Take a moment and think about one thing you are really bad at. Something you have tried to do over and over and you just can’t do it. If it’s art, your hands just won’t draw what you want them to. If it’s math, those numbers just don’t make sense, no matter how much you memorize the visual isn’t there. Practice doesn’t always make perfect, no matter how hard you try. Some things we just don’t have the coordination for or our brain just isn’t wired that way.
Now imagine if that one thing you couldn’t do was something everyone else could. What if it was something you had to do everyday. And every time you failed, someone pointed it out, loudly. That is how my elementary and middle school life was everyday I walked into the school. I could not sit still and quiet for hours a day. I tried every single day. But no matter how hard I tried, I never could make it to the end of the day. It was so frustrating and eventually my self esteem suffered.
I have ADHD. I’m not embarrassed by it, or I’m not anymore. My parents didn’t realize it because teachers never told them. Probably didn’t because that was a “boy problem” when I was growing up. For some reason boys in my class couldn’t help it, but I was just causing trouble. Teachers disliked me and my grades dropped. I started reading books at age 2 but was failing 6th grade reading. That’s a problem.
Over time I learned to deal. It blows my mind I went through grad school twice without medicine. I do take medicine now, but that took me years to realize it was OK to admit weakness. I’m OK with admitting the weakness now as well as I’m OK asking for help.
I tell this story because often ADHD students get a bad rap. Or ADHD itself does. And though it is more understood than it was back when I was in school, I feel like unless you live with it, you would probably be surprised at things people with ADHD deal with daily. It’s so much more than trying to sit still in a desk. So here are some things that I, and others, deal with that you probably never thought of being part of ADHD:
1. I actually can sit still for hours at a time, but it’s usually because I’m ‘hyper-attentive” of something. Like reading a book. I can read a book for hours and not stop to eat or even sleep. I’ve had a lot of parents say to me “he doesn’t have ADHD because he can sit in front of TV/xbox for hours.” Hyper-attention is just as big as a problem as anything else.
2. I’m just going to be late. I’m not being disrespectful of your time, there was just something that caught my attention and I didn’t know it. Even more in the mornings. I hate morning Amanda. Plus medicine doesn’t kick in until later. Students with ADHD aren’t late to your class on purpose, they just got wrapped up in a conversation or looking for something. Or even stayed after last class finishing something because they didn’t hear the bell.
3. I didn’t forget on purpose. Ever fill a cup until it overflowed? That’s my brain. Too much is going in, so other stuff ran out. I didn’t forget on purpose. Grocery store is a nightmare. I know something will be forgotten. And don’t tell me to make a list, I’ll forget the list. Don’t give students with ADHD more than one thing at a time to do. Especially oral list. If you do give a list make a check list. But don’t get mad if they just 1/2 finish every thing on the list. They can’t finish #2 on the list because started to think about #3.
4. I’m a picky eater. A lot of kids on ADHD are always getting hounded about eating because the medicine messes with appetite. So I see parents or teachers saying they have to eat everything off their plate. More than likely they don’t like stuff on their plates. Foods with odd textures (I get made fun of a lot because I hate potatoes and fries) or very strong smells, like seafood, are huge turn offs. Can’t even drink coffee because of the hot liquid. I get very overwhelmed by it and can’t enjoy the food. Don’t force it, find things they like. Chocolate or vanilla ice cream or milkshakes are great at fighting weight loss and or bland. Smells are the same way. I can lose hours of concentration because of a strong smell.
5. I do not sleep and rarely take naps. You can’t sleep if your brain cannot stop. I will go 3 days on 6 hours of sleep. If I do sleep, I usually toss and turn, even kick off covers. That means I have lack of sleep. Students with ADHD may have gone a few nights without sleep. Not good for learning. Also, ADHD meds are stimulants, if your student had caffeine added to that, they can go 24 hours without sleep.
6. I can snap. Not meaning to. But the impulsiveness that comes with ADHD can transfer over when I become angry. It’s humiliating, I don’t want to, I really cannot help it. Don’t hold it against your students personally when that happens. Notice signs that it may be coming, probably because someone is getting on there nerves doing one of the things I’ve listed.
7. If there is a crowd, you’ll find me in the corner. A quiet corner. It’s ironic because in a quiet room I’m probably the loudest and demand the most attention, but in a loud room, I’m the quietest. I get very overwhelmed and shut down. Remember this when you have activities in class that are loud and chaotic, students with ADHD may need to work in the hall or a quiet corner.
8. I can’t memorize things. Especially multiplication tables. I still don’t know them. I’m a pretty smart math brain but there is no memorization. I can do and understand calculus, but that doesn’t get you through 3rd grade math. Just get over it. Make sure students know why or how to figure it out, stop with the stop watches already. Speed and knowledge are not equals.
9. Repetition of sounds will make lose my mind. Tapping of a pencil will seriously have me shaking. Yes I know sometimes kids with ADHD do the tapping or humming, but they can’t handle others doing it. If you notice a kid doing that just walk by them and stop them before they start annoying others. Also, don’t put students with ADHD near each other or near the kid that does tap. Remember #6 above? Yeah that’s the number one thing that will make me snap.
10. I’m not organized. I am in my world but only because I had to make an effort to learn how to be organized for me. The worst thing on earth is a big binder with tabs. The school I used to work with required kids to have binders. Papers would come out and they would forget to put them back or at least in order. But a spiral notebook where I don’t have to take anything out, now we are talking. Also, it will take me weeks to get more paper once running out because can’t remember to get some. And stay away from locker, it’s a nightmare.
This is just a list of 10. I could make a list of 100. But I wanted to point this out because I see students all the time getting in trouble for things their brain really cannot control. No matter how hard they try they can’t do some things as well as others. You don’t yell at students for not being able to draw or understand math or read, but it’s become OK to yell at or punish students for not being able to sit still or for doing one of the 10 in the list above. Here are things that I was punished for or made failing grades because of in school: notebook checks, not ignoring the annoying kid tapping, Fs for not memorizing, made to participate in loud activities, in trouble for being sleepy, and being late. This doesn’t even include the typical, can’t sit still, won’t stop talking, etc. Thank God Class Dojo was not invented when I was in school or I think often that my self-esteem may not even have recovered. Could you imagine losing a point or mom getting an email for things you cannot help?? Some times we think we are just trying to teach self control, but please remember they are trying, they are just having a harder time teaching their brain to do something it was not made to do. I hope reading my story creates just a small bit of empathy towards students in your classroom. Put yourself in their shoes before you punish them.