About That ADHD Serving a Purpose Thing



Despite some late nights, we have been enjoying the Olympics quite a bit (although I am really missing our TIVO here at the beach). Especially the swimming...I was on a year-round swim team for years and always loved it. The fact that I could still compete to better my score was perfect for me since I was not the most overly athletic or fastest kid.

I found this article about Michael Phelps fascinating. (h/t The More Child)

Starting with preschool, teachers complained: Michael couldn’t stay quiet at quiet time, Michael wouldn’t sit at circle time, Michael didn’t keep his hands to himself, Michael was giggling and laughing and nudging kids for attention.
As he entered public school, he displayed what his teachers called “immature” behavior. “In kindergarten I was told by his teacher, ‘Michael can’t sit still, Michael can’t be quiet, Michael can’t focus,’ ” recalled Ms. Phelps, who was herself a teacher for 22 years. The family had recently moved, and she felt Michael might be frustrated because the kindergarten curriculum he was getting in the new district was similar to the pre-K curriculum in their old district.

It immediately made me think of my post ADHD Can Serve A Purpose in which I argue that the struggle ADHD kids have in school is not because of any inherent pathology with the child, but rather results from a mismatch of their learning style with the learning environment. 

How many parents of kids in school can relate to this:

She will never forget one teacher’s comment: “This woman says to me, ‘Your son will never be able to focus on anything.’ ”

Unfortunately not everyone else gets to prove their teacher so wrong in such grand fashion.

In the meantime, Michael the swimmer had appeared. By 10, he was ranked nationally in his age group. Ms. Phelps watched the boy who couldn’t sit still at school sit for four hours at a meet waiting to swim his five minutes’ worth of races.
At age 12 Michael needed an algebra tutor, and was so antsy in school that his mother suggested the teacher sit him at a table in the back. And yet he willingly got up at 6:30 daily for 90-minute morning practices and swam 2 to 3 hours every afternoon.

So basically, once he found his passion he excelled and had no trouble focusing and working hard. Go figure. 

The truth is, not everyone is going to find their passion in school. And many kids do not "fit" very well in the school model. But school, for most kids, is the absolute focus of their lives for 12 years. Which means that they spend 12 years focusing on their weaknesses rather than on their strengths. For the lucky some (like Michael Phelps), they find their passion outside of school and excel anyways. But what about the other kids who are not so lucky? Who grow up getting poor grades and don't have as publicly appreciated gifts? Or who don't have the encouragement to explore and find those gifts?

My belief is that all kids have their own gifts and I feel that homeschooling is an excellent way to help kids explore and find their passions. Because I can tailor our approach to how my kids learn, we can focus on their strengths. This does not mean that we ignore their weaknesses, just that they are not the sole focus of our schooling. Just the other day, Jason was talking about what a great reader he is (which he is). And this from a kid who did not start reading until just before 8. Being a "late" reader did not define who he was like it would have had he been in school. 

We have also been working on spelling this summer and it is going well. If he was in school, he would be considered a poor speller. Yet, Jason does not see himself as a poor or struggling speller...he just hasn't gotten around to learning how to spell yet...it wasn't all that important to him. Now that we have been working on it, he is getting better rather painlessly (we are using Sequential Spelling which focuses on word patterns rather than straight memorization). He may never be a natural speller, but I am confident that by the time he is 18, he will be very competent. And the best thing is that the "poor speller" label will not be anything he has to overcome. Because it is not part of who he is.

The article ends with these wise words:

More to the point, I think, is the moral of her story, which offers hope for parents of any child with a challenge like A.D.H.D.: Too many adults looked at Ms. Phelps’s boy and saw what he couldn’t do. This week, the world will be tuned to the Beijing Olympics to see what he can do.

Every child should have some adult in his life who sees what he can do (be it a parent, teacher, coach or other mentor). And no child should ever be defined by what they can't do.