Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why I Love Khan Academy

I’m a bit of a geek.  Actually, I’m a total geek.  I once owned a device known as an Apple Newton - two of them as a matter of fact.  If you know what that is, you are probably laughing right now.  I am always interested in the latest technological “stuff”.

About five years ago, my son Wil told me about a website called Khan Academy.  Kids at his school were using it to help with their physics class and math classes.  At that point it was just videos.  He showed me one.  I thought it was pretty cool.  I could even understand what the guy was talking about.  My historical track record with both math and physics is not good.  I kept it in the back of my mind and started recommending it to my high school clients.  Seemed like a new way to do things.

Last year a young lady came to my office at school with a math worksheet.  She was in fourth grade at the time.  The worksheet was on subtracting mixed numbers.  She just needed some individual help to get going.  I started to show her how to do it the way I was taught.  She stopped me and said, “That’s the way my Dad does it, and it’s wrong.  My teacher does it a different way and now I’m all confused.”  Khan Academy (KA) to the rescue!  All of a sudden we had somebody explaining it “the right way.” 

While I was on the site, I noticed this time that you could do math exercises along with watching the videos.  I decided to spend time relearning math.  So I set up an account and started working.  I can tell you that’s it’s pretty cool.  When you log on for the first time, it does a quick evaluation to see where you are.  Then it presents you with appropriate exercises.  The results show your on-going level of mastery.

As someone with ADD and working memory issues, there are several things I like about the math skills module of this program.  I like the fact that you only have to answer five problems in a row correctly before you can move onto another exercise.  Every problem has instant feedback, and you can’t move to the next problem without putting in the right answer.  To find the right answer, you need to look at all the problem steps (called “hints”) one at a time.  If you don’t know how to do the problem, the hints and a video are right on the screen to help you out.  For every skill you attempt, you earn points and “badges.”  You can ignore those or use them as incentive.  So positive reinforcement is intermittent and frequent.

As a Montessorian, there are other things I also like about Khan Academy.  Yes, it’s computer based and it’s not truly didactic in the same way that the other math materials are.  It is self-correcting.  It is also tailored to the individual right off the bat, and can be further tailored to meet individual need and skill practice.  It is self-paced.  The interface is easy to use, so it promotes independent learning.  Children can explore skills that interest them as well as do those needed to meet standards. Planning a garden and need to know how to calculate area?  A child can learn that concept from scratch right here.  The program does offer extrinsic rewards in the form of points and badges. Instead of rewarding simple mastery of skills, it provides the biggest rewards for effort.  I like that.

As an educator, I like the program for the student data it provides.  Not only does the program show me which skills a child is practicing, it shows how well the child has mastered them.  Is a child struggling with a particular concept?  I can look at the answers they entered for each problem attempt and see how long it took them between attempts.  Often you can see if the child is guessing, or where they might be missing a piece of the concept.  The skills align grade level with Common Core standards, which can be handy.

Is this the only way or the best way to teach math?  No.  Technology is never going to replace the one-on-one relationship between a student and a teacher.  Is Khan Academy an important tool? Yes.  As a child who struggled with math, this tool would have made a great deal of difference for me.  It helps a lot of the children I work with.

I know that Sal Khan and Bill Gates have lately taken it in the teeth for the “corporatization” of education.  “With material online, they will be able to sell more computers.”  Yep, and with material printed in books, McGuffey sold a lot of readers.  So I’m not sure the criticism is entirely fair.  That is a whole other post.  I do hope that Khan Academy continues to be strong, adds a lot more interactive material, and is always used with mindfulness.

Monday, February 24, 2014

It's Not Just Food and Sleep.

Stressed out kids.  Seems I've been reading a lot about this lately.  (see The Epidemic of Stressed Parents Raising Stressed Kids - Huff Post )  I see it all around me at school and in private practice - anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, etc.  According to this Huff Post article, one out of five children suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder.  That’s five or six children in your child’s classroom. Maybe your child is one of them.  So you might be calling me for help.
If you do call me, you will soon learn that one of my favorite mottos about problems that kids and families face is that everything is overdetermined .  That means that there is more than one factor that causes an outcome.  Conversely, it often takes more than one intervention to change that outcome.  Stress in families is overdetermined. We talk a lot about various things kids should and shouldn’t eat.  We talk about exercise and time outside.  We talk about sleep.  We talk about reduced screen time.  (see TIME - America’s Teens Outscore Adults On Stress ) All of those things are good to consider.  However, there is not one specific thing that is going to be the “silver bullet” for reducing stress, or ADHD, or depression, or anxiety.  That being said; there are some other things I think we ought to think about adding to the mix.
  • Technology – The amount of time children and teens spend online is discussed a great deal.  I think there are other aspects to technology that need to be considered, specifically about school.  My children graduated from high school in June 2011.  At that time, a few teachers were asking for assignments to be turned in online, and some were posting assignments on websites.  In three short years, I have watched a revolution take place.  Now assignments are given and turned in online, and grades and countless other activities related to school live on the web also.  There are two stressful aspects to this revolution that I think schools have not fully considered.  One is that there are still families who don’t have the hardware needed to interface with all of these technological activities.  I am working with a young lady whose school does a great deal online.  The sole computer at her house is a 1998 iMac on a cable modem.  Some sites will not even load reliably on her machine.  Her parents have limited resources, and she is embarrassed to say anything to her teachers.  I also wonder what happens to children when the cable is disconnected because the bill hasn’t been paid or because there isn’t service where they live.  I think this may cause stress for more people than we think it does.  Another technological issue occurs for children who do not have technologically savvy parents.   What happens when the network goes down, a post on Edmodo is due, and neither the parent or a child have the technological know-how to fix the problem?  How many times has there been stress in your house because homework is due, and the technology is “down”?  Don’t get me wrong.  I LOVE educational technology.  For many applications, it’s a wonderful thing.  I just think we need to be mindful of the consequences of relying on it, and then penalizing children when problems arise that are out of their control.
  • Common Core and Standardization – With the technological revolution we also have a curricular and pedagogical revolution happening.  Last week I met with a young man in 7th grade.  In one week in his social studies class they had covered the end of WWI and the Great Depression.  Monday and Tuesday on the first topic, and Wednesday and Thursday on the second.  This young man is pretty bright, so we always start with what he remembers and we build from there.  When I asked him what he knew about those topics, the answer I got was, “The Treaty of Versailles caused the Great Depression, so Franklin Roosevelt had to fight Hitler even though he didn’t want to.  Oh, and the stock market crashed right after the war.”  Granted he’s got ADHD and tends to miss things, but let me be clear.  The material covered 1918 and 1919, skipped to 1929 and ended at 1939.  In four days.  He had no context.  You should have seen the look on his face when he realized he was missing an entire decade in the timeline.  Like I said, he’s pretty bright, but this is not the first time he’s mixed two completely different concepts together that had been introduced in a short span of time.  I am not laying this at the feet of his teachers.  They are expected to cover certain pieces of material (standards, goals?) on a certain schedule.  As we work harder and harder in schools to cover more and more material in ever-shorter periods of time, we are confusing children.  This is not rigor.  I was a fan of Common Core when it was first introduced, but if this is going to be the result, no way.  Even more, for children that have organizational difficulties, the pace and demands of keeping up with all of this can be a hurdle too big to overcome.  Talk about stress! If your child brings home math homework in the 2nd grade and the question is - “Look at the following numbers and circle the one that is the median. 208, 246, 273, 264, 223, and 210” — could you help them?  Do you know what the median is?  (I learned when I took statistics in graduate school.  Not everyone has taken statistics.) Does the school expect you to?  If the answer to the first question is no, and the second is yes, you need to let someone know.  Parents need to be engaged in this and let the school and district know when their children have had enough.  Parents also need to start asking schools to teach specific strategies for different ways of planning work and learning material.  Finding the ways that work best for your child to study, finish homework and plan and complete projects are life skills that everyone needs to learn to keep stress under control. 
  • Stuff – This is not just materialism.  It’s about the complications that stuff adds to our lives.  I do a lot of home visits.  I see bedrooms filled with stuff.  Not just toys, but clothes, shoes, cosmetics, stuffed animals, books and all kinds of ephemera.  Stuff makes life complicated for kids.  It’s complicated to figure out what to do first.  It’s complicated to figure out what to wear.  It’s complicated to figure out where to find anything.  It’s certainly complicated to figure out how to keep it organized and neat.  It’s plain old complicated just to look at everything!  All of that causes stress.  If your child doesn’t want to part with things, why not just put the majority of it away?  It can be cycled and re-cycled back into the room.  Take the clothing pile down to what they need to wear in a week.  If something rips, gets stained, or just looks worn, replace it with something from the stash.  In my mind, a stress-free room looks, well, empty.
  • Loneliness – Think back to your childhood and your best friendships.  How did they start?  Many times they started at school, other times in the neighborhood.  Think about your earliest memories with those friends.  Did your parents always like those children? What do you remember doing with them that brought you close and can still make you smile? Chances are it was on the playground at school, or in someone’s yard, or even in someone’s house.  Most likely it was an unstructured activity without a hovering adult or maybe without an adult at all.  Maybe it was just sitting around doing nothing at all.  Now think about your own children.  Do they have the same types of activities with other children?  They probably don’t have them at school for more than 30 minutes, so don’t count on that.  Do they have them in the neighborhood?  Why not? Close relationships, the kind that grow closeness and trust, the kind where you can share secrets, the kind that build lasting bonds, do not develop at karate and ballet class.  They also don’t develop during play dates when Mom picks (or influences the choice of) the guest.  They develop through spontaneous, unstructured activities when kids can do what they want – with whom they want.  (Within reason, of course)  I talk to many children who do not have those opportunities.  They are lonely.  A child does not have to spend lots of time alone to be lonely.  A child who does spend time alone may not necessarily be lonely.  It’s not the quantity of the relationships; it’s the quality of the relationships. 

What do you see here that might be affecting your child?  How do you think you might be able to change?  I would be interested in hearing your perspective.  Leave a comment here, on my FB page at Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC or tweet @pam327.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

This is Why Your ADHD Student Isn't Working - Part 4 of 4

"It is less painful to be told that one is lazy than that one is incapable.  In short, laziness serves as a screen to hide the child's lack of faith in himself, prohibiting him from making attempts to cope with the problems confronting him.
 - Alfred Adler[1]
 “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
Maria Montessori[2]
"One of the fundamental rules of education is 'never do for a child what he can do for himself.' And the minute that you see that in the development of the child, he is beginning to do something by himself, and (he) makes a feeble effort, which is not adequate yet, let him be inadequate; so that he learn to overcome his inadequacy. That is encouragement."
-Sophia de Vries[3]

This is the final part of the four-part series on why ADHD children stop doing school work.  This is the toughest situation and one that often takes time to reverse.  It is also the most frustrating situation for teachers and parents.  This is the situation that presents as if the child doesn’t care about the consequences for a lack of action.  This is the child who has given up.

Problem #4 – “I don’t see that there is any possibility that I will be successful because I am overwhelmed or discouraged.  I am not even going to try.”

Children who have under treated ADHD will find themselves feeling this way.   They have realized that they struggle a lot more for lower grades than their neurotypical classmates.  At this point you will hear a child say things like, “I work harder than everyone else.  They all get “A”s.  I just get “B”s and “C”s. (or “D”s) or “Everybody keeps telling me how smart I am, but even when I try I still don’t do well.  I’m really just dumb.”   Spending several years in this circumstance often leads to depression. Depression creates a vicious cycle of inactivity, poor grades, negative consequences and more depression.  These children need the adults around them to take a step back.


          Hand out one task at a time.  Sometimes doing one thing at a time can start a stalled effort.  “We are not going to worry about anything else until we get the first thing done.  What would you like to do first?”  Even if it’s something that’s easy, there should be positive reinforcement when it’s done.  “I’m glad you were able to finish that.  Did it take you as long as you thought?  Was it harder or easier than you thought?  Would you like to do another lesson/worksheet/task like this one, or would you like to do something different?  What would you like to do next?”  Eventually you will be able to hand out two tasks at a time, then three, etc.
          Switch between hard and easy.  Children who feel discouraged or overwhelmed have a low threshold of cognitive fatigue.  They need to take cognitive breaks.  Children with ADHD need to  learn how to manage this because it will likely be an issue for them for their entire lives.  Breaking difficult tasks into smaller chunks and mixing them up with short easy tasks is a good skill to learn.  This strategy may need a timer or an alarm on a watch or phone.  It will also need adult help to set up the first few times the child practices.
          Encourage any effort at all, and point out the benefits.  Lets assume the part of this child’s brain that creates a positive point of view about herself and her school life is broken.  You will need to fill in the gap.  Was the grade a 70?  Well, if it was a zero last time because it didn’t get handed in, that’s progress.  In this circumstance you need to be the positive self-talk that is missing.  Remind the child that with each effort the result will improve.  There are times I will ask a child to look at me.  I will look right into their eyes and say in a low voice in a serious tone, “I know that this is hard.  I also know that you can do this.  It may take some practice, but you are going to get it.  I will help you.”  I use this technique if the child seems to be feeling overwhelming sadness or discouragement.  When an adult says something this earnest and genuine to a child, it can have a powerful effect.  You are helping to retrain that inner voice.
          Five positive responses for every negative response.  This is my personal rule of thumb.  Negative self-talk is very strong.  It takes a strong and frequent response to begin to overcome it. 
          Resist the urge to rescue.  Yep, this is a sad kid.  You will want to help, and you need to.  But follow the cardinal rule of never doing for a child that which he can do himself.  You do not want to compound discouragement with learned helplessness.   Encourage the struggle, even if the results are not perfect. 
          Patience.  You might not see a complete turnaround to this situation in this quarter, semester, or even school year.  This situation did not develop overnight, and there’s no silver bullet for fixing it.   That means you may also have to re-adjust expectations.  This child may not make a year’s worth of academic growth this year.  They may need to do this grade twice.  It’s OK.  You didn’t cause the problem, and you aren’t expected to fix it – especially not overnight.  You are teaching someone to fish, not handing them food.  They may be hungry for awhile, but once they get the hang of it, the boat will fill up.

[1] Adler, Alfred, and Heinz Ludwig Ansbacher. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, a Systematic Presentation in Selections from His Writings. Ed. and Annotated by Heinz L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Ansbacher. New York: Harper Torch, 1964. Print.
[2] Montessori, M. (1995). The absorbent mind. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
[3] From a transcribed, tape recorded seminar given by Sophia de Vries on 7-16-76, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This is Why Your ADHD Student Isn't Working - Part 3 of 4.

"An interesting piece of work, freely chosen, which has the virtue of inducing concentration rather than fatigue, adds to the child's energies and mental capacities, and leads him to self-mastery." (bold text added)

-Maria Montessori[1] 

This is part three of a four part series about work avoidance in children and teens with ADHD.   This post deals with cognitive fatigue and working memory.

Problem #3 - The assignment is too long, too tedious, or requires a lot of working memory.

This is the issue that we are  most familiar with.  Children with ADHD have a limited amount of time that they can attend to a given task.  Even adults with ADHD/ADD have to break up tasks into 15-20 minute blocks.  What we often don’t realize is the amount of working memory a task requires.  A writing assignment that will take the neurotypical child 15 minutes may take a child with ADHD twice as long. Writing requires an extraordinary amount of working memory. 

Psychoeducational reports often talk about breaking work down into smaller, manageable chunks.  That is always a good starting place.  Here are some other ideas as well.


•    Try to make the make the task an active one.  Writing doesn’t count, and neither do projects.  I’m talking about repetitive, tedious activities like memorizing spelling words or learning multiplication tables.  Find tasks to do on-line.  Teachers can create quizzes at sites like Socrative.  Khan Academy and IXL provide math drills in an interesting but game-free environment.  Do addition problems can with manipulatives like pennies, raisins, or other household items.  Bounce balls or skip rope while learning spelling words.  Parents might also be more likely to help and support if it’s an activity that is enjoyable.

•    Teach writing in “layers”.  Before completing a formal graphic organizer, young writers can learn to think about the prompt. What words and ideas does it bring to mind? Putting those words and phrases on paper provides material for the pre-writing document.  Writing this way reduces the cognitive load and speeds up the process. 

•    Remember that children with ADHD have an attention span that is 2-3 years less than their neurotypical peers. – 10 minutes of homework per grade is the general standard.  Make sure your student has to do ALL 30 math problems to prove mastery. 

•    Teach children how to switch between tasks.  We often resist this, because for the neurotypical person it can create confusion.  Children with ADHD can use this technique to maintain appropriate stimulation and arousal.  Research shows that attention revives when the task changes.  A few years ago, I showed a young lady now to set her watch for a 15 minute alarm, and switch between two different tasks each time it went off.  This went a long way toward keeping her from wandering around the classroom because she felt bored.  She was able to finish her work.
In the last installment of this series, we will talk about children who have given up trying.  Even though they may be discouraged, there are lots of ways we can help encourage and restore their belief in themselves.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Third Ticket (originally posted in January 2013)

Phone rings about 9:00 last night.  Sniffling daughter on the other end of the line.  Never a good sign.

“Momma?..............I got a ticket.”  This would be her third moving violation.  She was following another car through a stop sign, on the way to help out a friend who was having an emergency, and didn’t really stop before following the other car through the intersection.  She’s gonna be out about $240.00, which takes a while to earn working at minimum wage.  Bummer.  Lets not even talk about our car insurance, OK?

Now there are two things you need to know about Ellie.  The first is that Ellie is a pretty responsible 19-year-old human.  She’s prone to impulsivity - sometimes with interesting results - but she gets her school work done, studies regularly, does well at work, keeps her apartment clean, monitors her finances religiously, and takes good care of her cat.  The second is that she loves her car, and she loves to drive.  She has a Honda Accord V6 sedan, well used, with a ton of stickers on the back.  She has installed a killer stereo (we call her “thump bunny”), auxiliary lighting inside and out, and does her own brakes.  She took auto shop in high school.

One of the very first times Ellie drove the car alone to school she got stopped, and we received the first one of these sniffling telecommunications.   It was a trip she had made several times.  That time she didn’t get a ticket, and pulled the classic scene titled, “But officer, I forgot to take my ADHD medicine.”  That was almost three years ago on a morning she had an assignment due and was leaving on a class trip to Italy.  That time we learned to make sure she takes her meds before getting behind the wheel, and to make sure she had plenty of spare time to get where she needed to go when there was a big event driving.  All of that was before I read very much about driving and ADHD.

When it comes to driving and ADHD, responsibility intersects with allowances for disability. It should be well biased towards the responsibility side.  After all, in the main, everyone needs to stay safe on the road.  Should I not allow my daughter to drive because she has ADHD and is prone to impulsivity?  Well, if she drove so badly that she got enough points to lose her license, she knows she’d be riding her bike to work and school.  No excuses there.  But she’s not reckless, doesn’t drink and drive, and is not aggressive behind the wheel.  She sometimes exceeds the speed limit.  I know I have to acknowledge that she’s going to have occasional problems with tickets. She knows that she has to take medicine to drive.  I will have to worry about her more than I would like when she's behind the wheel.  Having to part with hard-earned cash for tickets and high insurance will keep her mindful.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Teachers (and Parents) - This is Why Your ADHD Student Isn't Working - Part 2 of 4.

"It is less painful to be told that one is lazy than that one is incapable.  In short, laziness serves as a screen to hide the child's lack of faith in himself, prohibiting him from making attempts to cope with the problems confronting him."
 - Alfred Adler [1]
........."what distinguishes someone with ADHD from someone without it is that they appear to be less mature (are age inappropriate) in their ability to engage in self-regulation toward specific goals and the future more generally. If one is to help someone with ADHD, they must be helped to either overcome these delays or at least compensate for them (make accommodations to them) if they are to be more effective or successful in managing themselves, getting to their tasks and goals, and preparing for their future more generally. 
-       Dr. Russell Barkley [2]
“Organizing is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.”
-       A. A. Milne

     Here’s the second part of our four part series on why kids with ADHD don’t always work.  Last week we talked about not understanding or hearing directions, and some ways to help with that.  This week we are talking about “getting going.”
Problem #2 - They know what they are supposed to do, but don't know how get started, or get stuck and don’t know how to get started again.
      Lets say an assignment says the following:  “Writing Journal: Free Choice.  Write at least three paragraphs.”  A child in 3rd or 4th grade who is neurotypical and has average writing skills can say to themselves, “First I have to figure out what to write about.  Then I have to figure out my topic sentence.  Then I have to figure out what I’m going to put in each paragraph.  Then I have to write it.  Then I’m going to edit it.”  They may not complete all the steps correctly, but they remember what the steps are, and can use self-talk and planning to make it through from start to finish.  If they get stuck, they can re-start by thinking, “What am I supposed to do now?” and then appropriately answer that question. Following through on procedures and planning in the previous example requires three Executive Functions – working memory, appropriate internal self-talk, and decision-making.  
For this particular task, there’s a big obstacle right off the bat – deciding what to write about.  For ADHD children this decision can be difficult to make on their own.  First of all, there may be so many competing ideas it may be hard to narrow down the choices.  Secondly, there may be reluctance to make a decision because there is difficulty forecasting whether or not it’s a good decision.  i.e.:  “If I write about going with my dog to the park yesterday, will there be enough for three paragraphs?”  Children may react to this challenge in two different ways.  The first reaction might be to just try and start writing something without thinking anything through first.  The second might be to avoid starting the task altogether.  Either way, it could be a recipe for getting stuck.
  •  Write Down Procedures  - There’s an organizational method that’s popular with a lot of ADHD adults called Getting Things Done, or GTD.  A man named David Allen developed it about ten years ago.  (Wiki - GTD)  One of the tenets of GTD is that anything with more than two steps is defined as a Project.  Project steps should be written down, so that focusing on what needs to be done is not hampered by recall – unless the recall has become automatic.  By this definition, a long division problem for a 4th grader might be a Project.  Yes, I know the procedures for doing a long division problem are in the workbook or textbook.  But they might be in the middle of a block of text, may be overly complicated, or the steps may be interrupted by text.  The child who is stuck may need graphic procedures that are simple and no more than five steps.  One way to figure out what an individual child needs is to have them write their own procedure.  That way they can list the items they are most likely to forget, put things on the list that have the most meaning to them, and describe the procedure in the way that they like to remember it.  We can all describe how to do a load of laundry, but the method we use and how we describe it can vary from person to person.
  • ·      Help Narrow Down Choice When Possible  - Children love free choice, don’t they?  Weellll yes, but sometimes for some of us it can get overwhelming.  If you offer free choice to your class, provide two or three suggestions.  So the instructions above might be modified to read: “Writing Journal: Free Choice.  You might want to write about how your family celebrates Martin Luther King Day or whether or not you think we should have to make up snow days, but you can write about anything you would like.  Write at least three paragraphs.” 
  • ·      Focus on What’s Next – Getting stuck can sometimes lead to confusion and/or anxiety for an ADHD child.  One way to reduce confusion and anxiety is to focus on the Next Action.  This happens to be another tenet of GTD.  When a child is stuck, a helpful question might be, “What is the very next thing you need to do?”  For a large project, that next thing may need to be broken down into even smaller pieces.  For example, if the next part of the project is to create a poster, that activity may need to become a sub-project with an end date of it’s own.  After a procedure is written down for that part of the project, the very next thing might be “Get a sheet of poster board.”  When the child stalls, they can be brought back to the very Next Action.
  • ·      Practice Appropriate Self-Talk  - Children and adults can learn how to practice appropriate self-talk.  It’s actually a part of something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT.  (CBT and ADHD) Adults can practice this individually with children, a small group, or the entire class.  “Let’s suppose you are doing your work and you get stuck.  An adult might not be able to help you for a little while.  What are some things you can say to yourself that will be helpful?”  Some children will come up with answers like, “I can move onto something else while I’m waiting”, or “I can ask another child”.  You can also offer alternatives such as, “What’s the very next thing I need to do?” or “If I try again I might be able to figure it out” or “If I need to ask for help it’s OK”.  In a group you might want to hand out index cards and ask children to write one or two of their favorite solutions so they can tape them on their desk or table.  Make sure you write the solutions somewhere so that children can copy them and don’t have to rely on memory or auditory skills.  This is also an activity that you might ask your school counselor to do with some or all of your children.  CBT is actually a good technique for children who are dealing with any type of negative self-talk whether it relates to depression, anxiety, or other issues. 
All three of these solutions will benefit other children in your classroom – not just those with ADHD.  For example, writing down new procedures and practicing positive self-talk are just good habits that help most people.  Once again you are engaged in Universal Design of Instruction.  

You can follow me on Twitter @pam327 or on Facebook at Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC

[1] Adler, Alfred, and Heinz Ludwig Ansbacher. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, a Systematic Presentation in Selections from His Writings. Ed. and Annotated by Heinz L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Ansbacher. New York: Harper Torch, 1964. Print.

[2]  Barkley, Russell A., PhD. N.d. MS. The Important Role of Executive Functioning and Self - Regulation in ADHD. Web. 1 Feb. 2014. <>.
Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. New York: Henry Holt, 1995. Print.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Teachers (and Parents) - This is Why Your ADHD Student Isn't Working - Part 1 of 4.

"It is less painful to be told that one is lazy than that one is incapable.  In short, laziness serves as a screen to hide the child's lack of faith in himself, prohibiting him from making attempts to cope with the problems confronting him."
 - Alfred Adler**
........."what distinguishes someone with ADHD from someone without it is that they appear to be less mature (are age inappropriate) in their ability to engage in self-regulation toward specific goals and the future more generally. If one is to help someone with ADHD, they must be helped to either overcome these delays or at least compensate for them (make accommodations to them) if they are to be more effective or successful in managing themselves, getting to their tasks and goals, and preparing for their future more generally. 
- Dr. Russell Barkley**

Lack of effort can be one of the most frustrating things in the relationship between a teacher and student.  When a child tries to complete a task or skill, they are providing the teacher with information that indicates how much they do and don't understand.  Absent effort, the teacher is left guessing how much the child knows.  Moreover, when a child is not making any effort, it leaves the teacher feeling like he/she is working their tail off for a child who doesn't really care.  Sometimes it's hard not to take that personally.  However, when you are talking about children with ADHD, coming at it from their point of view and understanding their brain wiring can bring about an "AHA!" moment.  Things aren't always what they seem.  

The solutions that I detail below can be used with the entire class.  Very often they model good communication skills and ways to build good working relationships, thereby providing benefit to the group as a whole in addition to the students that are specifically targeted.  When a teacher provides accommodations to the group as a whole, it is known as Universal Design for Instruction (UDI).

Problem #1 - They don't know what it is that they are supposed to do.

I know you repeated the directions for the assignment more than once.  "They were looking right at me when I was talking!" Yep, and they still may not have gotten what you were saying.  Children with ADHD subconsciously learn how to look like they are attending, even when they are not.  It's a defense mechanism that often comes from hearing things like, "Look at me so I know that you are paying attention," or "Why weren't you listening?", etc.  When a neurotypical person is in a room with lots of low-level background noise, say a classroom or a cocktail party, or a dinner with different conversations happening at a large table, they can "screen" the background noise out and attend to the person right in front of them.  Most ADHD children (and adults) have a very hard time doing that.  Everything seems like it's at the same volume, and the brain seems to want to try to pay attention to everything all at once.  If the room is loud, it can actually be distressing.  Pulling a complete and accurate set of directions out of that sea of competing noises and interests can be very, very, difficult.  In addition, if the child has other things on their mind, (sick pet, Mom's gonna be mad at me because I didn't get my work done today, there was an argument at home last night, etc.) it's difficult to keep the brain from wandering.  All of this is not willful.  It's a lack of Executive Function (EF) that is a result of structural differences in the brain.  If you want to get an idea of what this is like, try the simulation on this link.

  • Check Back - When I'm working with a child who has trouble attending, I stop every so often and ask them to tell me what I've just said.  Usually I phrase it using a question something like, "Can you tell me what you just heard so that I know I said everything I want you to know?" or, "Can you tell me what I just said so that I know that I said it correctly?"  Notice that you are assuming they tried to listen, and that you are taking responsibility for what you said, not asking them to take responsibility for what they heard.  (Even though that's the point of your question) If you are working with a group, assign one or two people to be "check-back" people.  Assign that role to a child with ADHD.  Their job is to help make sure you described the directions completely and accurately.  It gives them practice attending, a chance to contribute, and you have the opportunity to make sure they "got it".

  • Do not assume the child will ask for help from you or another child - Even as early as Kindergarten and First Grade, an ADHD child will begin to understand that adults and other children are critical of those who repeatedly miss what it is they are supposed to do.  Therefore, it's often easier to either try to "muddle through" or cop a refusing attitude than it is to ask for help.  Teachers therefore need to be proactive in making sure that the ADHD child really knows what they have to do.  When the child asks for help, even if the directions have been repeated several times and written down, the teacher should reinforce that request with a positive response.  All too often I have heard responses such as, "I have already given those directions several times.  I'm not giving them again."  If asking to repeat directions several times becomes a habit, the adult should meet one-on-one with the child to try and come up with an alternate system.
  • Keep the directions clear and simple - I'm going to come back to this point again and again, because it's REALLY important.  Children with ADHD often have EF development which lags 2-3 years behind their chronological age.  Following that logic, if your class is 5th grade, the directions for your children with ADHD have to be in a form that a 2nd or 3rd grader can use to be successful.  You need to remember to include things that other children may take for granted.  For example, if the work involves measuring, the directions for children all the way up through 5th grade should say, "Get a ruler", or "Make sure you have a ruler". 
  • Document the directions - Once you have done that, you still need to document the directions.  If you are going to write them on the board, they should stay there until the assignment or work is due.  Better to put them on a website or in email, or Edmodo, etc.  When I get done meeting with a client in high school or middle school that has a phone, I send a text with the week's "homework".  There are appropriate ways for you to do something similar.  Try not to put the directions in paragraph form.  A numbered list or a list with bullets is going to be more effective. 
The next post will talk about the problem of not knowing HOW to get started on a particular task.

You can follow me on FB at "Pamela Mecca Seymour, LPC" or Twitter @pam327.

**The quotes above come from the following works:

Adler, Alfred, and Heinz Ludwig Ansbacher. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, a Systematic Presentation in Selections from His Writings. Ed. and Annotated by Heinz L. Ansbacher and Rowena R. Ansbacher. New York: Harper Torch, 1964. Print.
Barkley, Russell A., PhD. N.d. MS. The Important Role of Executive Functioning and Self - Regulation in ADHD. Web. 1 Feb. 2014. <>.