distractedI take care of a lot of patients with ADD/ADHD.  I cringe when I say it, but I have developed a fair amount of expertise in the area.

I also have ADD: hence the name of my blog.

There will always be some controversy swirling around the subject.  Some feel it is over-diagnosed and medications are given out to kids who simply need better parenting.  Others feel it should be treated as a disease and should always be treated with medication.  I don't agree with either of these.

To me, ADD is a personality type.  Everyone has areas in which they excel and others that pose big problems.  That is just part of being a human.  Most of the time, the strengths in our personality also have matching weaknesses.  For example, a person who is very emotional and empathic (which is a very positive trait when dealing with people who are hurting) have a tendency to not stand up to others when they should (because they don't want to hurt them).  Compulsive type A are great employees when they are put in a role where attention to detail, but they tend to be less flexible and imaginative.

The same is true with ADD/ADHD.  While the ADD personality may lend itself to a more social personality, better leadership skills, and a more vivid imagination, it also causes trouble at school.  Here is how I explain it to parents and kids:

f1060628914031Q:  What can you say about kids at school with straight A's?
They usually answer "They are smart."
A.  No, actually you can only say that they are very good at school.  They possess the skills it takes to get good grades in school.  Are they smart?  Maybe.  But more likely they are very compulsive, able to pay attention for long periods of time, desiring to please the teacher, and good rule-followers.  Some people with average intelligence possess these skills and can do quite well in school. 

On the other side, there are plenty of very smart people who are not good at all at "doing school."  They would rather mess with their friends, are easily bored, don't like to do assignments they think are "stupid," and don't follow rules well.  My goal in treating ADD is to make the square peg fit in the round hole - to make kids who are not good at school to be able to do school better.

Makes sense?  You probably aren't going to change school to fit the student, so you fit the student to school.  Sad, but necessary.

square-pegOn further contemplation of this, I realized that the skills that make a person successful leaders later in life: independent thinking, social-orientation, not accepting pat answers, and vivid imaginations, are actually a liability in school for many students.  Many teachers don't want a bunch of independent leaders in their classrooms, they want followers who do what they are told.  The exceptional teacher can engage the students who are not good at doing school.  It takes more work, so many teachers aren't willing to adapt.

I see this as a major problem in the schooling of our children.  We are not rewarding leaders and high imaginations.  Many very bright children come into school and have to slow down their learning from before they were students.  We have to keep all students at the same pace.  We don't let the fast-learners move ahead.  I know, because I have several of these kids.

phs_noenglish I don't know the answers.  I would rather not medicate the child and simply change the schooling setting; but I don't think the "no child left behind" fiasco will allow us to fall outside of the prescribed image by which success in education is defined.  Misguided laws like this make education an exercise in conformity, rather than an opportunity to nurse the strengths of each student so they can blossom when they have the chance to be on their own.

I was lucky.  My parents were very structured and my education didn't ask enough out of me for me to fail out at a younger age.  By the time that classes got demanding, I was taking courses that I wanted to take and that I felt were important.  Unfortunately, this is not the case with a lot of children.

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