Katherine Firestone helps parents and kids with ADHD. Having been diagnosed with ADHD herself, Katherine is uniquely positioned to help us understand what to do to help children with ADHD and their parents.
Understanding ADHD and Helping Kids Succeed
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Date: April 12, 2018
Vicki: Today we’re talking with Katherine Firestone founder of the Fireborn Institute.
Katherine, we’re talking today about kids who have ADHD and helping them succeed and thrive.
But you in your story, you have ADHD. You were diagnosed as a junior.
Help us understand, for those of us who don’t have ADHD, what this feels like. Helps us empathize with what you live and what kids with ADHD live with every day.
What is it like to live with ADHD as a student?
Katherine: Yeah. So it’s different. ADHD has a lot of different manifestations.
But for me, what it really felt like was I felt like an imposter.
I felt like, “I’m tricking everybody that I’m smart. I don’t really belong in these classes.”
When I was young, I had a very hard time learning how to read. Through high school, I had a difficult time reading. I would skip ahead. I would forget things. I literally couldn’t read the sentence because I couldn’t track it. I would have to highlight the words just so my eyes would stay on track. So it just felt like it took me SO much longer than everybody else to get my work done.
When you have ADHD, it’s very difficult to not also have anxiety, because you’re thinking about everything, right?
Like I’m constantly worried about my friends, how what I had just said was affecting something, or how what I was doing was being interpreted.
So you’ve got that constant thought going on. It’s very difficult to focus on one thing.
UNLESS you’re super interested in that one thing. Then it’s totally like, I don’t have to think about (anything else). I’m totally focused on that.
So, like my parents would say that I had a one-track mind. That’s absolutely true when I cared about something.
So this is why parents who have kids with ADHD, they see their kids, and they’re like, “My kid can focus! He’s playing videos for like hours!”
Katherine: That’s because that’s what really interests your kid, and so they’re going to spend their time doing that. They can focus on it.
And it feels really good to be good at something, and video games provide that.
So again, with kids with ADHD, who often struggle with being good at a lot of things because they can’t focus, it feels good to be good at something!
So naturally, are going to focus on those things.
Vicki: So Katherine, what did it feel like when you got your diagnosis? How did you process that, and did it improve things in your life, and if so, how?
How did you deal with your own diagnosis?
Katherine: So for me, it was a relief.
Because it felt like, “This is it! This is what makes me different from other students. It’s not that I’m an imposter. I actually am really smart, but I do have something that’s, you know, holding me back to some degree.
But now we can do something about it. Now that we know what this is, you know, we can hire an executive functions coach, we can think about strategies, I can go on medication.”
It really empowered me and boosted my confidence.
And I know that it is not the same for all kids. A lot of kids feel that there is something wrong with them.
You know, I’m on a mission to tell you that, “No, there isn’t! You are fantastic!”
I credit ADHD with a lot of my success, and I think it actually helped me in the long term.
But I just needed some help, you know, sometimes, staying focused, showing the teachers how smart I really was. Having the diagnosis really helped that.
Vicki: So how do you help parents? I know that this is part of your work that you do now.
How do you help parents, who, they either suspect that their kids have ADHD, or they realize their kids have been diagnosed with it, and they’re just trying to get an understanding of where do they start?
How do you help parents who are just beginning to learn about ADHD?
Katherine: Yeah. That’s a really good question.
So, most kids who struggle with ADHD have a really difficult time with executive functioning skills. These are all the skills that you need to be a good student:
- to focus
- to sustain your attention
- to organize
- to plan
- to inhibit your responses
- to stop doing something fun and start doing something boring, like homework.
Katherine: So, a really good place to start is to learn about executive functioning skills. And Peg Dawson and Richard Guare are some of the leading researchers in executive functioning skills.
- Note from #10MT Researcher Dr. Lisa Durff: For more on Executive Function see their book: The Smart but Scattered Guide to Success, How to Use Your Brain’s Executive Skills to Keep Up, Stay Calm, and Get Organized at Work and at Home by Peg Dawson, EdD, Richard Guare, PhD
Consider a survey about executive functioning strengths and weaknesses
They have a fantastic questionnaire that asks you questions to figure out where your strengths and weaknesses are.
- Questionnaire to help assess your executive functioning strengths and weaknesses
I strongly encourage parents to fill this out for themselves and also think about where their kids fall in this lines because it will help you as a parent figure out what your executive functioning strengths and weaknesses are. And what are your kids’?
And then you’ll be able to empathize with them when you see, “Oh, my strength is organizing. But my kid cannot organize at all.”
That’s going to give you an understanding, “OK, I can see where this is coming from now. OK, let me help my kid with this.”
Seek help from experts
And then, also you know, I definitely recommend finding a psychiatrist who can help your kid. I definitely recommend finding an executive functions coach. The earlier you can get the interventions going — you know, not just medication — but, you know, figuring out how to study, how to read effectively. Those kinds of strategies. The sooner you can help your kid develop the strategies, the better off they’re going to be in the long term.
Vicki: The big thing that I think is important, because two of my three kids have learning differences — is creating an organization system that works for them. You shouldn’t be the one who keeps them organizing.
Create a system that works for your child, not for you
Vicki: Like my son has a big iron clipboard. We call it the Iron Planner. He puts everything he needs to do in there. He clips everything to the front. It’s a big kind of hard-sided metal case. I wouldn’t ever, in a million years, use that system. But it totally works for him.
His grades will typically go up 5-10 points average when he’s using his Iron Planner.
So, isn’t part of it, saying, “OK, let’s find what works for you — and not what I do —
Katherine: Oh, absolutely! You know, it’s very difficult. We can’t force our kids to do what we did, or what worked for us. It really has to come from them, what works for them.
Everyone’s got their different organizational style, and we have to just figure out whatever it is for our kid that’s going to make them work, because that’s going to get their buy-in, and then they’re going to use it.
If you try and impose something that works for you, or that the school has decided works, if it doesn’t work for your kid, then it’s not going to work for them, and they’re just not going to use that.
So definitely being innovative with those ideas is so important.
Vicki: So, you help kids with ADHD and their parents and help them succeed, but I also know that you’re kind of big into Social-Emotional Learning (SEL).
What is the emotional side of this, that you have to help students come to grips with?
So much of teaching is helping kids believe in themselves.
How can we help ADHD kids with the emotional pieces of their diagnosis?
Katherine: Yeah. Yeah.
Well, so there’s definitely that anxiety piece that I talked about before. Like I said, when you have ADHD, it’s very difficult to not have anxiety about it. Because you know you’re different.
And if you have more of that hyperactive part, you know that other classmates are not as active as you and maybe are not getting in as much trouble as you are.
So knowing that about yourself is important, and you can learn some strategies.
I’m a huge proponent of meditation, and yoga, and taking brain breaks.
These are all things that are very helpful for kids with ADHD, to be more mindful about what they’re doing, and then that’s going to help calm their anxiety.
It’s going to help them think in the moment of being active, being more present, and thinking about, you know, “What should I be doing right now?”
Or helping then with that response inhibition so that they can feel more comfortable at school and more like they fit in.
But, I’m not saying that they shouldn’t have the opportunity to run around and get their energy out. They need that, too. We need to provide them with opportunities for that as well.
Vicki: So Katherine, as we finish up, would you give a 30-second pep talk to teachers who are struggling with all the ADHD kids they have in their classrooms — so that we can reach and encourage those kids to help them to be their best?
What should teachers know about those “difficult” ADHD kids in their class?
You know, the thing to remember about kids with ADHD is that they really do want to please you. They have so much to offer, and I know that they’re so difficult.
But if you can empathize with them and understand, you know, they’re not acting out because they want to, it’s because they have this innate need.
If you can figure out with them and work with them to figure out what can fill that need in another way, you know, they can do amazing, creative, really high thought level kind of stuff.
Vicki: Especially, wouldn’t you agree, Katherine, if we can find those things that they love?
Katherine: Yes. Yes. Exactly.
Vicki: Yes. I’ve had kids who love Minecraft, or who love different types of things — whether a sport or a genre of books — and once I know that, you know, you can really unleash so much learning if you can get them excited.
So you know, educators. I know that… I’ve heard people sitting around the lunch table, saying, “Oh, years ago, this…” Well, OK, but we live in today. (laughs)
Today is that we have a lot of precious wonderful students with ADHD that we love and we want to reach. Understanding them and helping the parents, teachers, and the students all be on the same team. We all want them to learn. We all want them to succeed. And we want our classrooms to be a better place by understanding ADHD.
Take a look at the resources at the Fireborn Institute and look at the environment
and the wonderful resources for parents and for kids to help with these things.
We’ll also link to this fascinating executive functioning skills quiz that I think I’m going to take a look at and maybe use with my students.
So thank you so much, Katherine, for helping us to understand.
Katherine: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for having me!
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Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]
Bio as submitted
About Fireborn Institute
Fireborn Institute is a non-profit that provides parents with practical and easy-to-remember strategies to help their children in school. Through our lectures, podcasts & handouts, we coach parents on topics such as helping with homework or conquering a messy backpack. Our ultimate goal is to help parents help their kids thrive at school.
About Katherine Firestone
Katherine had a hard time in school because she suffered from undiagnosed ADHD till her junior year of high school. What made her successful during this time was the support system she had around her. After college, she worked as a teacher, and saw that parents wanted to help their kids at home, but didn’t know what to do. She started the Fireborn Institute to give parents ideas on how to help because success at school is enhanced at home.
She is also the host of The Happy Student, a podcast for parents on promoting happy academic and social lives. The show provides practical strategies on a variety of topics based on Fireborn’s 4 pillars.
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