Thriving with ADD

I developed “failure syndrome” at a fairly young age, only, I didn’t know what it was, nor did my teachers. According to an ERIC digest published in 1998, it is a clearly defined pattern of behavior based entirely on lack of confidence. At the time, they treated children like me as lazy, especially when evaluating the results of frequently applied intelligence tests. I was tested three times before I was twenty-four. Each test revealed that I was more than capable of learning. In fact, I had exceptional processing speed and problem-solving skills. So, why couldn’t I learn like the other children in my class? Why were my parents consistently frustrated with my performance in school and worse yet, why was I descending into profound depression as early as eight years old?

Fast forward forty-plus years and one day, the lightbulb, nay, the nuclear explosion glowed brightly above my head. I was sitting in my son’s teacher conference when it happened. I was so surprised by the revelation that I actually began to cry, not just because I was experiencing the cathartic understanding of my life as a student, but more because at the same time, listening to the teacher describe my child’s classroom behavior, I felt the gripping fear that he too would struggle the way that I had. It had already begun, his turn at “failure syndrome.” Everything the teacher told me was a replay of my own school experience. Why was I afraid – actually, terrified? Because my child had been happy, social and confident until his eighth year, just as I had. In third grade, a major developmental period for children, he began to say the exact same things I had. “Why am I so stupid? Why can’t I remember? Why do I make so many mistakes?” The big difference is that he has a mother and teachers who understand him and who will fight for his success.

remember feeling complete despair at fifteen. It wasn’t until I was twenty-four, and had failed at college, that I was diagnosed as depressed, even after having been in some kind of counseling on and off for six years. At one point, I’d sought counseling through the college. As a matter of course, they tested my intelligence and processing skills, as well. They reported back to me what I already knew, but still could not transcend. The more I tried to learn like everyone else, the more I despaired. It just didn’t make sense. No one had ever suggested that I had a learning “disability.” In fact, quite the opposite, they couldn’t understand it either. They marveled that I spoke about my brain as though it were a separate entity, with a great weight tied around it. They’d even say, “you are capable” repeatedly, as though those words were going to magically turn on the part of my brain that can sit in a classroom and follow the industrial revolution’s idea of standardized education.

As if the ADD component wasn’t enough, the depression that followed added a new wrinkle to the problem. While ADD is an inability to control certain brain waves (theta), depression adds a layer of seismic disturbance akin to snow in the television. With that much random brain activity, it is hard to focus on one single thing and as the anxiety increases, as it inevitably does, as students, my son and I stare at a page and watch as it actually begins to expand visually. Suddenly, twenty math problems is Kilimanjaro and we’re without cams.

After the meeting with the teachers, I began to read about how to help him and in the process, I learned how to help myself. I had always seen my mind as a handicap, a perception that really solidified when my son (and as a matter of understanding, I) was “diagnosed.” The more I read, the more I realized that ADD is not really a handicap as much as it is a type. We don’t learn poorly; we learn differently. The industrial revolution abandoned apprenticeships for classrooms, and in the process, immersive learning was abandoned for text books. For 150 years, we’ve been torturing highly-creative, kinesthetic learners, turning them into anxiety-ridden, insecure adults by forcing round pegs into a square holes.

The more I read, the more I realized that my brain is uniquely suited to the systems work into which I stumbled. My capacity to follow multiple threads means I can have several processes running on several computers in different rooms and not only remember each process, but switch between them quickly. My brain is not damaged; it is different, and that is a beautiful thing. I had, over much time and struggling, developed coping skills to get me successfully through my days. They were adequate, but often not perfect. I had already started applying those coping skills to managing my child’s learning, setting an example for him to someday manage it on his own. The more I read, the more I realized that my coping skills were among the items listed as best practices for brains like ours. It was hugely satisfying to learn that I developed coping skills that are documented as effective for my learning “type.” It was also an enormous relief to find confirmation that my understanding of how we package ideas is quite accurate, and the way in which I assimilate information is a teachable method.

So, if you have a child with ADD, consider yourself lucky. He or she is probably empathic. She has a mind that will spring into action to solve a problem before anyone else recognizes one exists. He will pinch a bleeding artery in an emergency situation. She will invent the lightbulb of the future or solve world hunger. Each is a free spirit and truly amazing.

It should be understood that even with this new understanding that my son and I learn differently, we still face the fear of sitting in a classroom all day. When I need to learn a new product for work, for example, I lock myself in a room with a computer and reverse engineer that product. In that way, I make it a reality by touching it, making mistakes, creating an end product. But on occasion, I HAVE to sit in a classroom, as I will in a few weeks, and despite my knowledge and new skills, I still fear that I will fail miserably. I understand what school looks like for my son. I hope that I can show him, as I venture back into a classroom, that with the right tools, we can adapt the classroom to our needs, instead of trying to adapt to the classroom. I send him to a Montessori school (see why here), which I highly recommend for children like him, but that will only carry him through elementary. He’ll soon have to move on to middle school, where everything changes.

Also of note is that a few weeks ago, I started drinking Bulletproof Coffee. Now, I am not recommending that this is a fix as I am not a health care professional nor a nutritionist. However, I personally have noticed a difference in my memory and most importantly, my motivation. It could certainly be psychosomatic, but I am rarely a victim of “suggestion,” so it’s unlikely.

I will recommend the op-eds Learn More in Less Time and Note Taking Study Skills, and a YouTube channel such as Mariana’s Study Corner. I had already started to develop some of these habits, and they are working for me. I will be incorporating more of them in my future learning. If you have a child that struggles to study, building a routine and materials that are unique to them will keep them interested in the process.

YofaHT: “Thing” #76 – A Good Product

I believe it was Homer Simpson who said, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” All kidding aside, and in complete deference to Plato, no adage more aptly explains the appearance of the world’s most inspiring conveniences. Convenience is an amazing thing. It immediately creates an adoption, then a reliance, then a complete dependence in the organism it benefits. I thought about convenience when I stumbled – okay, okay, honesty – when I was presented through a Facebook ad a new concept device called Kano.

I have many years experience in the informations systems business and was hardly surprised when my offspring showed an aptitude for technology and talent for the logic skills that will eventually make him as formidable a diagnostician as is his mother. (Alright, alright, I admit, I’m a bit biased.)

Now, while I’ll gladly toot my own horn at my ability to creatively unravel complex problems, I will admit with equal humility that I lack patience as a systems teacher. Anyone who has suffered that impatience (and you know who you are) will gladly throw me under the AS400. So, as I watched my child deftly manipulating Minecraft after assimilating new techniques by watching YouTube (StampyLongHead, I’m watching you), I realized he was going to come to a place soon where he’d either learn bad computing habits (read: fat, sloppy code) or he’d learn it the right way from me.

Enter Kano.

Before I write about the actual product, I want to mention why I’m writing about the actual product. Making good stuff for kids is a lost art. The volume of things that break, or don’t work as promised, could fill a good-sized airplane hangar. So, when I stumble across something that works well, I’m inclined to reward the manufacturers. I prefer to encourage good business, rather than denigrate bad ones (although, I’m frequently tempted).

Now, back to our regularly scheduled blog…

Enter Kano (again)…

It’s a cute little thing, built on the Raspberry Pi platform. As I read the web site (read more here), I quickly realized that I had a convenient solution to my teaching problem. The hip peeps at Kano had developed a tool that would help me visually teach my kid operating system commands and code logic, all while he would swear he was playing computer games. It’s his “size” and “feel.” It comes with clear, concise and visually stimulating instructions. I ordered it immediately as his big Christmas present.

At first he didn’t know what to make of the parts, but once I explained what it would allow him to do, he dug in with both hands. As my husband and I watched, he put the whole thing together, and powered it up, with very little intervention from me. A tear of pride bobbled in my eye for a moment as I realized the apple was still hanging around the roots.

My husband had a completely opposite but interesting reaction. He has little experience with technology, and noted that because our child is more likely to design a baseball video game than to actually play baseball, a good father-son relationship might require that dad learn along side mommy’s little prodigy.

In our household, this cool little device serves two important purposes. It gives me the tool to teach him the tools he’ll need in his future endeavors, and it provides an avenue for dad to relate to interests foreign to his own, but deeply rooted in his son. Granted, that’s much more than convenience. In fact, it’s a gold mine. If you have a kid who has an aptitude for technology, I highly recommend that you look at this product, especially if you yourself do not have that aptitude.

Now, 75 more “things” to go…better get back on that writing horse, eh?