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Episode 111: How to Help Kids with ADHD with Penny Williams Part 2

Brief summary of show:

In this episode, Penny Williams joins me for part 2 of our conversation from last week’s episode, to share about how parents can best support their kids with ADHD.

A parenting coach for neurodiverse families, Penny Williams is the award-winning author of four books on ADHD, including "Boy Without Instructions," host of the Beautifully Complex Podcast, co-host of the annual Neurodiversity Summits, and co-founder of The Behavior Revolution, an initiative devoted to celebrating and supporting kids with ADHD or autism through neuroscience-backed insights, hard-won strategies, compassion, and guidance. Penny empowers parents to help their neuro-atypical kids — and families — thrive.

Listen in as we talk about:

  • [2:03] Are there more cases of ADHD now, or are we simply more aware?

  • [6:50] How to know which steps to take when it comes to an ADHD diagnosis

  • [8:30] Developments in ADHD that you may not be aware of

  • [12:55] How to ask for help coping when you're struggling

  • [13:30] Diagnosing kids vs. Adults with ADHD

  • [17:20] Why ADHD is hard to present

  • [19:00] Identifying behaviors and medications

  • [22:05] The impact of technology on addictive behavior

  • [23:50] Is technology making ADHD better or worse for kids who have it?

Notes from Natalie:

Connect with Penny

Connect with Me

View Transcript for this Episode

Natalie: turn, struggle into hope raising kids with a D H D and autism. We dive into this topic next on the podcast.

Natalie: Hi everyone, it's Natalie. Last week I talked with parenting expert Penny Williams to discuss the challenges of parenting when things just don't go as planned, and it seems like that happens often. Our conversation was so good, I had to split it into two parts. Penny helps families who have children with A D H D and autism.

And today we're talking about the importance of setting boundaries around technology and holding children accountable for their actions, while also allowing for some unstructured fun time. We also talk about compromises and nurturing kids' interests outside of technology. Penny emphasizes the need to remain patient.

And persistent in encouraging kids to try new things and explore their passions. Even if that takes time, I encourage you to go back, listen to the first part, I'll be sure and put that in the show notes before we get started today. So a little bit about Penny. She's an award-winning author, journalist, and parent of a son with a D H D.

And autism. She also is the founder of the Parenting A D H D and Autism Academy. As we get started, I wanna encourage you to hit the subscribe button so you won't miss a single episode of the podcast. And please share this with someone who can use a dose of inspiration and information. Sit back, relax, and join us for an informative conversation today.

Penny. Thanks so much for joining me. We have so much to talk about, and the last time I spoke with you, we talked about changing your mindset when it comes to issues that kind of hit you in that are difficult and being positive, but I wanted to go deeper with you.

Into the topic that you have become an expert in firsthand with a son who is on the spectrum, a D h D. And I know you coach people now in these specific topics.

And I wanna ask you, because as a parenting reporter, as a health reporter for so many years, I feel like, and I think our society feels like we have so many more cases of this mm-hmm.

Than we. In the last few decades, is that true or are we just more aware of these issues in our kids today?

Pennt: I think it's both. I think we're much more aware. We have a lot more adults getting diagnosed, a lot more women and girls who tend to fall through the cracks with ADHD and autism. And I think also there is an increase in the prevalence of it.

And so we have both factors that are kind of feeding into it, and I think it makes it look like it's growing more. You know, that prevalence is totally increasing and I think it's really a mix of the two. So I think, you know, if it's jumping by 20%, it's probably like jumping by 10% and 10 other percent are people who.

Are just being diagnosed that wouldn't have been even a few years ago. Really, it's constantly changing and that really speaks to how we're actually talking about it now. We're actually not ignoring and putting aside ADHD and autism anymore. We're really looking at the concept of neurodiversity.

Accepting it and addressing it. Mm-hmm. And trying to figure out how to weave it into our culture because it's here, you know? And I think that sometimes we get too focused on those statistics. Like, oh my gosh, there's so many more kids. Like I think I just saw yesterday, one in six now for adhd. That's crazy.

Crazy. Yeah. That means in every classroom of 30 kids, there's five kids. With adhd. Right. And that's a lot. It's a lot for our teachers to deal with. It's a lot for our classroom environments. Right. And it's a lot more need when our kids are at school. And then of course there's home and everywhere else in life.

Right. Yeah. But it. Here, it's not going anywhere. Clearly. It is increasing in prevalence and diagnosis. And so what do we do with that? You know, we can sort of try to look at why that's happening and that is important. That is very important. But when you are the parent of a child who is struggling, Your kid already has these diagnoses, right?

Focusing on how it happened isn't very helpful for you. Where you are focusing more on the challenges that your child is facing and how to help them to live their best life with them is really where that focus, I think for parents. And even educators needs to be right. Like these are the specific challenges.

And sometimes, you know, we have these. Terrible arguments about labeling kids and should we diagnose them, should we not? Mm-hmm. And the truth is that the labels open doors. They get our kids accommodations in school. They provide coverage for insurance, for things like therapy, and they are necessary just to even know what you're dealing with.

But they aren't necessarily necessary to focus on once you have them. Meaning my child struggles with emotional regulation when he was young, hyperactivity, impulsivity, I could focus on those specific things and how do I help him with these challenges versus he has h adhd you know, adhd, right?

Mm-hmm. And getting really stuck in that. And so, I think that we have to sort of say, okay, labels are here for a reason and we're not trying to necessarily segment and call our kids out. We're trying to figure out the path that's going to be most helpful with them, and then just saying, you know, okay, what am I specifically dealing with and what is going to be helpful?

Yeah. In, in those times. Who are some,

Natalie: give me some examples because I know there are people listening who will relate to the clients you have.

So who are some of the, many clients that you have that you can coach and you can help? Are these parents who are saying, my son was just diagnosed with. A D H D and I don't know if I should take the medication or not, or are there natural things we can do, or, I'm just giving you examples.

Mm-hmm. Give us a few specifics so that people who can relate, can learn from

Pennt: them. Yeah. And it's really all the things, like it's parents who have just gotten a diagnosis. They don't know what to do. Life is really overwhelming and chaotic. Mm-hmm. Nobody feels good, right. And so they're looking for that way forward.

Early on, they want guidance with that. Sometimes it is parents who have been trying a lot of things and they're just not getting results. Mm-hmm. They're still struggling with big emotions, they're still struggling with dysregulation, they're still struggling with an intense child. Maybe they're still struggling with a kid who's not doing well at school.

And they. Want some change. They want some improvement and they're trying really hard, which is where I was the first couple of years because I didn't know what to do. I didn't mm-hmm. Have that guidance and so I was just trying things and they weren't working. I was trying things and they weren't working and yeah, it was so hard.

Right. It's so hard to be in that place where you're giving everything to help your kids. Like

Natalie: sometimes it's not just helpful, it's not knowing what, what questions to ask. Like you're so overwhelmed. Yeah. Focus, I don't know. I don't know what to ask the doctor, or I don't know what. Mm-hmm. To advise the teachers because you're just so overwhelmed.

Can you talk a little bit about developments more recent? People might not know because they're overwhelmed. Mm-hmm. And developments in a D H D A D D, autism, give us some of the, the recent things that are helping, or advice that you might give because it feels as if we're seeing progress, at least in the medical world, in the holistic world in the teaching space.

Give us some updates and things that might help.

Pennt: Yeah. What I am most excited about in this community is the shift to the neuro behavioral model. Really looking at the autonomic nervous system and the brain and what is going on in our kids' bodies and minds. That is, Creating and controlling their behavior because this is where we get to that really, really deep understanding of what's going on with our kids, and then that creates the clarity.

For how to help. And so we're talking about recognizing when kids are dysregulated. We often talk about fight, flight, or freeze. Mm-hmm. Those are different states of their nervous system. That is their body reacting to something in their environment, sensory, a lagging skill, an unmet need, not feeling seen, heard, or understood.

These are all things that can be sort of trigger. That nervous system, and often in our kids who are neuro divergent adults as well, they have a much more sensitive system. They're more easily triggered into those dysregulated states and. So now we're focusing a lot on, okay, I see that my kid is activated.

Their, you know, nervous system is activated. They're dysregulated, they're not really in control of this. Now that is a signal. Now their body is acting on instinct. They have not. Planned and gone forward with intention. So say my child yells at me. I hate you. You never loved me. You know, which my kid did in the grocery store many times when he was little.

And it was painful, right? Because he couldn't have three boxes of sugary cereal, right? Because he just didn't have the coping skills. I wish I had known then that like, and I knew it wasn't him. It was very out of character, right? I knew that wasn't really him, but I didn't recognize yet that like that was actually his nervous system.

Trying to take control of a situation he didn't have control over. It wasn't him going, well, I wonder if I can really hurt my mom's feelings and embarrass her in the grocery store right now. I think I'm gonna try that. That's not happening. Right. And that clarity of intention and the biology behind those challenges that we're dealing with.

Huge, I think. And it was definitely a turning point for me, understanding that my kid didn't have control over some of that stuff or that it was happening because he was developmentally delayed. A big shift for me was knowing that kids with ADHD or autism, you know, developmental disabilities in general, they're two to three years behind their peers in different aspects.

My son, who is. As far as like planning an organization, he's probably at, you know, Each three, maybe like he's years and years behind because his brain just isn't wired for organization. And so it's very asynchronous, which really confuses people, right? Like my kid does really well. This one thing, he is totally advanced here, but oh my gosh, like why are we so far behind here?

And then we start trying to, figure that out. And we label it, we make assumptions. Oh, he is lazy, he is disrespectful, he's because the world makes assumptions. And that's

Natalie: exactly, that can be really har harmful. Mm-hmm. Difficult for you as a mom. Yeah. And for the young person or even the adult who feels shamed because they're not organized.

Pennt: yeah, we're talking about sometimes, you know, my kid can't get ready in the morning and we're yelling at each other and, you know my kid won't go to bed when I ask them to.

Or we're really struggling in school sometimes. I'm having such a hard time just coping with this.

I just really need help. You know, I had a conversation with a mom yesterday. I just really need your experience on how to cope with this specific challenge that we're having, and that can be such a relief just to talk to somebody who has gone through what you're going through and validates that it's really, really hard, but that also you can get through it That's so valuable on its.

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Pennt: When

Natalie: you're helping people, are you more so helping parents of children recently diagnosed? Or do you have adults come to you and say, I think I have a d. D was never diagnosed, or, I think I may be on the spectrum and I don't know how to deal with this myself. Are you doing both?

Pennt: I'm not actually, I don't work with adults.

I just don't have that experience. You know, my, my. Business has come from my own personal experience and what I have learned through that process of parenting that kid. And so that's really what I focus on is parents parenting, but also educators. Yeah. And we're doing more and more with educators and professionals, like therapists and and such, and really helping them, again, understand that nervous system and what's really going on for that kid inside.

But I do also work with parents who've had diagnoses for a long time. Mm. And are just. Finding themselves stuck with a certain issue or, you know, finally realizing that they've been on this path for four or five years and nothing's really changing or, you know, they're doing okay, but they know they could use a little help like getting to the next level or Yeah.

You know, coping better themselves. Right. And so there's a vast. A vast audience there under that parenting and educator umbrella, like I went and did a presentation for a local Boys and Girls Club. They asked me to come and teach their afterschool staff about neurodivergence and how to really be helpful to the kids who are coming into their program aft every afternoon and are struggling where, you know, they're struggl.

The adults are struggling with their behavior and mm-hmm. You know, really helping them. And so I think, you know, the path that I'm on right now is really helping people understand behavior. And this is not just for neuro divergent kids. This is all kids. Yeah. You know, it's all kids, it's all adults. We have a really high population in our prison system.

Neuro divergent individuals or people with mental health issues, right? And we are, we're criminalizing behavior as a culture. And that's a real problem. It's a real problem.

And it feeds a lot of that fear for parents as they're raising kids with, especially ADHD tends to be very common pipeline to prison and.

We fear that, right? As a parent, of course, I'm really worried about that and now I'm stuck in that fear, right? And so there's a lot of, I think, cultural shifts that we really need to make. We need to shift from this crime and punishment mentality to, you know, why is this behavior happening? Why are people going down this path?

Cuz if we help people with the why, they don't necessarily end up on their path to begin with. And they certainly. End up on that path lifelong a lot of times. But we've, we've really just. We just wanna put people away, whether that, and that's true like in school too, right? This kid's acting outta my class.

I don't wanna do, I'm gonna put 'em in the hall. I'm gonna send them down to so-and-so's room, I'm gonna, you know. And what message are kids getting? It's the same thing. Like you and I grew up probably being sent to our room when we did something our parents were not happy about. Right? But what message does that send to a lot of people?

I don't want you. I don't, I don't problem love you when you're like this. You're a problem for me. Right? That's how kids are feeling when we sort of take that crime and punishment approach of just sending them away in one way or another. And you know, I just wanna open people's minds to really recognizing what is going on for someone understanding that, cuz that's where we can really affect change.

That's where we have, I. I'm hearing

Natalie: you talk a a lot about behavior and identifying and then working with the behavior and the parenting. How are we doing on the medical side? Mm-hmm. Are there medical advancements that are helping families?

Pennt: You know, it's really tricky with neurodevelopmental.

Disorders because they are very, treatments are very individualized. Mm-hmm. So, you know, for instance, with ADHD and medication, we have a lot of stimulant medications. We are coming out with more and more all the time, and they can be wildly helpful and they can also be. Very tricky because what medication works for one individual mm-hmm.

May not work for another. And there's actually two types of stimulants. One type or the other works for almost everyone, but not both types. So you're gonna have a good reaction to one potentially, but a horrible reaction to the other. Most physicians don't even know that. they have no idea that that's a thing.

And so we're coming at the medication aspect, not fully educated on it, and it's a real problem in, in our community, but also, you know, it's such trial and error. And that is so, so hard, and that is very anxiety provoking, right? That brings up a lot of fear in parents, you know, and just medicating our kids because of the real misinformation that's out there about ADHD and ADHD medication.

People really fear it and for a lot of kids it's life changing. For a lot of adults, it's. Changing. Yeah. It is something that they need to be successful and that's totally okay. Like we don't, we don't shame people who need insulin to live their best life. Right. Why do we shame people who need a medication to help their brain and their neurological system with focus and impulsivity, right?

To be able to live their best life? It's really tough. And you know, we have some new advancements with like technology with adhd. So there are programs like Mightier and Endeavor, which are based on video gaming, which are kids tend to love, especially kids who need that stimulation because video games and anything visual like that is very stimulating.

So they're really. Drawn into it. But it's taking that gaming that they love to engage them. And then the games are Are created in a way that to be successful in the game, you have to slow down, you have to be more mindful, you have to problem solve, you have to um regulate. And so it's teaching them to regulate in order to do better in the game.

So you really don't know

Natalie: We think of that, that's so bad. Being so bad and talk about a label and addictive and dopamine hits. Like we, that's what we think of. Mm-hmm. But this game isn't addictive. These are, are proving to be successful and not addictive.

Pennt: They're proving to be successful. I I think we talk about technology addiction. Too much. We use that word addiction too easily. Technology is very pervasive in our lives. It's here, it's, it's not going anywhere right now. Right. We have all the technology going right now to have a conversation with each other, face-to-face from different parts of the country.

Yeah. And so it's not going anywhere. Kids have to learn how to use it in a healthy way. And so we get really stuck as parents on. And really limiting it. And then our kids feel like, you know, they have all these friends who are, this is what they're doing and now they're out outcast more socially, and there's so many layers there to unpack.

That would take a long time. But you know, the bottom line is that yes, technology, ad addiction exists, but in my opinion, we label it as addiction too often. But they're also really made to. Addictive. You know, there are psychologists working with marketing companies, working with people who create these games and all the technology to make you stay longer, to make you Yeah.

Spend more money inside the games and the apps to make, you have to, yeah. Really feel like you've got to be there and come back. Right. And make that next level and, and all this gamification. It, there's a lot of psychology behind it, you know, it really. Mm. I don't wanna use the word mind control, but it kind of comes to mind.

Are those sense, since we're talking

Natalie: about this, are, games in general more difficult and more addictive to those who might be ADHD or compromised in some way? Are, are, is technology making it harder or better for

Pennt: them? Thank both. You know, for example, my kid used an iPad in school for many years because he couldn't keep track of his paper.

He couldn't organize anything. Mm-hmm. Right. He had trouble with handwriting because he has dysgraphia and so he could take a photograph of a worksheet and complete it on his iPad and email it to the teacher. So he never had to worry about keeping up with paper, writing on the paper. You know, it's a great, a great use of technology.

Yeah. It was very, very useful for him. It made things do. For him. Hmm. But he also spends a lot of time gaming. And part of that is because that's where he feels really successful. He goes to school, he feels terrible about himself. He comes home, he gets in the game, and he feels successful socially. He can communicate with people easier that way than face-to-face.

He feels successful because he is good with technology. Mm-hmm. Then he starts going to school and the other kids are asking him like they're coming up and wanting to spend time with him, talking about the games and how he, he's proud of that things. Mm-hmm. He's proud, he gets authority. There's a lot of confidence building there.

Right. And so we are very careful to not. Be so inflexible about the amount of time he used technology that we were taking away all those good bits. Right. And, and they're practicing strategy and problem solving and a lot of things in a lot of these games. And yes, we limited things that were violent for violent sake.

You know, he was doing things like Minecraft and, and things that had more more meat to them, I guess. Mm-hmm. You know? Mm-hmm. They just offered more. Than just sort of a reality escape, and that felt really important for him and. We do find, you know, now as a young adult and, and as a teen too, that it was easier for him to just go online than to try something else, right?

Mm-hmm. Like to go and knock on a neighbor's door and hope that the kid wants to play with him or than to like, go outside and, and, Play by himself, or you know, try something new. Because a lot of times people on the spectrum have a really hard time trying something new because there's so much unknown there.

Yeah. And that creates a lot of anxiety. And so yes, that can be a crutch. And it can sort of monopolize your life. We have to find balance. We have to teach our kids that there are other things that have to be part of your life too. You have to get out of the house. You have to move and exercise. You have to, you know, have some face-to-face time with other human beings in person.

These are things that also have to be part of your life. But just to say, My kid can't be on technology for more than an hour a day. Like, we're not doing that. We are on technology more than an hour a day. Yeah, right. Like it's part of life now. So it's finding that balance and teaching them how to be healthy with it.

Natalie: So your suggestion with that, because I can imagine it is a crutch and it's much easier as a parent to say, just go do that, because then things are quiet in the house and mm-hmm. So to create a boundary that you really have to work hard to stick to for kiddos who are struggling and they find technology and gaming is a way out.

So to set those boundaries and then really hold them accountable

Pennt: to them. Yeah. And, and just to set up a system of like, when you accomplish this thing, you get to do this thing. Mm-hmm. So when you have played outside for 30 minutes mm-hmm. Then you get to have some technology time. Yeah. I'm a believer in always giving kids a certain amount of technology time every.

That they don't have to earn. We need to have fun in our lives. We need to have things that we enjoy. Right? And so that's fine if your kids into technology, they get some technology time, but they also have to do these other things, right? Yeah. And so if I go and I ride my bike, wow, I, I got a lot of exercise and now, I can sit down and be more sedentary and play a game.

Yeah. There's a lot of active games too, though. I will say my son loves vr, virtual reality. Mm-hmm. He has a virtual reality headset. He plays boxing games. He plays these rhythm games. There's one called Beat Saber that's really popular and. He will do that for two or three hours and he will be drenched in sweat and out of breath, and he's totally worked out right.

And so sometimes it's finding that, like that compromise where, yes, my kid is getting exercise, but they're also doing something that they really love to do that. I don't want them doing all the time. Right. So it's, yeah, that's a great compromise. It's, I think setting those values. What are your values?

Your values are, your kid gets outside your values are, they do something active every day. They have some face-to-face time, maybe three times a week or whatever is, is doable depending on your school circumstance and all those things. You know, what you're involved in. Yeah. And then beyond that, What else can they do?

Right. And yeah. And then, you know, the other aspect of that too is helping kids find other things to do. Mm-hmm. Nurturing their interests in a way that helps them to want to spend time doing other things. So for instance, if you have a kid who loves art, Sign them up for a class you know, go and do a pottery workshop one day or whatever it is that they get really excited about, that they're interested in, and, and just build some of that in as you can.

Yeah, some kids are really inflexible about trying new things and about. Just getting out into the world sometimes is very difficult for our kids who are neuro divergent. And so we have to keep sort of helping them through that. Like your kid may say, no, I don't want an art class 20 times over two years.

Right. And but if you just keep saying, you know, I'm willing. I'd love to, to make this happen for you if you want to, you know, keep that door open. Eventually they'll, they'll engage with other things as well. Yeah. But they can also do technology for a career, right, like the gaming industry. That's true.

There's so many opportunities. There's so many opportunities. If this is what your kid truly loves and lights their fire, help them explore how they could work in that industry as an adult, it's totally

Natalie: possible. That's it. That's a great place to wrap things up is just really finding what they're passionate about and then nurturing that while Yep.

Exploring other things too. Well, penny, thank you so much. We've learned so much, and I, I know those listening who relate or maybe they know someone. Share this with someone who you think could benefit from it and we appreciate your expertise. Give us your website, social media, so that people who wanna follow along can

Pennt: find.

Yeah, so it's parenting ADHD and and you can get to the Behavior Revolution site from there as well. All my social media the beautifully complex podcasts that I host and. Online parenting courses, coaching summits. There's so many things. We have a membership now as well. That's a great library and resource for parents.

So there, there's a lot of good stuff out there and it's all linked up in one place to make it easy.

Natalie: Super. Thanks again. Great to talk to you today.

Pennt: You too. Thanks so much for having me. Mm-hmm.

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