Self Expression and Artwork Remedy for Childhood ADHD Signs
How do you think your child would react if you asked them to pour a gallon of paint over you? I bet they would react just like my child: with a sly smile.
My youngest son loved the idea of doing something with his mother that allowed him to be a little bit creative, a little bit chaotic, and a little bit destructive. But unknown to him, I had a motive other than fun: to help him deal with some of his ADHD problems. I felt that this creative endeavor could teach him healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with emotional responses that he did not fully understand – and often could not properly control.
Self-expression to deal with strong emotions
As a career artist, I am no stranger to using creative self-expression as a healthy outlet for my own feelings. Bundling my negative emotions into some kind of creative work has been my best and most helpful strategy for managing my mental health. I’ve also spent years teaching others to find their artistic voice and using it to express their innermost feelings, especially when words are too hard to find.
Creating art in any medium is a wonderful way to manage emotions. It acts as a drain valve, allowing you to vent all of your emotions outward and move on, knowing that those emotions will live on forever on a canvas or in a song rather than in your head.
After my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I knew that helping him learn this crucial coping mechanism was the best way to successfully manage some lifelong problems with emotional regulation.
[Read: Stifled Creativity and Its Damaging Impact on the ADHD Brain]
But it wasn’t going to be easy. Its symptoms are very different from what I believed I knew about ADHD and how it manifests itself in children.
Intense ADHD symptoms
My oldest son was also diagnosed with ADHD some time ago. In contrast to those of his younger brother, his symptoms correspond to the stereotypical ADHD pattern. So I was amazed when a teacher suggested that I have my little one checked for ADHD. He had no problem getting his job done once he started, something that plagued his older brother all the time. Instead, he struggled with initiation – actually, he made himself sit down and start his work. But my husband and I eventually learned that task avoidance is a symptom of ADHD. It turned out that it was fear, not defiance, that kept him from getting started.
As a mother of two boys with very different manifestations of ADHD, I felt compelled to come up with the best solutions to help both of them based on their individual needs. After doing a lot of research and talking to psychologists, we decided to focus on creative self-expression to manage my youngest son’s symptoms.
This strategy seemed like a natural choice. My youngest has always been creative. He loves music, theater as well as art and grew up with great interest in observing my own artistic expression. I’ve often included him in my projects, which I never did with his older brother.
[Read: ADHD in Children: Symptoms, Evaluations & Treatments]
He is also a highly sensitive empath. He feels deeply and has an active imagination that comes with it. His wonderfully deep and emotionally expressive brain can get him down a rabbit hole, but his hyperfocus can keep him there, causing him to find his way back to a calm and rational state. Exposure to criticism – be it a perceived attack or a demand to take responsibility – can set in negative dysphoria (RSD) and increase anxiety and frustration. This makes it very difficult to argue with him as his thinking becomes very narrow as he desperately tries to protect himself from feeling “bad”.
With the help of a trained professional, we have plans for when it will start spinning. The first step is to always make him aware of what is happening and our intention to help. The second step is to redirect your thoughts through creative expression. The aim is to use this coping plan independently across the board.
Artistic expression used to treat symptoms
We started a collaborative artistic project that he was in complete control of. I lay down on a huge sheet of paper and let my son pour paint over me. We would use my iPhone and Apple Watch to record the experience and take photos of the result. The benefits were threefold – I was able to spend more time with him, give him much-needed independence, and subtly teach him healthy self-expression.
The task seemed easy, but it was, in fact, difficult. Sometimes the tray was too heavy for him and the color wasn’t always the right consistency. But he had so much fun and learned to deal with the frustration that comes with running a project. The more he practiced pouring paint over me, the better he could control the tray and the paint. He learned to create interesting splatter patterns and enjoyed trying new techniques. When I asked if his cousins could join in and try, he was happy to invite them. I loved the way he taught them what to do and then guided them how to do it.
In the meantime, the project has become a ritual – pulling out the huge roll of paper, choosing the colors and pouring them into the tray, discussing the goal together, realizing that reality could be very different – and agreeing that it is okay.
I want my son to grow up with the power of creating knowing that his mood can change drastically by pulling out colors and getting messy. Any artistic expression will really suffice.
The lessons he learned during our project paid off. He is now exploring artistic expression on his own, interested in playing the piano and practicing his drawing skills.
We still have tough days, but he has moved forward by leaps and bounds. With small referrals he is often able to choose better outlets to deal with his frustrations and I am thrilled to see the progress he has made.
Self-Expression and Creativity: The Next Steps
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Updated May 13, 2021
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