“Mom, what’s ADHD?” he said as he slowed his bike down to ride next to me.
Oh crap, what do I say… what do I say?
This is not the first time he’s asked me this question. In the past, I have started down the road of explaining in technical jargon, which does the trick nicely – he loses interest in about 30 seconds and then forgets that he has asked the question. There’s something different about this time, though… he seems to be waiting for a real answer. All of his synapses are firing just perfectly and he’s not going to “ADHD” onto another topic… I knew this day would come, but I was hoping that it would come when he was at least a little older.
“Well,” I said, taking a deep breath, “ADHD is the thing that makes your life really hard right now, but some day, it will be the thing that makes you a superhero.”
He got excited at that: “A superhero? Really?”
Yes, really. Just take a moment to think about all of the successful people that you know with ADHD, or that you may suspect have ADHD. They are motivated, they have their minds and hearts completely invested in several projects at once, and they are determined to make things happen. Now, take a moment to think about all of the unsuccessful people that you know who you suspect may have ADHD. They are disorganized, they usually have several projects started and none completed, and they are generally pretty unhappy about life.
What gives? How can one diagnosis create two polar opposite results? I am convinced that there is a very simple answer.
The most important element of a successful ADHD personality is self esteem…
the belief that the things you do are going to work out…
the belief that trying and failing are not synonymous…
the belief that you are valuable and “worth it”…
Self esteem is what started us on our home school journey to begin with. My son was in a classroom where he was not excited about the work, so he exhibited the typical ADHD avoidance behavior. He got up out of his seat, wandered around the room, and did not complete the work that the rest of the class did. It’s not that he wasn’t capable of doing the work… he’s a really smart kid when he can focus. He just couldn’t handle focusing on a single topic that was not interesting enough (to him) to hold his attention. He was labeled as a “behavior problem” and I can’t really argue that point – he was not making the best choices.
But, the kid that they were seeing at school was not the same sweet snuggly little boy who came home to me every day. And at some point, I realized it… it WAS the same boy, just without any self esteem. This was an image of what my son could become… the version of him that didn’t believe in his super powers… the version of him that might be forever unhappy with his own choices and the world that he finds himself in…
So, with that realization, we pulled him out of school. Now, to their credit, the school was making an effort to accommodate him and to create an IEP that worked with his needs. But he was so crushed at this point, so unsure of himself, and so unhappy about school that we felt like being a little extreme. We needed to help our son find happiness in learning if he was to have any chance of going on to be successful in high school, college and life.
Recently, I have been driven crazy by those who have asserted that ADHD does not exist. BULL-ony. ADHD not only exists, it has been around for a long time. When I look back through the generations in my family, I can see it. However, in my family, these characteristics have also been accompanied by massive doses of self esteem, creating driven and successful people. I struggled as a child in school… it was SO BORING and I felt like I already knew everything they had to teach. Somehow, I managed to focus my energy on those things that kept me happy, though I always longed for a different option.
I have gotten creative with my children’s education because I don’t want it to be boring – I want it to be just as interesting and exciting as learning in the adult world can be. Maybe this is the issue – it’s not parents who overmedicate, it’s not students who tune out – it’s curriculum that doesn’t meet the needs of a diverse set of learners. It’s not exciting, it’s not entertaining, it’s just dull – at least to many of them.
I am not worried about my son’s super powers. I am just worried about keeping him positive and happy about who he is. The rest will come… eventually. It may take years and years of redirects and reining him in, but I am confident that once he learns to control his powers, he will be unstoppable. We just have to keep it positive and help him to remember just how amazing he is.