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Brian R King

Brian R King

A common complaint I hear from teachers about their students with either ADHD or autism is that they seem to make no effort or delay making an effort to get ready for class.

They’ll state that the student (who we’ll call Andy) will simply sit there and do nothing while the other students are getting out their materials and getting ready for class. However, at some point Andy may notice the other students getting ready and will then begin to model what the other students are doing. More often than not, however, it requires the teacher prompting Andy before he’ll begin getting his things out.

Many teachers report this behavior as laziness, poor motivation, or simply lack of organization. I’d like to share with you what is more likely happening with Andy.

Two core feature of the brain with ADHD are high distractibility and difficulty prioritizing. Now picture if you will the chaos that is the beginning of each class. You have a few dozen kids in motion, talking, laughing, moving chairs and rustling papers. The majority of these students may be able to tune all of this out and focus on the task at hand. The student with ADHD, however, has a brain often unable to prioritize and separate the important from the irrelevant. In which case, all of this sensory input is judged by Andy’s brain as being equally important. It floods his brain as he tries to attend to all of it. And since it is the most stimulating input at the time, as long as it’s going on, that is what his brain will attend to until it stops.

So the student that sits there appearing uninterested in beginning the task of getting ready for class is actually a student whose mind is consumed by a noisy room. A noisy room with stimulating input coming from so many directions that their mind is being pulled everywhere except in the direction you, as a teacher would like them to aim it.

When the other students finally begin to quiet down and start to get themselves organized, all of the commotion they were causing slowly loses its grasp on Andy’s mind and he’s finally able to begin focusing on the thing you and he most want him to accomplish.  The reason a teacher’s prompt can be so helpful in these situations, is because a stern reminder can suddenly become more stimulating than anything else that’s happening in the room which is why it can so easily get Andy’s attention.

Ultimately, we need a solution so that this scenario is more preventable and less common. I would love to hear your thoughts, but my thought is this. I appreciate that students have few opportunities to socialize and catch up with one another. However, I suspect that when asked to demonstrate respect for one another by quietly getting ready for class they may actually do so.

When encouraged to remember that they are all learning together and succeeding together they will hopefully take on a greater awareness of the needs of those around them. This can be helped by a teacher who routinely reminds the class of what their values are as a learning community – and give examples of the various ways they can support the members of their learning community who require a calm classroom in order to get started and stay focused.

Thanks for being you.

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