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Why ADHD Might Actually Be Good for Your Kid

Crib Notes summarize all the parenting books you’d read if you weren’t too busy parenting. For great advice in chunks so small a toddler wouldn’t choke them, go here.

With her book A Disease Called Childhood, Dr. Marilyn Wedge fired a shot across the bow of parents, educators, and doctors who prescribe drugs for kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), calling into question the validity of the diagnosis itself.

In The ADHD Advantage: What You Thought Was A Diagnosis May Be Your Greatest Strength, Dr. Dale Archer agrees with a lot of what Wedge has to say about pervasive over-medication, but he has decidedly more interesting ideas on the diagnosis itself. Specifically, Archer — who’s been diagnosed with ADHD himself — claims that such neurodiversity a gift that has propelled television stars, high-powered entrepreneurs, inventors, explorers and all-star athletes to greatness. Archer suggests that by turning away from medication and tuning into the positive traits of ADHD, individuals in what he calls the “tribe” can find their true potential and happiness.

Leaving aside the fact that raising the next Terry Bradshaw or Howie Mandel might not be as awesome as it initially sounds, Archer’s ideas on ADHD are relevant to any parent raising school-age kids. Here are his book’s most interesting insights and actionable advice.

Kids With ADHD Think Differently
The idea that “ADHDers,” as Dr. Archer calls them, seem like they are scattered and constantly coming out of left field with ideas and comments, is actually a sign of non-linear thinking, which means they quickly jump from thread to thread. Non-linear thinking often leads to an ability to see many pieces of a problem or challenge at once, which is a trait entrepreneurs like Richard Branson have credited for their success. The flipside of non-linear thinking, however, is that a kid with ADHD can achieve hyperfocus when they land on a topic or activity that they’re passionate about. Careers for kids with ADHD are often built around these passions.

What You Can Do With This

  • Understand that, just because your kid thinks differently than most kids, they don’t necessarily have to change. Encourage them to use it to their advantage by, for example, breaking their homework into 15-minute chunks by subject and letting them skip from one to the next.
  • Experiment with different studying environments by, for example, letting them have the TV on in the background. Similarly, seek out different kinds of media, like PowerPoint presentations or short videos, to help explain lessons or ideas that are traditionally taught simply through text.
  • Appreciate that impulsive and even risk-taking behavior in kids with ADHD is at least in part due to their ability to calculate decisions quickly. Give them safe contexts to exercise that ability.
  • Watch for signs that your kid has discovered a true passion for something so you can encourage them; at the same time, accept that there will likely be a lot of false starts in that search and be patient (since your kid likely won’t be).

Restlessness and Resilience
The tremendous amount of excess energy is one of the most obvious — and most over-medicated — behavioral traits of kids with ADHD; it also partially explains the success of exceptional athletes like Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps. Additionally, studies have shown that people living with ADHD are better able to respond to failures, at least in part because the challenge of their diagnosis forces them to experiment with different ways to go about specific tasks until they find one that works.

What You Can Do With This

  • Let ’em run (and throw and jump and play soccer and whatever else they want to do). Encourage them to experiment with all kinds of sports or physical activity and, if they display an aptitude for one, support them in pursuing in.
  • Whenever possible, make sure they’ve gotten plenty of physical exercise before setting into something sedentary like homework. While you’re at it, try things like standing desks and encourage them to move while studying.
  • Foster an environment at home that views failure as an integral step on the path to success. Make sure they’re well versed in stories like that of Steve Jobs — the one who got fired from Apple before he came back and put himself in everyone’s pocket.

Chaos as a Way of Life
Kids with ADHD have a tendency to manufacture drama in their lives, in part, because the more chaotic things are, the more what’s going on externally matches what’s going in their brain. One example of this is the common tendency among these kids to procrastinate endlessly on school work or chores at home. This can be infuriating for parents, teachers, and caregivers, but it can also be leveraged.

What You Can Do With This

  • Your kid may respond well to increasing pressure around specific projects at home or school, so create deadlines for things well in advance of when they actually need to be accomplished. This gives you breathing room in the face of failure (see above) but also creates a context of intensity where they’ll hopefully thrive.

It Might Be Genetic
There is a scientific school of thought that suggests traits similar to ADHD (comfortable in a crisis, restlessness and resilience, risk-taking and decisive decision-making) are due to a so-called “Explorer Gene.” Over the centuries, people with this gene were more likely to find solutions to things like food and water scarcity by striking out into the unknown. If these researchers are right, then ADHD isn’t just genetic, it’s evolutionarily desirable.

What You Can Do With This

  • The Explorer Gene theory explains why so many successful entrepreneurs have (and embrace) ADHD. As your kid gets older, make sure they see and understand self-employment or starting their own business as a real long-term career option.
  • Explain to your kid how evolution works and then thank their genetic ancestors for the long-term survival of the human race.