For children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), repetition can be one of the simplest and most effective tools for learning.
by Ben Glenn
A few years ago, I took up boxing. Some people take naps to relax. As an adult with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), I have a lot of energy and like to punch things. Even though I’ve been at it for a while, the majority of my training still consists of doing the same drills over and over. It makes perfect sense to improve over time, but back when I started, I was anxious to progress to the fancy moves. One day, I complained that I was bored of doing the same drills every session. My coach replied, "Ben, I am teaching you this so that when you are in the ring and you are tired, your body will respond without you even having to think about it."
His theory proved useful in a sparring match that I participated in a few weeks later. Coach had been training me to "slip a right jab," which is when someone throws a right jab at you and you turn to duck it and counterpunch with a left hook. I was absolutely exhausted during the fight, and then it happened. My opponent, a guy easily weighing in at 300 pounds, was really wearing me down. We were doing 30-second rounds, and by round four, I was exhausted. And yet, when he threw that right jab at my head, right as the bell was about to go off, my body somehow contorted into a slip. My left arm came up, and I landed a legitimate left hook. It all happened so fast that I barely registered it.
In the post-fight debrief, Coach asked me if I remembered what I did. I wasn't sure what he was talking about, as I was so tired. He said that I slipped a right jab and called my move "perfect." (I was just glad that I could stand upright.) And it was all due to repetition.
Boxing isn’t the first time I’ve experienced the power of repetition. As an ADD/ADHD child in school, I learned a similar lesson. My special education teacher made me write out my spelling words so many times that my hand would cramp up. I loathed the process of repetition, but it also yielded results. After all, I eventually learned how to spell.
The power of repetition has proven itself to me time and time again. I know that even if I’m tired and distracted, if I’ve put in my reps, I can rely on muscle memory to help me recall and effortlessly do what I need to do. This is especially great given what I do for a living. People wonder how I, an ADD/ADHD adult, can keep my thoughts in order while speaking. It's because I have usually given a speech so many times before that I can probably do it in my sleep.
Repetition is really important for students and young children, especially those with ADD/ADHD. While it may drive the adults crazy to repeat a simple command or explain what appears to be a self-evident concept dozens or even hundreds of times, remember that developing brains require this repetition to help make certain things habitual. Whether it's putting away shoes and jackets when they get home or learning the difference in meaning and spelling between "there" and "their," repetition is the one thing that will help anchor information to kids’ brains.
Practice really does make perfect, and that's something worth repeating.