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Self-care and transformative perspectives on neurodiversity.

By now, we are well versed in the behaviours of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) affected people. Impulsivity, inattention, forgetfulness and the inability to sit still are all well-known effects, qualities that are arguably not compatible with group learning settings!

children in a classroom with the teacher
Neurodiverse classroom at work

The obvious challenge is when you have an entire classroom of children to teach, one disruptive or inattentive child will affect the learning outcomes for everybody. There might not be enough time to dedicate to multiple learning paths and achieve the results imposed upon you as an educator. Perhaps learning institutions are becoming more sensitive to the various learning styles of individuals but the same difficulties of time and manpower are likely to exist.

Yet this is just one perspective on what it means to be neurodiverse. We could argue that changing how we think about ADHD could change the experience of what it means to have ADHD. We can learn to spot the strengths while providing positive interventions for the challenges.

ADHD is currently diagnosed as a set of behavioural criteria, which is subjective. It doesn't take into account developmental stages (meaning it is not always a life-long condition) and it is challenging to diagnose girls over boys. Traditionally pathology and medication have been the answer to 'controlling' ADHD, which is big business. The long-term consequences of this should be examined, with many medications having a boxed warning that there is a "high potential for abuse and dependence". Addiction research shows ADHD drugs can rewrite a person's basic brain function. For children in their formative years, this may have unknown effects on shaping the adults they are becoming.

So, what options are available if medication is not the desired first course of action. Can we look to neuroscience, nutrition and positive psychology for answers? To date, there are few research papers exploring ADHD through the lens of positive psychology. Yet researchers have found that self-perceptions have the strongest implication of wellbeing or detriment in their development and psychosocial adjustment. A child with ADHD can internalise the feelings or attitudes of others regarding their behaviour. They often blame themselves and believe that they are less than their peers. For example, even just the inability to complete a task in the same way that everyone else can is an obvious reminder that they are not good enough, smart enough or fast enough.

Over time, these feelings can become a self-reinforcing paradigm.

Our self-concept is formed by evaluating our competencies through our experiences and interactions with others. Rather than, "I did something stupid" or "I failed at that", it becomes "I am stupid" or "I am a failure". Ultimately, behaviours that may have been able to transform as they progressed through developmental stages can become solidified as a self-identity.

If, as a child with ADHD, we think of ourselves as disruptive, inattentive or forgetful, we are likely to continue to evaluate ourselves in these terms long after the conditions that inspired them have passed. In contrast, a positive self-concept is beneficial in all areas, from resilience and coping skills to social relationships and academic outcomes. How we feel about ourselves, our strengths, and our abilities will directly influence our behaviours.

So, what can we achieve by taking a strengths-based approach to ADHD?

a child painting
boy painting at the easel

All children have unique talents, abilities and capacities to learn. Children with ADHD, like all of us, have many positive traits that may be overlooked. Many traits like hyperfocus and creativity that allow these children to achieve almost superhuman feats, when given the chance to flourish.

Learning to spot strengths in these children and teaching them to spot strengths in themselves can not only create a positive self-concept but also give them tools to utilise in reaching their goals.

A personal example of how this might work is how I deal with my own weakness in adherence (insight gleaned after completing the Gallup strengths test). I find it challenging to follow the rules and execute tasks within clear steps and stages. It's just not how my brain works. But I know that I can use my other strengths to compensate, and one of my most potent strengths is creativity. I might not be able to complete a task on a linear trajectory, but I can use my creativity to come up with ways to complete a task differently. Knowing this allows me to look at tasks that seem impossible for my brain to follow and find unexplored paths to achieving what I want to do.

By observing and highlighting the unconventional ways children with ADHD find to engage with a task, we are highlighting the tools they may use when they feel challenged. It begins to build a repertoire of positive self-concepts that can be called upon when they feel unable to achieve the desired outcomes using standard methods.

My latest title is a set of tools for children experiencing ADHD. Explore a range of emotional regulation, self-care and self-talk techniques to develop a positive self-concept and deal with the practical challenges of lifting or dissipating the extra energy of the ADHD brain.

Why is self-care important, and how does it relate to ADHD?

The spiralling diagnoses of ADHD, depression and anxiety are well documented. It's no secret that our modern diets, environmental toxins and the continuing effects of lockdowns are wreaking havoc on wellbeing.

Often the most obvious factors can be overlooked. Have we had enough sleep, good healthy food and exercise? Are children aware of how these simple requirements can play a large role in their moods?

Children entering early childhood education or school now have spent a large portion of their formative years in their own houses, with less social interaction than ever. It won't affect all children the same way, but the initial outlook appears as though we will see the negative results from this time developing over the years with unknown effects. But with the right support we can help mitigate these early experiences.

a small girl holding a bear
girl with a teddy bear

Knowing how to care for oneself is essential for school readiness and for getting out and engaging with the world.

Children who are unable to attend to their own needs will most likely struggle with early education and school environments; even an invitation to a birthday party can be impossible when you don't have the skills to take care of your basic requirements.

The lockdown children have had less opportunity than any other generation to exercise these skills. Self-care is a fundamental skill essential to ensure positive outcomes for all.

Help promote independence and support school readiness with our latest title. This book explores practical self-care for our bodies, integrated self-care for our minds and holistic self-care for our spirit. Everything from brushing our teeth and using the toilet, to finding our passions. Learning to listen to our bodies and caring for our thoughts and emotions is the start of success in all other areas. It is essential for all children, especially those with ADHD, which is why these books work so well together.

Lastly, one of the great benefits to others is when we love and care for ourselves; we offer the same love and care to others as a natural extension of our inner wellbeing. Caring for ourselves is the foundation for empathy, kindness and love we can share.


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