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Challenge: Open Discussion

Kids with ADHD are trying to tell us something, and it’s time for us to listen

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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 real. We are not seeing more children with ADHD; we are seeing a new world that has caused the true symptoms of ADHD to escalate.

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. 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 fertilizing our ADHD brains.

However, the ADHD brain is not a bad thing! 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 ADHD brain 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 our world was a simpler place. We did not have everything at our fingertips. If we wanted to learn about the Big Dipper, we could 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 “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 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. However, our education system, for the most part, has not changed. Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing teachers everywhere, but they are working within 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. In addition, we expect children to engage in this style of learning at a younger age. We expect young children to sit while writing letters and numbers when they should be outside running, playing and exploring. Some schools have reduced recess time, have shaved physical education minutes, and have cut the arts altogether. We send children home with hours of mindless homework and wonder why we see behavior problems. For a child who does not have ADHD, this might seem boring, but it is doable. They fit the old paradigm and 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. He might start wondering how far he can flick the paperclip on his desk using his left hand instead of his right. Joey is happy 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 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 that we are expecting our children to fit into.

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 brains, we focus on what we see outside their brains. 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 failures, we have already set them up to fail.

Does this mean we should let our children run freely without any rules, routines or expectations? 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 look through a new lens. 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 efforts, 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.

For more parenting topics like this and so much more, follow Susie at

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