Add/Adhd: an enthusiastic life!

ADHD/ADD is NOT a disease, nor is it a condition requiring a cure.  From my perspective, it is a part of life; often a processing-oriented, symptomatic response by amazing individuals who experience an extraordinary gift, including: physical prowess, body awareness, creativity, social sensitivity, and keen sensory receptive perception.  At the same time, executive functions, such as focus, processing, organization / planning skills, and impulse control may be less than desired and require skill development through therapy.  It also necessitates parents, teachers, and other loved ones to extend themselves to new levels of love and understanding for ADHD/ADD related symptoms are often highly inconvenient, challenge conventional wisdom about social appropriateness, and may cause others to feel dis-eased.   It’s a matter of perspective. 

Think of ADHD/ADD this way; there are a number of talented people who perform at the exceptional level in a number of careers and vocations that require outside of the box creativity, graceful or extreme movement, or astute social awareness.  Some of the most imaginative minds have been associated with ADHD/ADD: Walt Disney, Salvador Dali, Alexander Graham Bell, Emily Dickenson, and the list goes on. Imagine life without their extraordinary contributions.  From a practical perspective, the following careers are built upon ADHD/ADD tendencies and I would hope that the folks doing these jobs have embraced their talents and aptitudes with confidence and conviction:

Air Traffic Controller: This job requires men and women to multi-task, to scan various monitors at once, and make quick decisions without time-consuming analysis. I hope the faceless individuals in the control tower are able to read computer monitors while doing various other tasks, keep tabs on the skyline, and talk through conflict and problem solving when needed.   Imagine these skills in the classroom as demonstrated by a roomful of ADHD/ADD kids; what a busy classroom and what chaos.  But then again, it’s all about perspective for when I take to the friendly skies, my life has been in the air traffic controllers’ hands for years!  I am grateful for these ADHD like attributes.

Restaurant Host / Maitre De: When I walk into a restaurant, especially when I am really hungry, I want to know exactly when I will be seated at the table and I want this information to be accurate.  So the skill of being able to scan a dining room, look over at the culinary exchange taking place at each table, as well as read the nature of the conversation between the guests, are essential within the context of an outstanding dining experience.  A great host knows what’s going down at every table on every level and can assess timing through precise analysis.  Sure it’s inconvenient when a nine year old child scans the classroom and spends more time on other students’ activities then their own, but this is a true gift in the right situation.

Firefighter: I’ve known a number of firefighters throughout my life and I am always impressed with their ability to push beyond fear and focus on service to others.  There are times when one cannot over-think a situation and one needs to move quickly through intuition; firefighting is one of those moments. It’s a matter of preparation, planning, and trust in oneself and your partners.   I have known kids who were fearless in their pursuit of tree climbing, skateboarding, skiing, and other dangerous activities.  And it certainly causes parents and teachers to lose endless hours of sleep.  Then again, those who have been blessed with the gifts of grace, bodily awareness, or fearlessness, are often called upon to make an extraordinary difference in others’ lives.  It just comes across so inconvenient in the early stages of development especially when our children are between the ages of two and six years old and continues unless related compensatory skills are established.   

The human animal is wired to experience enculturation and executive function skill development during the toddler and preschool developmental periods. Most notably, cause and effect relationships and organization / planning skill development play an important role in this process.  We often associate these critical executive functioning skill deficits with ADHD/ADD.  Also, many of the kids on the ADHD/ADD spectrum are also highly sensitive to their environment; some experience sensory perception overload during this fundamental development stage. It is not uncommon for ADD children to experience stress and anxiety related symptoms as a result. If so, the hyper development of the hormone cortisol, responding to sensory over stimulation, may impair early stage development as well. If the brain is over-extended through sensory overload, the adrenal glands may work over-time and “flight or fright” responses can guide and influence brain development. We often associate this type of stress related maturation with kids coming from East European orphanages; where stress runs amok throughout the early years of cognitive development.  In addition, the ADHD/ADD brain may also just look different compared to typically developing youth even without the sensory overload experience. For example, relevant research released by the National Institute of Mental Health (November 2007) highlights brain scan based studies which include the following findings on motor skill and organization / planning development:

“In both ADHD and control groups, sensory processing and motor control areas at the back and top of the brain peaked in thickness earlier in childhood, while the frontal cortex areas responsible for higher-order executive control functions peaked later, during the teen years. These frontal areas support the ability to suppress inappropriate actions and thoughts, focus attention, remember things from moment to moment, work for reward, and control movement. Circuitry in the frontal and temporal (at the side of the brain) areas that integrate information from the sensory areas with the higher-order functions showed the greatest maturational delay in youth with ADHD … The motor cortex emerged as the only area that matured faster than normal in the youth with ADHD, in contrast to the late-maturing frontal cortex areas that direct it. This mismatch might account for the restlessness and fidgety symptoms common among those with the disorder”.

In contrast to popular belief that ADHD/ADD children are often lazy, spoiled, or influenced by poor parenting, this is far from the truth. Developmentally, many of these kids are solely interest-driven and inspired by innate gifts within.  Some may appear to be overly socially inclined; little “busy bodies” who cannot take their minds off other peoples’ business.  These kids often have a keen interest as their “thing” and these aptitudes would best be served by building upon these strengths through a teaching strategy called differentiation; creating an instructional setting based upon various learning styles and interests. But differentiated learning requires both a level of instructional artistry and flexibility uncommon to the general education setting.  From my point of view, the most successful teachers for ADHD/ADD students are those who experience the gift themselves!  The initial learning patterns we associate with school often touch upon innate gifts, talents, and learning styles which may be embedded as part of one’s personality for the rest of their life. 

Many of the students I serve through education advocacy demonstrate extraordinary aptitudes and endowments much earlier than their typically developing peers especially in movement, imagination, and fearlessness. Nevertheless, the inconvenient aspects of ADHD/ADD patterns include hyper-focus on interests which often don’t bode well in school and also demonstrate lack of focus in areas NOT within the student’s natural level of curiosity; like written expression, reading, or math.  In addition, due to mature development of the motor related brain regions, the ADHD/ADD child may often bring to school and home (everywhere in fact!) an insatiable need for physical movement. Specifically, these behaviors do not create “kodak moments” within the family photo album; in fact, it can create a serious level of tension within the family structure as well as at school when all Johnny wants to do is climb trees and run through the house or Jane cannot stop dancing with the stars.

So from my experience as an educator, former Principal, and Special Education advocate, the gifts found within ADHD/ADD are extraordinary.  I love the ADHD/ADD path for many of these kids project an infectious level of enthusiasm and zeal when their interests are explored for these kids are absolutely profound in the manner by which they contribute to the world.   Our children are a blessing and add such depth to the mosaic of life way beyond anything we initially imagined. Unfortunately, many people tend to adversely respond to ADHD/ADD diversity by placing preconceived notions into the mix and “pegging” these children as “lazy”, “oppositional”, or “day dreamers”, as if there is a one-size-fits-all category for these remarkable kids.  Often this label may not always be welcome or encouraging.  This is where the rub begins for each child is truly a square peg within a round hole, a unique individual.  He/she is truly a gift to behold and his/her contribution to the world also requires an unfolding on its own time.  And education advocacy, one of the essential tools within an emerging kit, will help create a more successful path for each child as he/she moves through life within their own continuum and curriculum.  As the child’s best advocate, parents with kids on the ADHD/ADD road are trailblazing a new path, unlike anything else anyone has ever seen before for each child is walking their own path as a unique piece of the mosaic unlike any other.  I am certain it’s more important to fix the round hole rather than the square peg!

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