Finding commonality with others is critical to feeling a sense of belonging among our peers, within our communities, and as part of the world. Feeling “normal” can be particularly challenging if you struggle with behavior or social skills as a result of ADHD or a learning disability, one of many reasons that representation is so important in books, movies, and other forms of media. Identifying and connecting with characters who look like you, act like you, or experience the same kinds of struggles that you deal with in your life is validating and empowering in a way that supports the development of self-acceptance and self-confidence.
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often experience symptoms that alienate them in a classroom or social setting: difficulty paying attention, challenges with self-regulation, sensory sensitivities, and frequent disorganization related to executive functioning challenges. As a child becomes more aware that their ADD/ADHD symptoms aren’t something that everyone experiences, their self-esteem may begin to suffer.
Under ideal circumstances, children with ADHD have peer communities that include children who experience similar challenges. Although not impossible, this can be difficult to arrange. But it is possible to normalize a child’s experiences with ADHD by introducing children’s books that are geared towards an audience with an ADHD diagnosis. Check out the following titles from your local library, book store, or Amazon:
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Shelley the Hyperactive Turtle by Deborah Moss and Carol Schwartz
Shelley the Hyperactive Turtle is an excellent tool for explaining hyperactivity and ADHD to a young child. In simple terms and with colorful illustration, the book shares the woes of Shelley, an overly energetic turtle who finds himself in trouble everywhere he goes. Eventually, Shelley’s parents take him to the pediatrician, who explains hyperactivity and prescribes medication and counseling. At the end of the story, Shelley is feeling happy and has lots of friends. If you’re struggling to explain an upcoming doctor’s appointment or the importance of medicine to your child with ADHD, this story can be a helpful teaching aid. For family reads, recommended for ages 5+. For read-alone, recommended for ages 6+.
Mrs. Gorski I think I Have the Wiggle Fidgets: An ADHD and ADD Book for Kids with Tips and Tricks to Help Them Stay Focused by Barbara Esham
Understanding the effects of ADHD is especially difficult for young children. This award-winning picture book sets out to highlight many different forms of learning, creativity, and intelligence in a simple, funny, and empowering way. The book’s main character, David, often gets in trouble in class for not paying attention. He has difficulty concentrating when more exciting ideas are competing for real estate in his head, and he has a hard time understanding that he’s making a bad choice until he’s already done it. Eventually he comes up with a plan to reduce his wiggle fidgets, as he calls them. This book offers practical advice about the importance of effort and dedication, while celebrating the unique gifts that children with ADHD have. Suitable for children of all ages. For read-alone, recommended for children ages 8+.
Cory Stories: A Kid’s Book about Living with ADHD, by Jeanne Kraus and Whitney Martin
Cory Stories is written in a way that can hold the attention of children with ADHD. The main character shares what it’s like to have ADHD in short statements and vignettes about his social relationships, his academic performance, and his overall ability to function. He also offers actionable insights into coping with ADHD symptoms, including medication, therapy, and tips and tricks to succeed at school, at home, and in social settings. Recommended for children ages 5+
A Walk in the Rain with a Brain, by Edward Hallowell
Geared towards four- to eight-year-olds, A Walk in the Rain with a Brain is a charming and whimsical tale of a little girl named Lucy finding a brain as she walks along a rainy sidewalk. After agreeing to help the brain find his way home, Lucy shares her fears that she’s not smart enough, to which the brain replies that everyone is smart and just needs to find out what they’re smart about. The author, Edward Hallowell, M.D. is a psychiatrist, teacher, and an expert on ADHD, and clearly understands the importance of encouraging children to play and learn in order to discover the special talents and interesting gifts their own brains have to offer. Suitable for all ages. For read-alone, recommended for children ages 8+
Hank Zipzer Series, by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver
Introducing your child to a compelling series of novels can be a great way to jump-start a love of reading, and the Hank Zipzer collection by Henry Winkler and Lin Oliver offers the added benefit of a fun and relatable character who happens to have a learning disability. Henry Winkler––yes, the Fonz, among other notable acting roles––had undiagnosed dyslexia as a child, resulting in an undeserved feeling of underachievement. His true-life experiences inspired this series of books about Hank, a high-spirited, fun-loving boy with a propensity for misadventures. The book’s ultimate message is that everyone learns differently and that there’s value in that, an important lesson for children with ADHD to learn. Recommended for children ages 7+
Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, by Jack Gantos
The Joey Pigza series, written by Jack Gantos, is full of amusing antics and poignant life lessons. Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is the first book in this entertaining and meaningful series. Readers follow a good boy who makes bad choices, such as swallowing his house key, putting his finger in the pencil sharpener, or running with scissors. His big mood swings and problematic behaviors get Joey moved to a special-ed program at a school downtown. His teachers there, his doctors, and Joey’s mom help him find the support he needs, and help him understand that there are things he can do, too, to improve his behaviors. The book’s first-person narrative and its mix of heart and humor make Joey Pigza a likable character that children with ADHD can easily relate to. Although there are some dark themes in this book, such as Joey’s mother’s alcohol use and his grandmother’s sometimes abusive behavior towards him, the overall message about the importance of self-improvement is a valuable one. Recommended for children 11+.
Learning to Slow Down and Pay Attention: A Book for Kids About ADHD, by Kathleen G. Nadeau
This book is an excellent resource for parents and children alike but does a particularly good job at emphasizing the difficulties of ADHD from a child’s point of view. With educational information, useful tips for personal development and social skills, and suggestions for success in all aspects of life, Learning to Slow Down and Pay Attention helps children understand their behavior and offers healthy strategies for effectively managing ADHD symptoms. For family reads, recommended for children ages 5+. For read-alone, recommended for children ages 8+.
Reading books is a wonderful way to spend quality time with our children; it supports early literacy, gets children involved in an activity that helps them focus, and, in the case of the books listed above, highlights the value in having a brain that may work a little differently. This combination will ultimately help your child develop understanding and acceptance of ADHD and feel connected with a supportive community of adults and peers.