In my line of work, I’m often consulted about the horse of many colors — the child with ADD/ADHD. If I had a dollar for every referral that came across my desk as a school psychologist, I could close up shop in about 6 months. Teachers do their best, there’s no doubt about it, but they have a rapidly fraying rope when it comes to managing classrooms of 15+ kids, at least 4 of whom are either fighting dragons in the Land of Anywhere But Here, or climbing the walls, fully present, in the classroom. Today I’ll talk about the former. My favorite.
Attention Deficit Disorder is somewhat of a controversial topic among my kin in the world of psychology. Some swear by the science of the “disorder” and its etiology, and some think it’s a load of garbage. I’m parked comfortably in the middle. Often times parents are spooked when they’re tipped off about a looming referral, because the word on the street is that a pill will fix it right up, and that pharmacology is our go-to recommendation. Medication for ADD and ADHD has well-known side-effects of poor sleep, poor appetite, and Zombie-ism. And sometimes it’s like a magical little pill that transforms a struggling dragon-fighter or wall-climber into a functioning student whilst still maintaining their energy, appetite, and personality. The reason why I refer to kids with ADD and ADHD as a horse of many colors is because none of them look exactly the same to me. Rendering the necessity of a case-by-case evaluation as absolutely vital.
Our daydreamers, who reside in the Land of Anywhere But Here, are often described as aloof, forgetful, and lost. They are reprimanded for “not focusing!” “not listening!” and in general, as being on a very important mission somewhere in outer space. When I interview these kids and mention “daydreaming,” there’s a sharp intake of breath and swift denial as if I said a curse word. Where did that come from? When I swap “daydreaming” for “imagination,” it’s much more acceptable to these little people. Interesting. Because ADD/ADHD is neurological disorder, it can be safely said that these kids can’t help it. Their consciousness, when under demand or stress, is drawn away, (far, far away) as if the Pied Piper were right outside the classroom window. And it’s easy to stray because these kids’ brains aren’t set up (yet) to fight the music.
Our control center or “executive functions” are primarily housed in the office, as I like to call it, of our brain, the prefrontal cortex. The PFC is tasked with jobs of getting us through our day-to-day lives. In a nut shell, it helps us organize, attend, multi-task, start a job, keep doing a job, finish a job, and separate any intruding emotions until we’re ready to deal with them. A well-functioning PFC has allowed me pen this blog (on my lunch break), answer the phone twice, consult with a staff member, double-check my calendar, file a form, and get back to the blog with ne’er a worry. I know my PFC can handle it, thank God it’s been doing it for years. But think of a 4th grader who doesn’t have these capabilities and is being asked to finish math, start vocabulary sentences, turn in both of these before lunch, listen to announcements, and swallow the terrifying prospect that they may not be able to go out for recess. Meanwhile the wall-climber is doing his or her bit to provide even more distraction. Sound like someone you know? This can be very, very tough for kids who are prone to mentally escaping the demands of the day, and don’t have the juice to self-regulate on their own. And this is the way of the world in the modern classroom, so many demands, so little time.
What do we do about it? Find out in the next post 🙂