249: Helping Neurodivergent Young Adults, with Janina Elbert Maschke, Ph.D.

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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In this episode of the Beautifully Complex podcast, I had an insightful conversation with Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke, an expert in ADHD coaching and cognitive psychology. We discuss how to support neurodivergent young adults as they navigate the unique challenges they face, such as feelings of isolation, academic pressures, and emotional struggles.

Dr. Maschke shares invaluable advice on recognizing and celebrating the strengths of neurodivergent individuals, as well as empowering parents to shift from instructing to supporting their young adults. We also discuss the importance of finding one’s passion, building confidence, and seeking outside support.

3 Key Takeaways


Encourage creativity: Recognize and nurture the creative strengths of neurodivergent young adults.


Support social connection: Help them explore interest-based groups and clubs to find their social circles.


Shift perspectives: Shift from instructing to supporting, understand neurodiversity, and encourage them to discover their passions to boost their confidence and well-being.

What You'll Learn

How to integrate neurodivergent strengths, such as creativity and problem-solving, into daily life to build confidence and thrive.

Educate yourself as a parent about neurodiversity, understand your child’s challenges, and seek professional support, such as a therapist or counselor, to navigate the unique parenting dynamics at this stage.

Understand the common struggles that neurodivergent young adults face, such as feeling lonely, disconnected, and overwhelmed by academic pressures.

Encourage neurodivergent young adults to find their social circles and explore their passions, both online and in-person, to foster a sense of belonging and confidence.

Shift from directing your child to supporting them, actively listening to their needs, and fostering their sense of autonomy while providing guidance and mentorship.


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My Guest

Janina Elbert Maschke, Ph.D.

Janina Elbert Maschke, Ph.D. is a highly trained ADHD and Executive Functioning coach holding a Ph.D. in Psychology. Her education spans across countries, including the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom, China, and an Australian University, providing a global perspective to her practice. Driven by both her personal experience with ADHD and her professional passion for assisting individuals with ADHD in embracing their unique cognitive profiles, Dr. Maschke is deeply committed to empowering those with ADHD to unlock their full potential.

Her expertise extends beyond coaching, encompassing roles as a Subject Matter Expert collaborating with universities nationwide, conducting extensive research, and publishing numerous peer-reviewed research papers. Clients working with Dr. Maschke as their coach can anticipate a compassionate and well-informed guide who comprehends the challenges associated with ADHD. She celebrates their unique strengths and strives to cultivate a nurturing environment to facilitate personal and professional growth.


Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:00:03]: A lot of neurodivergence are very creative. So using more their creative side and thinking, okay, you're good at out of the box thinking. You're great at coming up with new solutions or new ways to do things, and then really encouraging them to use that more and also making that visible to them that this is actually a strength of them and that's not something that's given and not something that everyone could do.

Penny Williams [00:00:30]: 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 atypical kid. Let's get started.

Penny Williams [00:00:52]: Welcome back to the Beautifully Complex podcast. I'm really excited in this episode To be talking to Dr. Janina, who is gonna talk to us about helping our neurodivergent young adults. In my household at this point, he is 21 now, and there are certainly some common struggles and things that I think as parents and even as their educators, stuff. Maybe if they're in college or community college or taking even just 1 class, would want to help them as well. And so really excited to provide some of those really good strategies and insights that Dr. Janina is here to help us with.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:01:39]: So I'm a ADHD coach and cognitive psychologist. I'm a ADT coach and cognitive psychologist, and I work with ADT peers, mostly young adults. What we will also talk about, but then also vulgar adults. And I'm the founder of ADHD Empowerment. And, also, I'm a big fan of social media because I love just connecting to people over social media.

Penny Williams [00:02:10]: Awesome. And we will link all of that up in the show notes. And at the end, I'll let everybody know exactly how to get there and to connect more with doctor Yanina. I wanna start, I think, this conversation by just talking about Some of the common struggles that you see among young adults who are neurodivergent. I know there are Many that come up with executive functioning, and maybe you can speak to some of that, and also anything else that you see that comes up rather frequently in that sort of age bracket.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:02:39]: So I would say one of the biggest struggles I do see in neurodivergent young adults is that they feel kinda lonely and left out to a certain degree where they have a hard time finding their social circle and they are having a very hard time fitting in with other people around them. Mhmm. And then, of course, also, there are so many pressures for young adults to not only behave in a certain way, but also to excel at school or university, depending on kinda what speech market. So that obviously puts so much pressure on them. So they often feel burned out, overwhelmed, very stressed. They do struggle a lot with their emotions, handling their emotions. So I would say these are the main things I see in my clients that I work with.

Penny Williams [00:03:29]: I love that you talked about feeling lonely and sort of disconnected. I think that that is a huge struggle In that population, especially those who are young adults right now. And, like, my own son was in high school when COVID hit, And so his last year and a half of high school was at home online. And so he didn't have any in person connection other than with our family for that last bit of time in an environment where he would normally have a lot of connection And be making plans with friends and things like that for the future. And so I think that, you know, those who are young adults right now have a bigger challenge with that maybe. And I think too being online. And, you know, my son loves Gaming. And so he's online a lot, and he has a lot of online friends.

Penny Williams [00:04:22]: But sometimes it's harder to wanna put himself out there to find those in person social circles. You have tips for some things that maybe we can encourage our neurodivergent young adults to do to help with that?

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:04:35]: So firstly, I also see that in a lot of my clients who are young adults that they really struggle during COVID, either them in school or some who already entered university but then had to do everything online, and now they have to readjust and be kinda goes to society and go outside and attend classes in person. So that's obviously then a huge change and change for neurodiverse individuals is often also hard. So I know, like, obviously, the gaming is online, but I do think that's always a great way for young adults to connect to also their friends. And I do see that it can really benefit some of those young adults. But then I think also just connecting obviously in person. I personally think that's always best. And a lot of people, once they come back home after connecting to someone, also do feel better. Obviously, it depends from person to person, but in university, there might be other ways for them to connect, to join different groups, like in class to talk to different people.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:05:43]: Some universities also offer neurodiverse groups where they or a community where they can connect and go to, which I really love. It's not all universities, unfortunately, but at least some are starting that. Yeah. And then also in school, they could join different groups, different interests. And I know a lot of schools offer so many or a large variety of different groups or after school programs that they can go to and maybe find something that they're very interested in. Maybe something creative or, robot club or debate club depending on their interests. But then also as a parent, trying to encourage them to do that. Because just taking that first step can be hard for many young adults, and also, I think, adults.

Penny Williams [00:06:29]: Yeah. And for kids who aren't maybe in college, it's not the right time or it wasn't the right fit for them yet or something like that, There's so many sort of social clubs and groups based on interests now in so many areas, especially bigger cities. But I think, You know, I'm in a, I would say, a medium sized town at this point on the smaller end, and we do have a lot, especially around the arts, A lot of just, like, even classes, like, just to go and take a pottery class or something like that. You'll meet other people. Right? Just Exploring those interests, I think, is important. But we do face that struggle of getting over the hump of doing it. I have social anxiety. So as a teen and young adult especially, but even in later adulthood, my instinct is to avoid Anywhere where I don't know anyone.

Penny Williams [00:07:20]: So I totally understand that, and it can be very hard to sort of get over that hump to do it. But I think 2 kids or I say kids because my kids are that age, but young adults who did go through COVID and now can connect with people. I see a lot of them putting themselves out there more than they might have before because they're really sort of almost desperate for that connection now, which I think is great they are able to do that.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:07:52]: Also in my city in New Haven, there are a lot of things that are offered either by the library or, as you said, a lot of creative workshops like pottery or even plant workshops for different kind of exercise workshops or Oh, yeah. You can go to a gym and connect to people. It really depends on their interest. And if they either struggle with anxiety or are in general just scared to do things alone, which I also totally get, it's very scary and that's also hard for me. You could also then encourage them or ask them if maybe a friend would join or, a sibling if they're maybe at a similar age or have some more interest, that can also always be a way to make it just easier.

Penny Williams [00:08:41]: I love that. Yeah. The buddy system, we used to call it in school. Right? Exactly. You know, find some support and take that support with you if you can. It works. Let's talk a little bit about pressure because I know in my household and in my parenting, because I am of the mindset To just get things done and over with. And my son is always, I'll do it at the very end.

Penny Williams [00:09:05]: Right? And so what I was doing was inadvertently putting a lot the pressure on him. And I see this so often in the families that I work with, especially at that teen and young adult age. We just push and push and push because things. I think it's the only way that we know how to help, but it's not helpful. And I'm hoping you can speak a little bit to that and How adding that pressure actually makes things less doable often for, I think, everyone, but Especially for people with neurodivergent brains.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:09:37]: Yeah. I think for a lot of parents who do put that pressure on their kids, as you said, it's not on purpose. It's kind of a way to protect them and, like, we have lived through that and we figured out ways that we can make life easier, for example, that we use to do list and then we think our children have to use to do list. Otherwise, they won't be able to function. But every brain and every person works very differently. So maybe you can kinda rethink and try to put yourself in their shoes and think what could help them. And then instead of telling them, okay, you need to do it in such a way, maybe ask them how could I support you to get this task done or to make sure that you remember it? Mhmm. How would that either work for you best, for your brain best, however you want to phrase it.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:10:31]: You know your kids best and you know how maybe that would work best for them, and then figuring out a way they can do it in a way that works for them and not in a way that works for you. Mhmm.

Penny Williams [00:10:42]: Mhmm. So important. I think you're sort of tapping into a really important shift for parents at these ages, when our kids are these ages, And even for educators too is to shift from trying to instruct our kids on how to do things stuff. I'm here to support you. You tell me what you need instead of me telling you what I think you need, which is a trap we fall into so often. I think that's a really important shift, and it can be really difficult. It can take time. You know, I want parents who are listening to understand that if you're trying to make this shift, Just keep practicing.

Penny Williams [00:11:30]: Just keep being open to the signals that your kid is giving you. You will get there. You know, it's easy for us to say it really quickly and make it sound like, oh, you just snap your fingers and you shift. And it's not that easy, and I wanna recognize that for everyone approach it, which is hard. You know? I have 2 young adult kids, and I still feel like I should treat them the same way as I did when they were younger. You You know, my daughter the other day was like, I can cook dinner. I can help with these things. And I'm like, but I'm your mom.

Penny Williams [00:12:06]: Aren't I supposed to do that? And then I'm like, wait a minute. No. Stuff. She totally should be helping. Right? The kids should totally be part of that. So it's really, you know, difficult to make that shift, but So so valuable for our kids, I think. I wanna make sure that we have time too to talk about how to sort of harness the unique brains that our kids have. I know you talk about that a lot in your work with adults with ADHD.

Penny Williams [00:12:39]: And I think it's so So how do we harness those characteristics, right, and that brain to help?

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:12:56]: I always think also that it's so important that we do look at it through a lens of strength rather than it just being a disability because that can also be very hard on someone and affect their confidence. And then once you figure out your strength, you can really play to your strength and then get the support and help or the accommodations for the limitations in the areas where you just need that extra support. And that's a huge part of what I do in my coaching. But also what you could do at home with your kids or now young adults is either you can ask them certain questions or you probably, as a parent, already have a feeling of what they're very good at, for example. A lot of neurodivergent are very creative. So using more their creative side and thinking, okay, you're good at out of the box thinking, you're great at coming up with new solutions or new ways to do things, and then really encouraging them to use that more and also making that visible to them that this is actually a strength of them. And that's not something that's given and not something that everyone could do. Mhmm.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:14:11]: Because I also see that in a lot of neurodivergence that they then take their strength for a given, and they don't necessarily see it as a strength, and they think everyone can do that. They just forget that they do have things that they are very, very good at.

Penny Williams [00:14:27]: Yeah. And problem solving. I know We talk a lot in our communities about seeing problems in a different way when you're neurodivergent. You can sometimes really come at it from a different perspective that everyone else doesn't have. And I can see how you might feel like it might be wrong is long because everyone else around you is seeing it one way, and you're seeing it differently, but it's totally a strength. And I think that They're starting to see that that is a strength. That is a superpower, and they need to have that as part of their business culture the Sure too, and the work that they're doing in these different areas. So we're coming such a long way with that, but I hadn't the thought really about that perspective until you just mentioned it, that it can feel like you must be wrong or, you know, that That's too different or something, and really keep it to yourself, and it is something to celebrate.

Penny Williams [00:15:33]: So it sounds like we need to be talking more our neurodivergent teens and young adults about their strengths and how they are things that they can share and should celebrate and use to help them through some of their challenges. Right? Mhmm.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:15:49]: Exactly. And, also, what I do see in my clients who then go out more and are more sociable and join certain clubs when they join this club that they're passionate about. Their confidence grows because they can see that they're really good at something Mhmm. Versus when maybe in school or college, they've really struggled.

Penny Williams [00:16:10]: Mhmm. Yeah. And I see a lot of kids as they come out of high school. They don't have a lot of confidence because school was such a challenge. My own kids struggled with that for a long time too and really just needed a period of healing from how much struggle there was during school before kind of moving forward. So I think it's really important that we honor that too, that we see what has been a struggle and what has Taking a toll on their confidence, but then what can we do to help them build their confidence?

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:16:41]: So as I said, one of the things when they kind of discover what they're passionate about, and then they start either working on that or they start joining these different clubs or organizations, that's when I see a lot of young people growing their confidence because they're seeing that they're passionate about something, that they enjoy doing something, and that they're also very good at something. And then also when younger divergent adults find people around them who might either struggle in very similar ways so are also maybe have ADHD or autism spectrum disorder or just have a different disability, just seeing that people are different, and that different is very good and that this is nothing to be ashamed of. That's also when I see, a lot of people gaining a lot of confidence joining again support groups, communities, getting help, like a therapist, a coach, that can also really help them grow their confidence or reading books about neurodiversity and what that means and just identifying finding themselves with certain issues and just seeing that they're not alone. And just because you have struggled maybe at school, and that was a very hard time, but that doesn't mean that they're stupid, that they're less valuable than anyone else.

Penny Williams [00:18:04]: Yeah. And finding where you fit. Yeah. It makes all the difference for all of us as human beings, I think. I wanna talk just a little bit about, You know, some actions that we can take as parents, whether it's a conversation that we're having or something else after listening to this episode, stuff. What can they do to support their neurodivergent kid to build their confidence, to find Their tribe. And I I guess I'm thinking more along the lines of kids who aren't taking the initiative and getting out there and doing that, You know, who need more support and help in that area. You know, what is, like, one thing that a parent can walk away from this conversation And immediately do to just help their neurodivergent kiddo to find their place or to the Thrive, you know, obviously, encouraging them to find groups, things like that.

Penny Williams [00:19:13]: I think sometimes our kids will need help even with that process, Navigating, you know, the steps that that might take if they have executive functioning struggles, things like that. But is there any other action that we can do that would kinda make a big impact for our teens or neurodivergent young adults.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:19:31]: So I would say firstly for the parent, if they are not already very educated about the topic of neurodiversity and depending on if their child has autism spectrum disorder or ADHD or other disability the child might have, firstly, educating yourself as a parent about that topic and really having a good understanding of what it means to be neurodivergent and also understanding maybe why the child is having a hard time starting their homework or finding certain groups. Why is that for them impossible, basically, in certain scenarios. That can already be a really, really good step because then you, as a parent, can just better understand your child

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:20:18]: And kind of think like your child and maybe not as much as a parent or guardian. And then maybe also just asking the child what do they want, what would they benefit from, and then maybe not doing it for the child because that can often be seen as very pushy from the parent. But maybe asking the child if they can do it with them. Maybe they can support them find that, for example, that support group or that after school club or after college club. Sometimes as a parent, children just don't want to take your advice. Mhmm. And I know that's very annoying. But then also sometimes just reaching out for help as a parent and reaching out to a therapist, a coach, a counselor, they're also often counselors right at school, at university, a college, and maybe just getting their support, and they can then talk to your child.

Penny Williams [00:21:15]: Yeah. Sometimes they will listen to others when they don't wanna Take the exact same advice from us as a parent. I know, like, finding a mentor sometimes is really good because and can To help us to navigate this new level of parenting. It's so different from When your kids are young and they're, you know, under 18 and you have more of a say in what's happening, stuff. Once they hit 18, it's just a whole different ballgame, and we still have that same desire to help them and that same Love. And, you know, it's hard, I think, to navigate that at that different age bracket sometimes. And you've really helped us to Take a different perspective on that that I think more of our teens and young adults are gonna be open to hearing from us and Open to our help. So I so appreciate that.

Penny Williams [00:22:34]: I wanna make sure that everyone listening knows how to connect with doctor Ioannina available in the Show notes for this episode, and you can find those at parentingadhdandautism.com/249 for episode 249. And I appreciate you so much, doctor Ioannina, and all the work that you're doing in our neurodivergent communities and for sharing some of that here with, the beautifully complex audience.

Dr. Janina Elbert Maschke [00:23:14]: Thank you so much, Penny. It was so nice to talk to you and discuss that very important topic.

Penny Williams [00:23:19]: With that, I will end this episode. I will see everyone next time. Take good care.

Penny Williams [00:23:26]: 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

Penny Williams [00:23:43]: and at thebehaviorrevolution.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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About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

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…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

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