Monday, February 11, 2013

AD/HD for Dinner

There's a plethora of information regarding Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Many people know some basic information- such as the three types of AD/HD: inattentive, hyperactive and combined type. Combined type is the most common. Information abounds, as do opinions regarding this diagnosis. For those who say AD/HD is overdiagnosed and overmedicated, I say, "I tend to agree." For those who say there is no such thing as AD/HD, I say, "You must not have it."  At mi casa, we are well acquainted with AD/HD. We set a place for it at dinner and delight in its company. We buy it extra pencils, calculators, and scissors because, alas, those items can never be found when we need them. We have sticky notes, tools, and gadgets to aid it  and specially designed quiet spaces for its retreat. Not to mention a prescription or two in the cupboard.

So, the information I share is from my perspective as someone who knows AD/HD personally and who loves many children and adults who have it. AD/HD in its most severe form isn't just different, it's hard. It can make life so very difficult at times. It can also make life exciting and unpredictable. I'm  sharing some of my own experiences either lived or observed.  There are people far more learned than I with their own valuable insights. Fact is, we all know something about attention. In this world, so full of digital distractions, the average attention span has decreased considerably. Diagnosis or not, we all have to work to be mindful, present and fully attentive. It is really quite tempting to scratch every itch, to answer every text, and to try to be in three places at once. But school and work require us to focus, focus, focus.

So.. there is much to share but it seems a good idea to keep it attention span friendly so this post will offer just a few thoughts...


For those with AD/HD

  • Make friends with your brain. What does it need and how does it learn best? I don't have a long attention span, therefore it is imperative for me to be organized enough to study for short chunks of time. A major test on Friday? I can't do a marathon cramming session, so I study for 20-30 minutes the four days before. I had to teach (translate:make) one of my daughters  do this. Did she rise up to call me blessed? Far from it.... but she smiled when she received a good grade and figured out it is a good idea. A big hairy study guide loaded with info that makes me hyperventilate just looking at it? Break it into chunks. Put the information on note cards in easily digestible pieces.  The Notecards app has been a valuable tool. Figure out your learning style and use it. There are lots of great resources for recording information in classrooms and then listening to it later. Noteability  (app) has this capability as well as the Livescribe Smartpen (

  • Find a system. Figure out what helps you stay organized. My daughter is an inveterate list maker. I have to have my day written out by hand atop my desk. The electronic calender works for some and is readily available. Clean out that backpack and locker once a week. Amazing discoveries await (like your math homework).

  • Figure out your valleys and peaks. Attention comes and goes. Figure out when you are most attentive and do your most challenging task then. Mine is in the morning. I have to get the hard stuff figured out first. The time after 9 PM is an intellectual wasteland for me. Having said that, I know all of us have times that aren't optimal for us but we have to be learning and engaged. Being aware of that is helpful. Take notes, breathe in and out, visualize the information that is coming it, connect it to something that you will remember.  Talk to your brain and ask it to hang in there for another 15 minutes if you happen to be in a valley of distraction.

  • Write it down! If impulsivity lands you in a heap of trouble, carry around some sticky notes or a journal, write those things down rather than saying them. It really helps and when you read them later, most of the time you are really glad you didn't say them.  The other use for writing things down is to remember them.I have students leave my room telling me what the homework is and by the time they get to their locker, it's a lost thought. So, write it down! Sticky notes can be your best friend.

  • Know that school isn't the real world. School takes the attention span to task in the most brutal way. In the real world, you will likely get to operate out of your strengths and while you have to do things you don't want to do, you usually have a bit more control over when to do them. To have lots of choices though, you need an education. So, hang in there, learn as much as you can and and remember that someday you won't be in class for 8 hours a day.


Parent and Teacher Tips

  • Understand that working memory is often impacted by AD/HD. This means that your learner can't retrieve the information you just taught to apply to the new information you want to give him. Help her retrieve this information. Review yesterday's content, use visual clues (lots of them), and help the student make connections. Remind the student where he was when he learned the skill or what game you played to practice it. This is HUGE for kids with AD/HD and too many times we don't get it and assume the student wasn't paying attention or isn't trying. Not true. Help them access that information!

  • Change the address often. We can't keep children or adult learners in their seats the whole class period. Build in movement and offer options. It is worth the effort to plan purposeful movement. Have several options available in your classroom for seating/standing. Yes, it is okay to have times when you expect everyone in their seats and everyone quiet but not all day or even most of the day for a learner with significant attention issues.

  • Change it up. Take the kids by surprise. The AD/HD brain loves the new and novel. Utilize technology, hands on activities, games and mystery.  Prime the brain for learning by telling them what you hope they figure out by the end of the class period.

  • Educate the whole person. We do this so well in preschool but too many times by the time we are teaching high school kids we are only talking to the part of the learner that is between the ears and the top of the head.  All through our lives we need to have chances to learn with our whole body. If we can teach it hands-on, we probably should.
  • Have some sensory/escape items in your classroom and home. Everybody needs them. I have yet to see a child acting impulsively while playing in the zen garden or doing some creative doodles. These things are calming and create a safe outlet. Children with AD/HD often need a little help to slow down their engines. Give them that help by offering some hands on materials. Zen gardens available at
  •  Provide rationale. Often the AD/HD child wants to know why he or she is asked to learn something. It is a fair question. If we can't answer it, we should probably chuck the lesson. "Because it is on the state assessment" is never a good answer. I tell my students I should always be able to tell them why I have given them an assignment or why I am teaching a particular skill. The child with AD/HD is wonderfully inquisitive and will ask you great questions. 

Finally, it is my contention that if we make our classrooms and homes friendlier places for students with attention needs, we will benefit everyone. The most challenging students I have had have made me the best teacher. The most active and inquisitive students I've had have grown up to do wonderful things when allowed to work out of their strengths.

Yours in distraction,

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