ADHD- A Weakness or a Gift?

     "I remember everything." said Chris Stephens, during an interview late in August. "I remember meeting you in Memphis, Tennessee. We both worked at Kroger and I was stocking the dairy section. You came up to me with some lettuce in your hands and asked me if I trained at Kang Rhee's Pasa Ryu Kung Fu center."
     That was more than ten years ago.

     Since early last month, I have had the privilege of working on Chris's biography: A Bounty Hunter's Guide to Success, due out in early January. That much I can remember, but don't ask me too many details; that's why my computer has a save button. If someone were to ask me what I was doing ten years ago, the blank my mind drew would have been evident through my stare and a sarcastic remark would've raced to fill in the void.

     A super sharp memory is one of the gifts that some kids with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are born with. Though Christopher is no longer a child, he still carries with him a diagnosis of ADHD and Dyslexia (A learning disorder affecting reading comprehension). Chris focused on the strengths of his ADHD and turned the diagnosis to his advantage. He is now a husband, a father, and has been named Houston's number one bounty hunter. When asked if ADHD played any significant role in his success, he quoted Dr. Lara Honos-Webb, a worldwide ADD expert and coach.

She says, "It is very difficult to teach or train people to be creative -- a gift with which a child with ADD is naturally endowed. It is much easier to train someone who is creative to be disciplined, and to pay attention."

     I let the quote linger on my palette a bit, and before I got a good taste for it, Chris blurted out, "Can you believe that crock of shit? I'm trying my hardest to see things from her perspective, but I just can't seem to get my head that far up her ass."

     I was kind of stunned that someone would be carrying around a quote like that just to use it as ammunition against its legitimacy. He had researched it, probably because, he of all people wondered why he couldn't just 'learn to behave'. I have an eleven-year-old son with ADHD and though his creativity is, perhaps more than average, it definitely makes it no easier to teach him discipline. Discipline is something that kids with tough cases of ADHD may never learn. Take Chris's memory of our first meeting for example. My son is the same way. He will remember that eleven months ago I said that I may buy him a new computer game when my taxes come in, but he will have no recollection of how to tie his own shoes, though I have taught him one hundred times. Why? Because he wants the computer game while he's still satisfied with ruining every pair of shoes I buy him by forcing his foot into it rather than tie it. No matter, how many times I show him, he just doesn't care. ADHD kids must care about what you are teaching in order to learn. Furthermore, they learn best when they are convinced that they are teaching you more than you are teaching them and, in turn, ultimately teaching themselves.
add, adhd, shoe tying, attention deficit disorder
     Before schools really had a grasp on what ADHD was, many kids were simply pushed along through the system rather than identifying the issue and offering tools to help teachers better understand how those children learn. Today, there are resources available to parents and teachers to assist, yet they are still largely unknown, or ignored. A great place for parents to start is by speaking with the school counselor. IEPs (Individual Education Programs) can give kids extended times to test and plans like the 504 can prevent teachers from discriminating against students with sometimes vague disabilities like ADHD.

     ADHD is believed to be more prominent in families whose parents exhibited signs of the disorder as children. While bad parenting can exacerbate certain qualities of the disorder, there is evidence that genetics plays the largest role in the condition. Studies show that identical twins, living in different homes, had a eighty three percent probability to develop the same ADHD diagnosis. On the contrary, non-identical twins, like Christopher Stephens and his sister, have very little likelihood of sharing the condition. Also, like in Chris Stephens' case, ADHD can skip a generation.

     In 2008 I was teaching a kid's Tae Kwon Do class. The after-school program had about fifteen children that attended between the ages of ten and thirteen. The training always started the same way to give the kids structure. We would get in a circle and go through our stretches and then the students would line up against the mirror to await their turn at performing yesterday's technique. A handful of the children, were siblings, including little Tommy and Ryan. But, Tommy and Ryan had ADHD.
     As everyone was stretching in tandem and discussing their school day or home life, the two boys would be rolling around inside of the circle or flopping around like a fish, tickling each other. While the class stood patiently waiting their turns by the wall, Tommy and Ryan would be actively competing to see how much of each other's trousers they could stuff up one another's butt-hole with one finger. Eventually, we would have to design a private class for the boys to keep them from distracting the rest of the participants. Despite the mother's goals and wishes for the boy's to develop some real self-discipline through martial arts, their private class consisted of mostly simple games that the two could enjoy while they spent their time with us. As for structure, the boys simply would not participate unless they were interested and having fun. The going name for the class among the teachers became 'Martial Arts 102: Do Whatever the Hell the Kid Wants'.

     It really is no laughing matter. Over the course of the next week, I was charged with leading the private class because the boys seemed to have taken a liking to me. How did I get through to them? It came in the form of overcoming two obstacles. The first obstacle was in keeping the kids engaged. The only way to do that was to let the children feel that they had some margin of choice. It is okay if we don't practice a fixed form or familiar technique, but I always chose the place where we would train. I would oftentimes take them outside to a place that I knew I could demonstrate an advanced or flashy move because students with ADHD want to learn the cool stuff.
     In the course of an hour long class, I would aim to fit in some stretching, a required technique, and some exercise. But I would also, always have an advanced move (some gymnastics, climbing, or focus skill that was extraordinarily difficult) prepared to demonstrate if they got off task. One thing that kids with heightened intelligence know is that they can do it. They can do anything-and that is the problem. They mentally talk themselves out of practice by telling themselves that they could do it if they chose to. It is a
'Why practice? That's easy!'
problem. So do your best to make class everything but easy. Use high intensity training, quick-changing, fast running, and jumping exercises to tire them out. You will succeed in overcoming obstacle number one though keeping them engaged by making things feel new.

pull ups, add, adhd, exercise, teaching     Obstacle two is overcoming disinterest. In the midst of instruction, especially if the kids weren't tired out, about the time they began finding it more difficult to finger-stick each others trousers than practice their guard or pass, I would remind myself not to scold them. Rather, I would redirect them through indirectly capturing their interest by nonchalantly doing something impressive. Holding a handstand, juggling, or climbing a telephone pole. If you have nothing impressive to demonstrate, pick something difficult or extreme and start practicing on your own. Don't fall into their trap, instead coax them to fall into yours. Appeal to their ego. After quietly working on your own technique, ask them for advice or help. You will be surprised how much more they think they know than you. If you systematically try their suggestions and ask them to demonstrate, they will eventually stumble upon the correct form themselves. Be prepared for frustration when they go through this process. Something they will do, is try and blame everything but themselves for their failure. Most cases of ADD develop a need for instant gratification. It is during the times that they are working on something that takes patience to learn that you will have your best chance at showing them the importance of self-discipline. Then, you can congratulate them and thank them for their patience, hard work, and help while figuring it out. Relate with your student, and while you have his or her attention, finish your regimen.

     Don't always expect to get everything done that you plan for, though the threat of time can sometimes inspire your more difficult students to finish the agenda. They get a kick out of doing things in fast-forward. Expect the kids to show you their progress, or lack of progress, in the middle of tomorrow's class when they get bored. When they go back to practicing that handstand or juggling, it is a good cue that they are ready for a change-up.

     Appealing to anyone's ego can get sticky. Some of today's professionals will advise against giving kids what they want all of the time. That is why it is important to maintain a margin of control. While you may be compromising with your students' needs, it should be an unspoken kind of compromise. A lesson in human weaknesses and needs should be planned for their futures in adolescent martial arts training. Take Chris Stephens, for example, he walked in to Kang Rhee's School of Pasa Ryu Kung Fu at the age of nineteen. During his interview with Master Rhee, he was asked why it was important for him to learn Kung Fu? Chris's answer, "To kill the ego."

     Chris shared with me, saying, "That while children exhibit symptoms of ADHD such as:
Having a hard time paying attention, daydreaming a lot, not seeming to listen, easily distracted from schoolwork or play, forgetting things, always in constant motion or unable to stay seated, no discipline, and/or no self-esteem ...

     "People may not understand that with those symptoms come some unique gifts like:
Creativity, exuberance, emotional expressiveness, interpersonal intuition, a special relationship with nature, and a natural drive to Leadership."

     Chris Stephens' awesome success reminds us that when the ego becomes a hindrance to self-growth, the ADD student will naturally choose to carve it from his own sculpture independently. What choice does a child with an intellectual disability have when their whole life they have virtually been self-taught? It is only natural that one-day they will get curious and choose to learn how to 'just behave'.



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Sources:
Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D. (excerpted from The Gift of ADHD)
Julie Pendower- Is ADHD Hereditary (http://www.addandadhd.co.uk/adhd-hereditary.html)
Jennifer J. Nestle, Esq. & Josh Kershenbaum, Esq.- IEP vs. 504 What's the difference? (http://www.metrokids.com/MetroKids/November-2012/IEP-vs-504-Whats-the-difference/)

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