Many parents and educators today are familiar with the ADD label (which was officially changed in 1994 to ADHD-PI, but ADD is still most commonly used by the general public). They usually feel pretty secure in their understanding of the signs and compensatory strategies associated with it. When actually confronted with an ADD/ADHD-PI child, however, many of them do not react as they should because they don’t see the disability, just the mythology.
Myth: Such children will have a hard time staying seated in class.
This isn’t necessarily true. Many people have gotten the idea that ADHD is the same as ADD/ADHD-PI, but it isn’t. Not all people have the hyperactivity component that an observer can see. What causes difficulty for these kids is that their bodies may stay put, but their minds are all over the place. They find it impossible to ignore passing trains, whispers of other students, any possible distraction. My son had a terrible time during finals in high school because students could turn in their tests and leave when they were done. As soon as the first student got up, he was finished; he couldn’t return to focus on the test for more than a few seconds at a time.
Myth: If you give specific instructions, these children should have no trouble completing tasks.
Actually, it depends upon the instructions. If the instructions are broken down into very manageable steps, then it is possible. Unless there are too many steps. I sat with my son as one of his teachers set out what he would need to do to catch up when he had fallen behind. He was eager and seemed attentive, asking questions at appropriate times to clarify her points. But as she continued, I watched his face just blank out. She had reached the point that it was too much; he was overwhelmed, and so it didn’t matter what she said from then on. Later that day, he didn’t even remember what she has said toward the end of the meeting.
Myth: These kids are just lazy daydreamers who don’t want to do any hard work.
The problem with this myth is that it is confusing willingness and ability. If you knew from experience that eating eggs would make your fingers hurt, give you a headache, and cause you to take an extra hour lunch, would you still eat them? What if someone told you that you had to? ADD/ADHD-PI children often find that putting themselves through the mental and sometimes physical stress of homework or other projects isn’t worth the outcome-they still don’t typically do well because they can’t concentrate on the project or can’t follow the directions. Of course they try to put off such work.
Myth: This child was paying no attention in class until he had a soda, and then he became more attentive. Obviously, the child doesn’t have ADD/ADHD-PI, because the caffeine and sugar would have made his inattentiveness worse instead of better.
First, the PI in this label means Predominantly Inattentive. These are the kids who seem to be off in LaLa land when you talk to them, and sometimes they don’t even seem to realize you have spoken. They don’t seem to pay attention to anything. The problem, however, is that they are paying attention to everything. Take a minute and focus on all the different things going on around you now. How many sounds, sights, smells are there? Imagine not being able to tune any of that out. It is certainly difficult to focus on one thing when so many things are happening. This is the hyperactivity that occurs for ADD/ADHD-PI children rather than the physical inability to sit.
Then there is the soda issue. Yes, sugar is bad for all of us, and too much caffeine and/or sugar can make us jittery and excitable. But a little bit of caffeine is actually a good fix for ADHD. People tend to believe that since part of the disorder is “hyperactivity” whether it be observable or just in the brain, then caffeine or any other stimulant would make it worse. But actually the disorder is caused because part of the brain is underactive rather than part of it being overactive. The caffeine stimulates that part of the brain that is less active, creating a balance that allows students to concentrate on fewer things.
Understanding ADD/ADHD-PI is important if such children are going to get the most out of their educations. We must be willing to constantly learn and re-learn about these and other learning issues, learning what is myth and what is truth, in order to be the most effective parents and teachers.