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Chapter 57: ADHD Strategy

As I mentioned in my last post, I came down with COVID last November. Physically, I recovered quickly; I had a few lingering symptoms, but they had all faded by March or so.

Neurologically, my recovery wasn’t quite as thorough or rapid as I might have liked. I’m not sure COVID caused new symptoms so much as it just exacerbated existing conditions in a way that forced me to acknowledge them and find workarounds. One of the little parting gifts I got from the infamous COVID brain fog was an amplification of the low-level ADHD symptoms that have been part of my workflow for as long as I can remember.

I have never particularly liked sitting still, but before last November, I could tolerate physical inactivity as long as my mind was actively engaged in something. Now? I can still sit still and read or write if I’m really interested in the subject, but if I’m not, the impulse to get up and move around becomes a literal physical need. That’s an unfortunate situation for a grad student trying to prepare for comprehensive exams.

I happily binge-read about 80 texts between April and July, but when it came to transferring my notes from little Post-It flags stuck in the margins of borrowed books to actual notecards I could use to study, I struggled mightily.

The solution I found is one I’ve used often but previously understood at a purely theoretical level: I used a timer and a reward system to work WITH my ADHD brain and play to its strengths instead of fighting it.

Every hour consisted of six blocks: three 15-minute work sessions, with five-minute breaks in between to stretch, hydrate, etc. I spent the first two work sessions taking notes, then switched to a more active task — laundry, gardening, pet care, working on the mural I’m painting, whatever — for the last block.

About three hours into this process, it struck me that this is exactly the way I constructed lesson plans when I taught on a block schedule. It worked for my kids then, and it works for me now.

The ADHD brain is not wired to sit still and work quietly on a moderately (or less) interesting task for hours on end. Breaks are essential. Rewards are essential. Physical activity is essential. Having a light at the end of the tunnel is essential.

If you have fidgety kids, please understand that as much as their behavior annoys you, it almost certainly annoys them more. That was the big takeaway for me this summer. I didn’t want to be fidgety and unproductive and distracted, but I didn’t have a choice.

If you’re struggling to keep your learners engaged, try the 15:5 model, and make sure that for every 30 minutes the kids spend on something static, you give them 15 minutes’ worth of more active work. I think you’ll find that they accomplish more, with less resistance and fewer discipline issues.

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Raised by hippies. Aging and proud of it.

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