A shifting perspective on ADHD: from deficiency to strength

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October is a special month in our house. It’s filled with all of the fall things, birthday celebrations and Halloween! It’s also ADHD Awareness Month and some of the people I love most in my life have ADHD.

You may not know that ADHD is one of the most studied and best researched areas in child and adolescent health, and estimates suggest approximately 1 in 10 school-aged kids will be diagnosed with it. Despite being a very real condition that has been recognized by the DSM since the 1980’s, there is still a lot of bias toward the legitimacy of ADHD – as a family member once said, “ADHD is a label for shitty kids and bad parenting.” WELL THEN! Unfortunately, there is a lot of misplaced blame with ADHD, but at the end of the day, the science is clear: it’s a largely genetic condition associated with the regulation of a specific set of brain functions and related behaviors, known as executive functions.

My son was diagnosed with ADHD just before he turned five. With a family history of it and a few really rough years at preschool, we knew. Today he’s happy, healthy and excelling in school, but that didn’t happen overnight. Behind the scenes we navigate extra things that you don’t see, like tutoring, doctor appointments and parent training. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by it all, especially when you remember that ADHD is a lifelong condition.

Through our journey, the biggest turning point was when we stopped seeing ADHD as a deficiency and began recognizing it as a strength. In the spirit of bringing more awareness and acceptance to ADHD, I want to highlight a few of the positives, and talk about how shifting our perspectives have helped us navigate and even lean into this complex condition.

Hyperfocus: the real MVP

When people with ADHD have a strong interest in something, they can display an extraordinary level of concentration known as hyperfocus. This passion and persistence can lead to deep expertise in a certain area. My son loves math and science and is known to hyperfocus on other topics… cars, roller coasters, and Roblox ofc. As a result, he knows a lot of obscure information about these things (and can be really hard to get off his tablet.) It’s arguably the “superpower” of ADHD, and when you learn to zone in on the right things, hyperfocus can pave the way for gaining a substantial competitive advantage.

Inventive thinkers unite

It’s no secret that those with ADHD can struggle with ordination and many tend to display a non-linear way of thinking. Generally speaking, they are inventive thinkers and have a “jump right in” attitude. This can make environments like school tough, but on the upside, I’ve seen it translate to thinking outside of the box and picking up new ideas and concepts quickly. Sometimes it’s hard to stand back and let my son struggle to figure out his own way versus simply staying the course, but 99% of the time, he gets the same end result or better. Truth is, there’s usually more than one way to do things and lord knows this world needs to embrace different points of view.

Movement and noise are his jam

It may be a little too soon to claim this, but I think my son is spectacular in a crisis. He is competitive and he thrives in highly stimulating environments. He kills it with sports, loves busy summer camps, and is energized by things like crowds and loud music. Yes, I’m terrified for his teenage years. He likes to have background noise and often squirms or fidgets while we’re reading bedtime stories. It doesn’t mean he isn’t focusing… this is simply how he focuses. I have had to really let go and allow him to meet these sensory needs, which often feel incredibly overstimulating and overwhelming for me.

Impulsive… or quick starters?

Impulsivity is a hallmark symptom of ADHD, and honestly, it’s been the hardest one to work with. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to scream “what were you thinking!” The other side of the coin is spontaneity and quick decision making. I love that he’s open to new experiences and doesn’t shy away from a challenge, be it trying surfing or choosing a Halloween costume. No analysis paralysis here! My hope is that in time he’s able to steer this impulsivity more functionally and take advantage of the ability to make quick decisions when it is optimal and beneficial.

These are just a few of the things that I have consciously shifted my focus on, there are many more. There was a time when I desperately wished he would conform and fit into the box that society has crafted for him, and I’d be lying if I said the constant swirl didn’t sometimes get to me. But I’m learning to have more grace and step back to let him simply be him. I’ve grown grateful for this different, sometimes messy, but almost always fun and full of surprises path that we’re on, and I couldn’t be prouder of the wonderful boy he is.

 

There is plenty of negative info and misinformation about ADHD out there. Sources for this post include my own personal experience and:

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