Unlocking ADHD writer Naline Virabhak shares key takeaways from the “Thriving with ADHD: Unlocking Ferrari brains, strengthening bicycle brakes” webinar held in conjunction with ADHD Awareness Month.
October is ADHD Awareness Month, and what better way to have kickstarted it than a conversation with renowned American psychiatrist, best-selling author and leading authority on ADHD, Dr Edward (Ned) Hallowell?
Dr Hallowell famously describes the ADHD brain as a “Ferrari engine with bicycle brakes”, a turbo-charged, energy-abundant vehicle that oft “runs away with us” when our “brakes” are powerless to slow it down. Strengthening these brakes, however, while tapping into the strengths in our wiring, can allow ADHDers of any age to not only cope with ADHD but harness its potential.
In this webinar, Dr Hallowell brings new eyes to thinking about ADHD; how to maximise its benefits and manage the downsides. In addition, there are also sharings from Youth ADHDer and local entrepreneur Chong Ing Kai, about his ADHD journey and creation of his start-up, Stick ‘Em.
Reframing ADHD: A Trait, Not a Disorder.
Dr Hallowell opens the session by positing that the term ADHD itself is misleading; that it is not a disorder but a trait— that can become an asset to us when truly managed and unravelled. Conversely, ADHD can be a massive liability when unmanaged or unrealised by us, pointing to the numbers of untreated or undiagnosed individuals in prison, and among those struggling with addiction and unemployment.
As ADHDers we have within us a titanic wealth of power, creativity and energy akin to the Niagara Falls, Dr Hallowell says, which is but a beautiful, empty deluge if not for the hydroelectric plant it is pumped through. In the same vein, we need to build our own power plants, channelling our ADHD into avenues that allow us to create value out of life.
He proposes Variable Attention Stimulus Trait — or VAST — as an alternate name to ADHD.
Rethinking the ADHD Triad
In unwrapping our inherent gifts, we may look no further than the core triad of ADHD symptoms as defined by the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders): Distractibility, Impulsivity and Hyperactivity.
Dr Hallowell suggests a strength in the flipside of each symptom:
- Distractibility as curiosity — our boundless curiosity in the world can mean innovation, formation of new ideas stemming from simple “What’s this? What’s that?”s. Think Nobel-prize-winning scientist and ADHDer Kary Mullis, who developed the PCR test now used to detect COVID-19.
- Impulsivity as creativity — or, creativity as spurs of impulsivity done right. Learning to martial or organise the “pop” of new thoughts and ideas that come to us out of nowhere.
- Hyperactivity as energy — energy, pure and simple.
Advice with Dr Hallowell (Q&A)
On the impact of our environment and culture on ADHD: Dr Hallowell suggests that a fear and punishment-based classroom/ workplace/ business/ family is the great disability, not our condition. Conversely, ADHDers would thrive in an atmosphere of exploration, discovery and affirmation — high-trust, low-fear settings.
On lack of accessibility to financial support when living with ADHD: Dr Hallowell emphasises the importance of developing “(the other) Vitamin C” — free and infinite Connection to other people — in our living or working environments.
On disclosing ADHD in the workplace: Dr Hallowell advises against specifically disclosing the term ADHD due to persistent surrounding stigma; instead, to highlight your strengths and weaknesses as they are. The best workplace accommodation is in finding a job most suited to your strengths.
On steps to take suspecting you have ADHD:
- Educate yourself — learn and read up on the condition; how it fits you and what changes it suggests.
- Modify your environment — starting with small changes (example: placing your keys in a basket so you don’t lose them) — and incorporating a coach into your life — someone to look out for you
- Trial of medication with professional guidance.
On self-compassion with ADHD: Dr Hallowell advises to never worry alone, and set to a more realistic goal of liking yourself rather than the act of loving yourself. Genuine positive self-regard will follow naturally from reaching out to a trusted other/others and getting the help you need.
Chong Ing Kai: Stick ‘Em and his ADHD journey
In the second half of the session, we hear from Kai, founder and CEO of Stick ‘Em: a start-up that aims to bridge accessibility to STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) education and increase technological literacy in youths.
Kai shares about learning to wield his ADHD strengths, beginning from his nascent primary school days. Melding his hyperactivity and creativity with a passion for engineering has enabled a move from homemade air cannons and tasers to his later work in assistive technology (example: toy cars for children with muscular dystrophy) and impact-driven projects (example: developing a remotely operated vehicle for monitoring coral reefs).
Stick ‘Em is a natural culmination of his years of innovation and experience in robotics teaching, offering affordable STEAM education through robotic kits which include 3D printed connectors and disposable chopsticks. Children are free to get creative with their chopstick robot designs, equipped with simple tools to realise their ideas. Stick ‘Em hopes to not only nurture creativity and problem-solving skills in the youth they reach out to, but forge long-lasting communities of young innovators.
Advice with Kai (Q&A)
For parents of children with ADHD: Kai shares about how his parents adapted their parenting style to suit his condition: approaching his impulsivity and temper tantrums with empathy instead of corporal punishment (ie. caning).
He talks about how their “never give up” attitude towards him, married with a recognition of where his true strengths lay, allowed him to focus on his engineering and technical skills instead of stressing over conventional academic success. On the topic of schools and examinations, he suggests that asking for extra time accommodations and starting medication would be of great help.
Lastly, he shares about the importance of instilling core values like respect for others and empathy in children— how his innovations and ideas that have come to be are based on his mother’s central question of “How useful is this for the world?”
On managing weaknesses and burn out: In starting his business, Ing Kai shares about how it was important for him to recognise his weaknesses (example: dealing with logistics) and in turn find people (in his case, his co-founder) who could make up for them. He also talks about dealing with micro burnouts by being honest and forward with his team — communicating when he needs days of rest and delegating responsibilities accordingly
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