How Our Kids Are Smart

ADHD kids often have unconventional talents that don't get rewarded in school. Hear what ~ADDitude~ readers have to say about their children.

There's more than one way to be smart.

Many parents of ADHD kids have long known what Harvard researchers are now confirming scientifically: There's more than one way to be smart. School can be a breeze for kids with strong language and math skills, but Harvard's Howard Gardner has identified other intelligences — musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal and intrapersonal — that most schools don't value or promote. It's about time the world heard some of the many wonderful things about our kids!

TK: spatially and spiritually smart

My husband the doctor may have degrees from MIT, Stanford, and Michigan, but last night he met his match in my ADHD son as they worked on the computer brainteaser, Myst III. TK is a child who, at 14, still has problems with verbal directions and expressing ideas. "He definitely saw it from a different perspective," says my husband. "Mine was cerebral, his was spatial."

Such experiences constantly confirm our intuition. TK's sense of himself in space is razor sharp. He can pick up a dance step as if he's been practicing for years. At Deejay parties there's always a circle of people watching him, flabbergasted.

When he was eight and at Rice University's summer camp, Rice's fencing coach, an Olympic champion, called me. "Oh God, he's stabbed someone," was my first thought, shaped by years of phone calls from teachers and counselors. "We're always looking for the next national champion," he told me. "Your son has the potential." He'd been fencing exactly two weeks.

Six years later he's closer to that goal, although his attention problems hamper his progress. This summer he took up skateboarding. After a month his instructor reported, "he's in the top five percent I've taught."

TK is charismatic, outgoing and popular, but painfully aware of his differences. When challenged, he can get angrily defensive in a flash. Even so, ask any friend or relative to describe him and they use words like "kind" and "empathetic." I hope his spiritual intelligence will someday extend to himself as much as it does to others.

Ellen Kingsley, Houston TX

Justin Hawkins: creating his unique place in life

My son Justin has always been a study in contrasts. Diagnosed with ADHD in second grade, he blurted out answers in class, couldn't sit still, acted impulsively. Teachers expected little of him — until he took the California Achievement Test and scored in the mid-ninetieth percentile. Still, no one knew how to handle him. His behavior at school deteriorated. He became aggressive and got into fights.

It took years of psychotherapy and special schooling before the inner Justin I knew finally emerged for the rest of the world. His gifts for cartooning, animal drawing and graphics blossomed. Eventually he added stories and poems to his art. I responded by providing art and music classes, camps, journaling opportunities.

Then I sent him to a money-management camp where he learned the rudiments of business and put his extraordinary math talent to work. He was in his element there, working in the sandwich section of a delicatessen where he could move, fling his arms, and talk nonstop.

Now it's all coming together. For nearly three years, Justin has written lyrics for a music group comprised of kids who spend hours almost nightly rehearsing, laying beats, and strategizing business plans. There's even a line of clothing — outerwear peppered with an array of hues and an illustration of the group, a colorful bunch. The graphics are designed by... guess who?

Freya Lineberger, Silver Spring, Maryland

Justin Anderson: the ultimate survivor

From the time he was a toddler, my son Justin always approached life in his own, first-hand way. When he wanted to achieve a goal — whether it was taking apart a clock and putting it back together or putting together the ultimate computer system — he could always figure out the way to do it. His ADHD would make him act out in class and drive his teachers crazy, but his intuitive love for and understanding of animals made all our cats and dogs wind up in Justin's room, where he had all the love and patience in the world for them.

In middle school, he became a Johns Hopkins scholar in math, scoring in the 98th percentile nationally in the Iowa achievement tests. He can fix everything from cars to televisions and has the driving techniques and the daring of an Indy 500 driver.

After an increasingly rocky road in high school and some risky behaviors that got him into trouble, Justin is putting his superior intelligence to work at a state college, where he is majoring in business, with an interest in commercial real estate.

With his keen sense of how to accomplish goals important to him and how to survive in a world that's often been hard for him to understand and interact with, Justin is the ultimate survivor, the one I'd choose to be stranded on a desert island with because he would devise a unique, inventive way to get us off there and home again.

Joyce Gabriel Anderson, Ridgefield, Connecticut

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