Memory-Makers or Spirit-Breakers?
ADHD isnít just about paying attention or the inability to do so. Attention deficit, in fact, manifests itself in other behaviors that may be even more difficult to deal with than a childís lack of focus. As my son has matured, Iíve realized that these behaviors are not like "the terrible twos" Ė heís not going to "grow out of it." I need to accept these behaviors as part of his mental make-up, teach him coping-strategies, and pray daily that his teacher will understand.
No Surprises - Please!
One of the behaviors that our family wrestles with, particularly at holiday time, is our sonís need to know exactly what is going to happen and when, at any given moment. On a day-to-day basis, this need is appeased by a daily routine. During holidays or vacations, however, when not all activities, visits, and events can be predicted, my son "loses it." What does "losing it" look like? He attempts to control everything and everyone in sight. His life is out of control, in his mind, so he grabs whatever control he can. We deal with more sibling fights, more argumentative "talking back" and more tears during holiday and vacation periods. The weeks prior to vacations are usually when we receive the most phone calls from our sonís teacherÖor principal. Often, as the vacation approaches, our son engages in more recess roughness and classroom disruption. Those times that should be "memory-makers" are often spirit-breakers for all of us. He, of course, does not realize that he has this need to control or that he subconsciously feels out of control when lacking definite knowledge of all that will take place. As he gets older, we try to explain that life by its very nature is not "pre-planned" by us, but is planned by our God. We share Bible verses to help him remember who really is in control, all of the time. And we pray for patience when in the midst of our vacation, our son is literally and loudly trying to call all the shots.
Transitions - Give Him Time!
Another difficulty that accompanies ADHD is the inability to handle transitions, which of course relates to the control issue also. Transitions are those periods when one activity, event, place, or even person is to be left for another. For example, we learned early on that a "5 minute warning" was not going to be enough before dinner. If our son did not have at least ten minutes, he mentally could not shift his focus from what he was doing to the activities of coming to the dinner table and eating. Without the warning, he again "lost it" and we faced either an angry rage that something he was building wouldnít work or an argument with his brother about something trivial. Now, neither the angry rage nor the argument was related to dinner, but they were his way of mentally disengaging from one activity in order to be able to focus on another. Iím sure that these same behaviors happen in the classroom when not enough advance notice is given regarding a change in activities, rooms, plans, or even teachers. I discuss this with my sonís teachers each year so that these seemingly unrelated outbursts might be prevented. Again, daily routine eases this difficulty with transitions, but we still struggle.
So, Are We Memory-Makers or Spirit-Breakers?
As I stated earlier, the ability to handle transitions, vacations, and similar changes cannot be easily taught to the child with ADHD; instead, we, parents and teachers, must remember that we can accommodate without compromising our goal of promoting responsible and mature behavior. Unfortunately, we too often believe that if we donít correct a childís unwanted behaviors then we have failed or that the child will fail as an adult. As a result, we cajole, we punish, we establish "consequences", and we dread any unexpected event that could trigger the unwanted behaviors in the child. Finally, we instill fear and erode the childís confidence because these behaviors are not conscious on his part, and therefore, he cannot easily change them. The child simply believes he is "bad." If we parents and teachers would look more closely at our reactions, then our children could more easily and readily accept our explanations of their behaviors and develop necessary coping skills. Accommodations have been suggested, but Iíll list a few specifics here:
- Prepare and plan as much as you can.
- Talk with your child/student, giving reassurance that someone is in charge and that you are aware of the situation.
- Accept that some negative behaviors, though seemingly unrelated to circumstances such as change, are quite likely caused by a need to have life under control and/or a need to disengage oneself from some present situation in order to focus on another. Accept that these mental barriers are not faced by other kids to the same degree and cannot be "punished" or corrected in the same manner as other behaviors.
- Talk with your child/student, explaining the reactions and behaviors you observe. Explain why you think he/she is behaving this way and discuss the causes: the change, the unexpected event, the saying goodbye that has caused the child/student to feel a need to control or disengage.
- Focus on nurturing the spirit of the child/student, rather than on changing the behaviors.
Written by Laurie Hagberg
is hearing a student say,
"Thank you for understanding me."
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Last updated: 2008