Saturday, January 28, 2012


When I was a school social worker, I had many kids referred to me as “possibly ADHD” (which includes the Hyperactive, Inattentive, and Combined types).  

These kids were often flagrantly hyperactive or “spacey” in the classroom, a highly stimulating and anxiety-producing place for kids with ADHD. There are many other children nearby, constant soft and loud noises, and the requirement that they produce a certain amount of work and behave appropriately.

These “possibly ADHD” kids often came to one of my social work groups with 3-5 other kids in my small, quiet office. There, I provided interesting exercises first and playtime afterward. They must be quiet during the first part of group or get checks which could lead to “time out” during playtime.

The hyperactive, sometimes oppositional kids rarely earned time out (3 checks) in my groups as the stimulation level was low and the adult friendly, but consistent. I also didn’t require any written work! Even the “spacey,” inattentive type of kids could pay attention and do well socially for that short time. Again, less stimulation, more support, and a reward for co-operation (play time).

At the shelter, I work with many kids who seem to have ADHD at first. Some of them continue to show symptoms and may indeed have ADHD, but many lose their symptoms after a few weeks. Why? Because separation anxiety can cause hyperactivity. Depression can slow responses, lower motivation, and increase disorganization. Aggression is often learned and has to be unlearned. A lack of trust is a normal response to a violent, frightening home.

The same can be said for kids who show symptoms of ADHD but live in “normal” homes. They, too, may be experiencing crises—a serious illness or the illness of someone they love, an overstressed parent, a separation or divorce, the death of a loved one, a parent’s unemployment, frequent moves and school changes.

The lesson I’ve learned? Before a professional thinks about suggesting a visit to the pediatrician, s/he should find out what’s happening in the child’s life—now and in the past. Provide support to both parent and child. Listen and watch. See what happens.

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