Magic Wings and ADHD

Raising Children: Love, Limits & Lessons

An ADHD Child Visits Magic Wings

Bill Corbett Photo: Magic Wings

I watched Aurora totally engaged in the experience, enthralled with every lizard that conservatory employees placed around her neck, and every butterfly that came within inches of landing in her hair... Every once in a while, she would stop and notice a beautiful butterfly or a larva just out of her reach that fascinated her. She would look at the creature with intensity, then look down at her toes on the edge of the concrete walk, and then look at me to see if I was watching... (Photo credit: Bill Corbett)

Have you ever wondered why children who have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) don’t seem to listen and cooperative well? On some occasions they get easily distracted, see “something shiny,” and ignore the adult’s instruction. Although experts still don’t know exactly what causes this disorder, they are beginning to understand more about the child’s thinking process. To put one type of challenging behavior (of which there are many) into somewhat simple terms; the child is fully aware of a parent’s or teachers rules and seems to deliberately violate those rules. What researchers have discovered is the existence of a sort of neurological battle going on. One region of the brain that controls executive functions gives the child the ability to regulate his or her own behavior, thinking through a caregiver’s instructions, and then planning how he or she will respond. Then there is another region of the brain that seems to “light up brighter” and craves stimulation. What some researchers have found is that this “other” region of the brain overpowers the executive functioning region of the brain. The result is that the need for stimulation trumps obeying an adult’s rules. Let me share a real-life example where I witnessed this first hand.

I took my young granddaughter Aurora to Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory & Gardens in South Deerfield, MA. It is located at 281 Greenfield Road (Route 5) and if you’ve not yet visited this amazing place, make a date and take your kids. If you don’t live in New England, this type of conservatory exists in many other states so find the one closest to you. When we walked into the reception area to buy tickets, I noticed a hard-to-miss list of rules posted on the wall by the entrance. One of the rules specified that all visitors must remain on the concrete walk that winds through the conservatory to preserve the wildlife. Now, without going into a whole lot of detail, my granddaughter was visiting us from out of state and she had arrived on the plane with a shortage of her ADHD medication. That might be another blog post about parents of ADHD children planning ahead appropriately, so I’ll save those details for another time. Knowing that she was not on medication this particular day, I was concerned that I was making a mistake by bringing her to this place. How would she do with not being distracted by “shiny things” and break the rule by leaving the walkway. So I used one of the top parenting techniques for children with some disorders like ADHD; having the child read or restate the rules. I used an almost defeated tone of voice as if it was out of our hands and that we HAD to comply with these rules on the poster. I asked her if she would be able to follow them and after a moment of thought, she responded with a hearty “Yes.”

Another good parenting tip to use some of the time with children of all types, especially with those who have behavior disorders, is to have the child help you come up with a consequence if a rule gets broken. In this situation, I asked Aurora, “What should Grandpa do if you break one of the rules.” Her initial response to me was, “Grandpa should buy me an ice cream,” and she laughed. I acknowledged her offer with a light-hearted, “Silly Aurora,” and then told her that if a rule gets broken, we will have to leave immediately and go directly home. She agreed to the consequence and we entered the conservatory.

For the next 45 minutes, I watched Aurora totally engaged in the experience, enthralled with every lizard that conservatory employees placed around her neck, and every butterfly that came within inches of landing in her hair. At several points of our walk through the place, I was convinced she might explode with excitement. Every once in a while, she would stop and notice a beautiful butterfly or a larva just out of her reach that fascinated her. She would look at the creature with intensity, then look down at her toes on the edge of the concrete walk, and then look at me to see if I was watching. I could see the battle going on in her little brain as the region needing stimulation tempted her to step off the walk and touch the creature. And each time she fought off the drive and walked on.

Then suddenly that battle came to a head. She stopped in front of me and turned to face me. The fake painfully sad expression on her face and the equally fake whiny tone in her voice were all too familiar to me. In response to my concerned question of, “What’s wrong honey?” she replied in a dreadful and excruciating tone, “Grandpa… we have to go home!!!” Totally confused, I said, “Why do we have to go home sweetie?” Suddenly emotionally recovered and with a mischievous gleam in her eye, she quickly replied with, “Because I’m going to step off of the walk!” And that she did, heading right over to a huge blue butterfly resting on a leaf. Reacting quickly and calmly, I gently took her by the hand before she was able to make contact with the unsuspecting butterfly, and began walking toward the exit door. I remained silent while she turned on the fake tears and whining, pleading with me, “But Grandpa… I don’t want to go home!”

She did not resist as we got into the car and headed home. In less than 5 minutes the entire incident seemed to be wiped from her memory and she began talking a mile-a-minute about other random things. But me? I was deep in thought on the drive back to the house. Through her behavior, I had just witnessed support for all the information I read about that mysterious neurological battle in the ADHD brain. The region of her brain that controls executive function accepted the rules set by the conservatory and also accepted the consequence I had established. But that pesky region of the brain that craves stimulation drove her to step off of the concrete walk anyway, accepting the outcome of her actions. If you work or live with a child who has been diagnosed with ADHD, consider that this might be going on with them. Take measures to setup rules in advance, have the child repeat those rules, and then establish a consequence if someone’s rights, boundaries, or safety is at stake.

In this video clip, parenting expert and show host, Bill Corbett, interviews Dr. Megan Hudson of the Brain Balance Center. She offers tips on how to create better focus for children who have been diagnosed with ADHD:


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bill Corbett

Bill is the author of the award-winning parenting book series, Love, Limits, & Lessons: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Cooperative Kids (in English and in Spanish) and the executive producer and host of the public access television show Creating Cooperative Kids. He is a Western Mass native and grew up in the Northampton area. As a member of the American Psychological Association and the North American Society for Adlerian Psychology, Bill provides parent coaching and keynote presentations to parent and professional audiences across the country. He sits on the board of the Network Against Domestic Abuse, the Resource Advisory Committee for Attachment Parenting International, and the management team of the Springfield Parent Academy. Bill’s practical experience comes as a father of 3 grown children, a grandfather of two, and a stepdad to three, and resides in the area with his loving wife Elizabeth and teen step daughter Olivia.  You can learn more about Bill and his work at www.CooperativeKids.com.

2 Comments

  1. Bill Corbett said,

    June 7, 2012 at 9:28 pm

    Thank you for your comment and your kind words. Spontaneous transition is so critical to those of us with ADHD! Thanks for sharing.

  2. adultwithadd said,

    April 18, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Bill, I’m an adult with ADHD. I definitely loved doing things that were nature-oriented where I could shift my focus from one thing to the next and not be doing anything “wrong.” :) Great article. Getting kids (and adults) with ADHD is really helpful.


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