Attention Deficit Disorder
by Jan Zeiger
As I type this article, the dryer is running and the washing machine is spinning. My husband is snoring in the next room. In the backyard, my dachshund is barking at a squirrel, another dog, or something else that he thinks I need to know about. The cars on the street outside are rushing by my house. My fingers are tapping the keys as I write this sentence. My computer is "thinking" and making a humming sound....
Many believe that Attention Deficit Disorder is the inability to pay attention. In actuality, people with ADD don't have a problem paying attention. Our problem lies in the fact that we pay attention to EVERYTHING around us. We don't have the ability to tune things out the way other people do without even thinking. As I type this article, I hear every sound around me. Every time my dog moves, I turn and look. I try to focus on the article, but I continue to see and hear everything, no matter how insignificant, that is going on around me.
Going to a restaurant with a friend can be a frustrating experience for me. It usually starts out fine, but within 10 minutes or so, I have "checked out" of the conversation. This isn't because I don't care. This is because I hear the people at the next table talking. I see the hostess showing a couple to their booth. Of course, I also hear the music that is playing throughout the restaurant.
As my friend talks, I keep reminding myself to listen and to look at her. I respond by nodding my head as my mind drifts even farther away from the conversation. I get frustrated with myself as the evening goes on. There are so many distractions in this room! How is anybody supposed to have a decent conversation with all of this "stuff" going on?
Last year, I realized that I had a lot in common with one of my students, so I did some research on ADD. As I read the books about ADD, I felt like I was reading about myself. There were others like me! I was diagnosed in October of 1999 with Attention Deficit Disorder.
Finding out about ADD has been a life-changing experience for me. I finally understand why I need to have complete silence in order to get any papers graded or lesson plans done. My husband understands, too. He doesn't get as frustrated when we go out for dinner anymore. He just says, "Jan? Are you listening to me?" As a teacher with ADD, I have a unique understanding of how these children feel in the classroom. This really captures the special needs of children with ADD:
Bill of Rights for Children with ADD
HELP ME TO FOCUS...
Please teach me through my sense of touch. I need "hands-on" and body movement.
I NEED TO KNOW WHAT COMES NEXT...
Please give me a structured environment where there is a dependable routine. Give me an advance warning if there will be changes.
WAIT FOR ME, I'M STILL THINKING...
Please allow me to go at my own pace. If I'm rushed, I get confused and upset.
I'M STUCK, I CAN'T DO IT...!
Please offer me options for problem solving. If the road is blocked, I need to know the detours.
IS IT RIGHT? I NEED TO KNOW NOW...
Please give me rich and immediate feedback on how I'm doing.
I DIDN'T KNOW I WASN'T IN MY SEAT...!
Please remind me to stop, think, and act.
AM I ALMOST DONE...?
Please give me short work periods with short-term goals.
Please don't say "I already told you that." Tell me again, in different words. Give me a signal. Draw me a symbol.
I KNOW IT'S ALL WRONG, ISN'T IT...?
Please give me praise for partial success. Reward me for self-improvement, not just for perfection.
BUT WHY DO I ALWAYS GET YELLED AT...?
Please catch me doing something right and praise me for the specific positive behavior. Remind me--and yourself--about my good points when I'm having a bad day.
In this first article of a series, let's explore some ways to help the ADD student stay focused in the classroom.
I NEED A SPECIAL PLACE TO WORK
Children with ADD need specific help when it comes to focusing. For them, the classroom can be very much like that crowded restaurant. Many teachers isolate children with ADD in order to reduce distractions. (While it is true that moving a child with ADD away from the group can help them focus, it should not be seen as a "time-out" or punishment.) If they are sitting in the middle of the room where people are constantly walking by, they will definitely have trouble staying focused on the assignment. Instead of moving the child's desk, give that child a special place to work. Make it a choice for them to get up and move. Let them keep their regular desk, but give them a "safe haven" somewhere else in the room. Make sure that there are no windows or walkways nearby. I have also heard of some children who can stay in their regular spot when they wear earplugs that keep the noise out.
I NEED A CLASSROOM THAT IS FREE OF "BUSYWORK"
Children with ADD are not the only children who need to feel that their assignments are meaningful and relevant to their lives. Think about your favorite teachers. How did they get their students excited about learning? Think back to your experiences as a student when you are writing your lesson plans for the week. Seriously consider the written assignments that your students complete each day. Are they all necessary? Meaningful? Worthwhile? Be a reflective teacher. If a written assignment isn't truly necessary, don't assign it. Use that time for more engaging activities and collaborative group work. Instead of a worksheet on plants, have them grow their own! Instead of doing that worksheet on adjectives, give them magazines and ask them to cut out all of the adjectives they can find! Even the most traditional activities can become more engaging with a little bit of extra thought. If you aren't sure how to do this, the WWW is a great place to start! Remember that children, even children with ADD, will be more engaged when they are encouraged to play active roles in the learning process.
I NEED A TEACHER WHO REALLY "KNOWS" ME
Part of being an effective teacher is getting to know your students. When you have students with ADD, really understanding your students becomes even more important. Every child has something that they find exciting or interesting. It might be hard to figure out, but it's there. Find the secret "key" to your student with ADD by really getting to know that student. Sit with them at lunch. Invite them to help you after school. Building a positive relationship with that student will help you understand them as a learner, and it will also let them know that you really want them to succeed.
Last year, I had a little boy with ADHD (with hyperactivity). He was all over the place. I mean ALL OVER the place. He didn't complete assignments, he walked around the room, and he got more angry and frustrated as the day went on. I got to know him during the first few weeks of school, and I realized that he was really into art. He had drawings all over the place. They were in his folders, his backpack, and his desk! I knew that I had found the "key" to this student.
That weekend, I went to the public library. I checked out about 20 "How to Draw" type books, and I took them to school. That morning, I made an announcement to the whole class about the books that I had checked out for that month. I will never forget the look on his face. He came up to me and said, "Mrs. Zeiger, can I look at those books now?" I told him that he needed to get his math done first, and he went off to do his math. It was a struggle for him, but with a lot of encouragement, he got his math assignment done and was able to get a drawing book off the shelf. When it was time for lunch, he wanted to take the book with him. When he went home, he wanted to borrow the book. He couldn't get enough!
As the year progressed, this child began teaching "art lessons" to the class. In order to teach these lessons, he had to get all of his work done. This was very difficult for him, but he was able to do it with a reminders from his "buddy" and a lot of feedback from me. During our Medieval Times Unit, he taught the class how to draw a jester, and they really enjoyed it. Now he is in fourth grade, and he comes in to "teach" my third grade class every few weeks.
If you are looking for more tips and suggestions on how to help the children with ADD in your classroom, check out my ADD links page:
Next month, I will discuss how a predictable classroom environment with clear expectations can give your ADD students the structure they need to succeed academically.