ADHD and Your Lived Experience: Processing Modalities

Episode 142

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Shelly and Cam continue to explore the ‘your context matters’ theme by looking at how modalities can inform an individual’s lived experience. Processing modalities, sometimes referred to as learning styles, are preferences we exhibit, often associated with physical senses like visual, auditory and verbal or additional areas like intuition and emotion. Much has been written about modalities including Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Recently, advances in brain imaging have called into question many of the claims of these ideas, but it is still thought that people have preferences in how they build knowledge and process information. 

The hosts have witnessed countless examples where clients demonstrate a preference for processing information, be it verbal processing or through some kinesthetic process (movement). Shelly and Cam introduce listeners to processing modalities through a client example regarding time management and how we can miss a preference strength area because of the ease of access. The hosts invite listeners to be curious about modalities at work.

Episode links + resources:

There are a number of modality resources available. For coaches and organizers we recommend a workbook by organizer coach Denslow Brown MCC, Processing Modalities:

For the general public we suggest the free Kairos Cognition Survey:

Translating ADHD and the hosts do not benefit financially from sharing these links.

For more of the Translating ADHD podcast:

Episode Transcript:

[00:00:00] Shelly: Hi, I’m Shelly,

[00:00:01] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:00:02] Shelly: and this is Translating ADHD. Before we dive right into this week’s topic, I wanna talk about a video that a friend of mine sent me a couple of weeks ago. Cam, do you know the children’s toy the shapes orders. Put the star in the star shape. Put the square in the square shape. Put the circle in the circle shape. Yeah. Most of us are familiar with that.

This video is so brilliant in its simplicity because as it turns out, if you carefully manipulate each of the other shapes, they will in fact fit into the toy through the square hole. And it really struck me because it’s such a beautiful metaphor for the ADHD experience as a whole. As coaches centered on the coaching goal of helping our clients create a life that fits with ADHD on board, so much of the work that we are doing is helping our clients see that they don’t have to bend and contort and twist into a shape that doesn’t fit for them, but rather we can discover strengths and things they already have on board that we can lean into to solve the challenges that plague those of us with ADHD. And this probably doesn’t surprise you, listener, because that’s also what we do on this show.

However, I wanted to share that metaphor today because our topic today is an area of strength that we often look for in CO because our topic today speaks to one way that Cam and I help our clients discover strength and leverage that strength, and that is by noticing and working with processing modalities. 

[00:01:57] Cam: Yeah, so Shelly’s talking about processing modalities, you may have heard them as learning styles learning preferences. The classic ones back in the day were verbal processor, visual, auditory can aesthetic, and it’s really evolved over a period of time here. And so we see it as an opportunity again, to lean in and locate strengths within our clients, and it’s also a wonderful pause tool, a tool to check in and see am I operating in a mode that really is working for me in this situation, or am I a challenge place that’s not working for.

[00:02:41] Shelly: Cam, I think it’s also we’re saying that we like the term processing modalities over learning styles, because learning styles evokes that feeling of in a classroom, learning new information. How do I pass the test? How do I best learn and retain information in an academic way? Whereas processing modalities takes that same concept and expands it out to how do I interact with the world? What makes sense to me as far as how information is presented and what doesn’t? What is naturally easy for me to understand or do and what’s really challenging for me?

[00:03:28] Cam: And to that point, learning styles, it was, there was a recent research study that showed that, taking tests or in different learning styles wasn’t shown to change outcomes. And I would say again, that classroom situation and the limitations of the test and the research here, Shelly and I, over the years and other coaches, pay attention to how our clients bring in new information.

We always say, we often say with adhd we are wired for context. And so being wired for context is that our why, why something is happening. Our relationship to our world what we bring. And so you see listeners how this fits right into our overarching theme of your lived experience matters or your context matters.

So this week and next week we’re gonna be looking at really at this cognitive level of, again, how we process information and how we build knowledge through different modalities.

[00:04:41] Shelly: Cam, I think it’s helpful here to start with an example from one of my clients that is something that is in the realm of something that all ADHD people can relate to, and that is time management. This is a, well, we come back too often because time management itself is an endless topic because your context matters. So let’s talk about this client and her context.

This client is a special educator at the high school level, so her daily schedule is variable because she has fixed appointments with the kids that she works with. She also has drop in appointments that any of her kids can utilize for any reason. She also handles the ACT special testing requirements. So if somebody is applying for an accommodation, she is the one within that school system that handles all of that, not just for her caseload, but for all of the kids that need accommodations. And she’s handling it on both sides. So, getting the accommodation approved and then finding the proctors who can fulfill that accommodation, whatever it is.

So all of this to say that her schedule tends to have seasons, and it’s important to know on a high level what’s coming up because the start of the school year is a different season than ACT season, is a different season than parent teacher conference season, is a different season than wrapping up the school year season. In terms of what is involved, what do I need to be aware of right now and what do I need to be aware of that is coming down the line. This is a topic that we broached from many different angles over the course of our coaching work together in big ways and small ways, trying to figure out how to be in the now, but know what’s ahead. And in one coaching session, we had an important breakthrough. She was talking about her relationship with her digital calendar, which I believe is a Google calendar and how it just didn’t help make time real beyond the month that she was currently in. So within the context of a month, it does a good enough job of letting her know at the high level what is the season, and also does a really excellent job of letting her know what her daily and weekly schedule commitments and obligations are.

However, to put it in her words, it can be October 31st, and because of the way Google Calendar presents and cannot present information, November still does not exist for me,

[00:07:39] Cam: As in November one, the next day,

[00:07:42] Shelly: Correct, as in November one, the very next day. And so when you’re talking about a person who needs to know not just what next month is, but what the next three months are at a high level, in order to be able to adequately plan for those seasons where her work is changing and the priorities are shifting, that’s a pretty big challenge. What I knew about this client when she articulated that challenge with her Google Calendar that way, Other work we had done together is she has a strength in the visual modality. And so here is the solution that we came to. And by the way, not prescriptive even for those of you strong in the visual modality, just what worked for this client with her other context and this strength. She printed off blank calendars, blank month calendars for the next three months. We did some coaching around what does high level mean. Meaning what information goes on these calendars and what doesn’t because the goal, again, was not to know the daily or weekly schedule, but to know the landscape of what’s coming up, and then she using those calendars. Color coded and in a visual way created this nice paper visual for herself of this is the high level landscape of the next three months, and the things that I want to be aware of that are out of my time horizon right now that I want to use this system to remind me are coming in the near future. That was several years ago when we first stumbled on this practice, and that client still uses that practice today whenever she feels like she doesn’t know what time looks like beyond the current month and that that’s something that she needs to know. prints off some visual calendars and makes herself a visual representation of those high level items.

[00:09:55] Cam: As I’m listening here, I’m thinking about my own way of interpreting time, right? Because it’s difficult for us to see time forward and backwards. And so I have multiple representations of time and even been playing around with this sort of emotional aspect of placing a sense of emotion around a future event of how will I feel that day.

Right. I have a question for you. On this client of how did you know, or how did the two of you know, in the first place that the visual modality was a strength? How did that come forth and present itself? Shelly?

[00:10:35] Shelly: A good question, Cam, and I don’t have a highly specific answer. But what I can tell you is through our other coaching work, it was known to both of us that this is a strength. And it was also known to both of us that the limitations in terms of how a Google Calendar can and cannot present information about time was a challenge for her and something that we’d weaved in and out of in a number of different contexts over the course of our coaching together. Then comes where the rubber meets the road. A modality strength doesn’t necessarily make leaning on that strength the right solve for you and your other context, but it’s certainly an interesting place to try. And so a big part of that is the client’s practice. She did it. Did what she wanted to do.

It contextualized time for her in a way that previously felt inaccessible or much more difficult for her to do than that process is. And it’s a practice that she continues largely in the same form that we started it to this day. And it doesn’t always go like that. Sometimes we start by leaning on any form of knowledge that we have.

Including a modality preference and it’s only part of the picture. sort of worked. And then we go back to the drawing board and we examine what worked and what didn’t, and now what’s the dilemma? I always like to ask my clients now what’s the dilemma? And we got this far, so now what’s the dilemma? Now?

What’s not working about this? Maybe there’s another modality preference to add in or another strength from somewhere else. Or another individual contextual piece, which you alluded to talking about emotion in time Cam and I consider both emotion and intuition to be processing modalities and the way one talks.

Their emotion or their intuition is so highly individual. So when those things are in the room, it’s not as clear cut as something like a visual strength. I consider myself very strong in the intuitive modality, and the more I learn to leverage that modality, the better my life gets, honestly, in every form.

But intuitive modality is not a direct translation to my calendar, doesn’t work. it in a different modality. It takes some more legwork to figure out what that might mean.

[00:13:30] Cam: You know, as I’m sitting over here and I’m really appreciating how there’s a journey thinking approach here with your client, right? And as you say, the rubber meets the road is it’s taking something and testing it. So that journey thinking versus destination thinking, because destination thinking is, Oh, I’m just gonna have this modality.

I’m gonna be in this strength and I’m gonna crush it. And life doesn’t present that way. Right. Is that a visual modality, a preference there or strength may help with perceiving or conceiving of time, but it may not be helpful in another area. 

But I just love how bringing together the coaching process, be curious. There’s an element of discovery. There’s an element of testing or experimentation, and then come back and share. Share your experience. And so through that we can be informed of. What is a preference and what is not?

[00:14:30] Shelly: Cam, I think it’s worth mentioning, I’m, I’m appreciating you’re noticing the journey thinking with my clients and I kind of wanna give a, just a tiny bit of inside baseball there into the coaching process. The basic anatomy of a coaching session is our awareness and learning work and what we do with it. So the client brings a topic, we try to get somewhere new on that topic, and then we invite the client to design actions. And if you’re taking a coaching course or learning how to coach, that’s what it would be called is designing actions. But I don’t ask my client. Their action is for the week. I used to, I now ask them, what’s the practice?

Because it’s not about success or fail. It’s not about did it work or did it not work? It’s about we’ve tried it in a way you haven’t tried before based on what we currently know about you, and now you’ve had a lived experience with that. What can we learn from that? So it’s a really subtle shift. You know, what’s the action this week versus what’s the practice this week? But one that has been transformative in my own coaching practice.

[00:15:44] Cam: And you’re alluding to the power of sort of the backside of action or practice is coming back with this understanding agreement that we’re gonna share and we’re gonna learn from this sharing. And that way we break through that third barrier that we introduced the third barrier of learning. If it’s not hard, it doesn’t count.

[00:16:05] Shelly: Ooh. That comes up a lot for my clients. Cam, I’m sure you’ve had this experience time and time again too, where you get to the practice that does work for the client. They’re kind of dumbfounded by how simple it is and how effortless a previously effortful task or situation could be.

[00:16:30] Cam: Yeah. And this is big signal stuff, right? if you check out our previous episodes and people have always been asking about, have you, categorized the podcast? And I, I say, Go to Google and put in translating ADHD podcast and the term avoidance. And this one would be on big signal, right?

This is big signal stuff here, people, we have a number of episodes on our big signal attention system and it’s, again, we’re drawn to the challenge. We’re drawn off into, before I can lean into and leverage my strengths, I have to address my challenges. And somehow, again, if it’s not challenging, it somehow doesn’t count.

So my clients just like yours, are sort of like, Oh, so easy counts. And that could indicate a, some preference or strength in modality. Yes, absolutely.

So, listeners, as you are listening in, to sort of think about how modalities might be coming into play to really reflect on what is easy for you, what is, what is in fact energizing. You know Shelly and I, we’ll get to the end of a podcast or we’ll get to the end of a group coaching effort. I’m energized. I’m energized at the end because I am in my preferred modalities of talker, listener. Now I know that I talk over the, Before we went on break, I shared about an experience where I was not in a preferred modality I was exhausted and drawn out and frustrated, and that was that time where I had to speak into a camera for 25 minutes. And give a presentation, right? Reading text, and again, not my preferred modality reading.

I can do it. I have to do it. I read lots of information. It’s just not my preferred way to build knowledge or process information, but just starting to see again, where might there be an untapped. Modality strength for you and to be curious to possibly exercise the pause, disrupt, pivot to pause and think about where else can I apply this?

I make an effort really not to put myself in those situations in any way I can. If I’m gonna do something new, it’s often in collaboration because I know there’s that back and forth. There’s a provided context and positive feedback loop that really, again, allows it to be much easier.

[00:19:21] Shelly: Thinking about processing modalities beyond learning styles, which is something most of us have been exposed to as a concept, it’s some point in our life might be new for you listener. So we will include a couple of modality resources that we like in the show notes, but there’s a wealth of information out there, much like when we talked about values and names.

There’s no one definitive resource. So take a look at what’s out there and what resonates for you because. The way in which a processing modality is explained or taught is a concept intersects with your own context and your own modality strengths. So there’s no right or wrong answer. This is about getting some context and getting curious and there’s a body of work out there and you don’t need us to spend the time on the show breaking down these individual modalities for you. That information is readily available. In a number of different formats.

Cam, I think that’s a good place to wrap for today. So listeners, if you like what we’re doing here on the show, you already know the three ways you can help us out, write a review, become a patron, share us with others. Keeping it short and sweet this week. So until next week, I’m Shelly,

[00:20:38] Cam: And I’m Cam.

[00:20:39] Shelly: and this was the Translating ADHD podcast. Thank you for listening.

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