Rach Burton And Embracing The Neurospicy Life As A Deaf ADHDer

When you think about the executive function challenges to get an ADHD diagnosis at the age of 28, imagine doing it as a Deaf woman without the assistance of an American Sign Language interpreter. That’s a common occurrence for a Deaf person when communicating with healthcare professionals. 

Today’s guest Rach Burton struggled to access information about ADHD in the months after her diagnosis. So she jumped into researching the condition on her own and then started sharing what she learned on social media. Today, Rach is a mental health advocate focused on improving access to resources and encouraging medical professionals to become more aware of the needs of the Deaf ADHD community. As a mom of two, she hopes to continue fostering greater understanding and acceptance for future generations through meaningful conversations. 

Refocused, Together is a collection of 31 stories told throughout the 31 days of October, a part of our commitment to ADHD Awareness Month. Make sure to subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts so you don’t miss a single story this month! 

Connect with Rach Burton on her website SuchALovelyRed.com and on Instagram and TikTok

READ: Why Transitions are Hard When You Have ADHD

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Rach Burton (00:00):

We’re neurospicy. We need to be seen and I wanted to be able to validate that we are okay and we are seen. And so making those connections through social media really made a difference in my personal journey of healing, and I guess at the same time, it’s also educating the hearing community as well.

[[upbeat music starts playing and slowly fades out as Lindsay starts talking]]


Lindsay Guentzel (00:24):

You’re listening to Refocused, Together, and this is episode 16, Rach Burton and Embracing the Neurospicy Life as a Deaf ADHD-er. Welcome back to Refocused, a podcast all about ADHD. I’m your host, Lindsay Guentzel. And today, we’ve got another story in our Refocused, Together series, the special project we started last year as a part of our commitment to ADHD Awareness Month. The plan is to share the stories of 31 people with ADHD throughout the month of October. We created Refocused, Together as a way to raise awareness of just how complex ADHD is, and the different ways it shows up in people’s lives.


Today’s guest is Rach Burton, a Deaf woman who received a diagnosis of ADHD when she was 28. And when you think about the executive function challenges one needs to get that done, imagine doing it without the assistance of an American Sign Language interpreter, a common occurrence for a Deaf person when communicating with healthcare professionals. Rach struggled to access information about ADHD in the months after her diagnosis. Bilingual and able to read and write in English, she jumped into researching the condition on her own. Soon, she started producing content for social media in ASL about the topic, time blindness, daydreaming, masking, and impulsivity can manifest differently for Deaf ADHD-ers. And language deprivation can severely impact both of those.


As a mental health advocate, Rach is focused on improving access to resources and encouraging medical professionals to become more aware of the needs of the Deaf ADHD community. The mom of two hopes to continue fostering greater understanding and acceptance for future generations through meaningful conversations. Head on over to her website, suchalovelyred.com, and give her a follow on Instagram and TikTok at @suchalovelyred. Let’s connect now with Rach to learn more about her experiences as a child with undiagnosed ADHD in both public and Deaf schools, and what she has discovered about herself and her community as someone who is both Deaf and neurodivergent. And with that, let’s meet our next guest for Refocused, Together 2023, Rach Burton. Since Rach communicates through American Sign Language, we’ll also be joined by Megan Moore, an ASL interpreter for this interview.

[[a short burst of upbeat music plays to signify the start of the interview]]


The great thing about these interviews is that they all start with the same set of questions. When were you diagnosed? And what was your diagnosis like? What sparked that initial conversation?

Rach Burton (03:30):

I was diagnosed at 28 years old, so it was a rather late diagnosis. Being in my late 20s, my husband at the time, my current ex-husband, he’s Deaf as well, and he also has ADHD. He was diagnosed in his 20s as well. So in the course of being with him, I started to notice a lot of similarities. I started to question myself in things that I would do, and I asked him, and he said, “Oh, it’s absolutely obvious that you have ADHD.” And I thought, “Hm, interesting.” I had no idea where to even begin, who to ask. And so I thought my first step would be my family doctor. I came and I saw my family doctor, and I explained to her my concerns. However, everything was done via paper and pen. There was no interpreter present. And so she asked me questions and we would write back and forth, and it was just a weird process of a diagnosis for me. There wasn’t much discussion or in-depth conversation. It was just some simple questions, and then she gave me medicine for Ritalin and that was it. And then I left the doctor’s office.


When I started that medication, I started it shortly after I got diagnosed, and then I got pregnant shortly after, and so I had to stop. And I felt like I ended up going back to square one because my focus shifted to other priorities. I was no longer worrying about the diagnosis of ADHD, and that is where it started. And that was roughly about 10 years ago.

Lindsay Guentzel (05:01):

Looking back at those moments when you were talking with your husband, who also has adhd, what were some of the things that stood out to you that you were noticing as you started going down that journey?


Rach Burton (05:14):

Well, so first of all, I didn’t think I had it because my ex-husband is very hyperactive, and I was not. However, I started to notice that my time management and my inattentiveness, my dreaming, was quite a bit. There were even sensory things, lights, vibrations. I’m very sensitive to those things, and so it was just the little things that I started to add up and say, “Well, I could have ADHD without it being necessarily hyperactive,” so from there, that was kind of the light bulb that triggered me to discover those things.


Lindsay Guentzel (05:55):

You mentioned having to shift your focus following your diagnosis. I’m wondering in the last 10 years what you’ve learned about yourself and what you can connect back to your childhood, your adolescence, and maybe some of the things that you see that stand out that you now know were signs of undiagnosed ADHD, but again, women, especially women who didn’t fall into the hyperactive category, so many of us were missed.


Rach Burton (06:24):

Absolutely. Interestingly enough growing up, I had two different experiences in school, one at a public school, where I was in a mainstream program, where I was the only Deaf child there. I also went to a Deaf school and that was for high school, for four years of high school. So growing up in elementary school with the mainstream program, my biggest symptom was my inattentiveness, my dreaming, and kind of zoning out. I had an IEP, it’s called an Individual Education Plan. It’s for schools and it gives children extra support that they might need. So for a few years on the IEP, one of the goals was that I needed to stop doodling. That was an IEP goal for me as a Deaf child. And looking back at that, I felt like, no, it wasn’t because I was Deaf that I did a lot of doodling. It was because of my ADHD. And so I think that was another identity thing that I navigated.


I always was known as a dreamer and a doodler, and that’s not an aspect of a person being Deaf. It’s because of my ADHD. So I think that they were considering it that I was Deaf. And I think all of the signs were there, but it was not as a person with ADHD. It was a person who was Deaf. And then when I went to my Deaf high school, I developed a lot of masking techniques. I am a list queen. I have always been the list queen. I have a list for everything. And I think that was kind of how I processed for high school.


Lindsay Guentzel (08:04):

I’m curious how having ADHD or being neurodivergent is handled in the Deaf community.


Rach Burton (08:13):

I think the biggest barrier is access, and I think that’s the biggest barrier that we have within the Deaf community, especially within the medical and mental health field. So when we get access to information, everything is in written English. There’s nothing in actual American Sign Language. And because of that, the knowledge and understanding of ADHD or neurodivergent in the community is not up-to-date. I would say, several years behind. And I think that the awareness and the acceptability of it is increasing, and the more that we talk about it, the more it becomes known and acceptable. I will say, today with especially after COVID and the pandemic, there’s been a lot more content makers, and they’re creating content where we talk about things like this in so many different languages, so that the awareness has increased because of the accessibility behind it.


Lindsay Guentzel (09:13):

What is your biggest struggle living with ADHD? And what are you actively doing to try and help it?


Rach Burton (09:21):

I think my biggest struggle is forgetting and not being organized. Like I said, I am a list queen. It does not mean it’s organized though. I recently went through a divorce. And I went from being a stay at home mom for seven years, and then after getting divorced, I got a full-time job. And that transition was huge for me. Without ADHD, it’s a huge transition for anybody. And then you fold that into the mix, trying to remember everything that was going on and everything that I needed to do, whether it was at home, at school for my kids, or at work, it turned into an ongoing battle for me, and it still is.


Lindsay Guentzel (10:07):

You mentioned a little bit about the accessibility barriers that come with being a Deaf person. I’m wondering how you’ve navigated some of them, looking specifically at being a person who has ADHD, as well as a Deaf person.


Rach Burton (10:22):

Like I said, it is a lot of barriers when it comes to the information of the pathological route, so information about ADHD and understanding that, navigating that. Luckily, I am bilingual, so I can read and write English rather well, and I’m able to understand that. So I have to do a lot of self work and research about that myself. And in going through that, I found out that if I read and I try to summarize something after I’ve read it, and then I explain it to somebody else, converting it from one language to another, so English, written English to ASL, and explaining it to somebody else helps me internalize it in a better way.


Lindsay Guentzel (11:09):

I’m wondering how your journey first as a Deaf person, and then as somebody who was diagnosed with ADHD later in life, I’m wondering how you look at that and see how it’s shaped your identity for who you are today.


Rach Burton (11:24):

I think I’m still trying to figure that out, to be honest with you. I just started to really embrace it. And to be really honest with you, when I first was diagnosed, I was resistant to accepting and sharing it because I felt like we look at people with ADHD as they’re lazy and they’re not hard workers. And so that already pre-misconception really set a tone for me. And then I started to realize. Why was I worried about that? And the more open I became and the more I talked about it and the more I educated others about it, I learned more about myself. And I also recognized that I have my Deaf identity, and then I have my ADHD identity.



And I try to analyze how ADHD and being Deaf can then work together. And that was something that I’ve been navigating because ADHD affects your brain, impacts your brain. Being Deaf also impacts your brain. You’re wired differently, and so then you have to kind of rewire it a little bit. And it can be overwhelming because again, there’s not a lot of research out there for a person who is Deaf with ADHD. I think that now, the point is, I’m extremely happy. I finally have a reason to feel like, oh, this is why I do these things this way, or this is why I’m like this.


Lindsay Guentzel (12:52):

The gift of understanding cannot be underestimated, that’s for sure.


Rach Burton (12:57):

Absolutely. Exactly. It gives me a sense of satisfaction.


Lindsay Guentzel (13:01):

I’m wondering when you look at life right now, and you said you’re happy, which is probably the best thing a person can say, where do you see yourself thriving?


Rach Burton (13:11):

I can say that at work, I feel like I am thriving. Being an at home mom, and then going back to the workforce, I enjoy it because of all of the different projects I’m able to work on. So I’m in marketing, and we do all types of marketing for all types of clients, so every day, it’s different. And that also means that I have different types of deadlines, which I thrive with. If you give me a deadline, I will always meet it. It might be done right at the deadline, but I still meet it. And I feel like I can be very productive in that aspect and I have been, especially at work. Routine and the time of day and having some of that structure also helps me and gives me structure, so I am very thankful for being back in the work field.

Lindsay Guentzel (14:05):


Let’s talk about the content that you’re creating online. That’s how we connected with you for Refocused, Together. You call yourself neuro-spicy. And I’m wondering what this journey has been like for you because there is a level of vulnerability in putting yourself out there. But at the same time, you also mentioned there’s this amazing opportunity for you to get to educate other people who also belong to the Deaf community and might have questions about ADHD.


Rach Burton (14:35):

So the content producing journey really started with my divorce. I was trying to talk about it, and being vulnerable helped me heal. So I thought I could start talking about other things, so I started to add in the ADHD, the mental health, mental wellness. And I started to get DMs from a lot of Deaf people out there who said, “I also have ADHD and I’ve struggled.” And they ask me how I cope, and so we started a lot of conversations in that way. And that helped me become super motivated to produce content. I call myself neuro-spicy. I love that term. We’re neuro-spicy. We need to be seen, and I wanted to be able to validate that we are okay and we are seen. And so making those connections through social media really made a difference in my personal journey of healing, and I guess at the same time, it’s also educating the hearing community as well as a Deaf person. The Deaf community is extremely diverse, and so it turned into educating the hearing community as well.


Lindsay Guentzel (15:51):

You mentioned a little bit about the masking you did in high school. And it kind of sounds like the masks are coming down, and you are getting to be your true self and show that to the world. And I bet that feels pretty good.


Rach Burton (16:05):

Yes, it does. It feels easier to be myself because of authenticity. I am my authentic self, and I don’t have an image that I need to portray. I’m able to breathe and show exactly who I am. And that vulnerability makes me, in turn, stronger.


Lindsay Guentzel (16:26):

I’m wondering what the big transitions that you’ve had in life, going through a divorce, returning to the workforce, where you see some of maybe the struggles with ADHD coming out that you’ve had to work through, or parts of your for your ADHD that made the transition easier. And I ask this, is there’s probably a lot of people who are in a similar situation who see these big things coming up, or know that they might be happening. And for someone with ADHD, change can be so overwhelming.


Rach Burton (16:57):

I think whether you’re neurodivergent or not, it is overwhelming for anybody. Major life changes is overwhelming. And so I couldn’t tell you that the overwhelming feeling was from being neurodivergent. Or is it just how live happens, and it’s like that for everybody? I do think that my ADHD actually helps me in that aspect of being able to absorb and think of a lot of different things at the same time. There’s a lot of things happening, and I became a single mother. I have two children. And so there was a handful of things that just happened all at the same time, and if I didn’t have the capability of thinking fast and being able to think of several things at the same time, I don’t know what my journey would’ve looked like. And I’m sure you’re quite aware, ADHD brains, they look like a browser window with so many tabs open across the screen. That’s how my brain feels like at times. I think that I’m able to flip those different tabs and process things faster in that sense.


Lindsay Guentzel (18:02):

What’s giving you hope right now? What is something in your life that’s pushing you forward?


Rach Burton (18:08):

My children and my job. I have a purpose now. And I also now know who I am. I have ADHD. I am a Deaf person. And that’s great. And how can I make the best of it? And I have a pretty good sense of that, I just try to make life better for myself and the people around me.


Lindsay Guentzel (18:32):

What’s something you wish people knew or understood better about ADHD?


Rach Burton (18:38):

ADHD is not always the same every day. It doesn’t impact me the same way every single day. If you meet me one day, and then you meet me a week later, there could be a different sense of me. In general, ADHD can improve as you get older because you learn better coping mechanisms and strategies and how to manage it. However, there will be moments where your ADHD interferes in your activity, your daily activity because of stressors or times in life. That doesn’t mean that your ADHD gets worse. It just different. I think that people think ADHD is the same across the board. You have ADHD, it impacts you the same way across the board every single day, and that’s not actually the truth.


Lindsay Guentzel (19:28):

I’ve never heard it explained that way before, but it’s spot on, and I definitely am someone who fits into that category as well, and it’s interesting to think about, that every day is a different experience. Some days are okay. Some days are good. Some days are terrible. But there’s the ebbs and the flows to it.


Rach Burton (19:49):

Absolutely. Exactly. And it’s like our happiness ebbs and flows every day. ADHD is the same concept, ebbs and flows every day.


Lindsay Guentzel (19:58):

What advice would you give to someone who is Deaf and also newly diagnosed with ADHD?


Rach Burton (20:03):

Oh, wow. I would really recommend, I think counseling is key. ADHD can affect communication, but also being Deaf, it can also affect your communication. So being able to have the space to unpack and talk about and understand yourself, I would highly encourage. If it’s not a professional counselor, somebody that you trust and you know that has ADHD, I think that is really the best start for your journey, to find somebody that you can trust that you can really talk about these things.


Lindsay Guentzel (20:39):

What changes do you hope to see in society that can better support people in the Deaf community who have ADHD?


Rach Burton (20:47):

More access to resources I think is key. I want to be able to see more medical professionals have … It doesn’t have to be extreme in-depth, but have an awareness of how Deafness and ADHD can be related and how language deprivation can also impact ADHD. I think it really goes back and forth twofold. So language deprivation can be extremely damaging, but it can actually look like ADHD. And so I think that a lot more research needs to be done on things like that.


Lindsay Guentzel (21:24):

You mentioned in your journey as a content creator that you’re also working to educate the hearing community. And I’m wondering how we can be better allies and what actions we can take to make it a more inclusive space.


Rach Burton (21:37):

That’s a great question. In terms of ADHD, I’m unsure. But in terms of Deafness, I would say just being more aware of culture and ASL and our community, we have different layers and we look at the world differently. For example, eye contact, when I’m in a hearing environment, I’m constantly looking around to make sure that I’m not missing anything within my environment, and that’s not an ADHD thing. That’s part of being Deaf in a hearing world, so there’s a lot of layers that kind of overlap. I just want allies to know that it is very multi-layered in itself, and just to be understanding and opening. And Deafness, there’s also a spectrum behind that. So ADHD, there’s a spectrum. Deafness, there’s always a spectrum.


There’s different ways to be Deaf. There’s different ways to be a person with ADHD, and there’s a different way to be a person who is Deaf with ADHD. I think the ADHD, it really goes in parallel with, there’s a lot of similarities within Deaf culture, time management, neurodivergent people can have struggles with time management. In the Deaf culture, we have something called DST, which is Deaf Standard Time. When we get together, we lose track of time. We find ourselves really delving into that communication and chatting with each other because being a person who’s a part of a mostly hearing society, we don’t always get those opportunities. And so I can see a lot of similarities between being a Deaf person and being ADHD. Being impulsive is a very ADHD thing, but however, that’s also a Deaf culture thing. And so it’s interesting to see a lot of the similarities across the board.


Lindsay Guentzel (23:26):

Rach, I just want to thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your story with us for Refocused, Together, but also for the commitment that you’ve made to the ADHD community with the content you’re putting out there. It is so enjoyable to watch and experience alongside you. And I’m really grateful that we got the time to chat today. Thank you so much.


Rach Burton (23:47):

Thank you so much. I’ve absolutely enjoyed being here and talking about this. And it’s not often that I get that opportunity, so I really do thank you.

[[a short burst of upbeat music plays to signify the end of the interview]]


Lindsay Guentzel (24:00):

I’m so grateful to Rach for being a part of Refocused, Together, and to her interpreter, Megan, for joining us as well. There was so much Rach touched on during our time together that really got me thinking. One of the biggest, the wise words she shared when talking about the big life transitions she’s dealt with. I don’t know about you, but transitions can be tough. It’s a subject that often comes up when I’m connecting with another ADHD-er. Here’s the thing though, transitions can be difficult for anyone. There are so many types of transitions like moving from task to task during the day, adjusting to seasonal transitions, significant life changes. Any kind of change can be a source of stress, but for someone with ADHD, the reasons behind why it’s a struggle are a little more complex.


One of the main reasons ADHD-ers have a tough time with transitions, and this is no secret, it’s that we have difficulty with executive functioning. This means we might have difficulty planning, organizing, and preparing for a transition, making it even more overwhelming. People with ADHD can also have difficulty with working memory, making it harder to remember what needs to be done when transitioning from one task to another. This is usually where lists come in. I love that Rach referred to herself as the list queen. I have quite a few lists going at any given time. And I’ll be honest, I’ve resorted to carrying Post-Its and a pen in my fanny pack because a good list can strike you at any time. Another thing that can make transitions difficult for people with ADHD is that it can be challenging for us to stick to a routine or plan, and that’s on a good day, nevermind when we’re faced with a change of some sort.


This often gets attached to people who struggle with hyperactivity and impulsivity, though inattentive and combined types also deal with procrastination and avoidance of routines or plans. No matter which type, ADHD-ers can be pretty hit or miss with regulating emotions, which can make even the most minor change feel pretty big. Despite these challenges, ADHD-ers can be good in the face of change. We can be so good at the pivot. If you’re looking for a few strategies to help manage transitions, we have a few you can try. Before we share though, a friendly reminder that it’s okay to ask for support when dealing with a transition, a friend, family member, or therapist. Not going it alone can make a huge difference.


First, create a sense of structure that works for you. That could be a routine, plan, epic list, or a reward system that keeps you engaged. Structure can be comforting when faced with a transition, so experiment to find something that fits you. Then, break things down into smaller, more manageable steps to make it feel less overwhelming. You can also do this with the help of a friend or loved one who understands your ADHD, and then you can do a little celebratory something with your ADHD accountability buddy.


Finally, check out mindfulness. Mindfulness is practicing being present in the moment without judgment with the help of techniques like deep breathing, body scanning, and guided meditation. Over time, it can help us become more aware of our emotional state, improve focus, and reduce impulsivity. Mindfulness has come up a lot lately, like the first episode of Refocused, Together 2023 with Ying Deng. And it’s definitely a topic on the show ideas list for next year. With the right tools and support, change can be an opportunity for growth and development instead of a source of anxiety and stress. There’s a great ADHD online article called Why Transitions Are Hard When You Have ADHD, that we’ll link for you in the show notes.


I’m curious to know what helps you cope with change. Head over to social at Refocused Pod on Instagram or send us an email, [email protected], and let us know what makes it possible for you to navigate transitions successfully. I really appreciate the way Rach looks at how she’s been able to handle everything that life has thrown at her because of her ADHD, how having ADHD actually made her more equipped because her brain was able to think about more than one thing at a time. With everything she has going on, she has to be able to think fast. It’s something I hadn’t thought about that way, but can totally connect to my own life, especially right now. I have so many things going on that I cannot lose track of, but I’m able to think about all of them at the same time.


And yeah, it means my brain is busy, but I also think it helps me stay balanced because there’s a lot of good stuff in my brain right now, like this project and these interviews, so I don’t get bogged down by the sad stuff as often. It’s still there, but it’s definitely fighting for attention with some pretty amazing things. Someone asked me the other day what’s something important I’ve learned from a guest on this show, and honestly, I learn something from every single guest and every single interview. And sometimes, like right now with Rach, I’m learning exactly what I need to know at the most perfect time. It’s pretty special, you guys. I hope you all are having those moments too. I’m so grateful to Rach Burton for sharing her story here with us on Refocused, Together. Make sure to give her a follow on Instagram and TikTok @suchalovelyred to see the incredible work she’s creating for the Deaf ADHD community. And one more thanks to Megan Moore, our ASL interpreter for this interview.


If you aren’t already, make sure to connect with us on social at Refocused Pod. And join us back here tomorrow as we head into the second half of Refocused, Together with episode 17. 

[[soft music starts to play to signify the episode is coming to an end]]

Support for Refocused comes from our partner, ADHD Online, a telemedicine mental healthcare company that provides affordable and accessible ADHD assessments and treatment plans. To learn how they can help you on your journey, head to adhdonline.com. And remember to use the promo code REFOCUSED20 to receive $20 off your ADHD Online assessment right now.


The biggest thanks go out to our team at ADHD Online, Keith Boswell, Susanne Spruit, Melanie Meyrl, Claudia Gatti and Tricia Mirchandani for their constant support in helping make Refocused, Together happen. These 31 episodes were produced thanks to our managing editor, Sarah Platanitis, our production coordinator, Phil Rodemann, social media specialist and editor Al Chaplin and me, the host and executive producer of Refocused, Lindsay Guentzel. To connect with the show on social media, you can find us online at Refocused Pod. And you can email the show directly, [email protected]. That’s [email protected].


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