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The Marvelous Arianna

As an infant, a mere 3 weeks after birth, I knew Arianna was exceptional. She was forever alert, always curious, and in constant awareness of her surroundings. She was extraordinarily social, with her first words being spoken at an unbelievable 4 months of age. “Abbu”, or the Bengali word for “Dad” was the first word uttered, followed by “Dada” for her paternal grandfather, “Nana” for her “maternal grandfather” and a whole string of other related words naming her most beloved family members and objects in her life. By age 1, she could speak and understand approximately 30 words total and operated as if run by a perpetual motor. She was a social butterfly thriving off of human interaction, with a sparkling personality, continuously laughing, dancing, and singing her way through her young existence.

As a toddler, Arianna would converse a mile a minute, sharp as a whip, executing her humorous antics with remarkable comedic delivery. Arianna was always quick to learn and absorb information, even learning Bangla far better than I could hope to speak. It seemed like Arianna was drunk on life, an ecstatic bubble, and I loved watching her shine her brilliant light everywhere she frolicked.

As Arianna entered her early elementary school years, I noticed a marked shift in her countenance and demeanor. This was also around the same time her brother was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and Language Processing Disorder, causing me and my husband, Ivan, to focus our attention more disproportionately on Ian’s development. Ian was later diagnosed with ASD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder, a few years later at the age of 7.

Understandably, Arianna was finding these new transitions challenging, as anyone naturally would, no less a 5 year old child. Arianna seemed more distracted, lost in daydream, rumination and boredom. This is the time she began to quietly ask, “what about me?”. I also noticed her penchant for speaking up and out frequently along with not yet learning how to take turns when speaking affected her friendships. She would “stim”, or engage in self soothing behavior in class, such as fidgeting, tapping her fingers on the desk, and softly singing during class time.

I was unaware at the time, but these and other characteristics were telltale signs of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Condition (ADHD), a constellation of traits characterized by hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. While Arianna always exhibited mild symptoms of ADHD, her symptoms prior to her entrance into Kindergarten and her brother’s diagnosis rarely interfered with her day to day functioning. On the contrary, she was extraordinary and her ADHD further illuminated her incredible and countless strengths. However, once certain stressors were introduced into her young life, her ADHD manifested itself differently, as being more problematic only because it prevented her from exuding the best version of herself.

As Arianna’s elementary years passed, I saw that Arianna flourished academically when she thrived socially. For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Arianna learned remotely from March 2020 to February 2021, almost an entire year, excluding the summer months. Remote learning prevented her from forging lasting friendships and the rampant isolation was debilitating. Arianna would often forget to submit her assignments and had trouble with organizing her work. However, once she returned to school almost a year later, she blossomed as she renewed old friendships and established new social connections. Further, incorporating daily outdoor play with her friends after school solidified these bonds, helping to resurface the unbridled, optimistic version of Arianna we were all accustomed to. The resurgence of her joy was the most important thing to us by far.

As her positive social interactions progressed, so did her grades in school. Arianna’s academics and executive functioning, or the ability to plan and execute multi-step directions, began to improve, so much so that she no longer needed assistance remembering to submit assignments. She completed and submitted them all on her own, with no guidance from either myself, her father or her teachers. Arianna was also savvy enough to utilize fidget toys and sensory objects, such as slime and stress balls, during classroom time to increase her focus and concentration. Paradoxically, being able to move one’s body in the classroom setting is what boosts concentration. Therefore, it is imperative that teachers allow students with ADHD (and ASD) to fidget to strengthen their ability to focus.

To increase her concentration even further, we enrolled Arianna in our tutoring program at Khan’s Tutorial in Winter and Spring of 2022. Never did our Common Core program prove how effective it was than when Arianna scored 4/4 on her ELA and Math statewide exams while in the 4th grade. Shortly thereafter, she then went on to take the CogAT exam, gaining acceptance into her school’s Gifted and Talented program, where she currently thrives.

Even with all of her accomplishments, once Arianna entered 5th grade, she relayed how she struggles to concentrate in class. She finds her mind wandering during her English class and laments how difficult it is at times to focus, despite her fidget toys and strong friendships. As a result, Ivan and I immediately requested a letter from Arianna’s pediatrician asking that her school provide her with a 504 plan, a document which outlines accommodations and modifications to be provided to a student with a disability to ensure equal access to education. After receiving this request, the school’s psychologist immediately assembled a meeting with herself, myself, Ivan, Arianna’s teachers and the special education leader. Together, we developed a set of academic modifications so Arianna could leverage the help of her teachers in the classroom setting.

Examples of said accommodations include:

Preferential Seating

  • Refocusing and redirection through prompts and signals
  • Classroom breaks to allow for movement
  • Breaking down lengthy assignments into smaller portions

As parents, Ivan and I read and listen to audiobooks voraciously, eagerly consuming as much knowledge as possible about ADHD. We learned that exercise, specifically that related to balance and coordination helps settle ADHD symptoms into more manageable levels. The same is true for ASD, or individuals with Autism. So we enrolled both Arianna and Ian into roller skating lessons for a few weeks to see if the activity could improve their symptoms. I imagine that the constant movement from roller skating helps to not just improve balance, but helps address the incessant need to stir and fidget.

Nutrition and restful sleep are also critical to how Arianna functions the following day. Every evening, both myself and Ivan will spend 30+ minutes before bedtime with Arianna and Ian conversing about the day, laughing about some silly joke, learning life lessons, making it a meaningful way to reinforce connections daily with our children, fostering security and trust with one another. Since Arianna in particular has challenges falling asleep due to her forever racing ADHD mind, she utilizes a weighted blanket, a night light and a 45-minute bedtime story from the Calm app to aid her in transitioning to sleep.

Ivan and I are also hypervigilant about how we speak to Arianna about her ADHD. Love, hugs, patience, encouragement, connection and structure are all freely and frequently bestowed. Language that includes positive reinforcement has been integral to perception of herself. Utilizing phrases such as “use your brakes” instead of shaming, or “let’s let everyone have a turn” instead of belittling gently steers her towards more positive social interactions while preserving her self esteem.

When leveraged, Arianna’s ADHD is certainly her superpower. Her effervescent personality is compounded with her endless empathy, charisma and humor. She marches to the beat of her own drum, speaks her mind, stands up for herself, and refuses to conform. Research studies have even connected ADHD with entrepreneurship [1], which explains how Arianna is truly a replica of her father, CEO of Khan’s Tutorial, and her father’s father, Dr. Mansurul Khan, Founder of Khan’s Tutorial, before him. I have all the confidence in the world that my little girl’s unbridled optimism and abundant creativity will open doors to a world of limitless possibilities as she grows older. May she and others like her harness their strengths and continue to perpetually ascend!

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