A Different Perspective of ADHD

Someone I love has ADD with hyperactivity.   In this post, ADHD will be used to refer to ADD with hyperactivity.   No doctor has ever diagnosed him.  But, spend just a few minutes with him and he ticks off every marker on the symptom lists.  He’s an adult now and made it through his childhood and schooling unscathed and quite successful.

As a child, he was a bundle of energy.  His mom tells stories of his escapades.  She tells of a 2 year old boy who left the home, crossed a busy street and made his way to the grocery store because he wanted ice cream.  She tells stories of the boy who never stopped moving, a daring young man who was not afraid of taking risks.  He scaled walls, jumped into ponds with his bike, and was the kind of kid that was gone from sun up until sun down.  He was a good boy, never in real trouble, but the kid who was often reprimanded in class.  Sitting silently in a classroom was nothing short of his own personal nightmare.  School was torture, although he is a very intelligent man. 

I’ve known him for many years.  He terrified me at the Grand Canyon as he leapt from rock formation to rock formation like a sprite.  I’ve watched (kinda, my eyes were closed) as he jumped from the top of the Stratosphere.  He’s a thrill seeker.

This past weekend, we spent a lot of time together.  I sat across from him at a restaurant.  It was a busy restaurant, people constantly moving and lots of adults and kids milling around.  There were lots of windows and many wait staff to keep up with the busy atmosphere.  I was sharing a story and as I watched him, he was not looking anywhere in my general location.  His eyes were darting about.  So I stopped speaking.  It took a few moments, but his eyes finally caught mine.  I shared that I hadn’t seen him so impacted by his lack of focus in quite some time.

I took him off guard and he apologized.  He repeated everything I had said to him, he was 100% listening to me.  He heard it all.  He processed it all.  He even responded appropriately.  I asked him to describe how he was feeling.  He shared that everything caught his attention.  The colors, the movements, the sounds, the people in the room and then there was the sunlight, the lake, cars and the people outside of the restaurant.  His eyes constantly darted around the room.  He saw and heard everything…all of it.

His skill at paying attention to everyone and everything is paramount.  He notices EVERYTHING!  A car sped by us on the way home and he saw their bumper sticker was from the place we had just left.  A new family came in to the restaurant and he noticed that the family next to them had dropped a coat.  It’s almost as if he knows what cars on the road are going to do before they make a move because he’s been watching their patterns.  He notices the things that fade into the background for most of us.  It’s astounding to watch how his mind works.  I also think it would be terribly exhausting.

Physically, he’s a mover.  He never stops.  He walks an average of 15,000 steps per day.  He climbs 25 stair cases per day.  This is all done while also working a full time job.  He uses a standing desk, fidgets with things, takes many walking breaks, walks during lunch, runs before work and rarely sleeps.

He is an amazing human who is smart, works hard and is successful at everything he does.

Listening to him explain his gifts made me think of the children in our classrooms that experience the same things that he does.  What must it be like?  Imagine how difficult their lives are with people who do not understand?  Imagine what sitting in a classroom must feel like?  More importantly, what are we doing to help them?

He’s not medicated, never has been.  He’s now 48 and people didn’t give their kids medicine back then to control hyperactive behavior like they do today.  They gave them strategies.  They gave them freedom.  They taught to their strengths.

I want to share some of these challenges and recommendations in the hopes that perhaps they can help a child (or even an adult) somewhere out there.

  1.  Environment.  What type of classroom does your child need?  What type of work environment do you need?  Classrooms today lack structure.  Teachers won’t agree with me, but it’s true.  Yes, teachers try to keep organization, routines and expectations.  But we often work in small collaborative groups, students come and go for related services, meetings, and other support, adults are in and out of our classrooms and technology is abundant.  That’s a lot of distraction and little structure.  For some kids, the freedom to move or have diverse activities may be the answer.  But, for some, the old school, sit in your seat type of setting could remove many distractions.  What about you, as an adult?  What type of work environment do you thrive in?  My friend could not work and be happy in an environment that did not allow him to move and/or talk.  I worked at a company many years ago that was silent.  No one talked unless a customer called.  It was small, so there was no place to walk.  This was BRUTAL!  But, for the rest of the people in the office, the silence and peace was heaven.  Think about your child’s (or your) needs.  What classroom will he/she excel in?  What type of work environment suits you?  These are important to relay to people making placement decisions for your child.  They are important things to consider when seeking employment.
  2. Movement.  There are studies that show that movement before difficult subjects, or classes that require sustained focus, can improve test scores.  My friend will tell you that if he does not get movement in, he cannot focus.  When he’s struggling to sustain attention on a task, he will often get up and run in place, do something around the house or take a walk.  That movement can help him to focus.
  3. Ask the student.  Many people say, “running revs the student’s engine higher”.  I think our student’s often know what they need, we just never ask them.  If the student appears to be more hyper after movement, maybe they need a different type of movement or maybe longer movement.  Ask them how they feel.  Ask them what they need.  Use trial and error to try to determine what works best.  If you are struggling as an adult…same thing.  Give it a try.  20 minutes…all it takes.  Get your heart rate up, move your body and see how your focus improves.
  4. Limit Distractions.  Many times, teachers or parents want to include a common accommodation…seat near teacher.  I often pushed back on this one.  First, teachers aren’t in one place anymore.  They teach from the front of the room, the back of the room, the corner, the other corner, etc.  So this is a confusing accommodation.  I typically prefer an accommodation that describes the need. For example:  seat away from line sight of hallway or seat near the front of the room or seat away from windows or even, seat near fewest distractions.  Describe the need.  In my example, we returned to the same restaurant the next day.  My friend’s attention was greatly improved.  I asked why.  He shared that in this seat, there were fewer distractions.  He couldn’t see the kitchen, the bar or most of the room without turning his head.  It was easier to focus.

We need to start looking at our children with ADHD as children with gifts.  They have many.  For example, I can list my friend’s gifts and I’m not sure teachers would see these as gifts.

-Great physical agility
-Great physical endurance
-Fantastic debater

Many of our kids are similar.  How can we help them by teaching them through these strengths?  How can we use these qualities to, not only, teach them, but help them to thrive in school?

My experience tells me that if we don’t reach boys by 3rd grade, their love for school begins to wain and for girls, they lose self esteem starting around this same time.  I have no science to back that.  None.  I only go on what I’ve seen.  I want to share some ideas that can help at home and at school (or work).

Engage in movement prior to classes or meetings that will require longer periods of sitting.  Running, jumping, walking, weights, etc.
Teach the student (or practice yourself) to look at a room and determine what will be distracting.  This is a life skill…!  Don’t diminish what they say.  If they say the red book in the corner is bothersome, move the book.
Teach (or learn yourself) how to focus.  Meditation is such an underused skill.  The brain is an organ that has the ability to rewire itself.  Have your child close their eyes and breathe in through their nose and out through their mouth.  Focus only on breathing.  Teach them that when their thoughts go to something else, to quickly go back to focusing on breathing.  It’s okay if their thoughts wander (and normal), just return to focusing on breathing.  In the beginning, your child (or you) may only be able to focus for a minute.  That’s okay, start there and work for 30 seconds more each time.  This helps to rewire the brain to engage focus.
Trial and error.  Just because playing basketball revs a child up doesn’t mean jumping jacks also will.  Movement is important for many kids and adults.  Try different things on different days to see what works best.
Allow movement naturally.  Balance work with movement.  Expecting a child with ADHD to sit through 60 minutes of math without moving is ludicrous.  I don’t want to sit through 60 minutes of math, as an adult, and I don’t have ADHD!  Give the child a break.  Give the whole class a break.  Allow the child to march in place.  Give him or her an errand to run.
-Reading requires sitting.  If a child isn’t doing well reading, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t read, it may mean they can’t sit still long enough to decipher meaning.  Two different issues.  Address the need FIRST, then assess the skill.
-Ask for participation.  Don’t assume that because Robbie is doing jumping jacks and looking out the window that he isn’t listening and comprehending.  Chances are that he is.  Engage with him while he’s moving.  Ask questions to make sure he’s on task.  He’s probably, not only on task, he probably also knows what color shoes you’re wearing, that the girl in the corner has a cold, your scissors are missing from your desk, his best friend is wearing his favorite color, and chances are, he figured all of that out at the same moment.

So many children have these incredible gifts that we are overlooking because they don’t fit the mold of what we want to see.

We need to break the mold and accept our children and all of their uniquely fabulous skills.  It saddens me that so many want to medicate children because of focus and attention.  Sometimes, medication is the best option.  It’s another tool in out tool bag, as parents.

How many children could be successful without medication if we changed our perspective and methods?

Thoughts to ponder.


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Disclaimer:  There are exceptions to every rule.  Children and adults with disabilities are people with their own individual needs and desires.  The ideas and advice given in this blog are for your consideration only and should not be taken as legal, medical or educational advice, as every single situation is different.


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