Episode 25 – Removing the Stigmas of ADHD
Kathy Kolbe and, Dr. Ned Hallowell, a New York Times Bestseller and ADHD expert give their views on ADHD.
Perfectly obstinate people with Kathy Kolbe be share stories of resilience, persistence and defiance Kathy Kolbe has empowered millions to trust their guts. Now Kathy empowers you to be you. This podcast takes a different format from those that we’ve previously recorded. I had an opportunity to speak with Cathy’s friend Dr. Ned Hallowell, who’s a Board Certified Child and Adult psychologist, an expert on ADHD Kathy and Ned have had many conversations in the past about ADHD, and have differences and some surprising commonalities in their perspectives. In this podcast, Kathy will address the issue of ADHD first, followed by Dr. Hallowell.
Kathy Kolbe 0:51
I’ve never liked the term ADHD attention deficit. And then it’s a disorder we can’t just say it’s enough to be a deficit, we have to say it’s a disorder. So ADD or ADHD, no, not descriptors that I think are very healthy, because they’re so negative. And if we’re trying to help kids get over a problem, we need to use words that are optimistic and have opportunities and give options. So that’s one of my feelings about is this let’s call it something more realistic. An ADHD person is described often as doing things in a way that very healthy, people who are quick start resistant follow through do insistent quick starts are highly flexible. And they do things to see what will happen they don’t know ahead. They thrive and uncertain day, they talk a lot, they get up and move around a lot. They interject they interrupt, they are full of what if and new ways and options. Initiating implement, added to initiation and kickstart, is what gives you that sense of I’m going to explore with movement, I’m going to use tools, I’m going to throw the dart I’m going to build the thing and crash it down. They’re not doing it because they have a disorder, they’re doing it in order to explore to see what will happen because they don’t know they haven’t a strategy or a plan. They’re experimenting, they’re innovating. And with the implement or added to the quick, so there they are innovating in a very physical way. So this is a strength This is how we get our pioneers, this is how we get the people who explore the world and who create the tangible three dimensional marvels of the world, build things and do things with Pixar. We didn’t have Quick Start implement at Pixar, there would be no Pixar, if you sat around the table and, and drew a picture of what a cartoon would be without that movement. Without that three dimensional sense of it, you wouldn’t get the same, it just wouldn’t have that quality. So what do we say when we look at a young person with these characteristics, oh my goodness, they have so much energy, oh my gosh, they don’t fit in here. Where is here, they don’t fit in, in a classroom, run by a Fact Finder follow through teacher who needs discipline in order and regularization and a plan. And who is as a teacher resistant to doing the unknown or trying to say will happen they know will happen or they wouldn’t do it, they wouldn’t use an open ended experiment. They believe that good education is orderly has a sequence has a lesson plan. The good students follow the plan and sit down and require them listen to what they say. And they can show them how to do it and they mimic it. So you what you have in a classroom, most of the time is a teacher whose mo and the way she or he teaches only fits the 20% of the students and the general population who naturally learn that way. Well, if you’re one of the 20% of students who absolutely positively don’t learn that way, then you’re in the 20% that they are now saying are ADD ADHD. Now, they don’t do it, the way that school system things that should be done or the way school teachers think it should be done. That doesn’t make them have a disorder or a disability. It’s the school not enabling them to learn the way they learn best. So the 20% range that we’re now hearing that Oh, there’s this epidemic of ADHD, no there’s an epidemic of people reporting that those who don’t cooperate, and learning the way the system requires have a problem. The problem? Is the educational institution not providing options for how to learn. So we get this awful, terrible, negative label for a kid. And then people say, Well, what do we do about it? Well, we have to calm them down. Oh, well, we can’t let them get up and down. And we can’t let them interrupt and talk and we can’t let them not follow the lesson plan.
So what do we do? Well, let’s try meds. Let’s give them a drug was sure the drug cops have down that delves their brain, it lowers their mental level of activity. This is child abuse. This is wrong. In fact, my belief is that there’s about 5% of the population that truly are ADHD. They cannot slow down their brains to make it work in an orderly way and learn that is a true problem. I still don’t like the name, but it is a real problem. And as a cognitive problem, when you take a cognitive ability, and call it a disability, and you add that other 15 to 20%, then you’re not only defying positive behaviors. And way there are bad kids, oh, these are troubled kids, oh, these are the ones that are really ruining my day. And I’m getting that to happen. But you’re missing the true kids who have a need to be treated specially and perhaps do medications. Perhaps they do need a different situation, but they’re not getting it either. Because we don’t see the difference and many of the programs that is supposedly for ADHD kids where you can’t so easily see the ones who really need it. And they’re differentiated by the fact they have a need for help, because they can’t, even when they want to stay focused. And a kid who is cognitively, a quick start implement or if they’re also resistant to follow through will have trouble staying focus. But for them there are cannibals or practical ways of solving that problem. You don’t need meds and you don’t need to be told you’re bad or you’re disabled.
Ned Hallowell 7:48
I have ADHD and I’ve been friends with Kathy Kolbe me for ever since Joe Polish introduced me to her probably 10 years ago. So it’s wonderful to join you on this podcast guest
you in your experience I’m going to talk about as a student, when you were a learner with ADHD, how did you manage this? So you I assume you had you were a student before this was something you were never diagnosed early on? So how did what was school like for you? And then how did you manage it or handle it?
Ned Hallowell 8:23
I’m not a good example. Because I I
the school was was pretty easy for me. And and, and so I didn’t struggle the way most people who I have also have dyslexia, I was a very, very slow reader. I still am a very, very slow reader. My wife says I don’t know how you know, anything takes me so long to read a book, but but I majored in English, you know, and, and in college, and I make my living as a writer. So and which is true, by the way, I have a lot of people with dyslexia, we, we have a, we have an ability with words, even though in other ways we struggle with words, I read them very, very slowly when you throw in ADHD, where I lose my place. And you know, as my wife says, I can’t believe you know, anything. Somehow I get through books, but, but I did not struggle as a student. In fact, I excelled as a student, but that’s uncommon. So I, I don’t want to use myself as an example. Because I lucked out in any number of ways. I had wonderful teachers, I went to wonderful schools and I, I didn’t require special help of really of any kind except my wonderful first grade teacher who, when I would struggle with reading, she just put her arm around me. And I often think that’s the intervention that made all the difference in the world.
So it’s interesting, you want to say that, because I’m very interested in pursuing a little bit more with this anyway, if you don’t mind. So clearly, you’re bright. And did you have a good memory? Did you remember stuff? You were told? Yeah. So
Ned Hallowell 9:55
yeah, yeah, memory, you know, some of the natural abilities that I have helped me compensate for the problems with executive function, that sort of thing. And I went to very structured schools, then if you give people with ADD structure, they do well, or we do? Well, you know, I would say, add is like, Niagara Falls, you know, if you build a hydroelectric plant, it can light up the state of New York. Without the hydroelectric plant, it’s just a lot of noise and missed. But if you harness its incredible power, then you can turn it into something useful. And that’s what the structure of the schools that I was sent to did for me, they allowed me to harness the power and, and structure organization. I was I was motivated, you know, because I came from a family problems. And so I wanted to please the teachers to sort of get the attention at school that I wasn’t really getting at home. And and so, you know, I it was a setup for me to really try to do well, so I did. And you know, and I liked the environment of school. I liked learning, I thought it was it was fun. And you know, and I think that’s a part of the ADHD that often gets overlooked, you know, give us the right setting give us the right environment. We’re very playful learners, we, you know, we like to play with ideas, we like to play with words, we like to play with chemicals, we like that, you know, we like the we’re born experimenters, you know, we, so you know, it’s a, it, we’re naturally creative, we’re naturally curious. And I think that that’s why I don’t see this condition as a disorder, but as a trait, and if you manage it properly, it becomes a tremendous asset.
So I’m going to pursue structure a little bit, because I think a lot of educators, I’m a former educator, a lot of educators when they hear the term structure, for them, that may mean something a little different than what you meant by a structure education. So I think for a lot of teachers structure means a fairly rigid, everybody kind of has to fit into a particular structure of how the courses run or the classes run, is that what you’re talking about is it is that the kind of structure an ADHD person needs?
Ned Hallowell 12:30
Not at all. Big difference between structure and regimentation. Structure just means a timetable knowing what’s coming, knowing what to expect, a beginning, a middle and an end, repetition, permission to ask questions permission to go back and do it again. That’s what I mean by structure, an assignment so you know, what’s coming, you know, what’s expected, but certainly not regimentation. And certainly not teaching by fear, humiliation, that sort of thing. That’s the opposite of what works, you never want to I mean, fear is really the major learning disability, fear and shame. Short Circuit learning you you, it cuts it right out, and those are the real learning disabilities. And so and so, you know, if you get rid of those, then you’re you allow a child or an adult to learn to the best of their ability, you know, and, you know, people’s timetable varies according to what’s going on in their lives. And, you know, the, the vagaries of the brain, you know, different brains have different timetables, and is you get a growth spurt of the brain, you get, you know, if you get really interested in algebra, if you get really interested in American history, if you get if you get really interested in baseball, you’ll get a growth spurt in baseball, I mean, you know it, and, and you and the great teachers and coaches, you know, keep their eyes out for when when is when does the enthusiasm spurt and when it does, that’s when you want to really, you want to really encourage So, so but you want to have enough structure so that you can add the guidance and add the direction and keep the kid on track. Because people add will veer off, you know, from playing second base to playing right field, if you want to keep them in position. You want to keep them you know, in math class and not have them wander off into geography.
You were speaking earlier this evening. And I and and one of the things you did, which I thought was really interesting is how you took sort of the three hallmarks of ADHD and you said look at these things are called deficits and let’s turn them on their ear a little bit. I’d like you to speak to that because I thought that was you kind of touched on that little bit. I think that’s really interesting.
Ned Hallowell 14:56
Yeah, the the Hallmark triad of symptoms that define ADHD or distractibility, impulsivity and hyperactivity. Well, you take each one of those and turn it on its head and you get a positive the the flip side of distractibility is curiosity. You know, if the only reason you look out the window is you want to know what’s going on out there. And and curiosity is a tremendously positive asset that you can’t teach. And you you know, you can’t buy. So you want to encourage curiosity. Now you have to bring a person back and that’s what I mean by structure. But you don’t punish him for looking out the window. You say there’ll be time to investigate what’s going on out there. And it’s great you’re curious about that. But right now we got to solve this geometry problem and and see, and so you don’t shame them for wanting to know what’s going on out there. You say that? Yeah, it’s it’s it Nicole wonder what is going on out there? And what caught your eye by the way, was it a bird? Was it the, you know, said no, no, it’s that terrorist just ran by the Oh, well, I guess we all know, didn’t know about that. Yeah. So the and then and then, you know, impulsivity. Oh, that’s so bad you so impulsive, you so disruptive. But you know, what is creativity but impulsivity going right? You don’t plan to have a creative thought you don’t say it’s two o’clock time for my creative idea and produce it. No, creativity comes unexpectedly, it comes impulsively, spontaneously, it depends upon some degree of disinhibition. So, if you’re not somewhat impulsive, spontaneous disinhibited, you won’t be creative. And that’s why so many creative people have ADHD. And then and then, hyperactivity, well, that’s energy. Now, again, you need structure to contain it, you need that hydroelectric plant, but, but you’ve got to be glad that you have it to begin with you have Niagara Falls to contain if you didn’t have Niagara Falls, you didn’t have energy, then they’ll be nothing the deal with you couldn’t produce any electricity. So, you know, so these kids are power packs, you know, and it’s just up to us the in the adult world to build the hydroelectric plant to let them line up the state of New York.
I know it’s very different, because it depends on the person. Are there any generalities, though, around a person who’s struggling, whether they’re an adult, or they’re a kid, just tip one, two, and three, or something like that?
Ned Hallowell 17:29
Well, you know, have two parents who like you, and if you only have one parent, have one parent who likes you mean, you know, love is the most important thing I mean, so then if you don’t have a parent at all, have somebody who likes you, you know, loves you likes, you have a teacher likes you, it’s the most important thing, you know, what I call connection. So that’s the starting point, you want to have a place where you feel welcomed, doesn’t have to love that loves the best, just not love. I mean, I, my teachers didn’t love me, but they liked me. And I was at a boarding school, you don’t expect them to love you, but they liked me. And that that was enough. And that made all the difference. It was it was huge. So that’s, that’s number one. Number two, you know, you want to find something you like to do something, something you like to do, because that the build on that, you know, you you, you don’t have to be good at everything, that it’s really good. If you can find one thing you’re good at, could be baseball, could be a sport could be a painting could be mean anything that you can take pride in anything, you really want to if you can find that and, and if you can find a teacher that can sort of mentor you and encourage you that that’s also that’s also really important. And then and then, you know, keep at it, you know, just the motivation comes from making progress at something that’s challenging that matters to you. So once you find that thing that matters to this challenging, you keep at it, and the motivation will follow. And as you do, that confidence will grow and that those are the attitudes that really do carry you through life and you know, that you’ll want to stay in the game. And that’s what matters staying in the game. So you want to find something that that you could that it’s challenging that matters to you keep at it, you’ll grow in confidence and motivation. And and then you’ll you’ll want to stay in the game and then you will discover that the the winning and losing don’t matter. Kipling, you know, said if you can look at triumph and disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same, you know, they’re imposters because what really matters is the love of the game, the love of life. And and if you if you have that experience of of trying something and seeing that you’re getting better, and it matters to you, and it’s challenging it You really don’t care if the victories in the defeats because you’re going to have both of them what you care about is getting back out there every day. And and that, you know, and that’s then you’ve got like knocked your set for the rest of your life.
Of course, I’m going to have to ask the personal question, what is it that you really cared about? That was the biggest challenge for you in your life?
Ned Hallowell 20:40
Well, in terms of school, it was writing. I mean, I my 12th grade English teacher changed my life forever, because he challenged me to write a novel at the start of 12th grade. And I said, I knew Exeter was a tough school, I didn’t know I had to write a novel. course, I didn’t have to do it. It was I was I was the only student he challenged to do it. And so I was kind of mattered to and I took up the challenge. And by the end of the year, I’d written a novel and it won the English prize and changed my life forever. And what it did for me, it got me to prove that I could do something that I would have thought was impossible. That’s the thing it I would have thought that the start of 12th grade that was flat out impossible. If I’d been an athlete, it would have been like saying, you know, run a mile and two minutes or so I mean, I just that I would have thought was completely impossible. And I did it and and so once you do that, once you know that you can do more than you ever thought was possible. You get hooked on that. And so I’ve ever since been trying to do things that I think are impossible. I keep trying to do them. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I fail. But the main thing is I’m still in the game.
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