Thursday, April 9, 2015

Attention Please

Teachers do not diagnose ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) -- that is the job of a psychologist, or medical doctor. Teachers are in the trenches trying to pour information into a variety of learners. This post looks at what happens when certain behaviors are exhibited in the classroom.

There are quiet, well-behaved children who have a very difficult time focusing in school. What happens to many of them in the classroom?
  • They may get overlooked because they are not behavior problems. Often the teacher may place them near the back of the room because she knows they won't cause problems.
  • They may be having problems that the teacher knows nothing about (such as violence in the home or neighborhood, death in the family, abuse, or neglect) and are shutting down.
  • They may have a learning difference and are so lost that they just want to disappear from any teacher's radar.
  • Hearing and vision can be an undiagnosed problem in a lower grade. With a hearing problem girls usually are more sensitive to noise than boys. A boy with a soft-voiced teacher may do better in the from row. A girl may find the front row uncomfortable if her teacher has a loud voice.
  • A quiet child who appears not to focus may have ADHD. I remember teaching one child who couldn't even write his five-letter name without losing track of what he was doing. He never bothered anyone in class but after a visit to his pediatrician and a round of filling out several forms by parents, teachers and others, he was put on medication for ADHD.  On medication he was able to show what a creative, intelligent person he was. He was not only able to write his name but wrote and illustrated beautiful poems.
The wiggle-worm child often is thought of as ADHD. But this is not a cause and effect situation. Some wiggly children are very focused. In fact, when made to be still, they may be focusing so much on staying still that they aren't paying attention.

Some things to think about for the constantly moving child.
  • Boys tend to move more than girls. Most boys also tend to tolerate noises such as tapping feet or clicking pens better than girls. Since a classroom consists of both noise sensitive and noise making children, the best one can do is try not to enable a noisy child. Give him a wooden pencil, not a mechanical clicking one. Ignore all those cute, moving, noisy school supplies (pencils with moving parts, erasers made like cars, etc.) and get your child work tools.  Yes, I know they will still tap feet and wiggle, but that may not be as distracting to their neighbor.
  • Make sure your child goes to school fed and rested.  You know how toddlers have tantrums at the end of a long shopping trip -- K-4th graders are closer to being toddlers than adults. Feed them and get them to bed on time.
  • Encourage the school to have daily recess or active PE.  Encourage your child to have run-around outdoor play when at home. 
The impulsive child may constantly talk in class, hit children, or act as the clown of the class. She may be a danger to herself or others; or she may just be a distraction.
  • Yes, there are more boys in this category than girls; but girls in this category are often judged more harshly.
  • These children are often labeled immature. Perhaps they are, but the impulsive child may very well grow up to be an impulsive adult. Let's acknowledge that some children seem to be born mature and others not so much. The serious two-year-old may be more self-contained than the impulsive eight-year-old. 
  • Parents have to be careful that they aren't giving tacit approval or even encouraging such behavior. If a parent is smiling every time she or he discusses a child's impulsive behavior, "Oh, he jumped off the roof, " slight smile, "Accidentally got a pea stuck in his ear," giggle, "Hit his doctor in the stomach" grin,  the child learns it is his job to provide entertainment. I have seen a few parents do this. It is creepy to watch, and the child suffers.
  • On the other hand, parents and teachers should have reasonable developmental expectations. The younger the child the more breaks, encouragement, and movement he needs. Some schools have pretty long days for first graders. The removal of recess in some schools along with little or no active learning such as games or learning stations, is not acknowledging the physical movement needs of young children.
So what does a parent need to look for when it comes to attention and school?
  1. Is it hurting your child's ability to learn? If you child appears happy, is doing well in school, and gets good grades, then maybe drawing while the teacher talks, constantly moving hands or feet, appearing to be spacey, is just is the way your child learns. Teach her to not bother her neighbors, and don't worry about it.
  2. If your child is not doing well in school due to inattention or impulsiveness think about the environment. Most children with attention problems need a structured environment. He will have problems with a disorganized teacher.  Try to move him to a room staffed with an organized teacher with a sense of humor.  
  3. Always check to make sure there are no hearing or vision problems. A child who can't see the board or understand what the teacher is saying might very well find other close-at-hand ways to amuse herself.
  4. Check for learning differences. "Research indicated that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging."   Although it is true that a child with ADHD has a higher chance of being diagnosed with an LD, a child with an LD may be trying different, sometimes inappropriate methods, to deal with their problems in the classroom.  A child who can't read may very well decide that being the class clown is the safest thing to be in reading class.
  5. See if your child understands classroom expectations.
  6. If this appears to be a new problem think about any emotional trauma you child might be experiencing. Remember, while parents may think they are hiding their problems, a child picks up signals when a parent is troubled.  Although you may feel your problems are not the teacher's business, let her know if there are problems. You don't need to be specific, but most teachers are more understanding of a child's new behavior if they know there are some problems at home.  
  7. Finally, if you are concerned that it may be ADHD,  find a good doctor and look at therapy and environment,  as well as medication

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