The Edison Gene: Helping Your Child Do What He Does Well BECAUSE He Has ADHD

by Glenn Hefley

My five-year-old son and I are driving back to our house after visiting some friends of mine. In the course of thirty minutes our conversation has traveled down this line of subjects: heroes, comic books, the Avengers, vigilantism, Thor the comic book hero, Thor the mythological god of thunder, Odin, Zeus, Apollo, Jesus, Church, Romans, Greeks. At this point, he asks, “Dad, what is God?” Notice the question is not “Who is God?” but “What, is God?”

I wish I could report that I came up with an answer worthy of the question. I knew how I would start on such a conversation with a person of my age but I was not sure how to begin with my five-year-old son. So, I was silent for a moment – a moment too long it turned out, because he turned to me and said in a matter-of-fact voice, “Well, if you don’t know, you don’t have to make something up,” and looked out the window.

Again, he was five at the time.

Are there benefits to having ADHD? Definitely. Yes, there are trials to be faced by what we term as ADHD people, but as with all things in nature there appears to be balance here as well.

The ADHD adult, child, and teenager all have common problems. Dress codes are never ‘in-style’ or in some cases even complete. Ask any parent of an ADHD child how many jackets they have purchased this year and the sum will probably be more than they can count on a single hand. Frequently the adult ADHD will change jobs, relationships, and even career interests. Spelling is hardly a strong point, and note taking almost non-existent.

Those are all on the one side of the ledger. Let’s look at our balance sheet on the other side. Spelling is not a strong point, but vocabulary and comprehension are often above the charts. Proper use of grammar may not be seen on a written paper, but the insights into the subject matter are often astounding.

The ADHD child is intense, creative, hyper-thinking, and lives outside just about every box we have in our society. In fact, the box is probably in the same place they left their jacket. Thousands of people pay millions of dollars every year to learn how to be just like your child is right now. They call it ‘lateral-thinking’ or ‘free-association’ or ‘spontaneous problem solving’ and any one of a hundred other current popular phrases. These people see in themselves something lacking, and they probably see this because they ran into someone just like your child: someone funny, insightful, energetic, and intensely interested in what they were doing at the time – so much so that they didn’t even bother to match up their socks.

The ADHD child surpasses IQ testing, in most cases. They will score incredibly high in one test, and in another, fail miserably. It is not the test, but how your child thinks. They match up events and facts from their history, events long forgotten by everyone else, and relate them to events happening right now with astounding results, and their reservoir never seems to dry up.

The traits of the ADHD personality are difficult to work with when it comes to children, especially when subjected to unstimulating, highly structured, repetitive tasks. These same traits are sought after by very high paying careers: high energy, risk-taking, flexibility in ideation, ambition, consistent creative productivity, just to name a few.

To bring out these traits and help your child learn to use them in the most productive way is often a challenge. There are a few ways to help your child capitalize on these traits and improve his self-esteem along the way.

First off, as parents we need to be open to what we are dealing with here. ADHD at the present time is often classified as a psychological problem. Many studies over the years, such as Cramond in 1994, Farely in 1981, and Shaw in 1992, have begun to point out that ADHD may be a physical phenomenon in the brain; the brain itself physically thinks differently. For example, the use of the frontal lobes in ADHD kids is secondary to the use of the middle areas of the brain. The frontal lobe areas deal with short-term memory, personality, and the responsive areas to what is going on right now in front of us. The middle area of the brain deals with long-term memory, history, and experience.

Nothing at this time is conclusive. The human mind offers a vast area of study, but as parents we only need to be open minded to the possibility that the behaviors our children are exhibiting are indicative of enhanced and creative problem solving traits.

Recent research has also suggested that AHDH is a life-long condition. This means that despite what many people might suggest to you, your child is not going to grow out of this “phase” anytime soon.

This is sometimes very difficult to accept. No one likes to think that their child may be bodily or mentally different from other children, but accepting the possibility (and that is all I am suggesting: to accept the “possibility”) that this may be a life-long condition helps us to focus on working with the condition, instead of hoping it will go away some day. If it does ‘go away’, fantastic; if not we didn’t waste any time.

Often it is difficult to determine the difference between “not paying attention” and diverted attention. Many times I thought my son was not paying attention to what I was saying, only to find out he was five steps ahead of me and coming at the situation from another angle. This is not always the case; the reverse is true as well, as it is with all children. However, try to find out before jumping to conclusions.

Ask your child what she was thinking about after a period of ‘daydreaming’. Try to do it when it is not an issue before you start asking when it might be an issue. This allows the child to remain unguarded in her replies. You may find that your child has not only been “paying attention” but has started down an alternative path. They still have “left the conversation,” which can be frustrating, but it is a quality of ADHD that allows them to multi-task and become creative problem solvers in the future as well. Listen to what they have to say and pay attention to their body language during these ‘daydreaming’ periods, and then bring them back to the conversation.

As a parent, learning to recognize this difference in your child can be a very good tool for both of you. Remember, however, that it is also important to provide opportunities for your child’s creative mind, both in school and at home. This will help build their self-esteem and build up their natural strengths. Find games to play that focus on building up creative and lateral thinking.

When you are traveling long distances, bring books-on-tape for the trip rather than music. Fictional stories are often better than non-fiction for these trips; try to find something your child will be interested in. If your daily commute with your child is longer than half an hour on a regular basis, books-on-tape work well during this time. There are also the side benefits of focusing your child before he gets to school in the morning, such as improving their vocabulary and building up their ability to focus on verbal conversations.

Find some books on lateral thinking and “out of the box” thinking, and when you read them take notes on what the books suggest. Then ask your child what she thinks about the ideas in the books during dinner conversations.

You may be quite surprised to find out what your child thinks is “Well… duh. Of course you do that dad. How else are you going to solve problems?” Or something along those lines.

I’m not suggesting you do this just to have your child look at you like you are silly. The real benefit here is to offer your child a vocabulary system and dialog that will help them describe to you and to others (such as teachers) what is going on in their minds. There is also the side benefit of being able to get an insight of your own into what and how they are thinking. Granted, it is a backdoor way into getting this insight, but why not try it? They do the same to us.