Entertain ADHD Children to Teach Better Behavior?

Struggling to help your child with ADD/ADHD and other special needs manage a particular symptom or challenge? Therapist and comic book creator Jon Filitti says using positive pop culture messages and entertainment could be effective in helping teach better behavior.
ADHD Parenting Blog | posted by Kay Marner

As I announced in last week's post, "Comic Books ADHD Children Will Love to Read (and Learn from, Too)," two lucky ADDitude readers who enter our contest will be chosen to win copies of the "Out of This World" comics, which tackle attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) children's top challenges: inattention, motivation, bullying, and anger management. Below is a conversation I had with the comic book creator, author and master’s level therapist, Jon Filitti, a self-proclaimed comic fanatic.

Kay: How did you come up with the idea to write comic books for kids with special needs?

Jon: The idea first came to me in grad school. We had a great teacher who wanted us to come up with projects that we would find joy in, yet could be integrated in the therapy approaches we were learning. 

I had always thought that comic books, video games, and computer programs could, and should, be used to grab youth's attention and teach them important skills and strategies at the same time; not to be sneaky about it, but let’s face it, sometimes we learn best when we're being entertained. In fact, the motto of the "Out of This World" universe of books is "Characters teaching Character" and I truly believe it's the best way to engage kids.

Kay: Have you found kids to be amenable to comic books that teach, rather than just entertain?

Jon: Absolutely. I've heard from professionals who are using the books with kids, I've heard from teachers and parents, and I've also heard from kids who read the books. As kids become engaged in the story and the characters, they see how the characters’ decisions, and the consequences of their decisions, are impacting their lives. 

By then it's just a hop, skip, and a jump to the actual learning experience, and that's when kids start applying the same decisions, skills, and projection of consequences to their own lives. 

Our society as a whole is very concerned that our kids are learning negative attributes and behaviors from pop culture. And while I'm not one who believes we should blame pop culture for everything, I do believe a negative influence is definitely there and should be addressed. 

So, if I accept that premise, I must also accept the flip side. I believe we can very easily, and very clearly, influence positive behaviors and social skills through engaging, positive entertainment.
Kay: Do you use comic books in therapy sessions with kids?  

Jon: All the time. Of course the fit has to be right. A 17-year-old male who doesn't like comics wouldn't be a good fit. But, with that said, I've also been surprised to find how many older kids like reading them.

The books have been a great starting point to begin addressing a lot of these issues in therapy. Most of the kids I work with have struggled mightily before their parents sought out a therapist and often times, accurately or not, they've become accustomed to feeling as if they can't make the changes needed to find greater success. The books help engage the individual and break the ice. 

Kay: Why do you think these books are effective for children with ADD/ADHD and other special needs?

Jon: Who doesn't love excitement and adventure? Who doesn't like interesting characters and fantastic voyages?  We all like to cheer for the underdog. We all like to cheer for the good guys. 

As kids are cheering on the good guys in the "Out of This World" books, they are also learning the same skills and going through the same activities as the characters. A child's imagination is a very fertile place. Kids can easily imagine themselves in these situations. They don't bother with the schematics of it. Of course they know they aren't going to be transported to another universe like the characters in the books, but that doesn't mean they can't imagine it. They live the adventure and are influenced by the good choices and skills presented by the characters.

Kay:  What’s next for Max and the gang? 

Jon:  Steve Ott [an artist] and I are working on a prequel to the original four issues, which will be coming out this year. Steve and I decided to release it without any learning activities and focused on making it an all-ages adventure, which parents and children can enjoy together. But even though there aren’t any specific activities the characters are still learning important issues like trust, coping with fear, and problem solving. We’re wrapping up the last couple of chapters and will make sure you and your readers know when it’s out!

Read my mother-daughter review of the "Out of This World" comics and click here to enter to win free copies.

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