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A Letter to Children with Attention Deficit Disorders

by Myles L. Cooley, Ph.D., Palm Beach Gardesn, FL

Dear (children),

Either your parents or a doctor may have told you recently that you have an attention deficit disorder. Attention deficit disorders are sometimes called ADD or ADHD for short. Some children and teen-agers understand that this is not a terrible problem and are not upset. If you are one of these kids, that's good, but some children feel badly about this information. If you are one of these children, hopefully this letter will help you feel better. I am a psychologist who talks to lots of kids with ADD. Usually they feel better after we've talked,

First, let me tell you what an attention deficit disorder is not and what you shouldn't worry about. It does not mean that you are not smart. Most people with ADD have good intelligence and some are even "gifted". Secondly, ADD does not mean you have an illness or disease that will hurt your body in some way. Finally, ADD does not mean you're bad, lazy, or don't care about things as much as other kids do.

What does it mean if you have an attention deficit disorder? You probably already know that this problem affects you at home, at school, and with friends. In all of these situations, you may find it hard to pay attention to things that are not fun or interesting. For example, it may be hard to listen to certain teachers or read lots of pages in a school book. It may be a lot easier to watch TV or play Nintendo.

Since it's hard to pay attention sometimes, you may miss "pieces" of information like school assignments or directions. You may forget some things your teachers and parents ask you to do. You may also have noticed that you can learn something one day and forget it the next day. Also, at times, you may do or say something without first thinking about it. Sometimes what you've said or done will get you into trouble. All of these things can be very frustrating for you.

Some children with ADD are also called hyperactive or "hyper". This means they are more active than other children at times when they're supposed to be still. They may be talking or moving around when they're supposed to be quiet and sitting. In school, children are expected to be quiet and stay in their seats most of the time. If you have ADD with hyperactivity, school may be the hardest, most frustrating place for you.

Many children with ADD and hyperactivity will take medication to help them control their behavior. If you are one of these children or teenagers, it may seem confusing that your doctor and parents are wanting you to take this medicine when most people are telling you to "Just Say No" to drugs. It is important to know that there are big differences among drugs. Some can kill you, but others save lives. Of course, all drugs can be harmful if they're not taken the way your doctor prescribed them. The medications for ADD are not dangerous when you take them as they are prescribed by your doctor. They do not cause other drug problems, and they are not addicting. Medications for ADD are often very helpful because they make it easier for hyperactive children to choose to be quiet, sit still, and pay attention.

Before your parents and teachers knew you had an attention deficit disorder, your behavior probably caused problems for you sometimes. Parents and teachers may have gotten angry with you. They may have blamed you for things you didn't understand, for chores you forgot, or behavior you couldn't seem to stop. You may have been called lazy, irresponsible, or bad by adults, friends, and even brothers and sisters. Maybe you were also punished a lot. By this time, you may have almost given up in school or at home.

Let me try to give you some hope. First, it is very important for you to know that it is not your fault that you have an attention deficit disorder. ADD is a problem some people are born with. We don't know why. We do know that a part of the brain works differently in people who have ADD. It is the part of the brain that helps people pay attention, remember, and think and act slowly when they want to.

You had no control over what you were born with. You do have control over how hard you try to do well and be successful even though you have ADD. Many successful and famous adults have ADD. These doctors, teachers, singers, lawyers, movie stars and other ADD adults have become successful by working very hard. ADD did not stop them from being successful. There is no reason it should stop you, either.

What do you have to work harder at? You will have to work harder at paying attention, remembering, being organized, thinking slowly, sitting still, and being quiet at certain times. This is a lot of work. Your parents, teachers and doctor have lots of good ideas about how to do these things better. Don't be afraid to ask for their advice. If you were learning or playing a sport, you'd ask a teacher or coach for advice about how to improve. Pretend your teachers, parents, and doctor are your coaches. Learn from them. Practice their ideas and watch yourself do better at all kinds of things.

Don't give up if you slip up. This will happen from time to time. Everyone makes mistakes, and that means you, too.

I hope this letter helped you understand a little more about your attention deficit disorder. Remember, you can do as well as you want at anything you want to do.

Good luck. Sincerely,

Myles Cooley, Ph.D.

Myles Cooley, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist practicing in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. He is the author of Teaching Kids with Mental Health and Learning Disorders in the Regular Classroom. He can be reached at561-694-0001.See him on or at his website, at:

Disclaimer: Internet Special Education Resources (ISER) provides this information in an effort to help parents find local special education professionals and resources. ISER does not recommend or endorse any particular special education referral source, special educational methodological bias, type of special education professional, or specific special education professional.

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