"In an effort to achieve attention and focus, the ADHD brain intuitively and consistently searches for stimulation. When stimulation occurs and the brain is engaged, it has a better chance of being able to function. Where the brain turns for stimulation depends on personal preferences; what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another."
Loving someone with ADD, Susan Tschudi (2012, New Harbinger Publications)
My sister-in-law, who lives in Brazil, recently had her first baby. She and my brother-in-law are over the moon with this happy event. Every time they post pictures of my tiny nephew Gonzalo on Facebook or send them via text, I reminisce about when my first was born. There is something so magical and incredible about the first, though each subsequent time is incredible (my kids might be reading this, after all). I remember feeling so amazed that I created that perfect little being, and feeling overwhelmed with love and emotion, and wanting to just stare at him for hours.
As a toddler, my son could play with one toy for hours, like his wooden blocks. He would build airplanes, cars, or boats and was very focused on whatever he did; he was a calm and patient baby. He self-entertained often. When he wasn't playing or reading, as soon as he could talk enough, he started asking us questions. Millions of questions.He was curious about everything. His questions ranged from "Where did water come from?" to asking all about the planets and solar system, tom when he was older, asking about the reproductive process. He was a sponge for new information.
As he progressed through elementary school, he began to have trouble sitting school and focusing. My husband and I were surprised, because he had always been able to focus so well. Soon, the attention issues began affecting his behavior, and as the material he was learning became less creative, he started become bored and restless, and started to dread school. In fourth grade, he started to refuse to go to school some days. We had him evaluated and were blindsided by the diagnoses: ADD (with hyperactivity), anxiety, and severe depression.
Severe depression was the most difficult part for us to understand; in fact my husband and I went from the therapist's office to a nearby bar for a beer the day we found out. Our son had always seemed to be a happy kid. But, the more we thought about it, the more it all made sense. And, as the psychologist told us, depression looks very different in younger kids than in adults. As we learned more about that and ADD, my husband began to realize that he probably had ADD as well; an evaluation confirmed his suspicions. The hyper focus on his interests and the impulsive behavior our son sometimes had began to make more sense to us, too.
Our son has come a long way since 4th grade. As an eighth grader, he no longer refuses to go to school or acts out in school (except in the knuckle-headed way of middle school boys). However, he does not like school and I wouldn't say he is thriving - more like just surviving. He continues to be curious and smart and inquisitive - about the things he is interested in. As I learn more about ADD, I know that what does not interest my son is absolute torture for him to get through. I used to think he could "just do it" - just try harder! Do more work! Study more! Now I know that it's just not that easy for someone like him. I've learned to try harder to accept him just how he is - whether living up to that potential or not. Of course, his dad and I want him to try his hardest, to always do better, and to have goals in life. The journey might look different from what we expected, but in the long run I think he'll be successful and happier.
My son's forte is technology - has been since he first got on a computer. For years, he has been the one we go to (his teachers, too) with computer questions. One of the projects he is working on now is developing a game with his friend. For someone who has difficulty with group work and doesn't have stellar grades in school, I was shocked to hear him trouble-shooting, brainstorming, and thinking out loud with his friend on the other end (each with their headsets). I thought about how amazing it would be for him to be in a learning environment that allowed him to really explore and use his energy and creativity to help his learning rather than hinder his progress.
I don't blame his teachers, or his school - after all, he goes to the school where I work, and his teachers are my colleagues and friends. I don't blame teachers at all - our job is hard enough and we get blamed for too much already. But I do wonder, as we learn more about the brain and how kids learn, as we learn about ADD and other learning issues, shouldn't our leaders be helping to really transform education, to make it more interesting? Instead, it is being more standardized every day; it's a quest towards "sameness".
Today we had a snow day in Massachusetts, like in much of the Northeast. When my son wakes up and before he takes his ADD meds is when he can be most impulsive. This morning it broke my heart when he said, "Mami, today I'm going to try to not have ADD, just so you know. Obviously he knows that he can't choose to have it or not, but the sentiment that made me sad. I went to find him a little later and told him that I loved him with or without his ADD and that he didn't have to try to change. I also told him that people with ADD are more creative and that is something he can take advantage of - one day. I can only hope he heard the message and internalizes.it. We are heading towards a 3 out of 5 people ADD family :-) and I'm learning to be more accepting and less critical. I think in the process, I've become a better and more empathetic teacher, too.