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Camp & School Guide Discovering the ‘super powers’ of an ADHD diagnosis

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Posted: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 9:23 am

Toni Greenberg could say one thing with certainty about her son during his elementary school years: “Unless you put him under general anesthesia, he (was) going to jump out of his seat.”

Greenberg’s son, Jake, had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Since its appearance in the medical literature in the 1990s, ADHD has seen a “boom in prevalence,” said Dr. Alison Pritchard, program director at Kennedy Krieger’s Neuropsychology Research Lab. “The research suggests this is not due to more kids having it.” Instead, “it’s more related to better identification of it and changes in diagnostic criteria.”

In addition, Pritchard said, “the demands that are placed on kids have changed. There are more and more schools where kids get one recess instead of two.”

Which means we’ve heard a lot in the past two decades about ADHD, which can lead to struggles in school, problems with self-esteem and a list of other headache-inducing issues for kids and their parents. But is there an upside to ADHD?

“Kids with ADHD kind of get a bad rap,” says Vivian Morgan, a therapist who specializes in helping kids with ADHD. “They’re usually super-smart kids, but because they struggle with all those things that go with being a ‘good’ student, they’re usually underestimated.”

Superpower No. 1: Lots of energy

A burst of physical energy that’s unhelpful in math class is a boon in other areas. Greenberg said of Jake, “Every time he tried out for a play, he got the lead. He could sing, act, be funny, and he just had this high energy.” When he was 14, he played Huck in a community production of “The Adventures of Huck Finn.”

Superpower No. 2: Hyper focus

Although people with ADHD can have problems focusing, they also can focus with laser-like intensity on projects they love.

This is known as “hyper focus,” according to Morgan, and kids with ADHD can hyper-focus with ease. “The idea they have a deficit in attention is really a misnomer. It’s more a problem of regulating their attention to a desired task. Like getting your homework done or packing your bookbag.”

So, even though Greenberg jokingly claims her son is “still looking for the Land’s End jacket he left at school” all those years ago, she says he had no problem at all memorizing pages of dialogue and songs for performances.

Another parent, Pam B., agrees. Her daughter Sarah was diagnosed with ADHD in elementary school, and she said that when Sarah is interested in a project, “she’s locked in for four or five hours.”

Superpower No. 3: A creative mind

Sarah is “definitely an artist. She is a ridiculously outside-the-box thinker,” Pam said. “When she was little, we’d walk around Kohl’s, and she would collect beads and pins and things off the floor, and make little sculptures. You can tell she can think in 3D.”

Pritchard said: “Creativity is the most-discussed ‘pro’ of ADHD.” However, published medical research on the veracity of this claim is “very, very preliminary,” she said. Still, it is true that “impulsivity, what’s sometimes called inhibitory control, helps you to engage in divergent thinking,” Pritchard says. “If you’re more impulsive, you’re coming up with more varied ways to solve a problem, which is a part of creativity.”

Superpower No. 4: A talent for happiness

This impulsivity, or “lack of inhibition,” can also make kids with ADHD “very fun to be around, very funny and very much in the moment,” Morgan said. People with ADHD “have this ability to really be present and really enjoy themselves. Being mindfully present in the moment is where happiness is, and kids with ADHD are there already.” JN

The article originally ran in Baltimore’s Child, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.

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