Teen Wants Help Understanding ADHD

Kids with ADHD need a lot of attention, and it's important to find acceptable and positive ways for them to get it.
My 8-year-old cousin has ADHD and it is hard for me to put up with her for long periods of time, even when she is on her medication. She is very bright and has a great memory. It's just that I'm a very calm and mellow person and she's very hyper and has to have attention on top of the short attention span. But, what can I do to better manage her syndrome and my understanding? I'm 15 years old and it's hard because of my needs and her short attention span.
I am so glad you wrote to me. We don't get that many questions from kids, but I know that there are many brothers and sisters (and cousins!) who are trying to deal with someone they care about who happens to have ADHD. As much as we love them, these kids are sometimes hard to take. It's really nice that you acknowledge your cousin's strengths. Being bright and having a good memory will help her in school, and if she's successful there, she can enjoy life outside of school more fully.

If your cousin needs a lot of attention, the trick is finding something that she is good at or can be good at that not a lot of other kids can do. For example, a lot of kids play soccer or field hockey, so people may not pay much attention to you unless you are an all-city champ. But, how many kids do you know who do archery, or fly-fishing, or radio repair, or model car racing, or who play the tuba or the harp? If you can get your little cousin into something like that, she'll always have a spotlight shining on her and she'll get lots of positive attention. If what she does is special or unusual enough (like training a pig to dance or a parakeet to ride around in a little car) she might even get on the David Letterman show! When kids need a lot of attention, it's important to find ways for them to get it that is acceptable and positive. Otherwise, you've got this hyper, flighty, impulsive kid bugging the heck out of you. She needs you to be close to her and love her, but it's only natural that these behaviors start to drive you away.

If you want to get a better understanding of ADHD, you might try these books: All About Attention Deficit Disorder by Thomas Phelan, Adventures in Fast Forward by Kathleen Nadeau, and Driven to Distraction by E. Hallowell and John Ratey (this is a good book for parents to read, too). Your cousin might like a book called Putting on the Brakes: Young People's Guide to Understanding ADHD by Patricia Quinn. I believe that the more kids and family members know about ADHD, the easier it is to deal with the sometimes frustrating or aggravating behaviors that go along with this condition.

Your cousin is lucky to have you in her family! If you ever think about becoming a special education teacher, look me up. We're always looking for new, good recruits!

Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.

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