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“Playing Catch and Catching Clues”

The kids who need the most attention, positive feedback, and mentoring from adults are seldom the ones to ask for it — or even acknowledge it to our faces. But that shouldn’t dissuade us from offering it again and again and again.

Our elementary school has a volunteer program called WatchDOGS, in which dads and granddads volunteer for the day. They help in the morning with carpool, attend their kids’ recess and lunch periods, assist with bus loading at the end of the day, and help out with other assorted school chores.

My first time volunteering as a WatchDOG, I spent two minutes throwing a football with Randall, a student in my daughter Vivianna’s fourth-grade class. “He gets into a lot of trouble,” she told me later. “He got in-school suspension last week for calling the teacher a bad word.”

“Why’d he do that?” I asked.

“I don’t know. He does things like that all the time. He told me he has ADHD.”

[Self Test: Could Your Child Have ADHD?]

I knew none of this when I asked him to play catch. We were all outside at recess, and I saw him off by himself with a small football and asked him to pass it to me. We tossed the ball back and forth for a minute or two, then the teachers blew the whistle to end recess. I gave him a high-five and told him he had a good arm, then I thought nothing else of it until a few weeks later when Vivianna asked me when I was going to be a WatchDOG again.

“Randall asks every day when you’re coming back,” she told me.

“That’s nice,” I said. “Tell him when I come back next we’ll play again.”

A few months later, I volunteered again. That morning when I arrived at the class, I gave Vivianna a hello hug and then went straight to Randall. “Hey buddy,” I said and held out my hand for a high-five. “How’s it going?”

He gave me a soft, unenthusiastic high-five and quietly said, “Good.”

“I brought a bigger football. Do you want to play some catch at recess?”

Without lifting up his head, he said, “Sure.”

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I couldn’t tell if he was shy, distracted, or uninterested, but I was expecting a little more enthusiasm. Once recess came, I grabbed my football and rushed outside. It took me a few minutes to find Randall. Based on Vivianna’s description, I thought he would seek me out. So I worried I was inconveniencing him, that maybe I was butting in on something between him and his friends.

But once I found him, we played the entire recess. After each catch, I told him good job. He never smiled or said thanks after I gave him a compliment, yet I continued to make a big deal when he made a play. In fact, he never said a word the whole time. When recess ended, he just walked away. As the students lined up to go inside, I ran up to him and said, “You did good, buddy. Keep it up.” I offered him a high-five, and he softly high-fived back.

I went to the teacher’s lounge to drink a cup of coffee and thought about recess. It seemed to me Randall wasn’t into it. Maybe Vivianna misunderstood or played up too much how interested he was the first time. Maybe he was having an off day. Or maybe he was humoring me. I couldn’t figure it out.

I’ve been a WatchDOG now several times, and each time I make sure to seek out Randall. Every time we play at recess but he says nothing, shows no emotion, and then for weeks asks Vivianna when I’m coming back. I’ve tried interacting with him during class, at class parties, and during field trips. But every time I start a conversation he’s very awkward and clearly uncomfortable. “It’s not you,” the teacher said when I was volunteering at a field trip. “He’s been like that with me all year. But he likes you. He asks about you all the time.”

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I wanted to ask for more details. What happened when he flipped you off? What are his grades like? What’s his family situation? I wanted some more context, but I couldn’t be nosy. I have no way of finding out what a few minutes of playing football means to him. Yet I make sure to engage him every time I visit the school. When I volunteer, I say hello when I see him. I ask him to play catch. I say goodbye when I leave for the day. Then I look at my work schedule and try to figure out how soon I can go back to the school and play catch.

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  1. This is so sad, it made me cry. Life must be just so hard for some people. Well done, YOU for making such a big effort to make a difference. I have a 65 year old “little boy” boyfriend who, I now believe, must have suffered from this affliction, too, all his life. He drinks in excess to try to cope with life. He is good at socializing, he is the church organist and choir master. He organises concerts in aid of the church, but still, I think he finds coping with life hard – he gets so anxious, finds it hard to relate, as he does not get the “rules” of life – hence the booze to block it all out. He has no real “friends” apart from the woman next door who boozes with him and me, but we are long-distance and he has now rejected me and shut me out, after a row – blocked my calls and texts – because I have been on a “campaign” for five years to stop the boozing, and he doesn’t want to. So, although I have tried to offer a helping hand and support him now he just wants to sit with his bottle and take the easy option. He seems to need a lot a reassurance about how well he has done, and cannot seem to respect himself enough to know that he HAS done well. He gets very down and depressed. Yes, I think if I tried to “high-five” him, it would be a soft one coming back. I think your little boy may actually be more on the autism spectrum – perhaps it is Aspergers rather than ADHD. The “not talking and keeping apart” and the non-communication with head down is more like that, I would say. They cannot meet others’ eyes and communicate. My ex-husband had Aspergers, but we did not know until after we got divorced. I don’t think it is being nosy at all to want to help someone in trouble. I would have thought the teachers would encourage any kind of support – but then human beings can be strange. Why don’t you invite him round to your place, since your daughter clearly gets on well with him? And try to talk to his parents? I’m sure they would appreciate any support offered – it must be heartbreaking for them and so much hard work. I wish you well. L.

  2. I think you’re doing something great! He sounds a little like our grandson who we’ve been raising 2-1/2 years now. Any bit of positive attention he really likes – more than non-ADHD kids. Laps up any attention from any father figure, doesn’t know his father so my husband is basically that/ enjoys his uncles but they have their own families. Wonder if you could be a mentor to him, like the Big Brother or other similar program.

    Ours has such a kind heart but is super impulsive and gets hurt feelings easily so he would do something like this kid did – over-react to the hurt in his life. Also gets over stimulated sometimes but sometimes withdraws. Either way, don’t give up! I think your guts are telling you something

    1. Janice, I found your reply VERY interesting (see my comment above and encouraging) – In that you say your grandson over-reacts to his hurt feelings. My man-friend of 65 does exactly the same. The least little thing has him flaring up like a volcano and pushing me out the door – time after time (why do I keep going back, I ask myself?) I thought it was the effect of the booze and his withdrawing, as he never drinks when I go to stay, but maybe this is the answer. He is SO super, super sensitive to the least hint of criticism – so I am always on eggshells. And try as I might to reason with him and rationalize, he just can’t get it. He is dead-set on his own point of view – even blaming me for the upset, saying I always spoil things, when every time it is his over-reaction that causes a huge bust-up. But then, he never wants to discuss it EVER. He goes into fight or flight mode and just flees the scene – tells me to leave, and it never does get discussed. Of course, although I TRY very hard to keep calm, there are times when I do not, and over-react, I will admit – but I am not a saint and have lots of self-esteem, so I will not be treated so badly. BUT it is SO frustrating. Maybe this will help you see that this is not going to go away – but in your case you are dealing with it all from a young age and, hopefully, counselling will help your little one come to terms with it. I think probably now it is too late for my man to address it, and to be honest, I wonder if I mentioned this, whether he would blow his top, anyway, and storm off and refuse to listen. There is no knowing is there? He is like a grown-up child. Even though he is intelligent and trained as a lawyer and you would think he could try and see both sides!!! Have you any suggestions, please? I’d be really grateful. I have only recently come to the conclusion that he has a huge problem other than the booze – which he uses to cover it all up. Lorna

      1. I’m at work so answer is on the short side but my husband does the same things you are describing- especially now that he’s 64 and retired and at home with the grandson. He admitted in family therapy that he is also ADD which I’ve long suspected- because he acts just like the grandson in many ways. The grandson is actually my step grandson – inarrued my husband and raised his 5 girls (many of them had problems as their mother was also ADD and bipolar and self medicated with booze and still does. The grandson (I’ll call him B) mother also had these problems and it’s why we are guardians. Trying our best that he doesn’t end up the same way! You’d think I’d have it all figured out by now because of all the experience I’ve had but I’m struggling with husband and B too – all the time! If I come up with any solution I will let you know – will try to keep on this blog it Helps to hear others experience

        1. Janice, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to receive your reply – especially as you are so busy, and with so many problems of your own – I really appreciate it. I really feel for you – some people seem to get landed with all the sh-t – it’s just not fair! And, of course, ADD is hereditary. How long have you known your husband? It must be some time if you raised his girls, so you have obviously managed to cope with his problems over the years. In some ways, it has made me feel better now thinking that my C. may have this problem. Although it doesn’t make it go away, I can more easily understand him and come to terms with it. Of course, he has not been diagnosed, and will have no knowledge of it, I’m sure, but reading the blogs on here makes me think that that is more and more his problem. I’ve read every book I can lay my hands on regarding alcoholism and mental health problems. I’ve had counselling myself and am about to do some training to become a telephone counsellor for f&f of alcoholics. He knows he has anxiety, but that does not explain all the other stuff. He cannot handle money, seems to have no understandng of it – splurges huge amounts on senseless things (he is from a very wealthy family, so likes all the best stuff), whereas I am extra-careful and he calls me mean! Now he’s in debt again. He is very, very sensitive, very kind and good-hearted (to other people!) and will do anything for anyone – too much actually, and they take advantage. Really, he is a “people pleaser” – probably because in that way he gains their approval, which he craves. He does not seem to know the “rules”, even when I explain why I get upset – it’s all from his own perspective. He is very nervous and gets very anxious when he has to confront people – hence, he gives in to others and would rather be taken advantage of than cause waves – except with me, of course, because he knows that he can vent his anger on me and I will still come back. Should I still come back, is the question? Maybe it’s time to walk away. But I really miss him, worry about him and think about him all the time when we are not in touch. I don’t see much of him, as we are long-distance, and he prefers that, but we usually talk on the phone every day or so – except when he is too drunk to talk to me!! I just don’t know what to do to help him – and maybe there is nothing I can do. He did say a couple of weeks ago he thinks he should get away from where he is and come and stay with me, but that I do not understand how difficult it is to give up the booze. But, to be honest, would that be a huge mistake? I have no-one else in my life – apart from lots of male friends – (I’m 69) and don’t intend to now, unless a Knight comes galloping along on his white charger – but sometimes it’s better the devil you know than the one you don’t. I’ve tried the internet dating with no success – they all seem to be much worse than him!! He does have a lot of good in him, and I just feel if we can come to terms with his problem and get some medication or counselling, things will improve. Anyway, as he is now not talking to me and has blocked my calls and texts, maybe this is the end!! However, he has done this numerous times before, does it to his mother and his neighbour “friend” he drinks with, so I expect we will be in touch again when he calms down. Maybe he just needs to go on a bender and get it out of his system. He is very anxious at the moment, as he has a huge problem with his eyes, has to be at the hospital on Thursday, and he has another concert coming up next Friday. On top of all this, I am also having problems with my two eldest daughters (I have three). The eldest (42 – an Architect) seems to have some of these symptoms. She was diagnosed with bipolar, but would not take the medication. After her second baby, who is now 2, she went doo-lally, and will now not talk to me. However, part of her problem is her husband, who seems to be on the Autistic spectrum, unless he also has ADHD – but he is distinctly odd (everyone says so), and will not “allow” her to see me!! My second daughter (36 – a Lawyer) has (I believe) the Aspergers that her father has. She is a very angry person, and is now not talking to me, either. Their father’s mother had similar symptoms. I wonder what I have done to deserve all this? Thank God for my beautiful youngest daughter (33 – a Teacher), who is very loving and very supportive, although she lives a long way off and I don’t see much of her. Talk about problem families!! I blame the pressures of life nowadays to a large extent. All we can do is keep on in there and keep smiling!! “Keep Calm and Carry On”. Best wishes to you. L.

          1. PS, Janice – do your grandson and husband take any medication to relieve the symptoms? Or do you find diet makes a difference? My youngest used to get really hyper with certain foods, colours and additives, which we tried to avoid. Also, my eldest daughter’s son (6) may have the same problem (she has never discussed it, but there is something strange about him – he, too, is very sensitive, very anxious, very nervous, gets very angry, fixates on only one toy, is easily distracted and is quite hyper at times) and she is very careful to only use organic food, so that doesn’t seem to make a difference – although maybe it does and he would otherwise be much worse. Interesting! L.

          2. I do want to answer you in detail but weeKends are super busy, tomorrow 2 of the daughters with their newborns are coming over, i do feel we are kindred spirits! Caring so much for difficult people in our lives. I think we cannot help ourselves! I think there’s should be a special place in heaven for us! Will write more later, Take care, Jan

          3. It’s good to hear from you, Janice, as I appreciate how busy you must be. I look forward to getting your feed-back, when you have time. I’d like to know more about medication – although my man is dead against taking anything – even though he is killing himself by “self-medicating” with the booze and cigarettes. He can’t seem to take THAT on board. I wonder if that is actually making his brain worse – he seems like a mad-man at times. But I do understand how he must feel that he needs some respite from his symptoms – the anxiety and depression – it must be terrible to live with. I keep trying to get him to go to the doctor to discuss it all. He did agree to at one point, but we seem to have gone way beyond that now. Have a wonderful week-end with your family. Luv, Lorna

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