Rethinking ADHD

I often work with parents whose children have recently been diagnosed with ADHD. It can be a challenging and overwhelming diagnosis to digest, with a number of very understandable worries and questions to address.

While determining a plan with them, however, what I always try to emphasize is that it’s important for them to understand the actual presentation of ADHD, rather than just the “symptoms” they have probably heard about. First and foremost, I have never found ADHD to be a “deficit” of attention. Anyone who has known a child with this diagnosis can attest to the fact that that child is actually capable of tremendous attention, often superior to that of others, when they are engaged in a task that interests them. When an activity is neutral or boring, however, it can be extremely difficult for them to stay on task. So, I think of these children as operating more at the ends of the continuum of attention, as opposed to the general population, which functions more in the middle.

This gift for attention, along with the energy (hyperactivity), enthusiasm, creativity, and risk-taking (impulsivity) often seen in this population, make children with ADHD actually capable of enormous success. The key is providing the appropriate interventions and supports along the way to preserve their positive sense of self in the face of the inevitable challenges they will face (in academic and social settings in particular).

In an article by Valerie Strauss, she quotes founder of the Hallowell Center for Cognitive and Emotional Health, Dr. Ned Hallowell, as saying, “In fact, what we call ADD (a terrible term, as it is not a deficit of attention but rather a wandering of attention, and it is not a disorder in my opinion but rather a trait; if you manage it properly it can turn you into a phenomenal success, but if you don’t it can ruin your life, which makes it unique and fascinating) is really a type of mind, genetically transmitted, and composed of a wide array of complex and often contradictory tendencies…Too often, teachers and parents (and bosses) jump to what I call “the moral diagnosis,” and ascribe the underachievement to lack of effort or laziness, which leads to lectures, punishments, and a gradual infection of the spirit with the viruses of shame and diminished sense of self. In fact, the correct diagnosis is of a brain difference, not a brain deficit, and certainly not a moral failing…On the positive side, which people rarely discuss, people with ADD are the people who founded this country. They tend to be visionaries, dreamers, explorers, inventors (Edison was a classic), path-finders, discoverers, entrepreneurs (almost all entrepreneurs have ADD), creative types, original thinkers, paradigm breakers, trend-setters, free thinkers, as well as being big-hearted, trusting, generous, and fun.”

All of these facets are essential to bear in mind, especially for the parents and educators who have the greatest influence on these children. For the full article, and to understand how to re-think ADHD, click on this link.