I recently came across a post on an adult ADHD site from the mother of a teenage son with ADHD. The school had enrolled him in a behavior class because the school didn’t see ADHD as a learning disability, but as a behavior problem.

Ack! Here’s my response:

“ADHD is NOT a behavior issue, although it can manifest outwardly in some rather annoying ways. Like interrupting a conversation because your ADD brain wanders onto a more interesting topic. Or making paper airplanes during class because the teacher is boring. And ADD brains get bored easily – but not because they are willful or contrary.

My husband is a physician – very linear – and he finally “got” my ADHD when he attended an ADDA conference with me. The experts talked about the neurological and physiological causes of ADHD — in other words, it’s not your fault – it’s just the way your brain functions.

Trying to “correct” unwanted behavior that stems from an ADHD brain by imposing more rules and rigid consequences or (worse) punishment is an effort doomed to failure. And guaranteed to set your son up for low self esteem. He’ll never “do it right” or “be good enough” unless someone recognizes that he’s doing the best he can given the brain he’s using.

And there ARE ways to work in tandem with that wonderful little brain of his. Unfortunately most schools don’t have time or resources to allow the marvelous ADHD traits to flourish. They usually set up an IEP or a 504 that gives a child “more time to finish” or separate tutoring to drill in all that “book larnin.'”

What works better? Depends. Some ADD kids/adults need absolute quiet with no distractions. Some may need to listen to their iPod to occupy one part of their brain so the rest of their brain can pay attention in class (how many times do you see THAT in an IEP?). But that wasn’t your question.

You asked how to tell the non-ADD world what it means to have ADHD. How about this? “I know it looks like my son is acting out, disrupting the class and causing headaches for the teachers. For regular kids, those behaviors might mean there are some deeper psychological issues or that there has been very little discipline at home or that they are deliberately willful and defiant. That’s not true for ADHD kids (or adults).

The ADHD brain is simply built differently from other brains. And it functions differently, too. What looks like defiance and acting out is the ADHD brain “missing connections” at some crucial points – like impulse control (acting out, speaking out of turn) and executive function (prioritizing and organizing).

Trying to correct the behavior caused by missed neurological connections in the ADHD brain is treating the symptom, not the cause. It makes the incorrect assumption that ADHD brains can be “retrained.” I understand why you think that might work. And it’s true that ADHD kids and adults need structure in their lives. But that’s only part of the solution/treatment/victory.

So what’s the best way to deal with this difference? To work WITH it instead of trying to change it. If you were born with your right leg two inches shorter than the left, you don’t spend all your time trying to get the shorter leg to grow. You don’t get angry with the right leg because it’s not “normal.” Instead, you buy a right shoe that has a higher heel. You learn to walk a little off balance. You use a cane or crutch if you need one. That’s it. You deal with it and move on with the rest of your life.

That’s all I’m asking for my son. That we graciously acknowledge his ADHD brain, get the tools and accommodations he needs to succeed and move on. What are those accommodations? Flexibility (do every other homework problem instead of all of them); movement (let him stand up during class), interest (encourage him to create scenarios that fascinate him so he truly learns his lessons), etc.

One last thing: putting my son in a behavior class is like teaching a pig to dance. It wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

That’s what I’d tell that teacher!