Blessed With ADHD

by Arlene Birt


After I read an article in which a teacher discussed relating to different groups of students, I commented to a friend that I think “my kind” of students are the ADHD children. My friend agreed, “Yes, you do well with them.” This is not her area—she understands those with the emotional and mental needs better. The teacher in the article said she can appreciate whiny girls, but other teachers have “their kind” of children—those they can relate to more easily, those they “get.”

I think of an ADHD child in one setting where I teach. He is moving almost constantly, sticking out his arm, grabbing things, and shuffling his feet. He pushes his paper towards someone, he points his crayons at others. He is usually touching something or someone, and often says mean things. I am accustomed to this behavior, having worked with many ADHD children (both diagnosed and suspected) in school, Sunday School, and in my family. With this child, I’ve found that proximity control works (I stand near him), a light touch to his arm or hand will stop the annoying behavior, a “Look at me,” gets his attention, and a gentle reminder can redirect him. Sometimes I ignore the behavior if it is not hurting anyone else but I also need to be very consistent.

These children are dear to me, even though they can try my patience. How can I help them best to learn and work together in the classroom? How can I show care to them? How can I support their parents?

Monte is a seven-year-old Hispanic boy adopted by his grandmother. His birth parents live in the city and he often visits them on the weekend. He talks about siblings who live in the city, and relates stories about seeing a convenience store robbed and his bikes being stolen. His grandmother said she is trying to do better with him than she did with his mom. He and his grandmother regularly attend Spanish church and she is paying tuition for him to attend a Christian school. He has two different worlds: life in a small-town apartment and life in the city.

Monte has lots of energy, cannot sit still, is always tapping on his desk, the table, or any surface, and playing drums with his pencils. He is very distracted and does not listen well. He is unorganized and has supplies scattered all around his desk. He has many pencils, but rarely has a sharpened one! He is very friendly, cheerful, and talkative. He is respectful to adults and gets along well with his classmates.

Monte needs movement in his learning, reminders to listen, guidance in reading, and help with organization. His mother said, “Monte is so hyper!” He exhibits many characteristics of ADHD, but mother does not want him on medication and seems not to know what else to do to help him. Monte sat beside me during our spring program. As we listened to the secondary students perform, Monte flopped and wiggled, blew his nose several times, went out to the bathroom, and annoyed his neighbor. Eventually he slid down and knelt at his chair. Then he lay across the seat and stuck his head out the back of the chair. I let him kneel, as I knew it was literally impossible for him to sit still. At the end of the program, he joined the entire student body and staff to sing. Monte was making faces, singing in an unusual way, and making his neighbor laugh. He is not mean in his behavior, just lively.

Monte did not score well on the beginning of the year math test, so the reading specialist wanted to test him further. Mother did not agree to testing, so Monte has not had pull-out math instruction. I have worked with him individually and my aide has done math work with him. His math level is average now. Monte writes creatively, but his organization and neatness are quite lacking. He is reading, but does not follow along when others read, as his attention span is so limited. He read 85% of the tested sight words recently. He learns quickly when he focuses on learning.

Besides working with him individually and having the aide work with him, I try to find topics of interest to Monte to spark his attention. I let him share stories about the city. I try to incorporate movement and activity in our lessons. He sits at the end of his group so that he has space around his desk for his supplies and can have more freedom of movement. I do not require him to be seated—if he can work standing up, that’s okay. We read a story that had a drum roll every few pages, “Rat-a-tat-tat!” so Monte was in charge of “playing the drum” to give a benefical use for the tapping and drumming he does most of the time. I help him to follow along during reading by showing him the words and giving him a pointer to use.

Some characteristics of children with ADHD are:

  • Very active physically
  • Noisy
  • Prone to frequent emotional outbursts
  • Unorganized
  • Sees events in black or white
  • Difficulty picking up on social cues
  • Poor self-image

Children with ADHD do see things differently. The teacher will need to have patience with them! I think the best reminder for working with these children is to pray for them. Some approaches to working with children with ADHD are to use creative teaching, apply constant reinforcement, and add structure and rules to the daily routine. It may be helpful to use visual signs to remind students what to do. Give choices when possible. “You may choose which page to do first. You may choose the color to use, or what to write with. You may pick up your supplies now or during break. You may decide which game to play.” And don’t require these children to always sit and be still!

Some other areas I’ve found helpful:

  • Determine what specific things are difficult for the student.
  • Post clear rules, schedules, and assignments. Follow routines. Alert them to schedule changes.
  • Provide opportunities for physical activity and learning.
  • Give step by step directions then make sure the student is following directions.
  • Allow computer work.
  • Communicate with the parents. Develop and implement an educational plan. Share info on how the child is doing at home and at school
  • Try new ways of doing things. Be patient. Expect success.

I like to think of these children with ADHD as a blessing, not a burden, and to think of how we can shepherd and guide them well in our schools.

I retrieved some information from the following resources:

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CONTRIBUTOR: Arlene Birt

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