Appreciating Our ADHD Students
I’ve been sitting at a dining room table for almost two hours now, observing my son, Matt, as he works with a student. Matt’s a professional tutor and so am I. I’ve enlisted Matt’s help with this particular girl, because history’s not my forte and it’s one of Matt’s specialties.
This student (I’ll call her Eva) is home schooling due to chronic fatigue syndrome. On top of that, she’s got attention deficit disorder (also known as ADD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD). Yet here she is, for two hours now and counting, totally absorbed in a very complex and detailed discussion of political and economic dynamics between world powers after World War I.
You would think that we tutors see a lot of ADHD in our line of work.
We certainly have enough students with that diagnosis. Probably a third of the kids I work with take attention-regulating medications (Concerta seems to be the most common).
So I guess the ADHD is there. But I don’t feel like I see it a lot. After decades of working one-on-one with students and naturally engaging with them on their level, ADHD is simply not a part of my day-to-day tutoring interaction. Perhaps I’m just so inured to it, so automatically flexible and accommodating toward all sorts of learning styles and needs, that ADHD doesn’t hit my internal radar anymore. Or maybe students don’t exhibit their ADHD when they’re engrossed in material at their level.
I like to believe that the latter is at least partially true. Certainly, as I observe Matt and Eva bantering away (it’s Matt, now, who’s looking a little bit tired, while Eva keeps asking eager questions and making connections), I don’t imagine anyone could watch this lesson and imagine that Eva has unmedicated ADHD.
Now, it’s true that I’ve seen Eva’s eyes glaze over a few times during this marathon history lesson. Matt had to take a few detours to explain some very technical detail or another, something hard even for me to understand (the differences between communism, socialism, and fascism, for example). They’ve been going for about an hour and a half at this point, and Eva looks a bit dazed and tuned out. I wonder if this is where Matt will lose her and the lesson will be over.
But, no. Eva suddenly perks up, shakes her head as if shaking away the fog, and pitches right back in with another question. Forty-five minutes later, it’s Matt who cries uncle. He’s worn out, whereas Eva, attention deficit disorder notwithstanding, would have happily kept on discussing the intricacies of world war politics, economics and social dynamics.