Author Q&A: Mary Anne Richey and Jim Forgan Talk ADHD and Empowerment
Author Q&A: Mary Anne Richey and Jim Forgan Talk ADHD and Empowerment
PUBLISHED: Thursday, June 27, 2019 by Andilynn Feddeler

The ADHD Empowerment Guide is different from other parenting ADHD books because it helps parents identify and build upon their child’s strengths and natural talents in order to develop a specific plan to unlock their child’s potential. The authors, two professionals who have “been there and done that” with their own children with ADHD, illustrate their strategies and content by highlighting successful people with ADHD who excelled in various areas and share some of their success secrets to raising a successful child with ADHD. Learn more about the book and how to support children with ADHD in this interview with the authors:

Q: Where did the idea for your book originate? How did you develop your book? 

A: We developed the idea for this book from working with our clients. We both take a strength-based approach for evaluating children, and that means we don’t just look at a child’s weaknesses, but instead identify his or her natural cognitive and processing strengths. We’ve repeatedly seen our clients excel in areas that are their natural affinities. All too often parents tell us their child has said he or she is “stupid” or “dumb” or has “a bad brain.” We are realists in that, yes, children struggle, but they also need to know they are smart, talented, and have a hopeful future. Our book helps parents identify their child’s top three multiple intelligences along with activities to build them. 

Q: Why is identifying strengths and abilities so important to the journey of raising a child with ADHD?

A: We believe that identifying strengths and abilities is so important for a child with ADHD for many reasons. First, many children with ADHD are not good with fulfilling daily responsibilities and thinking about consequences before acting. The end result is that they hear many more negative comments and nagging reminders in a normal day than children without ADHD. Obviously, this can impact their self-esteem. The fact is they have strong abilities. Often these strengths, such as terrific hand-eye coordination, musical talent, or good interpersonal skills, are not those that are the focus of their day-to-day school experience. 

Secondly, in writing our book The ADHD Empowerment Guide, we reviewed the biographies of many successful people with ADHD. A common theme we saw was that many of these individuals parlayed their strengths into successful careers. For example, Ty Pennington found success pursuing art, design, and carpentry. Jim Carrey learned early on that he could make people laugh. 

Thirdly, we feel that success with ADHD has a lot to do with how you look at it. You can view it from a problem perspective (i.e., “life’s going to be tough”) or a positive perspective (i.e., “we’ll make the best of it”). So, success is a matter of perspective. If you focus on the negative, you will reinforce negative traits in your child; if you focus on strengths, you build more positive traits in your child.

Identifying strengths and abilities often opens your eyes to the potential that lies within your child. Helping your child develop those skills can be an important part of your journey with him or her and even provide opportunities for relationship building. When Sally showed an interest in baking, she and her father signed up to take a pastry class. Sally found great success in the class and found it to be a relief from her mediocre performance at school. They enjoyed each other’s company in the class and developed a skill that they continue to enjoy doing together. Basically, identifying strengths and abilities can help you enjoy rather than endure rearing a child with ADHD. 

Q: What is your #1 piece of advice to a parent whose child was just diagnosed with ADHD? 

A: Our primary advice to a parent whose young child was just diagnosed with ADHD is to get support by connecting with other professionals or parents who understand what it is like to raise a child with ADHD. Parents need a guide by the side to help with understanding treatments, behavior management, and working with teachers and school personnel. There are plenty of ADHD coaches, advocates, and professional organizations like CHADD that have national and local supports. 

Q: How should parents talk to their child’s school about ADHD? What supports should be in place?

A: In our experience, the most successful outcomes happen for children when schools and families develop a collaborative partnership. This can often be easier when the school and classroom are good fits for your child’s skill level and needs. 

We know parents’ lives are incredibly busy, but finding the time to educate yourself about ADHD is important. With an understanding of the impact of ADHD on your child, you will be in a much better position to communicate with the teacher. Keep in mind that teachers have many demands on their time as well, so presenting your information as concisely as possible is always appreciated. We find it helpful for parents to complete a one page summary about their child, including things like what helps him or her be successful in the classroom—like repeating directions to the teacher to ensure he or she has understood them or being seated close to the point of instruction—and what challenges he or she has. It is often helpful to ask for a meeting at the beginning of each school year, preferably before school starts, to help the teacher and your child get started out on the right foot.

As far as what supports should be in place, we have found that it is important to pick a few really important supports and insist that those be consistently provided rather than having multiple accommodations that even the best teacher couldn’t remember to do all the time. We also caution parents that children with ADHD should be encouraged to be as independent as possible and use supports when necessary. For example, children often have difficulty writing down assignments in the agendas. It is important to have them write down as much as they can and then possibly have the teacher check for accuracy. If they have trouble getting everything recorded, some children benefit from creating their own shorthand to shorten how much they have to write. If you child has a cell phone, some schools allow children to take a picture of the agenda. 

Supports are fine as long as they are necessary, but you don’t want them to become crutches. Your goal should always be for your child to become as independent as possible. The plan you develop will depend on your child’s needs. If he or she is diagnosed with ADHD and needs some support but not specialized instruction, his or her accommodations can be covered under a 504 plan. If his or her ADHD is more complex and he requires services and not just accommodations, he or she may qualify for an IEP under the disability “Other Health Impaired.” 

Accommodations should be those things that “level the playing field” for your child to modulate the effect ADHD has on learning. Common accommodations include:

  • extended time on tests and assignments,

  • preferential seating near the point of instruction,

  • seating away from distractions like the air conditioner or the door,

  • redirection for attention to task,

  • permissible movement in the classroom as long as he or she does not bother others, and

  • breaks as requested.

Your child’s needs may be very specific. For more on lists of accommodations, see the following resources:

Q: What do you hope readers take away from your work?

A: We hope readers understand that we write from experiences that give us the shared perspective of being a parent that gets it. Our work has information parents can read and apply right away. 

James W. Forgan, Ph.D., and Mary Anne Richey work with children in school settings and in private practice. Jim is an associate professor and licensed school psychologist. He teaches others how to teach and assess children with ADHD and other types of learning disabilities at Florida Atlantic University. Mary Anne is a licensed school psychologist in private practice. She also has experience as a middle school teacher, administrator, high school guidance counselor, and adjunct college instructor.