Hobbies and Special Talents/Interests for Children with ADD
One of the wonderful things about hobbies is that children and adolescents can become "experts." This is particularly beneficial for students with ADD. Often the feedback they receive from parents, teachers, and classmates is negative. Coupled with their difficulty in establishing meaningful social relationships, this negative feedback can lower their self-esteem. By developing a hobby they can acquire knowledge and skills for which they are perceived as competent, as an "expert" in one particular area of interest.
Hobbies don't just emerge, they must be fostered. Parents must expose their children to a wide variety of experiences and reinforce their interests. In addition to trips to the zoo, museums, aquariums, historical sites, and the like, parents can foster hobbies by enrolling children in courses related to their interests or providing them with unusual experiences. Many communities have arts and crafts classes, music classes, gymnastics, and so forth. Museums and philharmonic orchestras frequently have programs specifically geared towards youngsters. Many of these are appropriate for children with ADD because they are relatively short and are only scheduled on a weekly basis, hence the novelty of the activity tends to capture their attention. As with sports and clubs, you need to assess the expectation of the teachers of these classes and the number of students who participate.
Beyond these hobbies there are many more to be discovered if you have the time and inclination to explore. Children have developed interests in such activities as illustrating, Morse code, and miniature furniture. Collections in stamps, coins, baseball cards, and rocks capture the imagination of many children. The list is endless. All that is necessary is enthusiasm and time. It may take a while before you find a hobby that truly interests your child, so don't give up. It is exciting to see a child develop a hobby to a point where others solicit their advice. We recall the look of pride on one youngster's face when an adult asked him about the value of a particular baseball card. He seemed amazed and proud that he knew more about this topic than even his teacher. A hobby can develop a unique competence that is often hard to find in school or extracurricular activities.
If you find it impossible to come up with a hobby that is of interest to your child you may want to ask her teacher. There are many different activities that children engage in during a school day. Perhaps the teacher has noticed your child's particular interest in one of them, one in which she has demonstrated some competence. Also check with the special subject teachers, that is, art, music, physical education, and computers. Their expertise in a particular field may enable them to identify some activity that could lead to further exploration. Although it is not critical that your child have a hobby, it can do wonders for her self-esteem.
Extracurricular activities are important for children with ADD. The sports they play, the hobbies they develop, the camps they attend all help to round out children, to make them more than merely persons who have difficulty paying attention in school. Although the term extracurricular suggests something that is beyond school, these activities are an integral part of the learning process. Frequently such activities can be employed to enhance attention and to reinforce desired behavior.
Perhaps even more important than encouraging these types of activities is the nurturing of a special talent a child may possess. Because of the behavioral problems associated with ADD, it may be difficult for parents to identify a special talent. You might solicit the input of teachers or, if your child has been enrolled in classes such as art, gymnastics, or the like, you might inquire about exploring higher level or enrichment courses in an area in which your child demonstrates particular talent. For example, we know of a child who has been diagnosed as having ADD and has considerable difficulty staying on task in school. He happened to be enrolled in a weekend class that dealt with the environment, during which the instructor noticed a particular talent in science. The instructor informed the parents and the child has been enrolled in a number of classes outside of the school that reinforce this particular ability. Additionally, his parents make frequent trips to the local science museum, read books related to science to him, and have hired a science teacher to work with him one hour per week to expand upon his interest and talents. Over the years, this special talent has manifested itself in many ways and he has become extremely competent, some would say "gifted," in this important area of the curriculum. It is with a tremendous sense of pride that he answers the questions of adults, knowing that they seek him out for his special talent. There are other examples in the arts, music, technology, and sports that children and adolescents with ADD have demonstrated special talents.
The common thread through these examples is the commitment of the parents. It takes an extraordinary amount of time and energy to travel to special places, to seek special events, to balance the special talent with other activities, but it is necessary if the talents are to emerge. We know a youngster who is an exceptionally good gymnast. She has far exceeded the skills level of her local gymnastic class so her parents drive her (three times per week) to a special gymnastic academy in order for her to further develop this talent. It would be easier to ignore such a talent, especially since her behavioral disorders related to ADD continue to cause concerns at school. However, the parents' willingness and ability to continue having this extra training has enabled this youngster to excel, and others have come to view her as extremely talented in this area and treat her with awe. This attention can go a long way when she is reprimanded for being fidgety in school.
Not all children with ADD have special talents. In reality, not many of us have such gifts. However, if talents are present they should be encouraged and enhanced. A child should never be pressured or forced to excel. Typically, if you expose your child to a wide variety of activities at an early age she will have many opportunities for hobbies to develop. If in your opinion and that of professionals involved in the activity your child is deemed to have a special talent, then we encourage you to pursue it.
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From Keys to Parenting a Child with Attention Deficit Disorders by Barry E. McNamara, Ed.D. & Francine J. McNamara, M.S.W., C.S.W. Copyright © 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barrons Educational Series, Inc.
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