155: Using Strengths to Find Success with ADHD, with Ari Sokolov

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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Ari Sokolov grew up with ADHD, but she didn’t let her struggles in school define her. Instead, she found ways to make her strengths of creativity and problem-solving work for her. And everything changed when she accidentally walked into a computer science class in middle school and discovered coding. Coding is an outlet for her ADHD creativity and hyperfocus and she grew so passionate about it that it became her path forward.

My guest on this episode is 20-year-old Ari Sokolov, a college student and app developer who founded The Trill Project, a safe space for teens and adults to get mental health support. Join us to hear Ari’s inspiring story.

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My Guest

Ari Sokolov
 
Ari Sokolov is a 20-year-old iOS developer and CEO who created The Trill Project, an anonymous social platform that offers LGBTQ+ a safe space online for community and support, when she saw her friend struggling to come out as LGBTQ+. Today The Trill Project has over 100,000 downloads and Ari oversees a staff of 30. The platform was also recently acquired. Ari is a four-time Apple Worldwide Developer Conference Student Scholar.



 

Transcript

Ari Sokolov 0:03

My parents were really great and kind of emphasizing that, ADHD is like, it's not necessarily a disability, but just kind of indication that my brain works differently and that to be able to thrive in environments where the world isn't really set up to really be compatible with that you have to be dedicated to work on the things that you're not as strong at, and then ultimately being able to thrive with the things that you are.

Penny Williams 0:27

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 a Holic and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to The Parenting ADHD Podcast. I'm really excited today for Ari Sokolov to share her story of growing up with ADHD and how she's found success with all of you who are parenting kids who might be struggling right now you might be trying to launch into adulthood, and Ari's, gonna give, I think, a great insight into maybe your child's world or a little bit of what it's like. Thanks so much for being here. Ari, will you share who you are and what you do?

Ari Sokolov 1:27

Sure. Thanks so much for having me. I'm Ari. I'm currently a 20 year old student and also app developer. I previously founded the Tor Project, which was anonymous social network for mental health support. And we had about 100,000 users over 42 countries, we were recently acquired by blue fever, which is a similar app that also helps with emotional support, specifically for Gen Z. So that's currently what I've been working on and also have ADHD as well.

Penny Williams 1:58

That's amazing. You've accomplished a lot already at 20. Do you want to start by I guess, just telling us a little bit of your story. What was it like for you growing up with ADHD?

Ari Sokolov 2:09

Sure. So I pretty much was first diagnosed, I guess, with ADHD, when I was 10 years old, I always had a lot of trouble in school, specifically, with kind of making careless mistakes, I was always kind of put in the top math classes and placed higher academically, but often would kind of be put back into other groups, just because I would pretty much add numbers and make them like one plus one would be four, just because I wasn't, paying attention. And then subsequently, that kind of matriculated into other classes such as English, where you wouldn't see different periods and that sort of stuff. And then it was suggested to my parents that I would be tested and found out you know, that I did have ADHD, and also was slightly dyslexic. And it pretty much kind of made everything that I'd been experiencing in school make a lot more sense, I was had a lot of trouble with organization, and the executive functioning deficit, and ultimately was then, given some tutoring, and the proper, accommodations within school that really helped me kind of mitigate some of those issues, then eventually, I think, for me, specifically with coding app development, while you know, I kind of liked behind gym, a lot of reading and a lot of the other kind of components in school just because my brain didn't work the same way that I think a lot of others did, I really found coding was like a great outlet for my ADHD, because everything kind of taught me organization in a way that still allowed me to have structure and creativity, and just worked really well with the way that my mind work and was able to, hyper focus, and you know, when you're debugging things, or kind of going through code, and really needing to solve a problem really helps when you're able to kind of hyper focus, which is kind of a side effect of my ADHD specifically, and ultimately found that that was like a really powerful way to create more technology that helped others. I started by creating websites. And then eventually, when I was 13, create an app, because I really wanted to attend Apple's Developers Conference, and was able to go there, and be able to be exposed to other app developers who are really passionate about solving the same sorts of problems. And it was really great because I got one on one guidance with Apple engineers, and really was able to continue my journey through app development. And then, as a scholarship winner four times over one of my projects, civilly, was focused on creating a playground or coding program that taught kids with learning disabilities such as myself, I found people with ADHD kind of have a lot of natural tendencies that make them really great for coding, hyperfocus thing one, just being able to have you know, that kind of creative mindset or think about things in a different way. That helps solve problems that other peoples don't really encounter. But you know, we often struggle with cooperation and organization. So I created a program where, you were able to using Swift, which is Apple's development language, but you To learn how to create your own personal planet, and then ultimately, with like a friend or buddy, be able to kind of like code your way to visit to it. And so talk collaboration and kind of those sorts of elements as well. Sounds amazing. So that's been my journey so far with ADHD and coding.

Penny Williams 5:17

And how did you discover that coding was a good fit for you.

Ari Sokolov 5:22

So when I was eight years old, I accidentally went into the wrong classroom, and ended up in a summer school program, where I was supposed to take this photography class, and it was kind of in a computer lab. And I went to the wrong one ended up being in the computer science class. Instead, there was a classroom little scores. So I was pretty young. But luckily, the instructor let me stay, and I just really loved it. And then just continued coding after that, creating job sites, my mom bought me a bunch of books, and also fund them from the library on how to do unfoldment. And consequently, gotten to app development wanting to attend Apple's Developers Conference and create apps that would kind of create a way to impact others within their mobile devices on a larger scale.

Penny Williams 6:09

And so what would your advice be for parents who have kids with ADHD, who are kind of struggling to find their thing? I think sometimes it takes kids a long time to really figure out what sort of strikes that fire for them.

Ari Sokolov 6:24

Definitely, I think that something that really helped me was just being able to be lucky to have really supportive parents that were always wanting me to kind of try out everything. When I was younger, I'd pretty much every sport imaginable. I did every after school activity that was pretty much offered. And even kind of in by weirder interests, such as coding that most other kids weren't doing, they would just always support me through when it was the holidays, like buying me different books or resources to continue to work on that. And I was living in Arizona at the time, when I first started coding, and there was something called hackathons where you kind of are able to go to code for 24 hours, and they're mostly held at university. So yeah, I was in high school, and I'm pretty young, and my parents would drive me there and support me through that. So honestly, could not have been able to be where I am without them. Yeah, I think just like parents, encouraging me with all the opportunities that is able to kind of be exposed in that way. I think just also another thing that I found, not personally with me, but that has been lucky with me, but also have heard from other, friends with ADHD and from like, other guests, like tutors and whatnot, in school, that something that I guess I had, that a lot of other kids didn't, that I think helped with my success was just being really motivated to kind of overcome my difficulties with ADHD, to then, be able to work on what made me I guess, more successful or what I felt really passionate about, when I was first doing like tutoring at my school, like, I came in with like a notepad and took notes on like, everything that the tutoring said to do, and like completed it. Because I was really determined, my parents were really great and kind of emphasizing that, ADHD is like, it's not necessarily a disability, but just kind of indication that, my brain works differently. And that, to be able to thrive in environments where the world isn't really set up to really be compatible with that, you kind of have to be dedicated to work on the things that you're not as strong at, and then ultimately being able to thrive with the things that you are. So that was kind of my I guess other recommendation for parents dealing with kids is just, kind of being able to identify those strengths. And it's a journey that everyone kind of needs to cooperate on.

Penny Williams 8:42

Yeah, really encouraging exploration. It sounds like your parents, just any interest that you had they were helping you to keep exploring it and to keep sort of moving forward learning more about it. I guess, kind of feeding your curiosity, right. And in coding this definitely. Yeah. Yeah. And I think that, as long as we keep offering opportunities, something will click at some point. You know, you were really fortunate and I think to figure that out a little bit younger, I know a lot of people with ADHD are late bloomers, and it takes a long time to get there. But I think the journey is the important part, like, getting out there, being curious about things, being creative and being really encouraged from your parents and from your teachers to do that.

Ari Sokolov 9:30

Yeah, most definitely.

Penny Williams 9:32

And what really helped you in school, was there anything specific that you could pinpoint? That really helped you with? Maybe you know, some of those executive functioning skills that were difficult or areas where you were often distracted and really struggling? Did you have different sort of accommodations or anything that you found useful at school?

Ari Sokolov 9:55

Yeah, so I had the regular you know, time to half and like all of the accommodations for that specifically, were kind of more catered towards trying to, I guess, like help with what I was diagnosed with. But I think more. So I think coding really did help a lot with a lot of my executive functioning, I think just being able to not only have something that really taught me to be able to kind of organize my thoughts and kind of in cutting you off to create like a lot of documentation. And especially when I was applying for Apple's scholarship program, to kind of communicate my thoughts or what I was doing in terms of the different programs or kind of mini apps in a way, I had to be able to kind of like write what I was creating. And subsequently, when I was working on other open source projects, or apps had to create documentation to be able to explain like, Okay, this is how you configure like, these variables that this technology flat, other developers can, be able to use in the future. And subsequently also like having to understand that with reading comprehension, and kind of being forced, because like, your program won't work unless you really look at all the details. And I think for me, specifically with the executive functioning, I would definitely scan over most of those details in school and being able to kind of like from coding, learning how to do that, translate it a lot in my schoolwork, to be able to kind of think similarly in terms of being able to document things very clearly. And also being able to show those additional instructions and being able to respond accordingly. I think in addition to that, I was really lucky to go to a school that had people that were dedicated to helping kids with learning differences, and learn to know how to use highlighters to you know, highlight different parts of words how to work with multiple choice test to be able to prove myself what you should like component was wrong, because you know, I'd often skip over or, not look at them as closely how to like time your test to make sure that you're dividing your attention properly. So all those I think really helped, in addition to just being able to kind of learn about those fundamental organization skills to having to like develop and write code.

Penny Williams 11:57

Yeah. And what would you say to a kid who is really struggling to find that motivation, school is really hard, and it hasn't clicked to want to work harder and sort of get around or get through some of these challenges. I see a lot of kids who just kind of give up after a while. And it's really unfortunate, because I certainly believe that everybody has gifts within them, we all have greatness. And sometimes it just takes more to find it in a kid who's struggling in, a neurotypical environment like school, what kind of advice would you give to a kid to sort of help them dig deep and find that motivation to keep going?

Ari Sokolov 12:44

Sure, yeah, I personally was in like a very similar situation, I started my first year of high school, kind of in a very progressive school, our test for English was brighter, short story from like the perspective of a goat from reading a Shakespeare play. So it was really great for the way that I think I think more creatively, and I think with, ADHD, it's like, in some respects, if you have more, practical or open ended. So it's a prompts or not even open ended, but more like real world, things tend to make more sense. And also being more creative, you're just kind of clicks a lot better. But I then, transferred to another school because they had a better computer science program. And I really wanted to take more computer science classes. And the classes pretty much turned from being very exploratory and creative, and, more different sorts of learning to very focused on like, how do we get the top AP scores? How do we have all these multiple choice tests that ultimately determine your grades and what you know, and it was a really difficult shift, because the way that my brain thinks, everything that my neurodiversity entails, was not geared towards that at all, all of those careless mistakes kind of came back again, because, it was a lot less project based, it was a lot more touch base. And it was really difficult for me for several months. And I think for me, just kind of taking a step back. And ultimately, I came to my parents like to talk to them about, all the difficulties, I was facing, and luckily to have really supportive parents, but understood, that there are different ways that we learned in that certain, environments are geared towards different students in different ways. And I also would, kind of say, like, my parents, like, they were not neurodiverse at all, I think, pretty much growing up, or maybe they just know, they're both doctors and like, have no trouble with school pretty much most of their lives. So I think that having me as a kid kind of really opened them up to be more open to like, learning that different types of people and differently, and, coming to them and talking about my issues, they ultimately like kind of told me who to talk to you at my school and was able to, get some of those more strategies in terms of being able to, highlight tasks and time them differently. In addition, I think in addition to that, after I kind of got my academic issues, I guess, kind of two more manageable standpoint, it was so, like, completely manageable. But I had this outlet, which was coding. And I really like being able to take several hours, a day and come home and just being able to make apps or create. So kind of it was like an incentive to me. So like, being able to figure out school in a way, it was like, a way to be able to, like, know that I had more time to code, at the end of the day, so I was really motivated to, listen to those tutors that I was connected to. And to work with my teachers, I would go to office hours, pretty much like every option that there was to kind of work through problems that I was having difficulties with. And, there are a lot of other, factors that contribute to your academic success. But I found that kind of like being able to nail down or not having to need to figure out things as well. But as much during like different tests by kind of doing extra practice and asking for my teachers to give me additional problems to work on, made my tests look a lot easier, because, I was able to have extra time to like, check over things and you know, be able to cut a lot of those mistakes I would normally have caught because I had that understanding of the material a lot better than I did previously. Yeah, yeah, I know, it was kind of long winded. But hopefully that answers the question.

Penny Williams 16:11

No, totally helpful. And what I heard within that, too, is that it was beneficial to you to know about your ADHD, right to have some help with understanding how your brain learns, and what is maybe a strength that you can use to help with a weakness and things like that, I think a lot of parents struggle with, do I tell my child about their diagnosis or not? And what I'm hearing you say is that it was really helpful for you to know that information so that you could figure out how you could succeed in school.

Ari Sokolov 16:46

Yeah, I'm honestly not sure. Like, my parents kind of gave me my diagnosis. In a way, I'm not even sure if like, they really did, I think that they moved mostly for him to as like, executive function deficit as what's written on all of my papers, like go to the school to, like, approve me for different accommodations. And so I was more aware of that, but just having to, like, go through or like submit reports and whatnot, just kind of found out that way. Yeah. But I think for me, specifically, I don't think anyone ever really told me like, Oh, this is kind of the side effect of ADHD. I'm a very strong intp. And I learned that through like a personality test they had to do for kind of a, I guess, an honors program. And then subsequently, I think through like a bunch of Googling, I found that you know, other intp, so often, have ADHD, and kind of just found out more about ADHD, through that. And additionally, just also wanting to create the different programs that did, kind of helping kids with learning disabilities, allowed me kind of just research more about it. But I think that was definitely self motivated and kind of learning about how ADHD kind of interacts with people who are more creative types, but also very technical, and kind of coupling that within different aspects of my work. But I think it definitely did help me understand why, the different behaviors that I was experiencing. happened. That makes sense.

Penny Williams 18:08

Yeah. And I hadn't thought about a personality test and helping you sort of define how you learn, but it totally can. And there's also a lot of tests for testing what type of learner you are, what you do better with whether it's audio or visual, or kinesthetic or tactile, and I think that's really helpful for families to do too, and to really drill down to exactly what works for you in a school or learning environment, which is exactly what you did. And it really seems like it helped you succeed. Yeah, let's definitely do you want to talk a little bit about the trail project and what that is and why you founded it, I think it would be an important topic to share too.

Ari Sokolov 18:52

Sure. So in my last year of high school, I got to be president of my grocery CCO club. And I've been waiting for this pretty much since I had come to school because it was a call about like 50 girls who really passionate about computer science, and specifically why I was really excited about leading it is because I wanted to have everyone participate in the Technovation challenge, which is a competition that challenges girls in high school to create apps that help their community. So my group decided to focus on the issue of LGBTQ plus mental health. So one of my best friends who was on my team, she was telling me about how she really struggled coming out. And it was was surprising to me because we were living in Los Angeles, and it was a really, very liberal Environment and Community. But ultimately, kind of going towards that issue found out that 40% of transgender people worldwide attempt suicide, and there's just a huge issue in the LGBTQ plus community amongst mental health.

So that friend and a few others decided to pull individuals in our high school and also through the broader internet, just trying to see What would really help that community find a better place or find some support for those mental health difficulties, ultimately decided to create an online social network for mental health support. And we launched pretty much, I can't remember, it was well, about, I think, four years ago. And we're able to have about 15,000, people signed up for a beta in the first couple of weeks. And after that, it kind of became a little bit more than, just a girl. So you could project because we realized that there were a lot of individuals who really needed this sort of technology. And ultimately, I personally was able to attend Apple developers conference where I was able to get, a lot of mentorship to be able to kind of refine the app in its initial stages. And then eventually, we were selected to be part of Apple's entrepreneurship program focused on women entrepreneurs. And at that time, we had already grown to fair amount of users. And we found that a lot of them experienced mental health difficulties, and specifically kind of in the categories of harming themselves or harming somebody else, or somebody else harming them. And we're able to, with the help of Apple engineers, create a machine learning model to detect that.

So currently, I guess what the app was until we officially had to, sunset the app this weekend. But we were, supportive community with about 100 moderators, and specifically kind of we expanded past LGBTQ plus teens, but mostly teens and young adults, that were able to anonymously and freely express, anything that they might be experiencing, that they need support with. And then eventually, we found that a lot of my co founder, and I were, both in college and a lot of our other teammates, also in college. And, our goal from the beginning was really to solve this problem. And we knew that you know, our intentions versus like, ultimately, be in the best place with the best people to ultimately solve it. And so, we found that there was another company called Blue fever, that previously had a tech spot for emotional support focused on Gen Z girls. And they had expanded to creating an app that kind of created a very similar community, that also was expanding past denticles, to provide that emotional support and community throughout. So we joined forces with them and now are a part of blue fever, and are working with them to create the future of emotional media, which is just creating safe spaces for individuals to really express you know, how they feel and find support.

Penny Williams 22:28

It's so critical, and it's so needed. And I love the idea of it being anonymous, I think that's so important. When you put yourself out there online, how when it's a risk, to be able to get that support without necessarily taking that sort of risk is so so valuable? How do people take advantage of that? Is Blue fever an app? Or what can families who are listening? Is there anything for them to use at this time?

Ari Sokolov 22:56

Yeah, so blue fever is an app. And it's, I think, 13 plus, so they actually had a wider age range than we actually did. We were 18 Plus, technically, and so they are very well, moderated and taken care of any family that you know, has a kid that, really wants a space to freely talk about themselves, they're able to download flu fever, it's structured a little bit differently than show up. So individuals are able to have different journal. So they're able to kind of post you know, in longer form text posts, or kind of be more creative with how they express that. And then, right now, you can add different emotions. And I guess kind of like emoticons to, like, encourage others, but they're working to add comments and additional features to have more ways to support others.

Penny Williams 23:44

Yeah. So amazing. Thank you so much for spending a little time with us and sharing your journey and your story. I know that there's so many parents and families listening, and hopefully some kids who will hear this and really be encouraged and uplifted and inspired by what you've been able to do Oh, to find their own journey and their own successes as well. I will certainly post links to everything we've talked about Blue fever, and hackathon and personality tests. There's many things that we've talked about. I will link all of that up in the show notes for everyone listening so that you can learn more in the show notes are going to be at parentingADHDandautism.com/155 for episode 155. And with that, we'll end the episode. Thanks so much again, Ari.

Ari Sokolov 24:37

Thank you so much for having me.

Penny Williams 24:38

I'll see everyone next time. 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

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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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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