“I am not autistic!” This is from a very distressed elementary school student to his mom. He is in a substantially separate classroom due to difficulties in a general education classroom. His substantially separate classroom is the autism program in his district. He has ADHD. He hates school.
This post on Facebook pretty accurately describes what we try to do to help these kids, and how it fails them. If you don’t have FB, it is about a token system designed for helping children change disruptive actions instead of understanding the symptoms of ADHD. It is both exhausting for the teacher, and impossible for the student to have any form of success with it.
Of course, I understand that nothing is 100% effective or not effective. There are many students with ADHD that can be motivated by reward systems. I have offered some group reward programs myself. Do I think they help change neurology? No. Nor do I feel most of them are sustainable or create any long-term changes. I feel that they are most helpful to remind us as adults to provide positive comments and praise when a child is getting it right. Something we should be doing on a regular basis with or without a token system.
I also believe that ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) is very effective for some children who are on the spectrum. Autistic children can also have ADHD. There are ADHD children who are not on the spectrum, and here lies the difference.
In my experience with supporting ADHD kids, many are plugged into interventions and district programs that are not meant for them, but we don’t know what else to do. So many of these kids escalate and find themselves in 45-day extended evaluation settings. Do some need this level of support? Most likely. Do they all? No.
The absolute hardest thing about living with ADHD is having symptoms treated as behaviors or active choices. Yes, impulsivity has some hint of intent to it, but kids are not able to think through or predict the outcome, hence making it an impulse and not a choice.
In my dream world as a mom of two ADHD sons, and the social educator of so many more, we would have programs specifically designed for the specific support these kids need to feel successful at school. It would need a strong social-emotional learning component that includes teaching how the ADHD brain works, opportunities for consistent movement, and sensory input, lessons outdoors, positive staff providing positive reinforcement, understanding of impulse versus choice, and so much more.
We say we understand kids better now. And in many aspects we do. We have come a very long way with autism and anxiety. I still feel we haven’t come at all far enough for our ADHD kids.