4/02/2014

Mastering the One-Track Mind


My son's obsessions run deep and fast. I can't wait to see how he harnesses his pedal-to-the-metal enthusiasms.

Since Enzo was barely out of babyhood, he’s had long-term obsessions. First it was construction machines. He could tell the difference between a street sweeper, a paving machine, and a combine harvester. We had to read Byron Barton’s Machines At Work and say “Goodnight Guys” every single night. At three he built his first collection: all of the Bob the Builder toys. He would go to sleep sometimes snuggling a front-loader.
Kid playing with a truck
The love goes deep. And the detail is fascinating.
After Useful Vehicles, he loved TRUCKS of all kinds — dump, fire, and monster — and he liked the song "Hello, I’m a Truck" so much that a friend made a tape of nothing but this song. Over and over and over…and the cassette was played over and over and over...
Then came the big love of his life: Trains. This was no surprise, since his first complete sentence had been, “I...hear...dat...train!” Between ages four and eight, he learned everything about trains and collected no less than seven sets. He could tell us the route of the Santa Fe and the B&O lines, and identified each type of engine that passed by with its model numbers. We were able to recycle an old family joke: “When God was giving out brains, you thought he said trains, and asked for one track.”
Does every child obsess on things? It seemed normal to me. I had my cats phase, my owl’s phase, and my horse phase in junior high, during which I only read books in which the main character was of the equine persuasion. With Enzo, trains gave way to Legos, Legos to Bionicles, and sooner or later, Road and Track magazine arrived, and the vehicle obsession turned to cars. Fast cars. Cool cars. Maybe you know someone like this. The love goes deep. And the detail is fascinating. When I drive down the street with him, I can point to any car and he can tell you its make, model, year, and some interesting fact about the company that made it. It’s a specialized talent that could certainly translate to a paycheck if we could ever figure out how to harness it...
This kid is built for learning. He has an intense ability to focus and absorb, and can stay on track with an astonishing and admirable focus...but only if it is a track he chooses. With a kid like that, you have to find ways to help him keep choosing a track that goes somewhere, be it school or a personal interest. Parenting is all about watching when our kids fall off of their track, wander away from it, veer off course precipitously every time a distraction goes by. Our job as parents are to constantly put our kids back on the track. Day after day, week after week.

3/16/2014

Navigating the Ability Gap

When motor skills don’t match up with intellectual ability, what path do you take?

When Enzo was pushing five, he was excited about going to kindergarten. He wanted to learn to read, and was so ready to become “a big kid.” But when he took his kindergarten readiness test, I was shocked that his teacher, GG, recommended another year in preschool. She showed me his abstract skills test, consisting of some squares drawn stacked upon top of each other. “He’s way ahead,” she said. “He’s thinking conceptually like a six or seven-year-old.”
Preschool teacher with students
I was tremendously confused, weighing the mis-match between his intellect and his weak hands.
“So,” I offered, puzzled, “we should start him in second grade?”
Then she showed me Enzo’s “Half a Man” test, where the teacher draws one side of a stick figure and the child is asked to draw the other. He had completed the head, and the body, and the smile, but there were some missing face and body parts. “Look here,” she said, pointing to some scrawly marks where the pencil had barely touched the paper in some places. “His fine motor skills are those of a three-year-old.”
I was tremendously confused, weighing the mis-match between his intellect and his weak hands. “Can’t he just do more drawing over the summer?” I asked. “Motor skills build from the outside-in,” she said. “He’ll always be behind the other kids a little, it’s just who he is,” she said.
Now get this: I loved this woman. GG was the best teacher ever. She let the kids go flying down hills on big wheels. She would make poop jokes and let the kids run the CD player. She taught us how to see problems simply: “I want what you have. What should we do?” What should we do? Enzo was revving his engines; he wanted to go. “It’s a judgment call,” she said sensing my struggle. “He’ll be okay, but his handwriting will probably be terrible. Kids like this also tend to fall behind in about eighth grade.” I got angry. How dare she lay such a heavy prediction on our bright boy?
I had faith. I knew we’d figure it out. I knew we’d SHOW HER!
And we did, for the most part. We will forever be in debt to his second-grade teacher, who recognized that his hands could not keep up with his mind, and urged us to teach him to type. (Note: small and frequent squares of a chocolate-flavored energy bar can help a kid stick to the most difficult learning tasks.) After fifth grade (and more sweet rewards for trying cursive), his handwriting got much better. But when he hit eighth grade, GG’s prediction did come true.
Falling behind in 8th grade, however, is also a red flag for ADHD. We didn’t learn this until half way through 10th grade, of course. And even now, on the hard days, I find myself arguing with history: “If motor delays go hand-in-hand with ADD, why didn’t GG think to tell us that?” And, “What if we had taken her advice? Would things be easier now, or harder in different ways? Would he be bored instead of challenged, and acting out instead of stressed?” In hindsight, another year of preschool would have been heaven.
If I actually could rewrite history, I’d have myself and my husband get over the shock and the stigma and hire a learning specialist to give Enzo the occupational therapy he needed. (Oh, and to do that, I’d also rewrite the economy so my teacher-husband got raises in that decade rather than pay cuts.) But we were keeping most, if not all of the balls in the air, and chose to move forward. Enzo was mostly fine, and the truth is: Kindergarten was free. And in our public school, he didn’t stand out as a problem learner. On the contrary, his teachers all loved him. Maybe GG just wanted to keep him for herself...?

1/12/2014

The Thrill of the Chase


This historic steam train ran on a strict schedule — but as we chased it together, three generations of my ADD family got the chance to indulge the impulse to explore, discover, and share an adrenaline rush.


One of my favorite summer memories was a day out of time with my train-obsessed father and son. We were visiting family in Boulder, Colorado — full of the typical stresses of organizing around various diverse clusters of family cultures and communications — when my dad (whom I shall call Grandpa Gerf* in this blog) — called with the news that a historic Union Pacific 4-8-4 steam engine was going to be running a hundred miles up the UP branch from Denver to Cheyenne, Wyoming. The stepmother, in-laws, and husband backed away from the invitation to chase it, like cockroaches disappearing when a light goes on. But eight-year-old Enzo was ready to leave at the crack of dawn, his pockets full of toy trains and cars.

12/29/2013

Trying to Leave, on a Jet Plane


Traveling takes us out of our comfort zone and our protective routines. Luckily the ADD mind loves a new challenge.

A trip to the airport can bring out the worst in me. Leaving the structural supports of home throws me into an internal chaos that I can’t separate from anxiety. The day before my trip, I should have been in high gear preparing for this, but I spun my wheels all day, obsessing on finding the right travel outfit that will keep me warm on the way to the airport and cool when I get off the plane in Hawaii. Why don’t I own a twinset? When did I lose a button on my old aloha shirt? The blue sweater or the green? They both look good, so how do I choose?

12/13/2013

25 Problems Only People With ADHD Understand

reblogged from Buzzfeed (get it? Buzz feed?)
posted on 



25 Problems Only People With ADHD Understand
Paramount / Via giphy.com
You want to get stuff done, you really do, it’s just that EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING AT ONCE AND YOU CAN’T ESCAPE FROM ANY OF IT. Lookin’ at you, open-plan offices.

2. Spending so much time looking around at everything that catches your attention that you start to look paranoid.

25 Problems Only People With ADHD Understand
Disney / Via imgur.com
No, I’m not worried that someone is out to get me, it’s just that EVERYTHING IS INTERESTING.

12/07/2013

The Tension of Attention

Physician Gabor Maté’s explanation of eye contact, attachment, and the origins of ADHD.

One of the best ADD books I read while researching my book on bullying was Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do About It , by Gabor Maté. If you haven’t seen Maté's YouTube videos, check them out. He has an interesting view of ADD, and here it is, in a nutshell of my own design:

10/29/2013

The Learning Curve (feature)

I found a great post today over at ADDitude by a teacher who agrees with me.
At my first reading of my latest book.
Yes, it's about having a superpower!
"I think of my ADHD symptoms almost like super powers! When I let my mind run free with an idea, it’s like switching on the turbo boost. I can think of 100 different creative ways to do or say something in two minutes! Like many ADHDers, I can go into hyperfocus mode, too. The rest of the world fades into the background. A few minutes in a quiet room with some paper, pens, and pencils and I come out with a couple of solutions to any problem I’m facing.