Sunday, July 28, 2013

Could ADHD be a Benefit in the New Economy?




On Saturday, Erika Andersen published an article about the death of the MBA in Forbes online. She outlined a few skills that she sees as important for entrepreneurs and business leaders and explained why a 150K MBA might not be the best way to get these skills.  As I read her list, I was surprised at how many of the skills seemed to overlap with some of the more positive ADHD traits.  With a little bit of discipline, the new economy may prove to be a great place for your child with ADHD to explore her talents.

Andersen describes a set of traits that make someone a “Master of Mastery,” that is a person who learns quickly and adapts to changing situations. While some of the traits come naturally to ADHD people, others can be learned with practice. According to Andersen, people with the whole group of traits will be unstoppable in the new economy.



Imagine a Better World

The first trait Andersen highlights is Aspiration, that is the ability to imagine something better and to take the steps to make it a reality.  ADHD people don’t need help imaging improvements or better lives. The place where we fall down is in taking the steps to change.  The key is learning to break a problem into smaller steps. For instance, if I want to become a published novelist, I need to join a writers group, come up with a plot, write the chapters, find beta readers, edit the chapters, and finally, find a publisher or self-publish.

The problem many ADHD kids have is that they can see the goal, but they can’t see the discrete steps it will take to get there. As parents, we need to help them learn to break big problems into doable steps. As adults, we can learn this technique from books like Getting Things Done.


Know Thyself
The next trait is the hardest for ADHD kids, I think. Andersen says that successful people need neutral self-awareness. That means they need to see their weaknesses, seek out advice and criticism, and learn to act on suggestions so that they can improve themselves and their work.  I think this blindness to personal failings is one of the biggest problems with ADHD, and I know my daughter breaks down when she has to accept criticism.

There are a couple of ways to teach your ADHD kids how to accept criticism and learn from it.  I find one of the best ways is by example. When your child sees you learning from criticism, she learns that everyone can improve themselves and their work.

Programs such as Scouting and 4H also teach children to criticize their work and accept solutions for improvement.  Good art and music instructors and athletic coaches can also help children separate their feelings from their work.

Curiosity Made the Cat a More Interesting Dinner Guest
The third trait Andersen mentions is one that ADHD kids and adults have in spades.  To succeed, she says that people must be endlessly curious. She wants adults to rediscover that toddler curiosity that constantly asks questions and wants to know how everything works.  With ADHD kids, you don’t need to encourage curiosity – all you need to do is to refrain from quashing it.

The biggest problem for a lot of parents is helping their ADHD children navigate school.  Teachers don’t welcome long strings of questions that derail lesson plans, and don’t always know the answers to your child’s questions or want to bother looking them up.  Have your kid keep an unanswered question list during the day at school, and help him find the answers when he gets home.  

Get to know your local librarian, and use the reference services at your library.  Most of all, find ways for kids to explore their interests outside of school. Look for opportunities at local science museums, zoos, and nature centers. Rangers, docents, librarians, and zookeepers love answering questions from enthusiastic, curious kids.

Failure is a Learning Experience
Finally, Andersen says that the leaders in the new economy will need to be able to take risks, fail without fear, and learn from their mistakes.  Most ADHD kids don’t have a problem with taking risks or failing.  However, they need more practice in applying the lessons of their failures to their next attempts.  

Teach your child to tinker and build, or to program computers. Engineering and programming both have clear goals, quick feedback, and an opportunity to improve designs for next time. Once your child has had practice in these areas, start teaching her how the same cycle of trying, failing, learning, and trying again applies to other areas of her life.

We’re facing a future without 40-hour a week office jobs, regular benefits, and the rules we grew up with. However, this scary new world may be just the place where our ADHD kids can thrive.

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