How to find the gift in bipolar, anxious, dyslexic, and ADHD kids

The true tragedy for most children with ADHD, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, or dyslexia is that their unique gifts and talents never come to life.  So what can parents do?

Since a child’s unique ability or gift is often associated with its dis-ability, it is crucial for parents to understand the major differences between ADHD, dyslexia, bipolar and anxiety disorder.

During the past 20+ years, many students came to our Academy with an ADHD diagnosis from their previous schools even though the children were in fact struggling with other learning disabilities.

Underfunding of schools, too many students in one classroom, social promotion, and some schools eager to push kids through are some of the major reasons why this is still happening.

A list of the most common ADHD symptoms appearing in students’ cum folders

A cum folder, or cumulative folder, is a folder that is supposed to accompany a student as he or she goes from one grade to the next and from one school to another.

It was always astonishing to us to see comments like the ones below in numerous variations year after year:

  • Student overlooks or is missing details, makes careless mistakes
  • Student has problems sustaining attention in class
  • Student fails to listen, even when spoken to directly
  • Student fails to complete class work
  • Student fails to turn in homework
  • Student is disorganized, messy
  • Student has poor time management
  • Student continuously loses books, school supplies
  • Student is easily distracted
  • Student daydreams
  • Student is restless in seat
  • Student fidgets excessively
  • Student interrupts teachers, others
  • Student talks excessively

At some point, the above comments were classified as inattentive (mental) and hyperactive/impulsive (physical) symptoms. Sooner or later, the student was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).  If only inattentive symptoms were present, the student was diagnosed with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).

As the cum folders showed, once a student was diagnosed with ADHD or ADD, the behavior modifications and/or medication treatments began. When both of those failed, the parents brought their child to us.

Looking at the disabilities at our Academy

Because of our longtime work with students, we were usually able to detect what was going on with a student during the first interview.

A comparison of bipolar disorder, dyslexia, and anxiety disorder does include many ADHD symptoms:

Bipolar DisorderDyslexiaAnxiety Disorder
Manic episode symptoms:
• extremely euphoric
• lots of energy
• fidgety
• increased activity levels
• jumpy or wired
• trouble sleeping
• unusually active
• restless
• talks really fast
• agitated, irritable, touchy
• does risky things

Depressive episode symptoms:
• sad, down, empty
• unable to focus
• feels hopeless
• daydreaming
• little energy
• decreased activity levels
• trouble sleeping
• too much or too little sleep
• worried, anxious
• trouble concentrating
• forgets things a lot
• eats too much or too little

• Difficulties in reading & writing
• Difficulties in math
• Difficulty processing information
• Difficulty listening
• Difficulty understanding, remembering sequences
• Difficulty seeing, hearing similarities & differences in sounds
• Difficulty rhyming
• Difficulty saying words out loud
• Difficulty spelling
• Difficulty understanding jokes or expressions
• Difficulty with time management
• Difficulty recalling events
• Difficulty memorizing

When overwhelmed:
• Child fidgets
• Gets restless
• Can’t focus
• Forgets things
• Daydreams
• Talks excessively
GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) symptoms:
• Restlessness
• Feels wound-up, on edge
• Easily fatigued
• Difficulty concentrating
• Difficulty focusing
• Irritability
• Muscle tension
• Unable to control worry
• Sleep problems

Panic disorder symptoms:
• Sudden, repeated attacks of intense fear, worries
• Feelings of being out of control
• Avoidance of some places
• Trouble breathing

Social anxiety disorder symptoms:
• Feeling highly anxious about being around other people
• Talking not at all (daydreaming)
• Talking too much
• Feeling very self-conscious
• Restlessness, fidgety
• Unable to focus in group setting
• Sweating, nauseous around people

In contrast to adults, very fast mood changes, outbursts of anger, irritability and psychosis (instead of euphoric mania) are often part of pediatric bipolar disorder.

When looking at the above comparison table, it is no surprise that many students with bipolar disorder, dyslexia, or anxiety disorder are diagnosed with ADHD.

However, the energies among the disorders are somewhat different:

Bipolar DisorderDyslexiaADHDAnxiety Disorder
Bipolar students experience extreme high and lows.
In times of highs, a student might feel restless, fidgety, impatient, gets easily distracted, and talks excessively.
In times of lows, a student will retrieve into daydreaming, be unable to listen attentively, and forget things because the child is preoccupied by its feelings.
Dyslexic students have an extremely strong right side (creative side) of the brain. When required to use left-brain activities, dyslexic kids can display anxiety or ADHD symptoms.

Differences in size of corpus callosum have been attributed to dyslexia.
ADHD students experience inattentive and hyperactive symptoms because the brain’s and body’s energy can move in all directions at the same timeStudents suffering from anxiety can show ADHD symptoms not because they are experiencing extreme highs or lows or because their brain or body is all over the place – but because their brain is captivated by excessive fear, worry, or even panic.

Metaphorically speaking …

To use our Academy’s ocean metaphor, bipolar children can (emotionally) fly high above the ocean – euphoric and overjoyed in one moment — and in the next moment find themselves quickly in the darkness of the ocean floor — with no light or positive outlook in sight.

ADHD children, on the other hand, generally do not experience the extreme high and lows but remain on the ocean surface. However, an ADHD child is exposed to so many quickly changing winds that its small sailboat is drifting all over the place.

A child suffering from anxiety is controlled by so much panic and fear that it is stuck in one ocean spot, and its sailboat is not going anywhere.

A dyslexic child is sitting in its sailboat looking at a map in its hand and reads “N, M, S, E.” The child reads the directions on where to go. Even though it clearly states in the directions, “go west,” the child is confused on what to do. “West where?” “I don’t see any west on the map.”

Ocean survival

A child’s amazing ability can come to light when its disability is at its worst.

When a bipolar child is feeling low (lost on the ocean floor), it can discover what will help at that moment. An overwrought ADHD child can learn (through trial and error) to direct its sails. A child captured by anxiety can find a way to release the hold. If given a chance, dyslexic children will get to where they want to go – just on their own terms.

Children are resourceful and innovative if given the opportunity.

How to find the gift

At our Academy, we used the following three steps to help children explore their unique gift.

1. Awareness of a child’s feelings: Our teachers and assistants were trained to notice when a child felt overwhelmed or struggled academically because of bipolar, anxiety, ADHD, or dyslexia challenges.

2. Acceptance of a child’s feelings: Our mature students learned the most powerful words, “it’s okay to be anxious,” or “it’s okay to feel frustrated.” Our younger students learned non-verbally that their feelings were okay.

3. Action: Once our students were aware of their feelings and accepted them, they were ready to explore different actions that made a difference for them.

Here is a list of actions favored by our students:

  • Bake a cake or cook something delicious (for others)
  • Composing their own music
  • Conduct a safe experiment
  • Constructing something with Legos or other building blocks
  • Dig a trench (they loved this especially in the rain)
  • Do breathing exercises (autogenic training)
  • Do oil painting
  • Draw cartoons and make them talk
  • Gardening (growing fruits & vegetables)
  • Go swimming
  • Going for a 20-minute walk
  • Help younger students with something
  • Knit, crochet, create something with yarn
  • Pick up horse manure, move hay
  • Play a strategy board game, card game, Mancala
  • Playing piano
  • Spend time with large animals (horse, goats)
  • Therapeutic horseback riding
  • Writing (we did not read it unless they wanted to share)

All of the above activities (which our students learned at school in addition to the traditional curriculum) required the students to take some kind of action and to spend energy. Instead of feeling stuck, hopeless, trapped or overexcited, our students learned little by little what made a positive difference for them.

Along the way, our students discovered their passion and their gift.

Short-term versus long-term results

While our school’s goal was to enable students to focus on their academics and to experience school success, the parents of our students used their child’s chosen activities as an opportunity to explore their child’s passion outside of school.

Homework was optional at our school. The few parents who did try homework once or twice soon decided that their child learned everything they needed in our school and that providing their children with afternoon activities was much more meaningful.

From gymnastics, ice-skating, martial arts, yoga, water polo, swimming teams, archery, cooking classes, art classes, theater groups, volunteer work at animal shelters or childcare centers to participating in other community organizations – each child discovered that it had a special passion and gift for something.

Finding a child’s passion is the key to finding a child’s unique ability in a disability.

The meaning of success

Too many children grow up thinking that success consists of getting good grades, being popular, and fitting in.

Many adults experience that true success means having a career that involves one’s passion, having a healthy family, and a community that they can be part of.

Not surprisingly, many of the famous celebrities in the lists below never finished school.

A list of famous people diagnosed with bipolar disorder: 

1. Ben Stiller (actor, comedian)
2. Billy Joel (singer, songwriter)
3. Britney Spears (singer, songwriter)
4. Carrie Fisher (actress, writer)
5. Catherine Zeta-Jones (actress)
6. Edgar Allan Poe (unconfirmed)
7. Ernest Hemingway (writer)
8. Graham Greene (English novelist)
9. Gustav Mahler (composer)
10. Jim Carrey (actor, comedian)
11. Kurt Cobain (musician), Cobain was initially diagnosed with ADD as a child
12. Ludwig van Beethoven (composer, pianist)
13. Marilyn Monroe (actress)
14. Mel Gibson (actor, director)
15. Mozart (composer) scientists are uncertain about bipolar diagnosis
16. Otto Klemperer (conductor, composer)
17. Patrick J. Kennedy (former member of the United States House of Representatives)
18. Patty Duke (actress)
19. Richard Dreyfuss (actor)
20. Robert Schumann (composer)
21. Stephen Fry (actor, comedian, writer)
22. Vivien Leigh (actress)
23. Frank Sinatra (singer, actor)

Frank Sinatra summarized the gift of being bipolar in his own words: “Being an 18-karat manic depressive, and having lived a life of violent emotional contradictions, I have an over-acute capacity for sadness as well as elation.”

A list of famous people diagnosed with anxiety disorder: 

1. Abraham Lincoln (president - USA)
2. Adele (musician)
3. Al Kasha (songwriter)
4. Alanis Morisette (singer)
5. Alfred Lord Tennyson (poet)
6. Amanda Bynes (actress)
7. Amanda Seyfried (actress)
8. Ann Wilson (singer)
9. Anne Tyler (author)
10. Anthony Hopkins (actor)
11. Ashley Judd (musician)
12. Aretha Franklin (singer)
13. Barbara Bush (former First Lady - U.S.)
14. Barbara Gordon (filmmaker)
15. Barbra Streisand (singer)
16. Beverly Johnson (supermodel)
17. Bonnie Raitt (musician)
18. Brooke Shields (actress)
19. Burt Reynolds (actor)
20. Carly Simon (singer)
21. Charles Schultz (cartoonist)
22. Charlize Theron (actress)
23. Charlotte Bronte (author)
24. Catherine Zeta-Jones (actress)
25. Cher (singer, actress)
26. Christina Ricci (actress)
27. Chloë Sevigny (actress)
28. Courtney Love (singer - actress)
29. Dave Stewart of the (singer – Eurythmics)
30. David Beckham (soccer star)
31. David Bowie (singer)
32. Dean Cain (actor)
33. Deanna Carter (singer)
34. Dick Clark (television personality)
35. Donny Osmond (actor)
36. Drew Barrymore (actress)
37. Drew Carry (comedian)
38. Earl Campbell (Heisman Trophy winner)
39. Edie Falco (actress)
40. Edvard Munch (artist)
41. Elizabeth Taylor (actress)
42. Emily Dickinson (poet)
43. Emma Stone (actress)
44. Eric Clapton (musician)
45. Goldie Hawn
46. Halle Berry (actress)
47. Heath Ledger (actor)
48. Heather Locklear (actress)
49. Howard Stern (king of media)
50. Howie Mandel (comic)
51. Isaac Asimov (author)
52. James Garner (actor)
53. Janet Jackson (musician)
54. Jennifer Lawrence (actress)
55. Jessica Alba (actress)
56. Jim Carrey (actor)
57. Jim Eisenreich (baseball)
58. Joan Rivers (actress)
59. John Candy (comedian)
60. John Cougar Mellencamp (musician, actor)
61. John Cleese (actor)
62. John Madden (announcer)
63. John Mayer (musician)
64. John Steinbeck (author)
65. John Stuart Mill (philosopher)
66. Johnny Depp (actor)
67. Judy Garland (actress)
68. Kate Moss (supermodel)
69. Kim Basinger (actress)
70. Lani O'Grady (actress)
71. Leila Kenzle (actress)
72. Margot Kidder (actress)
73. Marie Osmond (entertainer)
74. Marlon Brando (actor)
75. Marty Ingels (comedian)
76. Marilyn Monroe (actress)
77. Michael Crichton (writer)
78. Michael English (Gospel artist)
79. Michael Jackson (singer)
80. Mickey Rourke (actor)
81. Miley Cyrus (musician)
82. Naomi Campbell (model)
83. Naomi Judd (singer)
84. Nicholas Cage (actor)
85. Nicole Kidman (actress)
86. Nikola Tesla (inventor)
87. Olivia Hussey (actress)
88. Oprah Winfrey (host)
89. Paula Deen (chef)
90. Pete Harnisch (baseball)
91. Ray Charles (musician)
92. Robert Burns (poet)
93. Robert McFarlane (former National Security Advisor - U.S.)
94. Robin Quivers (radio host)
95. Roseanne Barr (comedian)
96. Sally Field (actress)
97. Sam Shepard (playwright)
98. Scarlett Johansson (actress)
99. Shecky Greene (comedian)
100. Sheryl Crow (musician)
101. Sigmund Freud (psychiatrist)
102. Sir Isaac Newton (scientist)
103. Sir Laurence Olivier (actor)
104. Sissy Spacek (actress)
105. Susan Powter (tv host)
106. Tom Snyder (host)
107. Tony Dow (actor director)
108. Vinny Guadagnino (actor)
109. W.B. Yeats (poet)
110. Willard Scott (weatherman)
111. Winona Ryder (actress)
112. Whoopi Goldberg (actress, host)

A list of famous people diagnosed with dyslexia:

1. Alexander Graham Bell (inventor, scientist)
2. Alyssa Milano (actress)
3. Anderson Cooper ( journalist)
4. Anthony Hopkins (actor)
5. Caitlyn Jenner (Olympic athlete)
6. Carl Philip of Sweden, Prince of Sweden
7. Carl XVI Gustaf, King of Sweden
8. Channing Tatum (actress)
9. Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr., (astronaut, third man to walk on the moon)
10. Charles Schwab (founder of brokerage firm)
11. Cher (singer, actress)
12. David Rockefeller (businessman)
13. Dean Kamen (inventor, Segway human transport, Luke arm, FIRST Lego League)
14. Erin Brockovich (activist)
15. Galileo Galilei (scientist)
16. Gary Cohn (COO of Goldman Sachs)
17. Greg Louganis (Olympic diver)
18. Hal Prewitt (photographer, entrepreneur, racecar driver)
19. Henry Winkler (actor)
20. Ingvar Kamprad ( founder of IKEA)
21. Jack Horner (paleontologist)
22. James William Middleton (brother of Kate Middleton )
23. Jamie Oliver, chef and television host
24. Jay Leno (talk show host)
25. Jennifer Aniston, actor
26. John Chambers, CEO of Cisco
27. John Irving (writer)
28. John Skoyles (neuroscientist and evolutionary psychologist)
29. Jony Ive (Chief Design Officer for Apple Inc.)
30. Jules Verne (French author)
31. Keanu Reeves (actor)
32. Keira Knightley (actress)
33. Leonardo da Vinci
34. Lewis Carrol (author and mathematician)
35. Lindsay Wagner (actress)
36. Louis of Luxembourg, Prince of Luxembourg
37. Louis Rosenberg (entrepreneur, inventor, professor)
38. Mark Wilkinson (furniture designer)
39. Mika, singer-songwriter[110]
40. Nikola Tesla (scientist, engineer)
41. Olav V of Norway, reigned 1957–1991
42. Ozzy Osbourne
43. Pablo Picasso
44. Patrick Dempsey (actor)
45. Paul Orfalea, founder of FedEx Kinko's
46. Pierre Curie (scientist)
47. Princess Beatrice of York
48. Richard Branson (entrepreneur)
49. Richard Rogers (architect)
50. Steve Jobs (Apple co-founder)
51. Steven Spielberg (film director)
52. Tom Cruise (actor)
53. Whoopi Goldberg (actress)

A list of famous people attributed with ADHD (even though some have publicly shared that they in fact have dyslexia or another disorder):

1. “Magic” Johnson
2. Agatha Christie (Dyslexia)
3. Albert Einstein
4. Alexander Graham Bell (Dyslexia)
5. Beethoven (Bipolar)
6. Bruce Jenner
7. Carl Lewis
8. Charles Schwab (Dyslexia)
9. Cher (Dyslexia)
10. Danny Glover
11. David H. Murdock
12. Dustin Hoffman
13. Dwight D. Eisenhower
14. Eddie Rickenbacker
15. F. Scott Fitzgerald
16. Galileo
17. Gen. George Patton
18. Gen. Westmoreland
19. George Bernard Shaw
20. George C. Scott
21. Greg Louganis, Olympic diver (Dyslexia)
22. Gregory Boyington
23. Hans Christian Anderson (Emotional Disabilities)
24. Harry Belafonte
25. Henry Ford
26. Henry Winkler (Dyslexia)
27. Jackie Stewart
28. Jason Kidd
29. Jim Carey (Bipolar)
30. Joan Rivers

31. John Corcoran
32. John F. Kennedy
33. John Lennon
34. Jules Verne
35. Leonardo da Vinci (ADHD, Dyslexia)
36. Lindsay Wagner
37. Louis Pasteur
38. Mariel Hemingway (Bipolar)
39. Mozart (Bipolar?)
40. Nelson Rockefeller
41. Pete Rose
42. Prince Charles
43. Robert Kennedy
44. Robin Williams (Bipolar)
45. Rodin
46. Russell Varian
47. Russell White
48. Stephen Hawkings
49. Steve McQueen
50. Suzanne Somers
51. Sylvester Stallone
52. Thomas Edison
53. Thomas Thoreau
54. Tom Smothers
55. Walt Disney
56. Werner von Braun
57. Whoopi Goldberg (Dyslexia)
58. Winston Churchill (Bipolar)
59. Woodrow Wilson

We highly recommend Doreen Virtue’s book The Care and Feeding of Indigo Children. If you are not familiar with the term, here is Amazon’s description of the book:

“Indigo Children are bright, intuitive, strong-willed, and sometimes self-destructive individuals. They are often labelled (and misdiagnosed) as having ADD or ADHD because they won’t comply with established rules and patterns, and they may exhibit behavioural problems at home and at school. In ‘The Care and Feeding of Indigo Children’, Doreen Virtue Ph.D, explores the psyche of these special kids and offers alternative solutions to Ritalin based on her extensive research and interviews with child-care experts, teachers, parents and the Indigo children themselves. Read the accounts of these remarkable young people as they explain why they act out, are aggressive or withdrawn, and what they want from the adults in their lives. You’ll be fascinated by the psychic experiences that these kids have had in their life so far. This is a groundbreaking book that can positively affect the ways in which you interact with your children, altering the shape of their future in miraculous ways.” — we absolutely agree since we have seen the same success at our Academy with our students.

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