AD/HD is frequently characterized by an inability to stay focused on a task—repeatedly and significantly. The Sunday, August 17 issue of the New York Times featured an article on Michael Phelps, “AD/HD Didn’t Keep Phelps From Finding His Focus—On the Gold.” Teachers throughout his early school years observed that Michael could not focus to achieve goals. Yet, no Olympian has won more medals than Michael.
My son Andrew is 17. First identified at age 11 months as having developmental delays, Andrew has always had significant trouble staying focused on the task at hand. And he still faces attention challenges. Yet, this summer, he obtained and succeeded in his first paid job. His self-esteem has increased while mastering what the world expects—gainful employment. No Olympic medals, just modest but meaningful goal attainment. To Andrew, his mother, and me, these are significant.
Robert Brooks, PhD, has emphasized at CHADD conferences over the years the need for each of us to have and use our "islands of competence." As Andrew grows and matures, his islands of competence continue to expand. He is still very anxious, still socially awkward, still has learning challenges, and still has major doubts. But he is succeeding.
It’s interesting to read the many stories about Michael Phelps. Teacher after teacher told Michael’s mother that he could not focus, he could not stand still, he could not be an academic success. But he was academically okay and his island of competence was swimming—and now he is the greatest swimmer of his generation and holds the most ever Olympic medals. It’s important for people living with AD/HD to pursue interests they enjoy and at which they excel. Phelps’ success demonstrates that being a part of a supportive family, setting goals, engaging in enjoyable activities, and receiving positive feedback are all important in building self-esteem. Phelps is clearly an exceptionally talented athlete and a source of pride for the millions of people affected by AD/HD.
Andrew’s goals are much more modest. This summer he participated in a summer school program where in the mornings he focused on getting ready to pass “No Child Left Behind” state standardized exams so he can graduate next year from high school. In the afternoons he assisted the school’s IT director—for pay—by loading new software on school and faculty computers. Loading computer software is now an island of competence. In the late afternoons and evenings he enjoyed field trips, including attending four minor league baseball games.
Those who know us and those who have read my previous blogs know that Andrew and I share a passion for baseball—for the Baltimore Orioles, for the Boston Red Sox, and for the two major league players we have met through CHADD who are connected to AD/HD, Scott Eyre and Jeff Conine. This summer Andrew took his passion and joy for a sport and turned it into paid employment. Through friends at church, Andrew applied to the Bowie Bay Sox—the Anne Arundel County affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, ten minutes from our home. This weekend Andrew began his employment as a main gate ticket taker. He has to arrive an hour before the gate opens. He has to help set up the gate area. He has to get organized to retain the ticket stubs after taking them. He has to be patient and friendly. His work is done by the top of the fourth inning, and he gets to see the last five-plus innings of the game. It’s not Olympic gold, but it is normal life and attainment of a life goal—paid employment in an arena that he enjoys.
With support, focus on a goal, and effort, people with AD/HD can succeed. Some receive New York Times coverage. Some are worth a good feeling inside and hope for the future.
As you struggle with your own AD/HD or as you struggle with your family member’s AD/HD, be satisfied with every little step toward success and happiness.