Phelps an inspiration in more ways than one

When super swimmer Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal at the recent Olympic Games in Beijing it was hard not to get swept up in the excitement of his accomplishment.

Regardless of the athlete or country you were cheering for, Phelps was amazing to watch because of the way he made it seem so easy. Not only did he win every race he entered - for the most gold medals ever won by a single athlete at one Olympics - but he won most of his races by quite a margin.

Now with 14 Olympic gold medals under his belt, 10 world championships and many world records, this 22 year old is the stuff of legends. Truly, Phelps is an amazing athlete and an inspiration for many.

But what makes his story even more compelling are the life details surrounding his rise to accomplishment. According to interviews, he was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in childhood, dealt with the divorce of his parents at an early age, was raised by a single mother and experienced bullying at school.

Each of these on their own can become obstacles for a child, but Phelps excelled in spite of it all.

I find it heartening to have such a superb example of the height of accomplishment possible for someone with a diagnosed mental illness such as ADHD. Phelps is living proof that people with ADHD can focus on pursuits they are truly interested in and can work toward goals in an incredibly driven way.

A first step is for the individual to find his or her niche, an activity or subject of real interest and then pursue that. Coaching was also key for Phelps. He was recognized as a talent at a very early age and with the right direction his energy was channelled in a very productive way.

Of course, for children in elementary school it is not usually possible to specialize in only the subjects or activities of interest and this is where medication can be helpful for children dealing with ADHD.

Because of the necessity of focusing on a variety of subjects during the school years, these are often the most difficult for people with ADHD.

Often, the disorder is not recognized and when children perform below expectations they can be subject to criticism from parents and teachers. In addition to adult disappointment and criticism, children living with ADHD often get picked on by peers because their behaviour makes them stand out from the crowd.

Children with ADHD do tend to lack good impulse control and can therefore benefit from close supportive guidance, parenting and tutoring. In a structured environment such as boarding school or good homeschooling by someone who understands the issues, children can excel.

Contrary to the label of attention deficit, children with this disorder are not incapable of paying attention to things that have captured their imagination or interest, so the quality of instruction is paramount to success.

I hope Michael Phelps' story will prove both encouraging and inspirational for children and parents struggling through similar life issues.

If you think your child might be experiencing ADHD, I strongly urge you to speak with your doctor and get a proper diagnosis from a qualified professional. Help is available in a variety of forms.


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