“Isn’t what you’re calling ADHD really just boys being boys?”
Carol Brady, Ph.D., responds: Many boys (and girls, for that matter!) with ADHD are described with admiration by parents as being very active and curious. But it is the frequency and intensity of the “boyish” behavior that separates mere spiritedness from ADHD.
As I frequently see in my practice, “active and curious” may describe boys who can’t sit still long enough to complete a task. I’ve seen children go rapidly from one unfinished game to another — as many as 20 different starts in 30 minutes. Such behavior does not allow for the completion of any game, nor for the mastery of the critical social skills that are developed through play. In jumping from game to game, the child gets no practice in taking turns, dealing with frustration, playing by the rules, following through, and experiencing satisfaction from a job well done. Later on, these missing social skills can often result in friendless boys with poor self-images who are teased and ridiculed by others.
Denial of ADHD has lifelong consequences. I’ve worked with youngsters whose parents have to get up two hours before leaving in the morning in order to shepherd them through events that most children accomplish independently in 20 minutes. This isn’t just the dawdling of “boys being boys.” Because of their ADHD, these boys can’t organize the “getting ready” process in a way that allows them to shift from one task to another in a smooth sequence. Their behavior is disabling to themselves and the entire family.
Providing kids with ADHD with structure — and supporting a habit of following that structure — helps them develop self-management skills that offset the impulse to veer off track. People with ADHD who never learn these skills are in for a bumpy ride.
Dismissing typical ADHD behaviors as “boys being boys” denies kids — both boys and girls — the help they need to become independent, responsible teens and adults.
“Isn’t it unfair to other kids when those with ADHD get special accommodations, like untimed tests and shorter homework assignments?”
Clare B. Jones, Ph.D., responds: This question is one of the most frequently asked in my teacher workshops on ADHD. The answer requires understanding the distinction between fair and equal.
The dictionary defines fair as “just, even-minded, non-discriminatory.” Fair is helping someone do his best, with all the techniques a teacher can employ.
Equal means “treating everyone exactly the same.” If children have learning disabilities, treating them exactly the same as other kids is not fair. Accommodations for ADHD level the playing field for kids whose neurological makeup prevents them from being equal.
To illustrate the comparison between fair and equal, think of telling a child with hearing aids: “Remove your aids during this listening test. I must treat you equally. It is not fair for you to have amplified hearing.”
One student with ADHD told me, “With my disability, I feel I am trying to play ball with one hand on the bat, while everyone else has two. With an accommodation, it is like being told I can have two hands on the bat. Accommodations make me equal to my fellow players. I still have to keep my eye on the ball and hit it, and I still have to run the bases, but now I have a chance because I can use two hands on the bat.”
I’d like to see every teacher start the year by informing the class about accommodations. He should informally describe his expectations for the year and let the class know that modifications will be made for some students.
The teacher might say, “If one of your classmates needs an accommodation that you don’t need, I want you to know she will have that accommodation in this class, just as I will offer you every strategy you need if you are struggling. My goal is to help all of you learn. If that means one student gets 10 math problems and another gets 20, so be it. We all work together, but we all learn differently. The question in this room is not ‘How did you learn?’ but ‘How well did you learn?’”