Doodling during class keeps my daughter focused and alert — so when teachers keep her from drawing, her symptoms begin to surface.
by Jennifer Gay Summers
“Oh, yeah, Mom, I almost forgot. Here’s my progress report.” Lee handed me a tiny folded hot pink square, and ran off to the safety of her room. It could be worse, I thought. Grades had come home before in the form of a paper airplane or a crumpled ball. I pressed out the creases and leaned back in my chair. Here we go, I thought, welcome to the beginning of the seventh grade.
Only three grades were listed so far. They were A’s. I pounded my fist on the table. “Yes!” Comments followed the grades. “Pleasure to have Lee in class” for social studies. I grinned. “Too talkative and social” for science. My eyes widened with surprise. I knew many kids with ADHD had difficulty being quiet in class, but Lee had learned to use drawing as her coping mechanism, her way to sit still and focus on the lesson.
I went to her room and peeked around the door. She lay sprawled on her bed, clutching a pillow, the strain of school melting from her pores.
“Great start, Lee! Your hard work paid off. Nice comments, too, but your science teacher says you’re talking too much...?”
“Believe me, I know.” Art had always been her refuge, her safe place to channel distractions and calm her mind. I remembered the preschool teacher who allowed Lee to paint while she flitted in and out of circle time, the second-grade teacher who gave her colored markers to draw what she heard, and the fourth-grade teacher who believed art helped Lee’s ability to listen, stay alert, and control behavior.
“Are you mad, Mom?”
“No, honey, of course not.” How could I be? I’d recently attended a lecture on ADHD, sitting behind a severely hyperactive man who had saved the two empty chairs next to him for his body to move on so he wasn’t trapped. Lee needed her outlet, too.
Soon, more teachers started to complain that drawing kept her from participating in class. As an ex-teacher, I understood why they were frustrated. As a mom, I wanted them to understand. Finally, it was Lee who came up with the solution. She found that if she finished her classwork quickly enough, the teachers would allow her to draw in the remaining time.
At her spring IEP meeting, I wasn’t surprised to hear her teachers say that her work was sometimes messy and rushed. I shrugged and weighed the choices — not participating enough or messy and rushed? Either way, she wasn’t trapped. A few weeks later, I found the spring report card square in her backpack. I opened it slowly, hoping for the best, then let out a long breath. It was all B’s for academic grades and all E’s for effort. Supporting the arts has its rewards.