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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ADHD: My Silver Linings

Yesterday I spoke with a friend of a friend whose son had recently been diagnosed with ADHD. Our mutual friend had told her that I, too, had a son with ADHD and would be a good person to provide information, advice, and support. As you may know, my son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in grade one (he's in 9th grade now) and in that time, we've had many ups and downs and learned a lot. I wrote about some of those experiences on UrbanMoms.ca. You can read them here, and here.

I bet that a few of you are thinking that maybe your kid has ADHD...or that maybe even YOU have ADHD. And I bet that a few of you that think that ADHD is just a made-up thing and that my kid is just hyper and poorly behaved.

To both of those groups, I invite you to spend a day in my son's shoes. Ask him what's going through his mind. Ask him about what it feels like to constantly be yelled at and not know why people are yelling at you. Ask him how it feels to live in a world that perpetually seems to be moving in slow motion. Ask him how it feels like to be told to sit still, be quiet, and just focus but you just...can't.

I've spoken to a lot of parents whose kids have ADHD and they all say the same thing: that even before going to the doctor, they knew their child had it. That the diagnosis was just a confirmation. That from almost Day One, they knew that there was something different about their child. That when they completed the ADHD behavior checklist, it was like someone had read their minds.

That when they learned their child had ADHD, it was a relief because it meant that they weren't bad parents and their kid wasn't a bad kid and there was a light at the end of the long dark tunnel that's paved with endless trips to the principal's office, a messy room, a disorganized desk, constantly interrupting others during conversations, non-stop talking, horrible handwriting, being embarrassed because your kid is the only one who couldn't sit still during the play/movie/dinner/everything. and countless impulsive actions such as dropping a buttered piece of bread on the floor just to see if it really does always land butter side down.

As I re-read the paragraph above, its sounds as if having ADHD is terrible and I fear that after my phone conversation with my new friend, I've left her thinking that having ADHD is terrible. But really, it's not. Having ADHD can actually be seen as a gift. So after consulting with my son, we have come up with the top five reasons why having ADHD is awesome:

1. Multitasking. For him, this is the number one reason why he thinks ADHD is awesome. Study after study has shown that humans are actually less productive when we multitask because the human brain cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. Except for people with ADHD. We discovered his mad multitasking skills when he was in grade one and he couldn't sit quietly on the carpet in class. The teacher gave him a book to read and not only did he mellow out, he was, for the first time, completely engaged in the lesson. It was really quite amazing to watch. To look at him, you'd think he was completely engrossed in his book and not at all listening, but then the teacher would ask a question and without averting his eyes, his hand would shoot up and he would yell out the right answer (ok. so while multitasking helps him focus, it clearly doesn't do much for impulsivity). These days, his multitasking superpowers allow him to watch a movie and write an essay and play with the dog all at the same time. And when he's done, he can quote his favorite part of the movie and has written a kick-ass essay. The dog, on the other hand, still pees in his room...but that's a different story.

2. Although above I mentioned it as a negative, impulsivity is actually amazing. Most of us have this built-in stop sign in our heads, a mechanism that tells us to think twice before speaking or acting. And for most of us, it's during that second thought that we choose not to say or do what we were thinking about. Sometimes that's a good thing, such as the bread and butter scenario. But those impulsive thought are often our best ideas, our most creative ideas, and because we gave them a second thought, they dissapear forever. On the other hand, people with ADHD don't hold back; they're not afraid to yell out the wrong answer or speak their mind or try something new. Walt Disney, Bill Gates, Vincent Van Gogh, and Henry Ford are only some of the famous people with ADHD who changed our world because they acted on their impulsive thoughts.  Ok...so maybe it was a little too impulsive for Van Gogh to cut off his ear.

3. Besides mental multitasking, time and time again, people with ADHD are rockstars when it comes to physical multitasking. Why? Because without even trying they use their inability to sit still to their benefit. They just think better when they're moving. Just ask Michael Phelps, Magic Johnston, and chef Jamie Oliver. They're more productive and more focused and more creative when they're on the go. It's weird, but it's true. Take my son for example: he is an amazing drummer. I was talking to his drum teacher about it and he told me that Billy's not an anomaly; that some of the most talented drummers...and piano players and guitarists have ADHD . If you think about it, it makes sense: who else but someone with ADHD could make both hands and both feet do four separate things at the same time their eyes are reading the music AND their ears are keeping time with the rest of the band? That is the INSANE mental and physical multitasking that only people with ADHD can manage.

4. Speaking of drums, did I tell you that I bought my son a new drum kit yesterday as a reward for getting into a specialized high school of the arts? And that without ever putting together a drum kit in his life and without reading the instructions, he assembled the whole thing in under an hour? This brings me to point number four: hyper-focus. One of the lesser-know attributes of the ADHD mind, to hyper-focus, means exactly the opposite of not being able to focus. In theory this is something that people with ADHD shouldn't be able to do. But not only can do they do it, they do it better than anyone else. When people with ADHD are super-interested in something, like a video game or a TV show or a task, they will focus on it so much that the world around them is invisible. There have been times that I've literally had to shake my son to get him out of his TV trance; that's not so good. But what is good is how when he hyper-focused on yoyo-ing, he taught himself the most insane tricks. Or when he hyper-focused on learning to Kayak, he got up to instructor's level before he was a teenager. Or how Henry Ford didn't stop trying 'till that Model T was finished. Or how my late father-who also had (undiagnosed) ADHD was able to hyper-focus on his goal of becoming a dentist and became the youngest-ever graduate of U of T dental school. A record that still holds true today.

5. People with ADHD  have the world's most insanely productive memory. They remember what's important to them, and they forget everything else. Some people may view this as a negative, but personally speaking it is one of my favorite things about my son...especially as he enters his teenage years. Take the other day for example: I said something that made him upset and he angrily responded with, "Thanks for ruining my entire night!" And stomped away. Literally two minutes later, he thought of something funny he wanted to tell me and, forgetting that he was mad at me and that I had "ruined his whole night," bounded back into my room with a smile plastered on his face. Can you name any other non-ADHD teen that would forgive and forget that quickly? On the other end the spectrum, what he does remember, he remembers in the blink of an eye and he remembers it forever. Whether it's what we had for lunch when we went to Centre Island when he was four (turkey subs) or memorizing every definition of every key term in his Geography textbook because he had a goal of getting perfect on the test (see point #4 re: hyper-focus). He did, in fact memorize every key term and he did, in fact, get (almost) perfect on the exam. 

There are so many other great things that I love about my son's ADHD, like not being afraid to be an individual, and learning from an early age to be a self-advocate, and developing empathy for other people who are "different" or for whom the world seems unfair.

Not only that, it is statistically proven that people with ADHD are more likely to have high IQ's , have unrivaled energy, and generally happier and more positive people.

Having ADHD rocks.
Or as my son said when a kid once asked him why he's so weird:

It's called ADHD...and all the cool kids these days have it.

Help me help my new friend out: do you have a kid with ADHD? If so, what's your silver lining?

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