Sonoma teacher describes ADHD as his “super-power.”
Saturday afternoon and I’m late for a 4 p.m. appointment at Hess Winery in Napa. I’m heading down Mount Veeder Road with 12 happy guests in my wine tour bus, when I realize not only is the steering on my Turtle Top Terra Transit vehicle compromised but the brakes are not stopping the 14,000 pound bus when I push the pedal to the floor. I shift the bus into first gear and use the emergency brake to slowly pull to the side of the road.
“Sorry folks, I can no longer safely drive this bus so we’re going to have a little pit stop while another bus comes to pick us up.” This is not the way to get good tips in the wine tour business. The engine is smoking from a broken serpentine belt, we are in the middle of nowhere and I’m already 20 minutes late to Hess. This is also how my mind works: Crisis averted, move forward, execute the next plan, go.
Monday afternoon I’m teaching a class called “Ready to Work” for Sonoma Valley Teen Services. The topic is Resume Building and Applications and I’m using a real application from the Lovin’ Oven (a catering and cooking program run by SVTS).
By the end of class all have applied for their first job and most are completely done with their resumes. After class one of my students comments how easy the process was. Create, adapt, change, grow.
Tuesday morning I’m teaching addition of polynomials and I hear one student call another an F-ing B (censored version) in the back of class. I hand over my whiteboard marker to a favorite student (yes, I have favorites), and call the two mean girls outside for a quick discussion about “maintaining a positive learning environment.” I teach five subjects a day, I have done this for 20 years, I work with kids who hate school and I love my job. My superpower enables me to process multiple situations at once, know what’s going on in all parts of the classroom, and react as needed.
Tuesday afternoon I’m in a parent meeting and my student, who is suspended for five days for doing a dumb thing, is blaming his ADHD. “No,” I tell him, “You’re lucky to be one of the 5 percent of the population that has the superpower. Because your brain produces more Theta waves, you are calmer in a crisis than other people. ER docs, nurses, rescue personnel, stock traders, these are your people. Plus you are more creative due to all the ideas ping-ponging around in your head. You’re more intuitive because of increased sensory input plus you have no ‘analysis paralysis.’ You do things first then think about them second. This obviously is a blessing and a curse.”
The key, I explain to the student, is reining in your superpower. Knowing how to control it. Organization, meditation, exercise, surrounding yourself with people who complement you. And finding a path you love - just look at the ADD poster children, Richard Branson, Justin Timbrlake, Will Smith. Do they hide behind their diagnosis?
My superpower was hidden when I was a kid. Thirty years ago there was no ADHD. My parents sent me out to “the wall” whenever I was getting rambunctious (their word, not mine). Our garage door wall is where I learned how to play tennis. We didn’t have cell phones, we had to entertained ourselves. I wasn’t an extreme case, functioned pretty well, graduated from college, self-medicated, discovered my passion, fell in love, raised a family.
My superpower went undiagnosed until I was 48 and ready to make some lifestyle changes (quitting booze). This led to the understanding that my brain works just a little differently than others. “You mean everyone doesn’t constantly scan a room looking for little attention-sucking details? You mean people can actually sit quietly for long periods of time.” I take .5 mg of Concerta on days when I know I might need a little help with my linear thinking but mostly I keep homeostasis in my life through diet and exercise.
I took my creative writing class today behind the school to a little park so they could write about their senses, what they smell, what they hear, what they see, no punctuation, just write.
It was because of my ride to school in the morning where the smells of fall in Sonoma were overpowering. First it was the weed that grows in the backyards of the houses along the bike path then the smell of fermenting grapes wafting from the Sebastini winery, then the smell of sawdust and fresh wood from a pair of houses being remodeled on Second Street East. I hit the classroom inspired, ready to share my experiences. Thanks superpower.
You have to play the hand you are dealt in life. The better you understand what that hand is, the better you will be able to play.
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Walt Williams teaches at Creekside High School.