Friday, March 26, 2010

"Seen and Not Heard"

Have you ever heard the saying “Children should be seen and not heard” when you were growing up? I did. Being the only child of the entire family (I didn’t even have cousins), it was daunting to hear this comment from some conservative European relatives. My observations and opinions were not taken seriously — simply because of my youth.

The reason I bring this up is that our society seems to have this attitude towards children with ADHD: They should be seen and not heard.

Children with ADHD shouldn’t upset the natural order of things in the household, in school or in grocery stores, parks, malls or museums.

They shouldn’t ask too many probing questions about gravity or chemical reactions. This is considered annoying. Instead, they should be satisfied hearing the standard pat answers. As Blake was once told by a teacher, “That’s all you need to know right now.”

They shouldn’t point out the inconsistencies in a parent’s logic. This is considered being disrespectful. “Why are you telling me not to drive with one hand on the wheel when you do it?” my daughter Madison will say to my husband. “That’s different; I’m the adult,” my husband will respond, irritated. “I didn’t question my mother when she told me something.” Maybe they just want to understand the rationale behind a particular rule, not necessarily counter the rule.

They shouldn’t point out an error in a teacher’s lecture. Teachers oftentimes will figure that the student is trying to embarrass them or act like a wise guy. Blake’s science teacher didn’t like being told that Jupiter had more than four moons. Blake had just been at the planetarium and was volunteering this information, but the teacher got offended. Maybe the student is actually thinking about the content of the lecture or has some new information to tell the class.

They shouldn’t be restless when they have that very physical need to move. “Why can’t you sit still? Why are you tapping your pencil?” Madison’s biology teacher will tell her. They should be like all the others sitting quietly.

They shouldn’t defend themselves when they are wrongly accused of doing something because they are considered argumentative. Madison was helping organize a classmate who was late to French class, but the teacher thought she was just chatting socially. “But I wasn’t chatting, I was helping her,” Madison protested. “C’est tout! Je ne peux pas enseigner en haut de tes voix fortes! Jennifer et Madison, sortez-vous la class!” the teacher said as she banished Madison and her friend from class.

They shouldn’t act up because they are bored. They should just grin and bear it.

Children with ADHD shouldn’t ruffle people’s feathers. “Why is Aunt Hilda being mean to grandma and saying it with a smile?” Blake asked. These children have the courage and honesty to say what everyone else is thinking and not saying—and then are faulted for saying it. They see when people are being hurtful or dishonest, and they call them on it.

I think many people do not understand their depth — of intelligence, of emotion, of perception, of passion.

Children with ADHD are expected to just fit in and not be different. (Notice that being different has a negative connotation.) In 6th grade, Blake wanted to talk about cloud formations, hurricanes, tornadoes, and the Martian space probes with his friends, but his friends wanted to talk about Spider Man and The Hulk. In middle school, Madison was very much a tomboy and loved biology, emergency vet, riding her Razor scooter down the hill and soccer. She wasn’t yet interested in lipstick shades or flirting with boys like many of the other girls. Children with ADHD have many interests and shouldn’t be faulted for it. We should encourage their curiosity.

The irony is: Aren’t the innovators, the individualists, exactly what we need more of? Should we be dampening this spirit in these children, making them fit into some kind of arbitrary mold? As Dr. Stephen Hinshaw of UC Berkeley said in a presentation for CHADD’s ADHD Awareness Day last September at Berkeley, “If ADHD were so bad, it would have been naturally selected out of the population generations ago. Obviously, many of its traits were prized by earlier societies.”

Not only do we need to see these children with ADHD but also hear them — and maybe even listen to what they are saying. We may learn a lot.



  1. It is maddening that everyone wants to pigeon-hole our creative, innovative kids into the typical mold. It is even more maddening when people say "why can't he just...?" about the very things that they can't control and by not being able to control them makes the ADHD. I was nodding my head the whole time I was reading this post. Thanks for saying it.

  2. WOW. I needed to read this. Thank you.

  3. Thank you Nadine.
    To a mother floating in an unknown realm between distress, uncertainty, alone - ness, fear and curiosity, you have helped bring Love back to the forefront of the agenda.
    My beautiful and delightful first born son Kian has been recently tested for and diagnosed with "high pyrrolins" a biochemical imbalance in the brain present in many of those who have ADHD/ADD.

    The vitamin supplements he has been subscribed to bring balance back into his system have been a big help with the over - reactive behaviour. However, with this intensity of expression sinking into the background, his short attention span and problems with literacy/learning have been high lighted in the for ground.
    Today i have reached a climax of my realisation - that my son has symptoms of the conditions adhd/add.

    As a single mum with no one to share this new understanding of my son with, i have found comfort, empowerment and most importantly, hope.

    I am struggling to find a place to sit in this truth which i can no longer deny, push away, distract myself from....
    My 4th day of being in bed with a horrendous head cold, the images of me threatening to smack kian if he did n't put his school clothes on right now cause i've asked him 13 times and he still isn't doing it, shouting out the word 'was' 20 times and he still did 'nt remember what it was flickering vividly thru my mind as i read about the short attention span and inability to remember in children with Add/Adhd.
    And i grab my son's face and body in my mind and hold him so tightly as i scream out how sorry i am for not understanding more.

    And all i want to do is hide and hurt myself, because i can't cope with the pressure, the heart ache... but i know i can't. And i know now in my truth that it is my responsibility to understand the beauty and exquistness of my son's uniqueness and to honour this with patience and attentiveness not anger and threats.

    Kian is a treasure. Quirky, intelligent, always questioning in order to learn, all the traits you so positively describe resonate so clearly with my experience of him.
    Thank you for reminding me to feel the beauty of what my child is, instead of focusing my mind on what, in society's eyes, he isn't.

  4. This is a really positive article about these children. I think that correctly supported, that vibrancy and energy can lead to something even greater in them

  5. So glad to have found your blog, as I have a 6 yr old with adhd/hyperactive. If you can please refer me to other helpful parenting blogs, that would be MUCH appreciated. THANK YOU!

  6. What a relief to find people who understand!

  7. great blog!!!!

    see my on too

  8. What you have said is so true. I wish that we could get the whole world to realize this. I have fogot the school with my son, they were just pushing him asside, like he was just an inconvince. Everyday when he would come home I would have to remind him that there is nothing wrong with him, god just put in extra time in making him extra special and sometimes people just dont understand how wonderful you are.

    This world really needs to wake up and realize that they are discriminating against a child who only wants to feel as if they belong and are accepted.

    Thank you for saying this, and I truely hope that more people will stand up and tell the world how wonderful children with ADHD are.

  9. Wow seems like my life story. Perhaps something my mother might have said about me had she had the knowledge, insight, etc. I was "hyperactive" I think they were simply calling it back then before these ADD/ADHD acronymn/labels.

    I am a 38 year old INTJ, computer programmer with varying interests and a 138 IQ. I was considered a "slacker" in school (didn't do my homework because it was boring doing math problems over and over even though I was good at math).

    I obviously demonstrated a willingness and was eager to learn, etc. I taught myself to program in the 5th grade when computers were relatively new. I often spend hours reading Wikipedia, etc.

    Definitely never judge a book by its cover. I didn't "fit in" then and I still don't :) You can bet I'm teaching my daughter to think outside the box, etc.

    The American Education System is a disaster. Several things I've seen on the Net lately about the loss of creativity in America. Gee I can't imagine how that might have happened :)

    Also looking forward to reading John Taylor Gatto's Weapons of Mass Instruction: A Schoolteacher's Journey Through the Dark World of Compulsory Schooling.

  10. I need to know how to walk the line between disclpline and just plain old understanding that it is what it is.

  11. Yeah, Why can't he just...? How many times have I heard that. This post really spoke to me. You totally described my son to the tee. Do I really want to make him fit in this mold and crush his creativity and curiousity. The answer is no I don't. Thanks for this. I needed to hear today that our family is not alone.

  12. It is nice to read your blog. My son has the inability to focus. I am finding that I really haven't a clue on how to deal with his situation. He's smart, sweet and caring. However, it's SO upsetting to learn he hasn't done 8 of 12 assignments at school because they've been lost or half done or finished then lost! We are putting together a plan for his school with the administration. I could use advice for what things would help him.

  13. Dear Running Diva Mom, The CHADD website is the best place that I have found. I will let you know if I find others.

  14. Resources like the one you mentioned here will be very useful to me! I will post a link to this page on my blog. I am sure my visitors will find that very useful.