Guest Expert

“Let Me Be Your Camera”: How To Teach Your Child About ADHD

Mike Perkins

I have a kid who would come home every day and say he didn't have any homework. He didn't really seem to know what was going on in school, or how it linked to his assignments. He acted as if his part of school was over because he went, survived, and now he was home. School, in his brain, was DONE.

For a child diagnosed with ADHD, Tourette's and a learning disability, this attitude is understandable. It is not, however, a formula for success. He reacted to homework with surprise and defiance, often with tantrums. He was annoyed that he was expected to write in an agenda and keep his assignments organized. He wasn't able to make the connection that success in school would mean privileges at home.

And school wasn't the only source of our child's frustration. There was an unending flood of conflict, turmoil, and inappropriate attention-seeking behaviors in dealing with siblings, friends, and small disappointments. Daily living was exhausting, to say the least.

It's All About Them

I think most parents realize that children are fairly self-absorbed creatures – which we know is developmentally appropriate.  As such, kids are usually willing to actively participate in a conversation with an adult if the topic is about something that affects them. Unfortunately, many parents are hesitant to talk to their children about ADHD because they don't have a simple explanation for what it is and how it impacts their child.

Knowledge is Empowering

To help our son, my wife and I began educating him about ADHD. We taught him that millions and millions of people have it, it's not his fault, and it's not just about being inattentive or impulsive. Through use of an analogy about a sleeping director and a cloudy camera lens, the phrase “Let Me Be Your Camera” was born. We found a great way to teach our child about his ADHD.

Think of a movie set behind-the-scenes. There are writers, actors, technicians for sound, lights and scenery, and camera people who all work together under the supervision of a director. If the director can't stay awake, it's hard for the movie to come together. If the camera lens is cloudy or dirty, it's hard for the director to look through the viewer and figure out what changes are needed. Having ADHD is like trying to film a movie with a director who takes naps, using a camera lens that is cloudy.

People with ADHD have difficulties in areas of executive function. Executive functions are to the brain what the director and the camera are to a movie. In the brain, the executive functions act as the director – planning, organizing, solving problems, revising when something doesn't look right, staying focused and controlling emotions. The director of the brain helps to handle frustration, choose appropriate behavior in any given situation, keep track of belongings, and figure out how much studying to do for a test.

This analogy worked wonders for our son. He got it.

Connecting the Dots

Our son's personal accountability, comprehension of his disability, and understanding of his strengths and weaknesses deepened exponentially. This analogy enabled him to trust us and receive our comments -- more from a constructive perspective, than from a defensive one. We began using the phrase “Let Me Be Your Camera” when we gave him feedback.  All of this reduced conflict tremendously.

In addition, he became interested, asked questions, and was more willing to accept suggestions. His sense of self was no longer defined by ADHD.  He transformed from a child with little hope, to a child with ample strengths and a plan. He figured out what to do when he didn't know what to do.

Our son has started to expect success.  He is better motivated to invest in daily routines.  Due to his increased motivation to cooperate and accept feedback from trusted individuals, his teachers became more motivated to invest the extra time and attention that he required.  His sisters became more motivated to understand how his brain works, and how ADHD impacts his life.  He now participates in reciprocal relationships of trust, motivated by knowledge and understanding, and demonstrates a willingness to accept from others what he can't always provide for himself.

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