What if ADHD wasn’t considered a disability but simply a different way of operating in the world?
That’s the theory that Stephen Tonti posits in this student Ted Talk which I found truly fascinating.
As a woman who probably has ADD, and a mother of a son who definitely has it, I recognized myself in his words and felt relief.
Focus is a strange thing. Attention is easily paid to things that pull me in, but trouble is so many things distract me. Boring things (like folding laundry) make me feel like my mind will explode because It. Takes. So. Much. Time, even though I can lose hours in rehearsals or in editing work or planning a piece of writing.
Honestly, sometimes the words I need to write come into my brain so quickly that I can barely get them out, and they often come at the most inopportune times. Like when I’m driving. I can’t count the number of times I’ve pulled over to scribble notes down, hearing whole paragraphs in my brain at one time. If I don’t capture them, or replay those words several times in a row, well…they often float away.
ADD can make that initial burst of creativity feel SO good, but then comes the work of finishing a project, or keeping going when I get stuck. I should write, then wait, then edit.
I don’t usually do that.
For me, ADD means my mind fires off improvisationally and free associates with often amazing results, at least creatively. Going to the store without a firm list and meal plans, not so much. Well, I might see a vegetable and then get ideas for the most amazing meal but mess the rest of the week up. I often get my best ideas right up against the edge of time, which works onstage, but not really in real life.
I’ve mostly figured out how to manage myself. I made good grades, in part because I was able to learn experientially and memorize information. I have been lucky enough to have jobs that require multi-tasking and offer new scenarios quite a bit of the time. I will admit my laundry isn’t always folded well (when I do it) and my cabinets aren’t organized, but I know where things are.
I worry about my son, though. Schools are not as forgiving of children with ADHD. Testing is more intense and boys especially are under more pressure to sit still. His mind is all over the place, lost in clouds and stories and ideas, barely remembering where he is at times.
I can see his strengths and am trying to play to them. Medicine so far has caused depression in me, so we’ve X’d that off the list. He’s already got that tendency (and I suppose he got that from me as well, as depression has been a constant companion since childhood, but that is another post) so why risk it more?
I don’t want to use ADD or ADHD to excuse bad behavior (like being late or not paying bills or forgetting to go to work) but I’d love to see there be more ways for learners to learn. For schools to recognize the ones who need to touch things, climb trees, ask WHY before doing things not because they are being rebellious, but because knowing why helps them operate.
Kids are so delicate. They learn that they aren’t “normal” and they feel shame about it. Shame makes them hide. They cope, instead of getting help. They try to fake out like everything is going well because they don’t want to disappoint and engender even more bad feelings. But they feel such frustration in not being like others and the cycle can get pretty bad.
What if we allowed for all the others to be together and collaborate with wide ranging skills? Everyone should strengthen their weak spots, but imagine if the ADD kids could use their skills in class in a way that worked for them. What if schools really got to teach, I suppose is the question.
I know schools like that exist. In fact Stephen Tonti spoke of being able to be in a school with teachers who recognized him for his potential and helped him along the way. Often those are private schools though, and those take money. Public schools are underfunded, understaffed and under-respected. Teachers don’t have resources, time, or options to treat students as individuals. Testing demands they all work as a unit.
I worry about my son, and I’m glad he has me and his father in his life to advocate for him. I worry just as much about all the other kids who don’t get support.
The video is inspiring and I hope to see my own child make on just like it one day. He may need someone to help him remember to comb his hair, but even so, messy hair isn’t the end of the world.
As for me, I also need more focus, more balance, and more commitment to finishing things, staying connected to the slog and hard times. But I certainly intend on playing to my strengths.
We all should.