By Bob Ossler and Janice Hall Heck
Once people find out that I talk and write about ADD/ADHD, they want to talk. (ADHD is the official term for this disorder generally associated with children–attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADD, attention deficit disorder, is more commonly associated with adults, but in everyday conversation, people use and recognize the term ADD.)
A woman came up to me after church the other day and said, “I heard you were writing a book on ADD.”
“Yes,” I said, “I am working on a book with my coauthor Janice Hall Heck, a former teacher of children with special needs and an educational administrator.”
“My nephew has been diagnosed with ADHD. Can you tell me in five minutes what that means?”
“In my case, it means that my brain and my body are constantly on overload. It’s like having a runaway freight train in my head…it’s constantly needs to blow off steam and race down the tracks, skipping stations as it goes. I have a hard time putting on the brakes.
I’m a guy on a unicycle doing a high wire act while balancing and juggling a chainsaw, a ball of fire, a beehive, and a porcupine. High risk activities fall in my bailiwick.
I have difficulty with focus and attention. I see, hear, smell, and sense everything going on around me. My brain doesn’t filter out all these extraneous things, but treats them all with equal attention.
It’s like the computer analogy: garbage in, garbage out. Because my brain doesn’t filter out extraneous information, everything gets thrown into the hopper and ends up in a jumbled, tangled mess up there. This problem slows me down as I have to work harder to sort things out and figure out what is important to pay attention to and what I should ignore. That’s actually hard work.
As a child, I tuned out and went off on my own daydreams. Teachers called me a space cadet. Classmates called me stupid.
As an adult, I’ve learned to pay attention to what is happening around me. I have trained myself to focus in on our conversation, for example. I work hard to shut out all those other conversations going on around us, as well as the actions, and other distracting elements in the environment so I can focus on you and our specific conversation.
A child with ADHD does not understand why this bombardment of competing distractions happens, why he seems to be so different from other children, or why other children seem to learn things faster. It takes wise parents and wise teachers to understand the dilemma the child faces every minute of his life. Overstimulation does not go away, so the child has to learn to manage it. The teacher and parents need to assist.
Parents need to be the child’s advocate and develop a friendly, working relationship with school personnel. By working together, the ADHD issues can be tamed but never eliminated. It’s a constant, ongoing battle.
Parents need to read everything they can get their hands on to learn about this learning difference. (I prefer to use the term learning difference, rather than learning disorder.)
“I think I understand a little better now,” she said. I hope I didn’t overwhelm her.