[October 2012 UPDATE: Ferrari Engines, Bicycle Brakes, article by Edward Hallowell in ASCD.]
ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. Toss in an H for ADHD and you have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I would guess that the majority of people diagnosed with either ADD or ADHD probably hone in on the word “disorder”, as in something is out of order compared to what it normally should be.
Edward Hallowell, at November’s Learning and the Brain conference, spoke about the UP side of ADD. He began by noting that ADD is often painted in a negative light, and that the medical model looks at the pathology of the situation, leading to an “evaluation that tells you how defective you are.” He went on to say that “the model creates the problem/disability of shame, fear and being unsuccessful.”
I don’t think he meant to imply there isn’t a problem, just that the problem is in the misunderstanding of ADD. He shared the eyeglass story, which I have heard before. Do we tell people who are nearsighted to simply squint harder (which is the equivalent of telling a person who is struggling with learning to work harder). Of course we don’t; we tell them to get a pair of glasses. Imagine how a child who has difficulty sitting still or focusing feels when they are told they should work harder. (Just what does it mean to “work harder” – work with more difficulty, work more laboriously?)
Hallowell approaches ADD from a strength-based model, much like Sally Shaywitz views Dyslexia as being surrounded by a sea of strengths. He tells kids that they have a “Ferrari engine for a brain” but “with bicycle brakes” – the mechanism for revving up and getting going simply does not match the mechanism for slowing down and stopping. How to take advantage of this?
Creativity is impulsivity gone right!
Hallowell noted other benefits that come with ADHD.
- Distractibility is helpful to let you step aside and then return to the topic. (Remember the last time you got stuck trying to come up with a solution that seemed elusive?)
- Hyperactivity provides energy as you get older. (Anyone out there who would like an energy boost on a regular basis, and one that comes from yourself rather than a cup of coffee?)
Ultimately, Hallowell suggests doing what you are good at, what you like, and what adds value (to a community and by earning you a salary). Ideally, he says, “try to spend your time at the intersection of these three”, which is not unlike the suggestions made by Ken Robinson or Mel Levine.
Happy Birthday R one week from today!