PAP 182: The Disruptors, with Nancy Armstrong
with Nancy Armstrong
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Nancy Armstrong 0:03
Across the board, these are the sweetest kids sweet, charismatic, empathic, sensitive, wonderful kids who are going to grow up to be amazing. And all of them have incredible parents. So I'm not worried about the kids in this film, because they all have the thing that you really need, which is parents that love you and stand behind you no matter what.
Penny Williams 0:27
Welcome to the beautifully complex podcast, where I share insights and strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author and mindset mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started. Welcome back to the beautifully complex podcast. I am so excited to have executive producer Nancy Armstrong here to talk about the film the disruptors, which really talks about ADHD, some of the myths around ADHD. Also some of the people who find it very helpful to be successful, kind of turned it on its head and used it to create success in their lives. So Nancy, I'm so happy that you're here and we get to talk about in the film. Will you start by just letting everyone know who you are and what you do?
Nancy Armstrong 1:26
Sure. First of all, thanks so much for having me on to talk about the film really appreciate that. My background is I'm a producer. I'm the executive producer and producer of the disruptors, which is the first definitive and comprehensive film on ADHD, which is surprising given how long ADHD has been around. But this is really the first film to deeply examine both the challenges and the strengths of ADHD. So it features the top national experts by families currently managing the diagnosis. And also and this is also you know, singular to this film is a small army of game changing public personalities that speak candidly about their own ADHD, both the challenges they faced growing up, and the way in which they were able to leverage the power of their brain to become incredibly successful.
Penny Williams 2:17
Yeah, and I love how open and honest and vulnerable they are in sharing that because that's what we need to attack the stigma. And to make life a little bit easier for kids with ADHD or even adults, because there are so many myths out there as you sat around ADHD. How did you get started with being interested in ADHD and tackling this film?
Nancy Armstrong 2:44
Well, this was the film I desperately needed. As a mother of three children with ADHD. It was incredibly well it is my children are now 2018 and 16. But we had a really difficult journey, particularly with my firstborn, who's a boy. And then I had two girls who were also diagnosed, not as early on as my son, because with him, it was pretty clear that something was going on very early on. But we struggled so much. And I remember wishing there was a film that could explain this, not only to us as a family, but also to everyone in our community. Particularly, I think, in a school setting where the myths of ADHD the stigma around ADHD are incredibly pervasive. And it's so hard as a parent to counter that, just by pleading your case. Yeah, so I thought if I had a film with all the experts, and you know, showing that this is really universal, this struggle among families who raise children with ADHD, but also to have the proof of these very successful people who have the same childhood, as everyone in the film and as, as everyone who experiences childhood with ADHD, if that we could have those people talk about their experience, and talk about the fact that it is part of their super skill as well, that we could finally cut through some of that stigma, which is just demoralizing to children and to parents. You know, it's not just children that get blamed for their ADHD. It's also parents that get blamed for having kids who don't behave in school are disruptive, are not turning in their homework. This all falls on not only the child, but also the parents. Yeah, it's worse that it falls on the child actually, but it's so hard as a parent to because you're trying so hard to support and help your child but it's just really a difficult process, even with diagnosis and treatment without diagnosis and treatment. It's a disaster.
Penny Williams 4:40
It's super hard even with it, though, just like you said, it can be so challenging. And one of the things that I loved as I watched the film was, I felt very validated as a parent, very seen and very heard. You know, my son is almost 20. Now we've been on the journey with ADHD of course Whole life, but he was diagnosed almost 14 years ago. And so we've been doing this a long time. And it is really, really tough. It's really tough because so many people hold it close to the vest because of that shame and stigma. So parents aren't really talking to each other about it. And to see these parents and see the pain and the struggle that they were going through, in the film, was bringing that up for me in what we had gone through, and it felt like some real validation, you know.
Nancy Armstrong 5:34
Yeah, that was what was so amazing was when we were in the process of making the film is to listen to the parents journeys, which were so parallel to my journey, because we are a community as parents, we share this experience, which is a life changing experience. So it's really a completely growth experience as a parent, while raising children is a growth experience. Raising children with ADHD is a it's like parenting on steroids. Yeah. So it's an incredible growth journey. And we all share this journey. And it's been so amazing to share this film with the world, because I'm having conversations with people in New Zealand, who have exactly the same story and feel so validated, and are so excited that this film is out and is available, and they want everyone in their community to see it. They want their schools to screen it. So I hope it's really a tool, not just for education, but really liberation of these families that have been in the shadows, as you said, for so long. And then that was our experience, we thought we were the only family in town who had a child with ADHD, it was so secretive.
Penny Williams 6:41
Yeah. And we have to break that down, and that's part of what I think the film is really going to help to do, is we walk around, and we all keep our stories to ourselves. We're worried about the judgment of others, we're worried about being cast aside. And we sort of perpetuate that pain. By doing that by not talking to each other and not supporting each other. For my own journey. You know, Facebook, with all its ills, has also been the most amazing tool, because that's where I found other parents who were like me, right, because there wasn't the film the disruptors, there wasn't a lot, especially when my son was diagnosed in 2008. And so that was a lifeline, right, finding other people who share a similar story. And seeing that story out in the public can be so incredibly helpful. I also loved all the stories from the entrepreneurs and the artists, the people that we would consider famous right, to share their story, I think, is so powerful, especially for our kids, our kids, I think, feel really trapped when they're younger, and they're struggling, and they don't see kids around them struggling in the same ways. They're getting a lot of negative feedback at school, they may be getting negative feedback socially, from sports coaches, or gymnastics, or anything like that, the other adults in their lives. And so to see that, there have been people who've struggled, but who've also really turned it around and made the best of it and are doing well is super powerful for kids. But parents too, like we need that reassurance, too, that our kids are going to be okay that that there is greatness within them.
Nancy Armstrong 8:33
Well, that was kind of my son's experience. And that was kind of where I connected the dots on making the film. One of the ways he and I were kicked out of Mommy and Me class when he was a toddler. So that was really alarming. First time parent moment. And thank goodness, he probably is too young to really understand it or remember it. But it kind of went from there. So that was kind of the first wake up call that something was going on. And then he struggled in preschool and it took so long to get a diagnosis. You know, the diagnosis we were first given was sensory integration disorder. So we were going to behavioral therapy for sensory issues. And there were a lot of people in that waiting room. It's sensory training, which I found interesting. So that was kind of the diagnosis circa 2008 2007 2008. There was zero talk about ADHD, which is weird, because it's not that long ago. So zero conversation. I never heard the word ADHD until the moment he was diagnosed, which was when he was around eight years old. So that was 12 years ago. And what that diagnostician told me was that sensory integration disorder is a symptom of ADHD. It's not really a separate diagnosis on its own.
Right. So I thought that was just amazing. And these were doctors, diagnosing him with sensory integration disorder. So when the medical community can't even give you the right answer, you have problems and that speaks to really a dearth of experts on it. ADHD, which I think is a growing problem in this country and actually around the world. But yeah, when you're talking about 10% of the population, and there's a dearth of specialists, that's a problem. That means we're not going to diagnose, we're going to miss diagnose, which we do so often in girls, because they don't present the same way as boys. They don't have as much outward hyperactivity necessarily, so we misdiagnosed them with anxiety and depression. But the fact that we we now really need to focus on I think, pediatricians and primary care physicians as a, an accredited first line of defense, because we don't have the requisite number of experts to treat 10% of the population that has ADHD. So that is a huge concern. And we don't have resources in communities that really need it. And I think that's where things can go dramatically wrong for kids who are in under resourced communities. And so they're being disruptive in class, and then they get put into a separate classroom, for kids who don't learn or don't behave, then that's demoralizing. And that can lead to, a bad decision, which then lands them in juvenile detention, which is then a gateway to, the prison system.
Penny Williams 11:12
Yeah, it's pipeline.
Nancy Armstrong 11:13
It's a pipeline Exactly. And, what I'm seeing in studies is that anywhere between 25 to 40%, of the prison population has ADHD. So it's alarming that we don't have enough experts. And we really need to then I think, in the absence of experts focus on doctors that do annual physicals, for adults and kids so that they can have a sort of a screening process, which they're starting to do. Now, I noticed in the last five years, there's a screening that you fill out when you go to the pediatricians office. But you know, 1012 years ago, there wasn't?
Penny Williams 11:45
No, there wasn't. Yeah, and we've come so far, in the last 10 to 12 years. And yet, there's so much further to go. And I think that, a lot of it is getting the word out helping people to really understand ADHD, what is really happening there. You know, it's not that a kid is choosing to misbehave, it's not that, they don't fit in a school setting. It's that our system is so rigid, that we're excluding them. And we're not understanding that. They just learn differently. They need different modalities of learning, they need to be able to show what they're learning in different ways. They need community support, they need people like you're saying to teach parents what to do. You know, when your son and my son were diagnosed, there wasn't much parent training. I didn't find any that point in time. Now there's a bunch, and I'm so grateful for that. But it's really so important. You know, I learned a few years after my son was diagnosed that teachers don't have to learn about ADHD to become a teacher. They do not have to learn 10 seconds of material about it. And so just crazy. It's so crazy. It's so crazy. And so we are sending our kids to be taught by people who just don't know.
Nancy Armstrong 13:15
And it's not their fault, right? It's not their fault. And I don't want to throw teachers under the bus is snow systems. It's really I have to blame school systems for this. Yeah. And not teachers, because teachers have very hard jobs of having between 20 to 30 kids in a classroom. And they have a lesson plan that they need to teach. But part of their ongoing training needs to be understanding ADHD. Exactly. And that's what I really wanted just to empower parents to have a tool, not only with the world's experts, but also the explanation of the brain, so we don't have to be confused about it anymore. Here it is. Here's the neurology of it. It's neurological thing that's so difficult is there's just a deep disconnection between what we as a society believe about ADHD, and what we know from years of research and hundreds, if not 1000s of studies, and that is it is neurological. We know what part of the brain it affects. We know that it's highly heritable, and these are things that teachers haven't been educated with. And I really wanted parents also to have that army of public personalities to stand behind them. You know, you've got will i am. You've got Paris Hilton, you've got David Neeleman, you've got Steve Madden, you have an army of hyper successful people that all say to camera, that this is the reason I struggled and this is a reason why I excelled in my career. That's a fact. We're not speculating about that anymore.
Penny Williams 14:39
I love that. And army for parents. That's fantastic. And I hope that the film makes its way into schools and that educators can watch it because I think it explains the neurology explains the brain explains what's going on. It shows that kids and parents are trying really hard hard, they're putting in the work in a simple way, and an enjoyable way. You know, I really enjoyed watching this film. Thank you. And hopefully that really resonates with a lot of other people. You know, as parents, we want to send articles and we want to ask teachers to read books, because they just don't know yet. Right. And that can be very difficult. They're so busy as you said, they are well overworked already, they have way too much on their plates are running. So when we're asking them to like, learn about this specific brain difference, this specific neurological difference, we're adding more work for them. So I love that this can be, a pretty short, easy and very educational enjoyable experience for anybody, we can, as parents be recommending this to the other adults in our kids lives to, friends, families, our families, grandparents, coaches, whoever else is in their lives, because the more that they're understood, the better their experiences.
Nancy Armstrong 16:05
Well, that's the power of film. And that's why I've been drawn to film as a storyteller, and you know, the many iterations of my career, but the film has the ability to, in a very short period of time, curate the best information in a persuasive way, and to really reframe an issue. And I've seen that in film, particularly with so many of the films from Atlas films, which is the company I worked with to make the film Stephanie sceptic, and crystals are both insanely talented documentary filmmakers, and they have done this many times with other films is to take a topic that we think as a society we understand, and to completely flip it on its head or reframe it in some fundamental way. And so that's what I wanted to do with the topic of ADHD. So, they were kind of my top choice to work with on this film, and they were incredible to work with.
Penny Williams 16:57
Yeah, it was amazing outcome. And I, it's funny, because I literally when I saw of the film was available, and what it was, I felt almost giddy, like it was so happy that someone was sharing our stories, and really getting it out there to the masses. Because it is so important for our kids. And I think for adults are so many adults with ADHD too. And there are many who are misdiagnosed with Mi Mi depression or anxiety. There are many who are undiagnosed and still feel like outliers or are you know, they feel like there are other. And by watching this, I think that so many people may see themselves to and feel some relief, almost that certainly is true for the parents who are struggling and whose kids are struggling. Do you want to talk a little bit about some of the experiences of the families that you followed in the film? Sure. Well,
Nancy Armstrong 18:00
I think there was a really interesting mix of kids. And I was really happy with the families that we ended up using in the film in terms of the story arcs that they had. And you know, you never know how things are gonna go when you ask a family to be involved in the film. And these families all were very enthusiastic about being involved in the film, which I thought was kind of unusual, given the fact that the stigma around ADHD still exists to let cameraman into your home to document your life. You know, and there were several things I as a person have been through it wanted to capture, which was the morning, the disastrous mornings that we all have, as one thing I said over and over when we were strategizing on filming with these families is we have to get them early in the morning when you know, the vid hits the Shan. And it gets really unpleasant in the house. So, of course, everyone had those difficult mornings. And that was one of the things that I thought was great to capture. And you know that they had struggled with different things that you know, one of the kids struggled really with peer rejection, which is so common for kids with ADHD because they miss Miss social cues and they can be emotionally impulsive. And that's kind of the one thing that kids at that age around the middle school age will not forgive you for is emotional outbursts. Yeah, so kids will issue children who can't control themselves, which is exactly what ADHD is a sort of a condition of self regulation. Yes. So that is very isolating for them.
So I think we had a bunch of kids in the dark who had those experience. We also had a couple of kids who were asked to leave the school they were in. So that was, just incredible one while we were filming one of the kids Hogan, who's in Texas, who's the sweetest kid that's across the board. These are the sweetest kids, sweet, charismatic, empathic, sensitive, wonderful kids who are going to grow up to be amazing. And all of them have incredible parents. So I'm not worried about the kids in this film. Because they all have Have the thing that you really need, which is parents that love you and stand behind you no matter what they're going to make mistakes as parents that's universal across any parent, but they get up, dust themselves off, give their child a hug, and say, tomorrow's a new day. And those were all the parents in the film, just incredibly devoted parents, so that all of these kids had that. But they did have, some really unpleasant experiences with one teacher pressing charges on sort of an accidental situation. Yeah, and just the impact on that child, it's a child, at the end of the day, these are children going through their formative years. And these are experiences that are incredibly devastating, I just don't think it's thought through that you would press charges on a child for something kind of minor. That doesn't even make sense. But I think that's why that was just such a really upsetting storyline in the film.
Penny Williams 20:54
It was really heartbreaking. It was so hard to watch. But I was so glad that you covered it in the film, because we do have this criminalization of behavior going on in this country, and our kids who are different, tend to be sent down that path, we want to press charges, we want to hold them accountable in ways that, in my opinion, they are not ready for, and that was going to really impact that child's life in a very negative way, not to mention his parents, and you know, everything that everyone was going through around him for something that really had no malice whatsoever in it. It just felt so overblown, but also a really true representation of what is happening to so many of our kids who struggle with regulation struggle to control themselves and struggle to get things done. And I was really happy that you covered that sort of instance, that's happening for our families. But it's heartbreaking. It's hard to watch, but we have to, we have to bear witness to what is happening so that we can get that conversation, really in the forefront and make a change.
Nancy Armstrong 22:15
I had the fortunate experience of living in a community where I had access to resources. And I also had this sort of bird's eye view of what was happening in my husband's life, who also has ADHD, who was diagnosed at the same time as my son. So now he had a similar struggle. You know, during childhood, he was kicked out of eighth grade, he, had all these things happen. But he finally found the thing he was passionate about and just took off. Yep. And has been really successful as a serial entrepreneur and building, tech companies, businesses and things like that. So I was never 100% worried about my son because my husband had ADHD. So I thought, Well, he'll be okay. And then it seemed that my husband knew all these people in his inner circle, whose kids had ADHD. And I said, Oh, do you think the parents have it also, and he said, Oh, 100% if they have it, he can just tell the people with ADHD know when they're talking to other people with ADHD, because it's like, they speak a sort of a separate language that only they understand sometimes. And then I was lucky to be introduced to Ned Halliwell, who was sort of the pioneer of the strengths based approach, and started connecting all these dots. And at the time, when I started talking to my son about it, he was 12.
And I said, you have all these skills that are going to be so appreciated in your adult life, you just have to get through middle school and high school, and it's not going to be fun, it's going to be hard. But you just have to get through it, your life is going to be amazing. And he definitely did not believe me. Yeah, until he started making the connection between my husband and a lot of the people in my husband's, work orbit. And I would keep reinforcing that. You're just like this person, you are just like him, you see how he is this way, but also has the strength. That's you. And so I think when he started to identify himself with all of these sorts of entrepreneurial creative outside the box thinkers, he started to feel better about himself, he started to see a path for himself forward where he didn't before because he was just buried under a barrage of negative feedback and negative feelings about himself. These kids want to be able to comport themselves the way everyone else is. They want to be able to turn in all their homework assignments, and they don't know why they're not doing it. They don't know and they feel very negatively about themselves for it. And that's no way to develop your psychology as a child. Like that's really a dangerous path. By the time you get to adulthood. You're not going to feel good about yourself. How will you ever be able to chase your dreams?
Penny Williams 24:55
Exactly. Yeah, and I think we just need a shift in the way we educate, so that we allow kids to be more creative and more individual. You know, I always talk about the fact that we need to be raising individuals, not, a kid who fits in the box and complies really well. But everybody has some strengths and some greatness within them. And when we're raising individuals, we're allowing them to be curious and to discover things about themselves. You know, we're giving them permission to do things differently, because there's nothing wrong with doing things differently. Right. But I never questioned that before I had a kid with neurological differences, right? Because that's just the way we grow up and the culture that we live in. And so we all need to start questioning, is the way that we parent is the way that we educate the best way. Is it really inclusive? And is it going to sort of turn out people who feel good about themselves and can go out there and tackle the world, and right now, so many kids are coming out of high school, just feeling defeated, and like, they don't have anything good about themselves, they internalize when they don't fit, they internalize that, and they come up with a story, that they're broken, right. And, my son, despite all the fighting that I did for him, he still came out of high school with this feeling that he wasn't good at anything, that he couldn't succeed at anything, you know. And it was really, really hard. And we've been really working hard to show him, you do have these great qualities, look at these amazing things that you can do. And here's opportunities to keep exploring and figuring out what really excites you. I think that really came through in the celebrities and entrepreneurs that you had was that passion when they found their passion, and they were able to be themselves. That's when everything started to fall into place for them. Right, right. And
Nancy Armstrong 27:07
they still have to manage some of the challenges like That's true. You know, as long as you're a person with an ADHD brain, you will always have the challenges that need to be managed. But while if you can manage those, you can accelerate the upside. And if you find what it is you're passionate about doing, you'll be motivated to get places on time to turn in assignments to, get organized, because as Ned Halliwell says, you will want to unwrap your gift. And while we're hesitant to necessarily call it a total gift, there are gifts in the ADHD brain. And there are challenges. I mean, I just think it's really, it was very one dimensional before, but if this is something that's multi dimensional, yeah, and I think that's a shift that needs to happen. That's a sea change in society that we need to have, which is that there is neurodiversity, and we need to embrace that. You know, I think Elon Musk just announced he has Asperger's. And, a lot of these tech entrepreneurs probably, have something either ADHD or Asperger's. Like they definitely look at the world through a different lens. They are not neurotypical some of them had to drop out of college just because it was so boring. Yeah. And you know, that's really the struggle that kids have is that school is boring. And it's not really that they have a deficit of attention, they have too much attention. They don't know which thing to pay attention to. It's like they're paying attention to equally the teacher, the squirrel outside, the person passing in the hallway, the pencil, it just dropped on the floor. All of those things are equally interesting to them. And they their brain doesn't differentiate. And unfortunately, we've moved to a sort of an industrial assembly line approach to education, which is deadening to people with ADHD and really just values. People who can sit like a soldier for 15 minutes, say nothing, don't move and listen. Yeah, I think that's hard for all kids. But it's impossible for a child with ADHD that is absolutely setting someone with ADHD up to fail. And why do we want to do that? When they are our entrepreneurs, our explorers, our award winning artists or Olympic athletes?
Penny Williams 29:14
Yeah, the out of the box thinkers? Yeah, it doesn't really make sense. Well, thank you for starting this conversation in a way that I think is going to reach a lot of people. And I am honored to have talked to you about this project.
Nancy Armstrong 29:28
Thank you honor to be on.
Penny Williams 29:29
I'm so grateful to everyone who is involved everyone who shared their story, who were willing to be vulnerable, and they're gonna really help so many people. I just know that film was gonna help so many people, if nothing else, feel less alone, right? And feel like there's success in their future. So I'm just so excited about it. Thank you and really happy that we got to have this conversation together about it and me to let everybody know really quickly where they can go watch.
Nancy Armstrong 30:00
The film is available on Apple TV, iTunes, Google Play YouTube, Amazon Prime and Vudu. Depending on what part of the world you're in, it varies, but it's available all of those places in the United States. And you can also go to disruptors film.com for all of that information, plus more clips on the film and more resources.
Penny Williams 30:22
Yeah. And we'll link all that up in the show notes. In the show notes for this episode will be found at parentingADHDandautism.com/182. For Episode 182, we'll link up where to watch the website. Anything else that we've talked about here, as far as resources, and I do hope that everyone will take the time to watch the film, and to share it with others. Share it with the other people in our kids lives to help them help our kids. Again, Nancy, thank you so much. I really appreciate you sharing your experience and sharing this film with the world. Thanks for having me on. With that. I'll see everybody on the next episode. Take good care. Thanks for joining me on the beautifully complex podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses and parent coaching at parentingADHDandautism.com and at thebehaviorrevolution.com
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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