Diane McLean: Raising an ADHD child with ADHD yourself - the funny, difficult, and vivid journey.
Diane is an executive function coach that works with children who struggle with ADHD to develop executive functioning skills. She brings over 25 years of experience in the field of education to her coaching, previously working as a teacher and school counselor.
Today, Dwellingright founder, Miriam Rapaport-Hindin, sat down with ADHD coach Diane McLean to chat about the journey of having a child with ADHD and having ADHD herself!
Everyone with ADHD must offload their working memory onto something else. We need an external hard drive and we can't count on keeping it up here. Dwellingright is an app that helps you do that.
Trust yourself and trust your gut if you think something is going on. Trust that your struggles are very real.
Interested in reading more? Let's get into the interview below 👏🏽
Miriam: Hey Diane, I’m so glad to have you on today and really looking forward to our conversation. I will hit it off with our very first question, which can you share with us what you do professionally?
Diane: I’m an executive function coach and an ADHD coach. I’m also a coach trainer and an instructor for the Aid Coach Academy, and then I also mentor coaches. So I work with other coaches to help them with their certification and their coaching practices, and helping them go help more people.
Miriam: Amazing what drew you to this?
Diane: Yeah. Well, it's interesting because it's like my whole life kind of all came together when I became a coach.
I grew up doing really well in school. I got married, had kids, and my first child was like a clone of me. She was super easy. I mean, she wasn't easy, but at least I understood her. My second child, my son was different from the get go.
When he was little, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. When he was 16, he was diagnosed with autism. But he was always misunderstood in school. I mean, he has a heart of gold. But I was always working to help teachers understand him because he couldn't do things as easily as a lot of other kids.
He had a lot of trouble academically. He had emotional issues. He was a sweet kid - not an aggressive bone in his body, but I think he was just always misunderstood. I always knew it was brain wiring, not some character flaw that he had.
For twenty six years, I was in education. So not only was I trying to help my own kids through school, but I was also a high school teacher.
I've taught all different ages. I was a school counselor for the last 15 years. I saw how many kids were misunderstood and those kids that didn't fit the mould were my very favorite kids.
I knew that underneath all these behaviors, you know - the ones the teachers would drag down the hall by the ear and say, do something with them. However, I was like cool with them because underneath there, I knew that there was a great kid.
I felt that when these kids were given more than they could manage, they let you know. It wasn't always in a way that we would expect and I always wanted to know what was underneath all of that.
And what I found out, just like with my son, is that his brain wiring was related to executive functioning skills. Even before that word, a long time ago, I was looking into what it was about my son.
Why couldn't he get to the car and carry three things without dropping something because he only had two hands? His planning was terrible. And we have a saying now, everyone with autism needs a bag.
But it was those executive functions that I really saw were the missing piece in education. Where do you go to planning class? You go to math, you go to reading. Where do you go to time awareness class? Where do you go to self regulation class so that you can keep your energy right where it needs to be, you know? And so that's really why I think I spent this whole career in education.
I raised this kid. He's now thirty, almost thirty one. At the time I couldn't do it any more because of my executive function challenges. So I ended up becoming a coach and I'm just passionate about helping everyone.
Especially those kids that are so misunderstood because they don't deserve that.They deserve to be understood. I think I've got the pieces that can help kids understand themselves. I can also help other people help those kids, like teachers, coaches and parents.
Miriam: So that's really incredible and it sounds so needed. Can you share with us when you were diagnosed with ADHD?
Diane: Yes, because ironically, I became an ADHD coach and was not diagnosed with ADHD. I wasn't diagnosed until I was fifty three. I was diagnosed for most of my life with a little bit of depression.
I had some post-partum depression, but most of my life I was diagnosed with anxiety. But you know, I'm old and back in the late 1960s when I was a little girl in school, they were not diagnosing people with ADHD, let alone little girls who got good grades.
They barely diagnose that now. I did well in school because of my strengths. I loved learning, because it was one of my strengths. I was very curious. I liked school because it was always changing. The worst part was always at the beginning of the year, when you review the beginning of the last year. That would be so boring. I would hate that part. But also, you know, my mom was an educator and she and my parents both provided a really enriching environment.
You know, we were always at the creek hunting tadpoles. But I struggled my whole life getting things done. I joke with my husband now, like, “You know, honey, on my tombstone, would you please write that she finally finished something”. Because I am notorious or infamous for having eight thousand things going at the same time. And my whole life I've been like that.
My parents moved out of my childhood home recently, several years ago, and my mother found a half crocheted bikini that I made in middle school, which is a little frightening on many levels!
But it just goes to show. I would remember doing that because my grandmother taught me to crochet. It was square and I wanted to know, can I make different shapes? And sure enough, I did. And then I was bored.
I would get bored so quickly once I mastered something. So what I found though, is that other things were very hard. For example, making phone calls that I really didn't want to do taxes, paying bills, these boring things, and especially if there was something somewhat stressful about it.
It's like I would just run into a wall. I know my husband was like, just pick up the phone. What is so hard about that? So what I found in those first fifty three years is that I pushed through dread.
I would just do it. And that's why I had a lot of anxiety. That anxiety also motivated me to push through the dread because I didn't want the bills to be late. They couldn't be late. I mean, I was really driven by that.
Then it just really got to the point where I was so anxious that I really couldn't function anymore, and I went to my family doctor.
He said, well, you weren't diagnosed with ADHD as a child. You didn't have it as a child. So you can't have it now. So he started looking for, you know, early onset dementia and things like that, because I was having not only significant anxiety, but my memory, it was so scary, I could be driving and realized I didn't know where I was in my own city.
I would go to the grocery store and be so proud of myself because I bought coffee. I remembered the coffee. I would get home and find that I had bought coffee and would have zero recollection of even being at the store buying coffee.
So it was very scary. My doctor was saying it wasn't ADHD and, so I did everything I could to get rid of my anxiety. I quit my job as a school counselor.
School was so stressful, I would see these kids who couldn't get what they needed and I knew how to help them. But the system wasn't set up in a way where I could really be effective as a school counselor.
And so it just reminded me… it was almost like PTSD of when my son wasn't getting what he needed. And so my anxiety was through the roof. I was having panic attacks at school.
I ended up getting a service dog to help alert me to panic attacks. And finally I quit my job. I started my coaching practice, which was difficult, but it wasn't stressful. I loved it. I was so interested in it and I was so passionate about it. And I was getting to be creative and really help people.
And then I would still leave my office unlocked, forgetting to lock the office. One day there was this one week that I really was so frustrated and discouraged, I had left my office unlocked. I hit a curb and lost a hubcap and thought that could have been a kid. And I forgot to send out my invoices because, you know, I didn't have a school district sending me a paycheck anymore.
I had to do stuff that I hated doing. And I'm like, this is not anxiety. I've totally rearranged my life and this is not anxiety. So I ended up going to my son's psychiatrist, who I'd known for a long time, and he listened to me. He'd probably been listening to me all these years bringing my son in. And he's like, you know, classic ADHD. And what I learned is that my anxiety was my stimulant all those years.
And when I got rid of the stimulant, the anxiety, I could no longer focus and get things done. Or it was a much more challenging life. Those kinds of things got way harder after my anxiety went down and I left school. So I know that's kind of a long answer, but I feel like that it took me a long time to figure it out. It was hard, it wasn't an easy diagnosis. But it was great when I got it.
Miriam: It sounds like you were in a very exemplary way, a very big advocate for yourself. You kept looking for a solution, looking for an answer when something didn't resonate for you. You had this internal knowing, like this is not it. There's something else. So that's just really impressive.
Diane: Oh, yeah, and it was. You know, I can remember just going, thank goodness I don't have early onset dementia.
I kept thinking, I'm just a bad person or I'm just lazy. But I knew I wasn't lazy because I work so hard, but I couldn't for the life of me figure out why it was so hard to do invoices and these mundane tasks. And so when I found out I really had ADHD and and I was able to treat it appropriately. I was so relieved. I stopped crying every time I forgot to send out invoices. At the time I was really down on myself and sad and depressed.
And I think that happens with ADHD. It's like this three legged stool or often people with ADHD are anxious that they're going to drop a ball and they're going to forget something. So the anxiety is always high. Then they mess up and the depression kicks in.
And so that's where I was - only I didn't know I had that third leg of the stool. I didn't know about ADHD. So I was bouncing back and forth between what I thought was anxiety and depression.
Miriam: So you've been sharing with us kind of the emotional journey you've been on. Can you share with us maybe two or three examples of how it changed your life once, once you had a diagnosis?
Diane: You know, that understanding, I think, really, really helped relieve my stress when I was diagnosed. I was just stressed out and depressed all the time, mostly stressed out. I didn't have time to be depressed. I was so overwhelmed. So now that I've been diagnosed and have been able to treat it, I still feel overwhelmed sometimes. It's still there. I'm not going to pretend it's not. Just because I have a diagnosis doesn't mean I do it all well.
But the key difference is, I don't beat myself up. That's the biggest piece of it I think. And I also I'm very grateful for not being diagnosed with ADHD at the time and the hard journey it led me on because it led me to quitting my job. So yeah I kind of have undiagnosed ADHD to thank for that.
Miriam: What words of advice would you have for someone who suspects they may have ADHD, but they're not really sure? What would you tell them?
Diane: Yeah, I would say, first of all, trust yourself. Trust yourself and trust your gut if you think something is going on. Trust that your struggles are very real. Our society has such, especially in the US an emphasis on work ethic and everything.
If for some reason you can't get things done, then you're a slacker. However, if you don't believe that, know that your struggles are very real and that there's just a real explanation. You should find out what it is.
It's just like the kids I believed in. If you have behaviors or actions that you're not happy about, that you're doing, then what's underneath it? There's something because I really believe all people do well when they can.
I believe all people will do well if they can. So if you can't trust yourself then find out why and don't stop if the first doctor tells you no.
What I have learned as a coach is that there is a huge percentage of doctors, therapists, and professionals who actually know very little about ADHD. They're just not current with their knowledge on it. I mean, I thought I knew a lot. I had a master's degree in counseling. I took diagnostic classes. I knew about ADHD. I worked in schools. I didn't learn nearly the amount that I know now until I became a coach. My coach training gave me a lot of knowledge and then of course, working with so many people with ADHD.
I have a client or had a client - he went to his 12th doctor before he got diagnosed because they would say, well, you're over 30, so we can't diagnose you for ADHD or you can't be prescribed this medication because of your age, or you didn't have it as a kid.
This client was a very inattentive ADHD kind of person who didn't stand out as a behavior problem. He wasn't one of those stereotypical little boys bouncing off the walls. He just didn't turn his work in because he didn't think about it.
So don't give up contact with people who, you know, are knowledgeable. If you don't know who those people are, look for them in places that can get good referrals. Like there's, there's a lot of good organizations. Like ADDA: Attention Deficit Disorder Association. I do volunteer work for them. There’s a huge provider directory there.
Miriam: Yeah, absolutely. It's been such a pleasure for me to get to know you through ADDA, through your volunteer work and working with you on a support group where you help people with adult issues.
So I would love to hear your perspective on the work we're doing with Dwellingright.
Diane: You can store it all together. So it's very important you can stay well organized. And I think the biggest thing and Russell Barkley, who's a big researcher in the world of ADHD, I heard him say once that everyone with ADHD must offload their working memory onto something else. We need an external hard drive and we can't count on keeping it up here. And I think the app really, really helps you because I won't think of it all at once.
But like, I can add things as I think of them, and I have a place to put it now so that it's not on some sticky note or, you know, on a calendar that I'm not going to be using three weeks from now. So it's really handy, I think. And that helps with that working memory.
Miriam: How do you think it compares with other tools that are typically used to help with this?
Diane: You know, I have a lot of clients that use a whole lot of things, and I think everybody does have to find what works for them. But I think one of the things that Dwellingright does is not only does it help you really offload everything and keep it all organized, but it also I like that delegation piece. You know, because I get really overwhelmed sometimes when I think about all the things I have to do.
With the app, we can partner better. I think it helps families partner better so that one person isn't doing it all and there's no miscommunication about who did what. That collaborative piece, I think it is really unique and really helps with who's going to, you know, pay the car insurance.
I was just thinking about it even a couple of weeks ago. But I forgot it because my son now is 30. And so even doing it with him as a family member, instead of using it as a delegation and a partnership, kind of who's going to do what kind of thing, it can be a scaffolding tool, I think, for my son. So I can be on there, I can run it and I can put him on there as kind of my partner.
He's always asked me, Mom, how am I going to always know when my vaccinations are, how do I know what my meds are, how do I know these things? What if something happens to you? And not only can I know it's there, but then he can start gradually observing me, taking care of these things, but then I can transition him over. And he has a tool that can really help him. He can use it so that hopefully he will be much more independent at some point.
And I can feel good knowing he knows there's car insurance. And so I, I really, really want to really do that with him. I'm looking forward to it. Diving into that, because I think it will help him, it'll give him a lot more confidence and that's my deal. I care about kids. I mean, it's great for me, but it adds a whole layer of interest for me when I know I can use it to help somebody.
Miriam: That's amazing, and so to wrap with our final question, what is your life purpose now in the work that you're doing with the community and in your coaching practice?
Diane: Well, like my motto is, I believe all kids deserve to be understood. My purpose, I can only help so many kids - like I have a very full coaching practice. The coaching model is so powerful and I can help people make actual step by step incremental changes. It's perfect for people with ADHD, but it's also an adult model. And so my passion, I've adopted it and adapted it and created it and twisted it until now.
I know coaching with kids, but I can only help so many of them. So I'm also very passionate about passing what I know on to other people who help kids. I can see it spreading what I do with my clients. I don't even know how you describe it. I was going to say like coronavirus, but that would be a bad analogy if only I could spread it that fast.
Right. But I can do that through other coaches. So, yes. Yes, I want it to go viral, but in a good way. I want it to be a legacy. That these coaches can go help more kids and train more coaches. So that's my passion. That's my purpose.
Miriam: That's amazing. Wow. Diane, thank you so much for sharing your insights, for sharing your experience. I know that I've learned so much just from hearing about your life and what you've gone through and how you've coped. And I'm I'm sure that our community is going to be really grateful to have this additional perspective, because there are a lot of us out there, you know, diagnosed, not diagnosed, whatever it is, but going through these things, who didn’t know where to turn to or what to even think about it.
Diane: Well, you're welcome and Miriam, I appreciate the work you do with your app with Dwellingright because it's a tool, it's another way you're helping people, too. So thank you.
Miriam: Thanks so much. It's been such a pleasure.
If you're interested in finding out more about Diane's work, you can find her here.
Diane Mclean MEd, PCC, is a certified ADHD and Life Coach and works with children, adolescents and adults in the area of executive functioning skills. Diane brings to coaching over 25 years of experience in the field of education, working as a teacher and school counselor at all grade levels.
In 2006, Diane began integrating therapy dogs into her work in social/emotional learning, self-regulation, and executive functions training. Her current assistance dog, Digby, is a Labrador Retriever and brings fun and excitement to Diane’s work.
This interview was brought to you by Dwellingright, the app that helps you stay one step ahead in life. Download Dwellingright on iOS and Android today.