posted on November 05, 2012 14:21
Channeling Your Inner MacGyver
Conference 2012 Preview
WHETHER YOU'RE NEW TO ADHD OR
YOU'VE BEEN AROUND THE BLOCK a few times, one thing becomes
clear: Successfully coping with and managing the disorder requires
change. You’ve got to reset life’s autopilot, revise your
standard operating procedure manual, and develop a new
An interview with Mark Katz, PhD, by Marie
To complicate things, human nature resists change. Behavior experts
caution against making sweeping changes to several areas of life
simultaneously, as this is not sustainable, and you will often resume
familiar habits within three weeks.
The best way to create new patterns is to seek guidance from experts as
well as to discuss what you have learned with peers. Featuring more than
eighty-five authors and experts in the field of ADHD, CHADD’s
upcoming annual conference in San Francisco will bring opportunities for
The keynote address by Mark Katz, PhD, will surely be one of the
highlights.Aclinical and consulting psychologist based in San Diego,
California, he is the author of On Playing a Poor Hand Well,
which details lessons learned by people who have overcome adverse
childhood experiences. He has served as the director of Learning
Development Services in San Diego for the past thirty years.
Attention readers know him as the contributing editor behind
the magazine’s Promising Practices column.
So, what will you gain from his message? Quite simply, an opportunity to
look at your own life experiences to see how you’ve been
influenced by them.
While we are all unique individuals, there are many common themes in the
ADHD community. Some experiences have left their fingerprints on us and
we might not even realize it. After all, when faced with making changes
to our lives, we inherently resist these changes. Or we overdo it and
create something so complicated it becomes impossible to stick with. It
takes insight and reassurance to make changes that are effective and
Dr. Katz will encourage each of us to channel our inner MacGyver.
A condition sensitive to context
Throughout his career, one of Katz’s main interests has been
to "stay abreast of advances in our understanding of human resilience,
and also advances in our understanding of the limits of emotional
"We now know that for those who managed to rebound from a difficult
past, an important part of their successful journey involved their
ability to see their personal challenges in a new light," he explained.
"The meaning we attach to the challenges we experience often determines
whether or not we see ourselves as resilient human beings."
Katz noted that this is not just an internal process: "But we also now
know that the meaning others attach to the challenges we
experience influences the meaning we attach to these same challenges. We
see ourselves through the eyes of others, especially when we’re
He warned that misinterpreting ADHD behaviors in others can have a
strong negative impact on those individuals.
"If you believe that those struggling with ADHD are struggling as a
result of some type of character flaw, or the result of laziness or
personal weakness or lack of resilience, those with ADHD may come to
view themselves this way as well," he said. "And what our misjudgments
have done in the process is take away one of the most important
ingredients we know of for rising above a difficult past—learning
to see adversity in a new light. Human understanding plays a very
important role in rising above life’s challenges, ADHD
Increasing human understanding is a good starting point, but can be
easier said than done. The very name of the disorder is confusing,
"because people with ADHD pay attention so well when they’re
interested in what they’re doing," said Katz. What researchers
have learned about the role of executive functions has helped a lot.
Particularly helpful is the growing understanding of how EF challenges
can impact daily tasks and how strategies, tools, technologies, and
accommodations can offset those challenges.
Recalling that a wise person once remarked that the beginning of wisdom
is calling things by their right name, he said: "A lot of us
in the field know that the name attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder
doesn’t truly capture the struggles and the suffering that so many
people with ADHD have endured over the years."
"In helping people with ADHD, we focus a lot on finding or creating
situations that maximize strengths and accommodate challenges," said
Katz. "It’s hard to find a condition more sensitive to context
"We know so many people who struggled in one work setting but succeeded
in another, and so many children who struggled in one school but did
well in another," he explained. "If you struggle with dyslexia we can
see your reading problems wherever you try to read, regardless of the
setting. With ADHD, on the other hand, it can be a very different
How one views oneself and one’s abilities
"People with ADHD can often do difficult intellectual or creative
things easily, but find what many other people think of as easy to be
difficult," said Katz. "Think about this for minute: If we do difficult
things easily, then shouldn’t easy things be even easier if we
just try harder? But what if that’s not entirely true? What if
it’s not quite that simple? Actually, it’s paradoxically
uneven learning and behavioral profiles like these that got me wondering
about the limits of emotional endurance."
Katz is keenly interested in the lives of people who struggled in school
as children but are succeeding at life as adults. "I can think of one
person I recently interviewed in particular, in his forties, doing very
well, who also recently learned he had ADHD," he said. "If we put him
back in seventh grade tomorrow he would have the same problems in school
that he had thirty years ago. What’s different about him today is
that he feels like he has something important to contribute to the
"He didn’t feel that he mattered much back in school," Katz
continued. "Today he also believes that his actions control his
outcomes. If he works hard, doesn’t give up and learns from his
mistakes, he believes that he’ll achieve what he sets out to
achieve. During his years in school he believed just the opposite. Back
then, there was a disconnect between how he viewed his actions and the
resulting outcome of his actions. In his mind at least, trying harder
didn’t result in doing better."
Based on such life stories, Katz began asking, "How can we provide
people struggling with ADHD, school-age children included, access to
experiences that this successful person in his forties experiences
daily, so that people with ADHD can enjoy similar views of themselves
and their abilities?" He will share during his address that, "in
exploring answers, I think we’ve arrived at several important
lessons learned, among them, ‘There is never anything so wrong
with us that what’s right with us can’t
fix.’" And this lesson will be the title of his keynote
talk at the conference.
Reflecting on CHADD’s twenty-fifth anniversary, Katz said he
considers it "the organization that I look to for answers on how best to
help those with ADHD learn to see ADHD in a hopeful new light. CHADD has
probably done more to remove shame and blame from the lives of those
impacted by ADHD than any other organization in the world."
"If anyone reading this also happens to be in the audience during my
presentation in San Francisco and also has ADHD, let me pass on this
final comment, one that I often make to those attending the ADHD
meetings we hold at our center in San Diego," he said. "If, while
you’re sitting there listening to me, your cell phone accidentally
goes off, you have to leave because you can’t sit still for so
long, you show up late, show up on the wrong day, or you happen to doze
off, wake up and doze off again, it’s okay—so long as you
promise me one thing."
"When these things happen, promise me that you won’t feel
embarrassed or ashamed of yourself," said Katz, "not at a CHADD
conference, and especially not at this presentation. Promise me that
you’ll focus instead on all the ways that people with ADHD,
children included, are learning to carve out better lives. And
there’s no organization that I know of in the world better
equipped to help you learn about these ways than CHADD."
Marie S. Paxson chairs the editorial advisory board of
Attention magazine. She is a past president of CHADD.
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Attention
magazine. Copyright © 2012 by Children and Adults with
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). All rights reserved.
No portion of this article may be reproduced without written permission