Art Helps Adults and Children with ADHD
--------------------------------------------Focusing on the Positive
The Art of Embracing ADHD
by Daniella Barroqueiro, Ed.D, Professor of Art Education at Illinois State University
When talking about ADHD, it is common to focus on the "downside" of the disorder: the challenges, the frustration, how to "fix" a problem or a set of problems. Notice I refer to a downside, which implies that there is also an upside to having ADHD. Intelligence,
creativity, spontaneity, and the ability to hyper-focus (yes, hyper-focus) are among the characteristics commonly found in people with ADHD.
The focus that is required to create art is mental energy harnessed for those with symptoms of ADHD.
Unfortunately, these assets are often framed in the negative because the person's ADHD is not working for them, but against them. Without a diagnosis, an awareness or knowledge of the disorder and the appropriate medications and/or behavior modifications are obscured by the liabilities of the condition. For example:
Intelligence: "She is intelligent; her test scores are high, but she is not working to her potential. She is an underachiever."
Creativity for ADHD children: "He has creative energy, but never seems to complete anything, so he has little to show for it."
Spontaneity: "He is so spontaneous; he just flies by the seat of his pants. He doesn't seem to know how to plan ahead or follow a schedule."
Hyper-focus: "She is so obsessed with ___________ that she doesn't get any of her work done."
As an art educator with ADHD, I have been both a student with ADHD and a teacher of students with ADHD. I have heard some of these things said about me, and I have said some of these things about my students. In the public schools (and at the college level), the art room is often the one place where others with the disorder feel at home. Of course, there are many students with ADHD who have little interest in art making, but I believe there is something to be learned from the art education model.
Natural remedy for Children and Adults with ADHD
The inherent subjectivity of the discipline allows for more flexibility in the way lessons are taught and in the way students interpret assignments. Even in teacher-directed projects, there is often room (or at least there should be) for the self-expression of each individual student.
Many lessons are necessarily restrictive in the sense that they focus on teaching a particular technique or deal with a specific subject or theme, but even in these types of lessons, there are usually opportunities for students with ADHD to attend to their particular interests or their idiosyncratic ways of working, which in turn helps them to stay focused on the task at hand.
Strictly speaking, there is no one right or wrong way to paint or to sculpt something. (As I write these words I hear a list of contradictory thoughts disproving this statement, but this is an opinion piece and I am going to just go with it. I invite you to join me.)
The point is that when folks with ADHD find (or create) an environment supportive of their needs, then ADHD becomes a non-issue, and in some cases, an asset. The trick is to figure out how to find or create that environment.
It is my belief that when people with ADHD have taken the time to
learn about ADHD in general and their own "custom brand" of the disorder in particular, that is the first step. When they have begun the process of minimizing their liabilities, harnessing their creative energy, and finding a productive outlet for their intelligence and hyper-focus, the possibilities are endless. The potential for success and the enjoyment of life is enormous!
Remember, there are two sides to every coin. It is one thing to accept you have ADHD, but it is another to embrace it. To those with ADHD, I recommend flipping the coin and embracing what you find on the other side. I'll bet it looks a lot like intelligence, creativity, spontaneity, and the ability to focus on things that matter not only to you, but also to the rest of the world.
Reprinted with permission from Professor Barroqueiro. This article originally appeared in ADDA eNews.
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