Scrolling through the ole Facebook this morning and I come across this article about a student and her end of the year award….but the award wasn’t necessarily praising her character, her athletic ability, or academic achievements…The award was mocking her for her inability to pay attention in class. This hit very close to home for me. Bear with me, I am about to get very vulnerable.
Before I move on…This is written from a good place. I love teachers, educators, and everyone who has ever encouraged me and spurred me on (My kindergarten Teacher, Mrs. Eikman, My first grade teacher, Mrs. Howard. Mrs. Eaton in second grade and my favorite, Mrs. Baker: third grade)…I just want to bring light to an issue that many parents may feel, but rarely voice and it is so important to create unity in the classroom, not division, especially division about things that are out of someone’s control…like race, gender, behavioral, mental, or physical differences.
Now, as a mother, I (we) want the best for my (our) children, and being armed with my own life experiences I want to make sure I put my child/children in a place they will thrive and find their true potential. I don’t want to go to work each day feeling like my child feels ostracized or different or left out at school, away from me. No parent wants that.
Now, some of you may read this and think, “C’mon, Ash, this isn’t a big deal.”…but here is why it is a big deal… I am that girl. I was diagnosed with ADD/ADHD at 5 years old. That was back in the late 80s, before every doctor in town was pushing Ritalin or Adderall. Although medicine was an option, it was not the route my mom wanted to go. I am thankful that she sought several opinions. That’s what landed me in a short behavioral study in Fort Worth, Texas where the doctor and my mom agreed to try an alternative approach to live with ADD/ADHD. (Notice I said LIVE with ADD…I didn’t say erase the symptoms or cure it). We embarked on a dietary transformation that I ended up abiding by for rest of my childhood and still follow much of it today.
In short, from that point forward I was on a restrictive diet. That meant I only ate food that were all natural, meaning no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. That may sound cool and easy today, but think back to the late 80s and early 90s, when that whole natural-food-fad hadn’t hit the shelves yet. Every visit to the grocery store required in depth reading of labels…I couldn’t even eat cereal if the packaging had BHT. Needless to say, as I child, I DEEPLY resented “the diet”….I would get so angry if my mom said, “tell your friends that’s not on your diet and you can’t have any.”….It’s hard for a 5, 6, 7, 8….16, 17, 18 year old to rationalize their food consumption as it relates to their behavior.
So, for the majority of my childhood, every crumb that entered my body was closely monitored and the resulting behavior was noted. Can you imagine what that is like? As I started to reach my tween years and more and more kids were prescribed behavior altering drugs, they seemed to quiet down and almost disappear emotionally and physically from the classroom. Many days, that’s what I wanted. I wanted a quick fix to my fidgeting, I wanted a quick fix to my impulsive behavior, I wanted a quick fix to boredom, or a quick fix to my inability to stay focused.
Here’s the thing, people who are not personally dealing with (TRUE) ADD/ADHD often say things like “That kid just needs a good spanking” or “discipline starts in the home” or “can someone please control that child” or “kids these days, just act however they want” or “they just never pay-attention”…But, living with ADD/ADHD, we are surprisingly aware of our behavior, but it’s like we have these completely capable little humans inside of us watching this person (myself) act out in a way that is not right. But, our ability to control that behavior is compromised in the tiny receptors in our brain (we have a lack of dopamine in the brain). My psychologist once likened it to a string. In a normal person’s brain, that sting is in tact and if you are trying to get information from one side of the sting to the other it just travels across without issue. Think of it like your playing telephone, a string connected 2 cans. One person is talking and one person is listening. But, in the brain of someone with ADD/ADHD, there is a break in that string, and as the brain works hard to recover from adverse behavior that string is excited, making it move faster and faster, exciting other receptors in the brain, and ultimately creating a snowball effect of adverse actions from hyperactivity, to loss of attention. It’s like we have 2 people talking on both side of that string. the way my diet helped is that is normalized this string. I was putting less strain on my brain by what I didn’t eat…Foods with additives or artificial ingredients tend to excite that string, making me less able focus or even lose a little self control. Food still allowed me function normally, without deactivated my brain. it stabilized the active parts, but din’t eliminate brain function like drugs do.
This is where traditional schooling can often be a prison for someone with ADD/ADHD. It locks you into a behavior format that may not allow parts of your brain the freedom it needs, so that you can allow the necessary parts to learn. I am thankful for early intervention regarding my ADD/ADHD, but it has been a lifetime of truly understanding how my brain works. Learning. Exploring. Having parents, educators, and friends who really tried to be sympathetic. At then end of the day, I deeply desired to be a “good kid” and the annoyed looks from teachers when I disrupted the class again just made me feel bad. I excelled accidentally, but steadily received “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” behavior marks. I always felt more graded on my actions than my abilities.
Therefore, as a mother of a highly active child and the understanding of what my life looked like, I wrestle daily with traditional school for her. In over 30 years, I haven’t seen a remarkable change in the approach to learning as it relates to this group of kids. They get judged, and often get judged unfairly. Like this sweet 14 year girl whose only award for the year is more of a reminder of her inability. Maybe I am the only one here, but i feel like something has to change. Educators, is this common?
My daughter is no angel, she is a tough cookie. As parents, we discipline, we talk, we address behavior, we love, we care. But, for the numerous people in public who have witnessed near meltdowns or what seem like negotiations with a terrorist, you may be inclined to judge me as the parent or worse, judge my child.
A child’s behavior can often be in direct relation to the attention they’re getting. If schools systems could identify areas where kids who struggle with ADD/ADHD are gifted, they will run towards and lock into those subjects. Trust me… I am that girl. As a child, any attention was good attention. So, while in 2nd grade, the teacher stepped out. It was a stormy Texas day and I proceeded to get out of my desk, go to the window, and tell all the kids there was a tornado. Blatant lie. But, I got attention. I ended up in the principal’s office, but it didn’t change me. Then, in 2nd grade, I stole a little Debbie cake from the cafeteria. I bragged to friends, but told them not to tattle on me (attention). I got caught and had to tell the cafeteria ladies I was sorry. The embarrassment alone made me stop. I never stole again. Then comes 3rd, Mrs. Baker, she was the kindest, most loving teacher who not once got onto me for my behavior, but redirected my energy. It was from that point forward my behavior improved and my love for learning grew. I remember moments when she intentionally pulled me away from a group to let me do an activity she knew I would enjoy, and that made me feel special and liked. It didn’t make me feel different or punished.
I guess this article is just one more moment where a puff of air is removed from my traditional-school-sail. I am excited about my kids attending a non-traditional school next year and I am excited to see how this unlocks parts of my child that really allow her to flourish.
I know I wrote a novel (passionate much?!). I just hope that this helps people understand that ADD/ADHD isn’t a cop out, a discipline issue, or a kid just acting out. Inside of most children with ADD/ADHD is a brilliant mind that just hasn’t found its course. If you are an educator in the tradition school system, please give me hope. I am a product of the public school system and went on to receive a masters degree, but the road wasn’t always easy. I’m not suggesting I only want my kids to have an easy road, but I do want them to feel encouraged, inspired, motivated and become healthy adults who are viable, capable citizens. I feel like they have the potential to be better than me if I give them opportunities that may not have existed when I was growing up.
In short, be kind…and be careful to judge. Children with ADD/ADHD aren’t born trouble makers, but they may require I different set of disciplining. Also, parent’s of children with Add/ADHD are GREAT parents who don’t need a side eye at Publix, but rather a pat on the back. No one is perfect, but the deep we understand our differences the greater our ability to come together and learn from one another will be.