My oldest daughter is never just pleased. She’s ecstatic. She’s never just worried, she panics. She lives completely in every moment, focusing only on what interests her right now. She has a hard time sitting still and paying attention to her teacher or a TV show. When an idea pops into her head, she immediately needs to act on it. My experience might look like the one of other parents of a child with ADHD or other neurobehavioral disorders.
This life is often frustrating. It’s tiresome to have to repeat simple instructions multiple times. It is trying when she constantly misplaces her things (last school-year she lost five winter coats and three lunch boxes). It’s embarrassing when she has public meltdowns and worrisome when she struggles in school.
At the same time, to be the mother of a child with ADHD is also wonderful. She brings an energy and a complete focus on the present that the rest of us in the family simply lack. Her intense excitement over even simple things, like a beautiful rock or a favorite song on the radio, is completely contagious. Her bubbling imagination is an endless source of new inventions (recently a homemade roller coaster that I at last moment saved her pet guinea pig from taking the maiden voyage on).
Sadly, over the years, many of my daughter’s teachers have seen only her many challenges. One teacher spent a year without ever being able to see beyond the paper clippings that my daughter produces as a result of her Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Over the past several years, the literature has clarified the importance of fostering not only students’ cognitive abilities, but also their socio-emotional abilities (e.g. self-regulation, timeliness, teamwork). But, how about children who struggle on both fronts? Is their future doomed? My colleague María Fernanda Prada answers that question with a resounding no. According to her research, ability is multidimensional, and some dimensions of ability have, in fact, been overlooked in the literature.
Based on a national longitudinal youth survey from the United States, she concludes that mechanical abilities (related to e.g. manual dexterity, motor skills and visual motor integration) increases an individual’s overall earnings. This opens the door for other researchers to follow suit and explore ability as multidimensional.
While children like my daughter will still face a tough time navigating a world that values so many skills with which they struggle (such as control of emotions, organization, planning, decision-making and capacity to follow directions), new research showing that ability is multidimensional is comforting. Her imagination and her ability to hyper focus when building an invention can become her secret powers. These are abilities that children like her can use as building blocks for exploration, learning and for actively contributing to their schools and communities.
Perceiving children with neurobehavioral and cognitive disorders as gifted with special abilities can help them thrive. Whether you’re a parent, a grandparent or a teacher of a child with a neurobehavioral or cognitive disorder, look beyond the problems and challenges, and take the time to help them find their special powers. Skills that they can build on and lead them to excel in school and in life.