How often have you heard…
- When I was a child there was no such thing as ADHD.
- ADHD is not a real thing. These children simply need less sugar, less technology and more discipline.
- Parents need to stop blaming their child’s behavior problems on ADHD and start disciplining them.
The statements above represent how several people view ADHD. Some don’t believe it deserves an acronym because some don’t believe it is a disorder, they simply believe it is bad parenting. While I agree that many things can create ADHD like symptoms, ADHD is very real. We are not seeing more children with ADHD, we are seeing a new world that has caused the true symptoms of ADHD to boil over.
Think of it this way. When we plant a seed in the ground, it does not grow until it is watered. Our fast-forward, technology-rich society has watered the brains of our children and while some sprouts used to pop up here and there, we have now created nutrient-rich soil with the water needed to grow lots of plants. Our new world is growing our ADHD brains.
But, the ADHD brain is not bad! Far from it. The ADHD brain is simply different.
When I work with parents of ADHD children I use the zip-line analogy. Inside the brain of ADHD children are thousands of zip-lines. If something is not strong enough to hold their attention they will simply zip-line to something more exciting. In years past, we could hold our children’s attention much longer because quite frankly, our world was more boring. We did not have everything at our finger tips. If we wanted to learn about The Big Dipper we could either look in our textbooks, go to the library or leaf through our handy-dandy encyclopedias and read three to five paragraphs in summary. Today we simply type The Big Dipper into our computers and we might as well be standing in the constellation itself. We are instantly given pictures, videos, activities and interactive, everything imaginable in seconds. Whether we like it or not, this new world is far from boring. It is fast, it is innovative, it is creative and it is interesting.
This technology burst has created all sorts of change. Our transportation is safer, faster and more efficient. Our form of communication is instantaneous. Our creativity is endless. But our education system, for the most part, has not changed. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing teachers! I started my career as a teacher and I work alongside them every day, but they are up against an archaic education system. In many schools, children are expected to sit in their chairs for hours listening to teachers lecture about things we have been teaching for years. Not only that, we expect this to happen at a younger age. When our kindergartners should be outside running, playing and exploring, we are expecting them to sit while writing letters and numbers. We have taken away recess, physical education and the arts. We send children home with hours of mindless homework and wonder why we see behavior problems. For a child that does not have ADHD this might seem boring, but it is doable. They fit into the box and while it might be dark and mindless, they learn to live with it. That is not the case with an ADHD brain.
As children with ADHD try to sit and listen to their teacher, it will not take long for them to zip-line somewhere else if what they are 'learning’ is not interesting. If Mrs. Jones is lecturing about the War of 1812 and Joey does not care about the War of 1812, Joey will zip-line to something he finds more exciting. He might begin doodling his latest invention. He might begin tapping his pencil as he daydreams about creating a tree fort. Or, he might be wondering how far he can flick the paperclip on his desk using his left hand instead of his right. All is good until in the distance he hears his name being called, “Joey, Joey, Joey! What are you doing? What did I just say? You need to pay attention. You need to try harder!” Joey has absolutely no idea what Mrs. Jones just said. He zip-lined away long ago.
I tell parents and educators all the time, our ADHD children are not horrible, undisciplined or unruly children, we have just created a world that no longer allows them to fit inside the box. Our goal as parents and teachers is to reexamine the box we are expecting our children to fit into. Standing outside of the box is not a bad thing, it is our future, but we just keep trying to squash them into a one size fits all box.
Children who truly have ADHD are some of the most creative and innovative people alive, but instead of focusing on what is going on inside their brain, we focus on what we see outside their brain. We focus on their behaviors. We worry about what others think. We worry about the schools they will not get into. We worry that they will end up failing. But here is the irony, while we are worrying about their failure we have already set them up to fail.
Does this mean we should let our children run freely without any rules, routines or expectation? ABSOLUTELY NOT! All children need rules, routines and expectations to feel safe and secure, but we must stop setting them up for failure and begin helping them succeed. If you are the parent or the teacher of an ADHD child I challenge you to change the lens you are looking through. What changes can we make to help our ADHD children be accepted when they don’t fit inside the box?
- We must allow them time to zip-line for part of the day.
- We must allow them time to run, play and explore.
- We must support their interests and help them foster their passions.
- We must look at our education system.
- We must stop giving our children mindless homework.
- We must set limits on the amount of time they are playing video games.
- We must set limits on the amount of time they are spending on social media.
- We must focus on their effort, find small successes and give them specific praise.
But, most importantly, we must think outside of the box and stop expecting everyone to fit into the same one.
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