Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Why We Should Cherish the Gift of ADHD

Ok, so I know most parents of children with ADHD will read this title and think I'm crazy. Kids with ADHD wreck havoc on family life. Spouses with ADHD can do the same. How in the world can we cherish ADHD? It involves impairments in executive functioning... how can anything causing a broken executive functioning system be cherished?

photo source: Shutterstock

First, we must realize that everyone has gifts. ADHD has many variables in the way it shows up, so people with it also have many variations in gifts. But they do have gifts. I want parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncle, neighbors, teachers, and more to understand the value of these gifts and help children (and adults) recognize the benefits that people with ADHD can have. I'm not saying life for them is easy. It's not. They struggle with many things other people can easily manage. But they still have gifts. I want kids to grow up building their confidence by using their gifts, not by measuring their failures when they don't conform to norms.

People with ADHD tend to think outside the box. They have lots of energy. They are often very creative. We all think of their inattention and poor focus, but they also hyper focus on things they love. If they become passionate about something, they can sustain attention and work on it for long periods of time. If they use this hyper focus wisely (with setting time limits so they can do other daily activities) they can become an expert in that area. For young children the hyper focus tends to be on "kid" things, like trains or video games, but as they get older, allowing kids to experience activities that interest them will give the opportunity to find a life passion that could turn into a fantastic career.
"ADD people are high-energy and incredibly good brainstormers. They will often happily work 12 to 15 hours by choice. The business community should not fear ADD. Instead, they should see that they have a potential gold mine here.” - Dr. Kathleen Nadeau, psychologist
With all that good, we are more quick to see the negatives. Kids can lose their drive and ambition if they are not supported along the way. School is not favorable to kids with ADHD. Kids must follow rules. They need to color in the lines. They need to do all the steps in the order the teacher wants. Doing things someone else's way is not easy for kids with ADHD.

For example, kids need to learn the steps to solve a mathematical problem. They need to solve the math problem the way the teacher did it and show their work. They lose points if they get to the right answer but didn't show their work or if they get there a different way. The teacher might assume they cheated to get the answer, but some kids just skip steps. To me that might just show brilliance. They can skip steps. Their brain just "gets" to the right answer. I never could figure math out without being told how to do it, but there are kids out there who can. What a gift! Unfortunately they feel dumb if they can't show the steps just like the teacher taught. And it would be quite typical for a child with ADHD to have a brain that thinks this way if math is that child's gift. What a shame that our schools tend to make these kids feel inferior because in the end they might resist working on math and will never reach their potential.

For a fun look at ADHD that will continue to show you the better side of the diagnosis, check out this short documentary, A.D.D & Loving It. I promise it will have you laughing, but you will get a lot of great information from respected ADHD experts.

If your child struggles with the diagnosis, consider reading about real people who have done well despite (or due to) ADHD (link with many articles about successful people with ADHD and other learning disorders). Have them read Percy Jackson (link to a book review). He's a fictional character with ADHD and dyslexia that kids can look up to.

Throughout history many successful people have had ADHD. Your child with ADHD can also become a leader, an inventor, an artist, or an otherwise excellent contributor to society. We just need to help them find their gifts and work on their challenges so that they can flourish. Support them so they do not lose self confidence. Celebrate what they do right more than harping on what they do wrong. Encourage them to develop their talents. Help them find ways to accommodate for their struggles and to learn tools to help with some of the executive functioning problems they have. Cherish them!

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