BES Blog

"Race Car Brain with Bicycle Brakes"

Race Car Brain with Bicycle Brakes
By: Judy Bass

I have always taken a strengths-based approach when working with students with ADHD, making sure they focus on what they can do, not on what they can’t. So I was thrilled when I was invited to have dinner with Dr. Ned Hallowell along with several of the administrators from Chesapeake Bay Academy in Virginia Beach several weeks ago. I was there for an ADHD conference and Dr. Hallowell was the keynote speaker. Dr. Ned Hallowell is the guru of ADHD. His first ADHD book, Driven to Distraction, gave many curious readers a first glimpse of what it feels like to have ADHD. During dinner, Dr. Hallowell shared stories of how he learned about ADHD and the impact this knowledge has had on the trajectory of his life. One of the takeaways was reframing how we discuss ADHD with parents, in order to best support the child’s well-being and holistic success.

Dr. Hallowell spoke about the difficulty some parents have in acknowledging or even recognizing their child’s ADHD. Parents often see their child’s ADHD as a behavior problem, especially when their child does not want to get out of bed in the morning, does not do homework until the last minute, can’t sit still, and cannot focus on anything for an extended period of time. They perceive this behavior as defiance, laziness, lack of motivation, or any number of negative behaviors, yet neuroscience has proven this concept of ADHD behavior is simply not true.

Dr. Hallowell believes in helping parents reframe how they view their child’s ADHD. He talks about the gifts that children with ADHD have, such as their creativity and ability to think outside the box, their insatiable curiosity about things that interest them, and the ability to hyperfocus on those interests. They are risk-takers, not afraid to jump into something spontaneously, which is why so many with ADHD become entrepreneurs, leaders, innovators, and visionaries who help shape the future.

When meeting with parents to review their child’s neuropsychological testing results, Dr. Hallowell enthusiastically tells them the good news – their daughter has a race car brain! She can grasp content quickly, is smart, and has a lot of potential academically; however, she also has bicycle brakes. Bicycle brakes are not strong enough to slow down a race car. So, his solution for when their daughter is zipping around doing everything except what she should be doing, is to remind her to check her brakes. This simple nudge shifts a child into feeling empowered rather than feeling impeded or hindered. With this new mindset, they can move away from the outdated perspective of ADHD as a slew of character deficits and view her ADHD as a gift to harness. When kids understand their ADHD superpowers and caveats, this learning difference transforms into an extremely manageable condition.

As parents, we all want our children to be their best selves and sometimes we just need to look at them using a different focal point – their amazing potential!


Samantha Maloney/May 3, 2023

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