How to Help Your Child Focus During Virtual Learning
with Richard Brancaccio
This current era in American education is a challenging time for families. Virtual learning is a challenge for many kids, especially for those students with learning challenges and/or ADHD. The home environment is more distracting, often filled with things kids would rather be doing instead of school, not to mention the boredom factor that comes with learning on the computer, at home, alone. In this episode of the Parenting ADHD Podcast, school psychologist and inventor of the Revibe, Richard Brancaccio, offers many tools and strategies to help kids with ADHD participate in remote learning successfully.
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Richard BrancaccioRich spent much of his career working as a school psychologist specializing in autism spectrum disorders, serving on several school district autism evaluation teams. Rich founded Revibe in 2013 to provide tools and technologies that level the playing field for kids with focus and attention challenges to allow them to reach their fullest potential. He is truly passionate about helping children with various difficulties overcome obstacles to attain success. He has personally evaluated hundreds of children with various developmental needs, and provided consultation and insight for over one thousand cases.
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Rich Brancaccio (00:03): Parents and kids to know that giving them a little taste of success and catching them, being good, giving them positive vibes. Those are things that set them up for success, when we can empower kids. One of the things that I like about the approach that we've taken for technology is if you can send a vibration to someone's wrist to the Revibe, they don't have to rely on someone else calling. They feel like 'I'm able to get it myself.' The more things you can do like that to empower kids the better.
Intro (00:36): Welcome to the Parenting ADHD Podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD, straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD-aholic and Mindset Mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your atypical kid. Let's get started.
Penny Williams (01:06): Welcome back to the Parenting ADHD Podcast. I'm thrilled today to be talking to Richard Brancaccio. I hope I said it right, the inventor of the Revibe. And we're going to talk all about focusing during virtual learning, something that is a huge challenge for so many of us, my own family included. Thanks so much for being here, Rich. Do you want to start by introducing yourself? Let everybody know who you are and what you do.
Rich Brancaccio (01:35): Sure, sure. Penny. Thanks. So again, Rich Brancaccio, you did a great job pronouncing the last name. It is not an easy one. I was a psychologist for the school system locally here in the Raleigh area. So was school psych for the largest school system for about 10 years, worked in one or two school systems. I focused a lot on the autism spectrum, but I did a ton of casework on ADHD. And several years ago I just had a challenge with a couple of students that I couldn't solve in terms of redirecting them and helping them to focus. So I came up with an invention, I built it from scratch. And then from there, there was some demand for it. So I built a company around that invention and we're been doing business for over five years now we're on our second product and grown from just a one man band to a couple of people to up to 12 people. So it's been a real adventure.
Penny Williams (02:33): Wow. Yeah. I remember when you were launching it and it was really exciting, so many different things have come along over the years for ADHD and for autism that haven't necessarily stood the test of time. It's really tough to have something that's going to help a large population of people. And it's amazing that the Revibe has done that. And I love that you came a background of working with these kids, you really get it and really understand what those needs are and what is really appropriate in a school environment. And what may not have been, I know that you spent some time making sure that this product was not going to be really obvious to peers and things like that. So I think a lot of kids really appreciate that about it as well.
Rich Brancaccio (03:25): Yeah. It was really interesting to merge those two worlds together when you bring education and psychology together with technology. Because a lot of the things I saw didn't blend the two worlds in harmony, and you had some, some neat ideas out there for diff different ways to help kids. But when you bring them into a school environment, everything is just different. If you've never worked with children or you've never worked in a school with children, anything that can go wrong will go wrong. New problems will surface. Kids will always find a way to poke a hole in whatever you left an opportunity for. So it was really helpful to bring some background as far as, Hey, things can't be noisy in a school doesn't everybody gets distracted or things have to be simple to program because teachers are really busy already. So yeah, it was, it was a fun challenge.
Penny Williams (04:19): Yeah. And let's talk a little bit about it later in the episode. I want to first get to some strategies for parents. We, so many of us are in virtual learning. My own son included who's a senior in high school and he has found it especially hard to focus on school at home. It has just been a really huge challenge and virtual learning is just a struggle for so many in a lot of ways. And it's funny, I see some parents who say this is the best thing ever for my kid. They're so focused, they're getting it done. It's been amazing. And then I see families who say, this is the worst thing ever for my kid. And there seems to be very little in between. And so it's just such a challenge for so many families, but I think even more so when we're talking about ADHD, we already have distractibility and at home, I think there's so many more distractions. This is the place where they have things that they have fun with. This is the place where there's video games and chats with friends and just a lot of other things to distract that aren't in the school environment. So what can parents do?
Rich Brancaccio (05:30): Well, I've, I've noticed the same thing for myself. I'm an adult, who likely has ADHD runs in the family and throughout the whole pandemic, I've been coming to the office. Most of the time I was by myself here. But I just can't work from home because like you said, the home environment from my school psychology perspective is an interesting place, right? One of the reasons that kids with ADHD typically do better in school. I used to hear this a lot and it can be polarizing, but a lot of the times we would hear parents go, really my, my child can sit and do that for that long. Or, when we're at home, we have a really hard time with homework or with projects or with diorama's or whatever it may be. And you'll get sometimes surprised looks from parents who go, 'how do you get them to do that?'
Rich Brancaccio (06:21): That's amazing. And yes, teachers are miracle, miracle workers. Teachers are rock stars and magicians, but by the very design of school, school is built to be very structured. It's built to be regimented and think about the bell system, the bells go off at certain times, even in some elementary schools, they they'll use a bell system. And it's to let kids know what the expectations are from a time perspective, it keeps everybody on track. And when you go home, the goal of your home for most of us, right? It's, it's your Zen place at your place. You can go relax, let your hair down. It's intentionally unstructured. When you merge these two worlds together, that is exactly the challenge that you just described. Whoever's listening to this podcast, It's not just you, it's not just your child. This is most children who struggle with focus are also struggling at home right now.
Rich Brancaccio (07:19): So I think that's really important to identify because a lot of parents right now have a lot of guilt. They have a lot of frustration, a lot of headbutting with their children. I was talking to a group of parents recently, and I pointed something out that you usually spend about 45 hours a week face-to-face with your kids during a non pandemic situation. Meaning the waking hours, Monday through Sunday, with school in session, you get about 40 to 50 hours of good old face-to-face time with your kiddos during COVID you're getting about 90 plus hours a week of FaceTime and too much of a good thing can be challenging. So I think the first thing I wanted to talk to you and your listeners about is it's important to build in some breaks. And that learning from school from home is not the same as learning from home, meaning eight hours doesn't work at all.
Penny Williams (08:13): Yeah, for sure. I think in your description of the school environment, you pointed out something that's really key, I think for learning at home and it's that structure — school is very structured. It's very regimented, as you said, and home is not. And I know that many families have tried to implement some structure at home to help with virtual learning and successfully. I know, I know several families who have done that successfully. If you have a kid that works really well with structure, that should be a helpful strategy.
Rich Brancaccio (08:48): Yes. Yeah. We've heard a lot of good come with that and I'd love to share a couple of ideas about that. Because I think that's really the biggest thing for parents. It's the, what's interesting about parenting a child with ADHD that a lot of parents don't realize is it's a really simple job, but being simple doesn't mean it's easy. It's, it's extremely simple, but extraordinarily difficult. And what I mean by that is there's not a magic formula that goes with this, but the hardest things to do honestly are to remember to be consistent yourself just with your parenting style, mean what you say, say what you mean. We as adults confuse those things all the time. If you don't do this, then this is going to happen. And then inevitably things happen. The doorbell rings ups, man's at the door dogs barking.
Rich Brancaccio (09:53): Your boss is calling you and you don't come through on your promise, whether it was to do something positive, like we're going to go outside for a break and go ride the bike in the driveway or for some kind of a consequence where, Hey, you're going to get five minutes earlier bedtime and never happened. So the hardest thing as an ADHD parent, I think first of all, is just to hold yourself accountable, right? Because neuro-typical kids, I think have a little bit more bandwidth to be able to absorb the bumps in the road that come with just typical parenting. But kids with ADHD really need that structure. So when you, as a parent, because again, parenting is hard. It's especially hard during COVID, but when you have a bump in the road you're trying to do your work, let's say for your job.
Rich Brancaccio (10:36): So you don't get fired. You're working from home trying to help your child focus. When you don't deliver those things that you're supposed to deliver, it makes the whole day and the whole experience of COVID really challenging. So one of the things I want to talk about that I think is so helpful is as you said, penny consistency. So couple of things people can do, if you're, they're not already doing it, set up a visual schedule, it sounds silly. But to have something on the wall for you and your child to look at it as a frame of reference, especially during learn from home, is this just how it goes for a lot of parents? Okay. why are you here right now? You're supposed to be in class. No, I'm on a break. Are you sure? I thought your break was from 11 o'clock to 11:50.
Rich Brancaccio (11:24): No, it's 11:15 to 11:30. Okay. so then the kids don't have a good picture of what they're supposed to be doing. The parents are a little bit confused. If you have more than one child, it gets really crazy, right? Because different schedules start stop times. So put a visual schedule together, put it on the wall in front of your child's work area so that they can look at it, make yourself a copy so that you can look at it. And then there's a couple of other things, but I don't want to just pelt you with facts and information. So let me pause to see if you have any thoughts about that.
Penny Williams (11:59): Yeah. I always recommend to do a visual schedule with your kids because for one thing, it makes it feel more real to them, especially kids who have time blindness, which so many kids with ADHD do. And so just by writing things down, it makes them more concrete. But having that schedule can mean that they go and reference the schedule. Instead of coming to you in the middle of your work meeting and asking you, when are we doing this? When are we doing that? How much longer? Right. And it can be so simple. Like you could just use poster board and some post-its and make a column for each family member and use the post-its for each event and put them up that way and keep taking them down and reuse that poster board that's behind. We don't have to buy these beautiful family calendars and make these amazing family walls that we see on Pinterest.
Penny Williams (13:00): It can be really simple, but it's very meaningful to our kids more than we realize. And it really, again, helps to you work on that time blindness and that sense of time that is often a big struggle, but if they want something and maybe you're working from home during the pandemic, you can teach them to look at the calendar first and see if you're in a meeting, see if you're available or see who is available if you're both working from home. And they can also see when things are coming up and when transitions are coming up, all of these things that they tend to struggle with, we can really work on with that one thing. And a visual schedule doesn't have to be with pictures. I think a lot of people think that we mean that you have to have a photo or a drawing and have it really visual. I think that's helpful for many, many kids to have both text and photos, but you don't have to that's not specifically what we're talking about, but you're also, again, you're teaching planning and organization with that too. I always teach parents to sit down together once a week and look at the coming week and have your kids be part of that planning process so that they can learn some of those skills that are really lagging in with an ADHD brain.
Rich Brancaccio (14:22): Yeah. I, I think that's great. And I love the phrase time blindness because it absolutely absolutely occurs for so many kids and for their parents. There's something I used to hear a lot when I worked in the school system was some parents. And I don't want to give dad's a bad rep, but a lot of the dads that I worked with would often say, I don't think my child has any focusing issues. And the other parent, you, a lot of times the mom would say, well, I think that they do, the teacher thinks that they do. And we would hear people say, well, he or she focuses really, really well and can spend like six hours in meshed and reading about X or Y or working on this project or playing this video game. So the timeline is thinking with, along with hyper-focus can really make things both a blessing and a curse, right? It's a super power if you can harness it the right way.
Penny Williams (15:21): Yeah, yeah. For my son it's now or not now — there's nothing else. It's either I'm going to do this thing or get this thing right now. Or I have no idea when in the universe it's going to happen, which means it's not going to happen. That was a big struggle when he was younger and he still struggles timeline. This is one of the big ones for him. And there's a lot of I'll do it laters right now as a teenager. And I'm always asking, okay, when is later? Let's define when later is because otherwise later just goes on into perpetuity, right? So if you schedule things, it just really helps with so much of that. And I I want to add to, it is hard for parents to find the time and even the energy I have to admit to really implement these schedules.
Penny Williams (16:11): They don't have to be super strict. Some kids really kind of need that really strict structure, but a lot, just more of a guideline sort of structure is enough. And so if it's too much as a parent to try to really every 30 minutes enforcing what's on the schedule and directing this whole thing, especially with more than one kid it can be more of a guideline, but you can also use tools to help with that. Have kids set alarms I work from home. And so if I have to get up every 30 minutes and say, Hey, you're supposed to be on this class, Hey, you're supposed to be on that class, which is kind of the way it's going right now. It's more difficult, right? It's more difficult for me to get things done. And it feels very much like nagging to your child. So all of these things really help to alleviate some of that. When we back off our kids tend to do things more that we want them to do when we kind of take that pressure off. And then by having the structure, we're able to do that and still have things kind of stay on track for the most part.
Rich Brancaccio (17:29): Yeah. I, I agree with that. And I think there's two points that you made that I'd love to drive home even further for people out there listening. One thing that you mentioned that was very apropos is the feeling of, if it's not now, it's never. So something else that, that you can set up in addition to a visual is a reward system, which can help kids who have a really hard time, especially with kids getting started who are, I don't want to sit down with some of the virtual learning that we're seeing is very live and very structured. Other virtual learning in different school districts is very recorded and very self-guided if you will. So you can set up a reward system, but as you said, Penny, it's really good to tie things to some kind of an immediate goal.
Rich Brancaccio (18:20): I've seen way too many parents reward systems, fumble and folly because they they'll say things like at the end of this month, it's September 3rd. So by September 30th, we'll get more ice cream or we'll do later bedtime. It's gotta be almost daily. Something has to be daily for kids with ADHD, where they can look to the end of that day. And then you can build it further by the end of this week, make it cumulative by the end of this month. But they need to have a sense of that they can grasp that reward. And it's not too far away. The other thing that you hit upon was some of the nagging that takes place, right? That's what I was getting at with the you're spending 90 hours with your child. People are going to start to grade on, on one another, whether you're the best parent and best kid in the world or whether it's less than your best performance that day, or that week as a parent or a child, you guys are going to start to get frustrated with each other.
Rich Brancaccio (19:18): So do some things, set yourself up for success. There's a couple of different things you can use. You can use just something simple. Like it's a, child's on a computer. You can set up a Google calendar to pop up on the screen and say reminder, it's time to get back to class or it's time to start your math or whatever. It may be at a certain time. So that takes the weight off of you as a parent. And it puts it onto something else. And kids, sometimes all kids will direct blame or minimize the value of their parent. My mom was a teacher when I was a child. She didn't know anything. If you asked me when I was seven or eight years old, my brother, same thing, no mom, you don't know. And she'd say, no, I'm literally a teacher in the same grade that you're in right now.
Rich Brancaccio (20:02): I do. No. Nope, no you don't. My teacher does it better than mum. I'm sorry. So if you can put the responsibility off of yourself and use technology so you can use Google calendars, you can use, if you have an Apple watch, if you have a revive, we have a system also that sends a reminder to your wrist. So use technology. There's, there's free resources out there that high-tech stuff is everything in between. Use what's out there. The other thing that you hit upon penny, I think so important that I don't want to forget is kind of back to square one. When it comes to learn home, there's a really funny photo. That's somebody emailed me of their child. Somehow they were hanging from their desk at home on their zoom call with their class. And this kid's down attending class, looking like a bat hanging upside down.
Rich Brancaccio (20:52): So the work environment is really, really important. And it goes back to what you said, penny, about the structure that comes into school. Schools are interesting places. They're, they're kind of sparse and they're not super warm and fuzzy compared to home, but that's intentional, right? We want a desk that's plain. There's nothing on it. There's no soft chairs. You can kind of recline back on and get sleepy sorta to put my psychologist hat on. The biggest mistake that I think people make is they'll say I want to make home comfortable for my child. Yeah. If you want to, if you want to do learn from home, you can sit on your bed, bring the computer over to your bed, or you can sit on like our lazy boy chair. In my opinion, it's a really big error to do that because when you are at home your bed and your, your La-Z-Boy they're designed to be comfortable and you start to get sleepy.
Rich Brancaccio (21:44): Like when you're sitting on the couch and it's nine o'clock at night, your body starts to get cues. Your brain takes cues from your body that, Hey, I should start to wind things down. I'm going to get tired, close my eyes. So when you're trying to learn, your brain is getting conflicting information. You're telling it to one hand, listen, learn, execute, work. On the other hand, your body's saying, when leaning back, I got my head on the pillow. I'm used to going to bed when I'm in this position or this really soft surface. So my point is set kids up in as a school, like environment, as you can get them a desk, make sure it's clean as clean as you can get it with children as plain as you can get it, make it organized. So everything's there before they're supposed to start their class. When they're done with school air quotes for the day, make sure that they get themselves set up for the next day so that they're ready for success and try to, to separate the kids as far as your living space allows.
Penny Williams (22:36): Yeah, I know so many kids are probably doing it in their bed and it is hard. My own included. He doesn't want to get up. He was like, well, I can just get on zoom on my phone right here. Not really. But at that age, it's really hard to, to have as much influence when they're teenagers and they're in high school, if we don't give them some say in it, then they're just going to push against us. It comes back to that feeling of being nagged and pressured. And when I take the pressure off, then things actually tend to get done more often. I still have to have reminders. I still have to support and scaffold support. But I think it's really important to say, this is your school environment. This is what you have to do.
Penny Williams (23:24): I'm here to help you if you need it. And then try to kind of step back, which is really hard. It's really hard to step back because we really want to help our kids succeed. But oftentimes they need that experience figuring out how to do it on their own in order to actually be successful. And that's a hard lesson for parents. I came probably about it way too late and the more that we teach them to do for themselves and to ask for help when it's needed the better. And I think virtual learning is especially hard for our kids to be independent. Because again, there's so many distractions at home. If we're allowing them to make their own choices there have to be boundaries obviously within that. But I'm always looking at how do we foster independence, even in really young kids do you want your work area for school to be in this corner of the living room in front of this window?
Penny Williams (24:22): Or do you want it back here in this other room where it's more quiet just giving some choices that both are appropriate, gives them a sense of control. And I think that sense of control is so important right now because so much of the world, we don't have control over. We have this pandemic, we have to do school at home. We, a lot of people are working at home. We don't have any control over that. So kids need more of a sense of control, I think, than even usual, to be able to do virtual learning successfully.
Rich Brancaccio (24:58): Yeah. And you hit on, on a couple of important points as well. There's a great what I'll call like a life hack, right? People are always looking for, for how to do things better. Smarter, faster life packs are super popular right now. The best parenting hack I think is something we call in psychology. We call it a forced choice system. And you, you alluded to this in what you just said. You want to give kids the feeling that they are in control, especially older kids in high school. However, even though they're physically they look like a grown-up in most cases, they're these big kids. They can drive. Sometimes they're still not a grown-up yet. Right? There's still a kid, if you will, who's learning. And you're still teaching them all these life lessons that teachers are teaching them academic lessons.
Rich Brancaccio (25:48): So it's really helpful to provide some bumpers or some boundaries. So what I call a forced choice system means you can say things like, Hey you seem like you're having an off day this morning or a rough morning today. Maybe you aren't feeling well or you went to bed too late. Why don't you pick what you do first, today? Do you want to do science? Do you want to work on your social studies or do you want to work on your English project? Which one do you think is best for you? So in their mind, they're going good. I can do whatever I want, but in reality, you've set them up so that they're doing one of three things that you want them do for their school. So that's a good blend of giving them a choice, being an active participant in their own life and learning, but also structuring it so that it works for what you need to do as a parent.
Rich Brancaccio (26:35): Yeah. Something else that I think is important. Especially with older kids, I used to help out a lot with something that we called school phobia. I mean, I mean, kids with anxiety or for whatever their reason was, it would have a hard time coming to school physically back in the days when we used to have physical school. And one thing that we learned, we got to train with one of the preeminent experts in this field. And one of the things that I always remember from my trainings with this person was when you are trying to get children to do something in this case get up out of their nice, warm, comfortable bed to start going to virtual school. It can be hard, especially your kids probably start weighing the same or more than you when they're in like middle school and high school.
Rich Brancaccio (27:21): So you try to get this kid out of the bed. It's not like you're picking up a five-year-old anymore. So how do you do this? And one thing that we learned was that setting a really low initial bar is good. So you could say things like I need you to get up by this time before school starts and work on things for this long, right? Like if it's an unstructured time or it's a self guided time I need you to put in at least X amount of minutes or hours for this to start and to bring them up gradually, especially when you're new to virtual school. But it's important to try to not back slide from where you are. Flexibility is really important, but it's also, we've seen really good things happen when you kind of say, look we, we can't go from doing like three hours of learning per day to like 15 minutes cause it just makes for a really into, up and down experience. So it's always better to start lower and make sure that you can kind of build their stamina up because there is stamina that goes along with having to attend. It's way harder to focus on a little computer screen and to focus on a really engaging visceral experience that is the clash.
Penny Williams (28:31): Absolutely. And I'm glad you brought up school avoidance at something that we've struggled with for several years, even to some extremes, like trying to jump out of my car on the way to school while it was moving. And so it it's a real challenge and I hopefully thought, Oh, well at home, we won't have this issue, but we kind of still do school is still really challenging for him and, and even more so at home I think. And so we do see kids who are really bristling against it for much of the same reasons. Things are hard. People don't understand, teachers don't understand how much they're trying or how much they're struggling or a zoom call might be overwhelming if there's times where the whole class is talking. Or if there's a lot of background noise, if the teacher has some clicking behind her while she's doing class, right, there's so many different ways that it can still be an overwhelm sensory overwhelm cognitively so it still is an issue of school refusal and school avoidance, even when they're not physically going to the school building, which is not what I would've expected, but it is definitely something that many, many families are struggling with during this time.
Rich Brancaccio (29:51): They can, they also can have in a lot of cases this year, they haven't met their teachers, so many kids and what's been one of my favorite things. One of the things that I miss about being an active school psychologist working in a school I'm full-time here at Revibe, but one of the things I missed was the connections that you really build and forge with children. And what's interesting is I think for, for all kids, it's important, but I think especially for kids with ADHD it's critical that they build a strong personal bond an educational relationship, if you will, with their teacher. A lot of times the teachers yes, these, these kids in a lot of cases will have a sometimes a rough experience with a teacher who's maybe really overwhelmed because she has two or three or five kids who are all struggling with focus.
Rich Brancaccio (30:44): And that's hard on the teacher and the student, but what I've seen work so many times when you have a really patient understanding teacher who can take these kids aside metaphorically and also physically, and just say, Hey, look, I understand that you are having a hard time with this and with that or with that, but I'm here I've got your back, like let's do this together. Let's figure this out. And kids really can develop a beautiful bond with their teachers and with COVID we have a special education teacher who works with us here. And we were doing a webinar a couple of weeks back and I asked her, I said she's, she's an active, special education teacher during the work hours and works with Revibe after school and at night. And I said to her, what's it been like for you being a special education teacher and not meeting any of your kids?
Rich Brancaccio (31:35): And she said, Richard, it's been really hard because as much as I try and they try when you've never physically seen somebody in person and you can't commiserate with them and celebrate with them, it's just a different experience on both sides. So the kids, the kids can feel it, the teachers can feel it. And I think that's what makes this so much more challenging is that critical point person for these kids, the person who they feel like, look this, person's got my back and we've got some history in the bank together. They've never even met this person yet in their mind. Right. Except through a computer screen. So I think that adds to the challenge. So one suggestion that I'll make to parents out there, and I think most teachers would be open to it is to just message your child's teacher or teachers and set up it won't take more than five or 10 minutes to say, Hey, could you do whatever day? You have a few minutes during a planning break or prep, could you spend five or 10 minutes just talking with my daughter or my son to meet them and let them tell you a little bit more about them and exciting for them about school. What's exciting for them about their home hobbies. And what's been hard for them about school and it's been hard for them during COVID. I think it would go a really long way.
Penny Williams (32:49): Yeah. My son's special ed teacher actually reached out to us a few days before school started and scheduled something just for that reason, which was amazing. I was super glad that it happened and it, and it was okay, we're jumping into this thing. What do you need help with this semester? What can I do to help you and support you? And, and it was even more important, I think at his age, because as a teenager in high school, if it's not something that is going to work for him, it's useless. So if his teacher and I were deciding what his supports he needed and how to go about them, it may not be effective at all. But having our kids in those conversations is so valuable. And, and I found even really young kids will have ideas. And often there's a really good nugget within them.
Penny Williams (33:44): A five-year-old might say something really outlandish, but there's probably a hint of what is really helpful within that. And so often we don't bother to ask them, what could we do to help? What do they need, what do they think might help? And I think that's a really important piece of that to you, but to meet the people who are allies and to have that conversation about I'm really good at this, I'm really excited about this, but I'm going to need your help with us is such an important way to set up for success when you're working with people, teachers and administrators too, in the school.
Rich Brancaccio (34:25): Well, the success part is really key. So there's two things that work here. And my favorite phrase is there's an intervention that's been researched and proven from multiple scientific journals and, and academic research parties. And what is called, this is called the catch them being good, right? The more you can catch an ADHD child being good, praise them, celebrate them. It puts them in a better position to try more and the more you try it's as positive self fulfilling prophecy. What happens with these kids in a lot of cases is they've learned it's unintentional, right? It's, it's just supply a product of the structure of a school and the requirements of teachers. But a lot of these kids have learned a mindset of, I can't do it.
Rich Brancaccio (35:17): I'm not as smart as everyone else. I'm always getting my name called out. I'm always being embarrassed. Anthony focus, Anthony get back to work. And Anthony, listen, after a while you hear your name called out five, 10, 20 times a day. It really takes its toll on you. And, and that's what I think is important. So there's two things I wanted to drive home for teachers and for the kids themselves. Once these kids who generally want to do well, catch a little glimmer of hope and a little taste of success, we start to see these kids want more. They get hungry for it. They start to realize, Holy cow, I actually can my, my favorite story. But when we did our first research study on Revibe, there was a little boy who we still keep in touch with.
Rich Brancaccio (36:05): His mom still keeps in touch with us. He came to me during the, at the end of the study and he said, he said, mr, are you the guy who invented the Revibe? And I said, yeah that was me. And I was collecting all of all the prototypes from the study. It was over. And he said, I want to say, thank you. And it's this little boys in third grade at the time. And he says, I want to say thank you. I said, Oh, for what? And he said, well, we've been doing this for, it was a three month study that we did. He said, we've been doing this for, for a whole bunch of weeks. And before we started this, I thought that I was dumb and that I couldn't do it because most of my grades I would get were a D and an F.
Rich Brancaccio (36:46): And I thought that I just couldn't do anything, but I've been wearing this thing. And now I've been getting B's and I even got an A, and now I feel like I'm smart and I can actually do it. And I teared up so hard with this kid standing in front of me. I get teared up thinking about it now, but he, that was a really good example of when you give these kids a taste of success, their attitude shifts over to... You know what? I have the opportunity right now to focus on my teacher or I'm also thinking about like this really cool thing in my head. I'm going to try to focus on my teacher for a little bit and it's not that ADHD is an optional thing. It's not the kids choose to not focus, but there is certainly opportunity for all of us to be able to say, You know what, I'm going to really hunker down and really try to my best to focus or Hey, we're at a break in the classroom we're changing subjects now we're going from that social studies.
Rich Brancaccio (37:46): And I'm in third grade. So we're in the same classroom instead of starting to draw doodle or talk to my friend, I'm just going to, I'm going to really try to wait for my teacher to start them and stay focused. But I want parents and kids to know that giving them a little taste of success and catching them being good, giving them positive vibes. Those are things that set them up for success. And that's one of the reasons that when we can empower kids one of the things that I like about the approach that we've taken for technology is if you can send a vibration to someone's risks with a Revibe, they don't have to rely on someone else calling their name out. They feel like I'm able to get myself back on task. The more things you can do like that to empower kids the better the results we've seen.
Penny Williams (38:28): Yeah. And there's even studies to show that the more positive experience you have, it's rewiring your brain for the positive, and conversely, the more negative experiences you have, the more kind of stuck in that negative, not successful place that you are. So there's a lot of brain science that supports that too. Why don't you give us an overview of the Revibe? What is it? How does it work? How does it help kids?
Rich Brancaccio (38:56): Sure. So the Revibe is kind of like a Fitbit for focus and it's a smartwatch, it's a wearable. It tells the time it tells the date. It does everything a watch would do. It looks cool. It fits in the classroom or the gym or wherever you are. But what it's doing is sending special vibration signals at certain points that are personalized for each child. And we set up the vibration with the message, both we have the child practice with the parent and also it gives them a visual on their wrist. So when it vibrates, we say, am I doing what I'm supposed to be doing? If I am good job, if I'm not, I have to get back to work. That's how it started. And we have special algorithms that change things up. So the kids don't get used to the vibrations and special algorithms now in our new device, which is called the Revibe Connect that actually starts to learn the child's needs.
Rich Brancaccio (39:46): You can put their schedule in, and they'll start to learn that when this child is in math, let's say, they're going to need more vibrations. And when they're in social studies or language arts, maybe they need less. And it changes the settings before they get to each subject. But it also can change on the fly because we take input from the kids in real time. So when it vibrates, we say if you want to, you can tap twice to let it know that you were on task, where you can tap once to let it know you were off task. So it actually starts to learn historically, but also can make changes in real time as well. And the cool part for the kids, the Fitbit part about it is that they get to look along with the parents and teachers. If you choose to share a login with the app, to the teachers where you want to send them a PDF report from your phone.
Rich Brancaccio (40:33): But what it's doing is it's collecting all this helpful data to help you make better decisions and your child to feel celebrated and to feel successful. So what it's doing is the wearable peers with an app that you download for your phone, and it's giving you some data as a parent to learn, Hey, what was my child's average attention span in minutes when we first started wearing this thing, what is it now that we're, we're building in more breaks? And we started using a visual schedule and we started doing 15 minute breaks, every or five minute breaks, every 15 minutes. It shows you about the, on task off task ratios, meaning what percentage of the day by the self-report is my child's spending on task versus off task. And when you look at things like fidgeting, right? So how fidgety is my child?
Rich Brancaccio (41:19): And when are they fidgeting? And then what it's doing, that's kind of cool. We show you graphs and you can look to see yourself, if you see some trends or patterns or correlations of, they seem to be really fidgety here, but they're also really focused when they were fidgeting. So that's interesting thing. What were they doing? What were they fidgeting with? But the cool thing that we do for parents now is if we actually detect patterns and trends, we'll, we'll send you almost like Facebook has that little notification that tells you, Hey you've got a new friend request or a new update on your, on your wall or whatever, but we're sending to parents is, did you know that when your daughter Alexandria was able to fidget for 20 minutes or more before social studies, which is midway through the day, her attention span was actually six minutes longer on average than on days when she didn't get that opportunity. Or did you know that for your son Jackson, when he took 3000 steps or more before 1:00 PM on average, we saw a 20% increase in his on-task focus rate. So it's just giving parents information that they can use to help their children to make better decisions, and also gives teachers some information that's helpful as well.
Penny Williams (42:35): That's amazing. It's amazing how much data can come out of that. It's so hard to send different tools to school, all fidgets and different things, and to know what's actually helping and not helping, but now there's something that can give you some data and help you to determine that really valuable. It's amazing what technology can do. And a lot of people are afraid of it, but this is something that's really helpful to kids. So why not embrace technology? So we, as adults, we use technology, why do we not want our kids? And I understand too much screen time and all of those things, but there are different technologies that can really improve their quality of life. And I think Revibe is one of those. And we just need to embrace technology and really understand. I don't think people understand how much we can get from it. The new Revibe connect. There is a ton of data. There's a ton of feedback for the child at different times I mean, there's just so much to it. It's really amazing.
Rich Brancaccio (43:47): Yeah. Thank you. And one thing that you hit on that's interesting is the time aspect. And we were really careful. We talked to a lot of our version, one customers when we built our new one. And we originally, this is kind of like a VH1 behind the music here, but we originally were building more of a video game, like a fun aspect to it. But a lot of parents in schools said to us Hey, we don't want more screen time necessarily. So can you gain a fly it without actually having them play a game? You said, sure. And the US Department of Education said the same thing. So they funded our development of the Revibe Connect. And they were really interested in the gamification, but they also didn't want it to be super gamey like an Xbox or something.
Rich Brancaccio (44:30): So we ended up with little badges, that'll pop up that kids. It's kind of like, I call it like a digital sticker. It's the modern date sticker from when you and I were kids. So we have all these fun badges. That'll, that'll come up. We have animations. Like if you have a certain percentage increase day over day or week over week as rocket ships, that'll blast off or some balloons or confetti. So we just, we try to make it a fun experience. The kids love to see how many steps are taking. They like to see all the other metrics that go with it, but for the parents and the teachers, it's good to be able to actually, as you said, get some data, right? Because when you're a parent, the first thing you say is, well, how, how off task is my child? You're saying that there's a challenge or concern here. Well, can you give me some data? And a lot of times schools have a hard time giving data or parents have a hard time giving data to the schools, but this is just a unique platform to collect some data, to share with other people and to try to use technology, to drive positive outcomes for kids.
Penny Williams (45:30): Yeah. So amazing and such a great story for you to come from being a school psychologist, to an inventor and really supporting, being able to support a lot more kids than you just saw in one school or one school system is really remarkable.
Rich Brancaccio (45:46): Thank you. Yeah, that's what made the changeover easier. I used to evaluate about a hundred kids a year face-to-face psychoeducational evaluations. And I knew I would really miss that. And I would work with lots of other kids who I wasn't evaluating that was challenging, but we've helped over the last five years or so. We've helped tens of thousands of kids now. So I relish in a different kind of positive vibe I know we're helping kids. It's just, I do miss the face to face bond, but it's been a really fun experience doing something I guess, on a broader level.
Penny Williams (46:23): Yeah. It's such amazing stuff. And you have given us a lot of great insights and strategies for virtual learning as well. And I really appreciate that. And I know the parents listening appreciate that to you. For everyone listening, you can get links to the Revibe, to Rich's website, social media, they will all be in the show notes and those show notes will be available to you at parentingadhdandautism.com/110. And with that, I want to thank you again, Rich for being here and sharing some of your time. And we'll end this episode,
Rich Brancaccio (47:04): Penny, thanks for having us really appreciate it. Big fan of you. And as your parents are looking for resources, as you said, if they go to the link at your website, we have a lot of great free information that they can get from the Revibe tech website. A lot of free downloads and things just go to the blog section and we've really tried to build something that helps to support parents and just to provide information through these really tough times. Thanks so much for having me, Penny. It was a real pleasure. Thank you.
Outro (47:32): Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share, and don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and mama retreats atparentingadhdandautism.com.
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