ADHD: A Behaviorist Approach

ADHD“I marvel at people who can sit down and stay seated in the same position for longer than five minutes. I found this internal restlessness especially difficult to control during school. Trying to stay focused during a 40-minute class while sitting in an uncomfortable chair was pretty torturous for a young student with attention issues. I remember asking to go to the restroom during most classes, not because I needed to use the facilities but because I needed a minute to get up a walk around.”

These are the words of Jillian Levy, a young women who, for most of her schooling years, struggled with the basic premise of the traditional classroom: to sit down and pay attention. Often thought of as restless, unfocused, or lazy students with ADHD are labeled early on in their academic career as “that kid with behavior problems”. Not to say there isn’t a rampant diagnosis of this disorder (as previously discussed in The Smart Drug Debate), but those who really do have this internal restlessness are genuinely challenged with the tasks that others, myself included, take for granted. For example, when I was in school I learned very early on to raise my hand when I wanted to ask a question or contribute to the class discussion. I would have never dreamed of calling out the answer without adhering to this protocol! But students with ADHD take a more logical and less systematic approach: “If I know the answer, why wouldn’t I call it out? And why aren’t the other kids in my class calling it out too? Well, I guess they don’t know the answer or don’t want to say it out loud.”

The scientific community is really just beginning to put these mysterious pieces of the puzzle together and finally give the general public some real data on the brain science behind ADHD. The educational community, however, is far behind the mark of discovery. Science and technology spearhead change while education and law wait for the numbers to come through. Meanwhile, these students, many of whom are on my Private Tutoring Plus and Education Advocacy rosters, are misunderstood and labeled as a distraction. You have to wonder: how many kids with ADHD are sitting in the principal’s office?

As a person and provider who cares deeply about advocating for those who are unable to advocate for themselves, I’m not waiting for education to catch up with what we already know. Instead, I believe we can change the course of these students lives by helping them understand their own behaviors– creating logical, common sense pathways for positive change through honest conversations with students, their parents, and their school; employing trained therapeutic aides who teach appropriate behavior cues and responses; provide our teachers with effective classroom management training with follow-ups to ensure accountability; and advocate for administrative acceptance of a school-wide rewards and consequences system. If you think these ideas are far-fetched, think again. I’ve seen this in action at schools that are willing to take the hard road and work with the individual in need, not by singling the student out and risking social stigma but, rather by incorporating those systems into the classroom for all students.

Jillian Levy writes, “I am fully aware that having ADHD is a lifelong experience. Everyday I have moments where I feel restless and irritable. However, I try very hard to not let my learning and attention issues control my life. I’m always working to understand why certain situations may trigger symptoms, moving forward with the knowledge that I’m not perfect and that mistakes—whether intentional or not—are human nature.”

I love the way she summed it all up, don’t you. It’s a simple reminder that we must first acknowledge our differences but also take action, learning to move forward in order to create change for ourselves and those around us. After all, that’s really what education is about anyways– a lifelong journey of discovering something greater than ourselves.

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Christine Terry, J.D., is the Founder & Owner of Terry Tutors, a Private Tutoring, Family Coaching, and Education Advocacy service dedicated to supporting the whole student. She writes this blog as an effort to help Moms & Dads Navigate Generation Z, Honestly. Want to Know More? Head on over to TerryTutors.com

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Autism Awareness

AP postApril is Autism Awareness Month, and this year it was a time to dust off some good-old-fashioned pencils and get a little education at the Teaching Social Skills That Change Lives Workshop, hosted by the Autism Partnership Foundation.

I was super pumped to attend this conference because I tutor so many students from Preschool through Law School who present with various signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It’s a diagnosis that’s really hard for the schools, parents, and even general doctors to pinpoint because there are so many little, tiny signs that one can easily miss. Oftentimes, that’s exactly what happens and it leaves the parent wondering and the student struggling throughout their formal and social education.

Autism Partnership was formed by a small group of UCLA psychologists in the 1970’s, and since then has been hard at work researching, developing new programming, and educating others both in the US and abroad. They are fantastic! They provide assessments, social skills groups, counseling services, an entire program based on educating schools about bullying, in home support intervention, research, and parent support with one mission: to help the child thrive. I know I’m going on and on but it was just so amazing to hear a new kinder, gentler take on ABA Therapy: less rote and more human.

One of the techniques they use, and one that may be intuitive to most of us but not to those with ASD, is this idea of Discrete Trial Training (DTT), a way to break-down every instruction, step-by-step so that the child can learn to process the information in a formulaic way. You probably already do this naturally and don’t even realize it. Here’s how it works: If I say to Kayla, an atypical developing seven-year-old: Hey, Kayla. Would you throw me that ball over there? Kayla might stand there because she doesn’t physically have the ball in her hand so to her, logically, she can’t throw it because it’s not there. She hasn’t yet learned how to read the implied action.

Now, using DTT I would say: Hey, Kayla.

(1) Do you see that ball over there (pointing)?

(2) Would you walk over to that ball

(3) pick it up

(4) hold it your hand

(5) walk back to where you are standing now, and

(6) then throw it to me?

Depending on Kayla’s development, those could be a lot of steps and we would have to revisit many of them several times over. When each step is accomplished I would give Kayla verbal praise as positive reinforcement. Then we would practice this action again, until it became intuitive for Kayla. See what may seem like simple behavior for a typical developing child can be very difficult for a child with ASD, but if we can teach these steps in a patient and kind manner we’ve already accomplished so much.

As April comes to an end and Autism Awareness Month comes to a close I’m so excited because there are a ton of great resources out there for you and your family. If your child is diagnosed with ASD or has not been officially diagnosed but you have your suspicions that something is just not quite right, check out a few of these great programs to help guide you along the way:

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Don’t forget to head on over to TerryTutors.com or give us a call at 310.254.0909 for more info about our Private Tutoring & Family Coaching services in the Greater Los Angeles area