Seeing Disabilities as Super Powers with Guest Alex Gilbert

This week the Mental Health Mamas are joined by Alex Gilbert, career coach for adults with learning disabilities and/or ADHD. Tune in to hear how Alex used her own experience with ADHD and Dyslexia to help other and why she believes disabilities are actually super powers.

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Serena: Hey, everyone, I'm Serena.

Tina: And I'm Tina, and we are the Mental Health Mamas.

Serena: Welcome to No Need to Explain. We are so glad you're here.

Tina: First, as always, a quick disclaimer.

Serena: We come to you not as mental health professionals or experts in the field, but rather as parents with lived experience who are on a mission to normalize the conversation around mental health.

Tina: If you or someone you love is experiencing a mental health crisis, please seek professional support. You will find a variety of resources in our show notes and on our website, In researching this episode, I found a lot of statistics. Do you know that the CDC reports that one in four people in the US struggle with a learning disability? It's hard to believe they're that many. And today we'll focus on dyslexia, which according to the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity, affects 20% of the population and represents 80% to 90% of all learning disabilities.

Serena: Yeah, that's significant, obviously. And let's add one more layer. According to Forbes magazine, an estimated 8.7 million adults in the US have ADHD, which is not identified as a learning disability, but instead more social emotional. The two intersect in this statistic from, about 50 to 60% of people with ADHD also have a learning disability.

Tina: So to help us unwind all of these statistics, perhaps correct them if they're not incorrect, if they're not correct, and talk about her own experience with ADHD and dyslexia is Alex Gilbert. Alex's career in leadership development inspired her to become a career coach for adults with ADHD and dyslexia. Capable spelled C-A-P-E. Consulting, which is her company, has expanded to support adults in learning disabilities across the spectrum, bringing together her lived experience with a passion for supporting neurodivergent adults in their day to day. So they feel supported and are able to reach their highest potential. Alex aims to change the stigma surrounding learning disabilities by showing people what they are capable of in their work and personal lives. Alex is a New Yorker, a Mets fan, and being a Red Sox fan. I don't know how I feel about that, but we're gonna go on anyway. A speaker, a mom, a brunch enthusiast. I love that. She also has dyslexia and ADHD Alex. Welcome to the podcast.

Alex: Thank you for having me. And if you're a Red Sox fan, it means we both hate the Yankees.

Tina: That is true!

Alex: Well, thank you for having me. I love talking about mental health and how it really overlaps with learning disabilities and ADHD, because I think that, I don't think people realize how much it intersects, and I think that this is gonna be a really interesting conversation for people to sit in on.

Serena: Yeah, absolutely. So we usually don't kind of front load with statistics, but we wanted to frame this episode in a way that kind of allows for complexity. So Alex, let's start. Let's back up a little bit towards the beginning and tell us a bit of your story.

Alex: Sure. So I was really privileged to have been diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD at the age of eight and had resources all the way through college. And that is, I didn't realize was as unique in this realm because I thought that there was more of us. And unfortunately, what I found that most people that I work with are not in that category. They're usually diagnosed later in life, especially if they're a woman or if they're a person of color. So I had all these resources all the way through college and nothing exists when you're an adult and in the workplace. So all the resources that I had were kind of apples and oranges. I didn't necessarily know how to advocate for myself, even though I had created a mentor retention program for students with disabilities at Indiana University. I was teaching people how to advocate for themselves. And I didn't know how to advocate for myself in the workplace because it is very, very different. I didn't know what resources were available. If any, I didn't know how to find my strengths. I really struggled tremendously with my mental health because all the resources I had ever had had then been pulled out from under me. And I was expected to figure it out. I've had all the tools, but they're, as I said, very different. And the reason I wanted to go into this business was something that I have had a passion for since I was 16 because I wanted to help people learn about their strengths and figure out how they can apply them to their life and to their workplace. And I had spent this decade in program and leadership development helping other people learn about their strengths. And I was laid off due to COVID. And I thought, you know what, I'm done doing this for other people. I need to start doing this for adults who have ADHD, who have learning disabilities, and was so alarmed by the amount of people who were being diagnosed now. So here I was having all those resources as a kid and had a foundation for it. And now you have adults who are getting a diagnosis and don't know what any of that. And don't have any of the resources as an adult in the workplace or at home or anything like that. So this is really how it came about. And I've been loving every moment of it and helping people reminding them what they're capable of.

Tina: Love that. That's awesome. And I think you bring up a very good point that? so Serena and I have supported parents whose kids struggle in some way for, I don't know, about 10 years or so. And the idea that people want to draw lines, right? Like, oh, that person, well, and society draws lines, right? Like, that person gets an IEP because they have a specific learning disability. And yet what I heard from you is you struggled with your mental health because of that. And I think so many people get into that mental health like space. I know this was true for our own child. Smart kid, really capable, really struggled with mental health and it affected everything, right? And so I think learning disabilities can, basically what I'm saying is I think it's just kind of a circle, right? It's a kind of a vicious circle. If you have a learning disability, you might struggle with your mental health. If you have your mental health struggle, you might struggle with, you know, learning in the classroom. So let?s?.

Alex: Yeah. I mean, oh, I was going to say if to just bring that into a perspective of what that actually looks like, imagine being a kid, I'll give myself an example and then I'll give somebody who is undiagnosed, someone who is diagnosed and is constantly being pulled out. I was bullied by teachers being called stupid in class over and over again because I couldn't keep up. I was constantly being othered and that weighed on me. I didn't want people to think I was stupid, even though teachers were calling me stupid in front of other students. Now put it in perspective of someone who is undiagnosed and you are the kid who was constantly trying to keep up with everybody else and you don't understand why you can't. And you are stressing yourself out and an overachiever because that is a lot of what I see that just spend hours and hours and hours just trying to force themselves to do something when it's hard. That also really weighs on your mental health. So I feel like that that's really important to the nuances of where that mental health piece really overlaps because my diagnosis, I was describing intense anxiety at seven. So this isn't just something that happened overnight. It is it really blends in like side by side.

Tina: Yeah. So let's let's look at some of those challenges just in case we have listeners who maybe aren't quite as aware of what some of the things are that one might look for. So what are some of the challenges that adults with learning disabilities or ADHD? What what challenges do they find in the workplace or even at home? It could be at home. So what are the things you notice in your clients?

Alex: I would say time management being a big challenge, time blindness, I would say, meaning you just have no concept of time. So you might say something takes you 20 minutes and it really takes you two hours. Just really frustrated by that. You might be disorganized. You might read something too quickly and you've completely misinterpreted. You might send emails that are to the wrong person because you didn't read fast enough. You might interpret something totally different. You might struggle with the ability to focus. Your hours in the workplace might not make sense for you. And you are staring at your computer for hours before you can even really do any of the work that you're trying to do. You might struggle with this constant context switching, meaning we're talking to moms. You're going from chaos at home before you even sit down at your desk and now you have three hours worth of meeting and then you have to do work. The ability to move from task to task can be really consuming. These are just some examples and I'm not saying that this is the only types of examples and you might have one piece and think well now do I have ADHD. I think that me sharing this might shed light on what it could look like but again this is not an official diagnosis. This might just be things that you might want to think about and talk to a doctor or a professional therapist to really distinguish if these are things that you have experienced since you were a child because that's really how you can get a diagnosis of this but individually some of this might sound like burnout so that's why I feel like I need to make sure that it's not just a blanket statement.

Serena: Yeah so you've created a company right a consulting with a very intentional name. So we'll look at it kind of talk about where that name came from and then you know maybe about like some of the gifts that come with having a learning disability or ADHD it's not you know I think maybe I'm going you know I don't know I don't want to speak for you but I think you would perhaps not refer to it as a disability.

Alex: I think this is the perfect segue of the name and why I named it and all the special gifts that I really do believe I have because of having dyslexia and ADHD. Capable has three meetings for me. One, I spell it C-A-P-E Capable. One because I thought that's how you spell Capable. So that's a play to my dyslexia. I remember like I wrote it out and I sent it to my my sister and she's like oh that's so smart. Like Capable and I was like what are you talking about? Well that's not how you spell Capable. It was like oh okay so that was that. Two, I wanted to remind people what they were capable of because people are often told that they are stupid or less than or that's how they feel about their disability. And the third was I really wanted people to have a cape to understand that they brought tremendous strengths to home and to the workplace and I wanted them to feel like they had a little bit of a super power in that which can be really frustrating thing for people to say how could you call a disability such as dyslexia or ADHD? Something you struggle with every single day as a super power and I will blend this into the strengths piece because I think that this is really important. When you hear about a superhero the only person who is thinking about those negative traits are the villain and you do not need to be your own villain. You have so many strengths that everyone around you is seeing and I want you to see that for yourself. Someone who has dyslexia and ADHD is an out of the box thinker they are seeing the big picture and the little details all at once. They are storytellers. They are the kind of person that could simplify very complicated information for the average person. That's really valuable skills to have not just to teach children but in companies who are trying to maybe sell a product to an unknown audience you might see it and say I know exactly how we can get from point A to point B and other people will not even come close to seeing that. There are strengths that people have in terms of their ability to focus. I think people think when you have ADHD that you can't focus. We focus on the things that we are interested in so sometimes it holds us in directions we don't necessarily want but if we are in the flow we could do eight hours worth of work in two hours. We could be completely zoned in and really accomplish a lot. Those are really big strengths that people admire when you're not looking around people are admiring you for that and we tend to be in situations where we are doing tasks that are hard and not challenging and what I mean by hard is you were over compensating for all the skills that you lack continuously rather than being challenged by the things that you are naturally good at and excited to do. So I really wanted to pull that out because I wanted people to understand that there are so many strengths you likely bring to the table if you are in this category.

Serena: So you know you work with a lot of different people and this is probably a really big question but do you have some maybe tips for supporting someone with a learning disability and or ADHD? What are sort of the go-to's?

Alex: I'm going to backtrack on that question because I think the tips could be related to something specific. So are you thinking of tasks at home? Are you thinking of tasks at work? Are you thinking of managing the day-to-day? Where are you wanting to focus that question because I would have different answers?

Serena: Sure. Let's think about it in terms of the work case.

Alex: Okay in the workplace I get asked this question a lot of whether or not do you disclose that you have these types of disabilities or not and this is a very very personal choice. I have a lot of people who I work with who are adamantly do not want to share that they have this disability. That is perfectly within reason. I am the type of person who disclose on every single job interview I ever had that I had dyslexia and ADHD because I wanted to emphasize the strengths and things that made me different as a candidate. Here's what I will say. You are likely going to struggle with those tasks that I mentioned that were hard versus challenging and if you are in a job where you are spending a majority of your time doing tasks that are hard and not challenge it is likely affecting your mental health and burning you out very quickly because you are exhausted by constantly doing those hard tasks. So this is where I would say you likely want to reevaluate your workplace but let's say you are in a job where you are doing more of the tasks that are challenging for you and not as many hard tasks. You can advocate for yourself without disclosing that you have a disability but you need to know what you want out of the conversation before you go into it. So if you are struggling with let's say time management and follow through on different tasks can you set up more time with your manager to make sure you are on the same page and giving you goal posts to really meet. If you are struggling in long meetings and let's say that they are being recorded we're using Zoom right now. Zoom has this wonderful new feature where it sends a summary. You can have a summary made of your conversation so that you can go back to it. You could also ask for those meetings to be recorded and to have transcripts and you could take the transcripts and put it into Chat GPT and look through and bullet points if that's easier for you but it's more what can you do with the tools that are already being provided to you so that you can maximize your confidence in those tasks. I would say tools that I always recommend having on any computer are things like Speechify which you which reads all of your documents to you. It could read all of your emails to you. It's also an app on your phone so if someone were to hand you something that it could breed to you and Grammarly is another great tool because not only does it check your grammar but it actually checks let's say you said you were going to send an attachment it'll remind you there is no attachment there it'll say you are sending this email to the wrong person because you have the title for somebody else. It will check your tone of your email which tends to be also a challenge that maybe this is coming off two aggressive let's tone it down so that it's a little more professional and will help you rewrite those. Those are just I know it's very blanket statement pieces but I think that those can be really really important to have in your corner.

Tina: Awesome. Awesome. So we know that not only are you a busy consultant your mama as well a little person. So tell us how you take good care of yourself while you're also taking care of your person.

Alex: That is a great question. I you know my daughter's almost 17 months and I think that I need to preface this by saying this is always going to be a learning curve no matter how old your child is and every aspect of what you just said has changed drastically in every phase that we have been in. I was exclusively pumping for about a year and so some people would be like well that's like 20 minutes at a time that's for you. I'm like no it was not that was not me time even though I did play games while that was happening but here's what I will say is often people tell me they have a million things on their to-do list that they are trying to get done and they show me their to-do list and every time my responses where are you on this to-do list and it's always like 200th on a list of 150 and um basically so I always make sure that I am part of my day acknowledging what I need. I also check in with myself every time I finish a meeting even even right now like before we were meeting I was like okay Alex you have like 10 minutes before what do you need and I got I made an espresso and I am I would like really sat down and enjoyed my my coffee and I could refocus on what it is that I needed. It doesn't have to be mom needs a massage and mom needs a whole day to do nothing. Those are pivotal and important but also finding little moments that you can check in with yourself and I will tell this funny story it's funny now it was not funny at the time. I travel a lot and my daughter when she was 11 months old my husband and I went to go visit my sister who lives in California and my niece is six months younger and it was like a whole special occasion that we were going to travel on a six hour flight with a three hour time zone within 11 month old not for the faint of heart what was also not for the faint of heart was the fact that this flight got diverted twice and we had late we had a layover in Ohio and it was 48 hours of traveling with like limited amount of diapers I was again exclusively pumping I was drinking gallons of water because of all the up and down on the plane it was truly a nightmare and we were in the hotel and there was a TV and I was like okay here we go we're putting on a TV like I need some sanity and it was an episode of Bluey which if you don't know what Bluey is um you're welcome because it is

Serena: I love Bluey

Alex: and the episode um was where mom just needs 20 minutes and I sat there and cried as I watched this episode because it was like you're right mom just needs 20 minutes and that's what I would say to you. It's not always like about having the full day to yourself although if you can plan those at least once a month and like you and your partner if you are in a couple can trade off or if you are a single mother and need support are there people in your network or in your neighborhood my neighbors and I we all trade date nights off so we'll watch each other's monitors so that it's not just about time for ourselves but it's time with you know our partners. There are ways in which you can find time for yourself even on a crazy day even if it's 20 minutes even if it's five minutes and in between your meetings you are laying on the floor with your legs up the wall to breathe. That is one of my favorite I need tiny things you can do just to give yourself what you need to check in with yourself.

Tina: Yeah that's awesome and we are famous for helping people understand how to take good care and remind each other every day about it, right Serena?

Serena: Very very true yeah you need you need to sometimes you just need somebody to remind you too. So yeah yeah Alex thank you so much for joining us today and giving us some clarity about disabilities and navigating life and just adding you we always talk about you talked about tools we talk about tools all the time to adding tools to your toolbox so we really appreciate that.

Tina: So before we let you go today I'm just curious if you have anything else you want to put out there to the world

Alex: Yes if you are if you are a mother who is now being diagnosed with ADHD this is something that I see a lot I just need you to know you are not stupid you are not lazy you are not less than and neither is your child who likely got diagnosed at the same time. You have a lot of unique and special qualities that make you a wonderful mother and you are bringing something to the table that other people might not and I want you to know that if you need help help exists, that there are people like me and other coaches out there that if you don't connect with my messaging that are out there that you might connect to more. But the support is there and you do not have to do this alone and one of the best parts about having this diagnosed late is that there is an extended community of people who are right there with you. So I would say start where you are whether it's local start with a doctor start with a therapist start with a friend start with finding the community of people who understand you and can remind you of what you're capable of.

Tina: Awesome

Serena: Yes awesome thank you Alex thank you for joining us today

Alex: yeah

Tina: And so podcast friends we are as always grateful for all of you listening and supporting us you can help us out by visiting Apple Podcast leave us a review while you're there we have a lot of awesome reviews and we would love some more so subscribe share the podcast with others you'll find more content on our website no need to explain you'll also find us on all the socials please follow us we wouldn't love to hear from you

Serena: And this is your gentle reminder to take good care of yourself while you're also taking care of your people

Tina: Thanks so much for listening

Serena: Bye