ADHD Struggles; Why Should Sky be the Limit?
What can we learn from Eren Eren Yēgā? Perspectives on Child and Adolescent Mental Health — Pakistan
Disclaimer: I do not intend to clinically diagnose, set psychiatric grounds, or pathologise the fictional characters discussed in this article. This parallel is entirely drawn to illustrate the topic of the article.
In our clinics, the question of career options, success and ADHD comes up repeatedly with parents. But, of course, this happens upon receiving the diagnosis, follow-up meetings and family info-care sessions.
This question has many layers, and we can't just say ADHD is the only factor in making a career decision or guaranteeing academic success. The reasoning or neuroscience behind these decisions is complex and motivated by many factors, such as available career choices and options, and ADHD could only be one of those.
To further understand the struggles of those who may not be doing well with societal parameters, I will illustrate an example from the Anime Show called Attack on Titans.
In episode 3, the protagonist, Eren, becomes a fresh Cadet Corps recruit and faces an obstacle worth noting.
The cadets train with omnidirectional (involving all directions) gear using wires connected to mounted poles (Look at the picture for clarity) — Complex Task. After an episode-long struggle, Eren faces Sadies, the master trainer, alone in the training ground, with all the other cadets looking at him — Peer Pressure. His peers watch in anticipation as the wires are pulled loose — Social Embarrassment. Eren manages to stay upright but soon falls upside-down. Yet, he doesn't give up — Effort. Sadies finally realised his unit was defective and told him to switch belts with another cadet — Right Intervention by the Coach. After which, Eren finally manages to pass- Success.
Bonus point: Eren figures out the way, saves face and discovers that he could do that right from the beginning. From day one, it was the silly belt that wasn't working. All this while and he kept thinking, what can I didn't know how to do this? What can I do to get better?
This is an exceptional demonstration of how Eren quickly judged his abilities.
Returning to ADHD, the condition consistently interferes with demonstrating one's abilities, so the person doubts the self. Unfortunately, ADHD makes it easy to misinterpret one's actions and what they mean about one's traits and skills.
Let's say the child is in class 6 hours a day for 180 days of school each year. In school alone, a child with ADHD could receive 20,000 corrective or negative comments by the time they are age 10. This makes more than 3,200 nonpositive comments directed at a child each year and does not include a single pesky remark from an angry scolding from a parent.
A lot of the problems that ADHD people have as students come about because they are forced to sit in classes that either don't hold their interest or don't match up well with their abilities.
As one can see, this doesn't start overnight. Instead, it's a cumulative effect of constant criticism; one may not even remember how and when it began. As a result, there is continuous self-criticism, social anxiety, and conflictual self-esteem by the time one enters adulthood.
When teachers and parents catastrophise any small mistake without acknowledging the child's struggle (consciously or unconsciously), the child's brain starts firing signals — part of the brain responsible for fear. And if done repeatedly, the brain begins to fire most of the time. Hence, an anxious child.
Anxious Child, Anxious Adult
As I have highlighted previously, when the child's safe space is compromised and constantly signals fears, as an adult, the chances are that the child is less willing to take risks, makes hasty decisions and immediately wants to rectify the situation. This is partly because the grown-up brain now tends to fire up out of proportion in any stress-provoking case that reminds this adult of childhood experiences.
Think about ADHD medications as one would eyeglasses. A person who wears vision glasses needs them because they can’t focus their vision. Now let’s say two best friends who read glasses can’t exchange their glasses as each needs their prescription, the one that’s right for them. The notion of high-dose prescription glasses versus low-dose is pretty ludicrous, right? What they want is the right dose for their visions, as per the right prescription for them to reach the visual potential; 20/20, virtually without side effects. Similarly, someone with ADHD can’t focus on their attention span and impulse control. How do we do it? We don’t take what worked for our bestie. We fine-tune the treatment plan & medication as per the target symptom response & individual needs.
Is there a Secret Ingredient?
One common trait in ADHD success stories, one endures hard work — a willingness to meet challenges head-on. It also takes support from a significant one who believes in you. It could be a family member, teachers, therapists, and coaches.
What happened to Eren could happen to anyone, whether or not they have ADHD. As a proud parent beautifully articulated this, "..but if you work with them, nine times out of 10, they'll make you proud."
The intention to excel builds mental muscles and having a purpose keeps the brain in shape, more like the bonus point that Eren earns from me for not giving up. This phenomenon is called Neuroplasticity and Neurogenesis. Not providing appropriate support to the child is an injustice.
Medications and unique accommodations, such as extra time on tests, level the playing field so children with ADHD can learn as successfully as their classmates. The benefits of ADHD medication can't be emphasised more, but equally important are appropriate support, good parenting and coaching.
Lastly, we must learn ourselves and teach our children to celebrate their awesomeness.
After all, why should the sky be the limit?