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    Developing Empathy: What It's Like to be a Kid with Add

    Excerpted from
    Superparenting for ADD: An Innovative Approach to Raising Your Distracted Child
    By Edward M. Hallowell, M.D., Peter S. Jensen, M.D.

    The starting point in demonstrating your love and in developing a strength-based approach is empathy. As a parent-or teacher, or anyone else-if you want a kid to open up to you, you need to have a feel for what it's like to be that kid. In the case of ADD this is particularly crucial, because these kids get a steady diet of judgments and recommendations based on no understanding whatsoever of what it's like to be who they are.

    Before making recommendations, no matter how constructive and well-meaning they may be, it is imperative first of all to establish some rapport, and the best way to do that is by letting the other person know that you have an idea, some inkling at least, of what it's like to spend a day in his or her shoes.

    Because most adults who do not have ADD haven't a clue as to what it's like to have ADD, I offer this fictional soliloquy from a high school student who has ADD. A composite, it is rooted in true-to-life experience, both our own and that of the thousands of kids we've met who have ADD. It should give you a pretty good idea of what it's like to have this beguiling condition.

    "What's it like to have ADD? Sec, I don't really know what ADD is. So I'll just tell you what it's like to be me. Life's a gas. My mom worries that I'm depressed and my self-esteem and stuff like that is bad, but I actually love my life. I just hate school. And some people. Well, I don't hate them, I just have trouble with people who don't get it, you know, people who don't get the basic deal, people who can't see the other side of a donut without turning it around. It's amazing how clear things can be to me, but they're just not to some people. I don't know. It's not a matter of me thinking I'm right, it's just a matter of me seeing as obvious stuff that other people don't see at all. It's weird, because then I get in trouble sometimes for saying what I see.

    "School has always sucked for me. Is it cool with you to say sucked? I don't mean to offend you, you know. I don't mean to offend anyone. I get told I offend people all the time, but I really don't mean to. Why would I mean to? It doesn't help me any to make people mad at me. But what I can't believe is how incredibly uptight and stupid some people are. But I don't even want to offend them. I just want to get along. You know, who doesn't?

    "The thing is, what's hard for most people is easy for me and what's easy for most people is, like, really hard for me. Take something that's supposedly easy, like remembering what day it is. That's easy, right? Well, it isn't always easy for me! I'll think it's, like, Tuesday, when actually it's Thursday. I mean, Tuesday and Thursday just don't have separate places in my brain like they do for most people. They both begin with T and neither one is on the weekend, so what's the difference? Even the calendar gets confused and has to call them TU and TH, when the other weekdays you can tell with just one letter, you know, M or W or F. So if even the calendar takes extra time with Tuesday and Thursday, so what if I can't always tell the difference? But if I tell most people that, they look at me like I'm completely crazy or just a total retard or like I'm trying to be a wise guy and make trouble. But you tell me, what exactly is the difference between Tuesday and Thursday? There's no real difference. They're days in the week, and that's cool, it's good to have days in the week, whoever thought of having days in the week was a genius, man, but once we have the days in the week, does it really matter, you know, which day in the week it is? Sure, you have to know where to go when, and so I guess in that way it matters which day it is, but some people just get so hung up on which day it is, like that's the most important thing in their lives, and they start every day memorizing which day it is and that's what they think about on the ride to school or to work or wherever they're going, they sir there thinking and memorizing which day it is, and when someone comes along like me who doesn't necessarily know which day it actually is all the time, they look at me like I'm so weird, like I'm an alien or some kind of a threat, like a dangerous person, and I can tell they think I ought to go live on a junk heap because I don't necessarily know which day it is, when they've spent all morning making sure they know.

    "Or, you know, other things, like did I leave a kitchen cabinet open, that's one my mother thinks I really ought to be able to know unless I'm just being a jerk, but honest to God I can take a jar of peanut butter and a loaf of bread out of the cupboard, make roast, spread it with peanut butter, reach up into another cupboard and get a plate, because Mom has this thing about wanting me to put food on a plate, and then I can open another cupboard and get a glass because, like the plate thing, Mom has a thing about not wanting me to drink milk out of the carton so I put it into a nice tall glass, and then I take my snack and go down to the basement to turn on the TV, and like I said, I don't even think about whether or not the cupboard doors are open. It's not like I see them open and say to myself, Screw that, who cares about those doors, they're just dumb doors. I want to close them because I know Mom has a thing about that and I don't want to get her mad at me, but I just don't think about those doors, I just leave the kitchen and head downstairs with my mind on other things.

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