Those who do not deal with ADHD children cannot possibly appreciate their need for movement. Allowing a hyperactive child the ability to move is absolutely vital and often underestimated. This is not only underestimated at school, but at home as well. Frankly, an ADHD child cannot possibly succeed in any task unless the surrounding adults recognize the issue and accommodate it. Often, teachers and parents worry about their child conforming to an educational ideal–a child who can sit at a desk and absorb information. Forcing a hyperactive child to remain at a desk virtually eliminates all his potential to learn that day. It would be the same as putting ear plugs in a non-ADHD child, then demanding to know why she can’t answer any questions. This happens all the time, and I am guilty of it too. After all, I was the average student in school and I had certain assumptions about education. It’s an understatement to say my son’s interaction with the world took me by surprise. But, I’m learning.
In this article, I hope to convince readers hyperactivity should be recognized and accepted as part of the ADHD child, and is not something which can be altered any more than you could alter his or her eye color. In a separate post to come, I will discuss some of the ways to handle hyperactivity in a positive way. But for now, let’s see what living with the overly excitable child is like.
From six months on, my son was a “flapper.” At first I didn’t recognize it for what it was–I remember him laying on his back as a chubby, happy baby, flapping his arms as hard as possible. With his little fat arms pressed against his side, his hands flapped at the wrists so fast they blurred. He looked like a turkey desperately trying to reach the sky. Or this…
I laughed, commenting about his energy and assuming, like most children, he was simply exploring what his body could do. In addition to flapping on his blanket, he loved, loved, loved the jumper. He would spend almost two hours at a time in it, bouncing nonstop until someone finally took him out of the seat. Again, I thought this was benign activity that would slowly fade away.
The flapping continued. As he hit nine months, I worried because I knew autistic children flapped as a way of managing excitement and emotional intensity. I reminded myself many children are flappers in their infant and toddler years. Several times in clinic, I told parents not to worry about this trait, as long as the child met his developmental milestones. Physicians are quite confident until it’s our own child!
Kallan was extremely sociable, however, so I gave up my autism fears, but I could still tell something wasn’t quite “normal.” When Kallan flaps, he doesn’t just move his arms a little, he literally flaps like a baby bird trying to launch himself out of the nest. It’s impressively fast, and somehow, he is unconscious of the activity. And it happens all the time. And it’s catchy–our two year old daughter has started doing it too, simply because big brother does it. The flapping happens continuously: when he’s imaging something exciting, watching a movie, hearing a story, playing a game, talking about anything, receiving praise, etc. I can certainly imagine how this would not only be distracting in a school setting, but a target of ridicule as well.
And flapping is not Kallan’s only chronic activity. While it’s the most observable, he is constantly moving. He paces the room round after round, often lost in imaginative play. He sits on the edge of chairs because he can’t stay in one place long enough to bother. He chews his nails. He chews his shirt sleeves. He sometimes rubs his palms rapidly on his inner legs (which I know is his way to have hand stimulation, but of course its terribly embarrassing in public). He is constantly talking. He grabs things without permission and without thinking, which is often worrisome in stores. I know we are not the only parents dealing with this behavior, and it’s no wonder parents finally resort to medication. The problem, however, is that Kallan needs this kind of activity in order to learn. As soon as he is restricted physically, any attempt at teaching is lost.
So what does a parent or teacher do? Hyperactivity is not socially acceptable, and before one knows it, you’re in a meeting and they’re recommending your child undergoes a physician’s assessment to start medication. In the case of our public school, we haven’t had this conversation, but I know they simply don’t have the resources to properly filter Kallan’s activity load. We live in a middle-to-upper class district, and our schools are still underfunded and have too many children per class. Kallan’s kindergarten class has 25 students! How can a single teacher possibly deal with all those children while also fostering an ADHD child?
As a parent, the first step is recognizing the hyperactive behaviors. The second step is to realize the hyperactivity is not intentional. Once parents realize their son/daughter cannot help the activity, it helps to unburden us from anger and frustration. This is extremely important, because ADHD children can sense they are failing. They know when mommy and daddy are frustrated, and when parental anger is over something the child cannot control, children begin to feel shame. The longer ADHD goes unrecognized, the more shame children start to carry. Trust me, you can ask my husband about this one–his ADHD wasn’t diagnosed until adulthood and his path to emotional recovery has been long (and the focus of another posting).
Really, that is the first step: believe the hyperactivity is unintentional. It’s unintentional when your child doesn’t listen, says “what?” for the thousandth time, leaves the dinner table again, and runs around the store uncontrolled (making you look like a crappy parent while the other shoppers watch). They can’t help it, and being criticized over and over again for hyperactivity they cannot control starts to undermine children’s confidence.
For many people, especially those who have not dealt with ADHD before, this is a hard thing to accept. It’s hard to believe a child cannot remember to sit at the dinner table after you’ve told him to sit four times. It’s natural for parents to eventually blow up, but if parents cannot recognize the involuntary nature of ADHD, they will not be able to deal with the hyperactivity without anger. Parents must be advocates for their children, because there are many people out there who believe ADHD is a made up diagnosis. Once you see your child’s over stimulation for what it is, how do you manage it without resorting to raised voices? How can you redirect hyperactivity at home and at school into a positive experience? That is the subject of my next post.