“Our Challenge to Change the Language Around ADHD Starts at Home.”
“Whether we’re neurodiverse or neurotypical, truly understanding the positive benefits of diversity enables us all to be accepting of one another and become better version of ourselves.”
Not long ago, Liam set fire to the toaster. My 10-year old son was attempting to save time by buttering his bread before toasting it, despite being told many times that fat is flammable. Liam tripped the lights, set the toaster on fire, and sent his mother into orbit. Again.
Liam is neurodiverse. He was diagnosed with ADHD recently, and we have been learning and discussing what this means in our household. To us, it’s so important that managing his health is a positive experience from the outset.
We set about researching ADHD and the best ways to approach it right away. In doing so, we were surprised at much of the language used to describe the condition — ‘excessive talking’ and constant movement and fidgeting are ‘challenges’ and ‘problems.’ I could find no spotlight shone on the innovation, creativity, sociability, and hyperfocus that allows the ADHD brain to flourish and produce such wonders of creativity and to challenge boundaries.
I’m not being naïve or downplaying the challenges that ADHD presents. I’ve witnessed first-hand the impulsivity, the chaos of completing routine tasks, the regular explanations to neighbors about why Liam is standing on the roof of the car (to get a better view of the sky), and the addition to the principal’s Christmas card list (a cliché but so true).
Without discounting these truths, I think the jumping-off point for a young person beginning to understand their ADHD and fulfill their potential should be a far more positive one. Like most kids his age, Liam just wants to be and feel the same as his friends. His questions focus on his differences – How many children in the UK have ADHD? What about in my class? Is there a cure?
So, we’re boldly plowing our own path. We’re reading the recommended literature but also dedicating our family time to discussing Liam’s superpowers, like what happens when he takes a strong interest in something like the family hamster, who now has myriad cardboard inventions to ensure she gets plenty of exercise and fun during lockdown. Liam also channels his hyperfocus into sketches of his favorite characters. He has art-college aspirations and we do not doubt he’ll get there. perhaps his greatest superpower is empathy. Often, other parents at play dates complement Liam on his kind, caring nature, particularly with their younger children.
This praise is essential to the ADHD brain, which runs low on dopamine, the chemical that stimulates the brain’s happy thoughts. I reminded myself of this after the toaster incident, which threatened to go from bad to worse based on my reaction. Instead, I took a deep breath to calm myself down, and told him I’d secretly been after a four-slice toaster all along. His kitchen “innovation” had just helped me get one a little quicker.
I learned in a parenting class that ADHD has been around since the beginning of humanity. It’s often said that, while most of us were hanging around in caves, those neurodiverse members of the pack were going out hunting for food, inventing and taking risks in order to survive and progress. Maybe it’s time the rest of society began questioning and criticizing neurodiverse brains less — and appreciating and celebrating them more. What’s the worst that could happen? A little burnt toast?
Neurodiverse Parenting: Next Steps
- Download: What Not to Say to a Child with ADHD
- Read: How to Process and Accept Your Child’s Neurodiversity
- Read: How Do You Talk to Your Child About ADHD?
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