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Affirming Creativity in Children With ADHD

The seeds of creativity are planted in the child from creation. But these seeds must be watered and nurtured if they are to grow to their full potential. Creativity can be enhanced or discouraged depending on the way we as parents and teachers react to the child’s initiatives.

So give some of the ideas listed below a try. These easily implements actions will help foster creative thinking and nurture a love of learning on the part of the child. Once you get started, you can add to this list out of your own experience.

1. Help the child chose a topic to write about. Suggest a word length and make it short so as to stay within the child’s attention span. You don’t want to discourage or frustrate him or her. This exercise develops the ability to follow directions. Consider dressing the writing up as a magazine article by encouraging the child to choose pictures she can cut out and paste illustrating the narrative.

2. Using a recorder to develop a story. You can start telling the story. Make it up as you go. It doesn’t have to be perfect. At an exciting point stop and ask the child to pick up the narrative and add to the story. At this point you add more to the story line but quickly give the child a chance to jump back in. Later replay the tape and discuss the story.

3. Explore the backyard or school grounds with a magnifying glass. Have the child make a list of what he finds. Assist him or her in looking up the discovered items in an encyclopedia or on the internet.

4. When the child asks you a question, don’t automatically give an answer. Respond with, “What do you think?” Treat the answers with respect even when you may add or correct information.

5. While driving, begin a “What if?” game. Start with a sentence such as, “What if you went to school one day, and the teacher said you were all going on a trip in a submarine?” Let the child continue adding all the “what ifs” she can imagine. Once the story gets going, prompt the child for more details. Ask why, how, who, when, etc?

6. Don’t belittle or treat lightly any question. As Lucy said to Charlie Brown, “There are no dumb questions, only dumb answers.” For some questions you will have no answer. A good response is simply, “I don’t know. What do you think?” And then add, “Let’s look it up. Where do you think we might find an answer to that question?”

7. Have the child color, draw, or paint any picture he or she wants. Then tell a story about it.

8. Introduce your child to the computer. De-emphasize games; rather, show him or her how to use the computer to accomplish tasks. For instance, help the child to learn basic word processing and encourage them to write stories. Help them to use the thesaurus and spell check. Realizing that there is more than one way to say something is liberating.

It may come as a surprise to some to realize that many children with ADHD are bright and creative. Their distractible, and distracting, behavior frequently disguises these positive qualities. One theory would suggest that while the ADHD child easily misses details due to inattention, his wide-ranging and rapidly moving focus allows him to make true “leaps of logic” and discover new ideas.

The kinds of activities listed above are “attention-giving” activities which help the child with attention deficits and learning disabilities overcome some of their natural randomness.

Redemptive Features of ADHD

Could there be positive aspects to having ADHD?

One would think so. As a biological condition, ADHD has been around for eons. To persist in the human family, there would likely be some benefits to the individual with these traits.

The negative effects that ADHD symptoms have on socialization and productivity are well known and very real. These disruptive features tend to capture the focus of professionals as well as parents because of the limitations they bring to the child’s life. But redeeming features do exist, even though they may be difficult to see when the child is failing in school and loosing friends.

Some potential beneficial side effects of ADHD are:

The inattention to detail that can be so frustrating to the student, the teacher, and the parent can result in an enhanced conceptual ability which helps the child see the “big picture.” This “big picture” view can result in strengths in global problem solving.

The inability to be easily satisfied can be associated with ambition and initiative. Could this be one reason why Thomas Edison kept tinkering with all sorts of projects leading to his  ownership of thousands of patents for innovative and useful products?

Distractibility is intimately linked to creativity. A student who notices things no one else sees is in a position to detect meaningful interrelationships that elude more disciplined minds.

A certain level of impulsiveness can result in a willingness to try new things, to go out on a limb for a project or cause that is important.

Individuals with ADHD often have a superb sense of humor, appealing personalities, true leadership skills, and striking individuality.

Parents and professionals working with children with ADHD are well aware how limiting the varied symptoms of ADHD can be when they are unmanaged and run amok. In fact, when a person, child or adult, is overwhelmed by inattention, disorganization, impulsiveness, they are set up for failure. But with proper management, these symptoms can be controlled. The ultimate future for children with ADHD can be bright. So we should not give up but use strategies that result in success. The chief purpose of  Strategies Unlimited is to provide practical steps in achieving this goal so that we can see the bright side and enjoy the journey.

ADHD and Reading Disability

It is well-known that boys and girls with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) often underachieve in school. While the symptoms of short attention span and impulsiveness, and disorganization will affect academic performance, it has also been suspected that there is an increase incidence of true learning disability, especially in the area of reading, in children with ADHD. Now a study reported in the October issue of Pediatrics provides evidence that ADHD and reading disability often do exist together.

In this report from the Mayo Clinic, the medical and school histories of over 5000 boys and girls were evaluated. Three hundred and seventy-nine of these children fulfilled the criteria for ADHD. Compared to boys and girls without ADHD, those with ADHD were significantly more likely to be male. The incidence of reading disability was twice as high in children with ADHD as in those without ADHD symptoms. Girls with ADHD were more likely than boys with ADHD to have reading problems.

This large study confirms that there is an increased risk of reading problems in children with ADHD. In light of this, the study authors point out the importance of evaluating children with ADHD for reading disability and providing remedial help to those who need it.

In the ADHD Strategies for Success Book, we point out that the Number 3 step in effective management is Educational Intervention. We state, “Most children with attention deficits will usually have specific educational needs—needs which will require varying levels of evaluation and individualized instruction and/or classroom modification.

While many children with ADHD have no evidence of language-based learning disability, there are many in which ADHD and a learning disability co-exist. I have seen children who have gone for years without treatment for their ADHD because all their academic problems were blamed on their language dysfunction. The attention problems and poor organization were thought to be secondary. On the other hand, I know of children who have not received serious evaluation of their reading and spelling under-achievement because their poor grades were blamed on their attention deficit disorder.  When a child has been diagnosed with either ADHD or language processing dysfunction, the child should be carefully observe for evidence of the other condition.

ADHD: The Importance of Reinforcement

We hear, see, and feel things that are kept in our awareness for a short period of time and then forgotten. These things are not really learned. In order for a stimulus to be committed to the long term memory and, therefore, learned, reinforcement must occur. Reinforcement is the process by which our conscious and unconscious mind is given a reason, or motivation, for committing a stimulus, thought, or concept to long term memory. Since the child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have trouble with focusing on stimuli, proper reinforcement is critical in successful management of their ADHD symptoms.

Reinforcement is a complex and highly varied process. One of the most significant reinforcers for children is the internal, built‑in drive to learn so characteristic of all children. Children innately want to learn about their world. A high percentage of all stimuli impinging on their senses is assimilated and committed to long term memory, i.e. learned. This innate drive to learn persists in children until it is turned off by some negative reinforcement.

Negative reinforcement occurs when learning is made unrewarding, unpleasant, boring, or anxiety‑provoking. Under such circumstances a child may begin to lose his internal motivation. For instance, the young child eagerly wants to talk with his parents and others about all the exciting things he is learning–that the tree is tall, the sky is blue, that bugs crawl. If his enthusiasm is met with continual indifference, he eventually will grow less interested himself in learning. The first grader is usually ready to learn to read. But if he finds the effort confusing and frustrating and finds he is not making progress (As occurs in many children with ADHD), learning to read becomes unrewarding and he eventually will quit trying.

The human mind has fantastic potential for learning, for absorbing facts, and making leaps into new concepts. Each child has this innate drive to learn from the time his eyes begin to explore the environment, to his reaching for a rattle, taking his first step, saying that first word, to exploring the world of physics. This internal reinforcer, to remain strong, needs to be supplemented with external reinforcement for maximum learning to occur. This external reinforcement may take many forms. Certainly among the most powerful reinforcers are the social ones such as recognition, encouragement, and praise.

The knowledge that actions on his part will get him something he wants, such as more free time, treats, money, or participation in a special activity, is a strong reinforcer.

Rewards must be immediate and tangible to the child to be effective. We should reward each little step toward the right goal, not wait to give one big reward for total perfection. As learning is reinforced, the material becomes more and more indelibly imprinted on the conscious and subconscious mind of the child.

A word of caution in regards to rewards or positive reinforcement. It is important not to over do rewards and praise. If we continually praise or give too frequent rewards then the positive reinforcement looses its value to children. In fact, they can come to expect praise all the time and when they do not get it, they can act out or pull back on their performance. Also, praise must be genuine. It should be given for real progress, not given promiscuously. We reward actual behavior. We say, “You worked really hard on that paper. Good job!” rather than say, “You are such a smart boy.”

We should remember that the strongest reinforcer of all is success. Success breeds success. As the child is able to accomplish tasks and sense personal fulfillment, he wants to repeat this pleasant experience. Thus it is important to patiently work with the child with ADHD or other learning problem in a creative and patient way which will help him or her experiences academic, personal, and social success.

Classroom Strategies: Teaching the Child with ADHD

I have great admiration for the dedicated teacher. And most teachers I know are teaching because they love children and like being around them. They have a sense of satisfaction when they see their students learn, grow and succeed.

On the other hand, they are frustrated and personally defeated when one of their students fails to achieve and succeed. Thus the presence of a child with ADHD (Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder) in a class tends to stir up a mixture of reactions in a conscientious teacher. He or she wants to help, but is thwarted by lack of time, too many students, or a lack of materials or training. This easily leads to frustration and hopelessness.

One fourth-grade teacher spoke not only for herself, but also many colleagues, when she discussed a child with ADHD in her class. “Jimmy is a puzzle. I want to help him but I’ve been frustrated at every turn.”

In this short note we cannot offer solutions to all the problems of attention, hyperactivity, or organization that besets the child with ADHD. But there are some tried and proven methods that help. From time to time we will share methods and tools gleaned from experienced teachers. Hopefully, they will make the job of teaching the child with ADHD or learning disabilities a little less frustrating and more rewarding.

From long experience, we know that children with hyperactivity and attention deficits function much better in an organized, structured atmosphere. Not only does such an atmosphere facilitate the child’s performance in the present, this atmosphere also encourages the child to internalize this imposed organization so that, in time, he or she becomes more self-controlled.

The following suggestions regarding classroom management have been derived from the available literature, current research findings, and clinical observations, as well as teaching experience. The goal of these strategies is to help the child internalize control of attention, impulsiveness, and activity, thus improving work habits and general behavior. The methods are designed to help the child develop more conscious control. Each teacher will not, and should not, employ each and every technique presented. This is simply a sampling of practical techniques which can help with certain problem behaviors. The teacher can pick those he or she thinks may work for him or her with the child in question.

Classroom Strategies Useful With ADHD Children

1. Seat the student near the teacher’s desk in a reassuring non-threatening way.

2. Call the student’s name before addressing him or asking him to recite.

3. Stand near the child when giving instructions.

4. Physical features of the work environment influence the activity and lack of focus level and the following guidelines should be followed:

a. Reduce the visual stimuli in the child’s visual field (place construction paper over windows; reduce the presence of posters, pictures, etc.)

b. Lighting should be of medium intensity, no flickering or bright lights.

c. Try to schedule work so that the child is not being expected to concentrate when there is a lot of distracting noise in the hallway.

d. For children with significant attention deficits, create a private study office by screening off the work area.

5. A child with ADHD will often have difficulty finishing work. Give shorter assignments with immediate feedback of results. Multiple short assignments work better than one long assignment.

6. Work from small units to larger units in the quantity of work required, the complexity of the task, and time required to complete tasks.

a. Shorten assignments.

b. Start with easily accomplished tasks.

c. Build assignments in terms of length and complexity.

d. Plan interruptions of long assignments.

e. Cut work sheets, e.g. arithmetic, into long strips, present each strip individually.

f. Vary activity.

g. Break assignments and experiences into smaller units.

h. Gradually increase quantity and complexity of timed units.

i. Do not make large leaps either forward or backward at any one time.

7. Use techniques, such as assignment cards, that help improve short-term memory.

8. Use unique, distinct visual and auditory stimuli.

a. Cue the child to distinguish features of each stimulus in reading or arithmetic by: underlining, color coding, and/or specific verbal direction.

b. Use a multi-sensory approach to allow rehearsal of the material, i.e. speaking orally, writing down key words, drawing pictures, etc.

9. Provide an opportunity to express motor restlessness in appropriate ways. When possible you may allow the child to work standing or moving about at times; the use of a round table that child can move about may help. Incorporating adequate physical education that allows for gross body movement without involving competitive sports can be helpful.


Yes, there are no easy answers to treating and teaching children with ADHD. These children are often lovable and attractive, while at the same time frustrating and exhausting to the teacher. One or two such children in a regular classroom without help for the teacher can be stressful for everyone. Open, free communication between teacher, parent, physician, and educational diagnostician is of critical importance if success is to be realized.

While the institution of a well structured, organized environment at home and school will allow many hyperactive children to function reasonably well, others will need additional modes of therapy such as medication or a prescribed behavior modification plan. However, the teacher is always a key member of the management team.

Additional teaching tools to help with the Child with ADHD can be found in Dr. Grant’s book, ADHD—Strategies for Success which can be ordered from this website.

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