What is ADHD brilliance anyway? Simply stated, ADHD brilliance is the part of each ADHD person that naturally shines. When I think of the ADHDers in my life, most are highly creative, quick-humored, spontaneous, playful people who have a magical touch in life that is hard to put into words. Think Peter Pan, Jim Carey, Howie Mandel, and Lucille Ball. I’m not sure if Lucille was formally diagnosed with ADHD, but do we really need proof? And if she didn’t have ADHD, I would bet money that at least one person in her extended family did.
My son Will’s ADHD brilliance is in music and performance, which first revealed itself at his 3rd grade school talent show. That evening Will sang and strummed Cream’s, Sunshine of Your Love, to an auditorium full of neighbors and classmates with a perma-grin. Everyone who was there that night knew that he was in his element.
But what should we do as parents if our child or adolescent loves something that doesn’t fit with our values? Or seems obsessive? Or even dangerous? Should we still support it?
This is the question my husband, Bill, asked me earlier this week after he heard me interviewed by Cory Hepola on WCCO radio. Cory asked how parents can support their ADHD kids, and I commented that discovering and supporting an ADHD child’s area(s) of brilliance is important. I explained that it’s really hard for ADHD kids to focus on things outside of their interests. However, ADHD kids have an incredible ability, a superpower if you will, to hyper-focus on their interests, which is a wonderful strength.
“But what if the child is obsessed with video games? Are you advising parents to support their child in an obsession like that?” Bill asked on the drive home.
Bill had a really good point. I’d even considered addressing it during the interview, but I only had a few minutes to talk and I wanted to focus on other things.
And yet Bill was right. Kids don’t always choose positive constructive interests. For example, if a child is obsessed with getting to the highest level of a super-violent video game, should parents put their values aside and allow him or her to play that game for hours a day?
The answer is no. I strongly discourage parents from purchasing video games with violent content for their children or adolescents.
Just because a child is obsessed with something, doesn’t mean that we as parents should encourage it. When my son Will was younger, he loved computer games, but Bill and I both noticed that gaming soured his mood and worsened his ability to focus on other important things once he got off the computer, like homework.
As much as Will hated to admit it, he noticed it too. He was never satisfied after gaming. He always wanted more time on the game. And he became preoccupied with gaming to the point in which he didn’t want to do other things that he’d found enjoyable before.
Since people with ADHD are at a greater risk for addiction than neurotypicals, Bill and I took Will’s obsessive behaviors with gaming seriously and limited his access. Will wasn’t happy about it at the time, but he thanked us later. He knew that gaming could have interfered significantly with his musical progress and schoolwork.
Bill and I also talked openly with Will about ADHD and addiction. In a recent article published in ADDitude magazine entitled, The Truth about ADHD and Addiction, https://www.additudemag.com/the-truth-about-adhd-and-addiction/ it was noted that more than 15 percent of adults with ADHD had abused or were dependent upon alcohol or drugs during the previous year. That’s nearly triple the rate for adults without ADHD. Alcohol and marijuana were the substances most commonly abused.
When Will was younger, internet gaming disorder was not an official diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), but it is now. I’m not saying he would have met diagnostic criteria for this diagnosis, but I am saying that gaming didn’t have a positive impact on him.
Here are a few warning signs that your child may have a gaming addiction:
- If your child talks about their game incessantly
- If your child plays for hours (if allowed) without taking a break
- If your child becomes defensive when their excessive gaming is mentioned
- If your child sacrifices sleep for gaming
- If your child seems preoccupied, depressed or lonely
In contrast, for Will, practicing guitar brought out the best in him. He often played music for the family afterwards, he laughed readily, and he was happy. He didn’t struggle to get things done after playing music, either.
On a final note, it’s important to remember that when your child has areas of brilliance, he or she still needs limits and structure to reach his or her full potential. In Will’s case, Bill and I required Will to practice at a set time daily before he could hang out with friends. Will often pushed against our limits (e.g., “You guys are too strict”, “None of my friends have to practice daily”, “It’s my life, not yours”), yet he thanked us later for setting the boundary. He had accomplished a lot and it showed.
Wrapping up: What are the main take-a-ways from this blog post?
- ADHD brilliance is that part of each ADHD person that naturally shines. Typically, this brilliance is something that can be shared and enjoyed with others, such as a particular strength in music, sports, theater, art, debate, chess, karate, comedy, you get the idea.
- For parents, when determining if you should support your child’s enthusiasm in a particular area, it’s important to clarify if your child has a passion or an obsession.
- Obsessions tend to be driven by a need, instead of a want. Obsessive behaviors tend to increase in intensity over time, and interfere with basic aspects of functioning, such as sleep, appetite (e.g., not taking breaks to eat), and socialization. When a child or adolescent is engaged in an obsessive activity, he or she often distances him or herself from others, develops a narrow focus (e.g., gaming), and has extreme difficulty discontinuing the activity (e.g., may even break into a parent’s bedroom to find the locked up gaming system).
- In contrast, areas of brilliance or passion tend to bring out positive qualities in your child, draw him or her closer to others, build relationships, and fill your child with joy and pride.
- Kids with ADHD are at a much higher risk for addiction problems than neurotypical kids, particularly if there is a family history of addictions (e.g., substance abuse, gambling). This also puts them at greater risk for other problems, such as depression and anxiety. That’s why it’s so important for parents to monitor their child or adolescent’s behavior closely and seek help from a child psychologist with a specialization in ADHD or other qualified specialist if there is a concern about an addictive behavior.
- Finally, it’s important to understand that even when a child with ADHD is passionate about an interest, parents still need to provide that child with limits and structure to help him or her reach his or her full potential.
Your ADHD Guru and friend,