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ADHD Positives: Helping Children Embrace Their Differences

My daughter, Natalie, who has attention deficit (ADHD) and learning disabilities, takes pride in her inhibitions and her willingness to talk to just about anybody. Rather than remind her of the negative aspects of her condition…

As a parent, I believe that one of my most important responsibilities is to help my kids find their strengths, fully incorporate those strengths into their views of themselves, and then encourage the kids to build on them. For my daughter, Natalie, that’s especially true when the positives she discovers are related to her attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and comorbid conditions. Recently, she demonstrated that my efforts are working!

No, I’m not referring to her plea for her dad to buy her an iPod Touch — she lowered her chin and looked up at him with her pretty blue eyes and said, “Well, you know, I am a pretty special girl.” (It’s true, she is. And it worked — she now has one.) This other incident was more genuine, as well as accurate.

Natalie and I were in the car, just starting our drive to Des Moines for an appointment with her psychiatrist. I had e-mailed Nat’s special education teacher the night before to let her know Nat would miss school for part of that morning, but I wasn’t sure if she’d read the e-mail first thing in the morning. I decided I should also call the school office. Because I was driving, I asked Natalie to use my cell phone and call for me.

“I’m a little bit scared!” Nat said, but she generally does great on the phone. The office ladies know her very well from her daily visits to take her medication (not to mention her frequent trips to the nurse to check her temperature, take an Advil for a headache, or look at her throat), so I knew the phone would be answered by someone who knows her. Sure enough, one of the two secretaries, Elizabeth, answered, and Natalie relayed the information like a pro.

“Good job,” I said. Then, I told her how proud I was of her big brother, Aaron, for making arrangements to job shadow one of the sports writers at our local newspaper for the eighth graders’ career day the week before. “Aaron used to be so shy. But he’s so grown up now. He didn’t even ask me to make the phone calls for him, he just did it. And he didn’t want me to walk in with him when I drove him to the Tribune office. There’s no way he would have done those things by himself a few years ago. And look at you! You’re already so grown up and responsible!”

“Aaron used to be shy?” Natalie asked.

“Yes,” I answered.

“Well, I’m not shy,” Nat continued.

“No, you’re the opposite of shy,” I said. “You’re outgoing. You’ll talk to anybody, won’t you?”

“That’s because I have ADHD,” Nat said.

“Well, yeah. That’s one really good thing about it.”

I was so pleased to hear her say that. Early in the school year, another student or a teacher must have talked about ADHD, because although we talk it about matter-of-factly at home, she suddenly developed a new level of interest in the topic.

“Is having ADHD a bad thing?” she asked several times, and I always rushed to assure her that, although it makes some things harder, it’s not a bad thing at all. Then I’d list people we know who have it. Now, here she is identifying something positive about it all on her own.

I stopped myself from reminding her of the negative side of her lack of shyness — that she often approaches strangers and that she’s sometimes intrusive. At that moment, feeling good about herself and her ADHD was what really mattered. And I felt good about my role in helping her get there.