Going Beyond Labels: 4 Ways to “Talk Differently” about ADHD

By Laura MacNiven

Posted in Featured, Local, Parent Education Resources, Special Ed. Tutoring, Tips & Advice

Going Beyond Labels: 4 Ways to “Talk Differently” about ADHD

At Teachers on Call, we are proud to tutor students with diverse learning needs and abilities. This includes children and adolescents with psychoeducational assessments who have been identified with challenges that impact learning such as ADHD, intellectual or learning disabilities. These students have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) at school due to their unique strengths and needs, and benefit from additional special education support and strategies. From our professional experience, there is a lot of misinformation and stigma that may accompany a diagnosis which can negatively impact a student’s self-esteem, confidence and progress in school. Fortunately for us, in this post we will decode Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) with the expertise of Laura MacNiven, co-founder and coach at Springboard Clinic, a strong advocate and educator for the ADHD community. Be sure to read Laura’s guest blog with us to gain a better understanding of ADHD and embracing neurodiversity, as well as strategies to think and talk differently about ADHD going forward.  

        Introduction: Understanding ADHD and Embracing Neurodiversity

        For the last 14 years, I have been immersed in the world of ADHD: both personally and professionally.

        As someone with ADHD and the co-founder of Springboard Clinic, I have had the honour of coaching individuals and families in this space as they navigate what ADHD is, is not, and what it means to compassionately leverage strengths through acceptance.

        And while ADHD is being discussed more than ever in our homes, schools and workplaces; misinformation, stigma and labelling continue to impact the lives of those affected.

        I believe we need to get on the same page as a broader community about how we think, talk and approach ADHD and neurodiversity overall in our communities.

        Below you will find 4 ways we can communicate differently to destigmatize ADHD and open a dialogue about neurodiversity.

        But before we get there, let’s take a moment to talk about what ADHD is.

        Defining ADHD: A Multifaceted Perspective

        ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a lifelong condition or brain difference that impacts a person’s ability to regulate attention (note: it’s not a deficit of attention at all). ADHD is typically described as having three key traits, namely, inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. However, a person can present symptoms related primarily to inattention or impulsivity/hyperactivity or a mixture of both.

        ADHD impacts the front part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which affects a person’s ability to plan, make decisions, start and finish tasks, stay on track, concentrate and block distractions, and regulate emotions. ADHD affects multiple aspects of a person’s life from their relationships (family, friends, and romantic), school/work/career, health, to their financial situation.

        While a label of ADHD can be powerful and relieving in the sense that it allows one to finally pinpoint symptoms/behaviours/characteristics that have impacted their life, it can also feel daunting and stigmatizing too.

        It is crucial that every individual has the opportunity to unpack their strengths and challenges in safe, supportive environments. By giving those with ADHD the space to learn to work with their brain, they can discover unique ways to thrive.

        With that in mind, our communities, and culture overall, play a critical role in defining stories and setting expectations, especially when neurodiversity is in the mix.

        Here’s the opportunity:  How might we create more inclusive communities where we empower neurodiverse learners to share their stories and discover ways to work alongside their brains?

        Let’s unpack 4 truths about ADHD and how we can “talk differently”:

        Truth #1: The Power of Empathy in Cultivating Understanding and Support

        Let’s start by breaking down labels and assumptions using a lens of curiosity.

        ADHD looks different for every single person, at each stage of life, and it is aggravated and mitigated by life circumstances.

        This means that you really can’t generalize about what people with ADHD can and cannot do. Being open minded and getting curious through active listening allows you to learn more about how the symptoms show up for the people in your life and gives you a chance to believe and validate them. At Springboard, we share a space of curiosity with our clients. Each session acts as a learning opportunity not only for our clients, but also for our team as we explore their experiences with ADHD. The truths that come forward in this environment lead to meaningful, customized next steps.

        Next time, consider asking, what does a day in your life with ADHD feel like? What do you wish we understood better about your experience?

        If you don’t know anyone with ADHD, consider asking yourself, how would my life be different if I experienced focusing challenges?

        Truth #2: Neurodiverse Thinkers are Catalysts for Global Innovation and Change

        Our system must do a better job including and celebrating neurodiversity if we are going to solve the problems and opportunities we are facing on a global scale.

        As we look to challenge and innovate, neurodiverse thinkers are critical members of ideating for change. Think of how many of the world’s greatest creators, those that have had us question the status quo, how many of them often experienced feelings of stigmatization along the way because they didn’t fit in, because they saw the world around them differently. Think: Elon Musk, Sir Richard Branson or Steve Jobs here? By being open to different ways of thinking without the attachment of judgement/stigma, be open to how much we can achieve by working together.

        Next time, consider asking, how might we include more space for neurodivergent thinkers in community dialogue?

        Truth #3: Discovering Strengths by Collaborating with ADHD Individuals for Growth

        We are missing out if we only see ADHD for its inconvenient or problematic sides (and/or if we view it through a lens focused on stereotypes).

        By slowing down, getting curious, and opening a space for learning alongside each person struggling with focusing, learning and mental health challenges, I can guarantee you will gain from the experience.

        Next time, consider asking, how might we collaborate alongside those with ADHD to help them discover their strengths and unique abilities? And how might learning about these neurodiverse thinkers instill new skills for our whole community?

        Truth #4: Education and Awareness are key in breaking down Stigmas and Fostering Inclusion

        Instead of focusing on differences with a lens of negativity, what happens if we look at them through a lens of possibility/expansiveness?

        More awareness and conversations around mental health and ADHD means reducing stigma surrounding it. Having an open mind and listening to diverse experiences allows us to start fostering inclusion and acceptance of one another. With more awareness of neurodiversity in schools, workplaces and communities we can create a more empathetic space conducive to innovative ways of thinking and learning. Afterall, we’re stronger together, and ideation is necessary for progress.

        Next time, consider asking, how might we better bring awareness to ADHD/ neurodiversity more widely in our schools, workplaces and communities?

        Conclusion: Embracing Curiosity and Rethinking our Perception of ADHD

        With a term as loaded as ADHD, we have a critical opportunity to pause, check in with our own biases, put on our “curiosity” hats and open a space of exploration and wonder. To that end, consider asking yourself: “What words come to mind when you think of the term ADHD?”

        If your child has been identified with a learning challenge, and can benefit from a caring and personalized in-person or online tutoring approach, the Teachers on Call team is here to help. Should you want to learn more about Springboard Clinic assessment and treatment services (306 - 1055 Yonge St, Toronto, Ontario, M4W 2L2) or access further ADHD learning and resources including online parenting courses, check out their website here

        If you are interested in further suggestions from Springboard Clinic, you will not want to miss their past blog covering tips on focusing during exams!

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