A roundtable discussion to help you effectively
reach kids with attention deficit/hyperactivity
A lot of these kids feel like nobody loves them and that they're
always bad. We want to make sure that's not happening here at
Many parents are trying to find which church is going to accept
their child because they've been tossed out or rejected from three
*Name has been changed.
Experts predict that three percent to five percent of children
have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)-or about one
child in 20. The ratio of guys to girls diagnosed with ADHD is
about 6-to-1. Today, ADHD is the most common reason a child is
referred to a psychologist or psychiatrist.
ADHD results from a subtle malfunction in the intricate
transmission of neurochemical messages between brain cells. The
most obvious symptoms of ADHD are inattention, distractibility,
inability to follow instructions, and impulsiveness. Hyperactivity
is prominent in only 30 percent of children with ADHD.
In almost every children's ministry, there is at least one child
with ADHD. Children's ministers often ask what they can do to more
effectively reach these kids. So we asked three experts to help us
Paul White is a counseling psychologist and has worked with ADHD
and learning disabled kids for about 15 years. He does evaluations
for private schools, has a son with ADHD, and lives in Wichita,
Judy Basye has a master's degree in educational administration
with a special emphasis in special education. She's been trained by
Norfolk Institute of Learning Disabilities, taught school for nine
years, worked in a learning assistance program, and is a children's
pastor in San Mateo, California.
Donna Smith* is the mother of a child with ADHD.
CM: How do you know when kids have ADHD and not just a
PAUL: It's a tough call because it's a professional judgment. The
characteristics related to attention deficit hyperactivity
disorder-activity level, attention span, impulsiveness,
distractibility-vary on an individual basis. You have to compare
the child's characteristics on those issues to the same age and
same sex of his or her peer group. The issue: Are the behaviors
average? sort of a problem? a major challenge? so severe that they
interrupt or disrupt the child's life and ability to function
adequately at home, school, or church? The characteristics should
be pretty consistent across settings.
Some people overinterpret and say kids have to be this way all the
time. But there are clearly some settings where a child has a
longer attention span. Generally in a structured setting such as a
classroom, you're going to see the ADHD characteristics across
different settings versus the occasional activity. So that would be
one differential of someone who has ADHD versus someone who has a
more general kind of behavioral problem.
JUDY: Here at church, I'd agree to all those. But I also ask
parents how their child responds to some kind of activity at home,
school, and church just to balance out what we're looking at. So
I'd agree with Paul 100 percent.
DONNA: I agree with Paul too. I notice my son has a much longer
attention span while he's playing Nintendo, watching television, or
playing with Lego blocks than sitting at the dinner table or
CM: How does having an ADHD child in the classroom affect
JUDY: It sometimes undoes the classroom, especially in the Sunday
school environment. Sunday school teachers aren't trained as well
as school teachers. On the whole, Sunday school teachers want the
perfect classroom. Since they're volunteers, some don't want to
take the extra time it takes for an ADHD child. In one of my
classrooms, I have three boys who have been diagnosed with ADHD.
And it's a very busy classroom. I have a public school teacher
teaching that classroom and she's ready to quit.
In another classroom with an ADHD child, the teacher is a
volunteer with no professional teacher training other than what I
give her for Sunday Bible school teaching. And she's willing to go
the extra mile for the child. The church is being challenged about
how to remember that we're called to love these children. We need
to figure out how to go that extra mile for these children and in
the classroom setting.
We don't have the luxury like the school setting has to divide the
children in the classroom. We only have one fourth-grade classroom,
so all those boys are in one fourth-grade classroom. I work more
with that teacher than I do with the other teacher who is willing
to hug and hold and make things happen a little differently.
PAUL: I think teachers become discouraged more easily. Sometimes
we need to help teachers develop appropriate expectations for what
they can do for the class with that child or children in them. They
may have to change their expectation of how much of a lesson they
can get through or plan for more active things. We should free them
up a little bit to do things differently than what they would if
they had no ADHD children in the classroom at all. Otherwise, they
get really frustrated because they never meet their goals or they
never complete their lesson.
CM: What teaching techniques can Sunday school teachers use
with kids who have ADHD?
DONNA: I know lots of praise really helps Mike a lot, almost to
the point where I feel like I'm being real gushy about it. Another
kid would see right through that and maybe think I was even making
some of it up. It seems like he's always in trouble and has a low
self-esteem. So the more praise Mike gets really seems to help him
act good. I think teachers in the Sunday school classroom could
have knowledge beforehand of who they're going to have in class and
if any child has ADHD. They could then learn about what to do.
Someone could tell them what things help ADHD kids, such as praise
or awards. That would make the classroom go a little easier than
constantly having to reprimand the child.
JUDY: We're doing some behavior modification with one of our
fourth graders. We're also trying to bring the parents online. So
we have some team strategies. The teacher and the parents need to
be a team. We meet at least twice a month and talk about how
children are doing, what we can do to help them, and how to help
them know they're loved when they come to church. A lot of these
kids feel like nobody loves them and that they're always bad.
We want to make sure that's not happening here at church. The
children who have the teacher-parent team are working 100 percent
better than the one child who doesn't have the teacher-parent team.
If I have that team set up between the teacher and the parent, the
parent realizes that the teacher will remind, praise, and pray for
The teacher and the classroom children are another team. The kids
want to help the ADHD child make it in the class. If the teacher
has to send the child outside the classroom for a few minutes, the
kids in the classroom begin praying for that child. I'm usually
called, and I sit down and talk with one of the boys to learn what
just happened. We pray and go back into the class.
So the teacher, the child, and I are another team. We're trying
this team approach to help these children succeed in Sunday school
so that Sunday school isn't another place they fail.
PAUL: Another helpful strategy for some ADHD impulsive kids who
often like to get attention is to use them as a teacher's helper.
The teacher, at least for part of the time, can give kids attention
by having them help hand out materials or gather things up. It
doesn't work with all ADHD kids, but it can clearly help limit some
disruptive behavior for a number of those kids.
DONNA: Yes, I think the teacher's helper thing would be perfect
for Mike because he loves that kind of thing. He likes to have lots
of attention. I guess if he felt he wasn't getting attention, he
might act out in other ways.