By Nicole Biscotti
When you have a child with ADHD you become accustomed to the idea that every year is different and some years are harder than others. Last year at school was a very difficult one for Jason. He repeatedly asked me to be his teacher and to teach him at home. I felt guilty and helpless because I wasn’t able to support him in this way, especially since I am a teacher. No one could have imagined that Jason would get his wish in March and that we would spend the rest of the school year learning from home together.
One of the silver linings in Quarantine was having the opportunity to work with my son with ADHD one on one. I learned so much about him and how he learns. I also gained valuable insight about ADHD and learning that I will be able to apply as an educator, particularly as we prepare for distance education next year.
Jason prefers distance education and has thrived in this model. The boy who never stayed in class a whole day and was repeatedly suspended and always in trouble has brought his Math skills to the next grade level and regularly reads news articles online. He is now well versed in geography, current events, politics, and social issues. He asks me for “learning time” even though we’re on summer break. If I had to put my finger on the secret to his success it has been approaching Jason from the assumption that he wants to learn and needs support. When I analyze the components of distance education that have been the most effective, there are three: self-paced learning, student choice, and movement.
In self-paced learning, learners have control over the amount of content and the time they need to reach mastery. Asking questions that promote self-assessment encourages self-awareness and naturally leads to the next important step which is communication. Learners with special needs benefit from the ability to self-advocate throughout their lives. The ability to successfully communicate their needs proactively also resolves much of the disruptive and explosive behavior that children can exhibit when they are frustrated. When adults foster self-reflection and communication they form a partnership with the student in which they provide feedback and guidance as the learner seeks mastery.
We often bemoan the lack of attention span in children with ADHD. Actually ADHD is not a lack of attention, it is an attention disorder. Kids with ADHD often find themselves either unable to focus or hyper-focused. Jason can talk about North Korea, President Trump, recycling, Pixel Gun 3D, and soccer for hours. He absolutely loves these topics and has the ability to hyperfocus on them for long periods of time. During distance education, I have allowed him choice wherever possible in his learning. When Jason is empowered to drive his own learning his natural enthusiasm shines as he makes discoveries and connections. This is when the boy who is disruptive during most lessons out of boredom asks me to do more “learning time”.
Jason has an almost constant need for movement which is largely ignored in the typical classroom setting. When we ignore children’s needs we create tension between kids and adults and kids usually act out resulting in a punishment. The flexibility of distance education allowed me to provide opportunities for movement based on Jason’s needs. We built in “wiggle breaks” which quickly became more like “giggle breaks” and used kinesthetic methods whenever possible to reinforce learning.
I certainly didn’t ever expect or prepare for distance education however I can learn from it. The opportunity to teach all of my children has been a gift and created a stronger bond between us, despite the challenges. I believe that the perspective gained from teaching Jason at home can be applied to better support my students with ADHD in whatever model we have next year.
Nicole seeks to bridge understanding, spark conversations through #ADHDGlobalConvo, and inspire through her teaching, writing, and co-founding The EDU Table, a platform for parents and educators. Our children are our greatest teachers, through Jason she continues to learn about ADHD. Follow her on Twitter at @BiscottiNicole, IG at @nicole.biscotti and be sure to subscribe to her site at nicolebiscotti.com.