By Eric Braun
For many parents, my wife and me included, the journey toward a child’s diagnosis of ADHD begins with a note or phone call from the teacher. You probably already knew that your child struggles to hear instructions or tends to be hyperactive at certain times. But it’s usually that communication from the teacher that marks the first time you seriously consider the possibility of those four letters being attached to your child.
And that communication is rarely pleasant. The note or phone call is freighted with a litany of disruptions your child is causing in class and a list of his failures—failure to complete tasks, adhere to routines, work independently, stop reading The Hobbit and start solving math problems, and consider the effect on his neighbors of his various mouth pops, foot taps, rhythmic knuckle raps, and pencil flips. The communication ends, finally, with a very specific suggestion: Have your child tested for ADHD.
You are stunned. You think, He’s so young! How could we be talking about ADHD at this age? Is he damaged? Is he going to be on medication for the rest of his life? Is he going to be at a huge disadvantage throughout school and into his adult life?
And, if we’re being honest, many of us think this less-generous thought: Isn’t the teacher basically just asking us to medicate our son into submission to make her own life easier?
But you dutifully take your child to the pediatrician and the pediatrician gives you an inventory with questions like “Does it seem like your child’s motor is always running?” You fill it out, and so does the teacher. Next thing you know, you’re going to the pharmacy to get a bottle of pills.
Because my son was diagnosed some time ago, and because I’ve edited a handful of books on the topic, I’ve had three different friends approach me in the past couple months to talk about their sons’ diagnosis. They were nervous about doing the right thing. They received that note or phone call, went to the doctor, and were suddenly trucking down the ADHD freeway. For all four of us, the experience was remarkably similar.
My reaction to my friends probably surprised them. The short version goes something like this: “Awesome. Congratulations!”
Well, I’m a good friend. I acknowledged their fears, and I commiserated with them about what it’s like to be the parent of a kid who can be seen as a disruption. But I believe ADHD is more of a blessing than a curse.
All the kids I know with ADHD are smart. They have passions that make them excited. I love to see a kid who is so psyched about a topic that he’s driven to learn, analyze, and create, all without an adult telling him to. These kids are usually incredibly imaginative. They are intuitive, too—they seem to have a natural ability to understand things. (If they care about those things. Maybe they’re not putting that energy into understanding the Latin roots of their spelling words. Can you blame them? Latin roots are boring.)
Luckily, there are some smart people out there talking about the good side of ADHD. The psychiatrist Edward Hallowell uses an analogy I love: Having ADHD is like having a powerful race car motor for a brain—but with bicycle brakes. Treating ADHD is like strengthening your brakes so you’re not so out of control, and you can start enjoying the benefits of that powerful brain. Actor/inventor/artist/author Jonathan Chesner’s book ADHD in HD: Brains Gone Wild is bursting at the seams with positive energy and great ideas for “harnessing the awesome powers” of ADHD as well as advice for managing the difficulties.
It’s true that our kids need help with their brakes, and there are lots of ways to give that help. Medicine is one. We also need to help by giving kids support at home and at school and by encouraging their passions.
I know teachers are not really just trying to make things easier on themselves. They want to help kids—that’s why they became teachers. But that initial contact is like a blunt force trauma in a parent’s life, and teachers can help families a lot by noticing the child’s strengths and talking about them.
I also know that these kids don’t want to be disruptive. All three of those friends I talked with reported back to me in the weeks following diagnosis that things were going great. Their kids were no longer getting so much demoralizing negative attention from teachers and classmates. They felt competent and in control. They felt good about themselves. Now that they were getting help, they were more able to use their strengths appropriately in school.
A positive point of view doesn’t make everything easy. Struggles are real, and they persist no matter how hard we focus on strengths. I still get the occasional note or phone call from school. Homework can be a battle in which all tactics are valid, including subterfuge. But as long as my son works to manage his ADHD difficulties and feels confident in his strengths, I feel like the war is already won. He is going to do amazing things.
I would love to hear more diagnosis stories from parents and teachers. Please share yours in the comments.
Eric Braun is a writer and an editor living in Minneapolis. Learn more at www.heyericbraun.com.
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Dr. Hallowell’s website
ADHD in HD: Brains Gone Wild by Jonathan Chesner
This Morning Sam Went to Mars by Nancy Carlson
The Survival Guide for Kids with ADHD by John Taylor
Thanks for your comment, geeyes34! I am conflicted on the topic of technology–as much as I get frustrated when my son spends too much time playing strategy games online, I do appreciate that he’s being challenged in that way. It’s not all mindless “likes” and so on–the games he chooses are complex and difficult. (At least most of the time!) But you’re right that tech can distract all of us from interacting with each other as real people, “in the three-dimensional world,” as I tell my kids.
Carly, thank you for your comment! Your story is really encouraging. I love your doctor’s attitude about treating the giftedness before the ADHD. Sounds like you have a great attitude, too–keep those wheels turning!
Fantastic! We were also blindsided the 1st week of Kindergarten with the teacher suggesting ADHD testing. Your description of that moment was spot on. We knew our son was smart and had some gifted tendencies so we went about testing him 1st through a Psychologist that specialized in gifted children. His testing supported our theory. We knew he had strengths but to be honest we didn’t know just how smart this little guy was. The Dr stated in his report that the testing was the minimum of his abilities as ADHD is suspect and that can limit true potential. What we loved about this Dr was that he stated “we should always treat the giftedness before the ADHD” When our child masters something new learned in school, he becomes bored and the ADHD kicks into overdrive. He came up with an action plan that allowed our son to do certain subjects a few grades up to keep him challenged. My husband and I are not looking into medication as we intend to keep his little wheels turning and motor running. We were told to meet with the principal at the school and try to get that individual to understand and assist in advocating year after year. I’m sure we will have good and bad years, like you we feel like we are winning the war.
Reblogged this on geeyes34 and commented:
a wonderful piece pouring out the heart’s contents to open the vision and vista of the teaching community to be a bit tolerant….
The article is a nice one, drawing attention to the reality that stares the parents with unpleasant call from the teachers about their children’s mental development. The author’s account has done full justice to the issues raised by him and it is a pity that at the inception level itself the teachers do not show a tolerant spirit to treat their exceptional wards with care and compassion. We have to educate the educators about the virtues of endurance so that the children receiving education from them turn out to be smart one to battle life’s myriad challenges. Unfortunately, the boom of technology has become the bane, distracting everyone from their core values and competence and compelling them to be addicts to the contraptions churned out by technology. In the process, most of us including the teaching community devote most of their valuable time in sporting distractions of technology such as social media or fingering the smart phone to while away the time, instead of taking up the real issues that concern us. It is time we brought a sense of balance in life particularly at the level of schools where tiny children need to be moulded as a good citizen by their teachers. The article is an eye-opener to all those who are in a position to shape the wards and pupils under their charge and supervision by reaching out that extra mile to make them realize their true potentials. G.Srinivasan, journalist, new delhi, india