Unwrapping the Gifts of ADHD

There are many ways in which ADHD can be transformed into opportunities for growth and learning. As Dr. Gary Stoner and I prepare for our presentation on “The Use and Impact of Video Games and Digital Media for Children with ADHD ” for the 24th Annual International Conference on ADHD l was reminded of the 2011 CHADD conference where I attended a rousing point-counterpoint presentation by two of the preeminent experts on ADHD in the country: Dr. Russell Barkley, and Dr. Ned Hallowell. Dr. Barkley shared his views of ADHD essentially being a disorder of executive functioning. Dr. Hallowell, while recognizing the struggles of many children and adults with ADHD, encouraged the audience to find ways to unwrap the strengths, talents, and skills of people with ADHD. Both of these experts stressed how when individuals with ADHD work hard to overcome their struggles, that they often find a set of strengths that can help them excel in specific areas of their life.

Their presentation got me thinking about another way to look at why children with ADHD are so drawn to video games. While having ADHD may make it more difficult to sit attentively in a traditional classroom, or to ignore distractions while reading, the gifts of ADHD may facilitate an intensity of focus to the immediate feedback, multimodality, and increasing level of challenges that define video game and technology play. Playing video games and mastering digital technologies provide children with ADHD an opportunity to “unwrap their gifts”. Many children with ADHD find that they are in fact very good at video games, that their capacity to intensely focus on something that is so engaging is in stark contrast to their experiences of attending to mundane activities at home and school. It is as if when they play video games, that they find a sense of contentment or “flow” where they become powerfully engaged and absorbed with their thinking and their emotions.

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Both Drs. Barkley and Hallowell discussed the importance of a supportive environment to bring out the gifts of ADHD. This approach argues for parents and teachers to recognize when a child’s engagement with digital media may be a marker for one of their “gifts”. Parents and educators may want to actively search for the appropriate technologies for children with ADHD, not simply give them free access to video games. Helping a child with ADHD to unwrap and then recognize their gifts with technology can lead to improved self esteem, motivation to learn, and many vocational opportunities. Learning computer programming with Scratch, Kodu, or Alice, creating and posting pictures or videos with Instagram or YouTube, and creating a website with Blogger or tumblr are opportunities for a technologically gifted child with ADHD to shine.

There are compelling reasons to believe that this gift will be very useful and not simply one that gathers dust in the closet. The gift and facility with technology and games is a central skill necessary for success in today’s digital world. Creativity, problem solving, collaboration, and facility with technology are core components of the 21st century skills that are vital to educational and vocational success in today’s world. The key thing is to help your child understand how to use this gift in a positive and productive manner.  

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4 thoughts on “Unwrapping the Gifts of ADHD

  1. Any suggestion on iPad applications that can assist children with executive function issue build up their skills? Thanks for the information.

  2. I 2nd Karen’s question … iPad was issued in my 9.5 year old son’s school – apps that support building up Executive Function are among our search too.

    • Absolutely! All of our Game and App Guides show you how to use each one for training executive functions. You can either sort the games and apps pages by subject to find the EF area you’re looking for, or try one of our memberships, which will assess your child’s Executive Functioning strengths and weaknesses, and then recommend the best apps and games for their particular needs.

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