A school for ADHD

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Cure ADHD? We want to harness it. An emerging view of ADHD has been slowly gaining traction — that ADHD, for all its real troubles, is a superpower. Yesterday the Times ran an opinion piece by Richard A. Friedman, "A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D." The gist:

Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating.

To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture.

Research psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman put it even better. He's the author of the quite-good book Ungifted, and was on NPR's The Takeaway a few days ago to talk about the innovative and creative powers of ADHD. Quoth Kaufman:

You could conceptualize people with the ADHD label as explorers—imagine being an explorer trapped in an educational classroom where the teacher is saying, ‘Pay attention to me and don’t explore.’ It drives them nuts.


A crucial twist: let's grant that being an explorer is a superpower. It also kind of sucks.

The need to keep moving? The disposition of experiencing the ordinary world as dull dull dull? Drah! Most gifts, of course, have their underside, and ADHD is no exception.

So I spoke a little too glibly when I suggested that we want to harness ADHD rather than fix it: what we want to do is make use of some traits of ADHD while reducing its destructive by-products.

How?

A number of ways, actually — I'll be posting more on them by and by. Among our strategies:

    • Our curriculum will be wonder-filled, crammed with interesting stories and questions that pull students in. (This, for those keeping score at home, is the Imaginative Education component part of our school.)
    • Our school day will be scattered with physical activity. (Movement — certain sorts in particular — eases concentration.)
    • Our classrooms will give students choice and agency. (This is the Montessori component of our school.)
    • Our community will practice mindfulness meditation, sometimes in unusual ways.
    • Finally, our classes will (probably) offer targeted training of executive functioning, more as these activities are conclusively demonstrated to reduce some of the negative impacts of ADHD at the roots.

One final thing: we're not making this a school only for kids with ADHD. Goodness, that would be a terrible thing — we want a school of neurodiversity.

There are many ways to be human. ADHD is one of them.

And understanding that might be a good way for a "school of humans" to move forward.

Brandon Hendrickson

Seattle, WA