One in 20 children in South Africa suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), along with an estimated one million adults. Launched this month, All Of These Things Are Important To Me is the country’s first fictional book about ADHD, and aims to create awareness for early detection and intervention.
The book explores the adventurous life of Zee in a short and colourful narrative in English, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Zulu and Sesotho, and through its captivating storytelling explains how a child with ADHD perceives and lives in the world.
The second part of the book offers a simple but accurate explanation of ADHD: what it is, how it is diagnosed and how it is managed. It offers valuable advice for parents, educators and healthcare professionals in understanding and managing ADHD.
Professor Renata Schoeman, a psychiatrist in private practice and associate professor in leadership at Stellenbosch Business School, and Health24's resident expert, provided the academic input for the book as a resource for parents to answer their children’s – and their own – questions about ADHD.
She also, with in depth conversations with Refiloe Moahloli (children’s author) and David Griessel (illustrator) ensured that they really were able to capture the minds and experiences of a child with ADHD through their creative contributions.
Schoeman chatted to us about the process of the book, from start to completion:
This is your debut novel. How does it feel?
It is a debut novel, but I can’t claim that it’s my novel – nor that it is a novel! The idea behind the book, and the academic input is mine, while the protagonist, Zee, that we based the story on was inspired by patients that I’ve met through the years in my practice, so it’s really a tribute to all these children and all the children out there that still need help and that we haven’t yet reached. Also, without the creative input from Refiloe and David, the book would have remained a dream!
Have you always thought about producing a book on ADHD?
I suppose, as an academic, you write a lot, and there’s always this idea of getting information out there for everyone that’s easily "readable". So the idea of a book was always there, and sometimes you don’t always plan – sometimes it just happens serendipitously.
About 18 months ago, I realised, it was time. And I realised it wasn't something I had the creative talent to do on my own. I was looking for someone who has the ability to write in rhyme because children with ADHD often do not like reading, and I approached Refiloe directly.
She has a lot of energy and passion, and I liked her other books and her writing style, and so we met and discussed the project. We had a lot of conversations in terms of telling a story about what the children struggle with, and also educating her on ADHD.
So Refiloe put the storyline into that lovely rhyme that she wrote in English, and she translated it into isiXhosa. I had been following David Griesel’s work for a while and just loved what he created, and realised his sketches would work well for the book. (It also happens that we were both born and bred in Boemfontein!).
I wrote the academic content at the end of the book, because I think it’s so important that people obtain accurate information. There’s such a lot of misinformation out there about ADHD on the internet.
And people often want a resource where they can get all the crucial information together, such as what ADHD is, why people get it, how it’s diagnosed, and all the misconceptions about medication and treatment.
How long did it take for the book to be produced?
The entire process – from planning to production and publishing – took around 18 months, because we also had to secure funding before we could really buckle down.
The book contains three colours: yellow, grey and white. Is there any particular reason for this selection?
We talked about the use of colours upfront, and factored in three things. We wanted it either greyscale with yellow because of its association with The Goldilocks and Bear Foundation’s logo and brand. Yellow is also such an optimistic, happy colour, and it’s gender neutral. The third factor we considered was printing costs – it would’ve cost more had it been in full colour.
Children with ADHD are very visual. One of the first children who had the book in her hands said: “Yipee, now I can colour in!" It is therefore also an opportunity for the kids to personalise it for themselves.
What age group is the book particularly suited to?
Our aim was primary school kids, but we soon realised that the reach of the book is much bigger and is actually for anyone who wants to facilitate the conversation around ADHD, whether it’s with other adults, or teachers, parents, occupational therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, paediatricians – really just anyone who works with children with ADHD.
We even had a young adult who was very excited about the book, and said he could finally explain what he’d been experiencing to his parents and friends.
Were there any challenges you faced along the way?
Securing funding is not always easy, but the only thing that was particularly challenging was the translation of the story into five languages, and getting it right while maintaining the rhyming flow and making sure it’s correct.
We also had this brilliant editor-publishing guru (and angel), Wilsa Metz from Metz Press, who was really crucial in assisting us with the book. Without her expertise, the book would have taken much longer to produce – and the process would have been so much more stressful!
Do you have any tips to offer for kids with ADHD who aren't interested in reading or listening to stories?
I think, because this book is visually appealing, you could even just page through the pictures at first. And when their eyes start to drift to the left and they see the short text, it might intrigue them into thinking, “What’s this over here? I want to understand it.”
So just introducing the visual concept will get their attention, and they will pretty quickly realise that it’s not a typical book. But bear in mind they shouldn’t be forced. They might want you to only read one or two pages, or would just want to look at the butterflies.
For a younger child, perhaps try to initially use it to play a game of “Spot the butterflies [or teddy bears]”, because those are some of the themes found throughout the book.
Do you expect to produce any other books on ADHD in the future?
I would love to! I already got requests to write for teenagers and adults, but it will not happen within the next six months. And obviously we will have a completely different approach. I don’t want to give my ideas away right now, but watch this space...
What advice do you have for parents and teachers supporting children with ADHD?
We included a lot of tips for parents and teachers in the book, so I don’t want to repeat them, but the most important thing to realise – and it’s valid for every child and every adult, regardless of whether they have ADHD or not – is that everyone has strengths. Find that strength that helps you to connect with another human being, and focus on that. We all have seeds of potential, but often no one nourishes those seeds, so my advice is to focus on that strength and not on what frustrates you.
*All proceeds from the book goes to the Goldilocks and the Bear Foundation, founded by Prof Schoeman and athlete Nic de Beer in 2017. The Foundation aims to remove mental health barriers (such as ADHD, anxiety, depression and learning difficulties) through early detection and intervention.
Images: Supplied/Jigsaw Public Relations