Reply To: How to help my son focus and complete work in school

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Question: Is the ‘given topic’ something that has actually been given to him by the teacher, or is the topic something that he can choose for himself? Keeping in mind that ADhD neurology is largely ‘interest driven,’ can the topic be something that he cares about or chooses for himself, or is there a way to modify a given topic into something that would matter to him?

Come to think about it, what is the actual bottom-line purpose of the journal assignment, anyway? Is it to reflect on material taught in class? Is it to practice communicating one’s own thoughts to others? Is it so the teacher can gain insight into the student? Why is he journaling in the first place?

Also, his admission of daydreaming about video games clearly demonstrates his struggle with a key feature of ADhD, that of ‘perseveration,’ the tendency to get something into one’s head and fixate on it, not being able to stop thinking about it and instead think of something else (another ADhD struggle, that of ‘transitioning’). Example: Right now I have a song in my head that keeps playing over and over and over and simply will not stop. It’s been playing in my head for probably a week now, and it’s driving me nuts. Whatever it taking center stage in the mind needs to get upstaged by something else (thus we’re back to transitioning).

Also, remember that multi-modal learning sticks better than anything, which is why the video games stick in his mind. Video games are immersive, multi-modal experiences (3D visual, auditory, participative, interactive), which also include relationship and competition (with the game itself and/or fellow players). And it is an ‘alternate reality’ that the child finds preferable to the ‘real’ world, which is why his mind gravitates to reflection about it.

Ah, but soon enough, of these days it will be a girlfriend that he won’t be able to stop thinking about instead of a video game. The problem is essentially the same, is it not?

What is certain is that self-awareness is key for this boy to learn, the earlier the better. One of the most important things to remember about daydreaming – whether about a video game or a girlfriend – is that we are not necessarily aware we are doing it when we’re doing it. It’s like zoning out when you’re driving your car or getting lost online watching YouTube videos of first one thing and then another. We have to first learn to be AWARE that we are daydreaming in order for us to be able to consider – in the moment – the consequence of doing that. It’s no good to get chastised for it later. By then the learning moment has passed.

Help your son become more self-aware in this regard. And above all, avoid the whole guilting, shaming, blaming thing. Over time there are two thing that dominate our memory-driven physiology more than anything else: Association and emotion. We associate things with how we feel about them, even if we don’t recall specifics about why we feel that way. I hated school. Why? I don’t recall much except that it was a place where I was daily reminded of all the ways in which I didn’t measure up; too much of this, not enough of that; always something. And all I wanted to do was get out of there and go somewhere else that was less stressful.