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But He has ADHD!
With big brown eyes, a slender build, and a penchant for wearing superhero shirts, Jerry looks like a normal ten-year-old kid. He walks and talks like a normal kid. In fact, he even plays like a normal kid. But the day that he was placed into my Sunday school class, I was told that he is not a normal kid. “Jerry has ADHD, and needs special attention,” his guardian told me.
As I began my lesson, Jerry snaked his way under the table and around and between all our legs. He lay in the floor. He turned chairs upside down. Now, having no formal training in teaching Sunday school, I was quite unsure how to react to Jerry's behavior. I did the best I could, but realized after the class that no one had learned anything except that Jerry was not a normal kid.
The next week, I asked his guardian to stay in the class with us. I wanted to see how she disciplined the child so that I could follow her example. This was a turning point for me – I then realized Jerry's real problem. With each episode during the 50 minute class, his guardian turned the other cheek and blamed his behavioral issues on his Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). There were no corrections, no apologies given. Only excuses. Jerry was not even asked to return to his seat. There was no way I could teach a class like this.
Unfortunately in today’s society, many parents want an excuse for any and all problems their children exhibit. If the child is inappropriate with other children, it is because he didn’t have a strong father figure. If the child has poor grades, it is because of the school system. If a child turns to drugs, it is because of television. If he’s fat, blame the restaurants. If a child can’t behave, he obviously has ADHD.
Jerry needed a consequence for his actions. I tried positive reinforcement. I offered each student in the class a chart, and on the Sundays that they behaved, they received a sticker. When they had five stickers in a row, they were entitled to a prize. All of the other students were able to cash in on the benefit, but Jerry just couldn’t do it.
The next consequence was not so nice. If Jerry “acted out,” we asked another Sunday school leader to take him into an empty room and not to interact with him. The leader was also instructed not to react to his negative behavior, but instead would add minutes to a timer for each instance. Jerry acted out two more Sundays. He was only gone briefly before being returned to our class, a reformed student and an eager learner.
I believe that ADHD is a real thing. I believe a handful of children probably have it. I also believe that it is over-diagnosed, and that parents seek out this diagnosis to mask the real problem, which is lack of parental guidance. In Jerry's case, he may have ADHD, but he knows right from wrong and should be held accountable for his actions.