Children's Author and Educational Developer: CurricuLaughs
Jeff Nathan is a children’s author and developer of a series of programs that apply humor to education to help open kids’ minds up to learning. He travels throughout the U.S. and Canada, giving talks to both teachers and students about education and the ADHD mind with the goal of helping “ADHD kids to not go through what I went through”.
Nathan came to this field after having his own children. He had wanted to write children's content since high school, but had gone into engineering because it was safer in terms of making a living. He says that "itch" to write stayed with him, though, and he ended up going with it when his kids were trying out for musical theatre. He wrote poems they could perform to help them stand out from the rest of the students, who were mostly performing Shell Silverstein poems. After other students began asking if he could write for them, he ended up with a bunch of poems that he turned into a book, the success of which pushed him to leave his job to do what he currently does full-time. He says he began creating programs for kids because, “I wanted to create something that was just so much fun, and so packed with educational material presented in such a fun way, that the ADHD kids couldn’t help but pay attention and learn from it.” Those programs took off when he realized that, “what is absolutely critical for the ADHD mind is extremely helpful for the rest of the student population.”
Growing up, Nathan says, “I struggled badly in elementary school, and I didn’t know why” because there was no diagnosis for ADHD at the time. He says, “I knew I was supposed to know what the teacher had just said five seconds earlier, but admitting that I didn’t know meant that I was either stupid or rude…and I didn’t want to admit to either.” He aligned himself mainly with math and grammar because they were rule-based and he could re-figure out what he had forgotten. However, until he was diagnosed at the age of 40, he spent a lot of time beating himself up about many of his traits that he did not know were due to ADHD, which “really took its toll”. He says, “that’s really my focus now…to help kids not be in that predicament and not be beating themselves up.”
When it comes to overcoming the obstacles of ADHD, Nathan says, “the truth is, for a while I didn’t”. His forgetfulness and lack of attention skills caused him a lot of embarrassment and punishment throughout school. He says, “as I got older, I started learning some management techniques, and they weren’t all that good, but I did what I could”. He had an eye-opening experience, however, when he was asked to do a talk for a company that provides education for teachers. They asked if he could talk specifically about ADHD students, which he says was “the most difficult presentation I’ve had to make because instead of talking to people who have ADHD…I had to create something that would explain to people who don’t have ADHD what the ADHD mind is like.” It was also one of the best things he’s ever done, as well, because now he better understands his own mind and can effectively explain it to others.
When doing talks to children with ADHD, he likes to list off what he calls the “superpowers of ADHD”. These include things like “the ability to hyper focus” and “a very well-exercised creative engine”. He also believes that many of the “bad traits are also the good traits” in the right situations. For example, having ADHD can make you disorganized, but that also makes you better able to function in chaotic situations. It can also make you forgetful, but that makes it easier to move on from painful experiences. Finally, it can make you less able to focus on details, but better able to see the big picture – a quality that is very useful for many jobs, including CEO.
Nathan says that, now, “it’s really the awareness that is helping me to manage better and leverage what I can, when I can”. Knowing that he has ADHD and how his mind works makes him less likely to beat himself up about things, and more able to manage his symptoms. He says, “I’m a much healthier person now”, and “I learned that happiness is a choice…and that’s what I try to go through with the ADHD kids that I talk to, is to help them to make that choice to be happy.”
Nathan’s main advice for younger generations with learning differences is to “embrace it…to take advantage of the advantages, and to learn to better manage the disadvantages” because “that will make them better human beings, and better able to not just function but to thrive in society.” He also says “to really learn to enjoy life” because that’s what’s most important.
To learn more about Nathan and his work, visit his website at www.bestUSassemblies.com