Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: It’s estimated that approximately 11% of all children ages 4 to 17 have a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. As with all diagnoses, its impact varies based on a myriad of factors including environment, support, intervention, and management. During my career in education, I worked alongside hundreds of teenagers with ADHD. I appreciate the significant landmines hidden on the road to success. As an English teacher and assistant principal, a great deal of energy was spent triaging various levels of fallout from the actions by or reactions to those affected by ADHD; these experiences shined a light onto the misconceptions and ill-advised management choices bestowed upon students with ADHD--ones that tend to exacerbate negative qualities in students.
Finding Mr. Robinson: Today, as a parenting strategist and teen coach, I assist families to implement effective, practical management tools, intended to provide the requisite structure for students to feel successful. In my own efforts to better understand ADHD, I turn to books on the matter--predominantly written by clinicians. And while clinicians provide an excellent education on the matter, I was seeking material written by someone with the diagnosis. In my search, I found Adderall Blues, by author Brian J. Robinson. Robinson’s Blues is a compelling, firsthand account, that chronicles his journey living with ADHD. I reached out to Robinson and was thrilled by his willingness to sit down to discuss Adderall Blues. A thriving entrepreneur, speaker, and author, Robinson maintains a quiet confidence both tangible and tempered. But Robinson’s success was not immediate or easy—especially within the context of education. Robinson was quick to note the confines of traditional education, both in terms of behavioral expectations and assessment opportunities, hindered his success and destroyed his confidence.
Robinson’s early years: Citing its over-reliance on auditory cues and focus on rote memorization, Robinson categorizes his time in school as “maddening.” He recalls being particularly thwarted by math classes, which left him feeling isolated and angry--obstacles he countered with countless hours of self-teaching. Robinson’s own sense of frustration and confinement resulted in behavioral manifestations, such as the time he was permanently uninvited from Hebrew school for failing to stay seated or “typically engaged” like other students--leaving him feeling worthless and emotionally shaken by the misconception that he was unwilling or unable to learn. He was, in fact, willing and able, yet in a way not acknowledged at the time. With math, Robinson believes he “would have shined” had his math class taken walks to measure the angles of shadows relative to the sun’s position as opposed to simply taking notes on the Pythagorean Theory. His one reprieve from his sedentary educational life was sports. Robinson considers athletics a “healthy release for his ever-spinning mind” and an opportunity to capitalize on quick, kinesthetic thinking.
College: By college, the wheels began to fall off the wagon, as Robinson’s thrill-seeking side (associated with ADHD) dominated his persona, leading to nightly alcohol binges in an effort to calm his scattered mind. Robinson knows the lack of structure found in college (seemingly the best part for a peer without ADHD) can “spell disaster” due to endless choices for time spent. Although substances became an issue for him in college, for many teenagers today, the onramp to overindulgence begins much earlier as they self-soothe.
Solutions built on experience: Robinson wrote Adderall Blues not only to share his personal story but to inspire others to progressively reimagine the way they support those with ADHD. Through the educational lens, Robinson suggests schools implement programs that “cater to alternative learning styles” rather than outsourcing them to separate special education programs, a practice he particularly admonishes. Even today, Robinson reflect that if he is moving, standing or walking, he can process new information “at a remarkable rate of speed” when compared to sitting still. Simple solutions like classrooms utilizing stand-up desks keep students with ADHD active, yet engaged in learning. Robinson also advocates for “creative rather than quantified grading criterion” which presents opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery in their own language.
Into adulthood: Robinson considers his ADHD both “a gift and curse” within the motions of adulthood. His creative mind led to early success in the corporate setting being dubbed both a “self-starter” and “innovator”--though these positive attributes were often eclipsed by his inability to deal well with authority. Perhaps an inevitable side-effect from over-punishment in schooling, Robinson found himself “incompatible with traditional office environments” and opted to work for himself. In fact, he attributes his creativity and energy as the foundation from which his success as an entrepreneur has been built--success that came quickly after finally ridding himself from the thick layer of negative feedback that had followed him for years. More so, one of Robinson’s primary objectives for Adderall Blues is to inspire readers with ADHD to believe that they are both capable and deserving of healthy, vibrant careers and relationships.
Advice for parents: Admittedly, ADHD can be equally frustrating for parents as it is for their children. Robinson champions parents to appreciate their child’s differences and talents. By celebrating those differences parents effectively let their child know “getting straight A's is not the only way to be successful in life.” Robinson was careful to maintain neutrality when it comes to medication but does hold that medication “does not have to be the first resort” as when parents change their “success filter” based on a heightened understanding about ADHD--the entire optics of the scenario change significantly.
Robinson serves as a walking billboard for children with ADHD. When asked to reflect on his success, Robinson simply stated that “cultivating ADHD into an advantage is one of the toughest mountains to climb, but it can and must be done.”