Seeing the Other Side of ADHD


A diagnosis. A label. An acronym that carries preconceived ideas for so many people.

For some, Attention Deficit Disorder or Hyperactivity Disorder conjures up visions of students who can’t sit still in class or impulsive kids who disrupt a teacher’s lesson. For others, it’s a child (or an adult) who can’t focus, stay organized or follow through on a simple task.

But there’s another side to ADD. A positive and different way to look at it, whether you’re discussing behavior in your kid’s classroom or dealing with it in your own family. Viewing the energy, enthusiasm and spirit of anyone diagnosed with ADD through the lens of creativity and imagination can make a big difference in accepting what it’s all about.

I associate ADD with its father – Dr. Ned Hallowell, a pediatric clinical psychiatrist and author of many great books including Driven to Distraction and Superparenting for ADD. Dr. Hallowell sees ADD as a trait – rather than a disorder or impairment – and has a terrific way of talking about and treating ADD, including a turbo charged brain and overloaded circuits. He considers himself blessed with ADD, as are two of his children.

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Hallowell speak many times and have also hosted him through The Parent Connection. If you don’t know of Dr. Hallowell or want to better understand “the other side” of ADD, watch this clip. He has many tips and strategies for parents including:

• UNCONDITIONAL LOVE Tune out the diagnosticians and labelers and simply notice and nourish the spirit of your child for who he is. Providing this unshakable base of support will set the tone for all interactions to come.

 • VIEW THE MIRROR TRAITS There are positive sides of the negative symptoms associated with ADD: stubbornness = persistence; impulsiveness = creativity; intrusiveness = eagerness. By recognizing the mirror traits, you avoid the ravages of shame and fear.

• THE CYCLE OF EXCELLENCE Use this critical 5-step process to help a child develop self- and social awareness. Nurture an environment in which a child can safely take risks, reserve time to let a child dabble as a way to learn, encourage playful practice, support mastery of a skill (whatever the skill may be) and then recognize a child’s accomplishments.

• IDENTIFY AND TAP THE SOURCE Pinpoint your child’s inner, cognitive strengths, which drive what he (or she) naturally and spontaneously does, as opposed to what he is told to do or feels he must do. Your child will do his best when allowed to use these cognitive strengths.

Years ago, a teacher of a young boy named Tommy complained to his parents that he was a child who could not be taught. He wouldn’t pay attention in class and couldn’t focus on his books or studies. They said he wouldn’t amount to much of anything so there was no point in schooling him any longer.

That boy’s name was Thomas Edison.

Communicating with schools and teachers about ADD can be frustrating, especially when medication is recommended and your family has chosen other paths. But if you follow my Power of P3, you are more likely to be heard and get your child’s needs met. Be Polite. Be Positive. Be Persistent. It won’t always be easy because it’s only natural that mama and papa bear get feisty.

Finding the neutrality to be professional when emotions run deep is very hard. But it’s important to do so educators can hear and respond to your concerns, rather than react to your emotion. Never lose sight of the power of your own behavior and words. You can single-handedly influence your child’s education by following the Power of P3 – as my previous post on emailing teachers reminds us. Ned Hallowell also has sage, yet simple advice for parents communicating with schools about ADD: Be liked.

Whether you’re a parent of a child blessed with ADD, a teacher trying to reach that child or an observer of a child diagnosed with ADD, take a moment to see this trait from the other side. It may shed a little light on the situation.

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