Updated: Aug 30
Hey Inspired Tutors blog readers! It's Beth from Progress Tutoring. I'm so happy to be invited to hop in as a contributor to Jessalyn's tutoring community. Whether you're an educator, parent, or simply looking to learn more, I'm sure you've been impacted by neurodivergence. Let me tell you my story to inspire you!
My husband was diagnosed with Tourette's syndrome when he was 7 years old. What comes along with that is obsessive compulsive disorder and ADHD. They're called comorbid symptoms. Once our own now 7-year-old daughter was born, we were aware that we would need to be looking out for symptoms of Tourette's, since it's hereditary. Et voila, at around 4 years old, she began showing signs of Tourette's and ADHD. Thanks to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia's neurology department, she was given an official diagnosis for us to work with. And me, what about me? A couple years back, a psychologist helped me to identify a generalized anxiety disorder, something I had an inkling about and struggled with since age 7 but had little awareness of its impact. Did I mention that I also flap my hands in private when I feel excited, pick at my fingers, and that I make lists of meaningless things in my head? So yeah, talk about a neurodivergent family. And that's just the 3 of us. I left out the extended family!
Thankfully, as an experienced educator and a personal witness to neurodivergence, I have some tips to share for all of us out there teaching, parenting, or living as a neurodivergent individual.
Learn how to own your neurodivergence and work within it. In reality, this looks like when I'm anxious, I'm honest about how I feel. I know that this is part of me, and I need to make it my asset, not my deficit. I go for a run or walk. I reach out to my therapist. I dump journal. When ADHD is getting the best of our daughter, we coach her to identify the source (Think HALT: Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?) and a solution that fits who she is (a nap, a healthy snack, getting outside, talking about her feelings, or make some art). When my husband is dealing with tics, he knows he needs to slow down and rest. He runs his own business, too, so that day might just need to be a slower day.
Use Tools & Tricks
There are so many tools and tricks out there to make yours or someone else's life easier. Trouble staying organized? Try Asana, Google calendar with all your events, tasks, and reminders, putting frequently used and important items in the same spot every day (keys, purse, wallet, laptop, phone). Make your calendar your best friend. Timers are a low hanging fruit when you have to get something done but feel unfocused. Feeling unmotivated and you don't know why? Use the free version of Spotify and find a playlist that fits your mood. And seriously, if you have no idea how to tackle whatever it is that is holding you up as you try to understand yourself, your kids, or your students, "Ask Alexa!" as my 7 year old says. I am learning to make Google my best friend.
Find Your Motivation & Triggers
Do some reflection with yourself, your students, or your kids. What is the base of the anxiety, lack of focus, mood swings, more frequent tics, etc? I find that the acronym HALT is helpful in identifying the source of triggers: Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired? Then take a small step to address that need. For me, money is a motivator! I knew I needed to make my health a priority to help me manage my anxiety. But I had trouble getting motivated to exercise every day. So, I finally signed myself up for the Philadelphia Half Marathon. I do not like to see my money wasted, so I made myself follow the running schedule for beginning runners, and I actually ran a half marathon. Never in my life. In 2020, right before the pandemic hit, my husband stopped working for other people, because he realized he needed freedom to work within his own rhythm, not one dictated by others. Is he stressed more than ever? Yeah. If you ask him if he'd ever go back to working for someone else, he'd say "No way."
It's helpful for me and my family to remember that the world does not stop and modify things for you because you or someone you know is neurodivergent. We all have jobs to do and deadlines and that's life. We need to take responsibility for ourselves. Did we ask to have Tourette's, ADHD, or anxiety? Is it our fault? Absolutely not. But we all need to create an emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy life for ourselves, the people around us, and the future generation. One tool, trick, and Google search at a time.