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Books and Libraries Can Strengthen the Superpowers of Teens With ADHD, a guest post by Kirsten Lambert

What would you do if your child’s ADHD and dyslexia meant he hated reading and writing so much that he would try every diversion possible to avoid it: sharpening pencils ten times, hiding under a table, and even crying? If you’re author Rick Riordan, you write stories in which the main character has those very same conditions — but also make that character a demigod.

The stories, with their mythical tapestry — which Riordan wove when he ran out of bedtime stories for his son, Haley — became the best-selling Percy Jackson series. Although the protagonist Percy calls himself “hyperactive,” he soon discovers that he is descended from a Greek god and must save the world. The series puts a spotlight on a few of the abilities that people with ADHD often possess: creativity, spontaneity, a sense of humor.

Of course, most children with ADHD don’t have parents who write bestsellers. According to a 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, more 6 million American children, ages 2–17, have an ADHD diagnosis; more than 3 million of them are adolescents. And unfortunately popular culture often perpetuates negative stereotypes, painting kids with ADHD as loud, unable to sit still, and even academically challenged. Not everyone fits that picture, though, and some teen and YA fiction portrays the condition with authenticity. Beyond that, many teens with ADHD gravitate toward libraries — not just because they love to read, but because the atmosphere often serves as the ideal place for them to shine.

One novel that rings true is Focused by Alyson Gerber, which tells the story of Clea, a seventh-grader who struggles to pay attention and discovers she has ADHD. She gets distracted when she should be doing homework, she can’t seem to stay organized, she blurts out comments without thinking. She also loves playing chess. The book’s author draws on her own experience to allow readers a glimpse inside the mind of a teen who is gifted but finds school and friendships challenging. 

The YA novel Playing Tyler by T.L. Costa is the story of 17-year-old Tyler, a boy who has ADHD. His condition forms an integral part of the novel, and his character’s narration reflects his state of mind. When he’s not medicated, Tyler speaks in run-on sentences without punctuation — a convention that some readers find compelling and some find jarring. But rather than dwelling on only the challenges of living with ADHD, the book shows how teens can succeed when they hone in on pursuits that can sustain their interest, such as video games.

Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza introduces readers to two tenth-grade girls: Kat, who has anxiety, and Meg, who has ADHD. The story allows readers inside the characters’ heads, and the details resonate with readers who have ADHD or anxiety, which often coexist. The story also delves into the social challenges that ADHD can present while showing how empowering friendships can be. 

Unlike today’s teen and YA fiction, which puts ADHD front and center, classic novels often feature characters who have ADHD-like traits but don’t spell it out.

Consider Anne Shirley (in the Anne of Green Gables series by Lucy Maud Montgomery). She’s impetuous and dramatic, with an intense curiosity and a tendency to blurt out things before thinking. While she’s impulsive and talkative, Anne is also charismatic and resourceful.

Or take Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, the eccentric recluse with a solitary nature. He’s clearly a visionary thinker with a taste for adventure — plus he loves candy, perhaps a nod to the fact that people with ADHD often enjoy the rush of a sugar high (maybe to compensate for the shortage of the “feel good” neurotransmitters of dopamine and serotonin in their brains).

The Calvin character in Bill Watterson’s much-loved Calvin and Hobbes comic strip shows the razor-sharp wit that can come with ADHD. Sure, Calvin has some fantastical daydreams and draws plenty of ire from his teachers. But he’s clearly intelligent, with a dazzling imagination that helps him get through the hum-drum days of school and home.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes epitomizes the brilliant yet absentminded professor: His apartment is full of unfinished projects; he has trouble remembering appointments. Yet he solves crimes by noticing details that neurotypical people — those without ADHD — miss.

Besides offering vivid portrayals of people with ADHD, books like these have a fascinating effect on teens who may find it challenging to sit still in class: they can focus for hours. What’s more, a library can actually serve as the perfect environment for teens with ADHD.

Jennifer Kelly Geddes outlines some tips for accommodating students with ADHD in a School Library Journal article titled “How Librarians Help Kids With ADHD Thrive.” Here are a few more ideas especially for teens.

Offer a variety of seating options. Some teens with ADHD have sensory issues, too (for example, they might not like tags on clothes or may complain that some socks are itchy). So if you can, include nontraditional seating options like recliners, swivel chairs, or standing desks. You may even want to consider offering sensory cushions.

Minimize clutter. Teens with ADHD have a hard time ignoring sensory input, including visual stimuli. So although reading and study spaces don’t need to have colorless blank walls, try to avoid having multiple things compete for a student’s attention. These updated versions of the study carrel offer privacy as well as enough space for, say, a laptop. 

Limit noise. Teens with ADHD don’t necessarily need complete silence to focus; some of them actually find that listening to music can help them study. But they may be easily distracted in an environment with lots of talking (or other background noise). Consider creating a designated “quiet zone” in your library.

Allow them to move. Teens with ADHD need movement breaks sometimes. (Don’t we all?) Having students help with physical tasks like shelving books or unpacking boxes can help them burn off some of their restless energy until they’re ready to sit down again.

Consider allowing gum and/or candy, Yes, they can be sticky, but mints and gum can help people with ADHD focus. (Just be sure to set some ground rules and have wastebaskets nearby.)

Offer different types of materials. Your library undoubtedly already includes e-books, audiobooks, and video, in addition to traditional printed materials. To engage students with ADHD, you may want to add an area that allows teens with ADHD to use their hands while on a “brain break”: jigsaw puzzles, Legos — even a maker lab, if you have the space and funds.

Making your library a welcoming space for students with ADHD — especially if they’re able to see accurate, positive, and even entertaining portrayals of characters like themselves — will not only help them become better readers. It may just bring out their superpowers.

To discover more characters with ADHD (or with ADHD-like characteristics), check out this list on the SMARTS Online Executive Function Curriculum page.

For more seating ideas (and other tips), check out “17 Ways to Help Students With ADHD Concentrate.”

Meet Kirsten Lambert

Photo credit: Doug Human

Kirsten Lambert is a Chicago-based writer who tackles topics such as health care, technology, music, and parenting. She’s a regular contributor to the Chicago Reader newspaper, and her essay “Signs in Bloom” appears in the 2019 Chicago Neighborhood Guidebook, which offers snapshots of 45 Chicago neighborhoods as told by the residents of those neighborhoods. To see more of her work, check out her website (watermarkcommunications.com), connect with her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/kirstenslambert) or follow her on Twitter: @KirstenSLambert.

Sunday Reflections: Sometimes You Find Yourself at The Exact Right Place at the Exact Right Time, or what happened when we went to meet Dav Pilkey

Yesterday I took Thing 2 to a big event in the Fort Worth area to met author Dav Pilkey. Here’s my deep, dark secret: I have never read a Dav Pilkey book and I haven’t really heard much about him as an author because he’s one of those authors who has really never needed my help. His books have been flying off of the shelf for years; Kids and early teens have been loving them and asking for them by name and it just seemed to be going superbly for him. So I did not know until I sat in that audience yesterday and heard him talk about having dyslexia and ADHD that he did. And to be honest if I had heard this years ago, it probably wouldn’t have meant as much to me as it did when I sat in the audience with my own child who has dyslexia and ADHD. Everything I know and think about these topics changed when I learned more about what life with these diagnosis is like for our kids.

Yesterday was one of those moments that happen in life where you find yourself in the exact right place in the exact right moment and you have no idea that it is about to happen. As regular readers know, Thing 2 and I have been struggling to navigate the world of dyslexia and ADHD ourselves. She was diagnosed with dyslexia a couple of years ago and ADHD last year, although to be quite frankly honest I was pretty sure she had ADHD from the moment she was born. She’s had a whole host of various health issues and such since birth and it’s been . . . challenging to figure out how to keep her healthy, thriving and happy.

Last year, I got a lot of email messages from teachers about her inability to focus and her tendency to rush so quickly through assignments that she just didn’t do well. Add in the dyslexia and it’s like a bomb going off when it comes to academic achievement. Last year was rough, really really rough. It’s a miracle any of us survived last year, and we have the battle scars to prove it. Unfortunately for our kids, these scars are often found on their souls and on their self-esteem, which is why we really must do better for them.

Then there are the kids who tease. They call her stupid. Because she has some GI issues she had many years where she wasn’t really absorbing the nutrients of her food and just kind of stopped growing. She went from being in the 90% for her age to the 4th%. Kids love to tease her for being so small and she basically hates it. In the second or third grade, a group of girls created a “Bully XX Club” (the XX is a stand in for her name). The 40 Book Challenge last year made her hate reading, herself and me.

This year I’ve already had to fight with the school about her intervention and her being excluded from some of the classes she wanted and I would argue needed to take. I’ve learned that when you have a child who doesn’t fit the standard mold you spend a lot of time worrying, stressing, fighting, advocating and just trying to figure out how to navigate raising a not so typical child in a world that very much wants everyone to be the same. It can be overwhelming and discouraging and just plain exhausting, for everyone.

So here the both of us sat about to meet an author that she seemed really interested in meeting. His presentation began and it was engaging and humorous and then – he started sharing with all of the kids that he himself had dyslexia and ADHD and what that was like for him. This is a man who has written bestsellers, had his books turned into movies and musicals, and now had a regular TV show on Netflix and he was sharing with my child that he was just like her and you know what, it was all okay. He was okay. He was happy and healthy and thriving and succeeding even though he had spent most of his childhood years in trouble with teachers and struggled in school.

It was inspiring and rewarding and comforting and meaningful. Every once in a while you end up exactly where you need to be even if you didn’t know that was where you were heading. I don’t think this will make everything magically better for her. She’ll still have dyslexia and ADHD and we’ll all struggle to find ways to help her be successful in school, but she has a little more hope and little less shame about it all then she did before meeting Dav Pilkey, and that means everything. Because Dav Pilkey was willing to share his truth with these kids, a lot of kids got exactly what they needed to live their lives with a little more hope and belief in themselves. Dav Pilkey is now one of my favorite people, to be honest. I saw first hand what he meant to these kids and it was powerful and transformative.

Last night as we made the long drive home my child read one of the Dogman books out loud to me from the backseat of the car. It was the best podcast I ever listened to.

If you would like to read about my journey as a parent to a dyslexic child, I have some blog posts about there here:

Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia Sunday Reflections: Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a Child with Dyslexia — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Sunday Reflections: Being a Librarian Did Not Prepare Me for Parenting a…

How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Dyslexic Child Hate Reading and Why I Pushed Back Sunday Reflections: How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Kid Hate Reading and Why (& How) I Pushed Back — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Sunday Reflections: How Misuse of the 40 Book Challenge Made My Kid Hate…

Middle Grade Graphic Novels That a Middle Grade Reader Really Loves Collecting Comics: Middle Grade Novels that a Middle Grade Reader Really Loves — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Collecting Comics: Middle Grade Novels that a Middle Grade Reader Really…

So You Want to Raise a Reader? I Have Some Tips for You Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for you — @TLT16 Teen Librarian Toolbox
Sunday Reflections: So You Want to Raise a Reader? I have some tips for …

YA A to Z: O is for Outsider, a guest post by author Kirstin Cronn-Mills

Today for #YAAtoZ we are honored to have author Kirstin Cronn-Mills talking about being an Outsider.

yaatoz

My mom swears I knew how to read at three. I know my dad was teaching me about Roman numerals and the Valley of the Kings at four. I had no idea these things were even slightly unusual. Nobody in my house was neurotypical, but I didn’t know that, either.

It was reinforced over and over in elementary and high school: I didn’t think like other people, I didn’t react like other people (puberty emotions x 1000), I just . . . wasn’t like other girls. End of story. This fact mostly made me sad. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but the ones I did have seemed to accept my oh-so-brainy-and-different self.

College was better—I could be curious to my heart’s content, and I didn’t know when others judged me, because I wasn’t around those people. Then I fell in love, went to grad school, got married, went to another grad school, had a baby, and got a full-time job. All of it regular human stuff. But I still felt like an outsider.

The reinforcement continued: I wasn’t like other moms, or other soccer parents, or other teachers, and definitely not like other spouses, much to my husband’s dismay and frustration. Why was I so emotional? Why was my brain so busy all the dang time? Why couldn’t I relax?

Finally, through a long string of events and a couple lightbulb moments, the answer arrived: I have ADHD. I had been misdiagnosed by my psychiatrist for 23 years. Yes. 23. I’d even had an MRI in 2006, after my brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor (our hometown is a cancer cluster, so it was worth checking). My psychiatrist said “Hmm. You have a less robust frontal lobe.” That’s actually a sign of ADHD, but neither of us put the pieces together. I said, “Well, it’s served me all right so far.” And that was that.

Turns out women and girls with ADHD tend to be more inattentive, with less outward hyperactivity, and our chattiness or scatterbrained-ness is chalked up to being “just a girl” (side note: research needs to catch up and explore how many different genders express ADHD, but right now it’s focused on the binary)  Lots of us are diagnosed at midlife because our estrogen decreases, so our symptoms skyrocket.

TLT O is for Outsider

It also turns out women with ADHD feel inadequate, judged, and stupid because we can struggle with tasks that are stereotypically ours—paying bills on time, throwing kids’ birthday parties, managing a household. Add in the societal pressure to be a perfect parent or spouse, along with the pressure to look like a fashion model, and we get depressed and anxious. Doctors end up treating the symptoms, but not the root cause.

After I figured out the right category for my brain, I grieved. Hard. I grieved my mistakes (soooo many) and the time I’d lost trying to be someone I wasn’t. Then I put the pieces together (again) and grieved for my grandma and my dad, who lived and died in times where their brains weren’t recognized or understood. But while I mourned, I was also ecstatic, because I understood who I was. I knew there were others like me. Now we’re outsiders together.

Fictional Characters with ADHD: Books We Love – ADDitude

Not long after my diagnosis, my friend Rachel told me I was a superhero—an X-Man, in fact. Hadn’t I noticed my superpowers? She stopped me in my tracks, because she’s right. I can focus for a really, really long time—so long that I’ve managed to write 9 books, plus a lot of poetry, while raising a son and working full-time. I have compassion for days, because I feel things so deeply. I am also easily amused, and generally happy—plus I’m funny. Usually.

The absences my brain creates—a slippery relationship with time, a tendency toward forgetting, SO MANY EMOTIONS—can usually be balanced out by my superpowers. Not in the eyes of culture, of course—same as in the X-Men mythology, our culture tends to shun us—but in my eyes, I feel as cool as Jean Gray or Storm.

Kirstin Cronn-Mills is the author of Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Kirstin Cronn-Mills is the author of Beautiful Music for Ugly Children

Now, after 2.5 years of sorting out my powers, it’s time to advocate for a positive view of neurodiversity, of all kinds. My work in progress is called O IS FOR OUTSIDER. Evvie, the protagonist, has ADHD—as do her mom and the octopus researcher (!) she follows. These three women offer no apologies for their neurodivergence, and they like themselves. As the story develops, Evvie crushes on one of the octopus researcher’s helpers—turns out he’s neurodiverse, too. Nobody’s made to feel ashamed of the way their brain behaves, and everyone is supported for who they are.

Utopias are awesome, right?

In our real world, there’s still plenty of risk in claiming who I am. For example: what happens if my day job boss reads this post? She might instantly discredit everything I say and do. What if an editor sees this post and refuses to work with me, assuming I’ll miss my deadlines (I’m always early with manuscripts)? What if readers don’t give my books a chance because they assume they’re too weird?

The word “neurodiversity” comes from the autism community but can describe many different kinds of brains. We neurodivergent X-Men bring strengths to humanity that others can’t match (Albert Einstein, anyone?). If we’re a little bit late, or a little hypervigilant, or we see letters in weird orders, please be patient with us. We’re figuring out relativity or earning Olympic medals (hi, Simone Biles!). If you’re a person with autism, anxiety, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, dyslexia, or any other kind of differently-wired brain, hello. I see you and your powers, and I salute you.

As I travel through my new life, I watch people around me who are judged for being different (all kinds of difference), and these questions constantly ricochet through my head: why is difference judged and shunned instead of appreciated? Why do we need the concept of “outsider”?

In response, my WIP asks this question: what would happen if people valued our neurodiversity instead of rejected us for it?

I want to celebrate my brain—even with its frustrations and absences. I want you to celebrate yours, too. I want that for my neurodiverse kid, other neurodiverse kids, and my dad and grandma. I want us to be OK with different ways to process the world. And I want my characters to reflect those different ways to be human.

Meet Kirstin Cronn-Mills

kirstin

Kirstin Cronn-Mills writes fiction and nonfiction for young adults. Her second novel, Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, won the American Library Association’s Stonewall Award in 2014. She writes and teaches in southern Minnesota, where she lives with her family and her Harry Potter-named animals.
About Beautiful Music for Ugly Children
“This is Beautiful Music for Ugly Children, on community radio 90.3, KZUK. I’m Gabe. Welcome to my show.”

My birth name is Elizabeth, but I’m a guy. Gabe. My parents think I’ve gone crazy and the rest of the world is happy to agree with them, but I know I’m right. I’ve been a boy my whole life.

When you think about it, I’m like a record. Elizabeth is my A side, the song everybody knows, and Gabe is my B side–not heard as often, but just as good.

It’s time to let my B side play. (Published in 2012 by Flux Books)

Book Review: Kat and Meg Conquer the World by Anna Priemaza

Publisher’s description

ra6For fans of Nicola Yoon’s Everything, Everything, Emery Lord’s When We Collided, and Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl,Anna Priemaza’s debut novel is a heartwarming and achingly real story of finding a friend, being a fan, and defining your place in a difficult world.

Kat and Meg couldn’t be more different. Kat’s anxiety makes it hard for her to talk to people. Meg hates being alone, but her ADHD keeps pushing people away. But when the two girls are thrown together for a year-long science project, they discover they do have one thing in common: They’re both obsessed with the same online gaming star and his hilarious videos.

It might be the beginning of a beautiful friendship—if they don’t kill each other first.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

katKat is new to Alberta and starting grade 10. Being the new girl is extra hard for Kat, who has anxiety and panic attacks. She tries to stay off everyone’s radar, ducking quickly through halls and hiding out in the library during lunch. At least in the library, she can play Legends of the Stone, her favorite game. Online is where she feels comfortable.

Meg is an extremely charismatic extrovert who has ADHD and has bounced around between friends and is currently mostly friendless. She’s one of only a few black kids in school, chatters nonstop, doesn’t do well in her classes, and is into skateboarding and watching LumberLegs play Legends of the Stone on YouTube.

The two pair up for a science project and, while it’s clear their styles of working (or not working, in Meg’s case) are not going to mesh easily, they bond over LumberLegs and LotS. Meg makes sure they start hanging out, not just getting together to work on their science project, and they start playing LotS online together, too. Meg is a lot for Kat to handle—she’s erratic, wants to make Kat socialize more, and just so full of frantic energy. Kat loves order, predictability, pro/con lists, and hiding out alone. Neither girl reveals her diagnosis to the other, though thanks to the symptoms of ADHD and anxiety, it’s pretty obvious. But not talking about the different ways their brains work and how that affects them makes their friendship all the more complicated, muddying up communication and making for hurt feelings. They have such different goals and concerns. Kat would like to win the science fair, keep playing online with the few people she feels comfortable text chatting with, and be friends with Meg but also be left to her own devices as far as being social. Meg desperately wants to go to LotsCON, to find people in her life who stick around (struggling to figure out friends, her boyfriend, and her relationship with her ex-stepdad), and just be herself without also feeling so bad about who and how she is.

 

I don’t presume to actually know what it’s like to live with ADHD. BUT, my son has ADHD, so I do have a fairly good grasp on what it looks like, if not necessarily what it feels like. This story is not really about the ins and outs of ADHD or anxiety/panic disorder. Kat mentions a counselor who didn’t really help her. Meg is on medication. That’s about the extent of any medical/therapy discussions. But, this story is very much about the day-to-day experiences of both ADHD and anxiety. Meg’s inability to focus, to follow through, to live up to her potential, to complete assignments, to remember details, to think through impulsive choices all ring very true. And, as someone who enjoys the roller coaster of fun that is anxiety disorder and panic attacks, I can definitely say that all seems legit, too. Though their friendship isn’t necessarily easy, it is genuine, and more than anything, that’s what this story is about—finding true friendship and showing your real self to someone else. The alternate narration lets readers into the heads of both girls, really showing how they feel about themselves and their lives. While coincidence brings them together and a shared fandom kicks off their friendship, it’s their deep affection for one another and their eventual honesty that really cements their relationship. A fun book about conquering your fears and finding friendship when your own brain sometimes feels like your worst enemy. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Edelweiss

ISBN-13: 9780062560803
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 11/07/2017