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Does Your ADHD Child’s Teacher Understand Fidgeting to Focus?

Fidgeting can help ADHD students focus. How has your child’s teacher responded to fidgets in the classroom?

In a previous post, I wrote about children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who crave oral stimulation and how to address that need in school. The topic grew from comments on a post about fidget toys (this month’s giveaway).

A second theme running through the discussion about fidgets is that some teachers find fidgeting to be too distracting to benefit the student. I agree that this can be a problem. In fact, I recently finished an article for the Spring 2011 issue of ADDitude magazine about how to choose fidgets for your child to use in school. In that piece, I wrote about the need to assess how distracting an object might be — after all, fidgets should be tools, not toys. Children need to understand that and agree to guidelines for using their fidgets, such as not throwing or bouncing sensory balls.

With that in mind, I believe there are times in which a teacher may jump to the conclusion that a child is distracted when the opposite is true. Before the “fidget to focus” concept became widely known, wasn’t all fidgeting assumed to be a negative behavior? Didn’t most parents believe that kids shouldn’t listen to music or have the TV on while doing homework? In many cases, when applied to kids with ADHD, those ideas have been proven wrong. The lesson is: We can’t judge whether or not a child with ADHD is distracted based on appearances.

In early literacy circles, experts encourage parents to let toddlers run around and play as they read aloud to them. Requiring a naturally active, inquisitive toddler to sit still in order to hear a story might just make them dislike reading. Experts have determined that toddlers are taking in what’s being read to them, even when they appear to be focused completely on something else. Can’t the same be true of kids with ADHD?

Say a teacher reports that your child doodles when she should be paying attention in class — an example that comes up in the fidget post’s comments. How does the teacher know that she’s distracted? Isn’t it equally possible that doodling is helping her concentrate? I think it’s appropriate to challenge the teacher to informally test his or her assumption several times before the student is discouraged from doodling. Could the teacher tap the student on the shoulder and quietly ask her to verify what the current topic of instruction is? Peek at the paper to see if the student is also taking notes? Talk with her directly about what she’s experiencing before she starts to doodle and as she’s doodling?

Others might have better strategies than those and strategies will change depending on the child’s age, but my point is this: Our kids often come up with coping skills naturally, and we shouldn’t discredit those without good reason. In fact, we should encourage creative trial and error to find what works for each individual.

Have your child’s teachers been open to fidgets and doodling, or is finding a fidget tactic that the teacher approves of next to impossible? Share your stories!