ADHD News & Research

Remembering an Extraordinary ADHD Educator and Advocate

ADHD Iceberg author and CHADD Hall of Fame inductee Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S., passed away on July 8, 2023. Dendy’s 50-year career as an educator, advocate, author, and mental health professional left an indelible mark on the field of education for neurodivergent students.

July 22, 2023

The ADHD community lost one of its fiercest advocates when Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S., died unexpectedly on July 8, 2023. Her influence and compassion enriched the lives of countless individuals and organizations, creating a profound and lasting legacy.

Dendy, a frequent ADDitude contributor, worked tirelessly to improve ADHD understanding in the classroom. During her 50+ years of helping students, adults, and families impacted by ADHD and learning differences, she held many positions: a classroom teacher, school psychologist, mental health counselor, local and state mental health administrator, lobbyist, and CEO of a Florida mental health advocacy organization. She authored several books, including Teenagers with ADD & ADHD: A Guide for Parents;  Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD, & Executive Function Deficits; A Bird’s Eye View Of Life with ADHD and EFD …Ten Years Later with Alex Zeigler, her son; and Successfully Launching into Young Adulthood with ADHD: Firsthand Guidance for Parents and Educators Supporting Children with Neurodevelopmental Differences with Ruth Hughes.

“Chris was an incredibly knowledgeable and tireless advocate for individuals and families with ADHD, besides being a mother who raised a child with ADHD, and the author of several very informative books about it for families,” said Russell A. Barkley, Ph.D., a retired clinical professor of psychiatry at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and a pioneer in the field of ADHD. “Our work together at various conferences was a special time for me to catch up on her latest projects and contribute what I could to her conference programs, such as those held at the University of Alabama. I will miss her dearly, and I know the field of ADHD will as well.”

Impact on ADHD Advocacy and Education

Dendy’s passion for ADHD advocacy and education came naturally. All three of her children and five grandchildren have been diagnosed with ADHD, and she said she believed that her father and several relatives had undiagnosed ADHD. After recognizing the scarcity of materials to help families understand and navigate ADHD, Dendy developed several resources, including a video she made with Alex called “Real Life ADHD! A DVD Survival Guide for Children and Teens.”

Her contributions have left an indelible mark on the field of education for neurodivergent students. Her Iceberg illustration has been recognized worldwide as one of the most effective graphics to convey the complexities of ADHD. It showed that the most challenging ADHD-related problems were hidden beneath the surface (reduced brain activity on thinking tasks, impaired sense of time, low frustration tolerance, etc.), while teachers and parents only observed the iceberg’s visible tip (a student’s blurting out or not doing homework, for example). It urged caregivers and educators to gain an understanding of the neurological impairments that influenced a student’s behavior and performance to help devise more lasting and impactful solutions.

Role Model and Mentor

Dendy was a role model to many caregivers eager to learn how to help their children with ADHD thrive in school and at home. Kathy Kuhl, an educator, ADDitude contributor, and author of Homeschooling Your Struggling Learner, described Dendy as a kind, insightful, and encouraging leader.

“Chris helped teens see and develop their potential,” Kuhl said. “Through her books, videos, and workshops, she helped panels of young adults with ADHD present their advice, insights, and successes. She helped reshape education by training teachers and parents to see students differently — not as failures, but as often-discouraged young people with potential and students who flourished with the right supports.”

Dendy was a familiar face at conferences, where she presented and led workshops about ADHD and executive functions. Beverley Holden Johns, an author, learning and behavior consultant, ADDitude contributor, and president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Illinois, recalled hearing Dendy speak for the first time and marveling at the firsthand knowledge and insights she shared.

“I remember during another presentation Chris and Tommy [Chris’s late husband] had much of the audience in tears because they shared real-life experiences raising children with ADHD,” she said. “After that, I went to hear Chris anytime I could. She truly made a difference in many parents’ and educators’ lives, including mine. Chris was a wealth of information about ADHD and executive function. I learned so much from her through the years, and my career and life were blessed because of our friendship.”

“Camp Dendy”

Dendy intimately understood the role advocacy played in education, beginning with the struggles her son, Alex, experienced during his years in school — before much was known about how ADHD manifested in the classroom. She had the vision to invite caregivers and professionals with ADHD experience to her home in Alabama to learn about the condition. These gatherings became known as “Camp Dendy.”

“She formed a network of people to carry on her passion and knowledge to help others,” said Wendy Consoli, M.A., CCC-SLP, “Camp Dendy” 2018 alum.She encouraged many of us to lead presentations and write articles and saw potential in us that we didn’t even know we had. Her legacy will continue through the lives she has touched, helping us to be better parents and helping others to understand and support ADHD-EF. The ADHD community has lost a beautiful, pure soul.”

CHADD Hall of Fame Inductee

Dendy was active in the nonprofit organization CHADD (Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) for more than 30 years, having served at every level of the organization. In addition, she wrote CHADD’s ADHD Educators Manual and cofounded its Teacher-to-Teacher training program. Dendy was inducted into CHADD’s Hall of Fame in 2006 and received CHADD’s lifetime achievement award in 2014.

“Chris Dendy was one of the good guys,” said Edward Hallowell, M.D., author, ADDitude contributor, and founder of The Hallowell Centers for Cognitive and Emotional Health. “When I think of her, the first image I see is her captivating smile. Not only was she a brilliant and creative person who contributed in many important ways to advance the cause of differences in learning, especially ADHD, but she was also a lively woman with a mind as quick as a wink. Never dry, never dusty, Chris was a born connector who would bring you into her metaphorical parlor and instinctively made you feel at ease and permitted you to be yourself, no matter how odd or awkward you might be. Chris loved people, and she especially loved differences. She devoted her career to helping the world welcome, recognize, and reward the marvelous people who march to the beat of a different drum. Indeed, she could have been their drum major, leading the parade, twirling her baton.

“Her extraordinary books, compiled in her trademark style; her animated lectures and seminars; and her volunteer work for countless causes and committees will live on. But more than her work, I will miss her delightful personhood the most. I always thought her last name was tailor-made for her. Dendy: playful, upbeat, close to dandy, it always brings to my unique radiance and the forces of devotion and love that sustained it.”

Connie Parr, APN, CPNP, M.S., met Dendy almost 25 years ago at a Learning Disabilities Association conference, where Dendy presented a workshop. “Coffee led to lunches, and lunches led to dinners, which led to a friendship that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” she said. “I have met many leaders in the field of LD and ADHD, but Chris sits at the top of the list. She was warm, friendly, kind, knowledgeable, and devoted to helping children and adults with their special abilities. Rest in peace, Chris; we have it from here.”

Just before she passed, Dendy wrote an article for the Fall issue of ADDitude magazine about what she called the dark days of ADHD, explaining the challenges her son, Alex, faced in school when little was understood about the disorder, and celebrating the advancements in brain research and educational training that “have unlocked better learning for students with ADHD.” The same is true for Dendy herself.

Dendy is survived by her two sons, Alex Zeigler (Haley), and Steven Dendy (Sandra), her daughter Audrey Dendy Grabowski (Jay), five grandchildren — Nathan and Ashley Grabowski, Hunter and Emily Dendy, and Tatum Moore — and two great-grandchildren. In addition, she is survived by her two sisters, Vicki Abney Ragsdale (Gaut) and Dr. Billie Abney; close family friend Sara Clark; and several cousins. Chris was preceded in death by her parents and beloved husband, Robert Thomas “Tommy” Dendy.

Friends and family will gather to remember Dendy on Saturday, July 29, in Centre, Alabama. The service will be live-streamed here for those unable to attend. In lieu of flowers, friends and colleagues are encouraged to make donations in the memory of Chris Dendy to CHADD, SOAR, or ADDA-SR.

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