When writing about ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity “Disorder”), I tend to put the word “disorder” in quotation marks because I don’t perceive that it is an actual disorder. My view is that this “condition” is actually feedback to the child, and to the family as a whole, of what is truly and deeply important to him or her.
ADHD is primarily defined as a “disorder” because the relevant individual, usually children (and very commonly boys), are likely to display:
- Wandering and distracted inattentiveness,
- Restless hyperactivity, and
- Immediate gratifying impulsivity.
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What’s often being overlooked is that you can take that same child and find something that they’re highly engaged in and attentive to, and they can stay focused on it for hours. Maybe it’s their video games, social media, a particular topic, sport or something else that captures their interest. When they are engaged in that topic or practice, many of their so-called ADHD symptoms may completely disappear.
I’m often amazed at how many teachers, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists can be quick to label children ADHD without paying close attention to the specific times and areas where they are highly engaged and more poised and present.
Whenever there is an attention deficit (ADHD), there is also an attention surplus.
Locating what the child has an attention surplus in, and identifying when they are in a highly focused, attentive, non-distracted state is, in my opinion, a crucial component to knowing how to manage this so-called ADHD “condition”.
Knowing each child’s highest priorities or values is the key.
Every human being lives by a set of priorities or values – things that are most important to least important.
If you look carefully, there are some things that you’re highly inspired by, engaged in, focused on, and likely to do spontaneously and without external reminders or incentives. These are the things that are higher on your hierarchy of values.
There are also things that you will tend not to want to do. Things lower on your hierarchy of values.
A young boy, for instance, may love watching certain programs on TV. He can sit for hours with an intense focus on those TV episodes without being distracted or hyperactive, but calm and centered.
On the other hand, he may have something that is completely uninspiring to him, like taking out the trash, doing chores, cleaning his room, or completing his homework. As a result, he may tend to be fidgety and easily distracted when he’s expected to do those tasks.
I’m certain you can see similar traits in your own life. For instance, when I spend time researching human behavior, I can engage all day long. Should you start talking about cars or cooking or something that is low on my values, I tend to get bored and disengaged and I’m easily distracted, and fidgety.
Whatever is highest on your list of values is where you’ll tend to be spontaneously inspired, focused, disciplined, attentive and reliable. The way the brain is set up, this is where you’re likely to have attention, retention and intention SURPLUS. Attention – you are focused; retention – you retain the information; and intention – you intend to do it.
Whatever is lowest on your list of values is where you will tend to procrastinate, hesitate and frustrate. This is where you are likely to have attention, retention and intention DEFICIT. As a result, you’ll tend to pay scarce attention, retain very little information, and be less likely to apply it.
So, whenever activities are disengaging, uninspiring, and unfulfilling to a child, they’re likely to be bored doing it, or be burned out if you force them to do it.
What’s interesting is that one of the treatments for ADHD involves prescribing stimulants or non-stimulants and, if one doesn’t work, they might try the alternative. The thinking appears to be that if a child is bored, a medical professional may try a stimulant, which acts as an artificial neurotransmitter stimulant, usually norepinephrine and dopamine-related, to lift them up and make them think they are engaged. If they are hyperactive, they are often sedated to make them think they are calm.
In my opinion, it would be wise to consider not immediately labeling a child ADHD. In doing so, you might lose a valuable opportunity to teach them how their physiology works and why their behavior is simply a feedback mechanism instead of a “condition”.
ADHD “symptoms” may indicate boredom or burnout.
Burnout may occur when a child has to go to school and is being forced to do learn something or do something that they don’t want to do. This may result in burnout as the child is constantly under a sympathetic fight-or-flight response inside their brain that makes them feel as if they want to want to run away from it and escape. As a result, they are likely to have pent up energy and adrenaline.
The physiology of the brain provides further insight.
You have inside your brain, an area called the forebrain, which is also called the medial prefrontal cortex or executive center, which governs behavior, calms you down, and inhibits hyperactivity and immediate gratification. In other words, it calms down impulsivity and instinctual fears (the so called symptoms of ADHD). So, anything you can do to get the child into their executive center is going to help reduce the ADHD symptoms.
Then you have the subcortical area of the brain, the amygdala, or animal desire center down into the hindbrain, which is where impulses and instincts occur, and where you desire pleasure and where you avoid pain.
If you’re disengaged, uninspired and doing something that you don’t perceive to be meaningful, the amygdala becomes active. As a result, you will tend to avoid activities that you are not inspired by and are likely to impulsively seek immediate gratification.
Whenever you’re in your amygdala, your space and time horizons shrink, and your attention span gets smaller and smaller. Whenever you’re in your executive center, your attention span gets bigger and bigger. Your executive center also acts to calm down impulses and instincts so you become more resilient and adaptable. When you’re in your amygdala, you’re likely to display pleasure seeking behavior and impulsivity.
It would therefore be wise to help the child labeled “ADHD” to find out what he or she loves doing, what the child is inspired by, and what they spontaneously do without needing external motivation.
Step 1: Start by looking at something that the child does that he or she is absolutely focused on and can spend hours doing without distraction.
In other words, find the child’s highest value. (Click Here to take the FREE Demartini Value Determination Process on my website.)
Step 2: Link topics, actions and items that are lower on their values to the areas of their life that they do value.
Once the child sees what is important to them and sees everything else related and connected to it, they are more likely to stay engaged. Any time you can help the child labelled with ADHD to live in their highest values, you’ll find that the ADHD behavior automatically tends to calms down and they’ll become more centered and attentive.
When a child lives by priority and does what’s really engaging to them, you’re likely to see an immediate change in their behavior. This is when they’ll tend to be the most focused, disciplined, reliable, patient, organized, ordered and engaged. It is also when they are most likely to be inspired, present, objective, reasonable, less narcissistically demanding, and less interruptive.
In other words, it would be wise to help the child prioritize their life so they can have the time to focus on that which is a priority to them.
Once you identify their highest value, you can begin making links to it.
I will never forget a child I met during my clinical internship at college. His mother brought him in what she believed to be ADHD symptoms, and sat watching him race from one side of the room to the other. I asked her to describe times when he was calm, centered, focused, and not distracted. She genuinely had no idea. So, I began to dig deeper. Eventually, she mentioned that he loved trains and was likely to focus on a discussion, book or article on trains.
I then started a discussion with this child that was running around the room with a pent-up energy that he was trying to dispel. I asked him, “What is the longest train you have ever seen? How many cars does it have? How many of them were carrying cars? When is the last time you saw a train? Was it a freight train or passenger train?” As a result, he sat quietly next to me and began talking. So, I kept going. I asked him, “How wide is the track? Have you measured it? How many wheels on each car? What is the most common color you see in those cars? What is the average speed of a passenger?’
I kept asking questions and making him think, and as a result, he was quiet, focused and engaged. His mother couldn’t believe it. I then suggested that she buy some magazines and books on trains, and that she take him somewhere where he could study trains in more detail.
As I explained to her at the time, her child, who she thought had ADHD, also had a highly concentrated attention surplus order. As a result, he showed incredible order in that area, and attention deficit to everything else unrelated to the topic. But if she started linking things to that topic, it would expand, and she could then make connections. For example, she could ask, “What is the length of a passenger train? How many people are on the train if there are six people per car? What is the average train ride if you ride on a passenger ticket? What fuel does it use? Let’s go find out!”
As long as she kept weaving things back to trains, he was likely to stay in his executive center, remain engaged and focused, and be less likely to display hyperactive and impulsive behavior.
The action steps I tend to recommend to parents or teachers when it comes to kids they are labelling ADHD is this:
- Find out what a child’s hierarchy of values are.
- Let them concentrate on it and excel at it.
- Keep adding links from the things they don’t value to what they do value most.
- Keep linking other things that you may want them to learn by asking lots of questions.
- Find out how their values SERVE YOU or otherwise you may want to ‘fix’ them.
When you allow your child to live in their highest values, you can watch as their patience grows. If not, shorten the time down to get the expectations down into reasonable timeframes. As they become more engaged, these timeframes are likely to expand.
When dealing with a child labelled ADHD, it would also be wise to:
- Keep asking more questions about the topic that they are inspired by until they gain confidence in themselves. When they do, they are more likely to want to tackle challenges that inspire them and prepare themselves to wake up their natural inborn leader capacities.
- Be organized, give them a routine, and give them the ability to focus on what is inspiring to them.
In conclusion, when it comes to ADHD, these “disorders” or “conditions” are often nothing more than a feedback mechanism to help children be authentic and go out and pursue what is truly and deeply meaningful to them. It can be challenging living in a society that wants you to fit in instead of stand out. Give children who are being labelled ADHD an opportunity to be themselves and let them go and excel in what they love doing. If not, their amygdala will drive you wild.
The second you put a label like ADHD on a child, place them on medication and ignore what’s truly important to them, you may have just missed out on a genius that is capable of doing something truly extraordinary.
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About Dr John Demartini:
Dr. John Demartini, is a human behavior specialist, a polymath, philosopher, international speaker and published author. He has recently been awarded the IAOTP Top Human Behavior Specialist of the Year as well as the IAOTP Lifetime Achievement Award.
His work is a summation of over 299 different disciplines synthesized from the greatest minds in most fields of study today. His extensive curriculum focuses on helping purpose driven individuals master their lives so that they are able to more extensively serve humanity with their inspired vision and mission.