Episode 20. Kids with ADHD and the connection to emotional regulation and executive function

Lindsay and the team at ADHD Online are wrapping up their back-to-school conversations and gearing up for ADHD Awareness Month by putting the finishing touches on their special series Refocused, Together

Today’s podcast revisits a webinar hosted by Tyler Dorsey and Katelyn Mabry, two women whose own journeys with ADHD led them to working within the ADHD community to help others on their journey to self-acceptance and personal success. 

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Lindsay Guentzel (00:01):

This is episode 20 of Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel. And today’s episode dives into emotional regulation and executive function and their effect on how kids with ADHD thrive in school.

Lindsay Guentzel (00:34):

Oh, you guys, welcome back to Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel, a podcast collaboration between me, Lindsay Guentzel, and ADHD Online, a telemedicine healthcare company working to change the way we diagnose and treat ADHD. Thank you so much for supporting this podcast over the last 20 episodes. It’s honestly been the absolute best and at times the absolute worst experience. And I’ll start with the good because that’s easy. It’s you guys. It’s the emails and the social media messages, and for some of you who know me in real life, the texts or the phone calls. It’s hearing that this podcast for some of you has been the push you needed to seek out an assessment. It’s hearing from a young woman on Instagram who listened to me share my story in episode two and felt so relieved to know that someone else is grieving the life that their undiagnosed ADHD took away from them.

Lindsay Guentzel (01:34):

My style is very much, I like to be the one to show affection, to give praise, to lift someone up. It is very difficult for me to be on the receiving end. And so I am trying to be better at allowing people to show up for me in that way. I’m trying to be better at allowing that love and kindness and support into my life because it’s really lovely and kind and it does make me feel good when I am open to it. It’s exactly what I need. It’s what we all need to be surrounding ourselves with. And I am really grateful for all of you, because it hasn’t been easy, this podcast.

Lindsay Guentzel (02:18):

If we talk about the bad, it’s been a lot. In a great way, but it’s still been a lot. I mean, I think that’s the simplest way to describe it. I hold myself to really high standards and a couple of weeks ago I realized I’ve been holding this podcast that I produce and host to the level of the podcasts that have teams of people producing them. Teams, like large groups of people, many of whom who have a very specific job, and that’s all they do, before making sure that the podcast is ready to go out into the world.

Lindsay Guentzel (02:52):

And here’s the thing that I also have to acknowledge is I am the one creating more work for myself. That’s how I’ve always worked. I set unreasonable expectations. I do everything in my power to make sure I reach that unbelievable level. And then of course, when anything goes wrong or doesn’t meet those expectations, I start to prepare to throw in the towel like I’m not worthy of doing this. This was a mistake. I can’t do it. I’m just disappointing everybody. I think this might be a little bit of imposter syndrome. Even so, it doesn’t help me out when you guys send me really nice notes and share really kind words and I’m already lying on the floor, metaphorically, of course, in the fetal position, embarrassed by how big of a failure I am because I can’t do the job of 20 people.

Lindsay Guentzel (03:46):

It’s a vicious cycle. I’m sure many of you know it well. This podcast, just like my life, is a work in progress and I’m so grateful you’ve decided to come along on this adventure. It’s also why I can’t wait for October, for ADHD Awareness Month to kick off. I think last year, October of 2021, the first ADHD Awareness Month after I was diagnosed, I think I figured out it was ADHD Awareness Month during the last week of the month. And I think that realization and the lack of attention, and here’s that word again, awareness, what felt like a lack of awareness being built during the month set aside to increase awareness probably explains a little bit the magnitude of the project we’re getting ready to unveil for you guys. The theme for October this year is Understanding a Shared Experience, which for me has been such a crucial part of embracing my ADHD.

Lindsay Guentzel (04:47):

Just knowing there is someone out there who gets it, who feels the same, who has felt disconnected and unwelcomed and unsupported, who has fumbled through life feeling like a gosh darn failure too often before realizing that everything has been working against us, that this world wasn’t built for us. That these school systems many of us went through regardless of our age, weren’t designed for us. That an outdated stereotype and a lack of understanding of the complexities of ADHD combined with a lack of resources has simply held us back.

Lindsay Guentzel (05:24):

But it’s also that shared experience that helps us move forward because simply knowing we aren’t alone is incredibly powerful. And because we are all at different points in our journeys, we get to learn from one another. And who better to help the ADHD community than the people who actually have ADHD? That’s the motivation behind Refocused Together, the special series we’re launching for October that will run for the entire month. Using our shared experiences, our stories, to raise awareness, to build understanding for those of us with ADHD, for those who think they might have ADHD, and the many, many people who love someone with ADHD, who want to know how they can be better parents, partners, friends.

Lindsay Guentzel (06:11):

So as we put the finishing touches on Refocused Together, today, we’re going to wrap up September by re-airing portions of the webinar Tyler Dorsey and Katelyn Mabry hosted earlier this month for ADHDonline.com. Tyler and Katelyn’s webinar, How to Survive the School Year, focused in on raising awareness on emotional regulation and executive function and their effect on students and how better understanding communication and building some skills and systems at home can help make school a more enjoyable experience for everyone. You’ve already met Tyler on Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel. She joined me on episode 18 and shared her own ADHD story and how it led her to what she’s doing today with Focus Forward.

Tyler Dorsey (06:57):

If I could have a movie made of my process in college, you would see the transformation of Tyler who’s leaning on the group, to Tyler who is leading the group.

Lindsay Guentzel (07:12):

Tyler was diagnosed with ADHD in fifth grade, but didn’t learn how to manage it until she was in college and her spot on the volleyball team was on the line. She leaned into the positive side of ADHD and hyper-focused on finding a support system that worked for her. She talked to experts and friends, researched, and then, of course, through trial and error, finally created a system that helped her cut through some of the noise and find success. Once she had a better understanding of herself, it was so much easier for her to find the tools she needed to be more organized, to stay on schedule, and then, open her own business.

Lindsay Guentzel (07:47):

She is the owner of Focus Forward and she works with clients to build a personal game plan to thrive with their ADHD so that they or their children can take control of their lives. You can learn more about the work Tyler’s doing by going to focusforwardADHD.com.

Lindsay Guentzel (08:04):

Katelyn Mabry is a new voice for those of you who have been listening to Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel. Diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 10, Katelyn was left feeling alone and different,

Katelyn Mabry (08:16):

So I kind of powered through life doing the best that I could. When I got to college, I became a special ed teacher and I started learning more about the ADHD brain and things started making more sense, the more I understood my brain.

Lindsay Guentzel (08:28):

Katelyn struggled with reading as a child, which ignited her desire to become a reading specialist, to face that weakness head on and then turn it into a strength. Katelyn is also the author of Hi, It’s Me, I Have ADHD. She wrote the book and then her brother drew the illustrations based on personal experiences. She’s also the host of the podcast Journey With Me Through ADHD, a podcast for kids. You can find out more about the work Katelyn’s doing by visiting her website, katelynmabry, that’s K-A-T-E-L-Y-N-M-A-B-R-Y.com.

Lindsay Guentzel (09:05):

Now you might be thinking, Lindsay, I don’t have kids. Neither do I, but as with most things with ADHD, everything Tyler and talk about today is stuff you can make work for yourself. It was also pretty insightful for little Lindsay to go back to those years when I didn’t know what was happening and to reflect and gain some understanding because, and it doesn’t make me feel great to admit this, but some of the things that I did or I guess I didn’t do, are things I still struggle with as an adult. So let’s jump right into How to Survive the School Year with Tyler Dorsey and Katelyn Mabry, opening the episode up with Katelyn explaining emotional regulation and its connection to ADHD.

Katelyn Mabry (10:02):

Oh gosh, emotional regulation. It’s one of those things. It’s one of those dark horses of ADHD, right? It kind of goes under the radar as something, as a struggle, because you see the surface level struggles a lot, like the impulsivity and the distractability and all those things as elements of struggle. But under the surface, what’s happening a lot is that emotional dysregulation, which I would just describe it as, it’s almost like when you go from zero to a hundred with your big intense deep emotions and it’s tied to other things. It’s tied to our sensitivity to rejection. It’s tied to feeling of empathy or being an empath towards different people in different situations. And so all of that kind of is intertwined and that emotional dysregulation piece looks like just having a hard time regulating our big, huge, intense emotions in different situations.

Tyler Dorsey (10:59):

This is how intense what can appear to be the silliest of emotions and the silliest of things impact us. I will never forget, I was a freshman in high school and I had this crush on this boy and I found out he didn’t like me and you guys, it legitimately impacted me for weeks because I didn’t know how to process that. It impacted my volleyball, it impacted my academics. Like my attention, I was hyper focused on the fact that I liked this boy and I had been rejected by him and he did not like me back and I didn’t know how to process that and what to do with that information.

Tyler Dorsey (11:33):

So I was a zombie in class. I will never, ever forget, I was sitting on the volleyball court as a middle blocker and I was just staring off into space waiting for them to serve the ball over and the set to start. And I remember it like it was yesterday because something that tiny and that’s really not that big of a deal was to me. And it’s wild. And I know rejection sensitivity is a massive, massive part of ADHD and our emotions.

Katelyn Mabry (12:03):

This is a big piece that I think we need to advocate for in terms of our kiddos, because a lot of times it does go under the radar or is disciplined as a behavior versus seen as a dysregulation that needs to be addressed and needs to be learned through and needs to be worked on. And a lot of times it’s kind of stopped in its tracks and then the child doesn’t learn how to process it or learn how to find a calm or learn how to grow that skill. Instead, it’s kind of just we put a stop sign up and say, “Okay, you can’t act like that” or “you can’t express yourself like that.” And so I think it starts with us as parents and we can advocate for our kids in schools to educate them on the fact that there is this emotional dysregulation piece that they’re going to see in different ways at school.

Tyler Dorsey (12:56):

I think that every single person with ADHD has the hyper activity of the brain. Because with that hyper activity of the brain, we can actually hyperfocus and that hyper activity goes into overdrive and all of a sudden we’re hyper focusing on everything. I was really good at hyper focusing on my emotions. And so when I was met with a negative response due to my emotions, I may have gotten quieter around people, but my attention was 100%, in my mind, it was 100% focused on those emotions.

Katelyn Mabry (13:26):

So I have two kids with ADHD, so my oldest daughter is 10, and this is the connection piece, because I know a lot of parents are on here looking for that guidance for their child with ADHD. So I have two kids in school with ADHD, so I’m kind of in the thick of it and that’s why you’ll hear the passion in my voice because I’m literally in advocating fight mode in terms of getting my kids what they need in that environment. And my kids present very differently. So my 10 year old, she’s more like a sitting duck. She kind of acts like she has it all together. But then the way the psychologist that diagnosed her described it, she was like, Laney’s little legs are under the seat, maybe even actually kicking, but also just there’s a lot of internal stuff going on.

Katelyn Mabry (14:13):

And so I got her a 504 plan a few years ago. And so we met her fifth grade teacher for her 504 plan. And I just was very blunt with him and I said the thing… Because he was like, “We’ll keep an eye on her, see if there’s any other accommodations in addition to her 504 that needs to be done.” Great teacher. But I said, “But here’s the thing, it might not be in your face. It might be stuff that’s under the surface.” Either she might retreat because there’s that whole flight or fight mode. So she might just get really quiet or she might seem distant or it might not be an outward struggle where she’ll say something. But it’s one of those things where you have to read her body language or check in with her and see and discover what might be going on. Whether she’s not knowing how to start a task that she’s being asked to do or she’s having a hard time organizing or prioritizing what she’s being asked to do in class. But those are all those executive function pieces that trigger the emotional dysregulation.

Tyler Dorsey (15:23):

I tell this story often, but I failed a test and I came home and my mom was like, “Tyler, I need you to put up chocolate chip cookies I made.” And they were this big around and I was like, “Okay.” And I get the tiny sandwich bag out to put 12 chocolate chip cookies in, and she’s like, “Tyler, they’re not going to fit.” And I was like, “Yes they are.” And I crumbled every one up and I shoved them in this bag and I go, “See?” I got a lot of trouble. She lost it and I took that bag because she yelled at me and I chucked it at her. And then I got in even more trouble. I’m having this massive outburst over putting chocolate chip cookies in a bag when all she asked me to do was put them in a gallon bag instead of a little ZipLock bag.

Tyler Dorsey (16:07):

So I was like, we lost it and we had this massive blow up and I will never forget this because it’s the only time I threw was something at my mom. And a couple years later when I started learning about ADHD, I reflected back on that time. And I remember, distinctly remember, earlier that day I had gotten a test grade back and I had failed that test and I came home emotionally charged from that, feeling stupid, feeling like I was letting my family down again. All these things. And I was also prepared for my mom to see that grade and start yelling at me because I had failed again. And the reality is, at this point in my ADHD career or in my ADHD life, I had given up. I was truly not trying anymore. And so I couldn’t even say I tried so hard.

Tyler Dorsey (16:53):

I literally was like, I’d rather just do nothing and fail than do everything and still fail. And so I had just given up and I was just ready to be yelled at for that. So as soon as I got a calm “Please put the cookies in this bag”, I snapped. And so I think too, it’s recognizing on the home front, even though in that moment I would not have been able to talk to my mom about what was going on, it’s finding that safe space at some point to say, can we talk about what was going on in your brain?

Katelyn Mabry (17:23):

Well, and I was just thinking too, with that, everything you were saying, just recognize, getting to the root of the what’s triggering it, right? What’s triggering these big emotional outbursts? And that goes back to where sometimes the teachers aren’t seeing it at school as much, but then we see it as parents at home because kids learn to internalize and kind of cope, use coping mechanisms to stuff it, and then they feel safe at home to express themselves. And it’s like a volcano. And Anton, my six year old, she comes home and she is a hot mess, the poor little thing. Everything triggers her, like the cookies, totally. She would be totally the one that would throw cookies at me. So I think that recognizing that for what it is, is huge. Because again, we still often just discipline it and move on from it, but then nothing’s learned from it. And they’re confused too, at that age, when they’re younger, they don’t recognize that they’re dysregulated. Introducing those terms at a young age can be super helpful for their self-awareness and they’re identifying what’s going on in their mind and emotions.

Tyler Dorsey (18:37):

Yeah. Because I mean, here’s the reality. We become adults and we go off to college and my safe space at home where I literally became a monster where I was screaming and yelling and I had held it in all day and home is my safe space. When I went to college, I didn’t have my family, I was away from them. And that safe space became friends who didn’t understand me and friends who were not going to accept how I was acting because it wasn’t appropriate. And so I didn’t, because that was never properly addressed, and because I had never even understood that was actually something I struggled with, I went to college and it impacted all of my friendships as well.

Tyler Dorsey (19:18):

Now I’m married and my husband gets me and I don’t act that way anymore, but there are times when all of a sudden something comes up and it’s a new territory for me and he’s like, “Why are you yelling?” And I’m like, “I don’t know, but can I just keep doing it for a second?” And he’s like, “Yeah, sure.” And I get it out and then all of a sudden my version of yelling is my talking and it’s I’m showing my emotions while I’m trying to verbalize it. And then we get to the end of it and I’m like, “Okay, can I summarize it?” And I’m calm and he’s like… This is just my time to talk out loud but have that person there so I feel like I’m being supported.

Tyler Dorsey (19:58):

I learned this when I went through my ADHD coaches training and I don’t know who to properly give credit to but I’m just going to run with it. My favorite way to describe executive function is it’s the piece of the brain that tells every other piece when to do its job and how to do its job. So how I love to describe it, is it’s like the conductor of an orchestra. And that conductor spent all of this time leading up to the big concert helping each piece, each instrument, learn how to play the piece and helping them get the timing right and how do we make this all come together to form one really pretty sound, pretty piece of music. And then you get to the concert and as viewers what we see is we just see the conductor if they’re doing this and keeping them going and helping them figure it out.

Tyler Dorsey (20:48):

That’s what executive function is. It’s the conductor of our brain. It’s the piece of our brain that is telling time management, organization, planning, prioritizing, memory, well, all the things, I could keep going, when to do their job. And it’s the piece that’s going to train them on how to do their job. And our executive function is just like, it can be built up, we can improve our executive function, but we are not starting from the same place with executive function that the boring brain, as I like to call it, is. The normal brain, the neurotypical brain, to me is a boring brain because I love my brain. But we don’t start in that same space. We’re hot messes, we’re the most disorganized people you’ll ever meet. We’re always forgetting things. We’re procrastinating 24-7 or having a hard time getting started. We struggle intensely with motivation, attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, all of those things.

Tyler Dorsey (21:46):

And it’s because we don’t have the conductor there. And so that’s what executive function is, is it’s the piece that’s organizing the organization, the time management, the planning, the prioritizing, the getting started or task initiation, the motivation, all of those pieces. So when you see a student or you are the student who just feels like they’re riding the hot mess express 24-7, it’s because you don’t have the conductor keeping all of these pieces together so that you can get that assignment turned in on time, remember to take it to school, know you even had an assignment to do, find the assignment in your backpack, whatever it might be.

Katelyn Mabry (22:28):

Well, and research shows that kids with ADHD are three plus years delayed in a lot of these executive functions. And I think that is huge. And I have a lot of parents that I work with that are like, that totally makes more sense. So when I look at my six year old and she’s having a temper tantrum, that temper tantrum makes more sense because executive function wise, she’s a three year old in some of these areas like emotional regulation. So some of her behaviors make more sense. When I give her multiple directions, if that area of her brain is three years behind, that means it’s giving a three year old discretion.

Katelyn Mabry (23:10):

So I mean, I feel like that’s a profound thing to know as a parent and as a teacher because then I feel like we respond differently if we think, oh my gosh, this is an area that’s still, this is a skill area that needs a lot more work and see it for what it is rather than just seeing it as a problem area. And like you said, that’s the beauty of executive function skills. Our brain is a muscle, it’s a giant muscle. And so we just need to figure out ways to stretch it and strengthen it and grow it.

Tyler Dorsey (23:43):

I think the most common thing I hear from every single parent who I have ever talked to with a child with ADHD is they are so smart and capable if they would just put forth a little more effort. And I think the message I want to say is the effort that you’re talking about is the lack of executive function skills we currently have. That’s why it’s always like we don’t need to try harder. That’s not our issue. We need to be trying in a different way. We need to understand our struggles are so much more than we just don’t want to do it. And I know it’s coming across as lazy. I totally understand how it’s perceived and that’s why I did get to a point to where lazy is still not the right word, but I became extremely unmotivated to keep trying because the times I did try, I still failed.

Tyler Dorsey (24:29):

So it’s like I’m going to get the same result. Why would I put forth this effort? And that was at a time when, I was a nineties baby, and so we didn’t have all of this knowledge as easily accessible as we do today. And so we had no idea what ADHD really was, past, we being me and my family, past the attention, the hyperactivity and the impulsivity. And what’s amazing is the process I had to go through to catch up from being three years behind, it put me years ahead and there are people who made fun of me when I was little.

Tyler Dorsey (25:05):

There were people who recognized I was struggling intensely when I was younger. And those people literally come to me for a job. Those people literally come to me and they’re like, How do you do what you do? I don’t understand. And it’s like because I had to do the hard work to figure this out that most people don’t have to do. And because I had to do that work and because I had to level up my way of creating skills, executive function skills in my toolbox, I had to put a lot of effort into an area that most people don’t even know is there. And so now it’s all of a sudden my skills have just boomed and it’s like I just make it happen.

Katelyn Mabry (25:45):

Well and I think that’s where leaning into strengths as you navigate the struggles, I really think leading with strengths is one of the biggest keys to growing on your ADHD journey. Because so often we lead with the struggle, okay, how do we work on the struggle? How do we work on the struggle? And so the strength kind of goes deeper and deeper and it takes more to dig it up, where if we can start young with our kids and lean into their strengths and pour into their strengths and build them up with what they can do and help them figure out how to navigate and learn in new ways what they struggle with, I think that that shift in perspective will just change the trajectory of how kids with ADHD grow up and how they function in a classroom and how they approach different situations.

Tyler Dorsey (26:40):

And I think that, that right there, the resilience that is created from that work is exactly why I say ADHD is my superpower. It is. Plus I can hyperfocus like no one else and when I can turn that on, I can turn that on and I’m amazing and now I know how to turn that switch on and off. But it’s like the resilience I had to create to get to this point from literally, you guys, at the end of every single school year leading up to freshman year or including freshman year of college, the question was always is Tyler going to pass? It’s not was she going to get A’s B’s and C’s, is it was Tyler going to get a D? And so it’s the resilience that I had to create to go through all of that and then turn that around when I finally got to college, that’s where my confidence comes from.

Tyler Dorsey (27:32):

And it’s not to say we’re not still going to struggle because I absolutely do. There’s still that little girl inside of me who’s like, I can’t do this. I’m just going to fail. I may as well just stay in my failure comfort zone. But it’s like that’s what’s so amazing and to back up to the executive function skills, now I’m aware because I’ve done that work, I’m very aware when something’s not working or I’m not getting a task done, I know what piece of my executive function is just not at play right now and how to adjust that.

Katelyn Mabry (27:59):

Right. No, absolutely. Well and I think that being said too, I think it’s just so important that as parents we come alongside our kids and they feel like we’re alongside them instead of hovering over them. I think that that positioning is important so they feel like you’re on the journey with them. And kind of an outline that I use is working on that foundational growth mindset alongside them because it starts with us. I mean as hard as that is to swallow sometimes as parents, it really does start with us. What are we projecting to our kids? What kind of mindset are we projecting? What kind of language are we using around ADHD? Is it negative or is it superpower strength based? What is it that we are projecting to our kids that they’re bringing into the classroom, that they’re living out day by day?

Katelyn Mabry (28:57):

And I think just that empathizing with them and helping them know that they’re not alone in how they think and feel because it can feel very lonely having ADHD, if you don’t feel like other people understand what’s going on. And so just having that connection with them and collaboratively problem solving different ways to build those executive function skills, I mean, those are the ingredients you need to really build your child up and send them into the classroom, in any environment, more confident, more likely to succeed.

Tyler Dorsey (29:36):

I would love to hear your thoughts on this. I personally do not think that the accommodation of extended time on assignments is worth anything. And here’s why. Because it’s one thing, I have had clients who’ve come in and they’ve like, “Hey, here’s my plan, I need more time because I’m going to get distracted.” But I think for me, what I’ve seen, 90% of the students I’ve worked with, and you guys I’ve worked with hundreds and hundreds of students over the last eight years with ADHD, 90% of them are like, “oh great, that’s just more time to procrastinate.” That deadline is just being pushed back. Some of them properly use it and use that time properly. Most of them use that time as more time to put it off. And so in my mind the deadline isn’t what matters. It could be due tomorrow, it could be due next week.

Tyler Dorsey (30:27):

What really matters and what I think the teachers can do is, what really matters is that we recognize why we’re procrastinating. All of those procrastination reasons go back to we think it’s going to take a really long time. We’re not sure how to get started. We didn’t even write the assignment down or we forgot that we even had an assignment. I mean it goes back to we don’t have those tools. And so I was sharing in this post that one of the teachers, one of the new teacher came in at the school I worked at and she taught 85% of the seniors in an English class. And she had a very strict absolutely no late work unless you’ve come and gotten advanced notice and prior permission to turn it in late. And we were all, we can’t do that. These kids are going to fail, we can’t do that.

Tyler Dorsey (31:20):

Every student I had who notoriously turned stuff in late got an A or B in her class because they were like, she won’t accept it. I’m going to get a zero, I have to get this done. And they were able to come to me and say, this is due next week, what can you do to help me break it down and get it done? And that was very eye-opening to me because I was 23 at the time maybe. And that was the first time I saw it from the professional perspective of yeah, we don’t need the extended time, we need the tools because even if we have extended time, we still probably aren’t going to get it done on time.

Katelyn Mabry (31:58):

So there’s a few things with that because I absolutely agree the extended time, it only just feeds into our time blindness, right? I mean we’re already time blind, which I don’t know if you guys have heard that coined term, but literally the way our brain works, and I’ve talked to many psychiatrists and psychologists about this, and the way that our brain is wired is we literally lose track of time and it’s hard for us to, and it kind of goes into the organization, it’s hard for us to organize our time. And so to just give more time doesn’t get to the heart of the issue. So I absolutely, and I just wanted to bring up the time blindness because I think that’s something that not a lot of people know about. It’s something that people are starting to understand, but that’s a big thing that goes into that whole time management piece that we struggle with.

Katelyn Mabry (32:42):

That’s where the organization and the prioritizing and the initiating a task and completing a task and all those things come into play. And like you said, when that teacher gave a deadline and your students did well with that, and that’s because our brains crave urgency. And so I think that’s a huge thing that… We crave four things. Are you guys ready? Everybody have your pencils ready? Number one, we crave urgency, we crave dopamine. Our brains, research shows that oftentimes our brains are low in dopamine, which means that our brain likes dopamine and responds well when it’s given dopamine. And so some natural ways to get dopamine would be movement, urgency, dopamine, novelty. So novelty is a big thing that our brains love. And I don’t know about you guys if your kids to change up their rooms. I know my daughter is constantly, my 10 year old is always rearranging her desk.

Katelyn Mabry (33:42):

Just creating that novelty in an environment can really be helpful for the ADHD brain. And with that too, creating novelty, when I work with kids, I’m a reading specialist as well. And so I work with kids with ADHD who struggle with reading. And so I embed these things into my lessons and so I create urgency, I have them get up and do stuff because we do a lot of virtual sessions, and then novelty, I embed into the lesson that I’m doing. So I’ll introduce, I’ll have them read an article about something they’re interested in, which is number four. So I include their interest and then I have them write a letter to their favorite… I have this kid that loves basketball, I’ll have him write a letter to his basketball coach.

Katelyn Mabry (34:31):

So that ignites those things in his brain, and so somebody who can’t stand writing and doesn’t want, won’t do it for anybody else. All of a sudden I have him writing a paragraph because he’s interested, it’s novel. Just thinking outside of the box because our brains are out of the box thinkers. That’s what we do. We think outside of the box. And so I think just as parents, we need to think outside of the box and we need to advocate for teachers to think outside of the box when they’re teaching our kids so that they can learn in that environment and don’t feel defeated by not knowing how to do it that one way.

Tyler Dorsey (35:07):

Yeah. And I think that’s what… All of that is literally, I put all of that together, and I use the urgency, to do some of my best work. Some of the work that I’ve done that has gotten the highest level of compliments I created 20 minutes before it was due. And it’s not that I put it off with the intent of I don’t want to do it. It’s that, for example, I did a conference in Kentucky back in February and I spoke to a room of I think 150, 200 people and I literally created that PowerPoint the night before and I knew what message I wanted. I’d kind of been thinking it through leading up to that night, what I wanted, what points I wanted to ensure I made. And I blocked off a two hour period that night for me to do it because I knew that I needed that urgency to tap into my highest level of creativity and make sure that I was just rolling with it.

Tyler Dorsey (36:09):

And then, next level, is I just gave myself an outline. I didn’t even plan what I was actually going to say. I gave myself an outline to ensure that I hit the points I wanted to hit and then I just let it go. And I showed up and I had people waiting for an hour to talk to me and I was like, I cried. I left and I got in my car and I cried and I was like, oh my gosh, this was amazing. And it’s all because I had learned to use that urgency and I had learned how to not procrastinate in the sense of I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. Instead I made sure I knew all that about myself. I knew how long it was going to take. I knew what needed to get done. And that procrastination was that urgency factor and that’s how we can thrive.

Tyler Dorsey (36:57):

But it’s also where it can hurt us. Because if we don’t plan for it and if we’re just like, Oh I’ll study for that test later, I’ll write that paper later, I’ll do that later, and we don’t know what goes into it, that’s when we get the bad grades, that’s when we don’t get the good results from it.

Katelyn Mabry (37:10):

Well and I love, I coined the term, we need to prepare a predictable plan. We need to give ourselves that time but then also that grace for urgency. Because a lot of times what happens is, and especially as parents, we project what… “You need to get this done now. You need to get this done now.” And they’re not feeling that sense of urgency yet. And sometimes we need to think outside the box and think how we can help them create that period of urgency in a healthy good way. Tap into that. That’s a strength. It can be a strength. Because like you said, I mean I’ve created my best podcast at 10 o’clock at night and then publish them at midnight and that’s when, because it’s just how we work. And I used to beat myself up over it. And my daughter, I’m trying to now train her at a very young age, “love, this is how your brain works and I know it can be frustrating and I know you want to get this done.”

Katelyn Mabry (38:07):

And I’m like, and let’s prepare that predictable plan of when you want to. Is it before dinner? Give yourself an hour before dinner and let’s tackle it. And so that creates an urgency. So then you can play with your friends and then they see that immediate gratification, which they crave too. They want that immediate gratification. So if I get this done this hour before… And again though, this is where going back to the executive function, a lot of times we, my daughter has her desk in a room, I’ll be like, “Okay, go do your homework.” It’s not that easy, right? Sometimes they need those, they need help pulling tools out of their toolbox to accomplish that task of getting their homework done. Because getting their homework done might mean that that might require them to organize, prioritize, and know where to start with something. Know how to power through it, stay motivated doing it, when they might need a snack break, they might need help laying it all out there so they can be successful.

Tyler Dorsey (39:15):

That brings me to a thought I’m having. There was a client that I was working with and her mom was always like, “This room. I cannot handle how messy your bedroom is.” And she could not clean it. But when I would give her, I would text her and I would say, “Hey tonight, all I need you to do is set a timer for 10 minutes and pick up all the clothes off of your floor.” And when I broke it down, she was good. So then we got to that point where it’s like, okay, you’re getting it done, but how can we make this a routine and how can we make this something you can self-initiate, initiate on your own? And I asked her, I was like, I want you to tell me what your transition’s going to be from what you’re doing to starting cleaning your room.

Tyler Dorsey (39:58):

She was like, “I’m just going to walk in my room and start cleaning.” I was like, “Okay, so how has that been going to going for you to this point?” She was like, “Yeah, I get in my room and I just sit down and don’t do it or I don’t even walk in my room.” I was like, “Okay, we have to go smaller.” So what we did was I said, “As soon as you know need to clean your room, the first thing you’re going to do is you’re going to go to the list hanging above your light switch with exactly, down to the tiniest details, what has to be done for that room to be clean. You’re going to go to that list and you’re going to pick one thing and it can be the same thing every time or it can be whatever you feel most inclined to do in that moment, and you’re going to get started there. Go pick up the clothes off your floor and put them in a laundry basket, set it outside your room, pick the next item. Check off the first one.”

Tyler Dorsey (40:52):

It was laminated, so I was like “Check off the first one, now pick the next one.” Clean off all surfaces, which meant trash out and then wipe down. And we had it listed like that. So the first thing she would do was trash it out. Take all the trash that’s in my room, all the cups that don’t need to be in here and let’s get them out, and then let’s check that off. And so we think that it should be as easy as just go get it started. But it’s not because our brains are telling us that it’s so much bigger than it actually is.

Tyler Dorsey (41:21):

And I want each one of you today who is sitting here listening to this, I want you to think about a time you were the most stressed out you’ve ever been and there’s a really good chance that a piece of that, your brain was making it a little bit bigger than it actually was. It didn’t actually have to be as stressful. It could have been that you needed to get your entire house clean and all of a sudden you’re like, oh my gosh, my whole entire house has to be clean and you didn’t take a minute to actually figure out what that means.

Tyler Dorsey (41:52):

And if I had to go clean my entire house right now, my house actually isn’t that messy. In my mind I’m like that’s going to take me days but it really is just going to take me wiping down all my baseboards, vacuuming, cleaning my floors, and then maybe picking up a couple things because we maintain it. But when I hear “your whole house” I’m like, “that’s so much.” And so it’s think about how stressed you’ve gotten over some maybe big things. That’s how we feel over the smaller things or what appear to be the smaller things for others.

Katelyn Mabry (42:26):

Or even laundry.

Tyler Dorsey (42:28):

I literally have given up on laundry. I’m not kidding. My husband did it. We made a deal two weeks ago and he did it and I bet it was the first time my laundry had been folded in probably a month. We were pulling it out of our laundry room. Laundry is the one thing that I’ve just given up on. I’m like I don’t… I’ll wash it, dry it and we can put clothes on whether it’s in the laundry room or in our closet. I’m done. Not doing it.

Katelyn Mabry (42:55):

I know, it’s like my nemesis too. And that’s what raises anxiety. It just reminds me, I’ll give that example, similar to asking a child to clean their whole room. It’s like you trying to do all the laundry in the house and do all the steps because all the steps takes a lot of executive function skills to accomplish. And with that, so I had a few thoughts with what you were saying Tyler, I love the one thing, just do one thing. If you see your kiddo just in that state of what we call ADHD paralysis where they just don’t, aren’t motivated, don’t want to do any work, don’t want to do any chores, just completely unmotivated, sometimes just that giving them permission to just do one thing can be a huge gift to them. It can be a huge thing to just say, just do one thing and then celebrate that one thing.

Katelyn Mabry (43:49):

Because so often we’re throwing these things at our kids and same with teachers and every environment they’re in, Do this, do this, do this, do this, do this. And they’re feeling like they’re, what I like to call, I mean I think failures are more falls, which is another thing that I think we need to instill in our kids that we don’t fail, we just fall and then we get back up and we learn from it. But what they’re feeling is probably failure. Like “Ah, I can’t do anything right. I just can’t do this right.” And so I think it’s super important as parents and to encourage teachers to celebrate the small things, to celebrate the small successes, celebrate the fact that they picked up, maybe the rest of the room is trashed, but they picked up that laundry and they did it in that five minutes timer. Whatever that is for them that they did successfully, I think it’s super important that we hone in on that and we celebrate that.

Tyler Dorsey (44:41):

And as humans, ADHD, you’re not, we want to do everything at once and we want to see a big change at one time and that’s just not how it works. And I think as parents, as teachers, as the kids, we’re like, I think about the start of the school year and it’s like we go and we buy all the things to organize and we make all the plans and we talk all the talk. We’re like, this year’s going to be different. And now all of a sudden it’s September and a lot of my clients are coming to me because they’re exactly where they were this time last year. And they’re like, “What’s happening?” And it boils down to we often overlook the massive, massive, massive impact one small step can make at a time. And it’s like from now to 12 weeks from now, if we focus on mastering small things and my CFO calls it, she’s like, “Quick baby steps Tyler,” make them as small as you need to do and let’s just take them as fast as we can.

Tyler Dorsey (45:40):

And it’s not to pressure me to go faster, but it’s just to say don’t settle. We’re going to keep moving and if we can keep making these baby steps, it’s going to build up to the life change you’re looking for. And so if you make these baby steps over 12 weeks, all of the sudden within 12 weeks you’re going to see a pretty big change in what’s going on versus if you spend 12 weeks expecting we are just going to organize everything and have everything done, it’s probably going to fall off within a couple of days, maybe a couple of weeks. Or the parents are going to end up just doing it for the kids. I have a lot of parents who describe it as “I’m their external executive function. If it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t be able to do anything.” And then when these kids go off to college, they see it, because we’re falling down.

Tyler Dorsey (46:24):

So I think this is a great time to segue into our last portion, which is talking about that partner in crime. And it’s like when, so I started my career off working as like an ADHD life coach, mentor, academic support for people with ADHD in this high school in Lexington. And I was literally nothing other than the person these kids could go to, to talk freely and not worry about being judged. And then to also hold them account, I’d be like, “You need to get over this right now. We have to get this done and I’m going to help you get this done and then let’s backtrack and talk.” Because sometimes we do need those quick wins. We’ve got to see it happen. I’m like “Let’s pause, let’s break this down. I’ve got you. Trust that I’ve got you. If your parents come and yell, if your teacher’s mad, I’ve got you. I will be your shield for the time being and we’re going to power through.”

Tyler Dorsey (47:17):

And over time all of the sudden they’re like, “Hey, give me the next thing. I want to take the next level.” And I think it’s so important, parents, we all know, our kids don’t want to listen to us. I can’t tell you how many times a parent has come and worked with myself or one of my coaches and they’ve been like, “You do realize that you said exactly what we said but they didn’t listen to us and they made the change with you within a week.” And I’m like, “Yeah because we’re not their parents.” And to an extent because we’re not emotionally attached, we’re able to allow the kid a little more freedom to figure it out for themselves, because we’re not saying like, “Ooh, we don’t want to fail.” We’re like, “No, fail. Fall, go figure it out. I’ve got you. We’re going to pick you back up.”

Tyler Dorsey (47:56):

And this could be a coach, this could be a life coach, this could be an actual sports coach, this could be a teacher, this could be a counselor, this could be a family friend. It’s just someone that that kid can trust is really what it boils down to, that they’re not so much worried about “Is my mom going to be mad? Is the teacher going to yell at me because I’m asking them to turn it?” No. It’s just that person who’s like, “I’ve got you, I’m going to hold you accountable. I’m not going to listen to your excuses, but I understand you and I’m going to help you figure this out.”

Katelyn Mabry (48:27):

Well and it’s so true. We need to find that safe space and that safe person. And it’s not that, like you said, it’s not the parent isn’t that, I believe wholeheartedly that counselors are helpful and because it’s an outside source, outside of your immediate… I just hired a counselor for my daughter who struggles with anxiety and it’s an outside person that can give her tools and strategies and that she can trust to be completely transparent with and to work through some of those, especially those internal struggles and the external factors that might be holding them back. And they can just really work through that and grow their confidence in who they are and how their brain is wired.

Tyler Dorsey (49:15):

That’s literally why I do what I do. This is literally why I created Focus Forward. It’s why I love to find people like you, Katelyn, and ADHD Online, is because growing up, number one, I was a nineties baby and I want you guys all to know that ADHD was not even, it was ADD prior to ADHD, and it wasn’t even a diagnosis until the eighties. And so it is very, very, very new and eighties babies were diagnosed, but most eighties babies and older people who are born earlier, they’re just now getting diagnosed because their kids are getting diagnosed. Us nineties babies are the ones who really started to hit that boom. And now we’re picking them all up. We’re like, “Come on, we got you, let’s make this happen.”

Tyler Dorsey (49:58):

But it’s like, because that was so hard and I think so many of us who did struggle that way have become ADHD life coaches, because I know this is a big reason you’ve become one, Katelyn. It’s because we’re like, we want to, we’ve figured it out. We haven’t figured out, no one’s ever going to have it figured out. But we’ve found a path that works and it’s like we don’t want anyone else to feel like, where do I get help? It’s like, no, here we’ve got you.

Katelyn Mabry (50:23):

Exactly. Well and like I talked about at the beginning when I was introducing myself, I felt very alone in my diagnosis. And I think that’s where my passion comes, especially with kids, because I don’t want them to feel like I felt. I don’t want them to think they’re alone. I don’t want them to feel confused about how their brain’s working or why they’re emotionally expressing themselves in certain ways. I want them to grow confidently in the brain that they’ve been given and see the beauty in it and see the amazing gifts that it brings. Because it took me years to really, and I’m still as an adult now, picking up the pieces that were kind of torn off from just the false beliefs that I accumulated over the years.

Katelyn Mabry (51:07):

And so now I want to make sure that my children who have ADHD and, I mean I wish I could touch the lives of every child of ADHD, just so that they grow up to be more comfident and just knowing how their brain learns best and that it’s okay that it’s not like everybody else. And that it’s actually pretty cool that they can do things differently and in ways that can make huge impacts in relationships around them, in life. They don’t have to live inside the box. It’s really cool that they have a brain that lives outside the box.

Tyler Dorsey (51:52):

So here’s our method, baby steps, our method, in my mind, how I function is, first we have to actually understand our ADHD and exactly how it’s impacting us. Until we understand that, our self-awareness is not at a level to where we can genuinely start making massive changes. Then we have to really look at what changes are we trying to make? What results are we going for? And we’ve got to break it down into some baby steps. I mean as small as saying, just go pick up your clothes off the floor for two weeks. It may be two weeks of just doing that. But when we can master these small things over time, like I said, they’re going to add up to where you’re going to be a totally different person in whatever that time may be.

Katelyn Mabry (52:32):

Our thoughts are tied to everything. I mean, especially because we have busy brains. And so if we’re set in a fixed mindset, nothing else is going to grow from that, right? It’s trying to grow something in a desert, it’s not going to blossom. And so I think starting out with that, with working on our own as parents, growth mindset, and this is the thing is you’ll hear it, it’s like a coined term, floating fluffily around. Schools talk about it, they post about it, but how are we practicing it? How are we practicing it in our homes? How are we practicing it alongside our kids? How are we identifying fixed mindset and flipping them into growth thoughts and practicing those on a daily basis?

Katelyn Mabry (53:20):

And that’s where I want to really encourage parents to really look at that as the foundational key to growing on your ADHD journey, is that growth mindset. So in terms of method, I always start there, because I think it’s such an important foundational piece. And then as I said about the empathizing, connecting and collaboratively problem solving alongside your child, that’s kind of my method of really making those baby steps strides with them is kind of using that cyclical matter of empathy, connection, and collaboration with your child.

Tyler Dorsey (53:58):

I want to totally flip it into something that’s probably going to come out of my mouth that’s unexpected. It starts with you, the parent, too. Odds are, if your child is your biological child, one of you has ADHD. It is highly, highly genetic. If we are working with your child to try and help them create systems at home, but the boss at home is a hot mess? It does nothing. It doesn’t help. And we will throw every dime we have at our children. We will do every single thing we can to give our kids what they need. But sometimes that requires starting with throwing everything you’ve got at yourself so that you can get your home in order so that they can then see it.

Tyler Dorsey (54:47):

Because what I see is the students that I work with who have a lot of structure at home, that’s what we thrive on. That’s what we need. And when they can see, there’s always that one parent who’s keeping everything structured, and then the other one who’s just like the hot mess. And when they can see how they work together and when the parent who’s the hot mess, and I get to say that because that’s me in my house, when the parent who’s the hot mess takes ownership of that and says, “Listen, I don’t know how to do this, but let’s talk about it. Let’s figure it out.” The kid is going to be more likely to also be like, “Yeah, I’m good. Let’s take ownership.”

Tyler Dorsey (55:22):

I will never forget, my dad, so I also have dyslexia. And so I struggled a lot with tests growing up. And so my dad, who has dyslexia, he was telling me one time, he was like, “I was in a meeting with all of these attorneys and they start talking to me and they were spewing these words and I couldn’t keep up.” And he was like, So I just said, “Guys, one of two things has to happen. You either need to dumb it down and give me a language I can understand, or you’re going to have to give me time to look up what you’re talking about.” And I was like, “Oh, what did they do?” And he was like, “Tthey just switched how they were talking and they made sure that they’re explaining it in words I could understand.”

Tyler Dorsey (56:01):

He told me that when I was probably in elementary school and I have carried that through for the rest of my life. Because I’m like, my dad could say that. And him and my mom owned this massive, massive building company and he could do that in front of all of these attorneys. I can own up too and I can be like, “Listen, that’s not how my brain works. Explain it to me in a different way” and that’s okay. And so it’s like when we lead by example, that doesn’t mean that we’re perfect, it means that our kids see that we’re willing to figure it out and make changes or that we’re willing to not do the laundry because it’s washed, it’s dried, and we can put it all on from the laundry room and we have other things we need to prioritize.

Katelyn Mabry (56:39):

Right. Yeah. That model piece, being a model for our kids is huge. And I remember a professor of mine when I was going through my master’s for being a reading specialist, he said that that’s the most underused strategy that we have as teachers and as parents, is that modeling piece. Sometimes we’re just “Figure it out.” But then when, like you said, when they see us acting those steps out and owning who we are and how our brain works differently, then they’re going to follow suit and they’re going to do the same.

Lindsay Guentzel (57:24):

Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel is a collaboration between me, Lindsay Guentzel, and ADHD Online, a telemedicine healthcare company providing affordable and accessible ADHD assessments and treatment plans, including medication management and teletherapy. To find out what services are offered in your state, head over to ADHDonline.com.

Lindsay Guentzel (57:45):

Our theme music was created by Louis Inglis, a songwriter and composer based in Perth, Australia, who was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020 at the age of 39. A big thanks to Tyler Dorsey and Katelyn Mabry for hosting the How to Survive the School Year webinar earlier this month and giving me the go ahead to share it with you here. I’ve included links in the show notes on how you can connect with both of them for more information on the work they’re doing in the ADHD community.

Lindsay Guentzel (58:13):

To connect with me about the show or to suggest a topic for us to explore, email is best, [email protected]. I’m also on social media @LindsayGuentzel, and the podcast is also on social as well @RefocusedPod.

Lindsay Guentzel (58:29):

And a reminder, if you haven’t already, please subscribe or follow Refocused with Lindsay Guentzel wherever you’re listening now. And if you can, leave us a review. We are so grateful to all of our dedicated listeners who come back week after week. Your support is just incredible. Thank you so much. I hope you all have a wonderful week full of self-acceptance and grace, and we’ll see you back here for the launch of Refocused Together, the special series we are launching for ADHD Awareness Month in October.



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