Often, students with ADHD are often seen as a problem to be fixed, rather than the problem lying within the learning environment. However, despite problems in academia for some students with ADHD, it does not appear that individuals with ADHD lack the intellectual ability to learn. Studies show that students with ADHD to be of average to above average intelligence. These students are smart, but in ways not typically demonstrated in schools. They often demonstrate cognitive abilities that are noticeably different from the academic profile generally valued in schools.
For example, as an adult with ADHD, you may possess what’s called “naturalist intelligence” or sensitivity to the natural world and living things, an ability that was of great value in our evolutionary past as hunters, gatherers and farmers and in today’s society as scientists, chefs, or artists. Or, you might display “spatial intelligence”, which relates to the ability to visualize or imagine, a trait that comes in handy in professions like architecture, design or art. Some other types of intelligence common to those with ADHD but not as valued in our schools includes musical, bodily kinesthetic (or the capacity to handle and manipulate objects), intrapersonal (self-reflection), and interpersonal (interaction with others). Unfortunately, without ongoing positive reinforcement for these skills, students with ADHD may gradually disengage from traditional classroom learning. Individuals with ADHD learn well when they are highly interested in the material being taught and have shown improved behavior or performance when tasks are made salient, novel, or interesting.
While coaching Amanda, a 35-year-old working mother with ADHD, we decided to address the monotony of her home and work life using this idea. Amanda was a talented artist who had ended up with a career in public relations where she rarely got to use her spatial intelligence. As part of her job she was responsible for the design and management of several big projects per month. For several months she had diligently used a planner to structure her assignments but was beginning to lose focus as the excitement wore off and the job became repetitive. After an in-depth discussion about what activities Amanda had found appealing throughout her life, we discovered that visual art had always provided her with motivation and enjoyment. As a result we decided to create a sort of storybook or comic book timeline with spaces for her to sketch drawings for each step in a project. Amanda embraced the new method and discovered a renewed energy for her work environment. She also used the same method in meetings where she was then able to retain much more information and enjoyed learning more than ever. At home Amanda began to use her art with her children, where she found that they too seemed to learn well this way.