Dr. Baros is a dedicated researcher, educator, and LGBTQ advocate. Her areas of expertise are proficiency-based language teaching and creating inclusive environments for LGBTQ students and people.
When I was fifteen years old, I was diagnosed as ADD. Some might think that this is private information, and I can understand that perspective. However, I share this information because I feel it's empowering, both for me and for others, especially kids (and their parents) that are struggling and learning how to work with the challenges presented by an ADD brain. I've learned how to cope with my ADD and feel very positive about myself, and I'm able to do so without medications or therapy. That's not to say that all kids (or adults) can or should try to do that - sometimes those things are necessary. This is just some background information about my personal experience, and that it is it. Everyone's experience is different of course.
I'm sharing this here now because I had a very powerful experience yesterday that opened my eyes and reminded me what many students experience on a daily basis. It reminded me not to get frustrated. It reminded me that, even as an ADD person myself, it's easy to misjudge behaviors associated with it and misjudge students' intentions and capabilities.
As an adult, and especially as a professional, I have the privilege of shaping my life around my needs. My students don't have that ability. They have to work in a rigid world of "do this, not that" on adults' schedules and for adults' reasons. And usually, it's a world that's designed for "all" kids rather than tailored to their specific needs and interests. Even in situations where I am required to meet with so-and-so from X time to X time, I can usually schedule around my needs or call for a break when needed (or at least I have the freedom to "create" a break by taking a quick trip to the bathroom or drinking fountain without being questioned). And of course, I'm usually at least somewhat motivated to do the things I need to do, even if it's just because I want to make sure I'm fulfilling my job responsibilities (again, in a profession that I'm motivated to do well in).
Yesterday, however, was the perfect storm. I worked a full day which was more taxing than normal, and then I had to attend some information-heavy meetings back-to-back for another 2 1/2 hours. The information was important, but at the same time it was taxing and a fair amount of it I already understood. But, there was enough new and critical information that I didn't want to leave and risk missing anything. I was tired. I was lacking motivation and interest. And my ADD started kicking in - HARD. First, my foot started bouncing. Then, I found myself reaching for my phone to scroll through any new social media posts. But, I didn't want to be rude, so I started glancing around the room. It was getting harder and harder not to make comments - about anything! The smell of the food in the next room. Asking questions of the speaker (that I didn't really need to ask). Commenting on the topic to my neighbor. I knew that the comments weren't necessary, so I shifted my attention to my hands. I felt so pent up, both physically and mentally, I just had to let it out somehow! So, I alternated fidgeting with my fingers (I would have loved a clicking pen, but for everyone else's sake it's a good thing I didn't have one!) and texting my husband (satisfying both my need to do something as well as to say something). It was literally painful, and I would have given anything to be able to play a quick game requiring body movement or just have a 30 second conversation with someone.
And it dawned on me - here I am, a full grown adult who is highly motivated to try to pay attention and be "good", and it was taking everything in my power to avoid doing the things that many "problem" students often get in trouble for! Is this how they're feeling every day when they have to sit down, be quiet, and do what they're told?
I came to school this morning with new empathy for my talkers, by fidgeters, my pokers, my blurters, my busy-bodies... I know that not all of them are like me, and I'm sure that my own perspective is limited. But, if my own experiences in my ADD mind are any indication of what my students have to go through when they don't mean to be "bad" and it just happens, I get it. I totally get it.
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