"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
“Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”
― Maria Montessori
― Maria Montessori
"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
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.
 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.
 Montessori, M. (1995). The absorbent mind. New York: Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
 From a transcribed, tape recorded seminar given by Sophia de Vries on 7-16-76, in the AAISF/ATP Archives.