How Hard Is Too Hard?

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“Try different, not harder,” ADHD coaches advise. As an ADHD adult, I respect this advice. I know “harder” seldom works. If I could always put my keys in the gray bowl in the laundry room, my keys would be in that gray bowl. I would not need the special white tile that dings at me when I use my cellphone to ping my keys, sometimes after a phone search that starts the key search. Small objects complicate ADHD life every day. I have created many strategies to manage daily life up to and including emergency back-up lesson plans prepared against the possibility that I might somehow lose the whole day’s lesson. Before I retired, my email was full of documents I sent myself so I would never find myself without materials.

A quick note for all my ADHD former students, friends and family members: You know who you are. You know who you are not. Cut yourself some slack. You burned the toast again? So what? Be as kind to yourself as you would be to any good friend.

For those not part of the club: Please don’t assume your friend or partner could keep track of those keys by trying harder. I promise Penelope does not want to spend her morning shaking out purses, bags and clothing before thoroughly cleaning the car and going through all the pockets in her house. She does not want to shake that laundry basket. You might consider giving a Tile to attach to that keychain as a Christmas or Hanukkah present, or any “finding” device that takes advantage of modern technology.

Back to education, the purported theme of this blog: “Try different, not harder” may be the best advice I’ve encountered for dealing with ADHD. When the first shelter will not do, build again. ADHD students must understand that they will probably need to build many different shelters to survive school.

ADHD kids are often locked in battle with life’s responsibilities, at least until exhaustion sets in. “Not sure if life’s telling me to give up or try harder,” many of our kids may be quietly thinking after the latest “and-I-even-had-it-in-my-locker” fail. Those fails happen too often. Exhortations to clean a locker or organize a folder won’t help, either. Students benefit from being taught to organize themselves — but some students may never be able to manage consistent organization. They will have the best of intentions. But then a firetruck will roll down the street at the end of class, and their papers will end up in the wrong folder, if those papers leave the classroom at all. An IPad will remain behind on a desk. Maybe the whole backpack will stay behind, a clumsy, twenty-pound, black lump somehow forgotten by a kid who may make it onto the bus and home before he stops to wonder why his load has suddenly become so light.

How can we teachers help our ADHD students?

Here are a few suggestions for middle school and high school students:

  1. Identify those students. Seat Jordan and Jasmine where you can see how they handle their materials.
  2. Specifically tell them what to do with those papers or their IPad, breaking the process down into steps if necessary. Yes, they should be old enough to manage without detailed instructions. And I should be able to find my keys without the Tile. Some kids can’t manage, at least not on a regular basis, without those instructions.
  3. Convince them to set a reminder or alarm with an attached packing list for the trip home. Include items like “Put IPad into backpack” etc.
  4. Convince them to set an alarm for starting their homework. The homework alarm should be set for a time early enough to deal with crises like missing assignments.
  5. Help Jordan or Jasmine to create a back-up plan for what happens when they get home and find they forgot their folder or IPad again, or can’t understand the day’s expectations for their IPad — a better back-up plan than “I will play videogames since I have nothing to do.” Who can they message from their class? Can they email you?  What else can they do to solve their problem?
  6. Consider creating back-up assignments that can be done as substitutes for some days’ assignments, at least for those kids who always seem to get lost in the forest of details of everyday school life.
  7. Teach all students to learn to prepare “Plan B” when the occasion requires. When you are making your own “Plan B” work because district internet cut out and you cannot access useful materials, share your thought processes as you adapt to the challenge.
  8. For especially vital projects or assignments, call home. Enlist parents in advance.

Eduhonesty: This post goes out with love to all those younger versions of myself.