Is your child with ADHD checking their phone 70-100 times per day? Are you? How does this connect to the importance of recess and creativity?

The TED talk by Manoush Zomorodi called “How boredom can lead to your most brilliant ideas” is a real must watch for parents worried about their children and their smartphones…and even for themselves! The ADHD brain is often easily lit up by things that excite them or that are novel. This is why technology is so appealing and even addictive to the ADHD brain. Manoush Zomorodi talks about how our most brilliant ideas come about when we are bored. How do we achieve boredom? When we are doing monotonous or repetitive tasks such as walking, colouring, folding laundry or running! These and other repetitive tasks can bring about space for our minds to wander. Manoush talks about repetitive tasks bringing us to an almost subconscious level where we can often daydream and actually come up with new ideas.

Often the ADHD brain can be extremely creative and some of the greatest minds and entrepreneurs of our world have ADHD but what happens when we are constantly connected to our phone? The answer is less creativity.

Take this a step further and ask yourself; How does this connect to the importance of recess for our children? Unfortunately, many children with ADHD are the recipients of consequences at school such as losing out on recess due to problem behaviours or because they didn’t finish their classwork on time. This is probably the last thing that their brains need to refocus. In fact, we know that time outside in free play is an essential part of our children’s brains integrating what they have learned. This TED talk explains some of the science behind our brains needing time doing “nothing”.

If you are a teacher or educator and are tempted to take away a child’s recess to catch up or as a consequence…think again and remember that children need time in free play and doing “nothing” to help them be creative and to integrate new concepts they have learned in school.

Having worked as an Occupational Therapist in the school system in Quebec for years I do realize the challenge that teachers have in trying to accommodate the increase in recess time for students in an already packed day. Constantly having to have little children dress and undress in a school day, especially in winter, eats into a lot of learning time. But maybe, after watching this TED talk and in understanding a little more how the brain learns we may be able to take a step back and realize that more recess time might actually improve children’s school grades, even if they are spending less time in the classroom!

Sports, Autism and ADHD…What to try with these children.

Over the years, I’ve had many parents of children with Autism or ADHD say that their children have trouble fitting in in many sports. They’ve often felt desperate to find something where their child could be accepted and succeed. Sports require a lot of higher-level social skills and attention to detail. Often, children with Autism really struggle with social skills and may miss important cues from their teammates. In return, as the kids get older they often get laughed at or picked last for teams. As a result, they often jump from sport to sport trying a new one each year.

Despite this, the importance of physical activity rich in proprioceptive input (strong input to our muscles and joints) is very important for children with autism and ADHD. They can often have a lower threshold for this sense and crave it and need it for their bodies and minds to work effectively. This is why you may often see a child with Autism running and crashing into mats or at an extreme, hitting their head on a wall. The same reason why many people with ADHD crave high-intensity sports that involve running and crashing (hockey, rugby, football). They are seeking strong proprioceptive input.

My own husband who was diagnosed in adulthood with ADHD struggled himself with sports and was often drawn to more independent sports such as canoeing, skiing, hiking, and snowboarding but which still gave him the proprioceptive input he needed for his brain to stay alert and focused. He ended up excelling at these sports and still practices most of them today.

I often told parents to try Karate with their children, as it was independent but could provide the proprioceptive intensity that is needed. It also can be slowed down to allow a child who is more awkward or clumsy to go at their own pace.

When I saw this link for Autism Karate I thought the idea was amazing. I encourage families to check this out!

Other sports that have been successful for parents of children with Autism and ADHD are swimming, Canoeing (Pointe-Claire Canoe Club), skiing (both downhill and cross country), hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, horseback riding.

If your child continues to have trouble coordinating their body and really struggling with sports, you may want to consider working with an Occupational Therapist who specializes in Sensory Integration Therapy to help develop better coordination and sensory regulation.

How to ADHD Videos

How to ADHD is an amazingly candid, honest and truthful resource of videos about ADHD created by someone who has ADHD. Her ability to describe the mind and strengths and limitations of the ADHD brain in a funny and candid way is truly remarkable.

If you or someone you love has ADHD you owe it to them and yourself to watch these videos. Information and knowledge are key to understanding this “Invisible” Disorder.

One of my favorite videos is called How to Help Someone with ADHD. It really helps clarify for those of us who care for and love people with ADHD what we can do to help.

Guilt, Judgement and Parenting an ADHD Child

Over the last few weeks, as life has thrown many curveballs at myself and my family, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on raising children with ADHD and how that impacts the parents. As I was walking with a friend and extremely dedicated parent today, it struck me how often we question ourselves as parents. With my Occupational Therapist hat on, I decided to dig a little deeper into this topic.

In my workshops I give to professionals, teachers, and parents, I’ve started incorporating a lot more on the impact on the family of having a child with a disability. Often, as parents of “invisible disabilities” such as ADHD, language disorders, & learning disabilities, the world judges us harshly. Here are some comments that regularly come from people towards parents with ADHD:

“If **** has ADHD, then every child must have ADHD”

“If **** would just try harder, she is lazy and I know she can do it. She is 10 years old, she should be able to organize herself.”

“She is such a liar, I told her 3 times that her test was tomorrow.”

Kindergarten Teacher to mother: “We assume you must do everything for your daughter at home as she can’t even get her shoes on in time for recess, she is holding everyone else back”.

“If he would just put the energy into his school work as he does his soccer, he would be great”

“How did that mother get you to evaluate her daughter? She can’t possibly have ADHD!”

“I think this mother, just needs to let her kids be, they’ll be fine”

What is so dangerous about seemingly small comments like we see above are the alienation and separation and judgment this places on the parents. When these small comments are heard over and over, the parents can begin to fall into feeling guilty. This can quickly evolve into feeling shame about their child and all they “should” have done to help. What parents of children with ADHD and other invisible disabilities need most of all is a supportive group around them. One of the favorite people I follow and has really changed how I practice Occupational Therapy is Brené Brown. One of the quotes that I think sits appropriately here is:

“If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback-Brené Brown”.

Her quote was inspired by Theodore Roosevelt’s quote: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”-Theodore Roosevelt

Parents with a child with a disability are navigating a whole new life path than they probably had anticipated. Their children have been diagnosed with a real disorder. ADHD is not made up and it is a disorder according to CADDRA (The Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance). The brains of children with ADHD are different and they often do have a delayed development of their executive functions which involves attentional control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, problem-solving and a lot more.

Each parent’s path when supporting their child during and after a diagnosis can be different. How each parent and family navigates that path depends on many factors. What I have come to strongly believe is that every parent is doing the best they can in the circumstances they find themselves in. Some parents can easily take the path of early diagnosis and intervention, for other’s it takes longer. Some parents struggle just to keep going and get their children off to school dressed and on time. There are many factors that affect how a parent will deal with and navigate having a child with a disability. What we need to remember as health care workers, parents, and concerned family members & friends, is that judgment will not help. If we truly want to help we want to meet the families and their children where they are and help them figure out what is getting in their way. Often, families struggle with not knowing which intervention to pursue after a diagnosis. Even if they do get a clear intervention path outlined by neuropsych testing they did to diagnose their child, they may not have the financial means or time to pursue these interventions. Private therapy is very expensive and parents are often trying to juggle their job, the increased needs of their child and doing the therapy. In remote communities, this is even harder as services might not even be available.

If you know someone who is parenting a child with an invisible disability, the best thing you can do is really listen. Please don’t judge them, instead, take the time to listen. Maybe you can be the person that can help them figure out what is getting in their way! Offering a helping hand such as childcare or a meal can go a long way for parents parenting a child with a disability. Empowering a parent to take action and find the energy they need to keep supporting their child can not happen if, as outsiders, we stand in judgment of them. As Brené Brown and Theodore Roosevelt remind us, if we are not in the arena, stay out of judgment!

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