I’m impressed by the tenth grader sitting across from me. Ginny was diagnosed with ADD when she was only 5. Nonetheless, she is doing well in school and is an enthusiastic, if not always graceful, dancer. One of her teachers, concerned that she has been struggling, suggested she come see me for a little support and counseling. The hour is proving to be a lesson in resilience and a testament to good parenting.
“I don’t know why people get so worried about me,” says Ginny. “I figure everyone has something they probably wish they didn’t have. I have ADD, but I don’t have cancer like the kid who lives down the street from me. My parents don’t yell at me or beat me up. I have a room of my own and I got an iPod for my birthday. School is hard. Sometimes it’s really hard. But having ADD sure beats having an incurable disease or parents who don’t love you.”
Now there’s keeping things in perspective if I’ve ever heard it. “Why do you think you’ve got such a positive attitude?” I ask.
“Oh, sometimes I don’t,” she says. “But I’ve got friends who have things going on that are much worse and they’re not whining. Why should I?”
“Well, how are you managing in your classes?”
“Well. Sometimes when I’m reading something, I realize that I’m three pages further than the last time I looked and I don’t remember a thing, so I have to go back and read it again. I just make sure I have enough time to do that. One of my teachers taught me to stop at the end of each paragraph and think of a sentence to explain what I read. If I’m studying something really hard, I write that sentence down or type it into my computer. And sometimes my dad and me make flashcards and we go over and over them. There’s something about changing up how I’m doing things a lot that helps me keep focused.”
“That sounds like a really good strategy. Have you got any other hints for other kids with ADD?”
“My mom got me going on making lists as soon as I could write. We’d make lists of things I had to do and then we’d check things off. She made a game of it and it got to be kind of a habit. Making lists keeps me organized and checking things off makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere. I kept losing the planners my mom got for me, so that wasn’t working. But now I have one that clips to my backpack so that’s something I’m working on now. My mom says she’s not going to be around to be my personal reminder person when I go to college so I’d better figure out how to remind myself. My cell phone alarm helps.”
“I’m impressed that this doesn’t get you down,” I say.
“Who says it doesn’t get me down sometimes? I told you I don’t like having it. I just hate drama and I know that it’s not the worst thing that can happen. My folks have always said that you get a lot further if you laugh when you can. They even got me a T-shirt that says ‘I don’t have ADD – Oh look ! A chicken!’ That kind of sums it up. But like my dad says, I get to see the chickens.”
It’s clear that the best thing I can do is validate everything Ginny’s said. Her parents haven’t felt sorry for her and she doesn’t feel sorry for herself. They have defined her ADD symptoms as problems to be laughed about and solved, not as excuses. By working on ways to stay organized, return to focus when she loses it, and manage her schedule, they are all preparing her for increased independence and personal responsibility. I can’t improve on that.