My Dancer, Your Dancer and ADHD

ADD, ADHDToday I’m going to write about our dancers and how they deal with life. I’ve written about Julian and his struggles in school, but a recent development has made me realize the issues he has had in school since he was quite young actually also are issues he has had in dealing with life in general.

We missed something HUGE, and other parents of really smart and really creative kids miss it, too. If it hadn’t been for one of my blog readers, I still wouldn’t realize the problem–and Julian would still be struggling and wondering why he is so stupid, lazy, bored, and irresponsible, which, of course he is not. He is the opposite of all of these things: He is extremely smart, driven and responsible, not to mention creative, talented and interested in many things.

So, ask yourself if your dancer:

  • Is easily distracted, misses details, forgets things, and frequently switches from one activity to another
  • Has difficulty maintaining focus on one task
  • Becomes bored with a task after only a few minutes unless doing something enjoyable
  • Has difficulty focusing attention on organizing and completing a task or learning something new or trouble completing or turning in homework assignments, often losing things (e.g., pencils, toys, assignments) needed to complete tasks or activities
  • Doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to
  • Daydreams, becomes easily confused, and moves slowly
  • Has difficulty processing information as quickly and accurately as others
  • Struggles to follow instructions or doesn’t always hear them
  • Has difficulty paying attention to details and tendency to make careless mistakes in school or other activities; producing work that is often messy and careless
  • Is easily distracted by irrelevant stimuli and frequently interrupting ongoing tasks to attend to trivial noises or events that are usually ignored by others
  • Has an inability to sustain attention on tasks or activities
  • Has difficulty finishing schoolwork or paperwork or performing tasks that require concentration
  • Frequently shifts from one uncompleted activity to another
  • procrastinates
  • Has disorganized work habits
  • Is forgetful in daily activities (for example, missing appointments, forgetting to bring lunch)
  • Fails to complete tasks such as homework or chores
  • frequently shifts in conversation or doesn’t listening to others, doesn’t keep his mind on conversations, and doesn’t follow details or rules of activities in social situations

If you answered “yes” to even one fourth of these items, there is a high likelihood that your dancer has ADD or ADHD, or Attention Deficiet Disorder or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. That’s right.

And so does Julian. For all these years we have been punishing him, yelling at him, hounding him, struggling with him…OMG. We have been beside ourselves about why such a smart and creative kid just couldn’t get his act together and get As in school, couldn’t turn in his work, couldn’t just do what it took to get his school work done. And this year, with just two darn classes, he has been almost flunking out of school.

Well. Well…one of my blog readers asked me if we had ever had him tested for ADD. She mentioned that her daughter had struggled in many of the same ways and been diagnosed with ADD in her junior year in high school. My mind started to whirl.

After I spent a whole day crying, totally distraught that I might have missed this in my child, feeling so guilty that despite my best efforts to be a good mother I might have been a terrible mother and just not seen the problem my child had (and angry–Why the hell hadn’t the teachers seen it?), I did some research and discovered the symptoms above (and some more). I then sent them on to Julian. I told him I was making him an appointment the next week to see our family psychologist while he was home for spring break.

When she saw him, the psychologist said it was basically a no brainer. Of course, he had ADD. So, Julian went back to New York and immediately saw a psychiatric nurse practitioner, who also said it was obvious as all get out, and put him on some meds.

Okay…all you holistic people out there, I am also all for the natural route. But,  this kids needs help fast to graduate high school. Plus, there are no REAL studies that show that the holistic or natural route really does any good. We will try all that  along the way. Meds can actually, in some cases, retrain the brain, we were told. In two year, he might go off them and find he is better and doesn’t need them any more. But right now, he really needs them.

For his sake, I’m not going to go into all the details of his particular symptoms. Let me just say, that if you think your child might have ADD or ADHD, please take them to see someone. Supposedly lots of creative people had or have it. And supposedly the smart and creative ones get by and don’t always get noticed by the schools–who also don’t want to diagnose it, because then they have to pay for the treatment. Nice, huh?

Put a kid like Julian, however, in a more stressful situation with out parental help and support, like at the School of American Ballet, and all doo doo hits the fan. With the need to perform, less school structure, his injury, being away from home, no one telling him what to do or helping with his disorganization or scheduling, all the auditioning, etc., his condition got aggravated. Schoolwork became way more difficult to focus upon, and many of the other symptoms he has got worse as well, such as difficulty falling asleep, focusing in class and turning off his thoughts. (Not that this is an excuse for not doing well in school, mind you.)

So, today’s post is a warning to parents. Keep your eyes open. Don’t miss ADD, or ADHD as they like to call all types of ADD and ADHD, in your dancer. I know you don’t want to think your child has it, and you may not want to put them on medications (neither did I), but it’s surely better to diagnose it than not to do so. And do it before you send your kids off to a year-round ballet program where it could get worse.

Plus, Julian was so very relieved to know that HE was not the problem. Now he knows he has a condition that makes it  hard for him to perform in school. It’s not that he is bad. He has a learning disability. While that could be seen as a stigma, it surely is a better “label” than all those other ones he had that lowered his self-esteem. And I can assure you he felt pretty terrible about himself all the time because of his lack of performance in school–and at life in general. Not to mention that he has some trouble focusing in dance class, too, and now he knows why.

Please, please. Go back to the list above. Read through it again. Ask your child some questions. Check out this basic site on line and then do research on your own:

Symptoms of ADHD/ADD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

Then take your dancer to a psychologist or counselor of some type if you have any doubts at all. You won’t be sorry.


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  1. dinkalina says

    My dancer boy has the same thing. He’s always been academically gifted but when he hit 6th grade doo doo hit the fan as you say. Our psychitrist says the gifted kids with ADD can hide it/compensate for it only so long and then everything starts to unravel. He managed to compensate on his own through 5th grade but there were little signs through out the years. 6th grade was a nightmare I don’t wish to relive with him – it got so bad he was to the point of questioning why he was alive. Medication has been life changing. It might take you a couple of tries to get the right medication for your son so hang in there. Focus was never a problem in dance, but dance is so much more enjoyable for my son because he doesn’t have school work looming over him.

  2. Nina says

    Yes, dance was easier, but he does tend to look around and he used to have trouble learning choreography. We wonder now whether that would have been easier…Thanks for your comment.

  3. bindance says

    I think your son has been diagnosed as a boy.

    If the medication helps him focus on his studies and dance then this is a possible alternative to his situation. I’m sure the medication will create profound change in him. You will have to weigh the unknown long term side effects of the medication to the short term change in his behavior. Consider the possibility your son may be too creative.

    Schools today are designed for girls so if he wasn’t bored and distracted in school he wouldn’t be a normal boy.

    Thomas Edison was considered mentally retarded by his teachers because he couldn’t focus in class, Walt Disney couldn’t focus in class so he dropped out of high school not to mention Steve Jobs who just made it out of high school and only completed one or two semesters of college he was so bored. They all would have been diagnosed with ADHD/ADD. Boys learn and mature differently than girls especially creative boys. I just can’t help suspecting every boy taken to a psychologist or counselor is diagnosed with ADHD/ADD.

    I am not trying to be negative. I wish you well and hope for the very best for your son whatever you decide.

  4. Nina says

    That’s all possible, but there’s more to it than just boredom. I do agree that too many kids these days get diagnosed with ADD/ADHD.

  5. says

    My DS was diagnosed last year (he’s in the 7th grade now), and the meds have made a huge difference. He’s a great kid, but would “forget” to turn in his work and eventually so much time would go by and he’d just blow it off. We, too, hounded him, yelled at him, and generally made life miserable. With the meds he’s SO MUCH BETTER (although, from time to time he needs a gentle nudge in the right direction). My only concern with the meds is that it kills his appetite. We encourage him to eat large breakfasts and a “meal-sized” snack in late evening, but in between he eats like bird. I constantly ride him to eat more. His doctor doesn’t seem to be concerned about his weight (although he is only 72 pounds), but with his first summer intensive coming up, I’m worried about all the calories he’ll be burning and the possibility that he won’t be eating enough to compensate. At any rate, it’s something we all need to be conscious of.
    Suzanne recently posted..Dance Academy

  6. MominTX says

    Same here. My DS was diagnosed with ADHD in 1st grade. Thank goodness for that teacher. I really debated about the medicine too and decided to have him try it. The first day on it he said he felt like a “good boy” for once. How sad is that? We did try some biofeedback and meditation one summer and tried to stay off the medication but it just wan’t enough once he got back into school in his accelerated classes. I guess if they are smart like Julian, they can cover it for a long time and get along with Bs and Cs when they could be getting As all along. Anyway, the appetite is an issue like Suzanne said. Just make sure he is maintaining his weight and is mindful of how much he is dancing and eating. I am so glad you guys figured it out.

  7. Daya Solomon says

    Our story is a little different but in many ways similar. We also began to worry when DS was about 11. We are a homeschooling family (well, we were until this fall when DS went off to a year round ballet school) and so there were less school pressures since Mom and Dad set the pace and requirements. He had lots of the signs of ADHD, some signs of depression, some of this and some of that but nothing exactly fit. He was, however, diagnosed for SPD at 11 and got treatment for that. SPD is Sensory Processing Disorder and briefly means some or all of the senses over-react or under-react and the person seeks less or more stimulation to stay emotionally and physically balanced. The sensory seeking or avoiding can result in all sorts of stress and behavior, emotional, and learning issues. Flash forward 2 years to adolescence and then the doo doo really hit the fan with all the hormones added to his system. At 13 we found out that DS was “on the spectrum” – ASD – those dreaded words “Autistic Spectrum Disorder”. He was considered clinically mild with SPD and so mild with ASD we were advised that we didn’t even need formal work ups to see if it was Asperger’s or ADHD or HFA or what all. It was there, SPD often but not always goes hand in hand with ASD, and you can imagine how we felt – how could we have missed this? How could the professionals have missed this when he was 11? Turns out ASD is in our husband’s side of the family to varying degrees and is often missed unless the problems are quite noticeable. ASD is like an umbrella that can, but does not always include under it, SPD, ADHD, OCD, and all sorts of health challenges besides the stereotypical or classic autism and Aspergers. And likewise a person can have one of the alphabet combinations that stands alone and not be under the ASD umbrella. The debate on treatments and interventions is enormous and certainly not one size fits all. However, the main point I want to make here is that at 14 our son took his first ballet class and dancing turned out to be the best “therapy” ever for him! We had to practically drag him to see some friends perform, they invited him to come to a class, and after just one ballet class he came home and announced, “I am going to be a dancer!” He took every class the local studio offered and, who knew, but there was some talent there and less then 1 year later he got a scholarship to a year round residential ballet program. Dancing 6 or more hours a day gives his sensory system exactly what he needs to feel well, balanced, and the joy of dancing infuses him with the motivation to overcome other challenges. He can concentrate, socialize, do his schoolwork, and do everything much better after dancing a lot. I think for him the SPD was much bigger an issue then the ADHD things or the ASD and that is why dancing makes everything else better. He follows a special diet (gluten and casein free) because his neurological differences stem from immune system irregulation and he has sensitivities to foods, artificial preservatives and food colorings and this approach works for him. During the peak of the teenage hormone onslaught I once begged the MD for meds but instead she recommended a more natural substance and that is what he takes, along with nutritional supplements prescribed by the MD. Many different treatments help different people, but BALLET has been the best medicine ever for our DS and my husband and I feel that in many ways it has saved his life…..given him a life.

  8. Nina says

    Lovely story, Daya! Thanks so much for sharing. Julian is still struggling since he can’t get the right meds in Germany. He’s doing okay on what he has, but it’s not great.

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