Going as far back as the days of Pong and Space Invaders, there have been questions about whether video games have a positive or negative influence on a child’s development and overall well being. Unfortunately, much of the historical dialog around the topic has been about gaming’s contribution to mental and physical problems—despite a lack of scientific evidence to validate these concerns. Thankfully, professionals are now increasingly conducting studies to uncover the truth. While this research is emergent and isn’t yet conclusive, researchers are finding that digital games can be very beneficial to our social, emotional, physical, and cognitive health. It may be time to shift our decades-running mindset that videos games are bad for our children (and for ourselves), and embrace their plurality of positive benefits. 

Contrary to common perception, games can promote healthy living and increased social activity. Through a variety of ways they benefit us cognitively, physically, and socially-emotionally. At Learnfully, games allow us to establish a strong rapport with our learners, strengthen underlying sensory-cognitive skills and create positive associations to learning through play. For example, we may start an instructional session playing a memory game—which kick-starts learning and increases their overall receptivity to the subsequent activities in the lesson plan. Games can also help those who struggle with social anxiety make connections and lifelong relationships. Importantly, they help us find joy by pursuing our interests in a variety of ways. They also have many positive impacts on critical thinking skills. Access to consoles like the Nintendo Switch or Wii can promote a better lifestyle, keeping someone active, socially engaged, and entertained at the same time. 

As with any other activity, it’s important to optimize the benefits of gaming and not abuse the medium by engaging in it to excess. Maintaining a routine to limit the amount of screentime and review the content of the games your child plays is key to ensuring they attain the positive benefits of the medium. There will always cause for concern when it comes to emerging gaming spaces (yesterday it was online gaming, today it’s the metaverse, tomorrow… who knows) because so much is unknown. With your oversight as a parent or caregiver, your learner can benefit from these ten boosts to social-emotional, cognitive, and physical skills. Hopefully this article will help us rethink our mindset on video gaming and shift our attention to the positive things it can bring into our learners’ lives. 

1. Mental Health

WebMD clearly states, “There are many misconceptions about video games and the impact they have on mental health. The truth is that video games have many benefits, including developing complex problem-solving skills and promoting social interaction through online gaming. Video games can be a great way to stimulate your mind and improve your mental health.” There has been a clear uptick in mental health diagnoses since the onset of the pandemic, particularly in teenagers. During this same time video games have been making a tremendous impact on learner engagement and responsiveness to therapy. SPARX, a game specifically designed to provide therapy to teenagers in a way that’s more active and enjoyable than regular counseling, has helped many families achieve drastic results due to the way it engages and more fully brings teenagers into the therapy experience.. Playing video games helps develop interpersonal skills, boosts a sense of accomplishment, and develops the ability to perform under pressure. Practitioners have also developed games that support mood, mindfulness, growth mindset, and self-regulation: it’s evident the gaming revolution in the mental health world has begun. 

2. Social Skills 

Many neurodivergent learners struggle with social anxiety and feel isolated and alone. To counteract this, some video games explicitly target the need to develop social skills by facilitating discussions, encouraging initiation and conversational discourse in a safe space. For instance, Social Cipher is the perfect example of a fun-filled, systematic social-emotional game that explicitly strengthens the five core social-emotional competencies through an autistic learner’s lens. The protagonist, Ava, simulates life as a neurodivergent learner trying to find her way in the communicative world, one social dilemma at a time serving as representation for learners who struggle with social skills. 

The myth of the  reclusive shut-in gamer is far from reality. “Gamers aren’t the antisocial basement-dwellers we see in pop culture stereotypes; they’re highly social people,” Dr. Nick Taylor, an assistant professor of communication at NC State and lead author of the study, said in a school news release. “This won’t be a surprise to the gaming community, but it’s worth telling everyone else. Loners are the outliers in gaming, not the norm.” Games such as Among Us, Fortnite and World of Warcraft strengthen ongoing relationships and spark new friendships through shared interests and collaborative opportunities requiring responsible decision-making. 

3. Decision Making & Problem Solving 

As reported by WebMD, “Action video games are fast-paced, and there are peripheral images and events popping up, and disappearing. These video games are teaching people to become better at taking sensory data in, and translating it into correct decisions.” As a slower-paced game player, I automatically associate action-packed, high-intensity video games as stress-inducing—and this very well may be the case initially —but as a learner acclimates to the game they begin building confidence and neural connections that support their ability to make decisions with urgency. This problem-solving skill generalizes into other environments in and out of the classroom. Other types of games can benefit a learner’s problem solving skills. A study published in 2013 in The American Psychologist found that the as adolescents reported playing more strategic video games (role-playing games, turn-based games etc.) the more they improved in problem solving and school grades the following year.

4. Physical Fitness & Health

Video games also have a positive impact on an individual’s physiological state. Gamifying (using elements of gameplay to engage with a topic or concept) physical fitness increases motivation, leading to more productive exercise . For example, Peloton has created an immersive, gaming-inspired workout called Lanebreak for its community of all ages. Lanebreak inspires its users to engage in a virtual world that builds excitement to develop positive associations to exercise and helps take members’ minds off the more grueling aspects of the workout.. 

The use of video games with medical patients has also grown tremendously. A study published in November 2014 in the journal Radiology reported that 24 MS patients improved their balance and even lessened their risk of falling as a result of playing video games using a Wii balance board, suggesting that other high-intensity, task-oriented exercises could help patients with multiple sclerosis. The game works by having users stand on a balance board while shifting their weight and following the interactive instructions on the screen. Games have also been used alongside treatment to reduce negative side effects. Studies have even shown that when children play video games following chemotherapy they need fewer painkillers than those who don’t.

Not only do video games incentivize health, they also can improve hand-eye coordination, motor planning skills, and visual-spatial skills and perception. University of Oklahoma pediatricians conducted a study to research active video games as an alternative to moderate exercise for children who are sedentary and at high risk for obesity and diabetes. Tests conducted measured the heart rate, self-reported exertion, and energy expenditure of the children while they interacted with games like Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Boxing. The research concluded that overall energy expenditure during active video game play was comparable to moderate-intensity walking. Another study, conducted by University of Rochester,, found that playing action games improves an ability called contrast sensitivity function, which is what helps us discern between changes in shades of gray against a colored backdrop. This is helpful in tasks requiring vision in low light, like driving at night. 

5. Self-discovery & Creative Expression 

Video games give players the opportunity to create, experiment, and leverage the full power of their imagination. Starting with creating their online presence by customizing their  avatar  (the virtual identity a game player assumes online), to expressing their imagination and creativity while playing with friends (or streaming online to others), and on to fanart (fan-created artwork inspired by the game), cosplay (performance art where a performer role plays as a character from a work of fiction), and much more—games offer many opportunities for creative expression. I have witnessed firsthand the incredible opportunity gaming offers in building an individual’s sense of self with my children’s experiences. At first I was apprehensive—I entered the space and brought my own biases, assuming that my children’s social skills were melting away every minute they were gaming online. I was pleasantly surprised to see the strides they made in finding their passions and expressing themselves creatively. A whole new accessible and inclusive world has come alive for my eldest child particularly as they navigate preteen life and search for themself and their identity. I know that it can be scary to send your child into the virtual gaming world; instilling the proper safety precautions in our kids when they go online will help mitigate our fears and help us trust they will turn to us for support when necessary.

6. Memory

Playing action video games increases the amount of gray matter in a person’s brain and promotes better connectivity in the subregions of the brain associated with gray matter functions. Gray matter is important, because its functions include muscle control and sensory perception skills such as seeing and hearing, memory function, and emotion, speech, and decision formation. One of the most noticeable impacts of video games in my children and the learners we serve is how much it has strengthened their working memory. Tried and true working-memory-enhancing games like Simon are now available online. Nintendo’s Rhythm Heaven develops players’ visual and auditory memory through musical experiences and interests. Learners sustain attention for long periods of time because they receive immediate feedback and gratification, further igniting their interests, feelings of productivity, and sense of success. 

Evidence suggests video games may also slow aging’s effects on the brain. As reported by Huffpost, researchers at the University of Iowa found that playing a brain-teasing game for just two hours a week can help slow the degree of mental decline associated with natural aging. Just 10 hours was enough to slow the decline for up to seven years. This benefit was achieved using digitized crossword puzzles and a video game called “Road Tour.”  

7. Cognitive Flexibility 

Certain types of video games can help train the brain to become more agile and improve strategic thinking, according to research conducted by scientists from Queen Mary University of London and University College London (UCL). Researchers noted that while playing the popular strategy game Starcraft, participants were able to manage more information sources, leading to enhancements in cognitive flexibility.” In other words, the people who played the game boasted better cognitive flexibility since the game requires constant thinking and player input. While not all games may offer the same benefit, it’s good to know that at least some of our favorite games, especially real-time strategy games, may be helping us become better learners while entertaining us. 

8. Shifting and Sustaining Attention 

A chief concern among many caregivers today (myself included) is that their kids sit in class thinking about Minecraft and Pokémon instead of listening to their teachers. To determine whether games could help (rather than hinder) learner focus by by improving cognition and perception,  researcher Vikranth Bejjanki conducted several experiments. These studies asked two groups of people, experienced gamers and people who don’t play video games, to perform several perceptual tasks, like pattern discrimination. The gamer group outperformed the non-gamer group. A subsequent study showed that playing videos games for 50 hours increased participants’ capability with perceptual tasks.The paper concluded that playing video games  influences performance in perception, attention, and cognition. Put simply—playing games improves several abilities, including skills related to sustaining and shifting attention. 

9. Application to Learning 

Video games can help expand a player’s knowledge across a variety of subjects including history, geography, science, and foreign languages. A plethora of literacy and math educational games are available online that reinforce learners’ underlying skills, but many of them lack personalization, representation, and that excitement factor—all of which affect a learner’s engagement to the program. Minecraft has been used in the classroom for a decade (and is still going strong). I was personally excited to discover Brainika and use it with one of my children struggling in math. Brainika develops educational games on the population online multiplayer game-creation platform Roblox that help neurodivergent kids intuitively build their math skills..

The son of Brainika’s Founder, Anya (who goes by Anika), was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020. She turned his diagnosis into an opportunity to bring excitement to learning by developing language, coding, and math instruction for the virtual platforms of Minecraft and Roblox. She shared why she chose to develop on Roblox, “it is a great tool for SEND (Special Education Needs and Disabilities, a statutory code from the UK Department of Education) learning, it unlocks kids’ imagination by embodying six core metaverse elements: immersion, virtual identity, digital asset ownership, real-life experiences, social network and creators economy run on digital currency. For educators, Roblox allows limitless creation of educational experiences that students heartily participate in, developing both soft and hard skills.”

10. Goal-directedness

Goal-directedness, or goal-directed behavior, refers simply to the ability to set oneself to the completion of a goal. One of the primary purposes of playing any game is to meet the goal set forth by the game designers. Finding joy and meaning in video games naturally builds a sense of goal-directedness. By setting realistic goals, building a plan to achieve them, and ultimately acting on those plans, children are practicing a recipe for learning success that can be generalized across many tasks and settings. Learner motivation is also critical to learning success. Players are motivated to succeed in games by being given small goals (like leveling up) they can achieve easily. Once they see themselves succeed at this smaller task, they are more inspired to take on bigger goals. This confidence can carry over into a learner’s social, emotional and cognitive skills in learning and life. Reaching goals within games can create a cascade of confidence that supports learners when they apply themselves outside of the medium.

I recently had the chance to sit down and pick the brain of one of the top speech-language pathologists and board-certified neurofeedback practitioners in the country, Dr. Williamson. I have been fascinated by how she uses neurofeedback as an assessment and progress monitoring tool for ADHD and Autistic learners, and I couldn’t wait to share these learnings with our community. In this piece, Dr. Williamson provides clear insight into the ins and outs of neurofeedback. Let’s dive in!

What is neurofeedback? 

Neurofeedback (also known as EEG Biofeedback) is a way to measure electrical activity of the brain. The measurement of brain waves involves receiving information from the neurons that are communicating with each other. For data collection, a cap is attached to a person’s head to take measurements according to the anatomical locations. A computer is used to analyze the brain wave patterns and provide feedback. The assessment involves taking measurements of these locations. After the assessment, the treatment involves lightweight sensors attached to any areas of need, which provides feedback to the client to determine if they are meeting their personalized goals. This is a reading or measurement, just as a thermometer measures one’s body temperature, so there is no voltage or electrical current sent to the brain. The neurofeedback (NFB) practitioner will program the plan based on the QEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalogram) and standardized databases. The screen will turn dark if a patient is not focusing or turn brighter if they are. The goals are based on standardized procedures set forth by the databases that neurofeedback uses. Sometimes, when we assess learners with a lot of energy or need to move, we provide a visual distraction (a movie, for example), to make sure we capture an accurate read. 

When do you recommend children get tested in this way? 

Just about any condition can be improved through neurofeedback. Many of the studies conducted are with children that have a diagnosis of ADHD and/or Autism which is who we usually have as patients. For example, we are able to test the efficacy of certain treatments such as medication and we have patients come to us that want the procedure to eliminate the need for medication, reduce or stabilize medication. We know that certain waveforms are prevalent that cause slow processing. Hence, stimulant medications excite these waveforms and balance them out for a short period of time. Neurofeedback is a training that has been shown to be effective and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a Level 2 treatment. We feel it is the best treatment to effectively train neurons and balance them out without the need of medication or reduce medication. To learn more about what symptoms or diagnoses may warrant a scan as well as what to expect during the scan itself, check out this wonderful resource

How do you ensure you capture an accurate appraisal?

Neurofeedback is done best when a QEEG is done. A QEEG is a diagnostic tool that measures electrical activity in the form of brain wave patterns. Only trained neurofeedback professionals are aware of how to test for this. The process involves a patient wearing a cap corresponding to specific areas of the brain. Electrogel is placed in tiny holes for the cap for measurements. Neurofeedback professionals are specifically trained on the implementation and reading of these brain maps. In addition, there are different procedures that are implemented for neurofeedback professionals. Only those professionals that are board certified by the Board Certification of International Alliance (BCIA) should be used. A patient can search by state/location to find a certified professional. BCIA trained professionals have gone through specific training and passed board exams to obtain this status. These professionals know how to obtain a good reading (e.g. reduce artifact or noise in the signal) as well as interpret the results and obtain a plan that can put caregivers and their learners on the path to success.

What are some common recommendations that may follow the scan? 

Depending on the neurofeedback professional and the database used, the professional should present the patient with a QEEG report specifically indicating areas of the brain showing abnormalities and a specific plan to treat these areas. Sensors or electrodes are placed in a location (or locations) based on the QEEG to train these sites. Neurofeedback is based on self-regulation and self-control. The patient will learn what they need to do to focus on the stimulus. The treatment is based on the principles of operant conditioning: sensors are placed on the sites, and the patient can only see/hear the stimulus when they are at a certain level (a set threshold as programmed by the neurofeedback professional). Trainees learn from the feedback provided through the reinforcement and how to stay alert, relaxed, and focused. The neurofeedback practitioner tracks progress and is able to see the trend of activity of the brain through the measurement of the EEG signals provided from the sensors.

What is the anticipated impact of said recommendations (acknowledging that everyone is different)? 

Although the number of training sessions varies and is individual specific, the general impacts have been research validated. However, the average number of sessions is 40. In addition, each person is unique with their own set of features and responses. The QEEG is a map of what to do for treatment, but not everyone responds the same way. Therefore, the reinforcement schedule can be modified based on a patient’s needs. Remapping can be done to determine progress, percent of brain change, or changes for a plan for an individual. 

Can you diagnose using the results? 

You do not use a QEEG by itself to diagnose solely, but it is part of a multidisciplinary approach. We will use it as part of our total assessment. If we do find there are frontal/executive lobe abnormalities, there are diagnostic codes that can be used to reflect these abnormalities.

Any final thoughts you wish to offer to our shared audience? 

Neurofeedback has been studied for over 100 years and has been proven effective to improve processing and memory for many disabilities. Depending on the professional, neurofeedback practitioners can assess and determine improvement and percent of brain change after treatment. Neurofeedback is highly successful and is known to be long-lasting based on longitudinal studies. In addition, neurofeedback can be done at home; however, it is strongly recommended that the assessment be done in the neurofeedback practitioner’s office. Due to our specialty, we have added this to our cognitive procedures, so we have been effective billing and receiving insurance benefits for patients in the state of SC. Different professionals can do NFB as long as you are in healthcare—I am a PhD speech-language pathologist, but many doctors, psychologists, mental health counselors as well as chiropractors use this procedure. We are unique in that we have been successful receiving insurance benefits for this procedure. Reimbursement for insurance is based on the discipline/credentialing of the provider, benefits for a patient’s plan, as well as diagnosis of the patient. 

Dr. Shannon Williamson is a speech-language pathologist and board certified neurofeedback practitioner. She received her Master’s and Doctorate degrees from the University of South Carolina. She has been employed as adjunct professors at the University of South Carolina and South Carolina State University, lead speech-language pathologist and curriculum coordinator for speech-language pathology in the public school system, and most recently administrator in two rehabilitation clinics in private practice. Dr. Williamson has helped children in all types of settings-public school, private school, homeschool, rehabilitation clinics as well as preschool/early intervention. She was recognized as a Worldwide Leader in Healthcare in 2014 and featured as a top ten leader in Healthcare by Women of Distinction in 2016. Dr. Williamson currently owns and directs Upstate Pediatric Speech Therapy Services, two clinics in Upstate, SC that provide therapy services for children with language and learning disabilities, communication impairments as well as ADD/ADHD.

For additional questions or inquiries, Dr. Williamson can be reached at drswilliamson@pedspeechtherapy.com.

What is Homeschooling?

Homeschooling is the method of educating your children in your home rather than at a school. Making the decision to homeschool a child can pose a formidable challenge, but parents have options—and ultimately much more control—when choosing to homeschool over traditional schooling. Each state has its own homeschool requirements, but the family has the last word on how to educate their children at home in a way that suits them best. In this article, I’ll lay out the common approaches to homeschooling and how to pick the best option for your family.

Understanding the Different Options 

Private Homeschooling

The classic approach to homeschooling: running a family school in the privacy of one’s own home allows a family autonomy on how to educate their children. The full responsibility of curriculum, teaching, and community building falls to the family. Parents have the freedom to choose their own curriculum, but also must assume the financial burden of paying for it. The family is fully responsible for facilitating the instruction to their children (ie. taking on the role of the teacher). Socialization and community are oft-talked-about concerns with respect to homeschooling. Developing friendships and social skills are important to education, learning, and life, and it’s certainly possible to achieve these needs while schooling at home. Community can be found in a variety of areas: a local homeschool group, a sport or social activity, a community or church group, or other kid-friendly community activities. 

For some families, private homeschooling can feel overwhelming. Yet for others, the greater autonomy allows them the freedom to educate their children in very intentional ways. For those who don’t wish to take on the total task of educating a child independently, more contemporary options are available that give parents greater choice in pursuing home-schooled education for their youngsters. 

Local Homeschool Groups

Many communities offer support for homeschool groups. Some of these groups are faith-based, while others are not—so look for the best option for your family! For example, for a more classical approach to education, there is a homeschool community group that focuses specifically on a classical approach to seven academic disciplines. 

Generally these groups will meet on a weekly basis for group instruction or to introduce a specific topic or style of education. The family then takes that content to review and study the rest of the week before rejoining the group again the following week. Sometimes these community groups are less structured, offering a myriad of social options including sports, exercise groups, field trips, and time together. 

The local homeschool community group approach is great due to how it naturally builds community into a family’s homeschooling day. Often, private homeschooling and local community homeschool groups go hand-in-hand. Many private homeschool families attend these groups regularly.

Virtual Charter School

Some families choose a different approach to educating their children, opting to enroll in a virtual charter school. Virtual charter schools are public state-funded schools. However, they are offered in a virtual setting, allowing parents to take the primary role in educating their children. Each of these schools takes a slightly different approach to facilitating education offerings to families, but they all have similarities. Many of them offer curriculum options to parents and will order and deliver it directly to the home. Our public education system being what it is, some schools limit what curriculum is offered. However, most schools offer a similar, highly recommended, homeschool curriculum option. The virtual charter schools may differ in certain policies, like how often the school’s teacher checks in with the families or the specifics of how virtual special education instruction is provided. Despite these differences, all virtual public charter schools are required to provide special education services (something my own family has greatly benefited from). If you have a child who may qualify for an IEP, researching the special education department of a public charter school is a great idea—don’t feel like you have to homeschool alone if you have questions or concerns, or need support. Virtual public charter schools are a great way to combine home education with necessary additional support structures.

Private Virtual Schools

Families can opt to enroll their children in a virtual private school. These schools offer either recorded or live video lessons—sometimes with a live class of other students. Other times, individual lessons or self-paced, pre-recorded services may be offered. Some private schools offer the option to decide between virtual classes or curriculum at home. This decision should be made based on a child’s personality, educational needs, learning style, and the quality of virtual instruction provided.

Choosing What’s Best for Your Family.

Narrowing down your family’s homeschooling preference may be straightforward or it may only get worked out through trial and error. My family had to try several forms of homeschooling before settling into a combination of working with a virtual charter (for general and special education services) and a local homeschool group (where my kids are challenged to participate in weekly presentations and listen to a teacher, all the while making friends).

When researching virtual charter schools in your state, look at your state’s Department of Public Instruction/Department of Education website—your public virtual charter schools will be found there. Not all public charter schools offer a virtual option (and not all are created equal). I recommend exploring a variety of options within the charter school community, focusing on what’s important to your family. Compare websites and available information, and contact each school with questions.

A family’s decision to homeschool is often based on personal decisions, family preferences, and the flexibility that comes with choosing to educate your child in a way that reflects your family’s values. Parents know their children best and should feel equipped to educate them. Choosing the best homeschool option for your child is important, but gives them the gift of getting to learn from their parents or caregivers. Keep in mind that not all children in the same family have to homeschool the same way. Find what works for each child in your family, and know that supports are available should you choose to educate at home.

About the Author

Erin Luchterhand has been working as an Educational Specialist for over 10 years. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Special & Elementary Education and is Orton Gillingham Trained (for Dyslexia). She was recognized as the 2015 Exceptional Parent Magazine Teacher of the Year award.

When I was a kid, summer meant no school, no stress, and no structure. Growing up in the rural Midwest, my neighborhood group of friends and I had created a routine of our own. It included morning chores, kickball, or some random outdoors poking around. Later, we’d play board games over lunch and then spend the afternoon in the lake. We’d head home for dinner with our parents at our respective houses and then get together for a game of freeze tag or firefly chasing until it was dark. It was a quintessential summer. This is not the type of summer many neurodivergent children experience; this lack of structure may not be as well-suited for them. 

Coping with Summer Schedule Shifts

If you are a parent of a child with learning differences, you know the importance of routines—neurodivergent kids need predictability and do much better when they have it.

Summertime can pose new challenges for parents and caregivers—especially for kids with learning differences, like ADHD, who crave structure. All the well-established routines from the school year go out the window during summer, when parents are faced with seven (or more) loosely structured weeks that have a minimal resemblance to their children’s school days. By the second week of school being out, it usually dawns on me how deeply I relied on that structure as summer camp begins—with its new pick-up and drop-off times, new friends, and new activities. I’m blindsided every time by the need to go over these new routines. 

Extended School Year services allows students to get used to their new classroom, peers, teachers, and support staff for the following school year.

Some students are eligible for Extended School Year (ESY) services. ESY happens at the end of the current school year, and allows students to get used to their new classroom, peers, teachers, and support staff for the following school year. This is vital: we want the transition back into school in the fall to happen as smoothly as possible (note that I said “as smoothly as possible;” the start of the year typically isn’t perfectly smooth, but it’s a good target). ESY helps lessen students’ anxiety about returning to school seven weeks later. It also gives some parents four extra weeks of routines and less time to find camps and activities, summer caregivers, or part-time jobs for their children. It’s a win-win.

Although the camp, campers, coaches, and gurus change each week like a revolving door, consistency and structure is achieved by going to a “home base.” As with school, there is a drop-off point with a pep talk, and pick-up one with an after-class debrief, providing bookends to their day. 

Communication with the counselors and instructors is essential for kids’ success, even in summer. It’s helpful to meet the people monitoring your children during the camp; it gives you the opportunity to speak to them about anything that might come up (like if your child needs to take breaks or gets overstimulated). When it comes to your kids, hearing how their day went is another great way to help support them. It provides the intel you need to talk through things that may need an adjustment for the following days, or praise them for their triumphs. 

Changing Routines can be a Good Thing

Summer is a great time to work on maintaining the predictability families rely on and helping build resilience in our children by adjusting them to modified schedules. Be aware that disruptions can happen in the middle of a stable, structured routine (like school). Over the last school year, my son’s classroom faced numerous staff changes with little notice. This is not ideal, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. And sometimes, routines stop working and need adjustment, and we must help navigate the transition period until things settle back into something recognizable and familiar. 

If you don’t partake in summer camps ( maybe you have a summer nanny or other caretaker), you’ll need to create a new routine for the summer weeks. If a caretaker reports to your home for the day, you may need to establish a new ritual that mimics the structure that going to school provides. Perhaps you make a point to sit, have breakfast, and go over activity choices for the day. Some parents may have a short morning meeting to review the plans and expectations for the day. Doing something like this provides a strong anchoring point of predictability for kids as they start their day. 

Whether chatting with the caregiver in the evening (perhaps over dinner), your kids may be excited to share their day. You can leverage this approach when you get home to help bookend your kid’s day and transition them into bedtime. Parents.com gives a few tips to help keep things simple when discussing the day’s successes and challenges.

The bedtime routine is one of the most talked-about routines—for a good reason, sleep is of the utmost importance for young developing minds.

The bedtime routine is one of the most talked-about routines—for a good reason, sleep is of the utmost importance for young developing minds. Regardless of where we go or what camp we participate in for the week, I try to keep the same bedtime routine to end the day, which can be very comforting.


 You can find structure and routine during the summer—even when it may seem challenging to do so. Implementing a few tweaks and updates to your family’s standard school year regime can promote both fun and growth in your children. Consistently starting the day with a summer morning routine and maintaining a usual bedtime routine helps provide consistency that all children need, especially as surroundings change for a few months.

About the Author

Kendra Demler is a single mom and parent writer living in the Bay Area. Her personal experiences have given her a talent for candidly retelling the good, the bad, and sometimes cringe-worthy adventures in neurodivergent and high-needs parenting. Raising her son as a solo parent has driven her passion for using her voice to spread awareness, increase acceptance, and provide support and resources for families of neurodivergent children.

Many parents of different learners go from not knowing the meaning of “executive functioning,” to not knowing how they didn’t grow up learning all about it. Executive functioning (EF) is truly the engine that makes our brains function effectively and efficiently. The better our executive function, the easier it is for us to adapt, recall information, and get those daily tasks done.

Next time you’re putting off something that you know is super simple and will only take you about five minutes to do, don’t call yourself lazy—blame it on your executive functioning: it’s your brain’s fault! You might need to give your brain—and your kids’ brains—a little extra oomph to put down the screens, stave off mindless distractions, and tackle the to-do list.

Whether you’re exercising your own EF skills or your kiddos’, summer is the perfect time to merge family fun with tuning up much-needed skills. Learnfully invited neuropsychologist Dr. Karen Wilson, EF Coach Elizabeth Boyarsky, and a mom of several children with learning differences (yours truly) to discuss how we sneak EF skill development into summer fun. Here are our favorite ideas:

Involve children in cooking and baking. So many EF skills are exercised in the kitchen. Measuring, following directions, taking turns, waiting for the finished product–all these tasks add up to strengthening self-control and even working memory. Plus who can resist sprinkling in some math practice with all the opportunities cooking provides?

Practice Mindfulness. Learning to be mindful and taking cues from how your body feels is important to everyone—but even more so for kids who have EF struggles. Recognizing how they feel is key to overcoming those times when impulsivity threatens to take over. Open the windows, settle in with your little one, and tune into yourselves; make mindfulness a family practice.

Reinforce healthy sleep habits. Sleep is critical to learning.  Many parents tend to relax our kids’ sleep schedules a bit in the summer, and we’re missing out on a great opportunity to get sleep hours locked in. Work on putting devices away earlier in the evening, pick some great books to settle into and let the summer sun wake up the house more naturally. Before you know it a new school year will be here and everyone will be ready to rise and shine on time.

Explore a passion project with the family. Capitalizing on your learner’s interests is a great way to help build confidence while sliding in a bit of work on their EF skills. Take out books at the library on their favorite subject and have them flex their creative muscles by compiling a report that includes a hands-on project or demonstration. Let them plan out a section of the family garden or start a photography project. The sky’s the limit when it comes to passion projects and summer days.

Revamp systems that did not serve your child well last school year. The relaxed schedule of summer offers extra time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t from the previous school year. Involve your learner in the planning process for the upcoming academic year. What will help them  get out the door with everything they need for school every day? How could they better organize their afternoons? Empowering them with choices can give a sense of confidence and control that will follow them long after they hang up their school backpack for the last time.

Provide structure with agency, strike the balance. We all run out of patience during the rat race of the school year—our kids included. Summer is a great time to work on the mental flexibility that allows us to change things up. Call a family meeting about your summer schedule and take everyone’s suggestions. Can your kiddo bend to someone else’s needs a bit, or are they inflexible? Work on a balance that gives them support along with a little bit of freedom to find what works best for them.

Pair the pomodoro (timer) technique with music. Music makes everything better. If your learner is struggling with distractions or has a hard time completing things in a timely manner, experiment with sound. Have them try to finish a  task before the end of a song, or try soothing music to help get them through a chore they’d rather not do. Incorporating music may help keep them motivated to complete a task. 

Plan outdoor activities. Summer provides endless opportunities to get outside and explore, so have your learner plan a scavenger hunt or create an obstacle course. Or take a nature walk, which can provide time to slow down and listen for unique sounds.  Picnics can be planned, gardens can be planted, imaginary adventures can be taken… the possibilities are endless!

Facilitate honest, reflective discussions. We’re often rushing from one thing to the next during the school year so the often lazy days of summer give us more time to talk openly and honestly. Talk with your child about what’s working in their life and what isn’t. Making sure they feel heard can alleviate lots of frustration and build their confidence and ability to self-advocate.

Gamify gamify gamify! Play a variety of different types of games (card games, board games, role-playing, video games, etc.). No summer vacation is complete without a game (or ten, or twenty). Next time your kids are begging for one more game, remind yourself that every game provides an opportunity to work on turn-taking, mental flexibility, handling failure, and team-building. Games are a fantastic way to sneak in many EF skill-builders!
If you need even more ideas for the next time one of your kids groans, “I’m bored,” we’ve created a sheet of activity cards to keep on hand all summer. Print the sheet off and cut the individual cards out, then grab one daily to exercise the corresponding EF skills. Challenge your family to see how many they can complete this summer, or fill a jar and let your kids take turns picking one each day. They’re sure to keep your family busy and your EF skills strong to prepare for back to school!

Executive Function Activity Cards

About the Author

Jessica Watson is a mom to several kids with learning differences, including one with autism. As a homeschooling parent, a published author in this space, and a marketing specialist, she has found a great balance between her personal life and her work with the neurodivergent community, and adds a blend of proven and practical advice to our Executive Functioning panel.

As caregivers, it can be very challenging to ascertain exactly what goals your child needs to meet at any given age or grade. To help, we’ve compiled a list of the most common math developmental milestones for elementary, middle, and high school learners to serve as a reference as you work your way through each phase of your learner’s academic journey. It is important to note that everyone progresses at their own pace, so please keep this in mind as you review the grade and age-specific markers below.

The Mathematical Ladder

Learnfully utilizes the math ladder as a tool to guide our Educational Specialists and community as a whole towards foundational and application of math skills. 

  • Counting & Number Sense: discovery and automaticity with and without manipulatives
  • Math Fact Fluency: exploration and mastery of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division
  • Concepts & Vocabulary: examples include, but are not limited to fractions, percentages, place value/base ten, decimals
  • Word/Story Problems: paragraph of language to process, thus, they involve and require the use of layers of executive functioning and literacy skills

  • Math Resources

    General Information

    Early Education

    Math Milestones 

    Manipulatives for teachers

    Piaget’s Stages of Cognitive Development

    What Happens At This Stage?
    Sensorimotor0-2 years oldCoordination of senses with motor responses, sensory curiosity about the world. Language used for demands and catalouging. Object permanence is developed
    Preoperational2-7 years oldSymbolic thinking, use of proper syntax and grammar to express concepts. Imagination and intuition are strong, but complex abstract thoughts are still difficult. Conversation is developed.
    Concrete Operational7-11 years oldConcepts attached to concrete situations. Time, space, and quantity are understood and can be applied, but not as independent concepts.
    Formal Operational11 years and olderTheoretical, hypothetical, and counterfactual thinking. Abstract logic and reasoning. Strategy and planning become possible. Concepts learned in one context can be applied to another.
    The Psychology Notes Headquarters – https://www.psychologynoteshq.com

    Math Developmental Milestones

    5-6KinderAdd by counting the fingers on one or both hands.
    Follow multi-step directions.
    Begin to understand basic time concepts.
    Copy or draw symmetrical shapes.
    Identify the larger of two numbers.
    Understand the meaning of words like unlikely or possible.
    6-81st-2ndCount to 100 by ones, twos, fives, tens.
    Write and recognize the numerals 0 to 100, and the words for numbers from one to twenty.
    Know the difference between two and three dimensional shapes and name the basic ones.
    Recognize and know the value of coins.
    Predict what comes next in a pattern and create own patterns.
    Compute basic addition and subtraction up to 20.
    Read and create a simple bar chart.
    8-93rdMove from using hands-on methods to using paper and pencil to work out math problems.
    Do addition and subtraction with regrouping.
    Understand place values well enough to solve problems with decimal points.
    Know how to multiply and divide using fact families.
    Create a number sentence or equation from a word problem.
    Work with money.
    9-114th-5thUnderstand that numbers can be represented in many ways like fractions, decimals, bases and variables
    Use numbers in real-life situations like calculating a sale price or comparing student loans.
    Use mathematical language to convey thoughts and solutions.
    Use graphs, maps, or other representations to learn and convey information.
    Begin to understand that some math problems do not have real-world solutions.
    Begin to see how math ideas built on one another.
    11-186th-12thBasic and complex algebra with unknown numbers.
    Work with lines, angles, types of triangles and other basic geometric shapes.
    Work with fractions, percentages, and proportions.
    Use formulas to solve complicated problems and find the area, permitter, and volume of shapes.

    Introduction and Reflections on Becoming a Mom

    It may sound rote to say this, but it’s true—nothing prepares you for motherhood. Everyone who has been there tells you this the first time you are expecting, but somehow you believe that you have it all under control. Fast forward to a few months after birth, and there you are: repeating to other expectant mothers that they have no idea what they are in for. 

    Don’t mistake my meaning—nothing ever surpasses that incredible feeling when you hear your baby cry for the first time. How I wish I could reach out to the 24-year-old version of me and whisper some of the wisdom that I now have, 18 years later. Let her know that the sleepless nights will pass. Tell her that the days are long, but the years are short, and before she knows it, she will have an incredible young man at her side. 

    What follows from here is my journey as the mother of a twice-exceptional (2e) child. The National Center for Gifted Children defines 2e as children who “have the characteristics of gifted students with the potential for high achievement and give evidence of one or more disabilities as defined by federal or state eligibility criteria.” These children—my son included—are indeed exceptional, and in many more ways than is apparent at first. 

    Breaking the Mold

    I remember seeing James’ face for the first time. I’d just had a cesarean but was fully conscious. Seeing his little face emerge from my body was surreal and strangely peaceful. My short-lived moment of tranquility was shattered by the deafening wail of a newborn ripped from his cozy, protected slumber. A strong, healthy, and beautiful boy was making his presence felt in a way universally understood by new parents across history.

    I’d lived my whole life for that moment, so I found it ironic to be plagued with severe postpartum depression for the first year of James’ life.

    I’d wanted to be a mom since I could walk. I’d lived my whole life for that moment, so I found it ironic to be plagued with severe postpartum depression for the first year of James’ life. When he was six months old, I was hospitalized for two weeks. I had so much guilt, feeling that I was not emotionally present during those precious early days. But James was happy, healthy, and thriving, and I have learned to forgive myself. 

    As I healed, I had to grapple with feelings of incompetence and self-loathing. How could I be such a disastrous failure at the one job I was biologically designed to do? When I looked at other moms, they seemed to have it all under control, yet I was like a duck, gliding on the surface while my legs were treading water at 100mph. 

    In retrospect, it makes more sense. James had problems sleeping. Of course, this left me perpetually exhausted trying to deal with his needs all on my own (his father was physically present but left all the child rearing to me). As a newborn, James would catnap for only twenty minutes at a time, all day and night. At a few months old, he would take hours to settle at night, and then woke up every hour, feeding for up to forty minutes, until the morning. From eighteen months, he didn’t sleep at all during the day. I now know it was because that incredible mind of his was already working overtime. He was a very happy, beautiful baby, but he never slowed down—and I felt isolated in my own world of perpetual exhaustion. 

    After nine months, James went to daycare and I returned to teaching. Reestablishing myself in the real world gave my mental health a much-needed boost, but fresh challenges were ahead. As James met his certain developmental milestones, I was becoming more and more concerned that his speech wasn’t appropriately developing. He was incredibly vocal, but it was as if he was talking in his own language.

    Everyone I spoke to had their advice and justification for Jame’s speech issues. I would hear, “Some kids are just slower than others,” or “He is an only child and has no sibling to mimic,” and so I left it alone for a while. While he did make small improvements and was a little more coherent overall, he remained significantly behind. As he was nearing his fourth birthday, things became more ugent. He was frustrated and was beginning to act out. I was quickly learning how traumatic and isolating it is when your child goes into full meltdown mode. I knew that he was different, and I needed to figure out why.

    I contacted a speech therapist, who conducted an assessment with James. She was professional and kind, and was intrigued by him, but told me that he was almost impossible to assess due to his dramatic speech delay. She couldn’t complete her tasks because he was unfocussed on the assessment and was instead singularly obsessed with a single thing—dragons. Regardless of how she tried to prompt or stimulate him, he would always return to the dragons. She agreed to take him on as a patient, but also recommended that he see a specialist to uncover the cause of his delay. 

    The First of Many Diagnoses

    The first developmental pediatrician I took James to was dumbfounded. He was a whirling dervish—jumping over all the furniture and all but climbing the walls and swinging from the light fixtures. I remember her words, voiced with a mix of compassion, empathy, and pity, “This is tough parenting.” I just hung my head in my hands and sobbed. It was the first time someone had verbalized that what I was experiencing was not the norm. 

    The reason I was struggling was because my situation with James was hard, not because I was a bad mom. It seemed so much easier for so many other moms because it was—and why they went about planning their second or third baby happily, knowing it would be challenging, but manageable. Meanwhile, James was diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Risperidone to calm him, aid his focus, and help him sleep. Thankfully, it did the trick where his sleep was concerned; for the first time since his birth, we both got more than two hours of sleep in a stretch.

    The Emerging Genius

    As a mom, I recognized that James was exceptionally bright despite his hurdles. And his preschool teachers saw this too. They embraced his quirks and allowed him some space to be himself. His imagination was off the charts. He would remove himself from his peers, choosing to get lost in his fantasy world. But his pre-reading skills and early numeracy were not developing, and this added to my sleepless nights. While he enjoyed school and was happy, he struggled to communicate. Despite his basic vocabulary remaining limited, his vocabulary for advanced words grew immensely. While his foundational struggles were obvious, it was also beginning to become clear that he had a uniquely talented brain.

    At the age of six, James started school formally, and our life descended into chaos. He was like a fish out of water and his anxiety levels shot through the roof. I had to literally drag him to school kicking and screaming, and in the afternoons he would physically attack me on the drive home, biting me and ripping out my hair. Trips to the grocery store often involved a lot of awkward gawking from strangers, who were keen to share advice on how I should discipline my child. Parents would whisper on the school grounds and birthday invitations would be handed out discreetly to avoid having to deal with this unruly creature and his incapable mother.

    James would become a T-Rex with short arms because ‘You can’t write with short arms.’

    James would disappear from class, sending teachers on a frantic search. Ironically, he was usually found in the school library, as books had a calming effect for him. Finally, his teacher referred us to an educational psychologist, who advised that we place him in a remedial school.

    Not long after, I was called in again to a panel of serious faces that told me that my child was unteachable. He could not sit still and did not want to conform. He kept slipping into his fantasy realm, where he could be anything. This realm had no judgment, and he was king. If he wanted, he could be a bee in a tree. Or he would become a T-Rex, with short arms, because, “You can’t write with short arms.” This was the perfect avoidance tactic for him. The other kids just thought he was weird. 

    His teachers acknowledged his exceptional intelligence, though. To them, it appeared that he was learning to read. But I quickly realized that he had just memorized the pages from what he heard in class and faked it to avoid appearing stupid. 

    James’ anxiety was reaching critical levels. I had to retrieve him from school because he was throwing desks and chairs around his classroom, caught in the grips of an earth-shattering meltdown. His school behavior was mirrored at home, and our own family even started to avoid us. He was uninvited from my sister’s wedding, in case he “destroyed” their day. He wasn’t allowed to attend his cousin’s birthday celebrations. 

    Unsurprisingly, I was spiraling too. I felt so helpless. I loved this little boy with all my heart and seeing him rejected by the world over and over was breaking my heart. And then came the day I sat across from his educators and principal and heard what I had feared: they no longer felt that they could cater to his needs. I needed to consider alternate schooling.

    Diagnosis After Diagnosis

    This entire time, I was tenaciously searching for answers. Eventually I learned more about what was then known as Asperger Syndrome and high functioning autism. I was able to get the school to refer us to a child psychiatrist who confirmed my suspicions and gave James an official diagnosis. I felt empowered; not because he had been assigned a label and not because I had an excuse for the challenges that he had, but because I now knew what I was dealing with. I could educate myself to support and understand him, and I could educate others so they were not so quick to make assumptions and write James off as a badly behaved child.

    As the search began for our next academic option, I moved James to a special school for kids with autism. Here he had a phenomenal young male teacher who recognized his intellect and incredible mind. James adored him and his emotional healing began through their bond. But reading progress was still stuck, and at eight years old, he could only recognize his name. 

    He could rattle off details about the Russian Revolution and dictate constitutions for me to write down, inventing countries that could run off the best parts of capitalism, socialism, and communism. He was eight!

    Ultimately, yet another new label was added—Dyslexia! I felt so defeated and overwhelmed. How would I ever find the right school for James? Our education system struggles to find a place for a child who reads below first grade but needs the intellectual stimulation offered by college-level courses. I was so grateful for technology because I could at least feed Jame’s intellectual needs with audiobooks and documentaries. He was a sponge who rattled off details about the Russian Revolution and dictated constitutions for me to write down, inventing countries that could run off the best parts of capitalism, socialism, and communism. He was eight!

    Discovering My Son’s Gifts

    Around this time, I accepted a teaching position at Radford House School. Radford House is the only official school for gifted children in my country, and I was simultaneously excited and terrified. What on Earth could I possibly teach these children? I shared more on my experiences teaching gifted children at Radford House in a prior blog entry

    Not all geniuses can read at age three and write like Neil Gaiman.

    I very quickly learned that my instincts about James were spot on. So many of the children in my care shared his quirks and way of thinking. It was also the first time I learned what 2e was; not all geniuses can read at age three and write like Neil Gaiman. I ended up thriving in my new role. The empathy I brought to the table, fostered by my personal experience, helped me form deep bonds with my students and their families. 

    The parents gained immense comfort knowing that the teacher saw things from a parent’s perspective and that I didn’t sweat the small stuff. I understood that trouble with spelling, lousy handwriting, and difficulty understanding new math concepts did not take anything away from their exceptional talents. I knew that If you wanted to see their giftedness in action, have a debate with them, extract their opinions, or have them tell stories. That is how you could get these kids to shine.

    Due to circumstances with Jame’s education , Radford House wasn’t the place for him just yet. But it certainly changed our trajectory. I became close to a mom who ran a reading center and I asked her if she could help me get to the bottom of James’ reading struggles. She could tell that his issues were beyond the scope of her programs, but she had been researching The Davis Dyslexia Correction Program. As luck would have it, a four-day training workshop was coming up in Cape Town, and suggested that we go together. 

    This turned out to be a life-changing event because I was able to get James ten days of one-on-one training with the country’s lead dyslexia facilitator. It was not cheap, and it took every resource we had available to make it happen. There were a lot of skeptics who thought I was foolish to spend that much money, but I felt that it was the right thing to do—and sometimes, you have to trust the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t another oncoming train.

    By this time, James was almost 11. He had come a long way and his challenges weren’t always immediately obvious to people meeting him. This ability to partially blend in is why 2e kids are so often misunderstood. James seemed like a regular kid who talked way too much, was prone to overreacting, and needed his mother to teach him some damn manners. He was also curiously obsessed with DNA, said the most embarrassing things at most inappropriate times, and seemed to have a factual answer for everything.

    The facilitator had his work cut out for him. He admitted that James was one of his most challenging students—essentially completely illiterate and autistic, albeit high functioning. Fortunately, the Davis Program catered for autistic learners as much as it did for dyslexic ones. The marriage of the two approaches completely changed James’ life. It took two draining days and endless negotiations to get James to actively participate. On day three, the facilitator won James over and they began working through the program in earnest. 

    The Impact of an Educational Shift

    In no time at all, James could recognize and name the letters of the alphabet. And he was excited about making attempts to read words in his environment. But the most significant shift came with how he managed his autism traits. He became more aware of the consequences of his actions and could self-regulate more effectively. Autism doesn’t go away, and I wouldn’t want it to. It is a part of what makes my child unique and goes hand in hand with his gifted mind. But the life skills he’s gained and is working towards developing further have knocked down massive obstacles to his future.

    I had no unrealistic expectations. James has one of the most severe cases of dyslexia there is. So, I didn’t expect him to suddenly start reading novels and acting like other kids around him. But we had made enough progress that he could finally enter the school system shortly before turning 12. 

    James was accepted to a small support school. They placed him in what they called “the skills class,” which was designed for children who couldn’t manage academic work but would still be educated on the broader aspects of life. It was a start, and I continued to meet with them to see how we could make the most of James’ potential. 

    Another stroke of good luck came when one of the teachers at his new school was a former Radford House teacher, and she recognized that James was 2e. Her own class was designed to be transitional —for kids who were capable of more than those in the skills class, but not the academic level of the general population. She helped me approach the school with a plan. She agreed to take James on for 18 months and bridge him between the skills class and the general studies classes. This would have him ready just in time for high school. He would also receive formal accommodations, like allowing a scribe to help him with written tests. 

    Thanks to his teacher’s continuous encouragement and commitment to challenge him, and James’ own determination, guess what happened? My boy did it! He most recovered six years of school in the space of only 18 months. He was able to cope in a classroom with other kids, and was no longer running away screaming. The frequency of his meltdowns diminished considerably and primarily occurred at home after a particularly taxing day. I never thought it would be possible, but my boy was going to high school.

    I owe so much to that school and his incredible teacher. James thrived and grew so rapidly that I was soon attending swimming galas and public speaking competitions where he was not just competing, he was winning. We celebrated every success, no matter how big or small, because we knew the road we had traveled to get there. I heard parents complaining that their child got a B-, but James and I had celebratory milkshakes for his C. He fought damn hard for that C.

    A Different Kind of Principal Visit

    Last year, just after he turned 17, I was called in again. PTSD led me to expect the worst. But no: this was a meeting unlike any other. Because of his late start, James is a few years older than his peers. He is in the 10th grade. The nature of his school meant that they limited the subjects that they offered up to 12th grade, focusing on fewer academic areas that still met the minimum requirements.

    The school could no longer accommodate him because he had surpassed anything they could offer him

    This meeting was called to tell me they could no longer accommodate his needs, but for a reason unlike I had ever heard as the mom on the other side of the principal’s desk. They could no longer accommodate him because he had surpassed anything they could offer him. They would be doing him a disservice, limiting his potential and future options, and felt he needed to move to an environment that could challenge him more and offer him subjects like science, engineering, and business studies through to graduation. 

    The new school James was referred to was designed for children like my incredible son: bright, capable, often gifted kids who face challenges such as learning disabilities, or who just don’t fit into the neat box that the world seems to have decided they must. He still has the support of a reader and a scribe, but eight months in, he has embraced his new environment and is achieving top honors.

    On top of this, my son is an exceptional human being. He has principles; he is justice driven; he still hugs his mom many times a day. My son has a kind, compassionate heart and makes an impact wherever he goes. It is a privilege to be his mother, and I will walk this road a thousand times over if it means I get to hold his hand while doing it. My son will change the world for the better, and in some ways he has done so already.

    About the Author

    Nicola is mom to James, a 2E 18-year-old, and she lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. Nicola is a writer who is focused on supporting parents and teachers of children who are “different” according to commonly-held views. Before starting her career as a writer, she specialized in gifted education and taught at Radford House School, a school for gifted children.

    Some experts call it the double-minority effect—when a learner who is neurodivergent also identifies as gay, transexual, nobinary or anywhere along the spectrum. My family of six identifies as a two-mom, interracial, neurodivergent family, so we have several minority impacts covered. I feel passionately that diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) is imperative to our society, both personally and professionally. My family has also unfortunately experienced the consequences that arise when communities fail to follow DEI’s guiding principles. Recently one of my neurodivergent children started to question their gender identity. To do my part to help prevent my past undesirable experiences from being visited upon my child and others, I decided to join a transyouth ally support group (note: I found a group local to GA to join for my child). Within minutes of the support group meeting, the majority (if not all) of the members of the group expressed the struggles they face as neurodivergent youth in the LGBTQIA+ community, instantly crystallizing the concept of double minority for me. All of the sudden, so much of my world started making a little more sense. I was struck with the fascinating realization that I later confirmed through research: a significant number of my LGBTQIA+ friends and family were also neurodivergent. I knew this couldn’t just be a coincidence! The more I searched, the more I knew I had to to share my findings with others to help raise awareness about the overlap that exists between the LGBTQIA+ and neurodivergent communities.

    Starting with Why it Matters

    If you’re not very familiar with one or both of the groups mentioned in this article—the neurodivergent population or the LGBTQIA+ community—you’d be forgiven for asking if their overlapping is such a big deal. It is. Everyone wants to feel seen, heard, and understood by members of their community, and these individuals are no different. As with most people who do not fit neatly into the box of what is considered “normal,” neurodivergent and LGBTQIA+ individuals are often bullied, shunned, treated as outcasts, or are otherwise looked down upon as not equal to those around them.

    In a recent article published by the University of Cambridge, Elizabeth Weir, a PhD candidate at the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, and the lead researcher of their study, said, “Understanding the intersectional identities of autistic individuals who are asexual, bisexual, homosexual, or ‘other’ sexuality is key. It is particularly important that healthcare providers and educators use language that is affirming and accepting of all sexual orientations and gender identities when providing sexual education and sexual health screening checks to autistic and non-autistic people alike.”

    The growing identification of neurodivergent people in the LGBTQ+ community make it an important topic for our society to explore. Because of the stigmas society burdens them with, LGBTQ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. We can (and must) do better to uplift those who are marginalized in their own communities, and awareness is the first step towards heightened inclusivity and widespread support. 

    Emerging Statistics Show a Relationship

    Research into neurodiversity in the LGBTQIA+ community has increased quite significantly in the last few years and has presented us with rather eye-opening findings. The study referenced above from the University of Cambridge also found that, “autistic adults and adolescents are approximately eight times more likely to identify as asexual and ‘other’ sexuality than their non-autistic peers. And there were sex differences in sexual orientation: autistic males are 3.5 times more likely to identify as bisexual than non-autistic males, whereas autistic females are three times more likely to identify as homosexual than non-autistic females. When comparing autistic females and males directly, autistic females were more likely to be sexually active; more likely to identify as asexual, bisexual, and ‘other’ sexuality; and were less likely to identify as heterosexual.”

    Other recent research supports the idea that autistic people are more likely to identify as LGBTQ. As reported by SPARK: Simons Foundation Powering Autism Research for Knowledge, “Most of the data that we’re seeing is that [the LGBTQ rate] is two to three times higher,’ says clinical psychologist Eileen T. Crehan, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Tufts University. But larger studies need to be done before the true rate is known, she says.” They go on to present a Dutch study which found 43% of autistic women reported being homosexual compared to 18% of autistic men. Additionally, women were more likely to be attracted to both sexes, and also to neither sex. Research suggests that people who have an autism diagnosis or autism traits are two to three times more likely to be transgender than the general population. Also, a larger percentage of autistic people reported their gender as being more fluid (being something other than strictly male or female) compared to non-autistic individuals.

    In her article The Double Minority Effect: The Struggles of Identifying as Autistic and LGBTQIA+, developmental and clinical psychologist Dr. Tasha Oswald found that, “Among individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), an estimated 42–69% identify as same-sex attracted or a sexual minority. 15-35% of individuals with ASD who are labeled as “high-functioning” reported a sexual minority identity. Women with autism are more likely to be in a same-sex relationship than women with TD, and all participants with ASD reported more same-sex attraction, more varied sexual identities, and more asexuality.”

    This phenomenon exists for others with brain variations, too. While additional research is needed, there is some support to suggest individuals with ADHD may be more likely to question their gender. Psychentral.com shared a 2014 study on gender variance indicating that people with ADHD were 6.64 times more likely to express gender variance, which can cause them to question their gender identity or experience gender dysmorphia.

    So, Why Does this Overlap Exist?

    Upon fully immersing myself in the research, I returned to my original hypothesis, which turned out to be accurate—neuroscience, societal constructs, and general norms play vital roles in explaining the undeniable connection between neurodiversity and the LGBTQIA+ population. But why? 

    One possible explanation could be a lack of concern for traditional established societal strictures. The National LGBTQIA Health Education Center released an ebook exploring this question. “Evidence suggests that neurodiverse people, particularly those on the autism spectrum, are more likely to be gender diverse and have a lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or asexual sexual orientation, compared to neurotypical people. The reasons why are not well understood. One possibility is that neurodiverse people tend to be less aware of, or less susceptible to, societal pressures and gender norms; therefore, they can express their gender identity or sexual orientation without concerns of being judged or fitting into certain roles.”

    Outleadership.com explores this relationship further, reflecting on the potential explanations for the strong correlation between neurodiversity and LGBTQIA identifiers, “Lydia X. Z. Brown, a disabled and queer policy advocate, attorney, and expert, highlighted that gender identities which differ from biological sex (non-cisgender identities) appear to be more common among neurodivergent people and laid out possible reasons. On explanation is that if you are positioned to question “norms” than you are automatically more willing to embrace a non-conforming gender identity. Similarly, an international study published in 2018 this year revealed that nearly 70 percent of autistic respondents identify as non-heterosexual—more than double the rate in the general population.” So, in other words, the pressures I have felt all my life to fit into a cis-heteronormative life might not exist as prominently for individuals on the autism spectrum. Which, if you think about it, says a lot more about our society than it does about autstic individuals. 

    Where Do We Go From Here? 

    Finding a safe, supportive community where you can be your authentic self is vitally important for life happiness and health. Many support groups and personalized support services exist for LGBTQIA+ individuals, both online in person—though some local cohorts are not as inclusive as one would hope. We’ve listed some great organizations below . They can provide support in locating a community that bolsters those in your life facing the double minority challenge. If you would like to get involved as an ally, but do not know where to turn, joining one of the ally-oriented support groups (just Google “LGBT” + your city name) like I did for my own neurodivergent, LGBTQIA+ child and attending local events can be a great place to start. June presents a perfect opportunity to participate in pride events and to learn more about the resources that are available in your community, but pride events sometimes vary regionally so be sure to check your local calendar. Whatever path you choose, please know that you have the right to find your people and you deserve to be yourself—neurodivergent, LGBTQIA+, neither, or some other permutation. We are a long way from universal acceptance, but I believe small steps will lead to more understanding,love, and kindness for all. 

    Additional Resources

    As an educator, I’ve always gravitated toward teaching through play, whether it be games, role play, or just having fun during lessons. Going back to the first child I taught, I’ve always tried to make my teaching interactive. The child was learning to read, and we pretended a yoga mat was the boat from our story. We acted out every chapter, sailing across an imaginary sea. 

    I’ve taught multiplication through the use of Uno cards. I’ve written letters and numbers on balloons to make the abstract feel more tangible. I’ve used everything from memory games to board games to enhance lessons and better connect with learners. 

    If I’m being honest, I did it for myself as much as for my students: doing my lessons this way kept everyone engaged and made learning fun. I’ve always implicitly felt that a learner who isn’t engaged wouldn’t retain information or build a strong connection to their learning. 

    As my career advanced, I began to realize that this wasn’t just a hunch. The connection between learner engagement and learning outcomes became more and more clear. Play-based learning emerged rapidly as an innovative educational approach to support this methodology. But I didn’t realize just how widespread this approach has become until we traveled to LEGO’s headquarters in May 2022. Learnfully’s co-founder and CEO, Letha McLaren, and I traveled to Denmark for the LEGO Foundation’s “Play for All” accelerator program. The accelerator program provides equity-free funding and fixed-term mentorship programs for social enterprises, ventures, and organizations who wish to support autistic children and children with ADHD through play-based learning. It immediately reassured and energized me to see just how invested companies are in a play-based approach to learning. 

    During our time at the LEGO Foundation campus, we heard from experts and collaborated with other entrepreneurs. The many sessions, workshops, and keynotes we participated in were an unending source of rejuvenation and inspiration. It was great to work alongside our entrepreneur peers and converse with experts in the field. Especially when considering the last two-plus years of the pandemic, when it’s been too easy to feel isolated and lonely. The time we spent together with other entrepreneurs helped the Learnfully team realize how many people share our worldview—particularly in that we need to reframe our thinking when it comes to learning diagnoses and putting learners in certain boxes, like “neurotypical” vs “neurodiverse.” We all shared a collective vision: that the conversation around neurodiversity needs to change. And that the impact of play should be front-and-center in this conversation. We all  have different ideas on how to  achieve this goal, but it aligns us under a common guiding North Star principle. 

    Learnfully brought a  distinct focus to the program around the area of executive functioning (EF). We’ve always known that EF is the key foundational basis for any type of learning—it’s the gatekeeper to all of learning. If a child is unable to regulate their emotions, manage their time, understand their peers, etc.,  then it simply doesn’t matter what the curriculum is—it won’t be effective.

    So how does a learner build executive functioning? Play has been scientifically proven to enhance EF in young learners. Our time at LEGO demonstrated to us that EF is finally getting a place at the table: educators, caregivers, and companies are all waking up to the long-term developmental importance of EF.. Learnfully has long been a proponent of the benefits of EF, offering classes and multisensory instruction for learners, and professional development for educators, focusing on developing EF skills. We predict that the significant impact executive function has on a person’s life will continue to gain traction and prominence in the neurodivergent community and the larger education system.  

    Getting the chance to spend several days in Demark alongside other like-minded companies and individuals was an eye-opening experience I’ll be drawing on for many years. I’ve always felt that play is the most effective way children and their educators can connect, and my time at LEGO helped confirm it as the lynchpin for everything important to the learning process—from instruction and  engagement, to skill development and retention.Mr. Rogers once said: “Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.” Thanks to our trip to Denmark, we confirmed it does this and much, much more. 

    Summer reading is imperative to maintaining learner momentum. Without it, your child could easily lose progress they gained last school year and enter the classroom feeling less successful and confident overall. As a parent of four little learners myself, I constantly struggle to inspire our children to read consistently throughout the summer. So, in order to make summer reading as fun, engaging, meaningful and rewarding as possible, a few of our Educational Specialists have compiled a list of Learnfully’s favorite titles to make your lives easier as parents and to ignite joy in your whole family!

    Looking for an independent bookstore to secure your copy of a summer reading title? Take a look at this list of some of the best 18 independent book sellers across the U.S.

    See a list of our favorite elementary school titles here.

    Suggested Summer Reading List: Middle

    Genre/Text Type
    5-7Free LunchOgle, RexNonfiction, Memoir2019Rex Ogle tells his own story of growing up poor in a wealthy neighborhood and the complexities of navigating the 6th grade in this honest, and at times heartwrenching, exploration of povery and class in America.Coming of Age
    5+One Crazy Summer (series) Williamson-Garcia, RitaFiction2010In One Crazy Summer, eleven-year-old Delphine is like a mother to her two younger sisters, Vonetta and Fern. She’s had to be, ever since their mother, Cecile, left them seven years ago for a radical new life in California. But when the sisters arrive from Brooklyn to spend the summer with their mother, Cecile is nothing like they imagined.History, Civil Rights, Coming of Age
    6-7Sheets: Volume 1Thummler, BrennaFiction, Graphic Novel2018Marjorie Glatt feels invisible. At thirteen she is in charge of the family laundromat and has to find a way to balance her responsibilities at home and school. Wendell, on the other hand, is actually invisible – because he is a ghost who can only be seen while wearing a sheet. Sheets tells the story of how this unlikely duo are united by laundry and a desire to be seen.Identity, Friendship
    6-8The Radium Girls: Young Readers’ Edition: The Scary But True Story of the Poison That Made People Glow in the DarkMoore, KateNonfiction2020The true story of hundreds of young women whose work painting watch dials with radium paint led to a serious and mysterious illness and put them at the center of a deadly corporate coverup. History, Fascinating People
    6-8Hidden Figures Young Readers’ EditionShetterly, Margot LeeNonfiction2016Hidden Figures tells the story of how a team of black female mathematicians known as “human computers” allowed humankind to reach space. This is a revised edition of Margot Lee Shettery’s New York Times’ bestselling book that inspired the award-winning film by the same title. STEM, Space, Civil Rights, Fascinating People
    6-8It’s Trevor Noah: Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood (Adapted for Young Readers)Noah, TrevorNonfiction, Memoir2020This revised edition of Noah’s acclaimed memoir explores what life was like to grow up as a bi-racial child in apartheid South Africa.Fascinating People Human Rights
    6-8Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost ChildhoodPaulsen, GaryNonfiction, Memoir2021Gary Paulsen, who is probably most famous for his novel Hatchet, describes his tumultuous upbringing and how a few key moments, choices, and people helped shape the person he would ultimately become.Social Emotional Development, Fascinating People
    6-8The One Thing You’d SavePark, Linda SueNonfiction, Poetry Anthology2021Linda Sue Park captures the different responses middle school students give when asked the question If your house was on fire, what one thing would you save? Social Emotional Development
    6-8In the Footsteps of Crazy HorseMarshall, JosephFiction2015Jimmy McClean is a member of the Lakota tribe. Over summer vacation, Jimmy’s grandfather, Nyles High Eagle, tells him the story of the heroic deeds of one of the greatest Lakota heroes, Crazy Horse. Family, Cultural Connections, Fascinating People
    6-8Out of My MindDraper, Sharon M.Fiction2012Eleven-year-old Melody has a photographic memory, which means she can remember everything she has ever experienced. She is easily the smartest kid in her school, but no one knows. In addition to her remarkable memory, Melody also has cerebal palsey. Unable to walk, talk, or write, Melody struggles to find a way to show everyone who she really is and what she is capable of.Social Emotional Development
    6-8Planet Middle SchoolGrimes, NikkiFiction, Poetry2018Joylin Johnson’s life was going great…until it wasn’t. Middle school has thrown her whole life upside down and she now has to figure out how to navigate changing friendships, romantic relationships, and an evolving sense of self.Identity, Friendship
    6-8Charlie Hernandez & The League of Shadows: Volume 1Calejo, RyanFiction, Fantasy2019Charlie’s abuela has been sharing the traditions, myths, and art of Latin America with him since he was in diapers. Although he dismissed many of these myths and legends as just fantasy, Charlie begins to experience some strange and sometimes eerie phenomena that cannot be explained – except by the lengends he now fears may actually be true.Cultural Connections, Family, Adventure
    6-8The Witch Boy TrilogyOstertag, Molly KnoxFiction, Graphic Novel, Fantasy2017In thirteen-year-old Aster’s family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn’t shifted . . . and he’s still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be.Family, Identity, Adventure
    6-8ChunkyMercado, YehudiFiction, Graphic Novel2021Hudi, with the help of his imaginary friend and mascot, Chunky, struggles with self-acceptance and staying true to yourself when those around you want you to change.Friendship, Social Emotional Development, Identity
    6-8Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending DoomVivat, BookiFiction, Graphic Novel2016An honest, funny, and charming look at what it means to be yourself when you don’t know who you are.Social Emotional Development, Identity
    6-8Pie in the SkyLai, RemyFiction, Graphic Novel2019Jingwen has moved to a new country and started at a new school. Because he doesn’t speak English, Jingwen struggles to make connections and form new friendships, so he turns to his younger brother, Yanghao, for companionship. To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. Family, Cultural Connections
    6+A Really Short History of Nearly EverythingBryson, BillNonfiction2009Beloved storyteller Bill Bryson tackles everything from the smallest atoms to the rise of civilizations in this approachable and entertaining exploration of (nearly) everything.History, Science
    6+Girls Solve Everything: Stories of Women Entrepreneurs Building a Better WorldThimmesh, CatherineNonfiction2022An exploration of how solving big problems begins with asking the right questions.History, Fascinating People
    6+Brown Girl DreamingWoodson, JacquelineNonfiction, Memoir2014Growing up, Jacqueline Woodson split her time between South Carolina in New York in the 1960s and 70s. Although she struggled with reading as a child, Woodson finds her voice through storytelling and poetry.History, Civil Rights, Coming of Age
    6+I Am MalalaYousafzai, MalalaNonfiction, Memoir2015When the Taliban took control of the Swat Valley in Pakistan they prohibited girls like Malala from attending school. Determined to receive the education she deserved, Malala’s defiance made her a target and she was shot at point-blank range while riding on the schoolbus. Her miraculous recovery and activism have earned her global recognition and accolades, including a Nobel Peace Prize.Fascinating People, Human Rights
    6+Murder is Bad MannersStevens, RobinFiction, Mystery2016Daisy, a self-described Sherlock Holmes, parters with best friend Hazel to form their own secret detective agency. The problem? There is nothing to investigate…until Hazel stumbles upon a murder.Friendship
    7-8How We Got to the Moon: The People, Technology, and Daring Feats of Science Behind Humanity’s Greatest AdventureRocco, JohnNonfiction2022An illustrated guide to the people and technologies that paved the way for Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon.STEM, Space
    7+A Perfectionist’s Guide to Not Being PerfectZucker, BonnieNonfiction, Psychology2022This book is designed to help encourage teens to strive for greatness without perfection and understand the importance of letting go of all-or-nothing thinking.Social Emotional Development
    7+Jurassic ParkCrichton, MichaelScience Fiction1990One of the most famous modern science fiction stories, Jurassic Park remains one of the most well-known science fiction-thrillers.STEM, Adventure
    7+The Boys Who Challenged HitlerHoose, Philip M.Historical Fiction2015Ashamed of his nation’s leaders, fifteen-year-old Knud leads a team of teens to take action against the Nazis.History, Human Rights
    7+Outrun the MoonLee, StaceyHistorical Fiction2017Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1906, Outrun the Moon tells the story of fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong as she tries to heal a community suffering from the aftermath of California’s most notorious earthquake.Cultural Connections, Family, Friendships
    7+A Thousand Steps Into NightChee, TraciFiction, Fantasy2022When Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life.Adventure, Cultural Connections
    7+The Theft of SunlightKhanani, IntisarFiction, Fantasy2021Children have been disappearing from across Menaiya for longer than Amraeya ni Ansarim can remember. When her friend’s sister is snatched, Rae knows she can’t look away any longer–even if that means seeking answers from the royal court, where her country upbringing and clubfoot will only invite ridicule.Identity, Adventure, Cultural Connections
    8+Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAlire Sáenz, BenjaminFiction2014Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship–the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. Identity, Friendship
    8+Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled TeensNijkamp, MariekeFiction, Anthology2018This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken offers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future.Relationships, Family, Social Emotional Development
    8+FlygirlSmith, Sherri L.Historical Fiction2010Ida Mae Jones dreams of flying, but as a young black woman in Louisiana in the 1940s, she knows the sky is off-limits. However, circumstances change when the United States enters World War II and creates the WASP – Women Airforce Service Pilots. However, Ida will have to “pass” as white to join, leaving her torn between her desire to fulfill her dream and staying true to who she is.Family, Cultural Connections
    8+Gods of Jade and ShadowMoreno-Garcia, SilviaFiction, Fantasy2020Inspired by Mexican mythology and the Jazz Age, Gods of Jade and Shadow is a modernist fantasy about a young woman who comes of age in a world of music, myth, and the battle between good and evil.Cultural Connections, Family, Adventure
    8+The Language of SpellsWeyr, GarretFiction, Fantasy2018Grisha, a dragon, and Maggie, an unusual child, are an unlikely duo. Together they are determined to solve one of the darkest mysteries of Vienna: What happened to all the dragons?Friendship, Adventure
    8+BoneSmith, JeffFiction, Graphic Novel Anthology1991-2004This epic adventure features the Bone cousins: Fone Bone, Phoney Bone, and Smiley Bone. When these three misfits are chased out of Boneville they find themselves on a journey through deserts and forests inhabited by creatures both wonderful and terrifying.Adventure