Michael Phelps: Overcoming & Excelling with ADHD
Achieving extraordinary success in any field requires dedication, discipline and intense focus. So how did Michael Phelps, a kid with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), reach the pinnacle of Olympic success?
At nine years old Michael was diagnosed with ADHD. The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry describes it as a common childhood illness involving biologically active substances in the brain. The exact cause is unknown, although genetics may play a role as it’s more common in families. The main symptoms are hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. It can interfere with problem solving, planning ahead, and understanding other people’s actions.
In interviews Michael’s mother Debbie Phelps says her son exhibited many of these symptoms. An energetic, talkative and inquisitive kid, he had problems listening and focusing in school and interacting appropriately in class. He was also prone to fidgeting, and pushing and shoving other kids.
While the diagnosis was tough to take, Debbie quickly shifted her focus to teaching her son that, with her help, he could achieve anything he wanted to. By age 18 Michael had won eight Olympic swimming medals, including six gold. At the Beijing games in 2008 he set a new record by winning eight gold medals in one Olympics.
So how did Debbie help her son overcome and excel with ADHD? Here are a few strategies to try if your child has been diagnosed with this disorder:
Be Positive and Creative
Debbie Phelps took the right approach by being optimistic about her son’s diagnosis. She didn’t judge or try to limit him. She knew he’d have challenges to overcome, but focused on solutions rather than on the problem.
For instance, when her son’s teachers complained about his inattention in school, she asked them what they were doing to help. She also suggested that he be placed at a desk by himself in class so he wouldn’t disrupt other kids. Creative problem-solving is even more critical when raising a child with ADHD.
Build a Support Team
It’s important for the key people in your child’s life to know about her condition. Meet with teachers, coaches, your doctor or therapist to create plans to help your child. For instance, you can work with her school to create an individualized education plan (IEP). An IEP outlines goals for your child to achieve during the school year and the types of specialized support she’ll need.
Learn About Treatment Options
There are many drugs and other treatments available to cope with ADHD. Find out as much as you can about each one — including the benefits, side effects, and how long your child will need to take it.
Ask your doctor about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), such as homeopathy, dietary changes, and exercise. In a State University of New York at Buffalo study intense running and exercise had a positive benefit on children with ADHD between ages five and 12. Also, Michael praises swimming for helping him to burn off excess energy and to focus.
Create a Structured Environment
Kids with ADHD flounder in unstructured surroundings. In Michael’s case swimming also provided the benefits of structure and discipline. Organization, routines and boundaries at home, school and in extracurricular activities are critical for your child to succeed with ADHD.
Listen to Your Child
Often, your child has better perspective on how his disorder affects him than you do. For instance, there may come a time when he feels he no longer needs medication, as Michael did in grade six. It may be difficult, but you need to trust your child’s judgment. If you need reassurance in critical decisions, speak to your child’s doctor.
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