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How to Minister to Children with Attention Deficit Disorder

In this article, Dr. Paul White, a child psychologist in Kansas, deals with readers’ questions about how to deal with Attention Deficit Disorder.


Q: What is Attention Deficit Disorder?

A: Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is the title given to a cluster of symptoms which are observed in children and that can create significant problems for the child, both at home and at school.

The hallmark symptoms of ADD are a short attention span or inability to stay on task, problems maintaining one’s concentration, being easily distracted by noises or others in the room, being extremely impulsive-responding quickly, talking incessantly or making numerous careless errors, and hyperactivity. This hyperactivity may either be demonstrated as always being “on the go” or may look more like fidgetiness-always having some part of the body moving nervously.

Not all ADD children are hyperactive. Therefore, a child may have extreme problems with attention, concentration, and impulsivity yet not seem exceedingly active or fidgety.

Q: What causes ADD?

A: Children who’ve had a head injury (usually severe, possibly from a bicycle or car accident) or children who’ve had a shortage of oxygen (either at birth or during a seizure or choking incident) may later demonstrate ADD symptoms.

Some children may have ADD as a result of severe problems with allergies or allergic reactions to medicine. Also, diet has been shown to contribute to ADD symptoms in some children. These children are highly reactive to sugar, caffeine, preservatives, and food coloring. Once taken off these foods, their behavior improves significantly.

Other sources of ADD include the presence of a seizure disorder (where the child “blanks out” for a few seconds), thyroid problems, blood sugar disorders such as diabetes or hypoglycemia, and visual tracking problems (where the eyes don’t work together well and the student has a hard time reading).

Probably the most well-known cause of ADD has to do with the child’s nervous system. Many of these children’s bodies have a deficiency in the chemicals of their brain and neurological system that are needed to function properly. These chemicals, called neurotransmitters (“neuro” meaning nerve, “transmitter” meaning communicator), help our nervous system communicate messages to the brain. If these chemicals are lacking, the system doesn’t function well and results in a short attention span, distractibility, and hyperactivity.

Q: How can I help children with ADD?

A: The specific problem that’s causing the ADD needs to be addressed. For many of the causes, appropriate medical treatment is the key to reducing the child’s symptoms and improving behavior. Physicians and psychologists can aid the child, parents, and teacher in coping with the child’s behavior.

Q: How often does ADD occur and at what age does it show up?

A: ADD is estimated to occur in 3 to 5 percent of all children. But it’s found up to eight times as often in boys as in girls. A caution, however: Many girls who have ADD without hyperactivity go unnoticed because they are quiet, compliant, and not a behavior problem.

The age at which ADD symptoms “show up” varies considerably. Many notice extremely hyperactive boys as early as 3 years old. Most ADD children with hyperactivity are identified by the second grade. However, a large number of children with ADD without hyperactivity may go unnoticed until late elementary or middle school years. In these older grades, children start to struggle with completing their schoolwork and handing it in.

Q: How can I deal with the parents of a child I suspect may have ADD?

A: As with most potentially sensitive topics, the best approach is to “speak the truth in love.” An honest, yet caring approach is necessary. Be sure to avoid any communication of blame or judgment of the parents. In fact, it’s helpful to use an introduction such as, “I have observed how hard you work at being a good parent. It must take a lot of energy to deal with Johnny’s behavior at home.” This lets parents know you understand their struggle but are not blaming them for their child’s behavior.

There’s no way to guarantee a positive response by the parent. Be straightforward, state your concern for the child, and then offer support in obtaining help for the child, such as locating a professional who evaluates children. If the parents reject your input, don’t lose heart. Often it takes numerous people mentioning the possibility of ADD to parents before they’ll seriously explore the matter.

Q: What can I do in my classroom to help an ADD child function better?

A: First, understanding ADD will give you better insight (and hopefully, patience) regarding the child’s behavior. Second, remember that (when untreated) ADD children aren’t in full control of much of their behavior. Therefore, they’re not interrupting, talking out, getting out of their seat, and touching others because they’re defiant or undisciplined. To a large degree, they do these things because it is “who they are”!

Practical Tips for Ministering to Children with ADD

But there are also a number of practical actions you can take that will help the ADD child in your classroom:

  • Structure the classroom activities as much as possible. Use routines and reduce spontaneous activities.
  • Keep the instructions brief. Use visual cues and written instructions as well as verbal instructions.
  • Show (instead of tell) what you want the child to do.
  • Reward the child’s efforts rather than accomplishments.
  • Channel the hyperactive child’s excessive energy into acceptable activities whenever possible. For example, let the child sit at a table and cut out figures, or have the class take a break and do some exercises together.
  • Schedule seatwork in short segments.
  • Draw attention to the student’s good performance publicly as often as possible.
  • Remind the student to stop and think before he or she acts. If you see a conflict starting, remind the child of positive ways to resolve the situation before it escalates into physical aggression.
  • Use variety in classroom instruction presentations. For example, start with singing, then do a short lesson using visual aids, switch to a craft, then let the children choose an activity area at which to play.
  • Reinforce interest in areas in which the student shows curiosity and enthusiasm.

Remember, God created children with ADD, and they are his children. As trying as ADD children can be at times, underneath there’s a child who needs to be understood and loved just like any other child. Ask God to help you see the child as he does, and you’ll find a neat kid inside!

“I’m Not Dumb”

I am 14 years old and I have ADD — that stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. I’m not dumb-it’s just hard for me to think as fast as other kids do. Lots of kids who have ADD are hyperactive. I’m not. I’m usually quiet in class. But I’m easily distracted and can’t keep my train of thought.

Noise and commotion distract me, and I can’t concentrate. If kids around are talking, I sometimes even forget what I was doing. Just about any kind of noise can bother me. For instance, if I’m reading to myself and someone else is reading aloud, I have a very hard time not listening to that person. I’m okay as long as the noise level isn’t really high.

Sometimes I get really mad and have trouble controlling my temper. I get mad when people make noise when I’m trying to do something. Another thing that makes me mad is if somebody says they’ll do something and then they don’t do it. I usually only let my anger show when I’m around my family. Sometimes I try to leave, but that’s not easy.

I see a doctor for counseling a few times a year. Sometimes he has me draw pictures, and we talk about when I get mad. He gives me pills that I take every day that help me concentrate and do better at school.

Life is a lot easier in the summer when I don’t have to go to school. There aren’t so many things to remember and worry about.

If you have kids with ADD in your class and you know something is bothering them, try to get rid of that thing and don’t let it come back.

Josh Keffer

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