“Get Your Gifts Unwrapped:” Why Connections Matter for Kids with Disabilities

This afternoon, I attended a lecture given by Dr. Edward Hallowell. Dr. Hallowell is one of the nation’s experts on attention deficit disorders. His book, Driven to Distraction, co-authored with John Ratey, and its companion book, Answers to Distraction, provide easy-to-read information and guidance about ADHD.

Dr. Edward Hallowell

Hallowell’s positive attitude inspires a different way of thinking about ADHD and other diagnoses. “Almost invariably,” Hallowell said today, “talents are wrapped in disability…and we need to be in the business of unwrapping gifts rather than treating disabilities.”

In order to do this, Hallowell said, children must feel connected. He cited his book The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness, stating that in his research, the level of connection in childhood is a primary predictor of future contentment and success. (Not SAT scores, grade point averages, starring roles or varsity letters!!) In addition to feeling connected to their parents, Hallowell said that children must also feel connected in their neighborhoods and at school. Connection and community is so important, he said, that the lack of it can cause serious health problems. In his research, he found studies that show that social isolation is as dangerous a risk factor for early death as smoking cigarettes.

To explain the importance of connection, Dr. Hallowell related an experience from his own childhood. As a first grader, he struggled with reading fluency and was, in time, diagnosed with both dyslexia and ADHD. In the 1950’s, services and supports were scarce, and children were often labeled “lazy” or “slow.” Thanks to a special teacher, however, Dr. Hallowell persevered. He told about his first grade teacher, Mrs. Eldridge…every time he was asked to read aloud, Mrs. Eldridge sat right next to him and put her chubby arm around him. No one in the class dared to laugh or ridicule him, so protective was she. At the end of the year, Dr. Hallowell recalled, he was STILL the slowest and least accurate reader in the class. However, he felt a sense of pride and belonging because of his connection to this special teacher: “Mrs. Eldridge’s arm was my IEP.”

Despite his difficulties with language, Dr. Hallowell (still a slow reader) has made a career that is largely based on language…all because a teacher took the time to give him a sense that “it’s safe to be who you are.”

Dr. Hallowell said that when parents comes into his office, very often, they’ll say, “My child has a disability.” His response? “Great! Now, let’s work together.This is a place to get your gifts unwrapped.”

What a lesson for the Church.

~Katie

Want to read more about this topic? Check out Dr. Steve Grcevich’s series…excellent insight from a doctor who cares.

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