Robbie Raffino used to rise every day like most eight-year-olds. He'd wipe the sleepiness from his eyes, throw on shorts and shirt that don't match and eat cereal while watching cartoons.
But the innocence ended there. He'd swallow his Ritalin, hop on the school bus and enter a world where teachers, therapists and psychiatrists would try to "fix what is wrong" with him.
Children like Robbie-who have tremendous energy, don't respond to classroom lectures, prefer independent work and are natural leaders-are often diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Unfortunately, most "experts" begin with the premise that these children suffer from a disorder, meaning an "abnormal" functioning of the brain. This flawed premise leads to a natural conclusion-that society must change these children to make them learn and behave like everyone else.
Parents Shelley and Andy Raffino of Chicago express a common frustration. "We spent so much time trying to fix our son's weaknesses that we never focused on his strengths. The constant negativity, pressure and medication destroyed Robbie's confidence."
Not surprisingly, children subjected to the endless chorus that "there is something wrong with you" often lack confidence. Even well-meaning attempts to medicate further erode their dignity-the kids feel powerless to succeed without the help of a pill and just don't feel like themselves.
But what if there really isn't anything wrong with these children? How would our attitudes, treatment and children be affected if we recognized that these children are wired differently for a distinct purpose?
Ironically, the very society that has labeled and devalued these kids desperately needs the unique qualities that only children with ADHD possess. Who else possesses the energy, creativity, innovation, passion and persistence that lead to breakthroughs in science, the arts and business? New research suggests that up to 75% of entrepreneurs exhibit the classic symptoms of ADHD.
Fortunately, organizations such as Celebrate!ADHD, which equips children with ADHD for success, champion a more positive approach to ADHD that give families like the Raffinos new options.
Contrary to those who view ADHD through a negative prism, Celebrate!ADHD enthusiastically celebrates the unique differences and advantageous traits children with ADHD possess.
We believe that current treatments are based on a flawed premise and false assumptions. Society does not assume there is something wrong with the child who cannot write creative stories, paint beautiful landscapes or lacks initiative to work independently. So why do we assume children with ADHD have a disorder because another part of their brain is dominant?
Likewise, it seems absurd to state that children with AHDH cannot focus. In fact, they display unmatched concentration when interested in a project or subject.
An inordinate amount of time, energy and money is spent trying to change behaviors and qualities that don't need to be changed-time that would be better spent cultivating the child's natural gifts, talents and passions.
And this is the core of our philosophy. Work with the child's nature and wiring, not against it. Identify and then cultivate inherent strengths because this is what successful people in every field do-they focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses.
This philosophy leads to a different treatment for children with ADHD. Don't try to change the children. Change the way you teach them. Change their environment and expose them to opportunities for success. Provide avenues for them to express their gifts, talents and passions
This past summer, the Raffinos sent Robbie to our Trailblazers Creativity Camp in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Rather than spend our time figuring out ways to change Robbie, Celebrate!ADHD collaborated with the Raffinos to develop a Life Success Action Plan that works with Robbie's nature. The positive results have affirmed the wisdom of this approach.
Robbie no longer takes Ritalin. According to Shelley Raffino, "Robbie said he feels good, feels like himself for the first time in months." He's less irritable and more relaxed with friends. And yes, the increased energy level is back.
To provide a healthy outlet for Robbie's physical and mental energy, the Rafffinos have provided avenues for Robbie to express his creative gifts. He is taking guitar lessons and beginning to build a small, online business selling hand-made crafts. He is putting his energy into activities which breed confidence.
In the classroom, the Raffinos have partnered with Robbie's teacher to accentuate his strengths. In order to more fully engage Robbie, his teacher is incorporating more hands-on activities, enlisting Robbie's help in class and focusing assignments on subjects that interest him.
Robbie still has his struggles-as all people do-and his wiring presents challenges. But the Raffinos are thrilled with the changes. "It's like we have our little boy back. He's himself again, and that is priceless."
About the author
Kirk Martin is Founder of Celebrate!ADHD, a nationally recognized expert on finding positive solutions to help families with ADHD thrive. The organization's award-winning Camps build confidence and social skills. Kirk is also the author of numerous books.