by Christine Southern, B.A.
For the past seven years I have been an elementary grade teacher in schools ranging from inner city impoverished facilities to middle class suburban private institutions. During this time I have learned how devastating Attention Deficit Disorder is to a child's academic and social development.
I have taught children with this disorder who received stimulant medication and those that did not. Trying to manage one of these children without parental cooperation and medical guidance is a frustrating task. Helping these students demands a team composed of parents, pediatrician, teacher and in many cases an educational psychologist. If any member takes their role lightly or does not cooperate with the team an optimum management program is unattainable.
The teacher plays the key role in identifying the aberrant behavior. She has to document the activity pattern and tactfully advise the parents of a potential problem. Some parents are not receptive to critical comments about their off spring, even if they are constructive. If medication is tried the teacher becomes the key observing reporter to the prescribing pediatrician.
Unfortunately, in some cases, even when the benefit of medication is documented, parents forget to give it, the child doesn't swallow it, or mom and dad unilaterally decide to stop the stimulant. Most of the time this occurs unknown to the teacher. This makes her role as an informed observer impossible.
The following scenario details a day in the life of Helen, (not the student's real name). She is an eight-year-old ADHD student who, on mediation is a very positive force in the classroom. She is bright, cooperative and gets along well with her classmates; a real pleasure to have in class when on treatment.
As the sun beamed in on a crystal clear fall morning I was ready for a fulfilling day helping my students on their voyage through the sea of learning. The calm was shattered by a staccato query from Helen.
"Can I go get a drink of water?"
"Yes, Helen, but come right back. I need you to work with your group to figure out the word problem."
Two minutes later I look in the hallway for Helen. She is not in sight. After a brief look around the corner I see her sifting through her locker with a Beanie Baby in her hand.
"Helen, you know the rules; either put the toy in your locker or I will donate it to the children's hospital. Your group is asking for you. You are always so good at those word problems. Don't let them down."
"I just wanted to check on it."
"Helen, give me the toy and you can have it back after school. Right now, go help your group." With a shrug she goes through the door. Managing to bump Steven, and stumble over a desk leg, she barrels over to her group.
"Hey, give me back my pencil." Some chaos in Helen's group.
"What's up? Are you done with the problems?"
"Helen took my pencil and broke it for no reason."
"He took mine yesterday," Helen interjects.
"Jim, get a pencil off my desk. Helen, your group has five minutes to solve the problems before we present the answers to the class."
Recess time. "Helen, what was wrong this morning? Did you go to bed late last night?"
"No", head facing the ground.
"Did you eat breakfast?"
"Did you get in a fight with your sister again?"
"She's always bugging me."
"Well, Helen, maybe you're just having a tough morning. I get those once in a while. Hang in there." She shrugs and walks away.
Back in the classroom. "Class, take out your poems from yesterday. Proof read your partner's and get on the computers to type your second draft."
Ten minutes later I see Helen scratching her desk with a compass point. "Helen, where is the poem from yesterday?"
"I don't know. Maybe it's in my locker."
"Helen, you put it in your desk. Why don't you take the books out so you can see what's in there."
Piles of crumpled papers, bent books and broken pencils pour out. "Helen, I have to help Jim on the computer. Look very hard for your poem. When you find it let me see it."
Five minutes later Helen is sharpening her pencil as close to the eraser as mechanically possible. "Let's organize your desk, Helen. It has tobe there somewhere. It really was a clever poem."
I promise myself to call Helen's mom tonight to see if anything is going on at home. Five minutes of work and the paper was found.
"Okay, sit down and proof read your partner's poem while she reads yours."
Several minutes later. "Hey, what are you doing to my paper?" Tears begin to fall.
"Jenny, what's wrong?" I sighed.
"Helen drew on my paper and made a hole in it. Why do I have to work with her?"
"Well, she said I was stupid", Helen says in a whine.
"No I didn't"...
Needless to say, I received a note from the school nurse saying that Helen had to see her at once. Apparently her mother had forgotten to give her the morning dose of medicine. That makes it twice and it's only September. I promised myself to phone Helen's mom tonight.
Helen's behavior is very typical of an ADHD child who is not medicated. Because she was not on treatment her behavior seemed to be a confusion of emotional unrest and impulsive actions. These children are not able to interact with their peers appropriately and thus are not accepted by their group. Treating ADHD children with medication is extremely important. It allows the children to focus on their creative thoughts and produce academic work up to their potential.
Certainly not all stereotypes of Helen have ADHD. We must remember many conditions may mimic the behaviors of primary Attention Deficit Disorder. Intentionally or carelessly missing a dose or stopping therapy on the child who is transformed by Ritalin or Dexedrine is inexcusable. A cessation of the much needed mediation causes the poor child to slip back into the distracted and in many cases the impulsive state that cripples their academic progress and destorys self-esteem. Stimulant medication is not a magic panacea for all classroom problem, but in the student with documented primary ADHD it is as crucial as anticonvulsants for epileptics.