Islands of Competence
Dr. Robert Brooks, an author and lecturer who frequently speaks at CHADD annual conferences, advises that we look for areas of special interest and skills in our children and that we reinforce and promote these. He calls these “islands of competence.”
My son, Andrew, has always had significant developmental delays and challenges and it has been difficult to recognize, reinforce, and promote special skills. One of his special interests and skills is an understanding of baseball and its statistics. He and I bond through our love of baseball. Another area of special skill is spelling. But in previous schools he was unable to demonstrate this skill area.
At his last year’s school, a public high school with 2,000 students, those interested in spelling joined a spelling club and competed with other school spelling clubs. Because Andrew was socially isolated at the school and the school did nothing to support and reinforce his social skills, just a few teachers and his family knew about his spelling skill and social isolation.
At his current school, a high school with 75 students with special learning styles, equally mixed between girls and boys, the school is constantly identifying skills and interests of each student and building these into fun and learning oriented activities for the entire school. Two weeks ago, as part of team competitions, the school held a spelling bee, in front of the entire student body. Andrew came in second for the Junior Varsity team. Here is a shy, quiet kid with uncertain self-confidence placing second in front of the entire school. His self-esteem was immediately enhanced. And, as a result, he has since been talking more openly with students and faculty.
It is not just the family that needs to search for these skills and interests. Social environments, such as schools, need to foster respect and esteem, using each person’s “islands of competence.”
Initial Parental Response
The May 2007 issue of Psychiatric Services, a professional journal, contains an article examining the decision process used by families when confronted with the possibility of AD/HD in their families. The four "distinct patterns" of decision are used by all families, but the researchers document that culture, race, and community influence these thought patterns.
CHADD's experience as a national resource center and a family membership organization celebrating its 20th anniversary affirms the validity of the four distinct processes. The following statements are not data driven, but are personal ideas based on six-and-a-half years of personal experience working at CHADD. The four processes, using loaded professional terminology, followed by my personal ideas, are:
1. Immediate resolution is a response frequently seen with families experiencing less severe forms of AD/HD, without co-occurring disorders, whose initial identification was made by behaviors interfering with academic performance in the school setting.
2. Pragmatic management is a response frequently seen in families with children with more severe forms of AD/HD, frequently with co-occurring disorders, and the families have come to realize that their children’s problems have been with them before entering the school setting and understand that these challenges maybe chronic and long lasting in nature.
3. Attributional ambivalence is used by those embarrassed by the possibility of AD/HD, those who do not have families and communities open to the brain-based origin of AD/HD, and/or are skeptical or afraid of medications. They are open to interventions that are not recommended by medically trained professionals.
4. CHADD, as a voluntary membership organization, has little experience with agencies of government using coerced conformance. We do hear from parents who claim that they were told by their child’s teacher to place their child on medication. Our response is that the child should receive an independent medical evaluation and that those making medical recommendations should do so within their sphere of professional competence and training. CHADD has recently published the CHADD Educator’s Manual on AD/HD: An In-depth Look From An Educational Perspective to assist teachers. We don’t hear from our members about government agencies coercing families to treat AD/HD, but some families apparently experience this.
As your family moves through life dealing with AD/HD and related disorders, please remember that you are not alone. Millions of families are facing the same challenges and emotions.