How does a student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) get grit, when everything about grit is contrary to ADHD?
Grit, defined, is perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Grit entails working strenuously toward challenges, maintaining effort and interest over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress. The gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina. Whereas disappointment or boredom signals to others that it is time to change trajectory and cut losses, the gritty individual stays the course. (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007))
ADHD, defined, is a chronic condition marked by persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and sometimes impulsivity. ADHD begins in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. As many as 2 out of every 3 children with ADHD continue to have symptoms as adults.
More specifically, from Web MD:
Individuals with ADHD could have any of the following symptoms:
- Be disorganized
- Lack focus
- Have a hard time paying attention to details and a tendency to make careless mistakes. Their work might be messy and seem careless.
- Have trouble staying on topic while talking, not listening to others, and not following social rules
- Be forgetful about daily activities (for example, missing appointments, forgetting to bring lunch)
- Be easily distracted by things like trivial noises or events that are usually ignored by others.
- Fidget and squirm when seated.
- Get up frequently to walk or run around.
- Run or climb a lot when it’s not appropriate. (In teens this may seem like restlessness.)
- Have trouble playing quietly or doing quiet hobbies
- Always be “on the go”
- Talk excessively
- Have a hard time waiting for their turn.
- Blurt out answers before someone finishes asking them a question.
- Frequently interrupt or intrude on others. This often happens so much that it causes problems in social or work settings.
- Start conversations at inappropriate times.
- Having a hard time waiting to talk or react
If you type in grit on Amazon, you will find a unending list of grit books to tell you what skills are needed to persevere and add resilience to your resume. The list of papers and research lauding grit is even longer.
More refining of the grit phenomenon was promoted again recently by Angela Duckworth, a psychologist who was proclaimed by the University of Pennsylvania as the MacArthur “genius” and whose best-selling book about grit has garnered her national acclaim. Duckworth is considered a leader in the grit movement.
I extracted some grit qualities compared to non-grit qualities in a paper she did in 2007 (cited below) with other researchers before her recent book.
The student who displays grit appears to:
- Complete the work they begin.
- Setbacks don’t discourage them.
- They’re diligent.
- They work hard.
- They achieve a goal they work on for years.
- They overcome setbacks
- They have lots of self-control.
The student who doesn’t measure up when it comes to grit:
- Fails to stick with a goal that they once found important.
- Might be obsessed with a project but loses interest.
- Has trouble focusing on long-term tasks.
- Gets distracted by new ideas.
- Interests change year-to-year.
The real problem with grit and ADHD is that ADHD is internal. It isn’t something a child can readily control. Yet, the grit movement implies you can work on developing grit. It is that personal push that supposedly makes one successful.
Concerns revolve around ADHD in general. When grit is added to the mix, ADHD is magnified as a disorder. There are growing concerns that more children will be put on medication to help them focus on school tasks.
Is ADHD so bad?
Many artists or sports celebrities claim to have ADHD. Here is a website. Some believe Thomas Edison could have had ADHD.
According to Forbes, successful business entrepreneurs can have ADHD too. The following entrepreneurs are proud of their ADHD!
- Business mogul Sir Richard Branson
- Ikea founder Inrar Kamprad
- Jet Blue founder David Neeleman
For them, ADHD was not negative. But the school and office environment did not help them.
Here is an excerpt from the above article:
Those with the trait become frustrated with routine, whether that includes sitting in a classroom for eight hours a day, or spending time chained to a desk at the office performing routine tasks. But there is so much more to this trait that can be leveraged to an advantage. ADHDers are often at their best in crisis mode, multi-tasking and free associating to intuitively reach a solution. And if they find something they truly love to do, they are able to focus for hours on end.
Certainly, there are ways to help students with ADHD focus and complete tasks, and there are times when this is appropriate and necessary. Helping children become resilient to life’s difficulties is an important part of teaching and parenting.
But we must ask ourselves, is today’s grit more punitive than helpful? Is it just an excuse to browbeat students into accomplishing unproven school agendas, or to insist that they put up with the lousy conditions adults fail to fix?
Think about the loss of recess. Is that supposed to teach grit?
In special education the goal for students with ADHD, or other differences, has always been about helping students find what they do best.
And adaptation is always a possibility. Special education is all about finding alternative routes where students will find their niche. If a student pursues one area of study and finds it isn’t working, it is not always wrong to leave that task and pursue something different.
Empowering students to enjoy who they are, and helping them face the world with the skills that enable them to be successful, is what the true aim of our schools should be.
Happy Father’s Day
When teaching, I sometimes encountered Dad’s, troubled that they had ADHD, and who worried their child’s troubles in school came from them. This has little to do with the article above, other than to remind Dads with ADHD, and their children, to use what they know they are good at and enjoy. And, of course, if it is so problematic that Dad and/or child are depressed—seek counseling and/or the advice of a physician.
Duckworth, Angela L., Christopher Peterson, Michael D. Matthews, and Dennis R. Kelly. 2007. “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 92 (6): 1087-1101
Thank you for this, Nancy!
I grew up with untreated “minimal brain dysfunction” (the name for ADHD in the 50s and 60s)…and was a poor student. I kept hearing “you’re just lazy,” “you need to try harder,” and “you give up too easily.” Year after year of the same negative messages over and over again has a tendency to damage one’s confidence (to say the least). It’s still something I struggle with daily half a century later!
Demanding “grit” in students with ADHD is, as you have said, contraindicated. The one size fits all mentality (aka ‘learn or be punished’) damages our most vulnerable students and denies them of their right to an appropriate education.
Nancy Bailey says
I wonder how many so-called “lazy” students were bored with ADHD characteristics. I’m afraid today’s idea of grit is taking us back to those days. Thank you for sharing, Stu!
Dale Lidicker says
It seems that the ideal situation would be for a student to be passionate about learning itself while employing the qualities of grit. Most importantly, we need teachers in the educational system that foster creativity and manage to instill that passion for learning. To assist students with finding their passion. Once that is done, I think the grit will naturally follow. I, too, have seen kids with ADHD exercise a laser focus when interested in a task or activity.
Nancy Bailey says
I am afraid that what you are describing, Dale, is not what the current idea of grit is all about. But it makes good sense, and I think you for your comment.
I was Diagnosed with Dyslexia and ADD in college. I disagree a lot with your thoughts on GRIT. I find myself pushing myself even when I don’t want to in order to feel good in my chosen field. I will never give up and felt that most my life i was told I would never do X because I am not smart or held back because of my IQ or EQ. This isn’t the case, I continue to struggle it takes me 2x longer to do what people can do in half to a third the time.. In school when someone told me i was unable to do something it made me more determined to prove them wrong. I fight this all the time . In school we need to stop treating kids the same. I rather feel dumb to push myself further. I understand everyone is different but Hard Work and Proving the Status Quo wrong is sometimes what people need.
Nancy Bailey says
No one ever said that children shouldn’t work hard and believe in themselves. The grit discussion is about pushing children when they don’t want to be pushed, and when they need another plan. Or when they have rundown schools or no excuses charters that are harsh and overbearing.