Last weekend I read an interesting opinion article about ADHD from the Sunday Review section in the New York Times. Earlier this week, two people I trust and admire sent me a link to the article, literally within five minutes of each other. I took this as a sign that maybe I should take a second look at it…
If you’d like to read the article yourself before reading my thoughts, click here (“A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D” written by Richard Friedman). I highly recommend it–not a long or difficult read, and well worth the time.
I don’t claim to be an expert in neuroscience, so I’ll let that part lie. I do, however, think the author makes some solid points. Countless articles bash ADHD as a highly over-diagnosed farce that parents, teachers, and others are simply using it to make excuses for the inappropriate behavior of their kids (or themselves). Maybe it’s over-diagnosed. Honestly, I don’t care. I recognize its impact in my life and in the lives of others, and that’s truly all that matters to me.
Reading this article, memories come rushing back… Sitting through graduate school classes was like torture. I vividly remember a sense of being trapped in a tiny desk, knowing that I had two hours of quietly sitting and listening ahead of me. Just the thought causes instant anxiety. I would invariably hit a point when I felt like a caged animal. All I could think about was standing on my chair, screaming, and then running out the door. (why the screaming and running? not sure.)
It also made me recall my first professional job as a Residence Hall Director–a job that required working strange hours, dealing with bizarre situations, and responding to emergencies, all using creativity and quick thinking. I was lucky to stumble into a job with so many duties that played to my strengths. Administrative duties were harder. My graduate assistant, with whom I shared an office, swears that he watched me work and marveled at the fact that I got anything done. I bounced from task to task, a few minutes here, a few minutes there, finishing things I’d forgotten while simultaneously starting new projects. On and on. Everything got done, but I feel certain it must have taken longer than necessary.
I think the author makes a good point when he talks about the world students live in today–it’s a world of instant gratitude (I’ll admit that I get impatient waiting for Easy Mac in the microwave) and a world where students always have the option of being entertained or electronically connected with others. By comparison, my classroom is dull. I do my best to keep students active and involved, but I know that even my best-laid class plans can’t compete with Snapchat, the latest Buzzfeed quiz, or checking Tumblr for newly posted memes.
If social media and at-your-fingertips entertainment is the norm for my ADHD students outside the classroom, their brains are going to be at even more of a disadvantage trying to maintain interest in my class, as the author suggests.
I have no doubt that active engagement helps all students, n0t just those dealing with ADHD. However, life’s reality is one that just includes, to some level of another, times of sitting quietly and paying attention. I’ve had to learn what works for me–taking copious notes to keep my attention on the topic of a meeting, for example, or immediately picking up a stress ball or other small toy when someone sits down in my office for a serious conversation.
I see no reason to hesitate teaching attention tricks to the youngest of kids struggling with ADHD. I’ve convinced several students to take a stress ball to every class with them, and that alone often helps them focus. I encourage them to MOVE while they study. It isn’t until they try it that they realize every teacher who ever told them to sit down and be quiet was hampering their ability to learn. They don’t always have that choice, but when they do, why not encourage them to do what works best for them?
Seems simple, eh? It’s obviously far more complicated than I make it sound here, but I found helpful this author’s framework for considering the challenges of ADHD.
Oh! And the Paleolithic success story? Go read the article!