When I did a quick Google search for “symptoms of ADHD,” I got 312 million results.
But when I did the same for “gifts of ADHD,” I got 15 million.
During any type of mental health awareness month or movement, there’s a lot of content and conversations devoted to demystifying diagnoses and challenging stigmas around mental health conditions. And there’s a place for this information, because if you’re still in the process of understanding whether your child’s symptoms are related to ADHD, you need those resources.
But what we all need more of — whether you’re newly diagnosed, seeking diagnosis for a child or supporting someone with ADHD — are conversations and content devoted to celebrations.
- Celebrations for the big and small victories that those living with ADHD experience every day.
- Celebrations for the superpowers and special skills that individuals with ADHD possess.
- Celebrations for the adaptations those with ADHD find to function more successfully.
Too often, people — parents, teachers and others — get bogged down in the diagnosis. Yes, there’s a lot to learn, absorb and navigate. And there are definitely challenges. But it’s also just a diagnosis. And those four letters alone do not determine a person’s failure or success.
Recently, I had an Individualized Education Plan meeting with my daughter’s team of teachers and therapists. (An IEP, required by federal law, analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of a student with a disability, and outlines special services the school will provide to help the student progress.) They were thrilled to share the ways she’s independently compensating for her challenges — from the classroom to the cafeteria and everywhere in between. This is a big deal, and it’s worth celebrating!
Here are some practical ideas for recognizing and celebrating the gifts of ADHD, from parents who understand those gifts:
1. Use positive language.
Nearly everyone — ADHD or not — prefers praise over criticism. But as children are still establishing their sense of self, it’s especially important to provide feedback that’s balanced (not just “no, stop, don’t”) and specific (not just “great job”).
Bonnie Johnson, mom of two young boys with ADHD, shared a few of her favorites:
“I love the way your brain works!”
“You are an amazing problem solver! You figure things out like nobody’s business!”
And when she finds them doing something new or clever, she’ll say things like,
“Who thinks this stuff up? Certainly not me. My brain would never think that up!”
By using a playful tone, zooming in on the good she sees, and seizing every opportunity to praise that good, she’s instilling confidence in her sons. And she’s teaching her sons that their neurodiversity — the fact that their brains work differently — is valuable and unique.
In addition to the words she says out loud, Johnson decorated her sons’ bedroom doors with hearts for Valentine’s Day. On each of the hearts, she wrote a lovable quality or characteristic of each boy.
2. Encourage creativity always.
My daughter is wildly creative with paint brushes and permanent markers. She’s also a genius with hairbrushes and makeup. All of these artistic endeavors are messy but they (usually) produce awesome masterpieces. And when she’s creating something with the tools she loves, she is super focused.
Since she’d cover her body in makeup from head to toe if I let her (because she’s done it more than once), we do have to set some boundaries and ground rules now and then. But we never discourage her desire to make new things.
3. Let them lead.
Your children can’t be in charge of your monthly household budget, but they can contribute in other ways. Our daughter is quite the foodie, so I often let her write our meal plan for the week. I also delegate certain tasks in the kitchen when I’m prepping dinner, and I call her my sous chef. She loves feeling like she’s in charge of something that’s meaningful to her. The bonus here is that she’s learning important life skills, too.
Letting your child lead might also look like putting them in charge of the music in the car on a road trip or being “line leader” when walking somewhere with a group of siblings or friends. Look for ways to leverage their gifts of leadership, in big and small ways.
4. Empower them with choices and respect.
When her clothes are in a giant pile on the floor, telling my daughter to choose an outfit for school becomes a daunting task she’d rather avoid. And when she gets off the bus ravenously hungry, she hates the question, “What do you want for a snack?”
But if I give her two outfits or a handful of favorite snacks to choose from, I’m respecting her need for choices as a way to focus on what she needs in the moment.
5. Listen to their ideas.
Kids can have some crazy ideas — ADHD or not. That doesn’t make them bad ideas. Give your child with ADHD the chance to share what’s going on in their imaginative minds, and praise them for the innovations that pour out when they do.
Not every idea needs to be implemented. Often, our kids just want to be heard. And who knows: the next big Shark Tank invention may emerge from one of these discussions!
Plan rewards and parties with their input.
Listening to your child is also a great way to motivate achievement of goals, inspire desirable behavior and instill healthy habits.
Listen to the things that make them smile and take notice of what moves them to act. Ask them what reward they’d love to work towards (my daughter often chooses makeup, sunglasses or a Barbie doll). Or ask them what activity they’d like to do (ice cream date with their mom or dad? Trampoline park with a friend?) when they get a good grade or complete a project.
7. Brag about them to friends and family.
Johnson loves to text pictures of her boys’ creations to grandparents and friends. It’s a brilliant way of not only celebrating her sons’ gifts, but sharing them with those who care about them.
This fosters awareness among friends and family, and it encourages them to see the good that’s worth celebrating, too. That will come in handy on those days when Grandma or a friend may feel frustrated by the challenges of ADHD.