Describing the Elephant: Behavior Problems and ADHD

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -"Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me 'tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!"

-John Godfrey Saxe's ( 1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend.

In celebration of handing off The Orphaning Place, my young adult novel, to two of my most trusted editors at Random House for their peer review, I thought it time to turn our attentions to my girl-hero, Riley, and what she must come to terms with in the narrative: paying attention to and directing her emotions.

In Driven to Distraction, Dr. Edward M. Hallowell relates “subtypes” of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to “Parts of the Elephant” (187). If you haven’t heard the story of the six blind men describing an elephant, check it out here (it’s one of my favorites!): John Godfrey Saxe's ( 1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend. As I often reiterate in my posts, ADHD manifests differently in each of us. It offers up unique strengths as well as weaknesses.

Demonstrating the "sassy" subtype of ADHD.
Three of our commonalities, however, are distractibility, impulsivity, and mood instability. Together these can create what society views as the typical “ADHD kid,” that insistent, disobedient nuisance who storms through our kids’ classrooms. Those of us with ADHD know that’s not who we are, or were while growing up. Often, this very misperception wounded our self-confidence.

With certain subtypes of ADHD, however, such explosive behaviors do exist and do cast a shadow over the positive qualities of that kid/adult/friend/neighbor/coworker with ADHD. In school, when a teacher confronts these disruptive or at worst, aggressive behaviors and insists that they stop, what’s an ADHD’r to do but act ever more defiant? Squelching one’s natural impulses simply contains the fire until it combusts again.

So what helps? Understanding. And therapy. And the right medication. In the chapter “Parts of the Elephant,” Hallowell says it best, “it is important to figure out the cause of their aggression rather than simply punishing…[their] behavior” (pg. 234). As an ADHD’r raised with therapists for parents, I was often encouraged to reconsider what frustrated me or provoked me to bottle in my emotions. Often, I could never put into words what made me so mad, but after taking a step back or playing imaginary games in my room for an hour, I could start to process what I was feeling.

What skills have you learned to help “cope with” or “benefit from” your ADHD? Did you ever feel reprimanded for being the “typical ADHD kid”? Comment below or send me a note at WriteToJulianna

For more resources of how to manage the defiant behaviors that can accompany ADHD, check out these articles:

ADDitude Magazine, “ADHD Behavior Problems: Smart Discipline Strategies.”

Health.com, “ADHD in Teens and Adolescents: Behavior Problems May Be More Than Just a Phase”

CNN blogs, “Calming your child’s ADHD symptoms.”

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