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“Why Curious, Questioning Students are Highly Underrated”

“Kids and adults with ADHD bring so much to the classroom through our creative energy — both as teachers and students. We have the fantastic ability to amplify anything fun and interesting or turn boring material into something awesome because our brains crave it. All of this can make us stand out in a good way, with the right teacher at the helm.”

Everyone knows the right answear
Everyone knows the right answear

When I was 7, I accidentally missed the page that the class was meant to complete in my Second grade math exercise book and did the next two instead.

While this happens to everyone, my teacher brought it up with my parents because, under her note saying “These are very good sums and well done, but we were meant to be doing the other page” I had scrawled in my very best handwriting, “Well, my sums are different.” I wasn’t wrong.

As a ‘90s kid, I was assessed a few times because I was getting bullied and clearly navigating something that didn’t make much sense to anyone. The results of early evaluations were inconclusive, partly because I figured out what was being asked and went for the “right” answers in the second test. I probably saw the evaluation as a test and thought that I’d “failed” the first one. The psychologists also assessed my IQ and, like many kids with ADHD, I was in the top 4% of the bell curve, much to the glowing pride of my mum and dad.

My parents, who may have been in a little bit of denial, concluded that I was just faster and got picked on because I was statistically brighter than most of my classmates and a bad runner who didn’t like football (“soccer”). They coincidentally also got my ears checked a lot because I “wasn’t able to hear people sometimes.”

Because of my undiagnosed ADHD, I was often a confusing student to teach. In school, I had a passionate resolve to be the best at all things, dividing my attention evenly between blurting out answers in class, not reading instructions properly but answering all the questions anyway, being endlessly chatty and retreating to various objects in my pencil case.

[Read: 9 Things I Wish the World Knew About My Students’ ADHD]

ADHD brains are interest driven; when you have our attention, it’s not going anywhere. As a teenager, I did very well in subjects of personal interest like history, psychology, and German, and I did reasonably well on the rest. The hyperfocus sniper scope was on and the poor teacher sat in the crosshairs. Teachers who didn’t appreciate being challenged beyond what was written in the textbook learned that, with me, respect is earned, not simply given.

I often drove my classmates nuts by asking complicated questions during which I’d totally forget my point and start filibustering until it came back. More than once, the teacher held me after class, asked me to stop interrupting the lesson, and suggested that I write all my questions down for one-on-one review during bookwork. One or two of the more creative teachers would make it a game for me to keep quiet for longer than 5 minutes and reward me with sweets if I managed it. I rarely got those sweets.

Still, I contend that kids and adults with ADHD bring so much to the classroom through our creative energy — both as teachers (which I had the pleasure of doing for three years) and as students. We have the fantastic ability to amplify anything fun and interesting or turn boring material into something awesome because our brains crave it. All of this can make us stand out in a good way, with the right teacher at the helm.

During an A-Level course assignment in psychology, I got dressed up and mimicked the dull and slow voice of professor Albert Bandura as part of our presentation on Social Learning Theory. I went as far as pouring a whole bag of flour in my hair to make it as white as his. It made a mess, but the teacher, a favorite of mine named Mr. Perry, was still crying with laughter as he graded us and sent us out to find a broom. It took me weeks to wash the flour out, but when I saw him 12 years later, he still knew my name. They all did.

[Additional Reading: “I Know! I Know!” Self-Control Solutions for Kids Who Blurt Out]

Mr. Perry was a good bloke who had a bit of banter with me in class. He was comfortable with interrupting my “input” when I strayed off point to give me a “5 minutes of sweet silence” challenge. I’d sit button lipped, glaring comically at everyone as they teased me and asked me questions to break my resolve. The strain of silence was unreal.

But that silence echoed when I was suddenly hospitalized for a week. My classmates said you could hear a mouse fart between the thick classroom walls and the scratching of pens became deafening in my absence. After starting the two-hour class and saying that it was nice to have a bit of peace, Mr. Perry lasted about ten minutes before he snapped: “Guys, why are you all so quiet?! This is weird! I don’t like it… I didn’t think I’d say this, but does anyone else really miss Les?”

He cut the lesson short and used the 20 minutes of “Les’ rambling time” he likely built into his lesson plans to have everyone make me a card instead. They brought it to my hospital bed that evening. It was one of the sweetest things anyone’s ever done for me and it was one of the things that got me through the pain and starvation I endured for five days straight while my intestines healed. Thirteen years later, that orange sun-bleached homemade card still sits on my desk in my room.

Looking back, I think it’s a bit strange that none of us clocked that I had ADHD even though I must have interrupted at least one lesson on the topic that year.

Disruptive Student with ADHD? Next Steps


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