As a teacher just getting to know this year’s class or classes, you readily identify the youngster who makes all the waves. You shudder at the one who is strong and belligerent, the one in constant movement, the one who blurts out answers all the time and has no pause button. However, within your classroom full of unique individuals sits a child trying to escape notice, who becomes a faded image to even the most seasoned educator.

This child doesn’t make waves, appears somewhat spacey, not intellectually prone, seldom speaks up when called upon, and may not participate or turn in homework. You may be observing the youngster with the inattentive form of ADHD that is more difficult to diagnose.

When I first started teaching I came across the book, The Geranium On The Windowsill Just Died, But Teacher You Went Right On by Albert Cullum. This reflective parody shows clearly how after awhile we become insensitive to those around us, and treat activities as seemingly insignificant events.

Because I feel so strongly that our inattentive youngsters must be understood, I want to introduce you to one such student and let you hear her feelings, her point of view. In case you’re wondering, this was me during my school years.

To my teachers

I was quiet and oh, so shy, until I thought of something to say, and then it all came out at once. I often answered questions unasked, or reflected on things that were discussed earlier in the day, or even the day before. My sense of timing was off and my jumping brain attended to the wrong things at the wrong time. I was consistently inconsistent.

Because of this, I was told that I was not listening. Sometimes this was true, and at other times I thought that I listened well, but just took time to respond.

Later, I found out that my listening was impaired, especially if I was supposed to remember what was said. My short-term memory would not keep names, dates, details, or instructions. At that time I had no idea I could write things down, get someone to remind me, or ask for a buddy to work with me.

I was the bright one who just didn’t produce enough, who had good grades—sometimes, and who always talked at the wrong time. Now I know that that behavior monitoring helps me to keep things in order and rehearsal helps to make things make sense.

I had my own style of organization, but it appeared disorganized to everyone else. Long before I learned to mind map, use graphic organizers, and other brain-enhancing techniques like charts and color coding, I drew pictures to remember, made list-like instructions to myself in circles, and avoided the linear outlines the teachers insisted upon. Outlines (I, A, 1. a.) really made no sense to me whatsoever.

I had a wear-out, give-up syndrome. I could not sustain work on one subject or activity for a long period of time. My mind would drift into other things that were more interesting and exciting. Finishing projects that included hands-on, artistic excitement was a snap. But things that included repetitive research, boring note-taking, or memorization of details that others thought were important, took their toll on me.  I finally found that if I moved around from space to space or had pieces of information I could manipulate, I could keep focused and put things in order. Where were those post-it notes so long ago?

By middle school, I was given the responsibility of polishing silver for a local jewelry store. I think it was a subtle punishment to keep me focused and moving instead of hiding in a book as a couch potato, which had become a comfortable way of coping. The job also supplied an income to defray the cost of all of the clothing, books, papers, and other things I was constantly losing. I just couldn’t help not remembering to bring things home, or what I was supposed to do. Other things were more fun and interesting to pay attention to.

For those of you who know me, you may be surprised to know I was a social piranha. I had a lot of trouble making friends and keeping them. I was very insecure and prone to embellish ideas to make friends, and that always bombed. I was young for my class and immature for my age, another common symptom of the ADHD brain. I found my best friends at Girl Scouts because the activities were hands-on, and at teen church meetings where open acceptance was more the norm.

How did I get where I am today? By having the compulsion to hide everything that I could and put on a brave front, and the determination to not let anyone know I was struggling. Like anyone with inattentive-type ADHD, I was determined to please. I did anything I could to be called a success. I went without sleep, went over things, and constantly asked for guidance—which actually helped make me a good advocate for myself. I compulsively asked how to do better, and many times didn’t even understand the answer as to what I was really supposed to do.

So, out of lemons, you make lemonade. You find positive people and surround yourself with them. People with inattentive-type ADHD can be very successful, but the task is large and the energy expended can be great.

Teachers, be the difference

Be attentive to the inattentive.

Don’t assume that lack of production is belligerent behavior.

When a child’s verbalizing doesn’t make sense, set a conference for later in the day. Listen attentively, then suggest when and how those comments might have been better stated, and when the timing and response would be more appropriate. This role modeling is precious and productive.

When short-term memory seems impaired, help the student by instructing him or her in the techniques of mnemonics, acronyms, or acrostics as memory tricks.

Make your teaching as concrete as possible. Add graphic organizers, color-coding, visual prompts, or moveable post-it notes to help students organize thoughts. Use computer programs like Inspiration.

When giving longer assignments, outline how to break the project down into simple parts. Set goals for each part so the end result can be attained. Often a child is only given an essay to write and a due date. The student’s shock and overwhelmed feeling makes initiating the task almost impossible. Sometimes even picking a topic is a stumbling block.

For some children, it helps to draw what they are thinking of researching. They can print out ideas and information from the Internet. Then they can highlight the important ideas, cut apart the information, and paste or tape it together to create an organizer. Then they can begin to write. Written assignments are painful. They are long and involved. So many parts of our sensory system are needed to write a report, that they create a full cement block wall when one system refuses to cooperate with another.

Teach keyboarding as the fingers must only touch once for a letter, spelling errors are immediately identified, and some more sophisticated programs even supply a sample spelling list to chose from. Computers are the new age, and our youngsters must be capable of using them. Often the instant feedback helps performance and keeps them on track.

When possible, have group activities that allow children to socialize more easily and get to know each other, creating potential friendships. These may take time, but are good for the class as a whole, and will save many children the agony of social failure.

These are reminders. I am sure you do many of these every day. Please take this list and tell yourself, Yes, I am teaching to make a difference.

Yes, teacher, you are one in a million. Hats off to you for what you do every day. Hugs for all those you care about. Thanks for all the understanding you give to others, so all can succeed.

Joan K. Teach, PhD