When Thomas Edison’s teacher called the 7-year-old ADHD boy’s brain “addled” and “scrambled,” Edison’s mother took action. But what did she do for her ADHD child?
Edison’s mom was well aware that Thomas was different. As the youngest of seven children, Thomas had been in poor health and did not learn to talk until he was almost four years old. Once he did begin to talk, there was no end to it.
By age 7, Edison stood out from his classmates with his broad forehead and unusually large head. Not surprisingly, the boy’s nonstop talking and self-centered and hyperactive behavior clashed with his teacher.
After just 3 months of being in a noisy one-room classroom with 38 other students, the situation with Edison’s overworked and impatient teacher became so unbearable that Thomas’ mom took her son out.
What to do with an ADHD child
In contrast to Edison’s teacher, Thomas’ mom did not see a curse in her son’s ADHD behavior but a true gift. After pulling Thomas out of school, Edison’s mom taught her son reading, writing, and arithmetic.
When Edison’s parents realized that they could no longer meet their son’s intense interest in the sciences, they hired a tutor. Away from the formal school environment, Edison was able to apply his unbound energy, his perseverance, his own free style of thinking, and his constant questioning to every aspect of his life — especially his love and fascination for mechanical things and for chemical experiments.
Once Edison had outgrown his tutor with his inquisitiveness, uncles and other male figures stepped in and allowed the young boy to pursue his interests at their homes.
What Thomas Edison had to say
Like his parents, Thomas Edison had no doubt that his ADHD characteristics had been a challenge for the adults in his life. Many years later, he expressed his gratitude for his mother’s courageous action.
“My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me, and I felt I had someone to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”
By the age of 84, Thomas had acquired an astounding 1,093 patents. Today, Thomas Edison is described as America’s greatest inventor. In addition to being an inventor, Edison became a successful manufacturer and businessman. He led an enormously active and complex life full of projects — often working on them simultaneously.
3 major ways you can tell if your child has ADHD
1. Did your child inherit ADHD?
It is estimated that more than 75% of ADHD cases are inherited. The fact that ADHD occurs most often in males has supported theories that ADHD traits like risk-taking and being adventurous were favored by women and passed on through generations.
Based on this evolutionary point of view, parents are often able to trace their child’s ADHD back generations. To discover ADHD in a child’s ancestors, it is important to look for the positive as well as negative characteristics of ADHD.
When examining a child’s ancestors for ADHD traits, it is crucial to distinguish between the ancestor’s life as an individual versus his contributions to society. For example, a grandfather might have been an admired businessman and innovator, but at home he was short-tempered and distant.
2. Does your child have acquired ADHD?
Acquired ADHD is not an official term, but it has served us well when working with ADHD students. Quite simply, we use the phrase for students whose ADHD does not appear to be genetically inherited.
Our “acquired ADHD” list includes the following:
- Exposure to alcohol before birth (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder)
- Exposure to tobacco, drugs before birth
- Exposure to environmental toxins (lead, polychlorinated biphenyls)
- Exposure to insecticides (chlorpyrifos, dialkyl phosphate pesticides)
- Exposure to viruses (measles, varicella zoster encephalitis, rubella, enterovirus)
- Premature birth, low birth weight
- Infections during pregnancy or in early childhood (see also PANDAS, PANS)
- Traumatic brain injuries (30% of brain injuries can show later ADHD symptoms)
- Intake of artificial food colors, preservatives, too much sugar
- Exposure to physical abuse at home (see also Emotional Disabilities)
- Exposure to school before the child was developmentally ready
- Exposure to other ADHD students
The above list of acquired ADHD served us well for more than two decades. If a student’s ADHD could be traced to its genetic heritage, we were always able to find the amazing ability behind the learning disability.
However, in cases of acquired ADHD, we could not find any gift of ADHD. In those cases, our students succeeded because we were able to provide a safe and supportive environment.
3. Does your child have part-time ADHD?
Thomas Edison was not just inquisitive, energetic, and self-centered when in school, but also at home. Most ADHD children will display the characteristics whether they are with others or alone.
Parents who are investigating their child’s ADHD characteristics might “spy” on their youngster when he or she is alone. Does the child exhibit the same ADHD traits when it is away from any distractions and others?
Observing a child in different situations might provide insights into whether the child is reacting to environmental triggers. Parents might also notice what kind of activities affect ADHD characteristics in a negative or positive way.
One of the interesting observations we made with new students at our Academy was that their “ADHD” restless behavior (stretching in the chair, fidgeting, etc.) became initially “contagious” to our long-time students.
Children watch and mimic other children. Once a child sees someone else stretch, fidget, and play with things, it tries the same behavior. If an adult does not modify the behavior, it quickly turns into a bad habit. Neuroplasticity plays a big part in how a child’s brain assimilates those habits.
Additional observations about ADHD
ADHD in other parts of the world
Our Academy did not only provide an international curriculum, but also international teachers. Since the numbers of children diagnosed with ADHD in Europe are increasing every year, we wanted to share a few observations about Germany.
In contrast to the United States, children in Germany do not begin school until the age of 6 or 7. From age 2 until school entrance, children go to the Kindergarten (garden for the children) where they play, sing, do practical hands-on fun activities, and interact with other children.
Academic instruction like math or reading does not begin for the children until they go to elementary school. If a child is born in September, the child does not go to school until the age of 7.
Once upon a time, children entering elementary school used to have one to two hours of instruction per day in first grade, two to three hours per day in second grade, and up to four hours of school daily in fourth grade. By lunchtime, children would be home, have lunch with their mother or caretaker (often grandparents), do their homework, and then go out, play and run.
Today, most elementary school children in Germany have five hours of school per day totaling 25 hours per week. Not surprisingly, the numbers of (especially) boys diagnosed with ADHD during the first school year are now skyrocketing.
Is ADHD a curse or a gift?
True ADHD, as seen in Thomas Edison, Richard Branson (Virgin Group founder), David Neeleman (JetBlue founder), Mark Patey (Prodigy Engineering founder), or American Gold Medal swimmer Michael Phelps is an amazing gift accompanied with plenty of challenges.
Michael Phelps has spoken openly about his experience with ADHD. According to his mom, Michael was diagnosed with ADHD as a child. When her son’s ADHD treatment of medication and behavior modification were unsuccessful, she explored all possible options for her son to use his unbound energy.
At the age of seven, Michael began swimming. Since he was initially scared to put his head underwater, his instructors allowed him to float around on his back. Michael says that swimming was not just a positive outlet for his energy. It also taught him structure and gave him an incredible sense of accomplishment.
ADHD as an exploration
Along the journey, it might help some parents to look at Thomas Edison’s life. If Edison’s mom had not taken her son out of school, his fate would have been different. If Edison’s parents had not accepted that their son’s need was more than they could provide via homeschooling, his fate would also have been different. If Edison’s uncles and other male figures had not supported the young man, his life would also have been different.
Quite obviously, dealing with ADHD kids is having to make a series of choices and adjusting those choices along the way. Most ADHD students will let you know if you are on the right path or not.
- ADHD symptoms checklist for children and adults: The gift of ADHD (includes more than 40 ADHD symptoms)
- 15 often-missed signs your child suffers from anxiety, not ADHD