Who couldn't sit still
Over my twenty plus years of teaching, I always had a soft spot for the underdog. The kids who didn’t quite fit the ‘mould’ …whatever the mould looks like!
I worked extensively with kids who faced a range of challenges from SEN through to chaotic or troubled home lives.
One particular year, I had a young boy in my class (we’ll call him Billy) who literally could not sit still – I mean he sort of could, but the moments were fleeting at best. He was also funny, charming, sweet, good natured and had the ability to drive you to moments of utter desperation and then, just when you felt like you might blow your top, he’d say something so cute or funny that you would forgive him everything! He was the shepherd in the school play whose tea towel would be off his head and up his jumper before the end of the opening scene!
He was not diagnosed with ADHD but by golly if he didn’t have it, I’d eat every hat I’ve ever owned. He also came from a family who had four children living in two rooms but were perhaps the most loving parents I have ever met – they accepted every single one of their slightly feral children for who they were in every single way – it was beautiful.
A colleague of mine and I were offered to attend some training about ADHD and, having both worked with this young man, and both struggled at times to retain our sanity, we jumped at the chance.
The training was led by an amazing woman who was a professor and had a wealth of experience in education and the academic world…she also had ADHD.
She was funny, engaging, intelligent, articulate and wise. She told of her struggles throughout her life – how she became clinically depressed, how she could never get her children to school on time, how she existed in permanent state of chaos. She told funny but touching stories of times when she was heavily medicated and how this still didn’t help her to get her children to school on time; the only difference was that she now didn’t care!
One of the most poignant pieces of advice she gave us was this…
“If you tell someone with ADHD to sit still then all their mind will be thinking is, ‘must sit still, must sit still, must sit still,’ they will literally hear nothing else you say.”
This is a piece of advice that I have followed to this day and still rings true for me with every child that I have ever dealt who has attention deficit challenges; in fact, it also rings true for many children who are just ‘lively’ learners….my son and grandson being absolute cases in point!
I returned to the classroom and implemented several small, but life-changing adaptations. Billy was given a busy box – he actually had a few; in true Billy style things didn’t stay in one place for long! The boxes were placed around the classroom and contained things like little lego pieces, some lovely malleable blu tak, some threading beads; anything that he could fiddle with, deconstruct, build or twiddle. Whenever Billy felt that he couldn’t sit still he would literally jump up from the carpet, hurtle round the room and find a busy box where he would happily make a blu tak snail that would later find its way onto my desk as a present!
The children were great at understanding ‘this is how Billy learns’ and Billy was fabulous at listening whilst he was ‘busy.’ I tried to catch him out on several occasions…
’Billy did you hear what I just said?’ …’Yes miss, you said…’ and he would repeat my words back to me with quite startling accuracy and probably much more accurately than the children sitting quietly on the carpet in front of me could have done.
I remember one occasion vividly when he hurtled off to the reading corner mid-way through a lesson introduction and grabbed an encyclopaedia that was way beyond his reading level. He tripped and stumbled his way back to me and said, “There he is Miss, that’s Thomas Edison, the bloke who invented electricity!” which was the exact name I had struggled to recall just a couple of minutes previously. His recall for information that he had learnt from days, weeks, or months ago was astounding.
So my point is this, ADHD was Billy’s super power. It enabled him to be quick witted, enthusiastic, and animated about almost every topic – we just had to change the way he learned…and let’s face it the changes were hardly ground-breaking!
The world is full of so many different types of people – shy people, listeners, talkers, thinkers, creatives, musicians, the movers and the sit-stillers – and wouldn’t the world be a grey place without this technicoloured rainbow of strengths? It is vital that we see our quirks – our personality traits – as our superpowers and that we recognise the same in others.
One size does not fit all and by allowing Billy to learn in his own way, we opened up his whole world instead of squashing it into a little box where his only thoughts were… ‘must sit still!’
For two years after Billy left infant school, he would run up the path to my door on the way to collect his younger brother with a melted piece of chocolate in his hand that he had ‘saved’ for me from his after-school treat; I always ate the chocolate no matter how sticky it was! I hope that I taught Billy lots, but Billy taught me more about empathy, inclusion and the celebration of difference than he will ever realise, and he taught that sometime a ‘difference’ is actually a superpower!