108: Less Is More: Helping Your Child Navigate Life with ADHD, with Seth Perler, M.Ed.

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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We live in a culture and a time of more — the more you do, the more you have; the more you have, the more successful you are. And yet, that pressure and constant fear of failure is damaging, especially to our neuro-atypical children with ADHD and/or autism. One thing that can help tremendously in all aspects of school and home life is following the adage that less is more, as Executive Function & 2e Coach, Seth Perler, discusses in this episode.

When kids with ADHD have less visual and mental clutter, there’s less to be distracted by. When they have less overwhelm and stress and pressure, they’re able to focus and function. When they have opportunities for successes — no matter how simple or how small — they succeed more. Learn how to help your child (and yourself) dial it back so you can feel good and live your best lives.


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My Guest


Seth is a renegade teacher turned Executive Function, ADHD & 2e Coach based in Boulder, CO. He helps struggling students navigate a crazy educational landscape and does his part to “disrupt” and improve education. He specializes in Executive Function and 2e, Twice Exceptional learners.

School was incredibly challenging for Seth and it isn’t working for countless outside-the-box, neurodiverse learners of today.



Seth Perler (00:03): The point is that the brain has to do many, many, many things just to do that one thing. So the problem is when adults think, "just do it," it's not just doing. The brain, developmentally, has to be able to handle the load that we're asking it to. And what happens with kids who struggle with executive function, which ADHD is executive functioning troubles. They're the same. You don't necessarily have ADHD if you have executive function challenges, but if you have ADHD, you definitely have executive function challenges. So we have to do many of these things in order to do one complex task. So it's not "just doing."

Penny Williams (00:48): Welcome to the Parenting ADHD Podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD, straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD-aholic and Mindset Mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started.

Penny Williams (01:17): Welcome back to the Parenting ADHD Podcast. I'm really excited to have Seth Perler with us today. He's an executive functioning coach on a 2e coach, and we're going to talk all things, executive functioning and how that impacts our kids with ADHD. Thanks for being here. Seth. I am really excited to share your wisdom on this topic and your perspective. I think you have a really, really helpful way of explaining it for parents. Will you start by introducing yourself, let everyone know who you are and what you do.

Seth Perler (01:50): Yeah. First of all, thanks Penny for creating this and for just being somebody who, you know, had an idea to do something like this. I know that there are a lot of moving pieces in creating something like this, everything from the site, the podcast, editing to the graphics and just to be like, Hey, I'm going to bring this to the world and see what happens. We need you, so thank you.

Penny Williams (02:15): I appreciate it. Yeah.

Seth Perler (02:17): So, I call myself an executive function coach, a 2e coach and ADHD coach. But what I do generally speaking, I help struggling students figure out how to navigate school. And what's really important about that for me is that I'm very focused on the, the students that I work with. I'm very focused on their future. So I think that a lot of times we get lost in the weeds in terms of what they need to be getting done now and homework and things like that. But in the front of my mind, always is every decision I make with them is how, how might this impact their future? Because I want them to have a good future. I'm not just worrying about them getting good grades or quote, succeeding in school, whatever that means. I want them to have a good future. So, but what brings people to me usually is grades.

Seth Perler (03:07): So parents have a student who's struggling in school, they're failing or have missings or incompletes or late work or zeros, or they're always doing test corrections or forgetful and all those sorts of things. And then my background was that I was that student. I had ADHD. I didn't know it. And nobody ever knew it. I didn't get diagnosed until I became a teacher and I was doing an ADHD screener for one of my students. And as I'm doing the screener, I'm reading it. I'm just going, Oh my gosh, this is me. How could I have never picked this up before? But my whole life I've struggled with it. I still have struggles related to it to executive function and ADHD. And I almost failed out of high school, failed out of college, dropped out of a second college before failing out all because of these executive function struggles.

Seth Perler (03:56): The many ones that I had, and then I finally turned my life around and really and started working with kids, fell in love with it, decided to become a teacher, became a teacher for 12 years, but I'm in love with gifted and talented education. I really like complicated human beings as my favorite thing and taught for 12 years, taught gifted and talented, a lot, taught a lot of TV kids and was perpetually frustrated by certain aspects of the system that I don't agree with and wanted to do my own thing. I felt that I had more work to do in the world and that I wanted to show up in a different way in the world. And after 12 years of teaching, I started doing my coaching in 2010. And since then I blog and blog and podcast and running an executive function summit and do all the things I wear a lot of hats and being an ADHD adult professionally, I love having my own business and being able to do all kinds of different creative things and really in service to humanity. I, I put service first and if I get a new idea for how to help kids or families, I get to do it and run with it. So that's a little bit about my background.

Penny Williams (05:18): It's amazing. And you, you know, you have two special insights into executive functioning, not only your own experience as that student, but also you've been in the education system and you know, the way that it's structured and what's expected of students and how often kids with challenges and complexities don't really fit and then how to help them with that. So it's amazing.

Seth Perler (05:45): Yeah. And for some reason that bothers me like nothing else. And because it bothers me so much to seek his fall through the cracks that really drives me to continue this work.

Penny Williams (05:58): Yeah. Our system really needs to change. There's more neuro-diversity, but there's no change in the way we do education for decades, you know, but we have to deal with what we have. And I think a good place to start is to talk about exactly what executive functioning is. There are a lot of different definitions online. If you search executive functioning, you're going to find different lists of different characteristics and different explanations. How would you explain it to parents?

Seth Perler (06:30): Yeah. So executive function takes place in a generally in the front part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex of the brain and this part of the brain helps us to get stuff done. So executive function, like you said, there are a lot of clinical definitions that can be very confusing and can be very off-putting. So for parents listening, I don't want you to feel like this is an inaccessible concept, which is what I thought when I first started learning about it. Cause it's not all it means is getting stuff done. The reason it's the word executive like an executive and a company helps to execute important tasks in a company executive here. It means that it's how kids or how we execute important tasks like paying our bills, like filling out a job application, doing homework, writing a paper, using a planner, I'm doing laundry.

Seth Perler (07:20): Any of these tasks are tasks that we execute, or they are a bunch of small tasks combined together to to accomplish a goal. So in order to execute tasks in order to get stuff done. And as far as for parents, as far as you're concerned, the main things you're concerned with your kids getting done usually are broken into two broad categories. I like to keep it simple schoolwork and responsibilities. Okay. That it's really that simple. So as far as getting those things done, the brain, the front part of the brain has to do many things in order to get something done. So penny, can you give me an example of something that your kiddo needs to get done in the next couple weeks?

Penny Williams (08:08): Schoolwork? attending class online. Great. Let's do that one. Yeah. That's a tough one right now, attending class online.

Seth Perler (08:16): So like you said before, some experts will say there are three parts to executive function, five parts, eight parts. There are many, but don't everybody listening. Don't worry about how many there are. There are many things that need to happen to get to the online class one. There has to be some time management and prioritization. There has to be some meaning. We have to prioritize getting the class. We have to be able to have a realistic perception that, Hey, I better be early. Or I'm going to be late. We have to inhibit what that means is, is let's say that there's something more interesting than the online class we have to inhibit and hold back from doing those things so that we can prioritize the online class. So that's kind of an ambition, the opposite of an ambition. I think of as impulsivity, we want to do what our impulses tell us, but we inhibit them.

Seth Perler (09:10): We also to go to the class needed to be able to focus, concentrate, pay attention. When we are not focusing, concentrating, or pay, paying attention, we are distracted or distractable or off task. However you want to look at it when we're in the online class. If the teacher says, okay, guys, get out your planner and write this down, or get out your notes and do this, or do this exercise or whatever we have to be able to self-start that's called task initiation. Then we have to be able to follow through that's called task persistence. Then we have to finish that's called task completion. So anyhow, I'm just mentioning a few, but the point is, is that the brain has to do many, many, many things just to do that one thing. So the problem is, is when adults think, just do it while it's not just do it, the brain developmentally has to be able to handle the load that we are asking it to. And what happens with kids who start with executive function, which has ADHD, is executive function struggles. They're the same. You, you don't necessarily have ADHD if you have executive function challenges, but if you have ADHD, you definitely have executive function, challenge. It's all about it. So we have to do many of these things in order to do one complex task. So it's not just do it.

Penny Williams (10:30): Yeah, it's definitely not just do it. And there are definitely things, especially at home that kids would rather be doing than sitting on zoom and a boring school lecture, right. Her class. And for us too, a big issue with this has been being able to go back and forth and kind of juggle a bunch of things happening, having a zoom window open and being on class, also having a worksheet open or a PowerPoint and following with that. And that is also a struggle for a lot of kids who can't keep going back and forth and have that working memory to remember exactly where they were or what they were going to do when they switched over to the worksheet. By the time they get there, a lot of times they forget, they forget what they were going to do. They forget what they were going to write. You know, it's really complex, really complex and far more than we realize, or that we even recognize to our kids. You know, I think just saying, Hey, I know this is hard. Can be really helpful to your, you know, at least soften the blow and then be able to sort of help them with some of these pieces of the executive functioning struggle.

Seth Perler (11:45): Yeah. Yeah. And you mentioned working memory, that's part of executive function too. To be able to juggle all these things. Like, again, we can look at them and say, just try harder, just work harder, just focus, just whatever there's no, just, and yeah. What you said is really important for us to be empathetic and compassionate with them is so important to address the social, emotional aspect of all this.

Penny Williams (12:13): And I think we have to shift our expectations. Like I always talk about shifting your expectations around school anyway, defining what success looks like for your child. Not thinking that they have to have great grades and a great GPA and go to a four-year university to succeed as adults. But right now, I think even with whether they're going to school during COVID or they're doing online virtual school or some combination, we have to also recognize that I think the emotional component of what kids are really going through right now and how that then impacts executive functioning. Also, if we're flooded with emotion, then our frontal lobe is much less accessible and successful. Right?

Seth Perler (13:01): Exactly. So, yeah, we, we are, I mean, the world is just really, ah, there's a lot going on right now, so far for our students. Yeah. So if you imagine that in order to focus on a particular thing, you need a certain amount of resources in your brain, in your, in your body and your brain. You need, you need to have the resources to do the task. And when we are experiencing strong emotion that is tapping in to those resources that we would like to be using for the task, but the emotion is demanding it. So there can be emotion in a lot of different ways. One, it can be in terms of what's going on in the world. And our students just like feeling this uncertainty all around them with what's going on in so many levels in the world. So that is impacting them every second of every day.

Seth Perler (13:54): Even if it doesn't look like it, our nervous systems are aware that things may not be safe. Our kids are feeling this, even if they can't articulate it or we can't visibly see it it's it's in there. So that's the imagine that that's tapping into executive function right there. And then we also have, you know, normal conflict with family members within ourselves. You know, that, that, that just happens. So that that's the new emotion. Then we might have the emotion. We have might be a student who's highly sensitive. So emotions just feel more taxing and intense anyway. So yeah, executive function, part of it is emotional regulation. And when our emotions are overwhelmed that interferes with our ability to execute absolutely positively. And again, you sometimes can't see it. Sometimes it's very stealth, but it's there. And when we don't address these things, and again, we put pressure on and shame, just do it. Why can't you just do it, just motivate yourself, just get started. All these messages that don't take into account underneath the iceberg, that emotional stuff is, is massive. Then we're really making it even less motivating for them and even more difficult for them to do these things.

Penny Williams (15:17): It's funny that you mentioned pressure. I just did a podcast interview with my son that will air before the episode we're recording now. And that's what he kept coming back to. The more pressure you put on me or a teacher puts on me or anyone in my life puts on me, the less able I am to do the thing you're wanting me to do.

Seth Perler (15:40): Yup. Absolutely pressure it's emotion. Okay. And on my summit with, with that, I heard from the experts over and over and over is the less is more, less is more or less more. And we, I, I think that over the years in the last several decades, we've put more and more and more on kids' plates to the point where now it's like you go to it's light. Like you go to an, all, you can eat buffet or something and you pile pounds of stuff on the plate and then go back for a second. That's not realistic. We, we have put so much on their plates and if they struggle with ADHD or other learning challenges and anxiety, and you know, it's like, we're really setting them up to fail. Yeah. Things do need to change. This is just less, is more, it doesn't take much quality instruction to teach amazing lessons and give kids amazing educational experiences.

Seth Perler (16:41): We don't need to take seven classes a semester and jump through all these hoops and imagine that if you do this class and that class and this class in that class and meet these requirements and these prerequisites and these, you know, these hoops, we have to jump through that. If you jumped through all those hoops, then you somehow get a diploma or something that says that you have now mastered this information. That, that it seems like that's what should be happening, but that's not the reality just because, you know, a kid goes through class and does fine doesn't mean that they learned a lot. And just because they go through class and don't do fine. Doesn't mean they didn't learn a lot. It's just really, really in need of some change. And I really feel for the parents out there who are trying to sort of navigate the waters of where do we draw the line? When do we ask, Hey, when are we advocating too much? Or when are we helping? When are we not helping? Like, these are really difficult questions.

Penny Williams (17:36): Yeah. And one accommodation that I have really pushed for that was already in my son's IEP, but he's definitely needed it more right now with online virtual school is reduced assignments. So the volume of output that he has to create is being reduced for him because he's just struggling to manage it all. When you were talking about the buffet and piling the plate full of food, I was thinking, yeah, we're, we're piling the plate full food. And then we're asking them to eat the one little pea that we put at the very bottom in the very center of the plate without eating anything else. Right. Like we're burying it when we keep piling.

Seth Perler (18:18): Yeah. That's a great metaphor too. Or we're piling stuff on the plate that they don't like.

Penny Williams (18:22): Yeah. Oh, we're always doing that. Yeah.

Seth Perler (18:26): Not there that the, the things that we're asking them to do often are not things that are tapping into their interests or passions or in ways that make them feel successful or things like that.

Penny Williams (18:37): Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. And that makes it so much harder.

Seth Perler (18:42): You talked about the accommodation of reducing the workload, because one of the things that I'm seeing a lot right now with the families that I work with is a lot of times they're getting extended time and that is a big red flag for me. Do you feel like that as well?

Penny Williams (18:58): Yes. I think if a kid has to spend four hours to do the work that his peers are spending an hour on, we are punishing him for having a disability. Thank you. Yep.

Seth Perler (19:08): Enough said. Now extended time when it comes to maybe a test or something like that is one thing, but just extended time. Do you know what happens with these kids that I work with with executive function struggles? I'm sure most of the ones with YouTube ADHD is that they they have the extended time. That just means that they still wait till the last minute on the extended time stuff, but they have more stuffed in the last minute. So they have more stuff that they don't do. They ended up not doing it at all. It just the pile mounts of stuff that they have to do.

Penny Williams (19:40): Yeah. That's my kid. He knows he has a couple extra days. And so he will wait until he knows that he has to do it. And I think, you know, that ties into the neurology of the ADHD brain and the fact that importance, isn't really a motivator in an ADHD brain interest and urgency are. So when it becomes urgent, then there's more of an ability to get things going and get it done.

Seth Perler (20:09): Yeah. And that urgency pattern is, is definitely not good for, for the nervous system, for the longterm health of a human being. Like it really creates a pattern of stress. And again, less is more so when you're looking at these reducing the workload accommodations, what are some things that you think parents need to know about what to say? Because I'm, I'm, I'm imagining a lot of parents listening and saying, okay, cool, reduce workload. Maybe we don't have an IEP or a five Oh four. They haven't updated it this year. Or maybe the accommodations just aren't articulated. And we know that our kid is, is drowning in school and what can we do about it? So what, what can parents, you know, and then I think that teachers that are very resistant to that sort of stuff say, Oh, it's not fair to the other kids, or have some, there are some rigid teachers that, that are like, that most will work with you, but what, what, what can parents email or call or say to the teachers or the admin or the school about the reduced workload to hopefully have them hear the need and address it?

Penny Williams (21:22): Yeah. The first thing I was going to say is that talk about fairness, fair isn't equal. Fair is what each person needs at that given time. And that is not just a hurdle for teachers. I run into a lot of parents who feel that it's not fair for their child to do less. And again, when you think about it in the reverse, the way that we talked about a minute ago, if you're a kid is doing far more time on homework than is expected of the students for that assignment, then they're actually being punished. That's not fair. Right? And so we have to look at how much time a teacher expects any given assignment, or maybe each day on homework for that class, and then have the discussion from that angle. That's what I typically do. So if a teacher, maybe in third grade says that homework should be 30 minutes, then we talk about, okay, what can my child get done in 30 minutes to practice what he's learning or to show you that he's learned it because those are the two overarching goals, right?

Penny Williams (22:36): The whole goal of education is to learn things. And the whole goal of school is to show that you've learned them. And many, many assignments are either just practice or proving that you have committed the knowledge to memory. And then you can say, okay, how do we meet that goal? But also honor where the student is and their processing speed and their ability to juggle and their ability to maintain the same level of output that a neuro-typical peer would be expected to have. And I found that every teacher that I've ever sort of had that conversation with has gone. Yeah, of course, I wouldn't want my student to be working three times as long on something than everybody else is working on it or that I wanted them to have to commit time-wise to this assignment. It typically, you know, is just a way to help them understand that we're not asking for a handout or whatever.

Penny Williams (23:46): We're not asking for less responsibility for our kids. We're not trying to let them off the hook. We're just trying to honor who they are and what they are capable of doing based on the neurology that they have. And my son also has dysgraphia and slow processing speed. So all of this output is like the worst thing for him. It takes him a lot longer and it's a lot more painful. And so he really avoids, so in the past, we've had different accommodations around reduced assignments. Something like if it's a math worksheet, every other problem only the first half, something like that. If it's a written assignment, say an essay or a short story, then maybe instead of five paragraphs, he does three paragraphs. He's supposed to be doing independent reading right now and doing a daily reading log. And they have adjusted that for him to be able to do just a weekly log with an overview of what he's read instead of all of these different cues that they were supposed to choose from each day. So it can look completely differently. We've had, you know, every student reads 30 minutes and we've had it modified to 20 minutes, things like that, you know, just so they still doing or practicing or showing what he's learning, but it's not this overwhelming much longer process than the other students. Does that make sense?

Seth Perler (25:25): Absolutely. And I, it goes back to the less is more. And I think that parents can really trust their gut and say, you know, you, you talked about practice and showing what you're learning and when there's an assignment where they're working on it so long, or it's clearly not that anymore, it's just getting it done. And I get so many kids that they they're just getting it done. They're not engaged in learning. They're just jumping through hoops and that's called busy work. So we need to really watch out when that happens and really stand up and, and advocate and say, you know what? This is busy work. We need family time tonight. Or we need to process emotions as a family tonight. Or my kid had an off day or whatever, like, Oh, I just want parents to feel empowered, to communicate what you need to communicate.

Seth Perler (26:13): You know, we are not going to follow the standards this year and cover the curriculum and cross all the T's and dot all the I's of what they're supposed to do this year. And that's okay. We need to get our kids as much quality education, not busy work and jumping through hoops as much quality education as possible. And again, less is more, it can be very, in fact, it doesn't even need to, I obviously seen by the homeschooling, the homeschoolers and the unschoolers, like it doesn't, it doesn't even have to happen in the classroom, you know? You and I, penny are having a conversation and I know that you are way better versed than a lot of things we were talking before the call. But, you know, I want to learn from you while we're just having conversation I'm learning so we can learn in so many ways, you know, I can go to the, to the hardware store and buy a plant and ask the person about what the plant needs or how to play. I'm just thinking I planted grass this summer. Like I learned by going to a hardware store and researching on YouTube and whatever. So learning it is now video games all day long days. Probably not much much. So I'm not saying that

Penny Williams (27:32): Well, building there for sure, but yeah, it's my son rather do that than anything else.

Seth Perler (27:37): And your kiddos struggles with ADHD and processing for any parents that, that your child has both that is a double whammy for the output, you know, it just really set them up to, it can set them up to fail if the teacher is not understanding and compassionate and empathetic and doesn't know how to differentiate.

Penny Williams (27:57): Yeah. And then when we look at 2e students, you know, that processing speed as measured in the IQ test. And so his IQ was really high and his processing speed was astronomically different in those two pieces of that assessment. And so we knew very quickly, okay, he's not he's hearing, but he's not processing it as fast as we think that he is. And I learned, you know, a lot of just simple parenting strategies from that information as well, not just around schoolwork, but like if I asked him to do something, I needed to wait for him to hear it and process it and respond. And for him, that takes a little longer than what I expect. So if I say, Hey, I need you to go put your laundry in the laundry room. And he doesn't immediately go and do that. I would think he wasn't listening.

Penny Williams (28:56): Right. Or he wasn't responding to me. He wasn't doing what I asked and I learned to wait a full three seconds and then say something again, if I needed to. And very often, by the time I went to the three seconds he had processed and he was doing what he was asked. And you know, those little bits that we get from some of the assessments are really helpful. And so processing speed is another thing like executive functioning and impacts everything, everything you're doing. And that's not to say that he like moves really slow because he was also a very hyperactive kid. So he physically wasn't slow, but his brain was just kind of churning through and making sense of things than a neuro-typical peer. And that that's a really, really important piece. And I think it's a really important piece when you're talking about reduced assignments too. That's often what makes it take so much longer for kids with ADHD? Do you see that too?

Seth Perler (30:00): Oh yeah. Oh yeah. One of the things that I do with, with my students is so that's a pivoting or transitioning thing also, which is an an executive function thing. But yeah, I'll say their name and I'll pause. So first, if I need to communicate something first out, I'll say their name and then pause, and then wait. Even a moment after the pause is done before I say something. So I might be like, Hey Mike. And then he starts to look at me and then I continue pausing because I want to make sure that the processing is there on what I'm about to say. And often what happens is that all it is at that time, the pressure comes. So if they, if adults don't feel like they're being listened to, then it's like Mike, Mike, Hey, you know, in that pressure is there.

Seth Perler (30:49): And that doesn't help processing speed creates that urgency, but that's not healthy for anybody. So yeah, I do that quite a bit. And I can't imagine these kids who struggle with processing, being on a zoom call, expected to process what the teacher's saying. And in that kind of context, especially, especially if it's the beginning of the school year, there's no relationship with the teacher yet. And it's not in person. It's just, it's so difficult. And then for them to process and be able to take notes and be able to write down the homework and be able to do their classwork in, sometimes the teachers, you know, I'm speaking very fast right now. I tend to speak very fast, but I pace myself with kids. But imagine that the teacher's like one, one, one, one, one, one, one, and in the kids who process fine, great.

Seth Perler (31:40): Maybe they can take all the notes and jot all the things down. But for these kids, once they start getting behind the pile gets bigger and bigger, and it's just it's daunting. And I just really feel for kids where right now with, with what they're going through. Cause I want them to have experiences of success where they're walking away from their class or their learning experience or their teacher or whatever it is and they're going, Oh, I succeeded. That was cool. I did a little bit, you know, I learned a little bit something, okay, now, now I'm free. Now I can go a free time or whatever and, and it can marinate and the brain can process everything, but we are just like jump through the hoop, jump through another, jump through another pile, up pile on the plate, pile on the plate. There's just another thing. And it's just, it's insurmountable.

Penny Williams (32:24): It's funny. My son has a history class in what they've been doing because they're completely remote. This semester is a worksheet every day. That's basically like a guided notes and you're supposed to fill in the missing and they were doing it during the zoom calls. They were actually really, for the most part, completing those worksheets during the zoom calls. And so he got really behind because he wasn't able to go back and forth between the zoom and the worksheets. So he was just on the zoom call and I went into the online program and I was looking for what he was missing and trying to help him catch up. And the teacher had commented on all of these missing things. I don't understand why you haven't turned it in. We did it during the call. Right. And I'm like, huh, well, I can tell you why, but you know, like he just, and he, he didn't yet have a conversation with his special ed teacher and things like, you know, he didn't really know my son and his challenges yet, but it was really interesting.

Penny Williams (33:27): It was like, the expectation was just that anybody can do this. Like we're doing it together. There's no homework. This is easy to keep up with. And it's not necessarily for kids who have these complex challenges. It's just not, as you were saying the word just, I can remember before my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I was a broken record. Why can't you just blank a million things? I just felt like constantly it was arguing or avoiding. He was never just doing something. Right. And when he got diagnosed, I mean, it still haunts me now, 12 years later that I was saying that to him all the time. And there was a, there were a multitude of reasons why he was not succeeding. And what I asked him are meeting my expectations and we just tend to have tunnel vision, not see that our kids are trying a lot of times they're really trying. And it doesn't look on the surface like they're trying, right? Yeah. We need to give them more credit.

Seth Perler (34:31): And that's why I wanted one of the important things to do for any parents listening is to reward the effort and notice. I mean, I, part of the magic of what I do, if I were to tell you, like, here, like the secrets to my success with helping students, like part of the magic is like noticing every little thing they're doing to try everything. Like, literally like, Hey, you just wrote your name on the, on your paper. And I didn't even remind you. That's awesome. You know? And I call them pebbles of positivity, just always throwing out these pebbles of positivity. Like notice the effort. It's not about the result. It's about the effort. And when we tell them things like, you know, Hey, we were doing this in the class. Why didn't you do it with us? You know, depending on how that lands with the kid or how, how it's, how the teacher says it, it can be very shaming.

Seth Perler (35:21): And then do you think he's gonna want to go to that teacher when he is, you know, when everybody's going in a certain pace and he's struggling to keep up with that, do you think he's gonna say, Hey, hold on, teacher, slow down. You know? No, because there was not that sort of environment or tone set that it's okay to say that no teacher can set a compassionate, empathetic environment where it's easy to ask for help and be who you are. But a teacher can also set the tone of, it's not safe to ask me for help.

Penny Williams (35:51): Oh yeah. Or, you know, you're never going to meet my expectations. My son has lived that way at school for so long. That last year as a sophomore in high school, he just really gave up. He was like, I don't know why I'm working so hard because I never succeed. I never meet the expectation. I just can't. And this conversation that he and I had for the podcast, he said, teachers need to have individual expectations of individual students stop having one expectation for everyone in the room, because that is, what's not fair.

Seth Perler (36:29): That that's very true. Yep. So we have this term in the teaching world called differentiation and you different patients, you differentiate content process, product and environment, but a lot of teachers don't differentiate or aren't skilled in it yet, or the way the curriculum is designed. It's even though curriculum will say, here's how you differentiate. It's just the reality of being able to implement it as hard and skilled teachers differentiate very well. And it's funny because in the, in the special ed world, they say best, best practice for special ed is best practice for everyone. And the gift of world, they say best practice for gifted as best practice for everyone. But in the typical ed world, they don't say that. Or that's not really a thing, but what that means best practice for gifted or specialized best practice for everyone. What that means is differentiation.

Seth Perler (37:16): What that means is individualization, personalization, customization, tailoring, seeing individuals as individuals, meeting them where they're at and helping them from there. But we have constructed a system where the reality of executing on that is very difficult, but we don't name that. And then people feel like they're the failure. Parents feel like they're the failure. Kids feel like they're the failure or teachers feel like they're the failure. Like we just have not created an environment that says to teachers, Hey, you are an artist. And your, your, that your craft is, is helping these kids. And then what you said earlier, giving you at the beginning of this segment of the conversation, you said, he feels like he's not successful. We'll giving them experiences. This what I mentioned earlier, too, we want teachers to be a crafts person who gives kids, experiences of success, sets them up for success. So no matter what content or whatever they're seen for their effort, they're able to reward them and make them feel successful.

Penny Williams (38:21): And then that success creates confidence and competence, which then makes you feel like, yeah, I can do these things. And it's a lot easier to work on something even just to get started on it. When you feel like it's doable for you, when do you feel like you can succeed at it? So it builds, you know, and even our brain, you know, neuroscience is now showing that the more successes we experience, the more we expect to succeed and the more positive we are about the things coming at us in the future. Yeah.

Seth Perler (38:55): And that that's, yeah, self-confidence, it's called agency. It's how we know that we can do things. And we are in a culture where we're, we tend to have very limiting beliefs. We tend to have a lot of what's called scarcity mindset, you know, and we tend to give up pretty easily. I can't, I give up, well, why, why do we do that? Well, when you go through a system where you're told over and over, you can never do enough, or he works so hard for CS and DS or whatever. It's like, it's daunting. I, by the way, I don't agree with letter grades. I think they're morally wrong and outdated and archaic and should be done away with, and we should have authentic forms of assessment, but that ain't happening anytime soon,

Penny Williams (39:41): But it's so tough. You know, so many teachers now have to teach to the test. They're one person. They don't have time to do anything other than meet this one expectation that that is so arbitrary, that doesn't work. I mean, really we could talk for days about how broken the system is in the United States.

Seth Perler (40:00): Yeah. I mean, we already have such a giant teacher shortage and the teachers quit by year five, which is disgusting. It's why, because of burnout, you know, and they can't, they can't do what they got into that profession to do. And these are our kids. Like we should be investing everything in, into our kids and we, we just cut corners everywhere and cut programs everywhere. It's just, what the hell are we doing here? Yeah. So on that note for parents listening that the positive thing is that to me, the relationship is the number one most important things. So really building that relationship and healing and working through things and learning how, how to have the relationship with your kid that that's secure. And that takes work on the parent's part, the kids part it's work. But that is the most important thing is that relationship.

Seth Perler (40:56): And then giving them learning experiences, whether or not it's directly related to school, how can we turn daily life into learning experiences that are meaningful and impactful? Cause it's not rocket science, they're all around us, but those things are going to help your child hopefully find their interests and their passions. And that curiosity is hopefully we're not squelching their curiosities, which often happens. I hear a lot of third grade parents say I'm afraid my kid is losing their love of learning and it starts right around then. It's so sad. But as parents, you know, we can really try to continue learning experiences and build a relationship, great learning experiences, build the relationship.

Penny Williams (41:37): I love that you use the word meaningful, what they're learning, learning meaningful stuff, because a lot of time in school or their learning is not meaningful to them. You know, my son says constantly, I'm never going to do this math in my entire life. It does not relate to what I want to do. Why do I have to do this? You know, because he sees no meaning in that detailed nuance of what he's learning. You know, he's, he's very detail oriented in that way. And he wants a reason for everything. And I think that's a lot of the autistic traits coming in, but he feels like if I'm not going to use this from not getting anything out of it now, or in the future, it doesn't have meaning to me, why do I need to work? So darn hard at a hit if I don't really have to use it ever in my life.

Penny Williams (42:30): And of course you, and I know that there's skill-building and other things that they're learning through persevering and doing hard things and, you know, keeping up with just learning on a regular basis. But he looks at the specifics of what he's supposed to know and says, why where's the meaning in this for me. And again, that goes back to really needing more individualized education, you know, instead of trying to build conformity, we need to be raising individuals. But in everything we've talked about executive functioning and everything else that we've talked about, it all circles back to really understanding the kid, you have really understanding how their brain works, what they struggle with, what they succeed with, what they're good at, what they're interested in. It all circles back to that. And when you understand then your relationship with your child is so much better than when you're bristling against every challenge.

Penny Williams (43:29): That is really who they are in a lot of cases. Yeah. And, and, you know, that's a journey that took me a long time, took me a long time to realize that I had to be looking at who my kid is and not looking at how do I help him succeed in neuro typical expectations and to quit trying to make him fit and look at how to help him with who he is and where he is and what his definition of success will be. And it isn't getting A's in school, even though he's wicked smart. And it, you know, it isn't necessarily a four-year college right now when he graduates, we've learned to define specifically around who he is and his neurodiversity, and that too is enormously freeing for parents, enormously freeing. When you let go of some of that minutia, that society puts on us, that isn't really that important. You know, we, we say that grades and going to college are everything they're not necessarily, they're not necessarily, there are plenty of wildly successful people who didn't go to college. You know, it just, we just need to really turn everything on its head and the way we think about our kids when they have ADHD or other learning challenges.

Seth Perler (44:53): Yeah. Yeah. And how, how did you learn how to podcast? You didn't go to college for that, right?

Penny Williams (45:00): No

Seth Perler (45:02): How did you do it?

Penny Williams (45:05): You know, it's interesting because I am a very anxious person and I actually have significant social anxiety now in my forties, I'm doing better with it. I'm more able to say, you know, screw that. I'm not going to worry about what other people think of me anymore, but it really guided my life for a long, long time. And so things like podcasting doing video interviews, like on the summits, you know, any sort of live talking to people I don't know is so out of my wheelhouse and it's, it's shocking to people. Who've known me my whole life that I'm able to do it now. And it was because other people saw the potential in me and pushed me to do it. You know, I had a friend who said, you really have to write a book, you really have to get this done. And so I did, and then I wrote three more because I enjoyed it and it was valuable to people.

Penny Williams (46:04): And I just kept saying, okay, well, how else can I help other parents who are going through this? Because for us, 12 years ago, none of this stuff existed. There was, you know, a couple of books by Ned Hallowell and attitude magazine, but really outside of that, there was nothing else. And when you get a diagnosis, they don't tell you what to look at. They don't tell you about executive functioning. I probably didn't hear that term until at least two or three years after diagnosis, before I discovered that on my own. And I just really felt a need for parents to be told what's really important and valuable and what they need to focus on and what they can give up. Kind of let go of much earlier in the process than happened for me. And now there's lots of resources, which is fantastic, but I felt like I could communicate really my passion by talking about it.

Penny Williams (47:01): And so how did I do that? When I had that interest, I got online and I started reading and searching and saying, okay, how do I do this? It's it's now important to me. I'm, I'm engaged and I'm excited about it. So I'm going to figure out how to do it. And I did, you know, and I think for a lot of people, the path is totally different. You know, I, I have a sociology degree. I went to college because college was expected, right. And I wanted to be a biologist. I didn't do so well in some of those classes. And I ended up getting a sociology degree and I worked in communications for a long time. And I was a real estate agent for a long time. And then I had a kid with differences that I didn't know how to help. And I was trying to figure that out.

Penny Williams (47:44): And then when I figured it out, I thought, well, why aren't people talking about it? So I did that. You know, it's just life guides where we go and what we do, right. It's not, your kid can say, as a senior in high school, I want to be a computer programmer. They might do that. They might not light, might take them somewhere else entirely. And that's fine. You know, I, I'm a little passionate about it. Yeah. You know, we really have to let our kids lead. We really have to let them be themselves, applaud that they're being themselves and let them lead. They know what is right for them. And they, you know, even younger kids, you can learn a lot from them when you kind of take a step back and say, okay, how would you do this? Right. We don't, we don't do that with younger kids. We just tell them how to do things. But if we can take a step back, we get so much more information and so much more guidance. You know, our kids really should be leading. Not, it should not be an authoritarian relationship at all. Yeah.

Seth Perler (48:50): Very well said, very Ross Greene-y.

Penny Williams (48:53): Yes, I am definitely Ross Greene fan girl. That's for sure. We've brought up cross-screen many times on this podcast because you know, behaviors, communication, not just with complex kids, but everybody, every behavior is communicating something. Even the criminal behavior, you know, if you're robbing a store, what is that saying about that person's life and their desperation and what's happening for them, right. It's all communication. And we can learn so much when we just really pay attention to people as individuals and what's really going on for them. And we don't, we don't as a society for the most part. We don't, we don't look at it that way,

Seth Perler (49:35): The way we're sort of wrapping it all back to executive function, something you just said was, you know, your child may do this or that or this or that, who knows what's what their path is. But as far as the executive function is concerned. And then also as far as like the differentiation and seeing them as individuals is concerned, regardless of what they want to do, we want them to be able to have good executive function skills. So then parents will be like, well, how do we do that? Well, there are certain skills that are needed. And I talk about this a lot in my work in terms of what I call systems mindsets and habits, but they need certain systems and it isn't, it is not rocket science and they have to get these systems and they have to get them well and not.

Seth Perler (50:20): And if they can execute and they have decent executive function skills, then they will be able to go for whatever the goal or dream is or whatever they want to be or do in their life. If they cannot figure out good enough execution, then that's going to keep them stuck. So what that means is a few things. One is they have to have decent planning skills. Planning is extremely complicated. It doesn't just mean writing something in a planner. You have to do. There are many things about learning how to plan and prioritize. So they have to learn how to plan. They have to learn how to organize, organize the thoughts, their digital world, their physical world, they add so that there are things that they need to know how to do systems they need to have in order to be able to execute. And you have to tailor it to them.

Seth Perler (51:06): Like you don't just give a school of a thousand kids, the exact same planner and say, okay, everybody use your planner. And then we don't even teach them how to use it. We just say, write it in your planner. We don't teach them how to plan. We teach math, science, social studies, reading, writing, but not how to plan, not how to organize that, how to prioritize and all these things. So anyhow, the point is, is we want them to be able to do whatever they want to do in their life when they're ready and their time, but they have to have these skills and it's not just choosing to do it, just do it. It's skill sets. We have to give them those skills so that they can execute when they find the things that matter to them. I just kind of want to wrap it together and, and tie a little bow on it.

Penny Williams (51:49): Yes. And thank you for that. It does come back to that. You know, our kids do have a lot of things that they want to do and they all want to succeed. Every kid wants to do well. And those skills and those skill deficits are a lot of times what's standing in the way. And it is part of our job. You know, our job as parents is to prepare our kids, to be able to succeed in whatever they want to do. And this is a big, big piece of it for kids with ADHD. It's just part and parcel of ADHD really. And there are so many different ways, you know, you and I have talked before about, Oh, well, what strategies or what tools, they're all different for individual kids based on what the executive function challenges, but also on what is actually helpful to them. You know, the way they learn, the way that they move through the world really can dictate what strategies and systems and so forth. They're going to help them. The systems that you're talking about, creating those look different for each individual, right?

Seth Perler (52:57): Yes. Yeah. W so I call it Franken's study, but it's just me, you know, because we get sort of Frankensteined together, these systems. I want to teach kids how to understand the principles beneath the systems. It's not just about the system. Again, like canning someone, a planner and saying use it. It's about, well, you can use a million different planners. If you understand the principles behind it, then you can adapt it and really tailor it and customize it to the yep.

Penny Williams (53:26): So much great information in this episode. I thank you so much for giving us an hour of your time and a lot of your wisdom. And for everyone listening, you can get links to sus website and executive functioning summit in the show notes. For this episode, you'll find [email protected] slash one zero eight for episode 108. And again, thank you, Seth. We'll in the episode here and I'll see everyone next time.

Seth Perler (53:59): Awesome. Thank you so much. Be well, everybody.

Penny Williams (54:05): Thanks for joining me on the Parenting ADHD Podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share, and don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and mama retreats at parentingadhdandautism.com.

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

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