The Formula: What Kids with ADHD need to Thrive

The Formula: What Kids with ADHD need to Thrive
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Though I have been working with and interviewing young people with ADHD for nearly six years, I am still an undergraduate at the University of Puget Sound. I just entered my Senior year, and have been for the last few months writing my new book for New Harbinger Publications to help Teens cope with and adapt to ADHD.

This summer was very busy as a result, but the highlight was my internship working alongside one of my Psychology professors “in the field”. For an undergraduate college student, gaining hands-on learning experience in your field of interest is the ultimate goal. I was hired to assist the directors and staff of an organization in Washington State providing educational therapy for young students with learning and behavioral challenges.

My work focused on helping their leadership integrate various “teen-friendly” coping strategies and methods I’ve created and used over the years into their youth programs. The experience was a great success. It was also eye-opening for many reasons. This post is dedicated to my most important discovery. Let me summarize briefly, then give you the detail below:

Parents: If you want your kid to thrive despite their ADHD, you can’t outsource the management of their ADHD. Not to MD’s, not to PhD’s, and not to educational therapists. There is a formula for success that kids with ADHD need to thrive, and its got a few variables. One of which is you.

Throughout the two months of my internship, one of my biggest projects was to help create and organize a summer writers workshop for youth clients of all ages. Many of the clients that signed up for the workshop had severe learning, spacial, and attention issues that were seen to hinder their ability to reach academic success. Since our organization specialized in educational therapy, the goal of the writers workshop included how to teach, explain, and practice lessons, strategies, and tools in a group setting and encourage our unique learners to explore their natural talents by applying these tools in an academic setting.

My task specifically focused on augmenting all the learning processes with teen-friendly, easily understood tools to improve their executive functioning. Ironically, these tools are as vital as any other they needed to learn, and are not taught in school or even by most educational therapists. At the end of my internship, this is what the board of directors most appreciated about my work.

My employer wanted the writers’ workshop to include methods and techniques for academic success by including those which address organization, advocacy, and personal responsibility as well. The ultimate goal for these young clients, and any kids that struggles with a learning disability, is to help them prepare themselves for independence, success, and confidence. Our team want young learners to accept their circumstances, learn methods and strategies to help them navigate tough challenges, and feel comfortable applying these methods to their everyday lives.

As the two weeks workshop went by, and the clients were in and out of the workshop daily, I had the opportunity to observe all of the parents, their communication towards their children, their interactions (and lack thereof) with the staff, and their attitudes about and behavior relating to the writers workshop. What I saw upset me.

Most of the parents did what I like to call a “drop off”. They would drop their kids off to the workshop and without talking to any of the staff, leave and return only to usher their kids off to the next appointment or camp. Rarely did I observe parent- child conversation and engagement about the workshop. I cannot recall hearing one parent say, “how was the workshop today?”, “what did you learn?”, “what is the homework and when is it due?”. Amazing.

When the clients would show up to the workshop empty handed without their folders and planners, many of the parents would blame their children for not being responsible and organized rather than working with their children to help them get ahead. The parents paid good money for these workshops and the Ed therapy, but they it seems as if they weren’t responsible, interested, attentive, or engaged in their kids success.

Here is what I took away from this experience, which only amplified what I learned over the last few years as paid ADHD mentor. With any kid with ADHD, there is a formula for success. My formula for success with ADHD has four variables: Grit, Medication, Guidance, and Family Support.

All four factors are at play. All four factors need to be addressed in some way for your kid to achieve success. No one factor will work on its own. They are not all equally weighted. Let me break it down:


Grit (35%) + Medication (30%) + Guidance (15%) + Family Support (20%)

I am going to dedicate a separate blog post to each of these variables, exploring them deeply and contextualizing them for those of us with ADHD, along with their parents and family members. But for now, let me give you the espresso version. In my prior writing, I have said that medication is only a 30% solution, and that 70% is adaption. Let me peel back a few layers of this onion to make clear what that it takes to adapt to ADHD and thrive. Ironically, the only factor which is optional, in my estimation, is medication.

  • Grit. Grit is weighted highest, it is absolutely required but it is not something all of us come by naturally. Grit measures a person’s ability to accept their circumstances and persevere through obstacles when faced with fear or lack of confidence. Grit can be broken down into 15% acceptance and 20% resilience. Think about that this means. One cannot thrive with ADHD by giving up under pressure or even failure.
  • Medication. Medication helps those with learning and attention issues gain traction and feel more confident starting and finishing tasks. So much is written about medication as it applies to ADHD, so why is this just 30%? Medication does not make you smart, or good at school, more persuasive, friendly or charming. Medication is like cleats for a soccer player - it gives you traction, it does not make you a better player. Think about it, you can play soccer without cleats, it's just harder than it should be, and you probably won't play at your best.
  • Guidance. Guidance come from experts like my professor, and those directing the educational training organization I worked for during the summer. Guidance also comes from peers - those of us who have “been in the hole, and learned to climb outGuidance is 20%, and its vital. It includes learning tools, techniques and methods - with a great deal of practice and repetition.
  • Family Support. Family Support is often the missing 20% - and I have saw this a lot during the summer. Parents and guardians - you can't just do “drop offs” and expect success. You can't just pay for services and expect success. You must support and accept their child’s circumstances and encourage their progress in school, sports, tutoring, or therapy. What is taught at school or in therapy must be mirrored at home to demonstrate to kids that their family is supportive and engaged in their success, their learning, their future.

The major point I’d like to explicitly address is that parents must understand that all four factors work together - no one will do. Parents, it's your job to build the runway and it's your kid’s job to take flight into their own life.

Without grit and perseverance, traction, guidance from various services and family support, kids with learning and attention issues are less likely to take flight, to succeed, let alone feel comfortable in their circumstances.

Paying for therapy, tutoring, and summer workshops does not replace parental engagement and support. What kids really need to succeed involves all these factors - and from my point of view, the optional one is medication. Oh, and it's not just my view, my co-author on my upcoming book is a highly skilled Pediatric Neurologist specializing in ADHD, and we discuss this point quite a bit)

When family is present, active and accounted for in their kid’s journey to independence and prosperity, success is more likely assured. Want to learn more? Visit

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