Should we Encourage Children with ADHD to do Dangerous Things?
By: Lewis S. Odell, Ph.D.
Lewis S. Odell, Ph.D. is the Founder and President of LearningWorks for Kids, an educational technology company that specializes in using video games and interactive digital media to teach executive-functioning and academic skills. For the past 25 years, Dr. Odell has also been the Clinical Director and President of South County Child and Family Consultants, a multidisciplinary group of private practitioners that specializes in assessment and interventions for children with learning disorders and attention difficulties.
Many children with ADHD (particularly the Combined or Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive presentation) are risk takers. Their parents report having made frequent trips to the hospital emergency room when the children were toddlers. These are the kids who were riding a bike without training wheels at the age of two. They were the ones jumping from the couch onto the floor or flying off of swings sets at the playground. In all of these activities, they were highly attentive and focused on what they were doing. And when kids with ADHD are highly focused, they learn more and want to excel.
As risk-taking kids with ADHD get older, they may gravitate towards activities such as skateboarding, surfing, rock climbing, or other extreme sports. They often excel at these sports and are self-motivated to improve this skill set. Doesn’t this tell us something about these kids? When we can get them engaged in high-risk, stimulating activities, their focus is intense, and the desire for improvement unparalleled.
Child development experts have recently begun to encourage parents to allow their kids to engage in more dangerous activities. National Public Radio recently hosted a story indicating that kids who engage in more risk- taking behavior can become better problem solvers. The program pointed out that adults who grew up in the 50s, 60s, and 70s had more opportunities to go outside, explore, and have real adventures. Part of the concern expressed by contemporary child experts is that parents have become too protective with their kids, shielding them from dealing with uncertainties and risk.
Given that some kids with ADHD are drawn to risk-taking behavior, maybe there are ways to channel this into problem solving and adventuring. I’m not suggesting that we enroll kids with ADHD in sports such as bull riding, heli-skiing, cliff diving, or street luging. But you might want to consider encouraging a child with ADHD to engage in some high-risk sports and activities where he could experience what it is like to sustain his attention and focus for an extended period of time.
Here are some suggestions:
Land-based extreme sports – These include longboarding, skateboarding, BMX bike riding, rollerblading, and mountain biking.
Motorized sports – Four wheeling, dirt bike riding, and motocross.
Watersports – Surfing, whitewater kayaking, wind surfing, sailing, and scuba diving.
Nature-based sports – Rock climbing, caving, bouldering, and ice climbing.
Other sports requiring full focus and attention – Fencing, martial arts, boxing, and snowboarding.
There are many other choices of sports and dangerous activities that can engage the full attention of a child with ADHD. Parents need to find one that fits their child’s individual needs. The previous list is not all-inclusive but illustrates options that often do not require an inordinate investment of money, resources, and time. Many of these activities simply require you to be willing to take the time to encourage your child to pursue them.