The Understood Update
Read the latest news about our team, innovations, developments, and partnerships as we work to shape the world for difference.
Today, we celebrate International Day of Education and its theme of “Changing Course, Transforming Education.” Never has this been more pertinent, particularly as the multiple impacts of Omicron on school systems, teachers, parents, and kids create a domino effect throughout the country.
Earlier this month, the New York Times articulated the issue in alarming terms: “American children are starting 2022 in crisis.” But the article is largely referencing the 4 in 5 kids who are neurotypical. The evolving reality for neurodiverse children — the 1 in 5 kids who learn and think differently — is much greater.
Kareem Neal, a special education teacher in a self-contained classroom in Phoenix and an Understood expert, says that among his 32 students, 20 have already missed school because of Omicron in the first two weeks of January.
“I think about how I had two students who lost parents and one kid who was in the hospital for an extended stay [earlier in the pandemic]. You’re looking at this empty seat where a student should be. It weighs on you.” Still, he remains hopeful. “But my kids have been rolling with the punches. I truly feel like they will get through all of the rest.”
There’s no question that students with learning and thinking differences are facing increased academic, social, and mental challenges right now. On this International Day of Education, it’s up to all of us to explore these challenges — and then use what we’ve learned to offer the kind of support that students, families, and educators need most.
Academic challenges continue to grow
All of us are facing ongoing concerns about physical health. But students with learning and thinking differences are also bearing the weight of academic challenges greater than those of their peers.
In an Understood study conducted with UnidosUS at the beginning of the 2021–2022 school year, 90% of educators said they believe that children with learning and thinking differences would face increased challenges in the year to come. The study also found that more than 65% of parents of a child with learning and thinking differences were worried about their child falling behind academically.
Educators and parents were right to be concerned.
Since the start of the pandemic, parents of kids with learning and thinking differences reported that their child experienced difficulty paying attention in school (42%), an inability to concentrate for long periods of time (41%), reading challenges (36%), and math challenges (32%). These experiences are nearly twice as prevalent among neurodiverse kids when compared with neurotypical kids, according to the Understood and UnidosUS study.
In Understood’s 2022 Expert Predictions for Learning and Thinking Differences, Understood experts anticipated that these academic challenges will only continue to grow — particularly as more families seek special education evaluations for interrupted learning, rather than for learning and thinking differences. This increase in evaluation requests, paired with staff shortages and backlogs for compensatory services, means that there may be even less support for students who learn and think differently.
Mental health issues are rampant for students
In addition to academic and social challenges, the New York Times article also cites growing mental health problems for teenagers and children.
According to the Understood and UnidosUS research, students who learn and think differently have experienced feelings of depression (33%) and increased anxiety about school (38%) since the onset of the pandemic, compared to 20% of neurotypical students.
“I am concerned about kids’ academic successes, for sure,” says Lauren Jewett, a third- and fourth-grade special education teacher in New Orleans and an Understood expert. “But overall, student mental and physical wellness are key for me.”
But mental health issues are also real for educators
Only six months into the pandemic, a coalition of the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and Children’s Hospital Association published a Declaration of a National Emergency in Child and Adolescent Mental Health.
But teachers are facing a mental health crisis of their own. According to Bloomberg, educators “are beyond burnout. They’re being reduced to ashes.”
Research from Understood and the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) in spring of 2021 showed that nearly 60% of teachers were burned out. This number was even greater for teachers who work with students with learning and thinking differences.
As we enter year three of the pandemic, prioritizing mental health for teachers remains paramount.
In its 2022 predictions, Understood experts urged schools to find ways to increase co-teaching opportunities. This is a quick solution that helps build inclusive classrooms while allowing special and general education teachers to support and work alongside each other.
A longer-term recommendation is for schools to broaden their search beyond the college-to-classroom pipeline. Millions of people leaving the corporate world have skills that, with support and training, can be transferable to teaching. They may be able to provide much-needed support and relief for shortages.
Pulling together to stop the domino effect
Like many teachers, Jewett is facing these stark realities while trying to find optimism: “I definitely look to moments of certainty and joy within my school day and school week, although doing that does not always detract from the flood of emotions that I observe in myself or in interactions and conversations with colleagues, students, and families.”
Her perspective crystallizes that the crisis is real for everyone — student, family, and educator.
So where do we begin?
On this International Day of Education, it’s imperative that we remember an essential element from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to education.
This includes students who learn and think differently. They — and the teachers who support them — need our collective support and understanding. It’s never been more important or more urgent.
The good news is that there are many ways to start. Visit u.org for free resources in English and Spanish to educate yourself about learning and thinking differences. Listen to an Understood podcast to hear new perspectives from the neurodiverse community. Request a chat with an expert to learn more about the pandemic’s nuanced effects on those who learn and think differently.
Understood is here to help. Together, we can shape a world for difference.
Resources for families
Understood podcast, In It: Can we talk? Omicron, school, and our parenting fears
Understood podcast, The Opportunity Gap: Omicron, special education, and marginalized communities
Resources for educators
While great strides have been made in incorporating neurodiversity into broader conversations about diversity and inclusion in recent years, new challenges created by the ongoing pandemic continue to disproportionately impact the 70 million people with learning and thinking differences at work and at school. As these challenges persist in 2022, Understood’s mission to shape a world where every person can thrive — particularly the 1 in 5 people with learning and thinking differences — has never been more important.
As we look to the year ahead, Understood experts Yvonne Cowser Yancy, Chief Administrative Officer and Head of Workplace; Bob Cunningham, Executive Director of Learning Development; Amanda Morin, Director of Thought Leadership and Expertise; and other special education teachers and school administrators identified three key changes that will dramatically impact people with or affected by learning and thinking differences if left unaddressed.
Here’s a look at what they expect to happen in the workplace, in the education system, and within schools next year — and the actions employers, schools, educators, and families must take to better support those with learning and thinking differences in 2022. If you’re interested in an expert interview about these predictions, reach out to email@example.com.
Prediction 1: People with learning and thinking differences make up 20% of the U.S. population. If workplaces don’t prioritize neurodiversity in their inclusion efforts, they could lose a fifth of their workforce.
More than 4 million people — about 3% of the nation’s workforce — quit their jobs in September 2021 for better pay, remote options, and better work-life balance. And after record-breaking monthly resignation numbers since July, this movement shows no signs of stopping.
For the 70 million people with learning and thinking differences in particular, accommodations, like flexible work schedules, additional training time, and dual written and verbal content, also play a massive role in whether they feel supported and valued at work, or if they can work at all. In fact, the unemployment rate as of October 2021 is 9.9% for people with disabilities — more than double of those without (4.1%).
After nearly two years of reshaping our workforce, employers can no longer pretend that accommodations don’t exist, aren’t necessary, and aren’t fairly simple to implement. These supports are usually free to organizations, and those that aren’t are generally one-time expenses of $500 or less, according to Understood and Society for Human Resource Management’s Employing Abilities @Work Report.
The bottom line: If employers aren’t willing to be flexible with supports they provide within their organization, they’ll miss out on hiring and retaining a massive group of people with incredible talent and perspectives — perpetuating the cycle of inequality for people with learning and thinking differences, and hurting their own inclusivity efforts and bottom line along the way.
So, what can we do?
Talk about supports proactively. Gone are the days when it’s up to each individual employee to ask for what they need from their employer. Employers should be the ones asking employees what they need to be successful. Do this by asking about and offering accommodations during your application process and sending out surveys to better understand what your employees need to thrive. This not only shows people everything you do offer, but it also helps remove the stigma around accommodations and creates a more inclusive workplace.
Consider supports big and small for in-office and at-home environments, especially as COVID-19 variants surge. Remote work, flexible schedules, and no-meeting days are some of the bigger and more prominent offerings in this new normal. But asking employees about their computer preference or what home office equipment they need can go a long way in making them feel more comfortable and helping them produce better work.
Prediction 2: A record-breaking number of special education evaluations will be completed for students without disabilities or learning and thinking differences.
A study by McKinsey & Company in December 2020 compared fall 2019 and fall 2020 testing data. It found that students learned only 67% of the math and 87% of the reading that they typically would have learned, translating to a three-month loss in learning in math, and one and a half months in reading. These losses have only extended and deepened over 2021, particularly for students of color.
It’s important to recognize that there is not going to be an academic “catch up” period — most schools and students are simply trying to maintain current learning levels. Given this, there will be a huge push for special education evaluations for students who don’t have a disability or learning and thinking difference, but who are behind academically because of interrupted learning: students whose grades have suffered, whose test scores aren’t hitting the mark, or who are experiencing behavior issues. Many of their challenges will not be caused by a learning and thinking difference, but by the impact of the pandemic and inadequate instruction.
This creates problems for students who do have disabilities or learning and thinking differences. There’s already a shortage of special education teachers, as well as a backlog for evaluations and compensatory services needed for students who missed them during the past 22 months. New York City, home to the largest public school system in the United States, is dealing with a special education backlog that’s up 30% in November 2021 compared with November 2020.
The bottom line: If schools use their already-stretched-thin special education resources for students without disabilities, 2022 will see the greatest special education shortage of our time — and students with learning and thinking differences will fall further and further behind.
So, what can we do?
Every family is entitled to request an evaluation for their child. But schools need to remind parents that inadequate instruction is a disqualifying consideration for special education eligibility under IDEA.
Schools should create or expand programs based on response to intervention (RTI) and multi-tiered systems of supports (MTSS) in general education, and parents should ask for these supports. While RTI/MTSS approaches to supporting students and working on challenges should never be used to circumvent a family’s right to request an evaluation, these approaches could provide incredibly valuable information to families and schools as they consider the impact of pandemic-related disruptions to learning.
Families should ask schools to review pre-pandemic records and work samples to look for patterns in performance suggesting that current challenges may have existed or been emerging before the pandemic. These patterns would suggest that evaluation is needed.
Prediction 3: If schools don’t prioritize teachers’ mental health, the achievement gap will widen dramatically for students with learning and thinking differences.
Nearly half of public school teachers who quit their jobs after February 2020 did so because of challenges created by the pandemic: working longer hours and navigating the remote environment. And special education teachers have been leaving the field at almost double the rate of general education teachers, often due to stress, low pay, and risks to their own physical health, which are only increasing amidst spikes in COVID-19 variants.
According to research by Understood and the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 58% of current teachers report burnout. This number was even greater for teachers who work with students with learning and thinking differences, who were acutely affected by the pandemic themselves.
The bottom line: Teachers’ mental well-being directly affects students’ academic, mental, and social well-being. This is especially true for students with learning and thinking differences. If schools and communities don’t prioritize teachers’ mental health, 2022 will see a second wave of mass teacher resignations. And students with IEPs, 504 plans, and special education needs will be hurt the worst.
So, what can we do?
Schools must find ways to increase co-teaching opportunities to allow teachers to learn from, lean on, and share responsibility with each other. Co-teaching also helps build inclusive classrooms, with special education and general education teachers working alongside each other to offer more differentiated instruction to all students.
When it comes to the teacher shortage and hiring challenges, states and school administrators must consider alternate pathways to certification. Certain shortcuts can eliminate some of the financial and educational barriers that prevent people from entering the field. For example: For paraprofessionals with years of experience working with students, new types of training could replace traditional education and certification requirements and help get them in their own classrooms more quickly.
Additionally, schools should consider looking outside of the conventional college-to-classroom pipeline for new teacher talent. There are millions of people who are leaving the corporate world right now, many of whom likely have skill sets that, with additional support and training, can be transferable to teaching in some way.
If you’re interested in an expert interview about these predictions, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Expertos de Understood presentan sus predicciones para 2022 sobre las diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender
Aunque en este año se han hecho grandes avances en la incorporación de la neurodiversidad en conversaciones más amplias sobre diversidad y inclusion, la pandemia continúa afectando desproporcionadamente a los 70 millones de personas con diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender en el trabajo y en la escuela. A medida que estos desafíos persisten en 2022, la misíon de Understood de formar un mundo donde cada persona pueda prosperar - particularmente 1 de cada 5 personas con diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender - nunca ha sido más importante.
A medida que miramos hacia el año venidero, Yvonne Cowser Yancy, Directora Administrativa y Jefa del Centro de Trabajo; Bob Cunningham, Director Ejecutivo de Desarrollo del Aprendizaje; Amanda Morin, Directora de Liderazgo y Experiencia en Pensamiento; y otros maestros de educacíon especial y administradores de escuelas identificaron tres cambios clave que impactaran drásticamente a las personas con o afectadas por diferencias de aprendizaje y pensamiento si no son atendidas.
A continuación, veamos lo que esperan que suceda en el lugar de trabajo, en el sistema educativo y en las escuelas del próximo año, y las acciones que deben adoptar los empleadores, las escuelas, los educadores y las familias para apoyar mejor a quienes tienen diferencias de aprendizaje y pensamiento en 2022. Si está interesado en una entrevista de expertos sobre estas predicciones, comuníquese con email@example.com.
Predicción 1: Las personas con diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender constituyen el 20% de la población de los Estados Unidos. Si los lugares de trabajo no priorizan la neurodiversidad en sus esfuerzos de inclusión, podrían perder una quinta parte de su fuerza laboral.
Más de 4 millones de personas — alrededor del 3% de la fuerza laboral de la nación — renunció a sus trabajos en septiembre de 2021 por un salario mejor, opciones de trabajo remoto y un mayor equilibrio entre el trabajo y la vida personal. Y después de cifras mensuales récord de renuncias desde julio, esta tendencia no muestra signos de detenerse.
En particular para los 70 millones de personas con diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender, adaptaciones como horarios de trabajo flexibles, más tiempo de capacitación y disponibilidad de contenido tanto escrito como verbal — también juegan un papel masivo en cuanto a si las personas se sienten apoyadas y valoradas en el trabajo, o si pueden trabajar en absoluto. De hecho, la tasa de desempleo en octubre de 2021 fue 9,9% para las personas con discapacidades — más del doble que para las personas sin discapacidades (4,1%).
Después de casi dos años de reestructurar nuestra fuerza laboral, los empleadores ya no pueden fingir que las adaptaciones no existen, no son necesarias o no son simples de implementar. Estos apoyos usualmente son gratuitos para las organizaciones, y aquellos que no lo son generalmente son gastos únicos de $500 o menos, según el reporte Employing Abilities@Work de Understood y Society for Human Resource Management.
Conclusión: Si los empleadores no están dispuestos a ser flexibles con los apoyos que proporcionan en su organización, perderán la oportunidad de contratar y retener a un grupo masivo de personas con talentos y perspectivas increíbles — perpetuando el ciclo de desigualdad para las personas que piensan y aprenden de manera diferente, y perjudicando sus propios esfuerzos de inclusión y sus resultados finales sobre la marcha.
¿Qué podemos hacer?
Hablar de apoyos de forma proactiva. Atrás quedaron los días en los que el empleado tenía que solicitar lo que necesitaba a su empleador. Los empleadores deben ser los que pregunten a los empleados qué necesitan para hacer su trabajo adecuadamente. Haga esto preguntando y ofreciendo adaptaciones durante el proceso de contratación y enviando encuestas a sus empleados para entender mejor qué es lo que necesitan para progresar. De esta manera no solo muestra a las personas todo lo que usted ofrece, sino también ayuda a eliminar el estigma asociado a las adaptaciones y crea un lugar de trabajo más inclusivo.
Considerar apoyos grandes y pequeños. El trabajo remoto, los horarios flexibles y los días sin reuniones son algunas de las ofertas más importantes y prominentes en esta época. Sin embargo, preguntar a los empleados sobre sus preferencias de computadora o qué equipo de oficina necesitan en casa puede ser de gran ayuda para que se sientan cómodos y su trabajo sea mejor.
Predicción 2: Se completará un número récord de evaluaciones de educación especial en estudiantes sin discapacidades o sin diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender.
Un estudio de McKinsey & Company publicado en diciembre de 2020 comparó los datos de otoño de 2019 con los de otoño de 2020. Encontró que los estudiantes solo habían aprendido 67% de las matemáticas y 87% de la lectura que hubiesen aprendido en condiciones típicas, lo que se traduce en una pérdida de aprendizaje de tres meses en matemática y de mes y medio en lectura. Estas pérdidas se han extendido y profundizado en 2021, especialmente para los estudiantes negros.
Es importante reconocer que no va a haber un periodo para “ponerse al día” académicamente — la mayoría de las escuelas y los estudiantes están solamente tratando de mantener los niveles de aprendizaje actuales. Por esto, habrá una presión enorme para realizar evaluaciones de educación especial a estudiantes que no tienen una discapacidad ni aprenden de manera diferente, pero que están rezagados académicamente debido a las interrupciones en el aprendizaje: estudiantes cuyas calificaciones han empeorado, que reprueban exámenes o que presentan problemas de conducta. Muchos de sus desafíos no serán causados por diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender, sino por el impacto de la pandemia y una enseñanza inadecuada.
Esto es problemático para los estudiantes que sí tienen discapacidades o diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender. Ya existe una escasez de maestros de educación especial, así como una acumulación de evaluaciones pendientes y servicios compensatorios que los estudiantes no recibieron durante los 22 meses anteriores. La ciudad de Nueva York, que tiene el sistema de escuelas públicas más grande de los Estados Unidos, está lidiando con un atraso en educación especial que aumentó 30% en noviembre de 2021 con respecto a noviembre de 2020.
Conclusión: Si las escuelas emplean sus ya reducidos recursos de educación especial en estudiantes sin discapacidades, en 2022 presenciaremos la mayor escasez de educación especial de nuestro tiempo — y los estudiantes con diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender se retrasarán cada vez más.
¿Qué podemos hacer?
Todas las familias tienen derecho a solicitar una evaluación para sus niños. No obstante, las escuelas necesitan recordar a los padres que una enseñanza inapropiada no es una consideración que califica para la elegibilidad de educación especial según IDEA.
Las escuelas deben crear o expandir programas en la educación general basados en la Respuesta a la Intervención (RTI, por sus siglas en inglés) y el Sistema de Apoyo de Múltiples Niveles (MTSS, por sus siglas en inglés), y los padres deben solicitar estos apoyos. Si bien los enfoques RTI/MTSS para apoyar a los estudiantes y resolver problemas relacionados con sus desafíos nunca deben ser usados para eludir el derecho que tienen las familias a solicitar una evaluación, estos enfoques pueden proporcionar información muy valiosa a las familias y a las escuelas al considerar el impacto de las interrupciones de la escolarización relacionadas con la pandemia.
Las familias deben pedir a las escuelas que revisen los récords y muestras de trabajos anteriores a la pandemia para identificar patrones en el rendimiento que sugieran que los desafíos actuales podrían haber existido o surgido antes de la pandemia. Estos patrones sugerirían que es necesaria una evaluación.
Predicción 3: Si las escuelas no dan prioridad a la salud mental de los maestros, la brecha académica aumentará drásticamente para los estudiantes que piensan y aprenden de manera diferente.
Casi la mitad de los maestros de escuelas públicas que abandonaron su empleo después de febrero de 2020 lo hicieron debido a la pandemia: más horas de trabajo y las exigencias de la enseñanza remota. Los maestros de educación especial han abandonado el sector a casi el double de la tasa que los maestros de educación general, a menudo debido al estrés, los bajos salarios y el riesgo a su salud física.
Según la investigación llevada a cabo por Understood y National Center for Learning Disabilities, 58% de los maestros actuales reportan que están agotados. Esta cifra fue aún mayor en maestros que trabajan con estudiantes que piensan y aprenden de manera diferente, quienes se vieron fuertemente afectados por la pandemia.
Conclusión: El bienestar mental de los maestros afecta directamente el bienestar académico, mental y social de los estudiantes. Esto es especialmente cierto para los estudiantes con diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender. Si las escuelas y las comunidades no priorizan la salud mental de los maestros, veremos una segunda ola de renuncias masivas de maestros en 2022. Los estudiantes con IEP, planes 504 y necesidades de educación especial serán los más perjudicados.
¿Qué podemos hacer?
Las escuelas deben encontrar maneras de facilitar la coenseñanza para promover que los maestros aprendan el uno del otro, se apoyen y compartan responsabilidades. La coenseñanza también ayuda a crear aulas inclusivas en donde los maestros de educación general y educación especial trabajen juntos para proporcionar una instrucción más diferenciada a todos los estudiantes.
En lo que se refiere a la escasez de maestros y la dificultad de contratación, los estados y los administradores escolares deben considerar vías alternativas para la certificación. Algunos de los obstáculos educativos y financieros que evitan que las personas entren al sector pueden eliminarse simplificando el acceso. Por ejemplo, nuevos tipos de capacitación podrían reemplazar la educación y los requisitos de certificación tradicionales para los paraprofesionales que tengan años de experiencia trabajando con estudiantes, facilitando que trabajen en sus aulas con más prontitud.
Además, las escuelas deben buscar nuevos talentos docentes fuera de la red de egresados universitarios. En este momento millones de personas están abandonando el mundo corporativo, muchas de las cuales probablemente poseen habilidades que, con apoyo y capacitación adicional, pueden transferirse a la actividad docente de alguna forma.
Si está interesado en una entrevista de expertos sobre estas predicciones, comuníquese con firstname.lastname@example.org.
At Understood, where our mission is about helping shape a better world for the 1 in 5 people with learning and thinking differences, it’s both the big and small moments that illustrate where and how we have developed greater awareness and created real impact.
As we reflect on our efforts in 2021 and look ahead to 2022, we’re proud of the work we’ve done — and the work we’ll build on — together.
Learning from and taking action around our research
We knew the pandemic would continue to impact children, parents, and educators this year — but our Pandemic Learning Impact Study in April and Back to School Study in July demonstrated just how profound and nuanced the effects were.
In our April study, nearly 60% of parents of children with learning and thinking differences, like ADHD and dyslexia, said their children were a year behind academically, compared to just 33% of parents of typical kids. In the July study, parents of children with learning and thinking differences reported far more often than parents of typical students that their child experienced feelings of depression, anxiety, and inability to focus.
Using this research as our foundation, Understood, alongside UnidosUS, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), hosted a free Town Hall. We engaged hundreds of parents and teachers, helping them take action and seek expert recommendations to navigate the emotional, social, and academic challenges that their children were facing.
Sharing real stories via the Understood Podcast Network
Real stories, experiences, and perspectives play a powerful role in creating awareness, building understanding, and promoting advocacy. That’s why we launched the Understood Podcast Network, home to four podcasts: In It, ADHD Aha!, How’d You Get THAT Job?!, and The Opportunity Gap
We are grateful for the individuals, experts, parents, and teachers featured on these programs. They’ve shared their stories and provided actionable advice to guide listeners on their own journeys, helping them learn, feel seen, and self-actualize. Tens of thousands of downloads and thoughtful feedback from listeners confirms the power of “real talk”:
“Thank you for your podcast. It’s been exactly what I was searching for. It has brought me comfort and community that I didn’t know I was seeking. Please continue your work, it means the world to other people like you and [me].” —ADHD Aha! listener
We’re excited to continue to grow and foster this community moving forward.
Taking N.O.T.E. of what works
2021 saw the second successful year of Take N.O.T.E., a web-based initiative developed in partnership with AAP to help families and teachers identify the signs of learning and thinking differences. We were able to scale the tool and offer enhancements, like new interactive elements and learning modules. This helped drive engagement and inspire action for more than 20 million people across the country.
Kick-starting conversation through our Education Week webinar
Parent-teacher collaboration proved to be a challenging but critical aspect to support students this year. Our July research found that nearly half of parents didn’t know how to start conversations about learning challenges with their child’s teachers. So, in partnership with National PTA, we presented an EdWeek webinar about strengthening parent-teacher communication, offering tangible tips and teacher and parent e-guides to help kick-start conversations.
Hundreds of educators, parents, and caregivers tuned in. One president of a Special Education PTA attended, commenting, “Please make this talk available to all parents and teachers. It’s so important.”
Partnering to drive change
Our efforts would not have been as far-reaching or as effective without the collaboration of our partners. In addition to AAP, UnidosUS, CCSSO, National PTA, and others, we worked with the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to design content for educator nonprofit Along. And we worked with Games for Change to improve accessibility within the gaming industry.
Our work with our partners has tremendously extended and deepened the conversation and action around neurodiversity at home, at school, and in the workplace.
Looking back, looking forward
Looking back at 2021, we’re thankful for the people, partners, and stakeholders who elevated and advanced our mission — infusing hope, building awareness, and creating true and lasting change for people with learning and thinking differences. But we’re just scratching the surface.
By working together to shape our culture, our communities, and our world for difference, everyone can — and will — be Understood. We look forward to the work ahead of us, and we hope you’ll join us as we continue the journey in 2022.
Understood's mission — to shape a world where every person, particularly the 1 in 5 people with learning and thinking differences, can thrive — is crucial. Generating effective change means working with others who can also influence the impact we can make.
This year on GivingTuesday, Understood is taking a moment to reflect on the power and importance of working with and alongside others.
Together with partners and other collaborators, Understood has sought to make a definitive difference in the lives of those with learning and thinking differences. Over the past year, a few of these meaningful collaborations include:
Working with Along, a nonprofit organization founded and led by educators. With the support of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI), Understood was honored to be one of the partners that helped design and review content for Along through the lens of accessibility and usability with the ultimate goal of ensuring a seamless experience for all learners.
2021 marked year two of Take N.O.T.E.: a web-based interactive guide developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to help families and teachers identify the signs of possible learning and thinking differences in their children.
In partnership with UnidosUS, the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States, Understood conducted a study focusing on understanding the perspectives, anticipated challenges, and preparedness of teachers, parents, and students as they headed back to school this fall.
Understood and National PTA teamed up with EducationWeek to present a webinar supporting parent-teacher collaboration as it relates to learning and thinking differences, including sharing resources like our conversation guides around learning and thinking differences.
We are thankful for these organizations and invite you to join Understood's journey this GivingTuesday by donating to our mission in support of people with learning and thinking differences or working with us as we explore the possibilities of shaping our world together.
The new podcast is part of Understood’s ongoing efforts to bring visibility to learning and thinking differences and help shift stigma through the sharing of personal experiences.
All year, Understood has been encouraging conversations around learning and thinking differences. But all too often, these conversations ignore kids and families from marginalized communities. This includes low-income students and Black and brown students. In the Back to School Study conducted by Understood and UnidosUS in August, 48% of Hispanic and 50% of Black parents reported not knowing how to start these conversations with educators.
The Opportunity Gap aims to foster conversation around this issue and help families feel more confident in advocating for their kids. It’s part of Understood’s efforts to make starting conversations around learning and thinking differences a bit easier.
The term “opportunity gap” refers to the real divide in grades, graduation rates, academic achievement, and life outcomes between privileged kids — often high-income, white, and neurotypical — and marginalized kids. These kids are often low-income, of color, immigrants, and have learning and thinking differences. Hosts Julian Saavedra, a Black parent and urban educator, and Marissa Wallace, a special educator with a multiracial son, take on the opportunity gap, explore issues of race and identity, and discuss how parents can advocate for their children of color. They’re joined by producer Andrew Lee, who introduces a topic relating to the opportunity gap in each episode — along with real life examples of the challenges.
Julian and Marissa don’t offer easy or glib solutions. Instead, they react on both personal and professional levels to help families be aware of and understand the gap. Through their perspectives, they make sure families of color feel less alone and more confident in advocating for themselves and their kids.
As the season progresses, they’ll push the conversation further with topics like how young people of color perceive ADHD and how IEPs differ by schools depending on income.
New episodes will be released every two weeks. You can download and listen to The Opportunity Gap through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other listening platforms.
November 11 is World Usability Day. It’s a day to celebrate progress toward equal access to digital technology. It’s also a day to set goals to improve access. For 2021, the focus is on designing the online world for trust, diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The pandemic adds extra significance to World Usability Day. Digital inclusion is all the more important as millions of people work, shop, and go to school remotely.
At Understood, we believe digital experiences should be engaging and easy for everyone to use. This year, we shared our commitment to accessibility and usability. These two concepts are often seen as separate — or even at odds with one another. On World Usability Day, we encourage everyone to bring accessibility and usability together. Here are concrete steps you can take.
Commit to inclusive design
Inclusive design addresses the wide range of human diversity. This includes the 70 million people in the United States who have learning and thinking differences like ADHD, dyslexia, and other “invisible” disabilities. Placing diversity at the center of the design process benefits everyone.
Here are some examples of how Understood combines accessibility and usability in ways that help all users:
Each year, we conduct hundreds of hours of user testing to help us go above and beyond compliance with accessibility standards.
We’ve found that wider spacing between letters, words, and lines of text improves readability for people with and without dyslexia.
We chunk out information and use lots of white space to help users focus. This includes people with ADHD as well as people who are temporarily distracted by stress, fatigue, or working at home with young kids.
We use motion graphics in a way that enhances focus. But we also provide a “reduce motion” toggle on our homepage so users can turn off this feature if they need or want to.
Collaborate and advocate
We’re setting out to improve accessibility and usability for everyone, but especially for people who learn and think differently. One way we’re doing this is by sharing what we've learned — and also by working with others to amplify and accelerate these learnings.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) sets the accessibility guidelines that are used around the world. Understood is proud to be part of the teams that are building out the next set of global guidelines. Central to that effort is expanding the guidelines to cover more cognitive and learning disabilities and making usability testing a key component.
Automated compliance checkers are merely the first rung on the ladder toward universal inclusion. Continued progress must involve testing with users, including people with invisible disabilities.
Understood is committed to improving accessibility and usability for all. We know there will always be more work to do. And on World Usability Day, we invite organizations and individuals to partner with us so we can work together to shape the world for difference.
Why Conversations are Important
Beginning the conversation about learning and thinking differences is an important step in supporting children academically, socially, and emotionally — but it can also be the hardest part. Recent research by Understood and UnidosUS revealed that 44% of parents find it difficult to approach their children's teachers and initiate that first exchange.
Last month, as Understood celebrated Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, we focused on encouraging conversations during parent-teacher conference season. By providing resources and educational tools to understand how to take this crucial first step, we want to help families and teachers build on that momentum and continue talking, sharing, and learning how to best communicate with each other all year long.
Check out how to take that first step or continue to work on conversation skills below:
Real-Life Online Resources
Conversation Guides for Parents and Educators: Our new e-guides are full of tips, insights, and information that can help parents work with teachers (and vice versa) to get the best support for their child.
Take N.O.T.E.: A free digital tool, available in English and Spanish, that helps families identify early signs of learning and thinking differences. Designed as a mnemonic device, Take N.O.T.E. allows people to:
Notice if anything is out of the ordinary with their child
Observe behaviors to determine patterns
Talk to a teacher, social worker, or caregiver
Engage with trusted resources, like pediatricians
Conversation-Starting and Community-Building
Asking questions and seeking support can sometimes feel scary or embarrassing for parents and families. Finding community and forums online can be a more accessible and less nerve-wracking way for people to take that first step. Here are some ways to engage with Understood’s experts and community:
Twitter Chats and Webinars: Building on the "Talk" step in the Take N.O.T.E. initiative, we're working with Education Week to encourage and enable important conversations across the board.
Twitter Spaces: Next week, we’re hosting a Spaces conversation all about parent-teacher communication! Join this link on November 9 at 5 pm ET to tune in! And check out the recommendations and resources from the Twitter chat we hosted earlier in October by searching #K12LDChat and #RealUnderstood on Twitter.
Webinar: On Wednesday, November 10 from 2-3 pm ET, Understood is hosting a webinar about strengthening parent-teacher collaboration with National PTA. Register here.
Real Talk with Parents: We’re hosting conversations between parents from different stages of their child’s journey. We’ll hear them ask each other tough questions based on their experiences and get ‘Talk’ tips from Understood’s Take N.O.T.E. Learn more here: Real Talk with Parents
Real Talk Thursdays: This forum helps families prepare for parent-teacher conferences. It's a live Facebook chat that provides a safe space to discover tools that help start these often challenging, but all-important discussions. Check out #realunderstood, and click here for our live chat about noticing issues.
Talk Tips Tuesday: Get tips and information from experts on how parents can establish a relationship with their child’s teachers, so everyone can collectively support an environment designed to help kids thrive. Find these tips every Tuesday on: Twitter
A collection of resources: Check out some of the recent and relevant resources and graphics we’ve shared: Facebook:
At the end of the day, enabling meaningful conversations between parents and educators is how to set the wheels of change in motion. We encourage you to be a conversation starter too.
New settings, new challenges
In the world of education, the last 18 months required a combination of remote and hybrid learning that created unprecedented challenges for teachers. At Understood, we want to understand how to best support educators to make sure they have the resources to support all kids — particularly the 1 in 5 students with learning and thinking differences, such as ADHD and dyslexia.
As a start, we launched new conversation guides to encourage and help teachers have real conversations with parents. But to more meaningfully understand and support teachers across the country, we also partnered with the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) to engage directly with educators and learn about their experiences teaching students with learning and thinking differences during the pandemic. While our Forward Together survey confirmed that teachers teach because they absolutely love it, 58% of teachers reported they are facing severe burnout.
The term interrupted learning references all of the disruptions to the education process caused by the pandemic. For students with learning and thinking differences, the impact of interrupted learning was and is acutely overwhelming. Educators were also left looking for new ways to reach and teach students who were suddenly experiencing isolation and, consequently, the loss of individualized attention.
According to Understood and UnidosUS’ Back to School Study from August 2021, nearly 40% of teachers feel as though they don’t have the resources and readily available guidance from superiors when it comes to addressing learning and thinking differences. Plus, previous research from Understood and NCLD during the pandemic found that the issues identified by teachers as areas where they need the most support include:
Social and emotional support for teachers (57%)
Strategies to keep students engaged and motivated (56%)
Strategies to catch students up to grade level (60%)
Strategies to support the unique learning needs of students with learning and attention issues (54%)
These findings provide critical insight as we move through the beginning of the school year, and serve as the basis for actionable resources to support teachers moving forward.
Forward Together: Pandemic Lessons for Effective Teaching Practices is the result of this latest collaboration with NCLD. Stemming from the report findings, it features resources developed to provide evidence-based, actionable support for educators to support students with learning and thinking differences, no matter their educational setting. The free, downloadable resources include strategies and solutions, including a step-by-step implementation process.
Collaboration: Strategies to partner with colleagues, families, and caregivers to promote student success. Collaboration is particularly important to sustain inclusive settings, since no single educator should be responsible for holding the expertise of all learner variability.
Flexible grouping: A highly effective strategy for creating an inclusive classroom culture that honors learner variability. Flexible grouping supports accelerated learning, addresses foundational skill needs, and supports students with disabilities and thinking differences. It also increases students’ engagement and supports their social-emotional needs.
Positive behavior supports: Evidence-based approaches for promoting behavior that is conducive to learning. Teaching positive behavior, intervening early, and creating an encouraging classroom climate provide students with a safe and supportive learning environment.
All three approaches support effective and engaging instruction for teachers and help students — especially those with learning and thinking differences — learn and grow.
There’s no doubt that challenges, changes, and transitions will continue throughout this school year. But in keeping with Understood’s focus on parent-teacher collaboration in recognition of October as Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, and with the proper resources and support, teachers and students alike can thrive together in the classroom.
For more resources around distance learning and collaboration, check out:
October is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month — a time to recognize the more than 70 million people in the United States who have learning and thinking differences. It’s also a time to share the variety of tools, strategies, and initiatives that can support people on their journey.
As the only lifelong guide for those who learn and think differently, Understood is always looking for ways to increase awareness of learning and thinking differences like ADHD, dyslexia, and dyscalculia. But this month in particular, we’re excited about the nationwide focus on learning and thinking differences. Here’s how we’re participating in Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, and how others can join in, too.
Learning more about learning and thinking differences
In the United States, 1 in 5 people learn and think differently. Millions of them are undiagnosed, unaware that what they’re experiencing is a learning and thinking difference — and that there are strategies that could help them thrive at school and at work.
Understanding what learning and thinking differences are can go a long way toward creating awareness, shifting perception, and unlocking opportunities for neurodiverse people. Two great places to start:
Take N.O.T.E.: Developed by Understood in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics, Take N.O.T.E. is a free, interactive, web-based experience available in English and Spanish. It uses a simple, four-part memory device — N. O. T. E. — to help families identify the signs of possible learning and thinking differences in their kids:
Notice if there’s something going on with your child that’s out of the ordinary.
Observe and keep track of patterns.
Talk with other people who can help support your child, like pediatricians, teachers, and other caregivers.
Engage your child to get information and explore options for what to do next.
Understood Podcast Network: Creating space to discuss shared experiences is a powerful way to build inclusion and to experience relatable journeys of learning differences. This fall, the Understood Podcast Network launched with three series (with more to come) rooted in empowerment, honesty, and even humor:
In It — Back for its third season, this podcast showcases the stories of parents and caregivers who are “in it” with their kids. Listen here.
ADHD Aha! — This new series spotlights the personal, unexpected, and even funny moments people have when it finally clicks that they or someone they know has ADHD. Listen here.
How’d You Get THAT Job?! — In this new show, listeners learn how young people with learning and thinking differences found a job that they love. Listen here.
Tune in, download, subscribe, and share the links with friends and family.
Starting conversations about learning and thinking differences
Understanding learning and thinking differences is an initial step, but figuring out how to talk about them can be hard. According to Understood’s Back to School Study with UnidosUS, 44% of parents don’t know how to begin conversations about learning and thinking differences with educators.
Between parents and teachers
As we enter the season of parent-teacher conferences, Understood will be sharing downloadable tools and guides for both parents and educators to help start and navigate the often tough conversations around learning and thinking differences. We’ll help parents ask the right questions and prepare for productive conversations. We’ll also provide teachers with meaningful resources to help them have conversations with parents who are seeking guidance. Follow the hashtag #RealUnderstood for real and honest conversations across Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Check out some of these resources:
And even more on u.org/takenote
Between employers and employees
We’ll also be encouraging organizations to start talking about learning and thinking differences and to bring this topic into their diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts. Because disability inclusion benefits everyone. A 2018 study by Accenture discovered that companies that adopted best practices for hiring and supporting people with disabilities achieved, on average, 28% higher revenue, double the net income, and a 30% higher economic profit margin than their peers.
Start the conversation around learning and thinking differences:
So, what can you do?
At Understood, we’re working to shape a world where every person can thrive. Taking action together will bring us one step closer to our shared goal. During Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, we invite you to learn more about learning and thinking differences, subscribe to one of our podcasts, check out our online community, or start a conversation about learning and thinking differences. Join us in shaping the world for difference.
Understood launches new podcast network with three podcasts: In It, How’d You Get THAT Job?!, and ADHD Aha!
More than 70 million people in the United States have a learning or thinking difference. But so often, people feel alone in these journeys. Understood wants to change that.
Today, Understood is excited to formally launch the Understood Podcast Network. The network will bring visibility to learning and thinking differences and help shift stigma through sharing personal experiences, stories, and perspectives to help people feel like others are “in it” with them — because they are.
Access to information should embrace the diversity of learning. That’s why Understood is launching a podcast network that lets people engage in the way that works best for them. Listen, read the transcript, or do both as our experts and guests use storytelling and personal experiences to discuss what it means to have learning and thinking differences, whether it’s your child, a friend or co-worker, or yourself.
Through the podcast network, Understood is focusing on some of the most critical and common moments people face on their different journeys. Whether you’re a parent or caregiver who is supporting your child, someone who experienced the “aha” moment with ADHD, or a young adult facing the challenges and triumphs of landing the dream job, each podcast authentically speaks to you and to the millions of people going through each of these moments.
Starting today and rolling out over the next week, the Understood Podcast Network will release the following podcasts:
In It: Returning for its third season on September 23, the In It podcast is back and better than ever. Understood’s director of thought leadership and expertise and mom to kids with learning and thinking differences, veteran In It host Amanda Morin is joined by co-host Gretchen Vierstra, a senior editor at Understood, as they dive into storytelling and interviews. While the first two seasons of In It focused on the symptoms and details of learning and thinking differences, this season will focus on what it's like to actually live with a learning and thinking difference. Morin and Vierstra will talk to parents, caregivers, teachers, and kids, offering perspective, advice, and stories for and from people who have challenges with reading, math, focus, and other learning differences. Episodes will be released every other week.
ADHD Aha!: A totally new podcast from the Understood Podcast Network, ADHD Aha! is a podcast where people share the single moment when it finally clicked that they or someone they know has ADHD. Laura Key, executive director of editorial content at Understood, is not only the host, but also someone who had her own ADHD “aha” moment. Tune in to hear about the unexpected, emotional, and sometimes funny ways ADHD symptoms surface for kids and adults. ADHD Aha! premieres on September 28, and new episodes will be released every other week.
How’d You Get THAT Job?!: On September 29, the Understood Podcast Network launches the pilot season of How’d You Get THAT Job?!, hosted by Eleni Matheou, senior user researcher at Understood. From a bestselling author, to a social studies teacher, to a seamstress and designer, hear how young people with learning and thinking differences found a job they love and how it reflects who they are and how they learn. New episodes will be available weekly.
Understood’s three podcasts, In It, ADHD Aha!, and How’d You Get THAT Job?!, offer expertise and real-life experiences to support neurodiverse individuals, parents, and caregivers. The podcasts bring new voices and perspectives you won’t hear anywhere else.
Listen to candid conversations on topics that interest you — and stay tuned for more podcasts coming from the Understood Podcast Network. Listen along via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other listening platforms. For more information visit https://u.org/podcasts. If you or someone you know wants to be a guest please email email@example.com.
How Parents Can Take N.O.T.E. of Signs of Learning and Thinking Differences to Help Students Thrive at School
By: Dr. Tracy Packiam Alloway
As a psychologist, I have spent over a decade investigating how learning and thinking differences can impact academic progress. Throughout this journey, I have had the privilege of working closely with educators and parents.
Now more than ever, it is crucial to accurately identify learning and thinking differences. According to Understood and UndiosUS’ Back to School Study:
64% of parents have noticed their child experiencing learning challenges over the past school year
68% of parents of a child with learning and thinking differences worry about their child falling behind academically and not being able to catch up.
In my published research, I have found that early identification is the first important step in helping a child feel supported. And when working with schools, I have seen how support can make a significant difference to children’s learning and, ultimately, their academic success.
Once parents and teachers identify the strengths and growth areas of a student’s learning profile, specific and targeted accommodations can be made to support learning. The aim in supporting students with learning difficulties is not just to help them survive in the classroom, but to thrive as well. Strategies can provide scaffolding and support that will unlock their learning potential.
It can be difficult to identify some of the signs of learning and thinking differences, but common signs include:
Fear of reading aloud
Trouble making friends
Challenges with taking tests
Understood, in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics, has launched Take N.O.T.E., an interactive digital tool to help parents discover if the struggles they are seeing in their children could be signs of a learning and thinking difference. The four steps are notice, observe, talk, and engage. Not everyone’s journey is the same, so these steps may not occur in this order, but the mnemonic device is meant to serve as a cue to parents:
Notice if there’s something going on with your child that’s out of the ordinary.
Observe and keep track of patterns.
Talk with other people who can help support your child, like pediatricians, teachers, and other caregivers.
Engage your child to get information and explore options for what to do next.
Each step in Take N.O.T.E. includes simple, free, and accessible practice activities, conversation prompts, checklists, and multimedia features available in English and Spanish — all designed to help families understand the signs of learning and thinking differences.
If you think you may be noticing signs of a learning and thinking difference in your child, I encourage you to try to start taking note. The first step can sometimes feel like the most challenging, but it’s the most important to help your child thrive at school and beyond.
Of note: Take N.O.T.E. is designed for information and educational purposes to guide those on their journey to discovering more about learning and thinking differences. It does not constitute, nor should it be used as, official medical advice for identification or diagnosis. Understood encourages those seeking official diagnosis to consult with their local health care professional or pediatrician.
Voices of the 1 in 5: Guest Post: So often, parents and families of children with learning and thinking differences feel alone on their journeys. At Understood, we’re building a community to change that.
In the following guest post, Jessica McCabe shares her experience growing up with ADHD and outlines the challenges her mother navigated while seeking a diagnosis. She describes what it was like to finally have a name for her struggles — and to get the kind of support that she hopes more kids can have.
By Jessica McCabe
When my mom suspected I might have ADHD, she did what a lot of parents do: She took me to the doctor.
He asked her some questions about my behavior (I was screaming a lot), heard that I was struggling in middle school (I forgot everything, including my locker combination, and I wasn’t completing assignments), and asked her how I’d done in elementary school.
“She got straight A’s. She’s a gifted student.”
To which he replied: “She can’t have ADHD.”
To which she replied, “Thank you for your opinion. I’d like to see a specialist.”
A lot of testing later, I was diagnosed with ADHD. (It was called ADD at the time; my current diagnosis is ADHD-combined presentation.) I was prescribed stimulant medication, which helped a lot.
My GPA went up a full point without me doing anything differently (other than completing assignments, which I was magically able to do).
I felt the same way I did when I put on glasses for the first time: I could focus. And I felt good about having a name for my struggles, because it meant it wasn’t just me. There was a reason I was struggling. I wasn’t just a bad kid, which I honestly felt like at the time.
My mom challenged the doctor’s opinion because by that time she was at her wits’ end with me. Enough had happened all in the same year — a change in schools, a traumatic car accident, hormonal changes — that my symptoms had become obvious and problematic.
But what if they hadn’t?
Like a lot of girls with ADHD, I flew under the radar so long because my symptoms were more internalized.
I wasn’t racing around the classroom, I just had racing thoughts and speech.
While my brother was throwing things through windows, I was just staring out the window.
I struggled to regulate my attention and my emotions, but my struggles were less visible. Easier to shrug off. Easier to consider “not that big a deal.”
Until I got to middle school and started struggling to get to class on time.
Until I was still having regular meltdowns at 12 years old.
Until hormones exacerbated my emotional dysregulation to the point that I was screaming at my mom every day.
My symptoms really hadn’t seemed that unusual or even that bad. Who cares if I forget my jacket at school or got distracted while the teacher was talking? It happens.
Except, for me, it happened a lot.
A LOT a lot.
By the time I was diagnosed with ADHD, a lot of my core beliefs about myself had already formed. I was messy. Spacy. Flaky. Forgetful. Irresponsible. Weird.
The immediate impact of my ADHD wasn’t apparent. But from the research we have on women and ADHD, we know that there are significant long-term effects. And the sooner we get the support we need, the better.
Thankfully, medical professionals are becoming better educated about ADHD. And organizations like Understood are creating tools and resources to help parents understand what to look for.
Take N.O.T.E. is such an important tool because symptoms aren’t always easy to pick up on.
Not everyone has the blessing (curse?) of having trauma, hormone shifts, and increases on executive function demands happen all at once, making the invisible struggle of internalized ADHD suddenly very, VERY visible.
And even if symptoms are obvious, it can be hard to know what to make of them.
Not every mom is a special education teacher who can recognize when something isn’t developmentally appropriate. Not every parent knows how to insist on getting a second opinion when a doctor says there’s nothing wrong.
I’m hoping that extra guidance from tools like Take N.O.T.E. will help a lot more children with ADHD get the support they need, sooner.
On September 9, Understood, with the American Academy of Pediatrics, UnidosUS, and CCSSO, hosted a virtual Town Hall featuring discussions with parents, pediatricians, teachers, and experts about how to address academic and emotional challenges that may arise this school year, and ways to make it a positive experience for all. View a full recording of the event on our YouTube or Facebook channels.
The discussion ranged from virtual and in-person learning challenges, to IEPs and 504 plans, to how to start conversations with pediatricians, teachers, and families, and beyond.
Key takeaways from some of the panelists:
Noticing and observing your child’s behaviors is a critical first step. “You are the expert on your child. If you’re seeing any changes in behavior — sleep changes, eating changes, if they’re not having an easy time paying attention, or they’re frustrated easily — these are all clues that can help us start the conversation,” said Nerissa Bauer, MD, MPH, FAAP, a behavioral pediatrician with the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Know your rights as a parent. “Families should know they have rights and that they are not alone as they are looking for support for their children. You are truly the expert on your child’s needs and development,” said Maria Moser, senior director of education programs at UnidosUS.
Navigating virtual and in-person learning is challenging, but there are options to help create a better learning environment for your child. “As a parent, it’s really important for you to reach out to the school and teacher and ask them for what your child needs. ‘Can my child have the notes for this ahead of time? Can my child have a video to go back to? Can my child record this audio?’ You have all these different ways for your child to interact with the information,” said Amanda Morin, director of thought leadership and expertise at Understood.
Parents and teacher panelists also shared their firsthand perspectives on the new school year:
Parent-teacher collaboration has never been more important. “This last year and a half has taught us yet again how important it is for teachers and families to be really proximate — to really rely on each other and support each other. One can’t do what they do without the other,” said Juliana Urtubey, 2021 National Teacher of the Year.
Find support — through pediatricians, teachers, and community. “First, I would recommend advocating. For us, we had no idea where to start when we noticed a learning and thinking difference at home. Whether it’s seeking a professional like a pediatrician or even experienced parents through Facebook groups, it’s definitely helpful to have someone there to give you the guidance,” said Onyi Azih, PA-C, parent and lifestyle blogger.
Know that you’re not alone. “Find community, like Understood, and resources like the Take N.O.T.E. tool. I relied on lots of friends who had been through similar situations. Don’t be scared to talk about the challenges you’re facing. It’s something you can embrace to grow with your child,” said Jesse Coulter, parent and lifestyle blogger.
Again, view a full recording of the Town Hall on our YouTube or Facebook channels. For additional questions about the Town Hall or about learning and thinking differences, reach out to Understood at u.org or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
Voices of the 1 in 5: Guest Post: So often, parents of children with learning and thinking differences feel alone on their journeys. At Understood, we’re building a community to change that.
In the following guest post, Jesse Coulter, mom of three, discusses her own experiences with her son, Turner, and how she navigated starting conversations with family, teachers, and pediatricians to help provide Turner with the support he needs to thrive.
By Jesse Coulter
It can be difficult as a parent to navigate how to support your child who has a learning or thinking difference. You want to do everything in your power to help them, but it can feel isolating and overwhelming. Who do you speak with? Who can help? I’m sharing a bit of my journey as I support my son who has dyslexia and ADHD.
My son, Turner, was in pre-K when his teacher let me know he was having difficulty with his writing and the alphabet. I immediately spoke with my sister who was a reading specialist, and she advised me to continue observation. But it was too early to know if he was dyslexic.
When my son started kindergarten, I advised his teacher of my concerns and asked her to let me know if she saw any issues with his learning. After a few months, she communicated that she felt Turner had a learning difference as he was struggling with sounds, reading, and writing. We talked in person and decided to wait until Turner was in first grade to have him officially tested by the school.
Once he entered first grade, I immediately let his teacher know I wanted to have him tested. Texas takes you through quite a few steps to have this done, and the process takes months. After much paperwork and a few meetings, he was tested, and it was confirmed he was dyslexic. As hard as it was to hear that, it also helped to know exactly what he was struggling with.
He was assigned a 504 education plan and began his dyslexia classes with a dedicated reading specialist during the week. He also had additional accommodations, including his teacher reading his test questions and answers.
Once Turner entered second grade, I started to notice a change in his behavior. He became less interested in schoolwork, and many days did not want to go to school. The relationship I had with his teacher and our open communication were key in the following months. She noticed that Turner’s self-confidence was extremely low at school, and she told me he often called himself “stupid.” That broke my heart. And it was a bit surprising because at home he was a different kid. He beamed with self-confidence and was always so happy at home. His teacher was seeing was a completely different side of him — one that I would never have had insight into without her. She also observed that he had a very hard time focusing in class, and that he was distracted easily.
I wasn’t sure what to do next, so I consulted a friend whose daughter has ADHD. She recommended her pediatrician, who was extremely supportive and helpful in their journey. I reached out to the pediatrician, and she provided me with paperwork for Turner’s homeroom teacher and dyslexia teacher to fill out. After the paperwork was complete, my husband and I met with the pediatrician to discuss their feedback as well as our observations of Turner at home.
The pediatrician then determined Turner did have ADHD and walked us through medicated and non-medicated options. We went home and reviewed all the different medications. There is a stigma around medicating children for ADHD, but after researching and having numerous discussions with parents of children who have benefited from medication, we made the decision to put him on a small dosage.
We notified his teachers and we watched for side effects. Within days, Turner’s teachers saw a drastic change in his behavior. He was able to focus and showed more enthusiasm for learning. My heart was full knowing that he was more confident and that this medication could actually help my child. To be honest, I wish we had done it sooner.
Turner just entered third grade, and I’ve spoken with his new teachers and advised them of his learning differences. I discussed the importance of open communication and how positive support in the classroom and at home will benefit his learning journey.
I don’t know what the rest of Turner’s journey will look like, but I know my husband and I will do everything in our power to get him the help, attention, and support he needs.
I’m thankful that Understood has created the Take N.O.T.E. tool to help parents who aren’t sure where to start when they see their child struggling. Take N.O.T.E. is a simple step-by-step tool that was developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to help parents figure out if the struggles they’re seeing might be signs of a learning and thinking difference. The four steps are Notice, Observe, Talk, and Engage. (Not everyone’s journey is the same, so these steps may not occur in this order.) The program is designed to track children’s behavior and provide next steps when parents think that their child may have a learning and thinking difference.
These steps on my journey with Turner — Notice, Observe, Talk, and Engage — helped me understand how I could best support him. It can feel like an overwhelming experience for parents who just want the best for their child. But you’re not alone. There is support for you and your child.
You can learn more about the Take N.O.T.E. tool at understood.org/take-note.
And find more support among other families of children with learning and thinking differences at understood.org.
You can follow more of my family’s journey at Instagram.com/JesseCoulter.
Remote learning has created considerable challenges for all of us over the past eighteen months.
But teachers of kids with learning and thinking differences have been particularly challenged as they’ve grappled with more distractions, less time for one-on-one instruction, and overstretched support systems across the board. A recent study conducted by Understood found that more than 50% of educators have relied on technology to do their jobs over the past year and have had to reimagine their typical classroom through innovation and creativity.
As we head back to in-person learning, we wanted to hear what educators are taking away from remote learning—and what they’re ready to leave behind. We asked our teacher fellows how they’ve addressed the challenges of teaching neurodiverse kids over the past year and how they’re preparing for the transition back to the classroom. Read some of their responses below:
“I think that remote learning was more difficult for students with learning and thinking differences because there were so many uncertainties and disruptions that occurred during the school year. It became challenging to ensure consistency with habits, routines, and relationships when so many things kept changing. This was difficult for all kids, but it was definitely tricky for kids who require extra supports to access learning and be successful.” — Lauren Jewett, Kipp Morial Primary School, New Orleans, LA
“Students who learn and think differently need constant interaction and feedback to help learning stick, which is not as easily done remotely.” —Stephanie Doyle, Glen Cove Elementary, Roanoke, VA
“This year was my first year teaching first grade. It was so challenging to have students learn to read through online texts not being able to hold books in their hands or have me sitting next to them to notice their nuanced ability to read.” —Ashlee Upp, Alan Frear Elementary School, Camden Wyoming, DE
Virtual learning has also provided new opportunities for the fellows to think creatively when it comes to both the virtual and in-person classroom. As we return to in-person learning, many are rethinking the typical classroom and making it more inclusive for neurodiverse students.
“I’m incorporating the technology pieces that ‘worked’ [remotely] with my students [in-person], and I’m teaching advocacy skills and technology skills sooner in the school year.” —Kate Garcia, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, Plymouth Meeting, PA
“My goal is to create a learning environment students feel extremely comfortable in … To assist my students who learn and think differently, I plan to create step-by-step plans beyond their Individualized Educational Plan goals for each based on discussions with parents.” — Stephanie Doyle, Glen Cove Elementary, Roanoke, VA
“I realize that even within my small classroom, there are more ways to give individual instruction (I did a lot of individual instruction over last year and it worked really well). I am putting an individual workspace in my room.” —Kareem Neal, Maryvale High School, Phoenix, AZ
Transitioning back to in-person learning also poses new challenges for these teachers. After months of remote instruction, it’s going to be critical for educators to identify individual needs and work in tandem with families to provide the support and resources to help students. That’s where tools like Understood’s Take N.O.T.E. can help. Developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics, this resource helps parents and educators identify the signs and behaviors typical in children with learning and thinking differences and empowers them to use their knowledge to support their students.
“The level of support and resources needed for this transition for many students will involve multiple partners (district, community, etc.). Parents and educators can use Take N.O.T.E. to streamline the process for identifying needs and seeking help. The tool provides a platform for collaboration that will help student achievement.”—Kate Garcia, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School, Plymouth Meeting, PA
“We need resources that focus around immersing students back into the classroom. Resources structured around creating, building, and maintaining classroom community that is trauma-centered would be so helpful!”—Stephanie Doyle, Glen Cove Elementary, Roanoke, VA
“With the uncertainty of next year, it is hard to know what exactly will be needed. But just as we did last year, educators will rise to the occasion and do what is necessary for the benefit of their students and families. Adaptability and flexibility will be needed. It will be imperative to be proactive to anticipate the needs but also responsive as we navigate the uncertain waters of emerging from deep pandemic education.”—Ashlee Upp, Alan Frear Elementary School, Camden Wyoming, DE
The return to in-person learning is yet another challenge in an already challenging pandemic—but for educators, it’s also an opportunity to reimagine their classrooms to be more inclusive of kids with learning and thinking differences. With the support of parents, administrators, and Understood, educators can take the lessons learned from the past eighteen months of remote learning and turn them into tangible results that will make real differences for neurodiverse kids.
Preparing for back to school: what to expect, and how parents can help children thrive
As children around the country return to school, the new Back to School Study by Understood and UnidosUS, the largest Latino civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., finds that teachers and parents predict increased academic, mental health, and social and emotional challenges for learning.
The study found that 68% of teachers and more than 60% of parents prefer and expect their children to return to school in person full-time. Despite feeling ready for a return to the classroom, 90% of U.S. teachers and 61% of parents believe there will be increased challenges as children head back to school.
But with committed engagement and support, parents can help their child ease back into this school year as confidently and effectively as possible.
More than half of parents (55%) are concerned about their children’s academic development in the new school year, which is even higher among parents of children with learning and thinking differences (68%) than without (41%). Additionally, approximately three-quarters (73%) of educators surveyed are concerned about children's academic development in the new school year.
“As we return to in-person learning this fall, it’s critical that we meet all kids where they are -- not where they ‘ought to’ be,” Amanda Morin, Understood director of thought leadership and expertise, said. “It will be up to educators to work in tandem with parents to identify the scope and scale of the gap to ensure we support all children, with a critical eye to those who have additional challenges with learning.”
To better help parents prepare for some of the upcoming academic challenges, Understood experts recommend:
Using technological tools such as Google Classroom, PowerSchool, and Infinite Campus to stay tuned into your child’s learning and gauge academic progress to identify if and when they might need more support.
Trying to check your child’s homework nightly and ask questions about the assignments to ensure your child is clear on the teacher’s expectations. If your child isn’t clear, bring that to the teacher’s attention right away so they don’t feel or fall behind.
Checking out Take N.O.T.E., developed by Understood in partnership with the American Association of Pediatrics. Take N.O.T.E. is a web-based guide to help families and teachers identify the signs of learning and thinking differences in their children, and use that understanding to take the necessary next steps to better support their child. Take N.O.T.E. has been recently enhanced with interactive elements and learning modules -- such as audio and video content, observation trackers, prompts, and tips for conversation-starting -- intended to drive engagement and inspire action.
Most parents (68%) surveyed are concerned about the mental wellbeing of their child and the school’s ability to help during the upcoming year, including 76% of parents of children with learning and thinking differences and 60% without. More than half (65%) of educators surveyed are concerned about children’s anxiety going back to school; 43% expressed concerns about depression, while 62% are concerned about the overall emotional wellbeing of children.
According to senior advisor and one of the founding experts of Understood, Bob Cunningham, “The best thing parents can do is stay engaged in what’s going on in their child’s life academically, socially, and emotionally. Learn how to recognize when your child has too much on their plate. When they do, help them make a list to figure out their priorities and what can wait until another time.”
And remember -- if you see signs of clinical anxiety/depression or are worried your child is at risk of harming themselves, always make an emergency appointment with a healthcare provider.
Social and emotional development
More than half (55%) of parents are concerned that their child will fall behind emotionally in the upcoming year and will not be able to catch up, including 68% of parents of kids with learning and thinking differences and 41% without. The majority of educators (63%) surveyed are concerned about students’ social development this school year.
Find ways to help your child reconnect with friends and peers. This might mean making sure they are getting out of the house regularly -- be it the grocery store, neighborhood activities, sporting events, or beyond, it’s critical that children engage with and feel a part of their community. For older children, try talking to them about how they're feeling about their friends and relationships. Help them identify and plan ways to (safely) engage with friends and build those relationships again.
As it relates to “modeling” behavior for children, Understood expert Michelle Lassiter also calls out the importance of parents addressing their own emotional wellbeing in order to help their child do the same.
“Encouraging parents to focus on their own emotional wellbeing and then discuss it with their children is an excellent first step. From there, you can help each other find the tools -- be it meditation, yoga, breathing exercise, physical activity -- that both you and your child need to thrive emotionally and mentally.”
If any of the challenges reported in this article or survey are familiar to you or someone you know, visit Understood or the following resources:
Supporting children’s mental health this school year
As we enter a new school year, millions of students and teachers are returning to full-time, in-person learning after months of hybrid and virtual instruction. One big question weighs heavily on parents and educators’ minds:
How has this affected our kids?
The return to the physical classroom after so many months of learning from home has prompted many to worry about “the education gap”—a term used to describe the disparity in test scores, dropout rates, and other metrics between groups of students.
Pre-pandemic, the students most likely to exhibit an education gap were from low-income families, students from diverse communities, students for whom English is an additional language, or students with learning disabilities and other learning and thinking differences.
Unfortunately, remote learning has exacerbated this gap for students with learning and thinking differences. The very things that helped many students with learning and thinking differences to learn—stability, routine, and individualized attention, to name a few—were often harder to achieve and receive during remote learning.
This school year, nearly all kids will be facing some sort of education gap as we transition from remote learning back into the classroom. A new study from Understood shows that 90% of educators are concerned about longer-term challenges that all students might face from missing traditional education last year, and 50% of all parents are worried about their child facing challenges because of not having the same education last year due to COVID-19.
Not all kids will meet every academic milestone they “should” be meeting as we return to in-person learning. But for kids with learning and thinking differences, the gap is wider, and potentially trickier to close.
The virtual environment provides many distractions — not just for kids with learning and thinking differences but all of us. I know many adults who have struggled to adapt to working from home and often find it difficult to stay focused on their tasks.
The difference is, many adults have the ability to do something called “set shift”—to switch from task to task easily without losing focus. Kids with learning and thinking differences struggle to set shift, and increased distractions in a virtual environment can make it even harder.
Learning from home has also meant less individualized instruction from teachers— a critical tool in helping kids who learn differently. Remote learning has denied our kids this important resource, as special education and supplementary services have been difficult to implement during the pandemic. Unfortunately, this likely means that we’ll see evidence of this the most in reading comprehension skills, as many younger kids who struggle to read haven’t been able to get the one-on-one instruction they need the most.
We’ve also all lost out on more than a year of socialization. I know adults who worry that they’ve lost their ability to talk with others once we return to a more normal existence. Kids have that same worry too—but kids with learning and thinking differences, especially Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), are likely to need more practice than others.
For some kids , the very idea of returning to in-person learning after months of remote or hybrid instruction may be a stressor. At home, there’s more room to fail and less pressure to “fit the mold” or learn the same way as other students. With the return to the classroom, there’s a greater risk of separation anxiety and fear of failure.
As we return to in-person learning this fall, it’s critical that we meet all kids where they are—not where they “ought” to be. It will be up to educators to work in tandem with parents to identify the scope and scale of the gap to ensure we all children, with a critical eye to those who have additional challenges in learning.
The Take N.O.T.E. tool, developed by Understood in partnership with the American Association of Pediatrics, can help both parents and educators.
Months of remote schooling have allowed parents to observe their child’s behavior, struggles, and achievements in learning environments in ways they never could before.
Take N.O.T.E. empowers parents to use this information to start important conversations that can get neurodiverse kids the support they need. The site offers helpful guides for how to talk with educators and how to engage with kids to advocate for what they need.
Going back to the classroom full-time will be yet another transition to manage in a world full of changes. Resources like Take N.O.T.E. will help parents, educators, and students ensure that kids with learning and thinking differences are part of that transition—not left behind.
July 26th marks the anniversary of a milestone that allows many of us to thrive.
Today is the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a monumental civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places.
The ADA protects anyone with “a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more life activities.” Life activities include things like eating, seeing, hearing, speaking, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, and communicating. The law is meant to be very broad. For instance, ADA covers people who use wheelchairs and people with food allergies, anxiety, depression, HIV, diabetes, and learning and thinking differences.
The anniversary of the ADA is a time for companies and individuals to consider both how far we’ve come, and how we can continue to improve and make progress for people with disabilities. We are just getting started, and have a long way to go.
For example, while last year the 30th anniversary marked a huge milestone, Understood noted that there is still a long road ahead in making an accessible world for those who learn and think differently. Though conditions like dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety are covered under the ADA, many still don’t think about these invisible disabilities, or the barriers that people living with them face every day. While it’s important to celebrate our success, it’s also important to always reflect on additional opportunities for progress.
Over the past year, the pandemic changed what it means to be accessible. As schools and offices went remote, accessibility and usability became more prevalent. Organizations are paying more attention to people with disabilities and what it means to provide an accessible work environment. The pandemic allowed more digital experiences to become a part of everyday life, providing accommodations for those with both visible and invisible disabilities.
At Understood, we focus on invisible disabilities. Our commitment to accessibility and usability includes principles of decreasing friction, increasing access, prioritizing clarity, and continuous improvement for those with disabilities. Because we’ve seen proof that when you build experiences with neurodiversity top of mind, things become more accessible and usable for not just those with disabilities, but everyone.
It’s about designing for people, not just disabilities.
Of course accessibility applies to physical experiences too. Just this month, we opened our new office in New York City. Our new home goes above and beyond accessible design and ADA standards and is built for flexible learning and collaboration inclusive of our workforce with disabilities — including the neurodiverse. Every aspect of our new space either meets or goes above and beyond the ADA recommendation. We wanted to make sure that our office set the standard for accessibility and usability.
It doesn’t matter if it’s physical or digital space, accessibility and usability need to be top of mind. These improvements benefit everyone. Our goal is to shape the world for accessibility and usability, rather than it being an afterthought. While it’s important we celebrate the progress we’ve made, there is more work to be done. Let’s use this anniversary to consider the work that we need to do in the future for those with physical and invisible disabilities, so we can shape the world for everyone.
Understood’s new office sets the standard for accessible, inclusive design for invisible and visible disabilities
As Understood employees return to the office in New York City, the team will reunite in a new headquarters and workspace that was designed with accessibility as the top priority. Understood collaborated with Float Design Studio and and United Spinal Accessibility Services, a preeminent ADA consultant, to ensure the space went above accessibility standards, and set new ones for accommodations for neurodiverse employees.
“Our new home represents the unique way Understood brings together accessibility, usability, and inclusivity through design,” said Fred Poses, CEO of Understood. “Our new office better meets the needs of our team members who learn and think differently, which ultimately makes it a more welcoming, practical space for everyone.”
Beginning in late 2019, the design process reflected the organization’s collaborative spirit. Several Understood employees were selected as part of a committee to ensure the space accommodated learning and thinking differences, in addition to other disabilities. The team worked to make sure the space was flexible, welcoming, and reflected Understood’s brand and values. As a result, many of the space’s features meet ADA standards, but also exceed compliance with aspects created for people who learn and think differently.
For people who have difficulty hearing or focusing, rooms will include AV assistance and ambient sound that is engineered to minimize noise distractions. Sensory processing issues were also heavily factored into the design. Daylight optimization, automated lighting systems, dimmers, and occupancy sensors will ensure the space accommodates people who are sensitive to light. Multi-zone thermal controls will also be accessible for employees with temperature sensitivities.
Many of the inclusive, accessible design techniques in the new office required a more innovative approach rather than more financial resources. Design interventions were chosen to cater to all senses, and the entire team was involved in decision-making, and a wide variety of work space types and flexibility and a variety of furniture types and sizes.
“Our new space’s accessibility features make working easier, and not just for people with disabilities,” said Yvonne Yancy, Understood’s CHRO. “The fact is that 1 in 5 Americans with learning and thinking differences are in the workplace, so as many of us head back to the office, creating a truly inclusive work environment and accounting for those with learning disabilities is imperative.”
The new workplace is one illustration of the organization’s recent commitment to accessible, inclusive design. On May 20, Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Understood announced it will focus on developing a more inclusive approach to accessibility and usability that considers the needs of the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who learn and think differently. The motivation for this commitment springs from multiple sources, including: 1) the frequent omission of learning and thinking differences from accessibility standards, 2) the opportunity to find a balance between accessibility and usability, and 3) the movement of more businesses’ prioritizing accessibility.
Additional features that exceed ADA compliance include:
All workstations are accessible and have sit/stand desks
All tables and soft seating are accessible
A variety of furniture types and sizes to accommodate different body types and working styles
Small focus rooms for quiet work
Beyond the team’s new office space, Understood is committed to building an accessible, inclusive culture that shapes the world for difference.
The Bazaar is a family-owned closeout reseller in the Chicago area that’s been in business since 1960.
In that time, they’ve grown the business to a staff of approximately 200 working out of a 400,000-square-foot warehouse. To maintain their relationship-based approach to customer service at scale, they need a strong talent pipeline. So Bazaar CEO Brad Nardick wanted his company to stand out to job seekers as a great place to work.
“Midsize and small employers don’t have the same recruiting infrastructure that Fortune 500 companies do,” says Nardick. “We have to go recruit people.”
To strengthen recruitment and retention efforts, Nardick wanted the Bazaar to be known as a place where employees with disabilities could thrive. In addition to being a business priority, it was also a personal mission. But he wasn’t sure how to attract talent and build the inclusive workplace he envisioned.
“We just didn’t know the nuance of integrating people with disabilities onto the team, and how to set them up for success,” he says.
In 2019, the Bazaar joined Understood’s Inclusive Careers Cohort (ICC), a community of companies that are committed to excellence in disability inclusion. Through the ICC, Nardick was able to transform his company’s capacity to support different styles of working and thinking.
“Understood took us from amateur to pro,” he says. “The practices we now use to recruit, hire, retain, and advance people with disabilities are the same best practices that should be used across the board. They’ve contributed to our company’s success, making it stronger and more flexible.”
The Bazaar’s inclusive approach is driving results when it comes to hiring and retention. As of March 2021:
22 percent of The Bazaar’s employees self-identify as having a disability, holding entry-level through management-level positions.
91 percent of employees would recommend the Bazaar as a good place to work for people with disabilities, up from 66 percent in March 2019.
The Bazaar has developed working partnerships with 45 community organizations that support job seekers with disabilities including veterans with disabilities, people with disabilities experiencing homelessness, and people with disabilities who are formerly incarcerated.
The Bazaar was recently named a gold winner for the 2021 Shift Awards, which recognize employers who have innovated their hiring, assessment, training, and advancement methods to create new paths to employment, training, and economic opportunity for invisible or overlooked populations.
“This is probably the first time that we have people who are coming in saying, ‘Hey, I really want to work here’,” he says. “We now have a whole new recruiting pipeline that basically guarantees candidates will align with our value system.”
According to Nardick, the benefits the company has seen have been “a marriage of purpose and profit.” But he emphasizes that the most valuable shift has been the change in culture.
“We’ve completely dissolved the idea that people with disabilities won’t do a good job. We have so many living, breathing examples that disprove that stigma now. The environment here is so different because we were able to do that. You can’t put a number on filling a building with a sense of purpose.”
Understood’s experts are leaders in the field of education, disability inclusion, and learning and thinking differences. They help provide proven, vetted information that empowers the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who learn and think differently. In the new “Understood Expert Spotlight'' series, experts share more about their work and why they’re motivated to empower the 1 in 5.
This first spotlight features Amanda Morin, Associate Director of Thought Leadership and Expertise at Understood. Amanda is an author, parent advocate, and mom to kids who learn differently. She worked as a classroom teacher and as an early intervention specialist for 10 years. In her thought leadership role at Understood, she leads efforts to build internal knowledge about learning and thinking differences, works toward establishing Understood as an authority in the field, and ensures that the organization’s work is evidence-based and reflects unique expertise and innovative perspectives.
Below, Amanda offers insight on her work, advice for the 1 in 5, and more.
Understood: The Understood team is working to shape the world for difference so that everyone can thrive. What is your advice for the 1 in 5 community when it comes to not only accepting their differences, but thriving because of them?
Amanda: This is a difficult question to answer because everyone's journey is different. I know what it means to me to accept my own neurodiversity and to thrive with it, but it's hard to give blanket advice to the 1 in 5 because I don't know their personal situation. But I can say this: It's important to remember that you control the narrative of your own story. What do you love about yourself? What do you think people get wrong about you and what do you wish they knew instead?
I often share my own experience of having sensory issues, anxiety, and OCD as a way to encourage other people to feel more comfortable. To me difference is just part of the human experience. Celebrating and telling the world who you are isn’t shameful, it’s brave and a way to normalize the fact that there isn't one "right" way to live in the world. The more we talk about difference as something to be expected, the more we can expect people to embrace it.
Understood: What is the most exciting thing that you’re working on right now?
Amanda: So many things! I have the absolute joy of being able to work cross-functionally and see how the varied work across the organization ladders up to impact. When you’re deep in your daily work, it’s sometimes hard to remember or see that it all fits together and is going to make a difference in the lives of real people. Understood’s mission is so aligned to how the external world is beginning to think about difference. Societally, we’re in a moment of great change, and it’s exciting to me to see neurodiversity and difference become part of broader, mainstream conversations. I’m thrilled to work to help us become a leader and facilitator of some of those conversations.
Understood: Can you tell us the name of a person or organization you admire when it comes to shaping the world for difference? What makes them stand out?
Amanda: Oh, no! I have to choose just one? If so, I’d have to say it’s Judy Heumann. She’s a rock star and pioneer around looking at disability rights as civil rights. She has quite truly changed the landscape, both through decades of activism and, most recently, with the film “Crip Camp.” I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Judy interact in less formal ways, too, and she’s also incredibly down to earth and funny, which makes it even easier to admire her and the work she does.
Families of children with learning differences report strong concerns about education, mental health, and financial burden
More than a year into the pandemic, many families have faced challenges —from difficulties with distance learning to unemployment or financial instability, yet results from Understood’s new “Pandemic Learning Impact Study” highlight a stark difference between the experiences of neurotypical families compared to those whose children learn and think differently, like dyslexia and ADHD.
In April, Understood surveyed 1,500 U.S.-based parents of children ages 5-18 (both neurotypical children and kids who learn and think differently) about how the pandemic has impacted their education, mental health, and finances. The study found that in the remote learning environment, nearly three-quarters (72%) of parents have become aware of or noticed their children may have learning challenges or differences. The divide was clearest in several areas, including:
Learning loss: Nearly 60% of parents of students with learning and thinking differences say their children are a year behind and may never catch up, while 16% of “typical” parents believe their children are behind in their studies because of the pandemic.
Mental health: Children with learning and thinking differences are nearly three times as likely to have experienced depression related to schooling changes. The stress related to distance learning has been much higher for those with learning and thinking differences versus those without (65% vs. 44%), resulting in emotional distress (61% vs. 36%), physical symptoms (57% vs. 30%), avoidance of attending classes (47% vs. 23%) and more.
Finances: Almost twice as many (56% vs. 30%) parents of children with learning and thinking differences say providing their child with academic support has put a major financial burden on their family.
Summer school: Almost all (86%) parents of children with learning and thinking differences are planning on summer academic support compared to just half of parents of typical children.
“Our ‘Pandemic Learning Impact Study’ shows there’s still work to be done even as much of the country reopens,” said Fred Poses, CEO of Understood. “As we have before and throughout the pandemic, Understood continues to guide individuals who learn and think differently. We’re working to close the gaps that the pandemic has exposed so that more individuals have the opportunity to thrive.”
If any of the challenges reported in the survey are familiar to you or someone you know, visit Understood or the following resources:
Connecting with other families for support:
Supporting children’s mental health:
Helping children with school:
One more reason for Asian Americans to drop the “model minority” myth: Learning and thinking differences
May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Here, Understood’s Andrew Lee reflects on the “model minority” myth and how it harms Asian Americans who learn and think differently.
Years ago, when I was first thinking about working in the field of education, a good friend said to me: “You should do it! Schools and families will love you because you’re Asian, and you know, everyone thinks all Asian people are super smart.”
She didn’t mean any harm. And to tell the truth, I was both surprised and flattered. My friend was a respected educator and she said I was smart! With time, however, I started to realize how well-intentioned statements like this have harmed the Asian American community.
The “model minority” myth is the idealization of Asian Americans as hardworking and successful people who don’t complain. The term was first used in the 1960s. Often, American society contrasted Asian Americans with other minority communities in ways that suggested other people of color were lazy, unintelligent, and even violent.
Asian Americans may have benefited because some section of American society thought more highly of us. But at the same time, the model minority myth created stereotypes of Asian Americans as emotionless robots who excel at school, especially math. It labeled us as bad at sports, one-dimensional in personality, not very creative, and not needing any mental health support. Society sees us as foreign and inhuman.
Many think that these views have fed into the current wave of hate and violence against Asian Americans. The model minority myth is not just false, it’s dangerous.
I’ve seen the harm of this myth in my work at Understood. We work to shape the world for difference, so that people can embrace their learning and thinking differences.
But for Asian Americans, there is stigma and shame around being different or not fulfilling expectations. The model minority myth plays a big role here. Many parents and caregivers feel uncomfortable and ashamed to talk about kids who may not be doing well in school.
Young people feel the intense pressure, too. We’re supposed to be the model minority — smart, great at school, and never complaining or needing help. Think how hard it is for a young Asian American to say, yes, I have ADHD or I have dyslexia, and I struggle in school.
The numbers confirm this. Recent statistics from the federal government show that only 7 percent of Asian American students receive special education, compared to 13 percent of students overall. There may be multiple reasons for this gap, but one is certainly the stigma of having a disability or a learning and thinking difference.
So for this Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, it’s time to drop the model minority myth. Stop the stereotypes that are harming Asian Americans. Acknowledge that we are not a warped, faceless ideal. We are individuals. Some of us are good at math, others excel at art or sports. Some of us struggle in school. Some of us need mental health support. We have the right to complain of injustice. And many of us learn and think differently.
Andrew M.I. Lee, JD, is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.
Mothers are the epitome of love, care, compassion, and sacrifice. Today we recognize those who have taught us right from wrong, who act with purpose, and who have made a difference in the lives of their children, their families, and their loved ones.
We are thankful for the numerous contributions made by our working moms. Those who are committed to making an impact in the lives of so many, inside and outside the workplace. We admire the hard work and dedication it takes to work while juggling all of the other roles you play…mentor, teacher, confidant, coach, friend, and so much more.
Mothers represent everything that we value at Understood. They make an impact on their families through their never-ending love and support. They embrace the differences in their children and teach them how to embrace it too. They set the standard by showing us how to love and how to be loved by others. They act with purpose by always equipping us with the necessary tools to be successful in life. And lastly, they’re always willing to roll up their sleeves and make sacrifices in order for us to thrive together.
So today let’s thank our mothers, grandmothers, godmothers and mother figures for all they’ve done and continue to do. Thank them for being kind, caring, determined, and forgiving. Thank them for picking us up after we fall, for being a constant shoulder to cry on, for always knowing the right thing to say, and of course, for always providing unconditional love and support.
Don’t let today be the only day you say “Thank you” or “I appreciate you” or “I love you.” Make it a habit to tell them every chance you get because there’s no one else that deserves to hear it more.
Urtubey is first Latinx teacher awarded by the Council of Chief State School Officers since 2005
On May 6, 2021, Understood Mentor Fellow Juliana Urtubey was named the 2021 National Teacher of the Year by the Council of Chief State School Officers. Since 2018, Urtubey has worked with Understood to help educators across the country support children with learning and thinking differences. Urtubey is the first Latinx National Teacher of the Year since 2005 and first National Teacher of the Year from Nevada.
“Kids with thinking and learning differences have so many possibilities, so much potential,” said Urtubey after receiving the recognition on CBS This Morning. “It’s just my job to find it, make them believe it, and then help them grow.”
Juliana was a member of the inaugural class of Understood Teacher Fellows in 2018–2019. She continues to serve as a Mentor Fellow to other teachers in the fellowship program — guiding them on their journeys to support students who learn and think differently. She is a valued contributor to Understood’s resources for educators and families, particularly by sharing her expertise on building relationships with families of students who learn and think differently.
“Being a teacher fellow helped me envision a world where students and families are greeted with strength-based approaches,” Urtubey recently shared about her experience with Understood’s Teacher Fellowship. “I learned how to improve learning environments and attitudes so that my students can see the same potential I see in them.”
“Juliana is testament to the critical role teachers play in influencing and supporting the lives of kids who learn and think differently,” said Fred Poses, CEO of Understood. “Understood is incredibly proud of Juliana and we thank her for all she has done for the 1 in 5 as she continues to shape the world for difference.”
Urtubey currently is an educator at Kermit R. Booker, Sr. Innovative Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada. She co-teaches in pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade special education settings, where many of her students are English language learners. She also serves as an instructional strategist developing schoolwide multi-tier systems of support (MTSS) for academic, social-emotional, and behavioral interventions. During her 10 years as an educator, she has also been a special education teacher at Crestwood Elementary School in Las Vegas.
Urtubey is also the 2020-2021 Nevada Teacher of the Year and a National Board Certified Teacher. She holds a BA in elementary education with bilingual education certification and an MA in bilingual special education, both from the University of Arizona.
In our “Intern Spotlight” series, we’re sharing stories of interns across Understood about their background, their work, and why they’re motivated to empower the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who learn and think differently.
Our design intern Jessica Miller, based in Ohio, is a senior at Kent State University majoring in visual communication design with minors in photography, creative writing, and user experience design.
For this spotlight, we asked Jessica to share her story in her own words:
As a child, I was diagnosed with a learning difference, dyslexia, which made me more attuned as a designer to accessibility. Oftentimes, I’ve stumbled over poorly designed menus and sloppy textbook layouts that made navigating the world more difficult. I was aware of how the basics of accessibility design, color contrast, and font size were hardly considered. I questioned why companies and clients continued to accept work that put the 1 in 5 people who learn and think differently at a disadvantage. Why did they not highlight the accomplishments and uplift neurodiverse designers who design not with empathy, but with experience?
When designers do think about accessibility, there is the misconception to analyze it in a medical or strictly ADA-compliant context. Designers tend to see disability as a problem to correct or an obstacle to overcome. We, as designers, need to reframe our understanding of the relationship between disability and design to see it as a method of prioritizing the user. Numerous inventions were created specifically for accessibility, from spellcheck to touchscreen technology, which improved all of our lives.. Oftentimes, designing with neurodivergent users in mind ends up creating a better product. When we embrace diversity of experience, innovations are created from which we all benefit.
As a design intern at Understood, I found out how accessibility design is one of the organization’s commitments and not a buzzword. From my first day, I saw how setting the standard for accessibility design is part of our pursuit to shape an accessible and inclusive tomorrow. For instance, our branding colors were chosen with the intention to be ADA compliant and are optimized for readability. Understood’s font, known as Understood Sans, is a customized version of Roobert that's also optimized to improve readability by varying letterforms. These variations help those with learning and thinking differences access materials.
Understood represents a direction I hope more businesses and designers will head toward. Accessibility, diversity, and inclusion are the future of design. The more people we design for, the more inclusive and successful our world will be. We need to listen to and celebrate neurodiverse designers to expand our knowledge. We need to let them show us the ways we can improve our designs and our future.
For Women’s History Month, I think of the dynamic women who influenced my life and my worldview. To be honest, I don’t have to look very far.
I was raised in a space where influential, empowering women were in great abundance. In my world, it was very much the norm as a woman, and as a Black woman, to engage in real conversations about glass ceilings and to watch people crack them.
My grandmothers, my mother, aunts, and their friends were all groundbreakers. They were the first of firsts – the first Black volunteer with the Pink Ladies at the local hospital in south Georgia, first Black female full professor at the tier-one research institution, author of the first anthology about Black feminists, first Black woman licensed as a psychometrist in the state… I could go on and on, but you get the drift. When I was growing up, being first was normal, and expected.
Being first often means being different, and when you’re different, you’re visible. As a Black woman, I know what it’s like to be visible. I navigate that pretty much every day. You have to be able to navigate the cost of visibility to thrive. Being visible requires confidence and a clear sense of who you are.
Growing up, I had a village of Black women, led by my mother, who went to great lengths to create a space where that confidence was normal. For example, in the late seventies Black Barbie’s were not widely sold in the South. But my mother was not going to give me Barbie’s Black friend because Blackness wasn’t a sidekick. If Blackness wasn't central, I didn't have it. I had Black history comic books, a Black Raggedy Ann that was as tall as I was, and two Black Cabbage Patch dolls that were made especially for me. When my white classmates tore the legs off of my Black Santa Claus at school, I simply made a new one. I was not deterred. I was always clear that Black was in fact beautiful.
I also remember very clearly telling my first-grade teacher that she was a feminist. This did not go over well. I was insistent that if you are a woman, clearly you support other women, and that's what my 5-year-old-self thought that feminism was. I thought all women were feminists. It was ingrained in me.
No matter the space, hostile or friendly, I did not contort myself to fit in, nor was I encouraged to do so. As a child, I thought this was normal. Looking back on it now, I can see that it was truly intentional. My mother and my village created these spaces and opportunities on purpose. They went to great lengths to make sure that I thrived regardless of the environment, and that I did not question who or what I was. They did not shelter me from reality, they prepared me to excel in spite of it.
Everyone has their own journey, but for me, I’m very much the product of a group of exceptionally strong, independent Black women. As a Black woman in white spaces you can be treated as though you are invisible — not just because of your gender, but also because of your race. These challenges are intertwined. Navigating these realities requires a toughness and a confidence in who you are and your value, which not everyone can easily develop.
Many parts of my journey mirror the experiences of the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. with learning and thinking differences, who we serve at my organization Understood. These individuals often have to navigate environments where their differences are seen as weaknesses, not strengths. Many people who learn and think differently struggle to graduate from high school, find jobs, and are likely to encounter the criminal justice system. When you layer on identities like being a woman or a member of the Black community, or both, these individuals face even greater barriers to being seen, understood, and admired.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, I am grateful for the women who literally paved the road I walk on. I’m grateful that, because of them, I can be fully seen in the world. My hope, and part of my job, is to help more people be “seen” and embrace their differences like I was taught to. When we embrace differences, everyone thrives.
At Understood, we believe in being an example of the change that we want to see. This means demonstrating our mission to help those with learning and thinking differences thrive. Part of this includes creating a work environment where they are embraced and have the opportunity to create meaningful careers. We’re tackling the disability unemployment rate head-on by launching a new internship program with more than a dozen talented individuals who have learning and thinking differences.
The pilot program launched in February and has already played a key role in helping us fulfill our mission. Fourteen new interns will be in residence at Understood for six months, gaining practical work experience across various fields, career connections, mentorship, and professional development.
The application process for the pilot program was shared across 30+ job boards, organizations, schools, and hundreds of organizational chapters. In just two weeks, over 250 individuals with learning and thinking differences applied to Understood, encouraged by the prospect of building a better future for others within the 1 in 5.
After a five-day on-boarding process, our cohort connected with many employees who learn and think differently while exchanging perspectives that allow us to remain connected to our mission and each other.
Jed Webster, Understood’s data science intern commented about his positive experience, sharing that, “Everyone has guided me towards becoming a well-rounded individual and I’m excited to be working with an organization that embraces the power of cutting edge technology.”
“Part of what makes Understood great is that we really do ‘understand’ our people and those with learning and thinking differences because we are committed to recruiting and developing talent from the 1 in 5,” said Katie Aholt, Understood’s director of people engagement and operations, who spearheaded the inaugural internship program.
Yvonne Yancy, Understood’s chief human resource officer, added, “By giving those with learning and thinking differences opportunities, and an accommodating and inclusive work environment, it positively benefits us all. Without those opportunities, the cost to society can be up to $500 billion in lost productivity. We take pride in bringing some of the brightest talent to Understood, and can say with certainty that after these interns have made their mark here, they will go on to further shape a world for difference.”
And the feeling is mutual. In a survey, 100 percent of our new interns shared that they feel welcomed at Understood and are driven to change the stigma surrounding learning and thinking differences.
“It has been such an honor getting to work at Understood. The work is meaningful and the people of Understood are incredibly passionate and talented. This has been such a great opportunity for me and I am so thankful to get to be a part of it,” said Jessica Miller, design intern.
Understood has already benefited from these individuals’ neurodiversity, energy, and unique perspectives based on their lived experiences. Understood is committed to embracing difference, and encourages more companies to consider bringing neurodiverse talent into their organizations. Their differences can be your strength.
Striking out stigma: Understood’s Eye to Eye alumni share how stigma played a role in their journeys to thriving
Eye to Eye is a national, award-winning mentorship organization for students with learning and thinking differences, and a founding partner of Understood. This week, Eye to Eye is observing Strike Out Stigma Week to give every person who learns and thinks differently an opportunity to speak out against stigma.
Several members of the Understood team are Eye to Eye alumni. In recognition of the Strike Out Stigma initiative, a few of them shared their experiences dealing with the stigma that comes with learning and thinking differently and what they recommend everyone can do to strike out stigma.
Grace Halvey, Communications
Can you talk about the role that stigma has played in your personal journey?
Growing up with dyslexia, I was (and still am) often misunderstood, minimized and dismissed. There is a lack of awareness of what dyslexia is. People often assume that I can’t read or write or that I am stupid. Most often, people assume I write backwards. None of these assumptions are true.
At Understood we are shaping the world for difference, which in part means eradicating stigma for people with learning and thinking differences. What do you think people can do to help?
Education is the first step towards eradicating stigma. If teachers and parents are educated about learning differences and know the signs, they can identify these early on. The sooner a student has a diagnosis, the sooner they can get the necessary support.
How has Eye to Eye played a role in your life and how did it lead you to Understood?
Eye to Eye played a huge role in my college experience. Once a week I got to share with my mentees the tips and tricks that I learned growing up with dyslexia. I was able to teach them how to advocate for themselves and their learning differences. Working with Eye to Eye showed me the importance of creating a community for people with learning and thinking differences, which is why I wanted to work at Understood.
Natalie Tamburello, Product
Can you talk about the role that stigma has played in your personal journey?
No matter how confident and accepting you are of your learning difference, battling stigma and its effects on your confidence is a lifelong journey. But it is better to acknowledge it head on then to let it silently consume you. Stigma can also teach you what really matters and who really is in your corner.
At Understood we are shaping the world for difference, which in part means eradicating stigma for people with learning and thinking differences. What do you think people can do to help?
Normalize difference and make it cool! Everyone should learn about stigma and how to control it to the best of your abilities. You can even make it work for you.
How has Eye to Eye played a role in your life and how did it lead you to Understood?
Eye to Eye in many ways has shaped my career. It showed me that it was my duty to give back and lift up this community in any way that I could. Your individual success is so much more satisfying when you are able to empower others like you in the process.
Julia Wakin, Communications
Can you talk about the role that stigma has played in your personal journey?
Having a difference that is physically invisible has made me keenly aware of and sensitive to the unique nature of each individual.
Assumptions are often made and prejudices are formed due to the sheer fact that I have a learning difference. It is tiring and can affect my confidence levels. The stigma will never be easy, but I grew to understand the absurdity of it and value the importance of knowing a person’s story.
At Understood we are shaping the world for difference, which in part means eradicating stigma for people with learning and thinking differences. What do you think people can do to help?
The first step to eradicating stigma is acceptance and celebration.
To do this, we must understand the value of listening with intent, sincerity, and compassion. By addressing inaccuracies, we can shape the world to arrive at a more powerful level of acceptance where individuals are not seen as deficient, but rather, capable because of the challenges they conquer every day.
How has Eye to Eye played a role in your life and how did it lead you to Understood?
Being a chapter leader at Eye to Eye taught me so much more than just how to advocate for myself and the power of difference. It taught me how to get through the negatives in life, deal with them and use them to grow personally.
Being a part of the Learning Disability community has inspired me to empower others to know and celebrate their strengths, while not being embarrassed to improve weaknesses. This is exactly what led me to the community at Understood.
Strike Out Stigma Week is March 1- 7, 2021. To help raise awareness, visit Strike Out Stigma and use #StrikeOutLDStigma on your social channels.
Shaping an Accessible World: How our email redesign benefits users with differences and disabilities
At Understood, we believe that compliance isn’t enough when it comes to supporting the 1 in 5 people who learn and think differently. We strive to go above and beyond accessibility standards, in particular for our digital design and marketing efforts. Everyone benefits when we make our resources more accessible and inclusive, whether it’s a busy working parent or a college student with dyslexia. Not to mention, enhancing accessibility standards puts our creativity to the test in the best possible way.
Beginning this winter, Understood’s emails for families, educators, and Spanish-speakers will have accessible features for people who are deaf, color blind, and have sight issues with text size. The new format enhances ADA accessibility across both light and dark modes, which makes it easier to view emails across devices and email service providers. Not only will this redesign benefit more people with differences and disabilities, it will also create a richer viewing experience for all users.
The new email design will enhance accessibility with the following features:
For users who are blind, the redesign allows screen readers to more easily read text and images
The email and text will be scalable and responsive for users with sight issues who require larger text sizes
The format’s color palette and contrast accounts for all types of colorblindness
“The new email redesign is a great example of how Understood puts the individual who learns and thinks differently at the center of the experience,” says Nathan Friedman, Understood Chief Marketing Officer. “Our teams prioritize accessible features in all of our designs and are setting new standards for inclusive branding, particularly in how we connect and market to our audiences.”
Over the coming months, our emails for young adults and employers will start to include these more accessible features. By treating inclusion and accessibility as essential practices, Understood is working to shape more experiences for difference.
To view the new design, sign up for our email newsletters here.
If nothing else, this year has confirmed that many of the “old” ways of doing things won’t work moving forward. We’ve witnessed the countless ways people who are considered different, whether because of how they look, learn, or think, are being left behind—and will fall further behind if we don’t make lasting changes now.
Throughout the pandemic, our focus has never wavered from the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who learn and think differently. As our country rebuilds, Understood believes that we must reimagine our schools, workplaces, communities, and homes to be more diverse, inclusive, and equitable so that everyone can thrive.
Understood experts Bob Cunningham, executive director of learning development; Amanda Morin, associate director, thought leadership and expertise; Trynia Kaufman, expert and senior manager, editorial research; and Claire Odom, senior program manager, have four key predictions as to what major changes in 2021 will impact people who learn and think differently.
Below is a glimpse into their predictions for the year ahead. Check out Understood’s Medium page for a more in-depth analysis of each prediction in the near future:
1. If families don’t start preparing now, some students who learn and think differently may find it hard to reacclimate to post-pandemic life, especially those who struggle with social interactions and transitions.
2. Schools and learning spaces will be reimagined to be more inclusive and equitable in order to give all students an equal opportunity to bounce back from the effects of 2020.
3. Employees will take the lead in creating the future workplace and push employers to embrace the inclusion of all types of differences, including disabilities.
4. The ‘one size fits all’ model of teaching is dead. To prevent irreversible losses, teachers will need flexibility to prioritize individualized and trauma-informed instruction.
Rebuilding our communities with difference in mind won’t always be easy, but it is the only way we can shape a world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive.
To learn more about the Understood team’s predictions for the new year, follow us here on Medium.
At Understood, we’re living our mission by creating a world and a workplace
where everyone can thrive. We support and challenge each other to make an impact, embrace difference, set the standard, and act with purpose so that we can thrive together as a team—including interns. Our interns play a foundational role in helping us achieve our mission and strengthening our culture.
In our new “Intern Spotlight” series, we interview interns from across the organization about their background, their work at Understood, and why they’re motivated to empower the 1 in 5 people in the U.S. who learn and think differently.
This first spotlight features Communications intern Gonzalo Monge Castillo, who is also a fellow with Understood’s partner projectBASTA, a recruiting and staffing nonprofit dedicated to bridging the employment gap for first-generation students. A native Spanish speaker, Gonzalo was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the Bronx when he was 11 years old. He graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice this past spring with a bachelor’s degree in English and a minor in film studies.
In a recent Q&A, Gonzalo shared a bit about his background, his experience at Understood, and what its mission means to him.
What does Understood’s mission of “shaping the world for difference” mean to you? / ¿Qué significa para ti la misión de Understood de “construyendo un mundo que valore las diferencias”?
Shaping the world for difference means removing the stigma associated with learning and thinking differences so that we can uplift individuals and create a community where everyone is accepted. It also reminds me that other peoples’ differences aren’t always visible, especially if they have a learning or thinking difference, and why it’s important for us to embrace each other’s unique qualities.
Construyendo un mundo que valore las diferencias significa eliminar el estigma asociado con las diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender para ayudar a que las personas prosperen y crear una comunidad donde todos sean aceptados. También me hace recordar que las diferencias de los demás no siempre son visibles, especialmente si tienen una diferencia en la manera de pensar y aprender, y la importancia de que valoremos las cualidades únicas de los demás.
What do you wish people knew about Understood? / ¿Qué desearías que la gente supiera de Understood?
I wish people knew how dynamic and diverse the organization is, especially since many members of the Understood team learn and think differently themselves. The team constantly collaborates and many people come from different backgrounds, but they are all dedicated to the mission. The organization truly embraces change as it continues to evolve with new insights gained from research, different initiatives, and the current times.
Deseo que la gente sepa que Understood es una organización dinámica y diversa, especialmente porque muchos miembros del equipo piensan y aprenden de manera diferente. El equipo colabora constantemente y muchas personas provienen de diferentes orígenes, pero todos están dedicados a una misma misión. La organización verdaderamente se adapta al cambio a medida que continúa evolucionando con nuevas ideas obtenidas de investigaciones, diferentes iniciativas y los tiempos actuales.
What made you interested in an internship at Understood? / ¿Qué te hizo interesarte en una pasantía en Understood?
I’ve always gravitated towards organizations that promote helpful resources and enrich the lives of others. Understood’s impactful content made me want to pursue an internship with the Communications team.
Siempre me he sentido atraído a las organizaciones que brindan recursos útiles y enriquecen la vida de los demás. El contenido impactante de Understood me hizo querer hacer una pasantía con el equipo de Comunicaciones.
What have you learned so far in your role? / ¿Qué has aprendido hasta ahora en tu puesto?
My experience so far has shown me plausible ways to create environments where everyone has a chance to succeed. I am now more aware of ways to create accessible, inclusive spaces for people who learn and think differently. I’ve also grown to see how it’s necessary to innovate our school systems and workplaces in order to improve each other’s lives.
Mi experiencia hasta ahora me ha mostrado maneras viables de crear entornos donde todos tengan la oportunidad de tener éxito. Ahora soy más consciente de las maneras de crear espacios accesibles e inclusivos para las personas que piensan y aprenden de manera diferente. También he aprendido que es necesario innovar con nuestros sistemas escolares y lugares de trabajo para mejorar la vida de los demás.
Before working at Understood, did you have other experiences that shaped your perspective on difference? / ¿Antes de trabajar en Understood, tuviste otras experiencias que influyeron en cómo percibes las diferencias?
Back in 2017, I found myself selling sweets at Bryant Park’s Holiday shops during the annual Winter Village event. Tourists from all over the world came to experience this hot spot and I was exposed to so many different cultures. It made me more aware of how people can interpret information differently, and I realized we can always figure out ways to understand each other.
En 2017, estuve vendiendo dulces en las tiendas navideñas de Bryant Park durante el evento anual llamado Winter Village. Vinieron turistas de todo el mundo a disfrutar este punto de interés y estuve expuesto a muchas culturas diferentes. Esto me hizo más consciente de cómo la gente puede interpretar la información de manera diferente, y me di cuenta de que siempre podemos encontrar formas de comprendernos.
A personal question: What's your favorite book? / Una pregunta personal: ¿Cuál es tu libro favorito?
The Sherlock Holmes series sits at the top of my favorite book series. I’ve been a fan of detective novels from the moment I was introduced to this genre.
La serie de Sherlock Holmes es una de mis series favoritas de libros. He sido un fanático de las novelas de detectives desde el momento en que conocí este género.
Final question: What do you hope to accomplish for the 1 in 5? / Pregunta final: ¿Qué esperas lograr para las 1 de cada 5 personas que piensan y aprenden de manera diferente?
While interning at Understood, I hope to instill self-confidence in the 1 in 5 and empower their voices. I also hope to increase awareness of the many issues that intersect with learning and thinking differences, such as making information accessible to everyone.
Durante mi pasantía en Understood, espero infundir autoconfianza en las 1 de cada 5 personas que piensan y aprenden de manera diferente y potenciar sus voces. También espero crear conciencia sobre los diferentes aspectos que confluyen con las diferencias en la manera de pensar y aprender, como hacer que la información sea accesible para todos.
As Understood continues towards its mission of shaping the world for difference, the month of October included several important observances to help forward that. This included National Learning Disabilities Awareness Month, ADHD Awareness Month, and National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Understood also continued to recognize this year’s 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act in October.
In light of these recognitions, the Understood team highlighted individuals’ stories both inside and outside of the organization. By empowering the voices of those with differences and disabilities, Understood demonstrated how embracing differences as strengths can help everyone thrive.
Understood senior manager Natalie Tamburello, who is dyslexic, shared her journey from being labeled “uneducable” in elementary school to graduating college with honors and magna cum laude. She emphasized how her experience would have been different if her dyslexia would have been recognized as an asset instead of a hurdle.
“I wish learning and thinking differently wasn’t viewed as a barrier to success, but as an opportunity for everyone to reimagine the ladders to success,” wrote Tamburello.
At a gathering with Understood employees, disability and race consultant and Understood expert Keri Gray proposed reframing the ways in which we discuss disabilities. In an open dialogue about race and visible and invisible disabilities in the workplace, Gray shared her experience as a Black woman with disabilities in advancing intersectional inclusion in the workplace.
“Things changed for me when I was introduced to the disability community, I saw the world did not have to see me as the summation of my medical conditions,” she stated. “And as I got deeper in the workplace, I found it necessary that we were developing spaces that are inclusive of my Blackness, my womanhood, and my disabilities.”
Throughout her career, Gray’s impactful work with young people with disabilities, including those who learn and think differently, has led her to advocate for a future where workplaces allow people to bring their full selves to work. She noted that among persons with a disability, Blacks have a higher unemployment rate (11.8 percent) than Hispanics (8.6 percent), Asians (6.7 percent), and Whites (6.6 percent).
Claire Odom and Nora Genster, two of Understood’s disability inclusion specialists, explored how accommodations can help organizations address this problem. With so many companies now operating fully remote, Odom and Genster emphasized the importance of accommodations in this new work environment and how employers should avoid assuming that new “perks” such as flex time comprehensively support employees.
They also shared their own personal experiences with accommodations processes, what supports have and haven’t been working while working from home, and why employers should trust employees with knowing what they need to thrive at work.
While October has come to a close, Understood will continue to highlight individuals’ experiences to encourage others to embrace differences so that we can thrive together.
Between the global pandemic, the movement for racial justice, and unprecedented upheaval to our education system and economy, this year’s events continue to highlight the importance of inclusion. More individuals and organizations are having dynamic conversations about diversity, equity, and embracing differences. Creating inclusive spaces has been core to Understood’s work since its beginning in 2014. Over the years, the social impact organization has focused on helping the 1 in 5 people who learn and think differently thrive.
Today, Understood’s mission - shaping the world for difference - is taking on a much larger meaning. In recent months, people with disabilities are losing their jobs at a higher rate than people without disabilities. And with many schools continuing distance learning, families and educators of children with learning differences are challenged to ensure kids continue to receive the right accommodations and support
“We’re at a time when the world is shining a light on the need for greater diversity and more inclusive spaces, and people with learning and thinking differences must be recognized as part of that conversation,” said Fred Poses, CEO of Understood. “When given proper support and the right opportunities, they can enrich the world but without that, they face educational challenges or even unemployment. There is more work to be done.”
Families are echoing this sentiment. In fact, in a recent survey from Understood and YouGov*, 71% of parents report concerns that their child will face challenges this coming school year, and asked for resources to empower them and their kids. As a response, Understood launched Take N.O.T.E. - an initiative and the first memory device to help families recognize early symptoms of learning disabilities and ADHD and get support. In addition to Take N.O.T.E., Understood supports learning and thinking differences in its accessible digital products, branding,and practical resources for educators and employers to create inclusive environments, to name a few efforts.
With its mission growing in importance, Understood is expanding as an organization with new team members and functions. Joanna Roses recently joined in a new role of Executive Director of Communications to lead its internal and external communications efforts, and help strengthen awareness of Understood and its mission. She reports to Chief Marketing Officer Nathan Friedman.
Roses’ background fits nicely with the audiences that Understood wants to reach with its mission. She has helped position companies like Nickelodeon and the Department of Education in its efforts to recruit future teachers, as well as corporate communications efforts for a range of companies across industries, such as L’Oréal and KAYAK. With leadership roles at agencies such as Golin, startups, and both public and private companies, she joins Understood from analytics company SAS, where she ran its communications and creative marketing division.
Roses is one of several newly added senior leadership team members who are reinforcing Understood’s work, including Chief Human Resources Officer Yvonne Cowser Yancy and Chief Product Officer Jenny Wu. As Yancy scales the team and builds Understood as a best-in-class workplace, Wu is focused on diversifying and expanding the organization’s product offerings.
Added Poses, “Externally, we are shaping a world for differences, but we are also operating this way internally and expanding our team of diverse perspectives and backgrounds within the organization. We are pleased to add Jenny, Yvonne and Joanna into the fold, and are looking forward to their helping to bring our mission to life.”
*YouGov, on behalf of Understood, conducted an online survey among 2,049 parents of children ages 5–17 in the U.S. between July 22 and August 3, 2020.
Understood is on a mission to shape the world for difference with the goal that everyone—especially the 1 in 5 children in the U.S. with learning and thinking differences—can thrive. Today, many of these children are not getting the support they need and face an unfortunate reality. They are:
Thirty-one percent more likely to be bullied;
Three times as likely to drop out of high school;
And twice as likely to be jobless as adults.
This situation is further complicated by the impact of COVID-19 as families are overwhelmed with the back-to-school season and hungry for resources to help them meet their kids’ academic and social-emotional needs. A recent Understood/YouGov survey* found that nearly two thirds—62 percent—of parents with diagnosed children said they wished they had a tool or resources to help them track changes in their child’s behavior.
Today, Understood launched Take N.O.T.E., an easy memory device and content-rich experience that empowers all families to take control, spot the signs of learning and thinking differences, and get the guidance they need for their children so they can thrive.
The Take N.O.T.E. initiative, which was developed in partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics and through research with parents, centers around a simple, four-part memory device to help families remember the steps to identify possible learning and thinking differences in their kids. The four steps include:
Notice if anything is out of the ordinary
Observe behaviors to determine patterns
Talk to a teacher, social worker, or caregiver to validate
Engage with trusted professionals, like pediatricians
“I am a parent of three children, two of whom have been diagnosed with learning differences,” said Amanda Morin, a former teacher, and Understood senior expert and writer on family advocacy and education. “The process to reach our older son’s diagnosis taught us to pay attention to our instincts and collaborate with our pediatrician, and as a result, we were able to pursue a diagnosis for our younger son much earlier. Take N.O.T.E. would have been a welcomed resource for our family.”
The Take N.O.T.E. launch comes at a time where learning environments are rapidly evolving and parents are finding themselves spending more time with their children. The same survey uncovered that 69 percent of parents have become more aware of the challenges their child faces in school than before the pandemic, and more than a third (37 percent) report noticing changes in their child’s behavior.
“We hope that with Take N.O.T.E., Understood will enable more families to start their journey of identifying learning and thinking differences, and provide them with a directional path with actionable steps,” said Nathan Friedman, Chief Marketing Officer at Understood. “Our ultimate goal is to shift those statistics from what can happen if you don’t get a diagnosis or identification early, to what can happen when you do.”
For more information about Take N.O.T.E., please visit our multimedia news release. *YouGov, on behalf of Understood, conducted an online survey of 2,049 parents of children ages 5-17 in the U.S. between July 22 and August 3, 2020.
Whether students return to school in-person or continue with distance learning, this year it’s vital for families and educators to work together to support children who learn and think differently. Understood’s back-to-school resources center around the power of parent-teacher relationships as students who learn and think differently enter a school year unlike any before.
Our goal is to help strengthen communication and collaboration between families and educators by providing information about:
Safety considerations for students who learn and think differently
Special education during the pandemic
Social-emotional learning for students with and without disabilities
How to address the impact of the COVID slide
Accessibility approaches for in-person and distance learning
Creating a safe space for open conversations about racial injustice
Many children will be entering the virtual and physical classrooms of teachers whom they’ve never met before. By sharing information about how students fared this past spring, families and educators can start the school year off strong. A lot of kids have experienced trauma, food insecurity, or have had loved ones pass away, which means open communication can help educators understand each student’s unique needs and situations.
Juliana Urtubey, an Understood teacher fellow and 4th and 5th grade special education teacher in Las Vegas, is also prioritizing parent-teacher collaboration to ensure the school can make thoughtful considerations on the child's behalf. “The only way educators and schools can do that is through close and genuine partnership with families”, says Juliana. “No matter what the need is, let us know. No matter what the challenge is, let us know.”
Understood, teachers, and families are working towards the same goal: exceptional care and education for all students.
This July marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a monumental civil rights law that prohibits discrimation against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places.
Understood is recognizing the ADA’s anniversary with internal and external initiatives to spark meaningful conversations about ableism and ways we can all help to improve the lives of people with disabilities.
This month, Haben Girma, a disability rights lawyer, advocate, and the first Deafblind person to graduate from Harvard Law, connected with the Understood team for an engaging presentation titled, “Difference Drives Innovation & Disability Inclusion Benefits All of Us”.
“The dominant story frames disability as a burden on society. It’s up to all of us to redefine what disability means,” said Girma. “The definition I’ve come up with is disability is an opportunity for innovation.”
She went on to illustrate her own innovative approaches to navigating spaces, from salsa dancing to sign language to surfing in Santa Cruz, Calif.. Through highlighting “hidden stories” of innovations created by people with disabilities, Girma underscored how accessible design benefits people both with and without disabilities.
Girma also shared her experience of learning how to self-advocate, the role teachers play in removing barriers for people with disabilities, and the intersection of ableism, racism and sexism.
“There's a myth that there's two kinds of people dependent and independent. Not true. All of us are interdependent,” said Girma.
While many of us have all benefited from the ADA, there is still much work to be done to ensure people with all types of disabilities and differences have the opportunity to thrive at home, at school, and in life. We hope everyone joins us in our mission to shape the world for difference.
These are painful times. The impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, the senseless deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and so many other Black Americans, and the protests in Minneapolis and around the world have left our team upset, angry, and hurt. Black lives matter, and our team shares the frustration of our country’s failure to deliver meaningful change.
As a social impact organization that aims to shape the world for difference, Understood is dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Through our team’s collective efforts we will continue to embrace and promote differences of all kinds. This means we are committed to:
Reaching people who are systematically oppressed and providing them access to our resources
Listening to and amplifying voices from marginalized communities
Empowering educators who teach our most vulnerable students in underserved communities around the country
Making Understood and other work environments places where everyone feels that they can thrive
While the U.S. has made significant progress on many issues around civil rights and equality, much more must be done. Our team will actively promote diversity, equity and inclusion within and beyond Understood. During this pivotal moment, we refuse to stand on the sidelines, and we encourage others to join us in this critical movement to end racism.
- The Understood team
Son tiempos dolorosos. El impacto del COVID-19 en las comunidades negras, las muertes sin sentido de George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor y tantos otros afroamericanos, así como las protestas en Minneapolis y en todo el mundo han causado malestar, rabia y dolor en nuestro equipo. Las vidas de las personas negras importan (Black Lives Matter), y nuestro equipo comparte la frustración por el fracaso de nuestro país en lograr un cambio significativo. Por ser una organización de impacto social que se propone construir un mundo que valore las diferencias, Understood se dedica a impulsar la diversidad, la equidad y la inclusión. A través de los esfuerzos colectivos de nuestro equipo, continuaremos adoptando y promoviendo las diferencias de todo tipo. Esto significa que estamos comprometidos a
Llegar a las personas que han sido oprimidas de manera sistemática y proporcionarles acceso a nuestros recursos.
Escuchar y ampliar las voces de las comunidades marginadas.
Empoderar a los educadores que enseñan a los estudiantes más vulnerables en comunidades desatendidas de todo el país.
Hacer de Understood y de otros lugares de trabajo espacios donde todos sientan que pueden progresar, independientemente de las diferencias.
Si bien Estados Unidos ha logrado un avance significativo en muchos temas relacionados con los derechos civiles y la igualdad, todavía es necesario hacer mucho más. Nuestro equipo promoverá activamente la diversidad, la equidad y la inclusión dentro y fuera de Understood. En este momento histórico, nos negamos a permanecer al margen, y alentamos a otros a sumarse a este movimiento crucial para acabar con el racismo.
- El equipo de Understood
Today we welcome Yvonne Cowser Yancy to the team. As our new chief human resources officer, she will lead our human resources, finance, legal and administration teams to help strengthen our culture, recruiting, and operations. She will also co-lead our “Embrace Difference” internal working group to ensure our team, resources, and activities empower diverse communities and perspectives.
Before joining Understood, Yvonne founded and led YSquare Advisors, a boutique consultancy firm that helped developing organizations with their human resources functions. She also served as the chief human resources officer at supermarket chain The Fresh Market and was the commissioner of human resources for the City of Atlanta.
Originally from Atlanta, Yvonne lends her time to the Atlanta Chapter of The Links, Inc., a volunteer service organization for women of color, and is a current board member of the Central Outreach and Advocacy Center, which supports Atlanta’s homeless community. She enjoys mentoring other professionals seeking careers in human resources and is an active member of SHRM, a key partner of the Workplace Initiative by Understood.
Welcome to the team, Yvonne!
We’re on a mission to shape the world for difference.
Since 2014, we’ve provided free resources and a community to families of the 1 in 5 children with learning and thinking differences. We’ve grown to empower millions of U.S. families each month, and to support their children who learn and think differently at home, in school, and in life.
Today we’re sharing our expanded mission. We’ve grown beyond families and will focus on helping the individual throughout their life. In addition to helping families, we’re now working with educators and workplaces to help them adapt to and support those with differences. We have a beta program to help young adults find their first job. We’re engaging people with differences—and those around them—at key moments in their lives, all with the goal of empowering them to thrive.
By expanding our mission, we will be Shaping the World for Difference™ . From school and family life all the way through college and first jobs, our resources will support individuals on their unique journeys, no matter where they come from. Their world, your world, and our world will be ready for all they can achieve.
To support our important work, we created a new website and brand visual system to be more accessible and inclusive so that all people, regardless of difference or disability, will have an easier time engaging with our resources. We even created a new font that is easier to read for people who learn and think differently.
We’re grateful for your continued support and are confident that our expanded mission will have a significant impact on the 1 in 5 people who learn and think differently. Please share what you learn from Understood and join us as we embark on the mission to shape the world for difference. And remember, when we embrace each others’ and our own differences, we all thrive.
Understood has a new Chief Product Officer
Jenny Wu joins our team today as chief product officer and will lead product management, design, and user research. Her work will focus on managing the multiple tech, design, and research components that come together to form our website, tools like Through Your Child’s Eyes, and experiences with Understood. Jenny’s entrepreneurial background in creating user-centric experiences is guided by empathy and will strengthen our teams’ efforts in creating accessible, inclusive digital resources.
Before joining Understood, Jenny led the launch of a new live-streamed, wearable-enabled fitness video product at ClassPass, the fitness technology startup. Outside of work, she advises consumer startups on building next-gen product experiences. She holds an MBA and MA from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MA from the Wharton School, and the Lauder Institute.
Welcome to the team, Jenny!