If your child has authentically diagnosed ADD or ADHD, please do not read any further! This is only for moms with ADD-wannabes =)
So my second son, at 6yrs old now, has many of the classic symptoms. He is distracted by everything. He has sensory issues, so he hears, smells, and feels everything whether it is the heat coming on, a truck backing up on the interstate, or even the smell of the oven. This doesn’t help.
But even when I get him “focused” and working, he is very distractable. He’s an artistic type, so he gets derailed into doodling on his workbook pages, or writing little notes to me on them when he comes to a difficult problem. He can write a whole misspelled paragraph to me about a one-word blank. He also likes fonts, so he starts decorating his “Ts” and “Fs” with little serifs or italic/bold-faced type. Then his pencil needs sharpening, so he spends about 10 minutes doing that only to have it snap off when he gets back to his spot. He starts that process over. I homeschool him, and he can easily take from 9am to 12noon just doing two or three tasks.
But he’s extremely intelligent. So I try not to harp.
It’s hard though. His ADD spills over into other areas too, like getting dressed, tying shoes, brushing teeth. It is very frustrating. And yet, I realize it is partly developmental. As you know, boys are over-diagnosed with ADD or ADHD. Sometimes husbands and grandfathers hear about it and believe they’ve suffered with it their entire lives. If it is maladaptive, maybe they do. But it could just be part of the male brain. Male brains are like “waffles,” as one celebrated author says, and topics are compartmentalized–in the brain, each subject has its own box separate from the others, and men jump from box to box, subject to subject. Little boys do this too, which is how they get so far off track. Things are just INTERESTING to them, so they think about it, cutting off what they were originally doing. My girl doesn’t seem to have this problem, but I am sure there are many girls who do, especially creative and free-thinking ones!
There are many blog posts and books on this subject, so I won’t belabor it here. The real reason I am writing this post is because it dawned on me just today that there is something redeeming about ADD wannabes.
Other than the gender component, I had thought that perhaps ADD was personality-related in the sense of learning style. My second son is very analytical–obviously if he’s into fonts! But something about this hypothesis wasn’t accurate because my first son is also analytical and has no attention problems at all. He has laser-like focus. Then this morning I was teaching my third son Language Arts (he’s five) and I saw some of the same ADD symptoms beginning to crop up on him as he worked. “Oh no!!!” I thought to myself. “I have to stop this from happening so it doesn’t consume him like my second boy!”
Then it hit me.
He THINKS about his work as he does it. My third son is not analytical at all. Not even a little–it took him forever to learn his letters because A and B all looked the same to him. (My other two sons picked them up before they were 2yrs old). My third guy isn’t picky about anything, is very independent, talks in general statements, and picks up concepts easily. But as he was working on his vocabulary and spelling, he was actually trying to think about what the words meant. He wasn’t interested in just reading them (“cast”… “task”… “track”), he was asking me questions about them. Then as I would explain them, we would get off track as that led to more questions. Sometimes we got off for 5 minutes talking about something six degrees away from “cast.” And I’d have to steer us back to the page at hand.
That’s when I realized that my second son does the same thing. He tries to really understand things on a heart level. He is very artistic, very scientific, and has a high IQ. His vocabulary–especially for a young boy–is excellent. So he ponders his work and goes slowly, thinking about things as he goes through. This causes the distraction and “six degrees” problem.
My first son, however, who is 8 and has no attention problems, is analytical but doesn’t think AT ALL when he does his work. He breezes through it as quickly as possible. We have trained him to try to get the right answers, so he does know how to slow down and rethink a question with prompting. But I can tell when I talk to him that he doesn’t like to think! He is a type A personality and does things by the book, as perfectly as he can and gets good grades for it. But he’s the type of boy who can read an entire book and know very little of what he read. Or misread the directions on a page and complete the entire page according to a rule without it dawning on him that his answers don’t make sense. Or look up a word in the dictionary and read the definition four times and still have no mental picture. He’s got a great memory and devours books, but has a terrible vocabulary and makes few connections on his own. (i.e. he’s a history buff but asked me the other day whether July 4 was an American holiday.) He just has a superficial understanding of most things and doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Terrible commentary on how getting straight A’s doesn’t correlate to comprehension!
So maybe this is just the way it works: quick and brief, or slow and comprehensive. If you have a child with attention problems too, you can be grateful that s/he’s probably a thinker. They might grow up to be one of those kids who are terrible test takers but, if they took it correctly, would score extra high. After all, it’s only if you think about what you’re doing, can you can think enough to get distracted!
I’m not trying to make light of attention problems. I definitely think the kindergarten age is the optimal moment to teach this study skill– if you can teach your child to sit still and focus when they’re five-six, they will have a huge advantage. But I have more grace on my boys now. My kindergartner is clearly building his vocabulary and knowledge base, even though it seems like we labor over getting one page completed. It’s developmental and important not to skip.