There is nothing you can do to affect the underlying functioning of ADHD and Dyslexia (“AD”). It is what it is. That leaves you with the behavior that comes associated with the underlying AD itself. And it is the behavior that the “therapies” (whatever they may be) attempt to change.
There are no therapies to change the underlying AD at all. Therefore, it all centers on behavioral changes. And, that territory is full of land mines. It is a common human trait that someone knows that someone else’s behavior is wrong, and, that they are authorized to change someone else’s behavior.
Parents think this. Schools think this. Teachers think this. Counselors think this. Psychologists think this. Psychiatrists think this. And a host of consultants think this too.
There is an army of people who think this and the kid who has ADHD/Dyslexia stands, often, alone in the face of this overwhelming outside group of people who are determined to change the child’s behavior because they are doing the “right thing.”
On Your Own
This army rarely stops long enough to consider: “What does the child want? What does the child need? What are the odd/peculiar things that are happening that we can build upon on behalf of the child? What coping skills can we show or teach to the child? How can we befriend the child? How can we help to reduce the anxiety, fear, or mental upset of the child? How can we attempt to enter the child’s space so we can understand it better? And lots more…”
I have left out these things: “What do the parents want? What does the school system want? How do we fit the child into the college testing processes? What does the workplace want? How do we make the classroom to feel better? How do we stop interruptions in the classroom or workplace? And lots more…”
As stated elsewhere in this blog, there are three things that affect the ADHD/Dyslectic person:
- The conditions themselves.
- The impact that the person with those conditions has on others. The impact that one's behavior has on others.
- The impact that the others have on the person with the conditions. The impact that others' reactions to one's behavior has on one.
I have also stated that it is preponderantly the impact of #3 above that causes the most problems for the person with the conditions. In truth, the conditions themselves (#1 above) are not actually a problem to the person with them at all until it generates a problem with social interactions in schools, with parents, with siblings, etc.
As a consequence, there has been very little focus on #1 above at all by most professionals. The focus is on #2 and #3 and on behavioral change. And this makes some sense because #1 above, the condition itself, is outside of the “army’s” control. And armies tend to focus on only on what they can control. The "army" being the whole group of behavior modification specialists: teachers, therapists, fellow students, parents, etc.
The functioning of #2 and #3 above can, and often does, create a vicious circle of self reinforced negative behaviors for everyone involved with the child/adult (with the conditions) being the prime negatively affected person.
Shop for Solutions
I will use a personal example. In grade school I exhibited the signs of ADHD in that I was a nervous wreck, I was disruptive to the classroom, I had frequent uncontrolled bouts of nervous laughter, jiggled in my seat most of the time, and I was made to stand outside in the hall a lot along with being sent to the principal’s office for disciplinary action. No one knew that standing outside in the hall was exactly what I wanted.
And, I stuttered very badly and when I spoke it was machine-gun-rapid-fire speech. Reading was out of the question. I could not sit still long enough to hold a book and attempt to read it. All of this was a long time ago and there were no words to describe this at all as there were no ADHD nor Dyslexia words/vocabulary at the time.
I was considered to be a disciplinary problem. I was constantly told that my problem was about “self-discipline” and “self-control”. Which shifted the blame on me and made me wrong about myself… not a good situation at all. And, note that "self-discipline and self-control" are not operational. For instance, you are standing before the class and you're supposed to read the book you have in hand and you cannot read the words. You can see the pictures well enough, but the words are just not readable or meaningful to you. Now, how does "self-discipline" work in this situation? "Self-discipline" is not an operant. From my point of view I have nothing to do as "self-discipline" means nothing at this moment... except what I learned to do: I made up a story from the pictures I was looking at. In grade school, that actually worked quite well and revealed next to nothing about not being able to read at all. Standing alone in front of the class with not having a clue what I was to do except that I was supposed to exert "self-discipline" which would solve the problem.
I just would go off on something without a moment’s thought about it at all. And I was also emotionally distraught almost all the time. That is what people saw. That is what the school saw. That is what my teachers saw. That is what the school counselors and principal saw. That is what my parents saw. And, that is what I experienced when I was there or with them.
Alone was another matter, though.
I also played hooky a lot because I hated school. I hated it a lot. Alone was a refuge. People were a problem.
However, when I played hooky, I was fine. I walked all over the local streets. I played with toys. I built elaborate sandbox cities with roads, trees (pushed bush branches into the sand to make them into “trees”). I climbed the tree that hovered over my sandbox to the very top and sat there “flying over the world” in my imagination.
“Not Finishing Things” is a common observed trait which is identified as a BIG problem for ADHD/Dyslectic people. But, when I was alone, I did not have that problem at all. I finished what mattered to me with no thought about it. Usually what others mean by saying "he fails to finish the tasks at hand" meant, to me, failing to maintain attention on something someone else thought mattered. Trouble was, it did not matter to me so my attention wandered and I did not "finish" what was to me a non-existent inconsequential thing. What failed was the ability of, let's say, my teacher at the moment, to gain my attention for the topic. Now, in truth, that pretty much covers most people's experience at work.
Both my parents worked, so I could pretend to go to school, wait till they left, and then go into the back yard and play. I skipped going to school a lot. I climbed trees, and, I loved to BE ALONE. People were just awful for me.
My play was very imaginative. I cared for my toys and I mean I cared for them a lot. I never abused my toys nor lost them and especially NEVER let other kids play with them. My insularity was my safety zone and I lived my life in that zone as much as I could. School was an invasion into this zone. Other people were an invasion into this zone.
Except, and this is a big exception, for mentors who showed up in my life at odd times who had huge impacts on me – positive impacts. I mentioned above that I stuttered badly.
I was considered a total loss on this front. No one could do or say anything that could change this. Of course, it is very humiliating to stutter. So, being alone was a safe place. And, oddly, I talked out load when I was alone to my sandbox city, its trees, its toy cars and truck, and I talked about my imaginations for this city. I did not stutter when I was alone and talked to myself.
New Map & Tools
A schoolteacher showed up in my life (grade school) who had a reputation for being able to help stutterers. She took me under her wing. We went outside on nice days, away from the school, took walks, and she taught me to breath differently. My breathing was short as in “short of breath” and shallow and rarely got into my diaphragm at all. It got really short when any anxiety showed up on my horizon.
Talking was now a dangerous venture for me because there were certain words that began with certain letters that I KNEW I would stutter-over. (These comments I make now come from my having done breath-therapy a lot in later years and from having studied it. So my descriptions are from my adult concepts, not my child’s concepts.)
Being called upon in class to stand up and read, or talk, or say anything, was like asking me to stand on the ledge of a 50-story building and look down. It was terrifying. Of course, I would do anything to avoid it including acting-up when my turn to stand up was coming and get put out in the hallway for acting-up. Looking back on that I can see how others would see this acting-up, call it disruptive, want to change this behavior, etc. and I was using it as a humiliation-defense method to get put out of the class room and away from my fear. (In this instance.)
That was actually quite smart! (AD people often create extraordinarily intelligent methods to accomplish things that others have no idea are operating.) And, I mention it now because I hope to help you see that when you adopt the attitude that you are going to change someone’s behavior you may actually not know much about why the behavior exists.
This woman did several things:
- She took me out of the school and on walks in good weather. That movement was really important because I could not sit still so we walked and that dissipated that nervous energy a lot. Sometimes I would run ahead of our walking and she allowed that and encouraged my jumping up and down, running around, running to the mailbox and back until I got exhausted. THEN, she would sit us down somewhere. And I was fine.
- She would ask me a question about something and then tell me to breathe DEEPLY into my diaphragm, hold it a moment, and to do it again 4 or five times, and then to S-L-O-W-L-Y answer her question briefly. We worked up from a few words to a sentence over time. If stuttering happened she just ignored it and went back to breathing slowly and deeply again.
- She gently and caringly kept getting me toslow down in speech and to speed up in physical action by running or jumping.
- She never, NEVER, told me I needed self-control or self-discipline. She just allowed the outbursts and the energy explosions to take place without any constraint. She was not a dangerous person to me because she just accepted me as I was.
- I started to look forward to our working together.
- In six months I stopped stuttering almost totally. I knew how to deal with it now by breathing through it unnoticed by others. That breathing was my (our) secret.
- She spoke with my teachers and the principal and I got special permission that if I raised my hand gently so my teacher could see me, she would nod, and I could go outside into the hallway and run up and down it a few times till I was breathless, or, go outside into the play yard and jump up and down. Then, I returned to the class and I could sit still and focus.
I suppose you could say that she achieved a behavioral modification. Actually she achieved giving me a method for me to use to modify my behavior on my own. Note the difference. I was in control of me. If I forgot to use it I would be responsible for the results. My teachers were all informed as to my “therapy” and to allow it. They were fine with it. I was NOT trying to control myself because someone else said so.
And, I had a self-activated, self-controlled, and self-used technique which I used a lot. Over time, I did not have to do it quite so deliberately. The stuttering disappeared. I could “volunteer” to stand up to read something. That was allowed as opposed to its “being my turn and a requirement”. Please note the freedom and lack of constraints and the ability to choose my own times.
That teacher was an angel sent from heaven. I wish such a positive experience for you all.
And, in this instance, no drugs, no judgments, no making me wrong, no attempts at rules or imposing “right-behaviors”. The response: my overwhelming acceptance and inclusion of simple techniques that I was allowed to choose on my own and work on my own. I was treated with respect and gently shown how to use techniques. That was 50+ years ago and I still remember this woman/teacher and I love her and thank her.
© copyright – all rights reserved – Skyborough Publishing – March 2010