In elementary school, symptoms of ADHD can cause more than a few problems. First, transitions aren’t easy and you are transitioning into a new environment. Second, this may be your first major life transition since birth. Third, you are asked to sit quietly and listen - not easy when you are hyperactive. Even if you are not hyperactive, your inattentiveness will find you day dreaming in no time. Fourth, you have new people sitting all around you and are told not to talk to them. Fifth, they ask you to sit still and you know that some part of your body is always moving. Sixth, especially if you are left handed, they give you scissors that never work and expect you to always stay in the lines. (Is that constitutional?) And finally, seventh, you may not think that the person teaching the class has any real authority over you!
You know I like the number seven, so let’s move on! If you want to have a little fun add your experiences of elementary school in the comments section.
For a number of years many child specialists denied any advantage to someone having symptoms of ADHD. I was a medical advisor on a committee guiding ADHD educational efforts. It was dominated by child psychiatrists and any mention of advantages of ADHD was scoffed at. People who work with adults with symptoms of ADHD have a different opinion as they have noticed these advantages for years.
Neurobiological Advantages of ADHD
Things change as you get older. As your brain matures, some nerve cells form additional coatings, called myelin. This coating makes communication along your longer nerve circuits quick and efficient. Your brain also creates “workarounds” as it learns to increase efficiency based on what is expected. Brain scanning while performing mental tasks have demonstrated people with ADHD processing information along alternative brain regions. These alternative brain regions incorporate more deeply with other brain circuits to make these compensations work. These regions and circuits are then available for other tasks as well. This may explain the tendency for a person with ADHD to hyperfocus.
There are also areas of our brain that are more organized than others. This is true of everyone. Dr. JoAnn Ruthsatz is involved in studies working to better understand and help child prodigies. (See our interview on the Oneness Approach YouTube station) In the past, some felt that allowing the child to advance these skills while young would cause psychosocial problems as it wouldn’t give them time to develop “normally”. As it turns out, the reverse is true. Allowing the child to advance their skills while providing them access to social outlets involving these skills works best. The specialized organization around their talent spreads across their brain and plugs into their life. This is what I believe happens when you allow yourself to use your special interests in a way that plugs them into your life.
Your brain has other ways to alter our perceptions. Both immediately and over time it can strengthen one brain circuit to compensate another. A person in a very quiet room or a person who is blind increases their ability to hear. A person who is color blind largely ignores color favoring perceptions of shapes and patterns. I believe this happens with your learning. If you struggle to remember details your brain will look for patterns or an underlying story that help you to remember. As you develop this kind of pattern recognition your brain can use this same ability in other arenas e.g. a person in sales with the ability to read their customer. People in sales classes are forced to learn what seems to come natural to some people. Someone with symptoms (or advantages) of ADHD has been practicing their pattern recognition since first grade.
Seven Ways to Use ADHD to Your Advantage
Finally, there are the options both educationally and later as adults. Let’s review a few:
- Well-structured Montessori schools allow for move physical movement and tend to have more flexible learning options. There are schools that offer specialized educational testing and organized ways to implement specifically crafted learning opportunities. Although testing may not diagnose ADHD, it does provide valuable insights into how your brain works with information flow.
- As an adult, you need to know specific job functions, personalities and the support you need to do what you do so well. At times, psychological testing may also provide insights that can guide your decisions regarding a career or specific job opportunity. Often, it is difficult to predict what you will or won’t like. There are no two people with the same strengths and symptoms, so again, everyone’s experience is different.
- There is likely a structure you have incorporated over the years when you need to bring a project to completion. Learn what this structure is and try to extend the use of this structure in all of your relationships. This will maximize your ability in each relationship. It will also allow you to expand the structure through practice and additional growth in your brain through a process called neuroplasticity will take place.
- If you are a pattern recognizer or a novel thinker, look to place yourself in careers and social situations where this is an advantage. Many people in sales have ADHD and are naturals in following the flow of a business relationship. It is imperative that you expand the use of this ability in your family relationships. Otherwise, although you may the go-to person in business, your home life may suffer.
- Another form of pattern recognition is the ability to see the child in everyone. Our Subconscious Mind is five years old and represents 95% of who we are. This can make you endearing but also can have some not take you as seriously as you would like.
- Some develop an “obsessive” attention to detail. This isn’t a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; it is a way to be late earlier. When you feel late or like something your adrenalin increases and you can focus better. However, even with this specialized behavior strategy, everyone with ADHD is well served to keep it interesting but, keep it simple.
- Many with ADHD talk quickly and interrupt for fear that they will forget something. Although “running by the seat of your pants” may be a skill, work to expand it by steadily, over time, slowing down your speech. It takes time for your Subconscious Mind to process all that is going on and add its input. As a goal, pick a poem that means something to you. Recite the poem out loud. Listen to how fast you are talking. Listen for the richness in your voice. Now, practice bringing this into your intimate and family relationships and beyond. Lastly, try to make sure to encourage a 50/50 participation in discussions. May with, ADHD without realizing it, will tend to dominate conversations. Others will tend to be overly quiet.
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