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The Amazing Story of a Boy Who Would Never Focus on Anything

Natalie Staats Reiss, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 25th 2008

Michael PhelpsAs a swimmer, I was thrilled to watch Olympic history in the making as Michael Phelps broke world records and won 8 gold medals. As a psychologist, I was particularly interested to hear Michael's mother describe some of the challenges he had to cope with along the way to his amazing feats.

Not only was Phelps a child who dealt with his parent's divorce and being raised by an absentee dad and a single mother, he also struggled with ADHD. According to his mother and his coach, Michael was a very disruptive boy who never sat still and never stopped talking as he bounced from one thing to another. His symptoms were so severe that when he was in elementary school, a teacher told his mother that Phelps would never focus on anything.

Rather than giving up, Michael, with the strong support and guidance of his mother, sisters, and coach, focused on swimming. He took Ritalin until sixth grade, at which point, his busy schedule of swim practices, swim meets, and his mother's parenting skills kept him focused. 

Interestingly, his coach now says that his best attribute is single-mindedness. This trait allows Phelps to focus on his goals. For the past 10 years, he’s never missed one day of his seven days of practice a week schedule, swimming nearly 50 miles a week.

Certainly, all children with ADHD won't become Olympic level athletes. However, Michael Phelps and his family should provide inspiration to both parents and children who are coping with this disorder. Finding and channeling a passion, goal setting, determination, practice, and perseverance are all keys to success in life, especially if you are dealing with a mental illness. It is truly an amazing story on many different levels.

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