Celebrating Your Child's ADHD Gifts

Just when you thought it was a lifetime curse...

Posted Dec 01, 2016

Teachers write detailed notes home about them. School counselors and psychologists tell you to get them tested. Other parents report on their sometimes-impulsive behavior at playtime. And you? As a parent, you consider self-medicating just to survive it. 

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I'm talking about children with ADD, now more commonly referred to as ADHD -- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Those born with this disorder require a lot of patience and understanding, but in the end, did you know that they can also turn out to be among the most successful individuals around because of (not in spite of) their quirks? Having brains that fire differently from you and I means that by adulthood, they have taught themselves to screen out the background noise and focus on what compels them -- simply because fate has given them no other choice. That means it may be a tad more difficult for them to be good foot soldiers as employees in a world of bosses, but it may also mean that they can be gifted in ways you can’t even fathom.

Having parented a now-grown child with ADHD, I learned in the process that the disorder arises in people whose brains partially block the reception of dopamine – the “feel good” chemical. For my daughter, it translated into knowing without a doubt that she was smart, but being bored stiff when having to perform routine tasks in everyday endeavors most people barely give second thoughts to. This made my quest to place her in small-class settings with stimulating activities what seemed like a never-ending cause. But I also knew I could not shield her from the choices she would have to make in her life as she neared adulthood. “Look for something you can do where you are your own boss,” I told her when she was in high school. “Otherwise, you’ll end up being unhappy and you’ll just keep moving from job to job.” Somehow I knew. Why? Because I have a degree of scattered focus myself, as does her father. And neither of us do well in anything but incentive-based, commission, contract, or freelance work. After a few years of painful self-discovery neither one of us “saved” her from, our daughter eventually founded her own online business and has learned to apply her lightening-fast thumb-typing speed and unique creativity skills to better her life.

When my now 32-year old daughter does share her plans and thoughts with me, it’s a sheer delight.  Her highs can be off the charts, making me want to pop a bottle of bubbly. But I also know that she gets easily bored when I pose too many questions or fail to understand what she is relating to me. I finally learned that instead of being upset about her lack of desire to help me comprehend, she will simply explain it differently to me at a later date, when she deems it important enough.

I know. As a parent, it’s hard not to take these things personally, since we rarely have to make such allowances for others in our lives. But at one point, you have to take into account that your adult child’s unique brain does not process things the way yours does. And while you shouldn’t tolerate rudeness, patience becomes more of a virtue than you will ever know. Other traits of ADHD that parents deal with in their growing child are distractibility and disorganization.  Fortunately for today’s ADHD-laden child, the digital world has been a huge help and a launching pad for them in countless ways. While even the average person flits from web page to web page looking for things, reading things and shopping, apply imaginary steroids with an ADHD adult and you’ve got a recipe for multi-tasking at its most amazing levels.  As for their need for but inherent inability to be organized?  They eventually surmise that it’s simply not a sentence that must be served. Why? They figure that as long as they can find what they need, their time spent on organizing is better spent creating, brainstorming and find others who can handle it for them.

I realize I am over-generalizing as well as over-simplifying here, but my point is to give the parents of ADHD children not only hope, but also reason to celebrate their special snowflakes. Many celebrities and people of note throughout history have thrived on their perceived behavior and/or learning disorders: actors like Will Smith and Channing Tatum. Sports figures like Michael Phelps and Pete Rose. Musicians, entertainers and artists like Justin Timberlake, Adam Levine, and Jim Carrey. And business moguls like Sir Richard Branson, and David Neelemen, both founders of major airlines.  These people probably wouldn’t trade their ever-present conditions for the world.

Parents Magazine’s Penny Williams offer tips on how to help your ADHD child thrive in school. And BigThink.com’s Orion Jones offers a unique perspective on this topic. Even parents of “normal” children are well advised to encourage them to be true to themselves, but the parent of an ADHD child may need to remind him or herself more often.  Show your child how to make positive choices and paint each perceived failure as a step to more insight and knowledge. Then step back and watch. You may begin to realize all those years of parental stomach acid paid off.