Explaining what attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) means can be confusing. That's why I often stress that the most part of explaining ADD/ADHD -- to children or adults -- is keeping it simple.
by Ben Glenn
For the last 16 years, I have been blessed to have one of best jobs for an adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). I’m a public speaker and a performing artist. I get to travel all over the country and even to different parts of the world, each gig offering a different location, a different crowd, and a different vibe. I get to stand on stage and share a presentation that combines comedy, creativity, information, and inspiration. I'm never bored!
I give my ADD/ADHD symptoms and characteristics a lot of credit for where I am. ADD/ADHD is both the cause and the consequence of my very unorthodox lifestyle and career. I've never had a regular job. I dropped out of college to pursue speaking, and 20 years later, I still love every moment of it!
My target audience today is primarily educators and student groups. However, when I first started, my audiences would vary from event to event. One day I could be speaking to 1,000 middle school students, and the next day I might talk to 20 business professionals. I loved the variety, and I would book dates for any type of group except one -- elementary-age students. Young kids scared me! I had one bad experience, and it left a lasting impression. It was like getting sick on a food you ate; you never want to see or eat that food again. For those of you who are curious about what happened, let's just say that after the words "Power Rangers" left my mouth, I never was able to get those kids to calm down and listen.
Over the years, my office has gotten multiple requests for me to come speak to little kids. Out of fear, I avoided those requests, referring them to other speakers. For over a decade, I shied away from elementary-age audiences. Then I started traveling with Larry, a 63-year-old superhero grandpa who's been teaching 4- and 5-year-olds for years and loves kids. With his help, two years ago, I overcame my fear and booked a show for 500 little guys and gals. I’ve been nervous before a lot of shows but none more than this. A gym filled with elementary-age children was more frightening than getting a phone call that begins, "Do you like scary movies?” Before the show, Larry gave me a few pointers to help calm my nerves but also to help me adjust my message and make it age-appropriate. It's how I like to do things anyway, but he reminded me to "keep it simple." I did and the show was a great success.
I was reminded of the day "keeping it simple" made all the difference while recently listening to a podcast about ADD/ADHD. The podcast host and her guest were some of today's top experts on the subject of ADD/ADHD. After an insightful hour, I had a whole page of notes. Along with the notes though, I also had a lot of big question marks, stuff I needed to look up and read about to wrap my brain around. That's right, I, Ben Glenn, The Simple ADHD Expert, found plenty to be confused about as I listened to the medical expert and host converse. I wondered what people who have no knowledge of ADD/ADHD whatsoever would have made of it all. I wondered what parent or even an adult with ADD/ADHD would sit through 60 minutes of mostly medical jargon. I know that saying "comorbid" is simpler than "two or more medical conditions that one person can have at the same time," but can't some of these terms be explained at the beginning of any conversation, verbal or written, especially if the target audience most likely has no medical background?
A few years ago, after I started getting into the ADD/ADHD stuff with some serious intensity, my mother confessed to me how helpless and stupid she felt at the meetings we had with my special education teacher in high school. "Why didn't you just ask the teacher to explain to you what you didn't understand?" I asked with surprise. "I didn't want her thinking I was stupid and a bad parent because I didn't know any of the things she was telling me," my mom admitted somewhat shamefaced. Oh mom! I thought. Think of all the headaches we could have avoided together if only you'd asked and if only the teacher had been more aware of how confusing a lot of this ADD/ADHD-related information can be.
That conversation strengthened my desire to somehow put ADD/ADHD into simpler terms. Don't get me wrong. Brain disorders, ADD/ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, and similar conditions are incredibly complex. But professionals in the fields of special education, psychology, and psychiatry need to remember that moms, dads, and all sorts of regular folks with ADD/ADHD often don’t speak the same language and need a lot of the information translated into user-friendly terms. The experts have a lot of great, useful, even life-changing information, but it won’t be much good to the people who need it if it cannot be understood and applied. So please, keep it simple!
That said, if you are a parent of a child with special needs, please feel no shame in asking questions -- as many as you need to -- to make sure that you understand what is being said to you. Poor communication cannot be laid entirely at the professionals’ door if you sit there nodding, smiling, and acting like you get it when in fact, you don’t.