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Unteachable? Really?

July 17, 2011
By CATHY BROWNFIELD - Family Recovery Center , Salem News


Family Recovery Center

Tom was lost and floating. He had been for some time. But he didn't say anything and nobody else was paying attention to what was going on with him. His mom kept after him to do his homework. And although he said he was doing his work, when the report cards came home, he was making a poor showing. Mom went to the parent-teacher conferences. The last one was upsetting, more so than usual. The teacher said, "I give up on your child. He is unteachable."

First the teacher offended Mom by suggesting that she wasn't a very good parent, and that problems at home must be interfering with Tom's academics. The problem, really, was related to ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. As happens with most teens with ADD, the H (hyperactivity) was gone long ago. But Tom was easily distracted from his work, unable to focus long enough to finish much of anything he started unless it was hands-on, like building with K'NEX, playing with his guitar, or playing video games. He considered himself a slow reader, and he didn't like to write. His mom kept after him constantly about getting his work done. If she didn't, he didn't finish anything: homework, schoolwork or chores.

It's not that kids like Tom are "unteachable." It's about finding the right ways to best help the student to learn. These are intelligent kids. They just have some extra problems in addition to the biological changes, and moving into adulthood. Think about it. How many adults would really want to go back and be a teenager again?

Adolescents with ADD are at risk of school failure, suspension or expulsion. Failure comes when teachers haven't discovered how to teach them because they are easily distracted, disorganized, have trouble getting on task and staying there. Teachers may have several ADD students in their classes, in addition to the other students they are educating. These children are also at risk of dropping out of school. It must be difficult to keep going when you can't keep up with what the teacher is trying to get across because you haven't secured the foundation for the new information. You just don't understand what the teacher is talking about and you are afraid to say anything because someone will think you are dumb so you struggle along until you just can't do it any more. Other risks include substance abuse, pregnancy, speeding tickets, crashes and suicide.

These children seem to be irresponsible, immature, lazy and rude. Many of them suffer low self-esteem and find it very difficult to live up to expectations. That's not difficult to understand when you realize these children get more criticism, punishment and rejection from their parents and teachers than students who do not suffer the disorder. So, what does it say to the child when a teacher says, "I give up on you. You are unteachable." Or a parent says, "I have done all I can think of for you. I don't know what else to do. I give up!"

One thing that needs to be understood is that these are not bad kids. They aren't the result of "bad parenting." Consider how you might feel if your thoughts drifted when someone was talking to you so you didn't hear what they said. You had to read something really boring and couldn't keep your mind on it. You felt like you couldn't sit still another moment so your foot starts moving and your leg starts bouncing, or you tap the table under your hand until it annoys to the people around you. What if you had trouble putting things in order, and your skills were so poor you couldn't remember what you read, or what someone said, or what you were supposed to do?

Like other adolescents with ADD, Tom was very disorganized. His handwriting was illegible and he printed instead of writing cursive. His mind wandered from his tasks, even working with a tutor one-on-one.

Come back next week when we'll talk about how to help teens with ADD.



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