Guest Blogs

Where the Wild Things Are

Got hyperfocus? My daughter does — and I fan the flames of it at every turn, even if her passion is lizards, snakes, and other slimy things.

I was talking to a friend as we headed down the back path at school after dropping off our kids. I put my hand in my pocket only to feel something slimy and moving. I yanked it out and stared into the eyes of a baby lizard, left there by my daughter. “Lee!” I cried out, dropping the tiny creature on a bush.

My friend laughed. “Again? At least she remembered to leave it with you.”

In kindergarten, my four-year-old’s intense focus on catching lizards had become legendary. But in the classroom, Lee was unable to concentrate on words or numbers and was diagnosed with ADHD in first grade. I learned that it is common for a child with ADHD, who has difficulty paying attention, to hyperfocus on her passion. Unfortunately for this mom, who was squeamish about reptiles, my girl’s passion was lizards.

[Self-Test: Could Your Child Have ADHD?]

By third grade, teachers were calling her when they needed lizards removed from the classroom, and I was spending afternoons crawling on my stomach through rosemary bushes, like an army recruit, in pursuit of blue bellies. While I watched the other kids with their play dates on a jungle gym at the local park, mine was exploring new boundaries, chasing lizards up trees and down the banks of creeks, excited when she caught a glimpse of a slithering snake. Soon, the lizards were taking yoga class on her shirt…five at a time doing finger-flip downward dogs and sun salutations.

By fifth grade, the PE teacher was complaining that Lee was leading kids all over the playground to do some reptile hunting when they should be exercising. Then came the day when she caught a baby rattlesnake in her net to “protect her friends.” I knew I had to find a place for her to pursue her passion, one that would keep her safe.

I enrolled her in nature camp in the nearby mountains. The first day I picked her up, the leader, Susan, pulled me aside. Oh, no, I thought, assuming my daughter hadn’t listened. Probably wandered off the trail, lost in her endless quest for lizards.

Susan said, “Did you know Lee has an extraordinary gift of being able to notice things in nature? She helped the other campers find lizards and frogs and identify snake tracks. She’s a walking reptile encyclopedia!”

[Free Friendship Guide for Kids with ADHD]

I relaxed and smiled. All that obsession with lizards had paid off.

Now, in seventh grade, Lee assists Susan in the youth programs, summer camps, and rattlesnake clinics. Hyperfocus led to my daughter getting the volunteer position and made her a success outside of the classroom. This is important since she struggles with learning disabilities in it. Most of all, ithat intense focus gave her confidence, which spread to other areas of her life.

If hyperfocus comes naturally to your child, like Lee, look for the positive in it and encourage it. If school is difficult, find an outlet for expression outside the classroom. I’ve come to see that the innate brilliance of a child with ADHD can shine through hyperfocus. And I have a new appreciation for reptiles — although, to this day, I hesitate before I put my hand in my pocket.

[OCD and ADHD: The Polar Opposites That Are Not]