not native to me, because it's not the way that I think. And so I always look for that strength of somebody. And anytime I have a great one, I sell more because it's just not the way that I'm wired. Laura: Between those two diagnoses — getting diagnosed with ADHD as a child and then again as an adult — setting aside that ADHD medication works really well for some folks, not for others. It wasn't a fit for you, it sounds like. But like through all of — through that journey, I mean, where was your "aha" moment in all of that? Kenny: I think my "aha" moment — my true "aha" moment — was after my second diagnosis. And I think I realized that my personal superpower is having ADHD. I think it helps me in my career. The moment came when I realized that ADHD is an advantage for me, because I think it helps me ideate better, faster, come up with more ideas. I think a lot of it has to do with I get bored really quickly. So, not that I necessarily need to throw something away, but I want to make it better because it's already boring me. So if it's boring me, is it going to bore the person that's looking at this? I can come to conclusions quicker. I don't need all the information. So I think for me, having ADHD and self-medicating with a lot of coffee works really good and has helped me get to be who I am. Laura: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I do — I want to talk more about being a creative director. What you're saying makes a lot of sense about the creativity that's needed. Like it's a good thing almost to be bored and to want to try new things and to try new and artful ways to develop things. Is there a fine line there? Does it ever lead to a obsessiveness about like, OK, I'm done, I want to try something new or I want this to be perfect, I need this to be perfect. Does that ever come up for you yet? Kenny: Yeah. You can never get perfection in this industry. And what I mean by that is everything can always be a little bit better. And you have a timeline because something has to go out and you know it's going to go out Friday end of day. So there's this compulsive to get it better and you always want to get it better, and then you have to be fine with it at Friday at 4:59 because you know that it needs to get out. Like we always want to get stuff better. Then at some point we have to be like, OK, this is good enough. It has to get out or it's not going to air. So up until there, we're spending all our time to make everything perfect and great and awesome. And at some point the color isn't going to go to absolute perfection, but nobody is going to know because it's absolutely beautiful already.Laura: So you sound pretty levelheaded about it. Kenny: Yeah. I mean, it's part of the process and you have to — you know, I've been doing this for a long time and you have to learn what battles to fight. Laura: Maybe I like obsessiveness and like that fine line. I guess it's more of a curiosity that I have, and pardon my bluntness because I think I do this too. But do you ever think you maybe drive people nuts? Like, if you want it to be perfect, then you get so hyperfocused on something that other folks may not be paying attention to? Kenny: Yes, I absolutely drive people nuts. My creative partner would probably describe me as completely exhausting, but also super creative and collaborative. But I wake up going 100 miles an hour and I drink a lot of coffee. I think it settles me down. He thinks it doesn't, and he's on the West Coast. So by the time he wakes up, he's got a hundred slacks and he gets hit with all this stuff. I'm either like off or on, and I'm usually not off. And when I'm on, I'm going like a hundred miles an hour. That said, I think I'm super empathetic to people and pretty open, pretty collaborative, and I'm still that class clown and goofball. I try to pare it back, but that's never going away. And I speak over people a lot. How are those things? Yeah, yeah. I always speak over people and I'm like, it's not because I'm not interested. It's not because I'm trying to shut you up. It's just I can't not do that. Laura: Kind of like what I just did to you. Yes. My bad. How are you the class clown today at work? Give me an example. Kenny: I will constantly, on calls, take screengrabs of my creative partner and Photoshop him into weird situations and then send them to him. I do it because it's me goofing off and trying to make him laugh. But it's also — I can pay attention to this meeting that we're having and not do anything. You won't get my full attention, but if I'm doing something that I don't have to think about — and for me, Photoshop is something I really don't have to think about, so I can absolutely screengrab him, go find an image of Pirates of Caribbean, put him on the Pirates of Caribbean ride and create a little gif. And to me that's just such a natural thing and doesn't really take a lot of thought. I'm able to focus better on the meeting when I'm doing that than if I was just like focusing on the meeting. Because right now I'm playing with a Lego. I have all these Legos here and I need to be doing something if I'm going to actually focus. Laura: I want to hear more from you about ADHD and creativity, because we've been bouncing around it and I know it's related to your "aha" moment. So I just want to hear more from you. How does ADHD and creativity intersect for you? What does it feel like? Kenny: It's hard for me to take ADHD and creativity and disconnect them. Ever since I was a kid, I was into drawing and then I got into photography and then I got into art direction. But I've always been doing something creative. And I think it was a way to have my brain work. As a kid, I was always able to concentrate if I was drawing. Or in college, when I was going to school for photography, I would literally spend all day in the darkroom and working on the tiniest thing. I could do that all day and just work on one image for 10, 12, 14 hours. So for me, it's probably something that helps rein in my ADHD. Like I've been doing what I've been doing for over 20 years now, creative direction, art direction. And that is big for me, because it keeps my brain interested. And like I said, the checks and balances that we have — the people like producers and project managers that make it so I can stay in this business because they help me create by giving me that structure. That's pretty amazing to me, because I think a lot of times people with ADHD, you know, we're underachievers. We're not seen in school as somebody who's going to become something, going to make it. We're seen as the problem. I know, you know, I switched schools in 10th grade and I went to a school that was more — I'd say like any school in "Pretty in Pink." And I was like Duckie. And then they actually called me Duckie. But, you know, it was that kind of, you know, everybody was put together. And every — like my graduating class, they had to send letters to every school saying, like, even though this person's in the bottom 20% of the class, they still have an A, you know, a 4.0. But most people have a five or, you know, because they took all these extra credit classes or whatever it was. And so that's what I was living with. So I was seen as somebody who like "Kenny is not going to make it." And I think that's what people saw in me. But through what I do and the magic of this industry and the kind of people that it brings, I've been doing this for 20 years and I love it. I'm still going and I'm probably creating better stuff now than I was 20 years ago. Laura: Yeah, you say that and it makes me want to ask: Do you really think you're an underachiever? Kenny: Yeah, I do think I'm an underachiever. Laura: You do? Kenny: Yeah, I still do. I always think I can do better. I have these projects, too, that I take on that I want to do. I made these shirts that were like using letterpress type and printing with it, kind of a different way to print shirts. And I wanted to create something from that, like a company from that. And I got bored. So I sat. Like sold like 100 and I was like, yeah, did it. Bored. And I've done that several times where I create something. My wife laughs at me. I have a new one that I'm doing and she's like, OK. It involves working with fire hose. So I just bought like a bunch of fire hose coming to my house on Friday and I'm going to cut that up and work with it. But she knows there's a good chance that that fire hose is going to be one project and then lay, you know, somewhere. So, yeah, I still have that underachiever, underdog mentality. And maybe that's what keeps pushing me, but I absolutely feel that I underachieve. Laura: Yeah, we don't really know each other. But listening to you, I don't hear underachiever. I hear someone — the things I wrote down you were saying were "I always want to do better." That's not what an underachiever would say in my mind. What you described was somebody who has trouble completing tasks, which is an ADHD-related behavior, but not a willful lack of like trying. Kenny: Yeah, no, it's interesting because it's kind of making me tear up, honestly, because, like, oh, you know, and I'm thinking about it. And I think to be told that you're underachiever of the things that kids, especially at my age, were told, is probably like not the worst thing that people are being told. But I was told that my whole life. Teachers that had my sibling in class is like, why can't you be like them in math? And I think I was technically better at math, but math bored me. So like, that's why I can't be better. And I took drums for a while and I was never as good. So I like quit drums after eight lessons because I knew I'd never get to be as good as them. So I've always kept that. And so maybe it is true that the things that you were told as a kid, like never get out of your brain. But yeah, I still carry that. Laura: I see that. I think that's really common to carry the things that we're told as kids. That made me emotional as well, honestly, Kenny. Because that's just — I don't know. If you're on my side of it, I'm just — all I'm hearing is like desire to achieve. Desire to achieve, but not for like grandiose things, but because that's just who you are. You're a creator, you want to do things. So to me, it's like the opposite of laziness and underachieving, you know? Kenny: And then honestly, part of it is while I know that we've created something awesome, you know, we concept and it's like awesome. And we're now shooting and it's awesome and now we're producing it and editing and it's awesome. But there comes this point where I'm still into it, obviously, but I'm also interested in what's coming next. What are we doing next? So while this being completed, I care more about what's coming next. So again, my brain doesn't stop. I want to know what we're going to do because I'm already bored of this. So like, let's get on to this and let's make this next thing that we do even better than the thing that we're working on now. Laura: Except for this interview, though, I'm sure you're never thinking about the next thing in the midst of. Kenny: No, I'm not thinking about the next interview. I'm actually thinking about my son who's about to make a lot of noise on his drums. Laura: I was just going to ask you about your son, actually. Do you think that your experiences growing up, like, has it molded how you parent today? Won't you be more gentle with him than perhaps others were with you? Kenny: That's a complicated question, to be honest. So like I said earlier, my parents got divorced, I guess officially when I was 12, and I didn't want to see my father. I had to technically on and off for a bit. So kind of talk about how like the years that mattered, I didn't have a dad. He is that age now. He's 12. So this experience is in a way new to me, but I'm seeing it from the flip side. And he is a mini me. He is into music more than art, but he does like art and he's got some executive function problems. He's a little bit of a class clown. He was not diagnosed with ADHD, but he was on the border. And you look at him and he is exactly like I am. And so it's really interesting. But I also try to not throw my views onto him. I try to let him just be him and not put him in the world of what I am, even though we're very similar. Laura: Sounds like he's really creative, like you. Kenny: Yeah, he definitely. He's very creative, but more in a musical sense. I mean, he was playing drums and he just added bass and hopefully he'll be in a huge band and make billions of dollars. Laura: Yeah. Make sure his songs aren't too long so that we can focus on them. Kenny: That's a great thing is he also likes the music I like and so they are shorter songs, and we talk about that. And my wife likes pop music and she liked the Dead back in the day. So he definitely doesn't have that, which is nice. Laura: Kenny, it's been such a pleasure to talk with you today. I really enjoyed it. Kenny: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for your time. It's really good talking to you, and thanks for having me on. 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 ways executive function challenges can impact reading

    Executive function plays a big part in different aspects of learning to read. It’s key to mastering the alphabet and understanding what words mean. When kids have weak executive function skills, it can create difficulties with reading. Here are five ways executive function challenges can affect reading.1. Executive function and letter recognitionKids with executive function challenges may confuse letters when they’re learning the alphabet. That’s because once they’ve learned something, it can be hard for them to leave it behind and adopt new rules.Take the letters P and R. A child who learns P first may not recognize that R is similar, but has an extra stroke. The child may still reflexively see it as P. Focus also plays a role. Kids need to be able to sustain attention long enough in order to realize that an extra stroke turns a P into an R.2. Executive function and sounding out wordsNew readers need to be able to sound out unfamiliar words letter by letter. That can be tricky for kids with executive function challenges. To decode a word, they have to keep the letter sounds from the beginning of a word in mind as they work through the rest of the word.But trouble with working memory, a key executive function, makes it hard to hold on to that information. This can also impact overall understanding of a text. Kids may be so focused on decoding individual words that they lose track of the meaning of what they’re reading.3. Executive function and words with multiple meaningsWords that have the same sound and spelling but a different meaning can trip up even advanced readers. Kids have to use flexible thinking, another executive function skill, to understand how a word can be used in more than one way.For example, if kids come across the phrase a fork in the road, they’ll first consider the literal meaning. Then they’ll decide if it makes sense based on the context. Is there really a fork in the road? Or does it mean something else in this case?Thinking that way requires executive function skills. Kids who struggle with those skills can have a hard time putting aside the literal or most common meaning of words and thinking of an alternative. They may have trouble using context clues, like other words and pictures in the text. Because of that, they may not understand what they’ve read. Or it may take them longer to get through the text than it takes most kids.4. Executive function and passive voiceWhen kids first learn to read, most sentences are in the active voice. “Sophie pushed Kevin” is an example of active voice. Eventually sentences become more complicated. “Kevin was pushed by Sophie” means the same thing. But kids who have trouble with executive function may misinterpret the sentence to mean that Kevin pushed Sophie, rather than the other way around.Understanding the correct meaning requires holding the idea of “Kevin” in their mind as they continue to read to find out who or what is doing the action. This places a greater demand on working memory. It takes them longer to read the sentence, and there’s a greater chance they won’t remember what happened correctly.5. Executive function and focusLearning anything new takes effort, and reading is no different. You have to sit still, pay attention, and ignore distractions. Kids with executive function challenges often struggle with focus. Trouble concentrating for a period of time can make it hard for kids to decode. It can also make it difficult to figure out the meaning of what they’re reading.How you can helpLearning to read requires many skills. Kids with executive function challenges may need extra practice to master the basics of reading.Parents and caregivers: If your child is struggling with reading, talk to the teacher about ways to help. You can also talk about getting an evaluation for special education. An evaluation can help you better understand what’s causing your child’s trouble with both reading and executive function.

  • ADHD Aha!

    What ADHD feels like and sounds like (Yinan’s story)

    Voice actor and theme park performer Yinan Shentu nails what ADHD sounds like. Hear how he re-read a sentence so many times that he knew he had ADHD. What does ADHD sound like? What does hyperactivity feel like? Yinan Shentu, a voice actor, theme park performer, and world-class collector of hobbies, hits the nail on the head with his impressions and descriptions. Yinan was diagnosed with ADHD last year after starting yet another new hobby: stock trading. When reading about trading, he realized he was re-reading the same sentence seven times and still couldn’t remember what it was about. One online ADHD test later, and he felt certain he had ADHD.A lot of his childhood made more sense after his diagnosis. He would act out all the time to keep from being bored — even a clown talked to him about his behavior! Now, Yinan’s ever-changing job performing as different characters fits right into his fast-paced brain.Join this conversation between host Laura Key and Yinan. They also talk about fidgeting, and how starting a task is the hardest part.Related resourcesImpulsivity in childrenThe 3 areas of executive functionADHD and creativityEpisode transcriptYinan: I remember reading this same sentence seven times in a row and still not understanding what the heck that I just read. Just one sentence. I don't even remember if it was a short sentence or long sentence. I remember reading it, getting to the end going, "Wait, what did I just read?" Reading it again. Nope. Didn't get that. And then finally thinking, "I don't think this was normal."Laura: From the Understood Podcast Network, this is "ADHD Aha!," a podcast where people share the moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. My name is Laura Key. I'm the editorial director here at Understood. And as someone who's had my own ADHD "aha" moment, I'll be your host. I'm here today with Yinan Shentu. Yinan is an actor and theme park performer who lives in the Orlando area. Welcome, Yinan.Yinan: Thank you for having me.Laura: OK. I want to get started with you explaining to our audience, our listeners, what it is that your job is, because it's just so interesting. I think you should describe it as opposed to me.Yinan: It's always funny trying to describe it, because part of it is we're kind of limited by what we do in the realm of talking about what exactly it is that we do. So I'll start by saying regularly I am a performer in the theme park world in central Florida. So I perform for the Walt Disney World Resort, and I perform for Universal Orlando Resort. And I've been a character performer, actor, since about 2013 or so. And I bring to life some of the magical Disney friends that you see in the park, as well as some at Universal as well. I do several actor roles at Universal and just many, many different things over the years.Been a stilt walker. I learned to still walk at Disney and then I was a stilt walker in their shows. I was a puppeteer then a puppeteer at Disney, and then was out in L.A. studying with some really, really cool people out there as well. So I've done some puppet stuff out in L.A., which is really, really cool. One of the most challenging things I've ever done, honestly. Let's see, what else? I mean....Laura: I mean, do we need more? I mean, that's amazing. Stilt walking, puppetry, theme parks. And I'm sure our listeners have already noticed how amazing your voice is. And I know that you can't give specifics about what voiceover work you may or may not have done, but....Yinan: Well, I — something that I just did recently came out. I was in an animated, my first ever animated debut, which is — I'm still processing it. Amazing to be able to say, "Oh yeah, I'm in an anime on a streaming service that's THE streaming service for anime." So that's pretty mind-blowing and I haven't exactly processed it yet, I don't think.Laura: Seems like a fun job. I'm sure that it's also very challenging in lots of ways. But I want to use this as an opportunity to say your "aha" moment that led to your diagnosis last year in 2021 was something job-like that you were doing on the side. It was really just something that was not your full-time job. Can you tell me about that?Yinan: I guess it was kind of a hobby. I was looking into the stock market and trading and investing — and more specifically, swing trading and day trading, because I was really interested in the statistical side of that. And also for me it was — this is the shortest path between executing a decision and making money, and I'm very practical in that sense. So it was like, OK, well this is definitely not the easiest, but the quickest way. That immediate reward payoff was really, really cool.So I delved into the subject. I was listening to podcasts, I was reading books, I was watching YouTube video, I was joining a Discord community, taking in everything I possibly could. And I remember reading a couple of e-books. I finished one or two, and then the next one that I was reading — there was a bit more dry material in there. I mean, imagine that: stock trading, dry material. But for me, this was something I was still very interested in. Except I was having these moments where — and you know, with the diagnosis later I realized that I was having these moments all throughout childhood — but I would be reading the same thing multiple times. Or I'd be reading a section of a book and realizing that I have no idea what I just read. So I'll go back and I'll read it again.Or what would happen more often in childhood was, "Oh, I'm such a fast reader!" But I'm really not. My brain is just skipping parts of the text that it doesn't find interesting almost automatically. And then picking up to the next paragraph or whatever that catches my attention. And then I'll reread the Harry Potter books back when I was a kid. I would reread them all the time because like, "I don't remember this part. Oh, I don't remember this part. I don't remember this part." And then, you know, several decades later, finally being like, "Oh, ADHD, that's why."Laura: We need to unpack that a little bit. That was — I mean, because stock trading. Not at all like your full-time job, first of all. Very different world. You got interested in it. There are so many ADHD-related threads there, right? So you got into stock trading — probably, like the intensity of it, the quick payoff of it.Yinan: Well, it was during quarantine, working in a theme park. They were very, very slow to reopen. So I love being creative, and I love putting creativity into things. But then having grown up in a very traditional Chinese upbringing, I'm also pretty good with numbers and analysis. One of my good friends once referred to me as "a computer with a sense of humor," and I thought that was so accurate that I put it up on my social media, like the little description section underneath your profile picture.Laura: I love it. It's your call sign: computer with a sense of humor.Yinan: It really is. It really is. I'll wear that, I'll wear that medal proudly.Laura: OK, so you latch on to this hobby, interest, etc., but it sounds like it was actually the reading about it that started to tip you off and leads you towards getting evaluated for ADHD — the reading, and the getting distracted while reading. Is that accurate?Yinan: Yes. And getting distracted while talking, apparently, because obviously I ramble.Laura: It's all part of the show, you know, it's all good.Yinan: I explicitly remember: I read the same sentence of this book seven times in a row. And every time I would get to the end, and I would go, "Nope, not a clue what I just read." Go back to the beginning. Read it again. Nope. Not a just clue — seven times I counted. And that's the point where I was kind of like, I never really thought that I had ADHD. Growing up in the '90s, being able to catch that sort of thing was not necessarily as advanced as it is now, so.... I didn't do that poorly — just don't ask my parents — in school.So there was no indication of, oh, this kid might have ADHD. Except for like some bad behavior problems which I never really understood, but now I totally do.Laura: What led from that reading the same thing over and over again to getting evaluated for ADHD?Yinan: So it was at that moment where — and my partner and I had always kind of talked, not seriously, about, you know, you might have ADHD, you might, you know, we're both a little neurodivergent. But ADHD was never one of those things that I really I even pictured. And so a couple of days later she said why don't you take this online ADHD test that was made by somebody that, you know, wasn't somebody trying to sell something. It was just a — like a medical-adjacent sort of website or whatever.And she's asking the questions. And I'm listening to her ask them like, "Yeah. Doesn't everybody do that? Yeah. Doesn't everybody do that? Yes." And it wasn't even like — I don't like to speak in absolutes. Sometimes when, you know, those like strongly agree, kind of agree. I never really like to hit strongly agree unless I'm like 110% believing in what that is. So I never like to go to extremes. But hearing those questions was like, yes, definitely, yes, definitely, strongly agree, strongly agree all the way down.And then it was like, "Huh. I've had ADHD." And the more I thought about it in the days, weeks, months, years to come, the more I was like, oh my God, this makes so much sense. This is why reading tends to get a little difficult for me, because if I have to — especially like academic reading? Having to force myself to slow down and read for understanding and mentally not being able to. That explained a lot about being in school, being — like for example, senior year of high school. I was in all AP classes except for English. I was in ones-level English. Not even honors. Ones-level English. And I was like, I don't understand. This is very funny. Because like on the SAT, critical reading was my worst subject. And yet I want to be an actor. I really, really wanted to be an actor.Laura: You know, you don't even know. I went to journalism school. I got my master's in literature, and yet I struggle with that exact same — I don't know why. I'm such a masochist. But I totally get it. It's like I'm re-reading, I'm re-reading, I'm re-reading. OK, so you go through this online questionnaire and then you you reach out to your doctor, you get diagnosed, etc.?Yinan: Right after that, I set up an appointment with a psychiatrist. He started me on some medications that were — one was, I think, going to last for like maybe three or four hours. It wasn't a stimulant. I don't remember what it was called at this point. But I did remember feeling it working, because the first night I took it and then I went to go read again, and then I went out to the living room and I told my girlfriend I was like, "I feel slower."And it was a good thing, you know, because it was like I had been running. And someone looked at me and went "Hey, you don't have to run. You can walk." And that's what my whole body and mind felt like. And it was so. It was so strange. I'd never felt that before. I always thought what I felt was normal. We always think that our normal is normal. And then it clicked in my head: I probably need to be on stimulant medication. So I took that and it was like television static that's constantly in your brain. It's like a TV that is constantly stuck on that channel playing — I don't know if television static still a thing nowadays, but....Laura: I'm sure you can find it on YouTube, Yinan.Yinan: Yeah, exactly. If you don't know what it is, YouTube it. It's like the volume just slowly gets turned down as medication is activated. And then it's like there's no sense of I am constantly bored. I constantly need stimulation. And it was like night and day. It was so different and it made it so that I could actually focus on things that I wanted to focus on. And I hadn't felt that way since ever, I guess.Laura: Overall, I mean, I think the most important thing is that you realized that you needed support, right? And for — in your case, medication being that support. And you, like many people, went through this kind of journey with different types of medication, and I've been there myself. Someone asked me recently, what does ADHD medication feel like? And I said, "It feels like nothing. I feel — I only feel it when I stop taking it."Yinan: Exactly. I don't feel stimulated. I feel like there is a burning hole in my brain that it's always like, stimulate me, stimulate me, stimulate me. And I'm just shutting it up.Laura: How else did getting diagnosed with ADHD help you, if at all?Yinan: I said to myself — a lot — "I'm lazy, I'll never do that." Which at the time I thought, this is me being realistic. I'm just fully submitting to the fact that I am a lazy person. That is part of who I am. And maybe one day that will change.But now I realize it's not that I'm lazy, it's that I have a combination of neurodivergent traits that make executive function very difficult to recover. I think I don't have any of this energy to go do — I mean, there have been times where I just didn't feel like getting out of bed all day. Even though it was as easy as — like I would get up and eat or whatever, and then it come back and just lay down because that gave me dopamine.Laura: That in and of itself is huge. You know, it doesn't mean you're going to automatically be able to do all the things that you want to do. But just, it's a little bit of self-kindness and a little bit of self-awareness. Yeah.Yinan: Yeah. And sometimes I still can't. But it's also the fact that I've — I know that I can because it's not doing the thing. It's starting the thing. Because — I would give this advice to my partner and she would be like, "I know that a shower makes me feel better, but sometimes I just can't get myself to do it." And I'm like, "OK, go stand underneath the water and just stand there. And if you feel like turning it on, turn on the water. And if you don't, then get out of the shower." And 99 times out of 100, even when you think about it, you're like, I will, I would probably turn on the water in that case.If the idea of doing a whole task — it doesn't even have to be a big task. It could be a task that takes five minutes. And you procrastinated for two months because you think it's going to be so much worse than it actually is, which it usually, always is.Laura: Oh, totally. My husband will be like, "Why are you so stressed out?" I'm like, "Because I have to do X." He's like "X take like 5 minutes." I'm like, "Yeah, but I have to actually start it."Yinan: Getting started is really the enemy of — I know, personally me with ADHD, and I know that if something that even I enjoy feels like it's going to be a chore, it feels like it's work. Because I've stopped a lot of projects before. I used to be a YouTuber. So there's another hobby, a YouTuber for about a year. And people really like my content, and then I got burnt out on it.Laura: What other kinds of hobbies did you get into, or have you like started and stopped quickly? So we've got this — we know the stock trading. And your job in and of itself kind of allows for a lot of hobbies, but they're not hobbies because you're getting paid for them and you do them consistently.Yinan: Professional hobbies.Laura: Professional hobbies. The best kind of hobbies, the ones you get paid for.Yinan: The job really does help, because I think that when I first started entertainment with Disney in 2013, I said, I'm just going to do this for a couple of years, you know, get it out of my system and then go and get a big boy job. And every year I just kept getting something different. And there's something new, and learning a new skill, and then being asked to use that skill in a show.And then I eventually ended up leaving Disney for the first time and then going Universal and learning different stuff there as well, and realizing how much of a world was outside and then discovering voice acting. Because when I was younger I wanted to be an actor. But because I am of Chinese heritage, when I was growing up, all the actors did not look like me unless it was a very specialized role. I'm getting off topic again.Laura: But wait, I have to ask you a question. There's a reason I was smiling. I heard a clicking. Were you fidgeting?Yinan: No.Laura: Were you playing with something?Yinan: Yes. Yes, I was.Laura: No, I love it. I get it.Yinan: I was, well, I ripped apart this paper clip and I was like, well, that's useless now.Laura: I'm going to give you a glimpse into my mind as the interviewer here. I was going to talk about your hobbies and the things that you've tried. And then I was going to slowly transitioning on into hyperactivity and fidgeting. And you did that for me, so I appreciate that.Yinan: Well, I want to answer your questions, because I feel like I haven't been doing very much of that.Laura: You're doing amazingly. You're doing great.Yinan: A lot of the things that I learned were performance based because not only were they interesting to me to do, but also to — it helped with my job. I mean, I can't count how many years I've just been speaking in random accent just because they're fun. And now I get paid to do a British accent now. So that's the wildest thing that's ever happened to me.Laura: Do it!Yinan: Oh, now I'm nervous. I can't do it now — click back and go, "Oh no."Laura: I'm sorry. I actually have another question where I'm going to ask you to do a voice not from a character, but in a different kind of way.Yinan: Sure, sure. I'm less sensitive about that. Oddly.Laura: If ADHD were a voice, what would it sound like?Yinan: Oh gosh.Laura: You can marinate on that.Yinan: That's a really good question. For me, it would just be — so if you picture the static. Everything. That's kind of how I describe ADHD is just television static, but it's just that and then a little voice in your head noticing every tiny little thing that happened around you. And there's a pencil over here and there's the paper clip over there. Oh, don't forget, you didn't do the dishes. And when you get back, you need to make sure that you, uh, you make sure you sweep the ground. And that one — remember that one little spot in the, uh, in the kitchen that, well, the kitchen. The guest room — the guest room also needs some cleaning up, too. And remember, you left that thing over there when you were eating. You should really stop eating in your recording session. You're not supposed do that. Not supposed to, you're not supposed to do a lot of things in your life like, oh, I don't know, be late for work, but you're always late for work. You get the point.Laura: Bravo. That was very, very good. And sounds like me this morning.Talk to me about hyperactivity. What does hyperactivity feel like in your body? Especially as an adult. I'm going to ask you about when you were a kid, if you can remember that. But first. Because hyperactivity kind of shows up differently in teens and adults than it does in kids.Yinan: Hyperactivity. Having it as a regular thing feels like when you — maybe you've had this experience or your viewers have had this experience. Feels like when you're out with friend or whomever. And one of them just all of a sudden reaches over and forcefully grabs your leg. To stop it shaking. And you didn't realize it was shaking in the first place. And you're like, "Oh, sorry." Because you're making just a little like noise every time or whatever. That's kind of the best way that I would describe that.Laura: I had never thought about it that way. That feels like someone stopping you because you can't stop yourself anyway.Yinan: You don't even realize that you're doing it.Laura: Or you don't even realize that you're doing it. Exactly.Yinan: Like it's like a comfort thing. Like a lot of times when I've been through some rehearsals recently and they've said, when you get out there, just park and bark. They call it a park and bark because I would get out there and I would start talking and I would stroll from one side of the stage to the other side of the stage and then back to the middle of the stage. And it's like, no, just stay still, because people are getting seasick looking at you.Laura: Do you remember, were you hyperactive as a kid?Yinan: I think so, yeah. I think all the bad behavior problems — because I wasn't trying to act out, and I never really understood what people meant. And I was relatively young. I don't remember exactly how young. I remember being told by multiple people that I had behavior issues. I was told by a clown at a birthday party. For some reason, I distinctly remember that. The clown going "We need to talk about your behavior today."Laura: I'm dying. Oh my God.Yinan: And I just remember thinking, "I don't know what that means, but OK."Laura: Did you — OK. Composing myself. Did you grow up in Orlando?Yinan: No, no, no, no, no. I grew up kind of all over. I was born in Beijing, and I went to the States when I was maybe 3 and change. So I spent most of — the large majority of my life in the United States. I've lived in Long Island. I've lived in, let's see, New York, Indiana, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania. And then now I live down in Florida because I did the Disney College program and never left.Laura: And how did your your parents perceive your, quote unquote, behavior issues?Yinan: That's a good question. I don't remember. I don't actually remember, because I don't remember if it was anything more than just a oh, you need to be better behaved. But what does that mean to a kid? You don't know. I'm guessing — I don't remember any specific instances of behaving badly, but I'm guessing it was because I was always bored. And so I needed to do something to entertain myself. And when you're a kid, the line between things you should do and things you shouldn't do are kind of not really there yet. So I did a lot of things. It was like, no, don't do that, stop it. You're annoying. Stop.Laura: Did you ever get in trouble at school? I know that you have a history of getting in trouble with clowns. But did you ever get in trouble at a school event or in class?Yinan: Probably. I remember one instance where we — I was in grade school at the time. And I remember just chucking — it was like the mulch chips. We were sitting outside and I threw some mulch chips at someone. I didn't pick up a fistful and like just, you know, pitch it in their face. It was like I tossed it over at them at their leg, and they didn't like that, rightfully so. And then they told on me and I got a talking-to and I just remember — I don't know why I did it.Laura: Yeah. You were impulsive.Yinan: Which was kind of the running theme with all of the bad behavior instances. And now, years and years and years later, I'm like, oh, OK.Laura: Did you ever feel like kids treated you differently?Yinan: So in high school, I had friends that I think were friends with me because yes, they did like me, but also I was part of a speech and debate team in high school, and the speech team hung out with each other a lot. I think I said and did things quite a lot that were very cringey, were very like, how do you not know that you shouldn't say this or do this or act like that? Not very socially aware of a lot of things. But I think part of that was growing up in the very traditional Chinese parenting environment, especially with my mother, maybe in combination with the ADHD, I don't know.But when I was around people, I really, really, really wanted to impress them and have them think that I was so cool and the best and all of this. And I tried way too hard and I wasn't really socialized very well. So the things that I would think to say, I would say them and they'd be like, that didn't come out the way that — that sounds really stupid now. And I think it drove people away from like necessarily wanting to be friends with me, rightfully so. Because it was like when you say weird thing consistently, not a lot of people necessarily want that in their life, you know, especially in high school.Laura: I wonder if some people liked hanging around you for that reason too, though. I mean, just sitting here talking to you, you're so funny. The things you say are unexpected, which I love.Yinan: Yeah, that's from years and years of socialization and years of improv classes and years of working on my self-esteem. So I always said that from high school to college, I changed almost overnight. Because I got to college for the first day of music camp, which is about a week or so before orientation started. So we were there before all the other kids were, and we got to do all, you know, musical theater stuff. And it was awesome. I had none of the issues that I was just speaking about — needing people to like me so desperately that I unconsciously try to be funny, try to be cool, try to be these things. And failed miserably. And I didn't have really any of that.Just right off the bat, I was friendly with people. I met new people. Having a blank slate also worked really well. I met so many new people and made friends with almost everybody to the point where when orientation started, I was — I felt like one of the cool kids. Like I already knew everybody and I didn't feel socially anxious at all. So it was probably the upbringing and being far away from a very traditional Chinese mother was an awakening. And also not having that sort of stress really, I don't know, allowed me to blossom, if you will.Laura: I don't really know how to end this interview. I just know that I've enjoyed this interview. It feels like a moment in ADHD time of bouncing from really interesting topic to really interesting topic and having a really good time. So I guess I just want to say thank you. Thank you for coming on and sharing your story with me.Yinan: Yeah, thank you for having me. This is, I mean, I agree. This was very, very fun, if not a little scatterbrained like everything else in my life.Laura: I mean, same here, Yinan.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.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. 

  • Trouble with executive function at different ages

    Executive function is a set of mental skills that act as a command center in the brain. They help us plan, manage time, control emotions, and get tasks done. They’re also important for staying focused and solving problems. So struggling with executive function can have a big impact on kids.Trouble with executive skills is common in kids who learn and think differently. And all kids with ADHD struggle with it.Executive function skills develop over time, and at different rates. So it can be hard to tell if what you’re seeing is something to be concerned about or if it’s common for a child’s age group.For example, lots of middle-schoolers are overdramatic. And lots of high-schoolers have trouble managing time when there’s so much on their plate. It really depends on if the things you’re seeing keep causing problems. This list can help you spot trouble with executive function in kids.Trouble with executive function in preschoolGets frustrated easily, might throw things instead of asking for helpHas trouble following directions and often forgets what to doHas lots of tantrums over things that seem minorActs out instead of expressing feelingsStruggles with basic classroom tasks like finding things in a cubby or packing up at the end of the dayRaises hand but doesn’t remember the answer when called onIs very stubborn about doing things a certain wayAnswers questions in a way that’s off-topicTrouble with executive function in grade schoolStarts a task and gets distracted, then doesn’t finishCan solve a math problem one way but gets stuck when asked to solve it a different wayFocuses on the least important thing you saidMixes up assignments and doesn’t bring home the right books and handouts needed for homeworkHas a messy desk and backpackPanics when rules or routines change, like going out to dinner instead of ordering in because it’s Friday and that’s pizza nightSticks with a plan even when it’s clear that the plan isn’t workingTrouble with executive function in middle schoolWants to invite kids over but never gets around to scheduling itHesitates to make afterschool plans and instead just follows what the other kids are doingIs still arranging materials in science lab while the other kids are halfway through the experimentHas a hard time starting a big assignment and focuses on the less important details firstGets very upset about seemingly small things, like running out of a favorite snack at homeOften thinks the teacher is being “unfair,” like when told to do work at home that other kids finished in classTrouble with executive function in high schoolHas trouble finishing short-answer tests on timeLoses track of time and is often still “in the middle of something”Hasn’t filled out any of the job applications that have been sitting around for a monthTries to convince you to extend curfew but can’t give any good reasons whyHas trouble working in groups and complains about the other kidsHas a hard time taking and acting on feedbackIs impulsive and takes lots of risksParents and caregivers: If you’re noticing lots of these behaviors, you might want to learn more about ADHD. An ADHD evaluation can help you understand what’s going on. You can also request a free school evaluation to get a better sense of your child's strengths and challenges.There are lots of ways to help with executive function at home, too. Here are strategies you can try.

  • 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

  • What is executive function?

    Executive function is a set of mental skills that include working memory, flexible thinking, and self-control. We use these skills every day to learn, work, and manage daily life. Trouble with executive function can make it hard to focus, follow directions, and handle emotions, among other things.Snapshot: What executive function isSome people describe executive function as “the management system of the brain.” That’s because the skills involved let us set goals, plan, and get things done. When people struggle with executive function, it impacts them at home, in school, and in life.There are three main areas of executive function. They are:Working memoryCognitive flexibility (also called flexible thinking)Inhibitory control (which includes self-control)Executive function is responsible for many skills, including:Paying attentionOrganizing, planning, and prioritizingStarting tasks and staying focused on them to completionUnderstanding different points of viewRegulating emotionsSelf-monitoring (keeping track of what you’re doing)Executive function skills usually develop quickly in early childhood and into the teen years. But they keep developing into the mid 20s. When kids are younger, some may lag behind peers for a while. As they get older, though, they may have fewer challenges as teens and young adults.Dive deeperLearn more about the different areas of executive function.Explore a day in the life of a child who has trouble with these skills.Find out what it means for kids to have self-control.Signs of executive function challengesTrouble with executive function can affect people in different ways. The difficulties often look like the signs of ADHD. That’s because ADHD is a problem with executive function.People struggling with executive skills may:Have trouble starting and/or completing tasksHave difficulty prioritizing tasksForget what they just heard or readHave trouble following directions or a sequence of stepsPanic when rules or routines changeHave trouble switching focus from one task to anotherGet overly emotional and fixate on thingsHave trouble organizing their thoughtsHave trouble keeping track of their belongingsHave trouble managing their timeTrouble with executive function isn’t a diagnosis or a learning disability. But it’s common in people who learn and think differently. Everyone with ADHD has trouble with it. And lots of people with learning challenges struggle with executive function, too.These difficulties can cause trouble with learning. But they don’t mean that people are lazy or not intelligent. People who struggle with executive function are just as smart and work just as hard as other people.Dive deeperRead about everyday challenges for young adults who struggle with executive function.For families: Learn about supports at school that can help kids who struggle with executive function.For educators: Get an evidence-based behavior strategy to help struggling students.Possible causes of executive function challengesThere’s been a lot of research into what causes trouble with executive function and ADHD. Here are two main factors.1. Differences in brain development. Researchers have looked at executive function in the brain. They’ve found that certain areas of the brain develop more slowly in people who struggle with executive skills. These areas are responsible for working memory and emotional control.2. Genes and heredity. People who have trouble with executive function often have family members who do, too.Also, trouble with executive function often occurs with learning challenges.Learning disabilities don’t always involve a problem with executive function. But it’s not uncommon for kids with dyslexia or dyscalculia, for example, to also have difficulty with executive skills. Learn how problems with executive function can impact reading and math.Slow processing speed isn’t a problem with executive function. But it can cause trouble with it. Learn more about slow processing speed.Dive deeperFind out how brain differences can impact executive function and maturity.Get a look at ADHD and the brain.Diagnosing and treating executive function challengesThere’s no diagnosis called executive function disorder. But there are specific tests that look at a wide range of executive skills. These skills include:AttentionInhibitory controlWorking memoryOrganization and planningConcept formationSet shifting (the ability to shift from one task to another)Word and idea generationTesting should be done as part of a full evaluation that looks at many areas of learning and thinking. These evaluations, which schools do for free, are often done by psychologists. But there are other types of professionals who do this type of testing.Some of these same professionals offer treatments and approaches like:Behavior therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Behavior therapy helps people replace negative behaviors with positive ones. CBT helps kids deal with thoughts and feelings and manage behavior.Medications. There are no medications just for executive function, but there are medications for ADHD.School services. School psychologists can work with kids to come up with strategies to help with social skills and behavior management. Special education teachers may work with kids to build academic, social, and organization skills. They may also work on strategies for managing behavior.Organizational coaching. These are consultants you can hire. They’re not tutors who help build academic skills. Instead, they work on building organization and time management skills. They can also work on study skills. Learn more about organizational coaches.For families: Explore our guide to executive function challenges in kids.For educators: Learn about strategy instruction as a teaching practice that can help these students.Do you think you might have ADHD?

  • 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. 

  • In It

    Dyscalculia, more than “bad at math”

    When it’s time to split a bill or calculate a tip, lots of people confess to “not being a math person.” But when does struggling with math mean something more?it’s time split bill calculate tip, lots people confess “not math person.” struggling math mean something more?On week’s show, hosts Lexi Walters Wright Amanda Morin discuss dyscalculia, specific learning disability math. Expert Daniel Ansari, PhD, explains kids dyscalculia trouble understanding number-related concepts, like time directions.We also spend time Lily, teen dyscalculia. hear math challenges pop expected times — like makes grilled cheese sandwiches family.And course hear callers experiences dyscalculia “bad math” often gets overlooked.Related resourcesUnderstanding dyscalculia10 surprising ways dyscalculia impacts kidsMath anxiety vs. dyscalculia: Comparing signsVideo: dyslexia diagnosed often dyscalculia?What “I’m math person” means meEpisode transcriptAmanda Morin: Hey, "In It" listeners. get started today, small important ask: Please take quick survey are, like show far, want hear of. Head Take three-minute survey — really three minutes. That's U dot org slash podcast. thanks. input means much. Amanda: Hi. I'm Amanda Morin, writer parent kids learning thinking differences. Lexi Walters Wright: I'm Lexi Walters Wright, community manager "In It." "In It" podcast Understood Parents. show, offer support practical advice families whose kids struggling speech language, executive functioning, learning thinking differences. Amanda: Today, we're talking helping kids struggle math — like really struggle math. Lily: sometimes I'm certain problem, brain — kind gets stuck. Amanda: Lily. She's 13, she's hard time math long remember. Lexi: Amanda, lots people hard time math. definitely kid, still clam moment need calculate tip. know adults feel allergic Excel documents. Amanda: you've met Excel document allergy. lots us moments. That's called "math anxiety." Lily's dealing different. It's learning disability often called dyscalculia, you'll hear pronounced number different ways. matter way hear pronounced, sort still hear word "calculate" there. dyscalculia, basic, difficulty number sense — adding, multiplication — sometimes visual-spatial skills things, like don't know left right easily. Lexi: thing is, compared something like dyslexia, dyscalculia widely known. leave kids like Lily, it, feeling dumb. Lily: Yeah. kind thought bad math, 12. Amanda: We're going hear Lily bit, mom, Tracie. Lexi: first, asked dyscalculia looks like family. here's say. Caller 1: daughter, elementary school, really struggled reading clock, time classroom. Adding subtracting super difficult. math homework took hours hours caused lot anxiety. Caller 2: Long division — literally nightmare. could handle keeping track every step put every one numbers. Caller 3: bigger trigger us noticing something wrong, though, inability connect idea time passage time. him, everything now. idea tomorrow yesterday really didn't register all. started talking longer spans time, like weeks months, completely bewildered that. started kindergarten, also really struggled idea money. kids picking idea penny, dime, quarter, nickel, couldn't associate different values coins way. Amanda: we're hearing, Lexi, dyscalculia play many ways. Lexi: Yeah, sounds like complicated topic. Amanda: really is, it's exactly specialty. we're turning someone else help us really get grasp it's about. Lexi: First ask professional opinion: dis-CAL-coo-li-a? Dis-cal-CYOO-li-a? say? Daniel Ansari: say developmental dis-cal-CYOO-li-a. know, people vary way pronounce it. Yeah. Amanda: Daniel Ansari professor psychology education University Western Ontario Canada. studies children develop numerical mathematical skills — children struggle. Lexi: Daniel says names dyscalculia, like math learning disability mathematics disorder. Daniel: think used pretty much interchangeably, point thing. find dyscalculia useful hear much dyslexia. contrast dyslexia helps, think, people better understand is. Lexi: would explain dyscalculia someone who's never heard before? Daniel: would say dyscalculia severe difficulty acquiring basic numerical mathematical skills. able judge two numbers numerically larger. also great difficulties learning math facts. Lexi: Daniel says long peers figured two numbers add 10 simple calculations head, kids dyscalculia may still counting fingers. sure, makes math class tricky. dyscalculia doesn't shut kids walk door school. Lily: guess I'll make grilled cheese. Lexi: That's 13-year-old Lily again. lives Kansas City, Missouri. older sister, younger brother, pet guinea pig, Fezzy, named Fezzik "The Princess Bride." Amanda: Lily mom said OK come house see dyscalculia looks like her. Lexi: comes she's math homework, also she's trying make lunch family. Lily: put butter melt microwave doesn't take forever. Amanda: you're making grilled cheese sandwich, you're probably thinking steps requires. people dyscalculia, going long sequence steps row real challenge. Lily: First this, this, kind makes brain tired. Lexi: Lily diagnosed dyscalculia two years ago. that, knew math really hard her — confusing, reading writing always come easily her. Lily: read like 300-page book less day. Lexi: Lily's math troubles go back far first grade. Lily: really long time ago, trouble even addition, took long — takes longer brain calculate things. Amanda: understands now. younger, math struggles made really upset. Lily: would usually cry it, that's do. Yeah, I'd yell, mad couldn't get right. I'd kind start thinking like, "Oh, people this, can't I?" Tracie (Lily's mom): would say things times upset. Amanda: That's Tracie, Lily's mom. Tracie: won't repeat they're true. really herself, mom wants hear daughter, is, know, point 10, 11, view herself, know, it's starting go areas. didn't want think struggle one area means she's awful person. Lexi: hard Tracie, too. Tracie: remember one instance brought home math paper was, know, gotten like half wrong. felt deflated 45 minutes night spending math. thought "Oh gosh," know. getting next chapter's homework I'm like, "Wait minute, we're getting it." kind thought, "What going look like two three years?" Lexi: Tracie studied become elementary school teacher. never plan homeschool Lily, husband decided might best. Amanda: Tracie one trying teach Lily math. matter hard worked it, didn't seem getting easier. Tracie: kept telling "I haven't found right curriculum yet." would start something new, would get really, really excited, like "We going get hurdle. answer going curriculum." couple months, we're still stuck same — place. think us kind feeling — would get emotional, but... know would cry worry about, know, ever... what's going like her, know, she's adult. that's moms do — always go place. So, know, felt like, know, August rolls around every year I'd hope, October feeling gut would sink. know, would think, "Oh gosh go again." Lexi: Even though she's educator, Tracie never heard dyscalculia. says came across

  • Why kids with executive function challenges have trouble with planning

    Planning might seem like a natural process when you have to get something done. But for kids who have trouble with executive function, it can be a big challenge. Things often don’t get done or even started, no matter how large or small the task.Learn more about why many kids with weak executive function skills struggle with planning.What trouble with planning looks likeImagine: It’s 11 p.m. and your child has a paper due in the morning. But there are only a few sentences on the screen, and panic has set in. After staring at the computer for an hour, your child quickly throws together a few paragraphs and then heads to bed.It might be natural to chalk this behavior up to procrastination or lack of motivation. But what you might really be seeing is your child’s difficulty with planning.Planning is the ability to set a goal, think of the steps needed to achieve it, and decide on the order of the steps. It’s a complex process that requires all three areas of executive function.Many people have an easy time planning. But people with weak executive skills may not know where to begin, or what has to happen next in order to reach their goal. So, they don’t get through tasks, even if they’re able to do each step individually.Trouble with planning affects all areas of life. But you may notice the impact most at school, especially as your child gets to the higher grades and has to figure out how to get work done on time.The role of executive function skillsEach of the key areas of executive function plays a role in the ability to plan. A breakdown in any one of them can result in poor planning.Flexible thinking: Kids who struggle with flexible thinking may have trouble coming up with the right steps to achieve a goal. They might get stuck on one step and be unable to think of additional ones or alternatives. Kids may also have a hard time coming up with new strategies or switching from one strategy to another. If a strategy works for one type of activity, kids may want to use it for everything. Say your child likes studying with flashcards. That might be ideal for a vocabulary test. But it’s not good for an exam about a book’s major themes.Working memory: Making a plan requires keeping multiple things in mind at once. Kids with weak working memory skills may have trouble remembering the end goal while also thinking about the individual steps it will take to get there.Putting steps in the right sequence can also be a challenge. You need to remember what came before and what still needs to happen as you put the steps in the right order.Self-control: It takes self-control to complete all the steps of the plan or do them in the right order. Kids who struggle with this skill may impulsively decide to skip the outline and dive into writing the paper. The result is a paper that’s missing required sections.Making a plan and executing it — actually doing the steps — are two different things. For instance, kids may have a great plan in place for doing a book report. But they may not act on it if they can’t resist the temptation to play video games. It takes self-control to step away from the screen and execute the plan.Ways to help your child with planningTrouble with executive function is a lifelong challenge. But there are a number of ways you can help your child get better at it.Ask open-ended questions. Encouraging kids to reflect can help them become better at flexible thinking. When your child is starting a new project, ask questions like:“Did that strategy work the last time you tried it? What might work better?”“How much lead time do you need to get it done? Do you think you’ve left enough time?”“You said you’d have the flashcards done by Wednesday but that’s the same night as soccer. What can you adjust?”Help break down tasks. Have your child use a calendar or planner to map out school assignments and activities. Together, write down the steps with timelines. Create a checklist to mark off tasks as they are completed to help your child stay on track.Look into accommodations. Your child might be able to get accommodations at school. The teacher might break the task into chunks and give them each a deadline, for instance. Read up on more ways to help your child develop strategies for executive function. Find tips to help your child improve flexible thinking and boost working memory. You can also explore ways to help your child gain self-control.

  • ADHD Aha!

    What is ADHD? An expert explains

    Host Laura Key shares a recording of the best explanation of ADHD she’s ever heard. You’ve heard guests’ stories ADHD symptoms…but exactly ADHD? bunch listeners asked ADHD explainer. episode, we’re something different. best explanation ADHD we’ve ever heard comes clinical psychologist ADHD expert Dr. Thomas Brown. We’re posting audio YouTube video Understood here, along commentary host Laura Key. Dr. Brown defines ADHD, shares relatable detailed examples ADHD symptoms, explains ADHD brain. hope enjoy — it’s helpful. Related resourcesWhat ADHD? Dr. Brown’s video YouTubeADHD brain  Episode transcriptLaura: 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 everybody. episode, we're going break usual format. Typically "ADHD Aha!," you'll hear people experience ADHD symptoms, noticed them, attitudes ADHD changed. listeners requested ADHD explainer. want answer question "What ADHD?" show. way, big thank listeners who've left comments written in. I'd love hear you. email us rate us leave us review Apple Podcasts. Tell friends. digress.So thinking make explainer complex topic, realized didn't need create one scratch. Understood already much content ADHD, there's one video particular that's really resonated lot people. video, find YouTube channel, Understood expert, Dr. Thomas Brown, breaks everything need know ADHD. video really gets heart ADHD is, causes it, looks like.Dr. Brown clinical psychologist specializes in, among things, assessment treatment adolescents adults ADHD. long impressive resume, hearing speak got diagnosed ADHD instrumental helping understand going on. It's fair say words sparked lots mini "aha" moments me.So wanted share audio all. I'll popping quick thoughts there, overall, hope helpful enjoyTom Brown: know ADHD, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, people still call ADD attention-deficit disorder, recognized doctors since way back 1902. 1902 1980, little boys couldn't sit still, couldn't shut up, driving everybody nuts. behavior problems.The name disorder changed number times, different formulations. behavior problems. Since 1980, first changed name disorder include words, "attention deficit," we've realized much behavior problem, far problem brain's management system, executive functions.And also learned many people ADHD who've never significant behavior problems. even have, that's usually least it. It's attention problems tend make trouble people, particularly get little bit older expected able manage themselves.One thing that's important clear beginning ADHD nothing smart person is. There're people like super, super, super smart. Others, high average, middle average, low average, slow. treat people like university professors doctors lawyers big shots business.A lot people regular folks, people trouble basics. anything along IQ spectrum still ADHD — nothing smart are. thing know problem, set problems, include wide range characteristics. I'd like today describe characteristics call ADHD, give examples them. talk little bit know what's involved brain course ADHD.One main things people ADHD complain trouble staying tuned. they're listening reading working something, get part it, sort drifts they're back drift drifts again. they're back. difficulty staying tuned. It's similar way problem cell phone, you're area don't good reception. get part message keeps fading out.The thing often problem distracted. Like anybody else, see hear things going around them. thoughts going head. people, something they've got focus on, push stuff way focusing they've got do. People ADHD, it's real hard that.You know, there'll sitting classroom trying listen what's going on, perhaps there'll meeting sitting trying read something write something. somebody drops pencil sort check see pencil go. there'll back task couple minutes, they're thinking TV show saw night. they're back task minute. they're thinking conversation somebody two hours ago. they're back task minutes, they're looking window. Like anybody else time time, they're likely sit watch squirrel go tree little longer somebody else checking traffic cloud formation, guy who's mowing lawn, they're back task minutes. they'll thinking they're going soon thing going over, anyhow? I've got things I've got do, I'm going supper tonight? wonder what's TV tonight.All things coming one time. It's almost like you're trying watch TV got four different stations coming time, one channel. gets kind hard separate signal noise. thing that's puzzling this, really makes difficult people understand is: people ADHD, it's like almost time, always. Everybody I've ever seen ADD — that's lot people — things trouble paying attention, trouble focusing.Let give example: 16-year-old boy saw. goaltender school's ice hockey team. happened day parents brought see day team won state championship ice hockey. they're bragging little bit beginning great tournament day before. apparently good goalie. said he's playing hockey, missed nothing. knew puck every second fast game. Totally top it. kind goalie every team wants. Smart kid. tested way high superior range. Wanted get good grades, hoping go medical school, always trouble teachers.And say is, know, you'll say something shows smart are. We'll talking something, you'll come comment that's really perceptive it's quite impressive. time you're lunch. You're looking window, you're staring ceiling. look like you're half asleep half time. don't even know page we're on. question kept asking pay attention well you're playing hockey, come can't pay attention you're sitting class?Here's another example. lot times parents bring kids see they'll say, no, teacher says kid can't pay attention five minutes. know that's true. watched play video games sit play video games three hours time move. teacher said she's easily distracted. That's nonsense. she's playing games, she's locked screen like laser. way you're going get attention jump face turn TV. it's like here. can't there?Now it's always sports video games. There's people ADHD, they're good stuff. might art they're sketching drawing really getting it. Somebody else they're little, they're creating engineering marvels Lego blocks. they're older, they're taking car engines apart putting back together designing computer networks. everybody I've ever seen ADHD things trouble paying attention, even though almost everything else, they've got lot trouble paying attention.And ask it, say what's this, come here? can't here, here,

  • Classroom accommodations for executive function challenges

    Students with executive function challenges often have trouble planning, managing time, and organizing. Accommodations can help them work around these challenges and thrive in the classroom. Here are some common accommodations teachers can use to help students who struggle with executive skills. You can also download and print a list of these accommodations. Classroom planning, schedules, and routinesPost schedules, directions, class rules, and expectations; make sure the student sees them.Have a daily routine that changes as little as possible.Provide folders and a basket of supplies to keep the student’s desk organized.Giving instructions and assignmentsGive step-by-step instructions and have the student repeat them.Use attention-getting phrases like, “This is important to know because….”Say directions, assignments, and schedules out loud.Check in frequently to make sure the student understands the work.Give simple and concrete written and spoken directions.Grade based on work completed, not points off for work not completed.Let the student use speech-to-text (dictation) technology for writing.Introducing new concepts/lessonsHighlight key words and ideas on worksheets.Give a short review or connection to a previous lesson before teaching.Allow different ways to answer questions, like circling or saying them.Provide a rubric that describes the elements of a successful assignment.Share the test format ahead of time so the student can focus on content.Give the student an outline of the lesson.Give notice (when possible) about schedule changes.Building organization and time management habitsUse organizers and mind-mapping software.Help the student create a daily to-do list to track assignments.Use an assignment notebook.Provide an extra set of books for the student to keep at home.Break down big projects into smaller pieces with more deadlines.Provide colored strips to place under sentences or equations when reading.What’s next?Do you have a student who you think may have trouble with executive function? Take a closer look at the different areas of executive function and the skills they affect.Do you think your child needs accommodations? Explore tips for talking to the teacher about your child’s executive function challenges.

  • How’d You Get THAT Job?!

    How starting a creative small business fit my ADHD and dyscalculia

    Lindsay Miguelez has ADHD and dyscalculia. College wasn’t right for her, so she took a shot at starting her own wedding photography business.When you have ADHD and dyscalculia, you need lots of tricks for keeping up while running a business. Taking advantage of her smartphone is just one of the tricks Lindsay Miguelez uses. Like so many of us, when Lindsay was growing up, she was told that she wouldn’t always have a calculator in her pocket to help with math. Thank goodness that was wrong!It took seven years of struggling in college for Lindsay to decide to focus on wedding photography. Today, she’s in demand for her whimsical, romantic style. Of course, she still faces doubt and fear of failure. But she knows that sometimes you just have to say yes and figure things out later. This week on How’d You Get That Job?!, explore how you can take a passion and turn it into a career. Hear about Lindsay’s journey, and get her tips for starting a small creative business.Related resourcesWhat is dyscalculia?Dyscalculia fact sheetEntrepreneurs who learn and think differentlyEpisode transcript Lindsay: Maybe because I grew up performing, I love that, you know, we have a start time and it's go, go, go. And things have to keep moving. You can't pause. You've got to keep going. When I was tested years ago for my learning disabilities, they actually found that I had a super high processing speed. Um, and so I feel like because of that, I just love, I love the fast pace. I just love the go, go, go.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.Have you ever thought about running your own small business or making a passion into a career? Our next guest, Lindsay Miguelez, turned her love of photography into a thriving business as a wedding photographer. But it wasn't easy. Lindsay has ADHD, executive functioning challenges, and a math learning difference called dyscalculia. In this episode, we're going to talk to her about her learning differences and how she got her small business going. Welcome to the show, Lindsay.Lindsay: Hi.Eleni: So, Lindsay, I know that you're a wedding photographer. What is your favorite thing about your job?Lindsay: Well, there's a ton of things. I think just having the freedom to make my own rules. I like to say that a lot. I mean, obviously I'm serving my clients. I have my couples that I love dearly, and I'm providing a service for them, but just really being able to take my business in directions that I want it to go in, that I know that I have, you know, where my strengths are and where my weaknesses are, and where, you know, I, when I started my business, there were things that I tried to do that I just came to the realization that just were not going to work out and weren't benefiting me. So just being able to take my business in the direction that I want it to, and just not having someone make rules for me and telling me, you know, what to do.Eleni: Yeah, definitely. Is entrepreneurship something that you were always interested in?Lindsay: Actually, no. Um, my dad's an entrepreneur, but I just never, ever thought of that. I was gung-ho on going to college, and I was getting a history degree. I just kept my creative, you know, things like photography and dance, um, just things that I was going to keep as a hobby, and I never thought that that would ever amount to any sort of career.So I was very focused on school, which at the same time was doing horrible in and having the most troubles, but it wasn't till I made the decision to stop going to college that I was going to pursue what I really wanted in life, what I was passionate about. And, you know, I wanted to always, I knew since I was little, that I was not meant for a typical nine-to-five job. I knew that I wanted to do something that I truly loved. I felt like I looked around at people who got their, you know, had their careers, but they just complained about their jobs all the time and they hated it. And I've never been the kind of person that looks at something just for money that, "OK, I'm going to do this because of the money." I want to do something that I love.So it was really, until I made that decision seven years ago to start my business, that I was like, "OK, I'm an entrepreneur. I'm going to, you know, run my own business." And that was very foreign to me. I'd never done that before. So that was definitely a learning process. Figuring out how to do that.Eleni: Definitely. You mentioned that you always knew a nine-to-five wasn't necessarily for you. And one of the things that you love about entrepreneurship is this idea of being able to do what you want and, um, you know, not necessarily have to answer to other people. I would love for you to talk about how that might relate to your differences, and, you know, we haven't really talked about what your differences are. So if you could like introduce what some of your differences are and, you know, if you've thought about how that might connect.Lindsay: Yeah, definitely. Um, so in the fourth grade, I was officially diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder. I was able to easily fall through the cracks because I wasn't necessarily hyper. I was very shy and quiet, so, but my grades reflected poorly on me. So it took a little bit for, um, teachers to take notice. So my mom got me into testing, and the diagnosis was attention deficit.As I progressed through school, and doing more testing here and there, it came out that I had dyscalculia, which is math dyslexia, which I realized was probably the biggest issue that I had in school and just with my learning differences. And just overall, I am a very visual, hands-on person, and I need to teach myself. So, um, having teachers teach me in a certain way, I wasn't able to comprehend. I wasn't able to do as well as the other students, and I really, really struggled. So I think that having my own business, I've done away with that person telling me how I need to learn this.I mean, even with my camera, when I started my photography business, I wasn't an expert with my camera. I still didn't understand how aperture worked. But it was easier because I could teach myself in a way that I knew I was going to learn. And I can learn from mistakes, which is really how I learn. I, once I make the mistake, I will never, ever make it again, but I have to make that mistake first.Eleni: I think it's interesting to think about, you know, you mentioned teaching yourself photography and then having to learn a lot about running your own business, um, and doing that in the style that works for you. And also setting a business up in a way that plays to your strengths. You mentioned strengths as well, earlier, so, I would love to hear like what some of those lessons were, like what were some of the things that you needed to learn about running your own business?Lindsay: Yeah. Oh my gosh, there is a ton, but just having a creative small business, really learning how to put yourself out there. And there's so much fear that comes with that. I thought, you know, what, what are people going to think about me and this baby business? You know, I know I'm not that good yet, and I'm just learning, but I had to put myself out there.Um, so there was a big lesson that I needed to learn in just saying yes, just doing it, just going for it. I always think of the Tina Fey quote. She's like, "Just say yes and figure it out later." And that's what I kept telling myself, 'cause I would get an inquiry for a wedding, and I had not done a wedding myself and I was super, super scared, and I just, I didn't feel confident.And I just thought, you know, of all the bad things that could happen, what if I mess up? But I just said, "You know what, we're going to book this. I'm going to prepare myself as much as I can. And then of course, you know, that first wedding, I learned a ton just about how the day works, you know, different lighting situations with my camera and everything. So there was a lot of fear I needed to put aside and just put it in the back of my head and just really go for it. And I find myself doing that even today, even though I have a well-established business and I have people willing to hire me and loving my work. There are still things that happen that I do get scared. And I think, "What is this person going to think? Or what if I fail? What if I don't do a good job?" And I had to keep reminding myself, "We're just going to say yes. And we're going to think about it later. We're just going to do it." I mean, even this podcast, I was super nervous, but I'm just like, "We're just going to do it. I know it's going to, it's going to be fine."Eleni: I really enjoyed the way that you phrased that, because I think a lot of people, when they think about like starting anything new, can feel like a really daunting thing, but it's really humbling to think about, well, no one really knows what they're doing until they try. And, um, you know, all of the learnings are so unique to, I'm sure, like your own unique business in your own unique situation. So I'm sure that you're learning, like, you know, what you need to learn for yourself personally, and that may or may not relate to, um, to everyone.So you mentioned ADHD and dyscalculia. Are there any challenges that come up that are related to running a small business, and those differences?Lindsay: Yes, definitely. It's definitely difficult with attention deficit when I have a lot of administrative work. And since I am the sole runner of my business, I do everything. Absolutely everything — emails, accounting, the contracts, paperwork, and also, you know, going out in the field and, and shooting and working with clients. And that I have a very easy time doing. When I am hands-on, when I'm with people, I am completely on, completely focused, and I'm loving every second of it. I can just feel that it's, you know, what I'm meant to do, and this — or just being in person with people and photographing a wedding day, I get a high from it. But when I'm in my office having to edit the thousands and thousands of photos, I — of course, I do love editing because that's the next half of the creative process and producing the images, but it gets hard, being distracted with a house, you know; I have pets, I have laundry, I have things to do.And so, working for yourself, you also need to have self-discipline. And so, sometimes I do wish I had someone who was kind of telling me what to do, even though I love that I don't have anyone in this business telling me what to do. But sometimes I feel like I need somebody to kind of keep me on track because it can just be very overwhelming.I just say my ADD is flaring when I can't concentrate, and I try to do all I can to, you know, to get things done in the time that they need to be done. Um, as far as the dyscalculia, that involves numbers. I always say numbers don't mean anything to me. They don't have any value. And I, I have never understood them. And so obviously, my job doesn't revolve around any math or any computing or anything, but simple things like my prices, like, or the amount someone owes me, I always need to have that written down somewhere because I cannot just pull that from memory. It's even hard for me to remember relatives' ages or birthdays, because it's, it's a number. It doesn't really mean anything to me. So I definitely have difficulty that I, you know, I try to hide when someone's like, "Oh, what's the price of this?" And I just, I just have to make sure, because I know in my brain the numbers are going to get jumbled.Eleni: Yeah. Well, firstly, in terms of what you talked about around, you know, a small business requiring a lot of like time management and organization, we know that, you know, there are like some executive functioning challenges that come with ADHD that relate to organization and time management. So what do you do to cope with that like when your ADHD is flaring?Lindsay: Yes. I definitely have, that's one of the things that I was diagnosed with, like executive dysfunction or I'm not sure exactly the name, but the, I remember in school, they were like, you know, it has to do with note-taking and getting homework in on time and things like that. And that was definitely something that I always had an issue with.So now I utilize my phone, my reminders, my calendar — you know, I know when I need to even remind myself to put an alarm on my phone to start getting ready. But I definitely had trouble in the past when I was first starting in, in that time management and you know, how much time I needed to get from one destination to the other, how much time I needed to really get ready. But now, doing this for many years and having the same types of sessions and the same types of weddings, I utilize my phone and alarms and my calendar to really help me, you know, keep track of time because time is, uh, is another big thing with dyscalculia that's really hard for me to grasp. I always think it takes a lot less time than it does. So in order for me, you know, not to be late, I make sure that I kind of lie to myself and tell myself, you know, if the wedding starts at two, it actually starts at 1:30, and that's the time, you know, I give myself a false time to start and act like that's the starting time. And that way I can ensure that, you know, I will get there on time and I have all my ducks in a row.Eleni: Yeah. I think it's really great to normalize, even though you have a job that requires like some of the things that you struggle with, like the time management organization, you have ways to manage that day to day and that it's still totally possible to like get those things done.We haven't talked too much about dyscalculia on the show, so, um, I think it's really interesting to hear like the way that you describe it around, you know, not necessarily having like a concept of numbers or like being able to understand what they are. And, you know, one of the ways that it comes up is, um, pricing. Do you ever get like any support around, you know, those types of challenges, like either from other people? Are there like coping mechanisms?Lindsay: I think mostly, I mean, the people that really understand how I am with numbers is my mother and my husband. So they are, as far as outsiders, it's very easy for me to just keep these things to myself. I don't want to say it's not a common thing, but you don't usually hear "dyscalculia." A lot of people hear that word and they've never heard it before. They've heard of dyslexia. So I just say, you know, it's kind of like math dyslexia.But you know, as far as in my industry, it's easy to kind of hide those things and something that I felt like I've hid my entire life. I've just known that I've got to pull out my calculator for something, or I have to look at it written down. I'm not going to — if it has anything to do with numbers, I'm just not going to remember. But thankfully in my line of work, I get inquiries, you know, via email. Nothing's ever in person. So I'm able to send pricing and send it already written out, which is good. And then, you know what I have like timeline calls with couples and everything. I make sure I have all the papers out and I see, you know, how many hours they hired me for and how their timeline looks.But a lot of times going through timelines, either creating them or viewing them from planners, sometimes it's hard, too, because it's all different parts of time, and I have to kind of calculate, OK, how much time do I need to do, to do this? Or, you know, what time do they want me to arrive versus, you know, leaving?Um, and a lot of times it's over the phone, and I'm just kind of trying to do the math, you know, to the side really quickly, but sometimes I do get a little anxious and like flustered, um, because I just know that I just can't do mental math easy in my head and quick like other people. And I'm sure no one looking at me is realizing what's going on in my brain and realizing that I'm having a difficulty, um, but, you know, it's just, it's always going to be an insecurity for me. But I'm just glad that phones have calculators and we can have calculators in our pocket all the time, unlike what teachers said in grade school, so.Eleni: Exactly. Yeah, you mentioned, you know, working with couples, obviously that's a really big part of wedding planning, um, and wedding photography. Do you want to talk a little bit about what you like and maybe even what you don't like about working with people?Lindsay: Hm. So, I am an introvert, and I a lot of times like to be alone, but there, um, so you would think that I didn't like working with people. But I think the big crowds of a wedding day, sometimes it can be frustrating with guests because they don't know me; I don't know them. And you're trying to kind of herd masses of people to do certain things. Or you have someone who's like in your shot or walking down the aisle in the middle of the ceremony and, those little things can get annoying and frustrating. And I know it's that way for a lot of people in my industry. Um, but as far as the couples that I get to work with, it has been such a — something I didn't realize that I would love and really cherish the fact that I get to know these people and we become friends or good acquaintances, and they hire me throughout their life and they grow their family and have babies and I get to keep up with them. And it's just, I feel like I have all these friends and, it's just really been, been great to, you know, get to know them and just follow their journey. And it's just, it's really awesome.Eleni: I know that you mentioned early in the conversation that it also gives you an opportunity to be really creative. And, you know, I imagine that a lot of couples have like a very clear vision of, you know, what they would like and what they would want their photographs to look like. Um, how do you help like bring that vision to life and make them feel really special?Lindsay: Yeah, so I really try hard with my consistency to produce the same quality of work and the same style, because there's a lot of different styles in wedding photography these days. I'm very, very up-front with my style, so I make sure that when someone wants to hire me that they do love my style and they like what I produce and they want the same thing. They really trust me with the creativity and to produce, you know, what they're looking for.Eleni: How would you describe your style?Lindsay: My style is light and airy. I like it very crisp and clean. Actual film photography is still a thing. A lot of people are surprised about that. I still shoot digital, but the look of film photography is, is gorgeous to me, but in weddings, I need to see what I've shot. I need to shoot digital. I'm not ready to make the jump to film, but I try to emulate, um, that style, that, you know, just kind of whimsical, romantic style so when, so that when my couples look back at their day, you know, all they feel is obviously happiness from the memories, but I want the photos to portray that as well.Eleni: Can you talk a little bit more about what you enjoy in — on the day of the wedding? I'm sure that a lot of people have misconceptions about what a wedding photographer does. Do you want to talk a little bit about what it looks like on the day?Lindsay: Yeah. Yeah. I look at it as just like a big production, maybe 'cause I grew up performing. And so I love that, you know, we have a start time and it's go, go, go. And you know, things have to keep moving. You can't pause. You've got to keep going. When I was tested years ago for my learning disabilities, they actually found that I had a super high processing speed. Um, and so I feel like because of that, I just love, I love the fast pace. I just love the go, go, go. And then I love seeing my couples just relax once they hit the reception, because the ceremony is over and, you know, being in front of the crowd is over, and they're just, they're ready to party and they're ready to have fun. And it's just awesome watching them experience the best day of their lives.Eleni: Aw, that's so sweet. I also love that you really love the fast-paced nature, and that really relates back to, you know, the way that your brain works and your differences, in terms of having a high processing speed. So I love how that all like tied together. Last time we spoke, you said that you were in college for seven years. Why do you think that it took you so long to come to that realization?Lindsay: Yeah, I think about this a lot that, you know, "Oh, if only I had started my business earlier" and "I should have started it earlier." I think that I just never saw a way to do it. I never saw any examples until I was seven years in. My now-husband and I, we had just moved in together. We were dating and — but we were reaching that age where a lot of people were getting married. And so I started seeing other people, you know, posting their engagement photos. So when I decided, hey, I love photography. I see these people running their own businesses, working for themselves full time, being able to do photography, but they're doing it with weddings and portraits. So I got a job at a portrait studio in the mall thinking, you know, "They will teach me how to do this." And, so I did, and they, you know, kind of taught me how to pose, and I learned more about the camera. I only stayed there a couple of months 'cause I thought, "OK, I'm learning enough. Like I want to get this thing going. I have my name picked out. Like, I'm just gonna — I'm just going to go and do this and give it a try." And I did a lot of, you know, free shoots for people. I just contacted everyone and anyone I knew who was a couple or a senior or families to say, "Hey, like, let me take pictures of you. It'll be no charge. You'll get the photos. But I just need to build my portfolio, and I really need to practice."Eleni: That's great. You know, I think for a lot of people there's a lot of pressure, like societal pressure, family pressure, to go down the college route. And it's interesting for you like one of the main blockers really was that you didn't have role models for like people that were doing something different. It wasn't until you saw that in practice that you were able to envision it for yourself. And, you know, we hear about a lot of people that have like a passion or hobby but they didn't believe they can make it into a career. So it's really interesting to hear how you made that happen for yourself, even though it took you a while, you still got there in the end, and it sounds like you've found something that's really compatible with your differences and with your strengths, too, which is really great. Looking back, is there anything that you wish you had known sooner, um, as you were like struggling through school and college?Lindsay: The main thing I was always worried about in college was that, you know, was I going to be successful or not? And that to me in terms was not with money or anything, it just was, you know, doing good in my career but also working a job that I loved. And I really have always had a passion for history, so I knew if I got a job, you know, I would enjoy it. Um, but with college and the way my grades were reflected and how I, you know — all the struggles that I had already faced and that I knew lied ahead in order for me to get my degree, I just, it, it leaves you very insecure. It leaves you feeling like you aren't going to be successful. You're never — you're not going to make it. You're not going to, you know, be the person that you want to be. And it  took me at a very, very low point in my college career to decide to quit. And that was my first, that was what I first did; I first quit. I didn't even think of photography. Like I just said, "I have got to stop."I always wanted to be the person to, you know, fall seven times and get up eight, and just keep going, keep going, keep pushing through it. But it breaks you down the more that you fail, and breaks you down mentally. And so my first decision was to stop. And I even thought, "Maybe I'll go back next semester, but I just think that I need to stop." And so I knew I had to do something else. And so, you know, a lot of times when that's, when it feels like this is your only option, you just go for it and you don't look back or look around or anything. You just look forward.Eleni: Yeah. Do you have any advice to people who might want to start a small business based on a passion or hobby?Lindsay: Yeah. I would say, you know, any of those fears that creep up — because they will creep up; I think you're crazy if you don't have any fears — to put them aside and, and literally say yes and figure it out later. When you get any, take any and all opportunities that you can take. And I always tell people, you know, "If you quit, that's the only way you're going to fail is if you quit." If you continue to go, you cannot possibly fail. I think of the artist Lizzo. She said that at one point like she was working for like Liberty Tax and dressing up as the Statue of Liberty even, she was still pursuing her dream, and she just kept going and she did not stop. And that's how she got to where she is today. And just thinking about if she had just stopped and given up, she wouldn't be where she is. And same with me. I wouldn't be where I am. And I see a lot of people in this industry think that it's a lot easier than it is, and they go all in and then they end up quitting.And really, if you just push past those barriers and those struggles and, um, those downfalls, you know, you will make it eventually.Eleni: Well, thank you so much for having this conversation with me.Lindsay: Thank you.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?!" is produced by Grace Tatter. Briana Berry is our production director. Andrew Lee is our editorial lead. Our theme music is created 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.

  • Why kids with executive function challenges have trouble starting tasks

    Most kids have things they’d much rather be doing than homework and chores. But they also have the ability to put those things aside and buckle down to do the task at hand when they have to.That’s not the case for many kids with executive function challenges, which includes kids with ADHD. For them, starting a task that’s not highly interesting can be tough. And in some cases, it’s next to impossible without extreme effort and incentive.Here are some reasons why kids with executive function challenges may have trouble initiating tasks.Both the task, and paying attention to it, are hard.Kids with executive function challenges often have other learning differences along with trouble paying attention. So certain tasks can be doubly difficult.Imagine if a child with both attention issues and dyslexia gets an assignment to read a chapter in a book and answer questions about it.The task is already a challenge. But the child also has to pay sustained attention to start it and see it through to completion. That can be a painful prospect — and one most kids would want to avoid for as long as possible.Low interest level affects how the brain works.Kids with executive function challenges and ADHD often have a hard time firing up the energy to do tasks they have little to no interest in. It’s not laziness. It happens because their brain functions differently.The brain uses electrical impulses to carry messages from one neuron to the next. These messages help us to notice things, pay attention, and take action. The release of certain brain chemicals helps make those connections.In some kids, the brain doesn’t always release enough of those chemicals. But when something comes along that’s really interesting or exciting, their brain releases a larger amount. This helps them get started and stay engaged with that task. (That’s why some kids can focus for hours on video games but not on homework.)Kids don’t have voluntary control of that chemical release, however. They can’t just tell themselves to get started on the task and make it happen unless it’s genuinely interesting. Or if they fear that something very unpleasant will happen if they don’t take care of this immediately.It’s hard to remember there is a task.Many kids with executive function challenges have trouble with working memory and attention. Working memory lets us hold one thing in mind while doing something else. Kids with weak working memory skills tend to live too much in the here and now. They find it hard to keep future rewards or possible longer-term consequences in mind.Imagine this scenario: A child with executive function challenges is very engaged in building a Lego construction. She also has math homework that she should have done a while ago. Not starting the homework might be a matter of interest level and brain chemistry. But if she has weak working memory skills, she may not even be aware that she has math work. She might not be able to concentrate on her Legos and also keep in mind that she has something else she needs to do.Also, working memory problems may affect how well she can follow directions and sequence tasks. She may avoid cleaning up her room because she can’t remember where to start or what to do next.Past failure makes it hard to try again.Kids often avoid starting tasks if they think the experience or the outcome will be bad. If their work is always seen as inadequate, or if it never seems to get easier, why keep trying? Without even thinking about it, they avoid the task just to avoid more disappointment or failure.How you can helpYou may not be able to make the task easier or more interesting. But there are ways you can encourage your child to get started on it:Acknowledge that the task may not be very interesting even though it’s important.Ask if you can help your child get started (but not do the work yourself). Showing empathy teaches your child that we all do things we don’t want to because the consequence of not doing them can be worse.Help your child keep track of homework materials and deadlines, and figure out the time needed for each task.Avoid nagging or arguing about your child doing the task. Try to keep emotion out of it.Provide an incentive when there isn’t a natural one. After your child has sat down and started working, bring over a snack. Say you’re glad to see your child doing the work, and that you know it’s hard.Normalize the behavior. Tell your child about your own struggles and desire to avoid certain things.Knowing why your child has trouble starting certain tasks can help reduce frustration for both of you. Learn about ways to help kids improve focus and how ADHD medication might help.

  • ADHD Aha!

    ADHD, sleep apnea, and symptoms beyond the DSM (Roberto’s story)

    Dr. Roberto Olivardia is a clinical psychologist with ADHD. While he was learning about ADHD for his career, the symptoms felt a little too familiar. Dr. Roberto Olivardia clinical psychologist ADHD expert diagnosed ADHD adult. learned ADHD career, signs felt familiar: impulsivity, trouble focus, more. procrastinated constantly college mischievous kid. even kicked Sunday school. Once got sleep apnea control, ADHD difficulties became even clearer — wasn’t you’d typically find DSM. (That’s handbook health care professionals use diagnosing things like ADHD.) Roberto host Season 2 Understood Explains, unpacks ins outs adult ADHD diagnosis. also two kids ADHD. Listen episode ADHD Aha! learn ADHD trouble sleeping, plus ADHD time zones (the “now” “not now”).Related resourcesDriven Distraction, Edward M. Hallowell, MD, John J. Ratey, MDHow ADHD affects sleep — helpIs ADHD sleep disorder?Understood Explains Season 2: ADHD diagnosis adultsEpisode transcriptRoberto: So, "aha" moment realizing, "Oh, beyond attention. beyond school." eat food spend money sleep plan activities things made much sense. "aha" moment recognizing ADHD really connected many things.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.Laura: I'm today Dr. Roberto Olivardia. clinical psychologist Massachusetts. He's also Understood expert host Season 2 "Understood Explains" podcast, covers everything need know ADHD diagnosis adults. Super relevant show. show ADHD "aha" moments, know, Roberto, lot folks listening show may wondering, "Should get diagnosed ADHD?" So, we'll talk Season 2 "Understood Explains" get interview. welcome. Thanks here.Roberto: Oh, it's pleasure, Laura. Always pleasure talking things ADHD.Laura: Well, let's get started. diagnosed ADHD adult, right? makes apt host Season 2 "Understood Explains." So, don't start telling listeners diagnosed ADHD?Roberto: So, officially diagnosed 35. However, realized that, "Oh, it, like ADHD," probably 30, 31, know, tell people keep mind, I'm 50. so, young, kids diagnosed ADHD kids pretty serious conduct disorders, probably lot undiagnosed learning disabilities, kids might poor social skills, hyperactive, impulsive.And even though hyperactive, wasn't hyperactive antisocial way oppositional way. mischievous, don't get wrong, within sort boundary, well school, even though hated school. So, wasn't identified back then.So, nothing throughout life ever see affiliation knew time ADHD. Even graduate school late 20s, learned it, frankly wasn't lot, that's indictment particular program. ask lot colleagues this: "How much learn ADHD clinical psychology PhD program?" people say "very, little."So, wasn't patients started private practice, treating issues like eating disorders OCD bipolar disorder, also happened ADHD. suddenly I'm like, "Oh, let learn ADHD," would read it. one things I'm reading it, like slowly, like, "Oh, understand that. Oh, makes sense me. relate that." wasn't much like fireworks epiphany like people, certainly lot patients diagnosed ADHD. familiar sense of, "Oh, me. Oh, yeah, makes sense." actually something validating, felt good about.Laura: signs stories relating most, like angle ADHD? flavor?Roberto: Yeah, think first specifically remember patient sleep apnea. struggling depression. eating disorder also sleep apnea ADHD. reading sleep apnea, thought, "Oh, like lifetime sleep issues." mean, sleepwalker, sleep talker, sleep paralysis. severe sleep apnea, night terrors, name it. So, would read sleep apnea would read connection ADHD sleep, thought, "Oh gosh, makes much sense." So, remember like first angle perspective.And reading executive function issues around procrastination, lot times think past, would think, "Oh, people..." honestly think culturally people still solely see ADHD, person procrastinates doesn't get done. certainly, affect lot people ADHD. part, least school, one always got done. would night. would literally, mean, college running across campus get paper professor's mailbox 5 p.m., mean, that, would get done.And so, started reading that, like, "Oh, wait minute, people ADHD, procrastinate pull off," me. started sort reading broad sense impulsivity, it's like, OK, well, maybe haven't issue this, this, that, always identified knew intuitively addictive personality — anything like like much quickly. And, level, friends growing people issues related it.I didn't see different individuals — even individuals might conduct disorders issues. hung lot kids. mischievous side younger, kind liked little bad. little dangerous.Laura: I'm going ask that, don't worry.Roberto: So, read that, thought, Oh, honestly, much. don't think lot written ADHD '80s, mid '90s. mean, think Ned Hallowell's book, "Driven Distraction" written in, think '94, '95, that's adult ADHD even talked about, kind nuts. like "Where people think went? Like 18 vanished?"Laura: Right. Suddenly executive functioning issues, won't problem college.Roberto: life, right?Laura: Yeah, exactly. So, OK, that's, taking notes. So, number one, ADHD sleep, folks may recognize Roberto's voice actually published bonus episode "In It" talking ADHD sleep "ADHD Aha!" feed, great. want ask little bit that. next thing mentioned procrastination, still getting done. So, like latching onto urgency, sounds like. mind go back little bit ADHD sleep?Roberto: Sure. Absolutely.Laura: quick explanation connection ADHD sleep. encourage folks go back feed listen full explanation, I'm curious interact, also played life.Roberto: Yeah, lot research done ADHD sleep, think honestly, know tip iceberg. know centers brain are, particularly frontal lobe, activated implicated sleep. One best quotes ever heard, don't, wish could credit don't know said it, actually first ADHD conference went 2008, speak every year. said, "For someone ADHD, going sleep lying dark room waiting nothing happen." was, totally made sense thought it's unstimulating it's kind boring. Like you're waiting to, "OK, happening? Like, going to...?"And course, mind thinking it, know, much. it's easy there's stimulation ADHD person generate stimulation we're so, need that. Like brain, dopamine deficit. So, we're always seeking stimulation. sleep, you're kind of, job de-stimulate, really hard.And psychological components well. mean, nighttime also less distractions, one's expecting anything nighttime. college grad school, nothing distract me, better zone work. sometimes nighttime level procrastination would get day. OK it's do-or-die situation kind thing.So, there's something that. it's even work. Sometimes could be, "I don't want let go day I've fun downtime." I'm very, productive throughout day, years ago could literally nothing day. kind wasting day procrastinating yet

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