A gap year is an experiential year typically taken between high school and college in order to deepen practical, professional, and personal awareness. A gap year can be especially important and beneficial for students with ADHD. Here are some things to consider if you are thinking about a gap year for your ADHD teen.
Here’s is a recent report from Executive Function Coach and Trainer Erin Wilson:
“It was a Friday–I had just gotten home from school, the Seattle summer had started early, and I was exhausted. I was getting a popsicle out of the freezer and beginning to settle down when my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize, but I had broken the rule of not giving my phone number out to students; so, student was my guess. I thought about ignoring it—Oh, come on! It’s Friday evening!—but I hit the green button anyway.
“It was one of my 17-year-old students who immediately started apologizing for bothering me, and talking of hanging up, but I kept him on the line. ‘No, I’m here. What’s going on?’ I asked.”
‘Well, I am on the Aurora Bridge and getting ready to jump, but I knew you would be mad at me if I didn’t talk to you before I jumped.’
‘Oh, gosh, Malcolm. Yes, indeed. Thank you for calling. I am here. Let’s figure this out together.’
A conversation ensued, at the end of which they agreed to go for milkshakes. She drove to the bridge and picked him up. Malcolm is still with us.
As unique as this conversation was, it is also typical. Malcolm meets with Erin once a week for executive function coaching. Erin mostly just asks questions: “What’s going on?” “How was your week?” How are you doing on your goal?” “What is your strategy?” “How is that working for you?” “What did you learn from that?” “What can you do differently?”
As unique as Malcolm’s problem is, it is also typical. So many kids in our schools are problems, or cause problems, feel they have a problem, told they have a problem. What was Malcolm’s problem? Was it dyslexia or ADHD? Was he a victim of high stress in the home or the neighborhood? Was he being bullied? Was it “Executive Function Disorder?” Suggest your favorite dysfunction.
Notice what bad habits we are in! It doesn’t really matter what “problem” he has or what his “learning difference” is, does it? Whatever the problem, he needs a partner who knows how to strengthen his executive function. Does he need better planning skills? Whatever. Whatever the matter is, he needs practice in owning his own brain, so he can own his own decisions, so he can own his own life.
What saved Malcolm’s life was not Erin’s personality, but a person who was trained to do what few people in schools are in the habit of doing: talking to students as if they are decision makers, as if they want to make a difference, as if they are leading their own lives. Each of us needs another person who acts as if the only thing that matters right now is the choices I make, and knows how to help me figure out the good ones.
Is any work in a school more important than this? How many “at risk” kids would be “at risk” if school were a place for learning to think? What would happen to our graduation rates if school focused everyone on maximizing internally motivated decision-making?
About the Author
Rick Ackerly is a nationally recognized educator, speaker and leadership coach with more than 40 years of experience in schools, 35 as head of school. He is the author of The Genius in Every Child: Encouraging Character, Curiosity and Creativity in Children. His blog is www.geniusinchildren.org.
Listening Problems for Adults with ADHD
For adults with ADHD, listening can be a challenge. Inattention and being easily distracted are two of the symptoms of ADHD that make focusing on a conversation or a lecture doubly difficult. This can often manifest in several ways. For example, Michele Novotni PhD at ADDitude.com identifies these common listening problems:
- Non-stop talk where you voice every though in your (overactive) mind and no one else can speak
- Not participating so the other person feels you are not interested
- Making conversation a monologue about you
- Frequently interrupting someone while they are speaking
- Tuning in and out of conversations as your attention wanders
Tips for Being a Better Listener When You Have ADHD
There are a number of straightforward strategies you can use to help you become a better listener. Below are several recommended by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. at Psych Central.
Paraphrase – Repeating back to your conversation partner what you heard them say reinforces the conversation in your mind, shows the other party you are interested, and keeps you engaged in the overall flow of the conversation.
Take notes – Writing down key points and questions you have is a great aid when you are receiving instructions or listening to a lecture. Alternatively, you can ask someone giving instructions to write them down or send them in email to avoid any potential confusion.
Avoid focusing on your next sentence – Avoid thinking about what you are going to say next when you are in a conversation. This can actually help you be better informed about what the other person is saying and you will be more likely to make an appropriate response when it is your turn to speak.
Ask for key points – It is easy to become distracted if someone is rambling or getting mired down in details that are not of interest to you. If that happens, ask them for the key points they are trying to make to get the conversation back on track.
Put the conversation in context – Try to connect what the other person is saying with something you already know. Making this kind of connection will help keep you anchored in the dialogue. If you are having trouble making such a connection, ask the person you are talking with to help you make one.
Visualize the story – Many who have ADHD are visual thinkers. Try imaging what the other person is saying like a movie playing. Let your mind create images of all the colorful details associated with the conversation.
Listening Sills Can be Improved with Practice
The good news is that listening skills can be learned. Two things you can do to help accelerate your listening learning curve, suggested by Laura Rolands, an ADHD Coach, include:
Practice listening with a friend or co-worker whom you know and trust – Take turns telling each other something about a recent event. Make it short, but long enough to tax your listening skills, say 2-4 four minutes. When your friend is done talking, reflect the story back to him or her and ask for feedback. Discuss what got in the way of your listening and brainstorm ways you can listen more actively in the future. Then reverse roles and tell your friend something of interest. Practice this a few times each week and keep track to see if your listening skills have improved.
Become aware of when you are listening or not – Often the first step to becoming a better listener is to notice when you listen well and actively. By noticing when you listen, you can focus on recreating the positives of those situations in the future. What is the environment? How is the speaker speaking? What did you eat for breakfast? How much sleep did you get last night? By noticing the positive listening experiences that you have, you can be more mindful of creating those experiences again in the future. After you notice the positive of when you listen well, you might also want to take notice of when you do not listen so well. How can you use the strengths you identified above to make the situations where you don’t listen well better?
Together, practice and awareness can help you hone your active listening skills.
Hyperactivity is Both Physical and Mental
For many children with ADHD, sitting still is a near impossible task. Their constant physical activity can be frustrating for parents and difficult for teachers when a child’s hyperactivity disrupts a class. But, as Eileen Bailey at HealthCentral.com explains:
“… for children with hyperactivity, physical activity is not the only aspect. Their minds often don’t shut down. Thoughts go a million miles an hour and in many different directions. To help a child learn to manage or reduce hyperactivity includes strategies to help lower physical activity levels and to calm thoughts.”
So what is a parent to do in these situations? She offers these tips to help parents keep their ADHD kids calm.
Yoga or meditation – It is important to teach your child methods for self-regulation. Some examples include: deep breathing exercises, yoga, tai chi or meditation. These can all help a child learn to slow down their thoughts and their bodies.
Daily exercise – Adding at least 20 minutes of exercise each day to your child’s routine can help reduce depression, anxiety and other ADHD symptoms. A short walk can be an excellent way to help your child calm down during periods of high activity. On days when outdoor exercise is difficult, try using video games that incorporate exercise to help your child keep moving and entertained.
Music – Soothing music, such as classical music, can help some children calm down. You can try out different kinds of music to find out what works best for your child. Use music in the background for times when activity levels should be low, such as homework time, dinner time or before bedtime.
Boredom boxes and fidget alternatives – When boredom sets in, your child may become especially hyperactive.. Create a box of activities which contains art supplies, Legos, models or whatever activity tends to hold your child’s interest. Switch items once in awhile to keep the activities novel and interesting. For children who are continually restless or must fidget whenever they are trying to sit still, provide a stress ball or other object they ca manipulate to help them release energy and keep moving without disturbing others.
Structure – Kids with ADHD thrive in a structured environment where there are rules and routines, and they know what to expect. Establishing regular, daily routines can help them to stay calm.
Finally, she recommends that you stay calm yourself. She says,
“Children react to your reaction. If you get upset, frustrated or angry, their hyperactivity levels may increase. Take a few deep breaths, go into the other room, and take a short break if you need one. Staying calm and reacting with a neutral voice will help your child remain calm..”
Other tips for helping ADHD kids calm down at home and in the classroom can be found at Understood.org. You may also find it helpful to engage a specially trained ADHD coach to help your child learn to stay calm and focused.
Help! How to Deal With ADHD Meltdowns
Hyperactivity has Positive Aspects
Hyperactivity can be the source of inappropriate behavior in some situations. However, many adults with ADHD appreciate their endless energy and feel they are able to accomplish much more than those without hyperactivity. You can turn hyperactivity into a positive trait, by helping your children learn to harness their excess energy and use it to help them accomplish their goals.
While many celebrities are reticent to talk about their learning challenges, Ty Pennington has been vocal about his ADHD diagnosis. Pennington is the former host of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and today the co-host of “American Diner Revival.” He says he is proof that a person with ADHD can focus on one thing long enough to make it happen.
Ty Pennington’s Childhood Struggles with ADHD
For all of his childhood, he wasn’t aware that he had ADHD. In grade school, his hyperactivity seemed in the way of everything he tried to accomplish. As a result, he spent a lot of his time in the hallway or in detention. School was difficult. By his own account, Ty says he swung on the blinds, ran around the classroom, and playfully slapped other students on the back of the head. He would read a book but not remember a word, cause chaos in the classroom daily, and spend most of his time being disciplined instead of learning. He was finally officially diagnosed with ADHD while in college.
He spoke with Nicki Gostin of the Huffington Post about his childhood experiences with ADHD.
“My mom was studying to be a child psychologist and she went to my elementary school to test the worst kid they had. They were like, “Mrs. Pennington, you really don’t want to know who that is.” They let her observe me through a window and within 20 minutes I stripped naked, wore my desk around and swung on the blinds. I was just a complete distraction to all the other students.
Back then, they didn’t even know what to call it. They put me on antihistamines to try and make me drowsy. They tried everything. It certainly affected my confidence and my belief in myself. When everyone’s afraid you’re going to hurt yourself from just mowing the lawn, you start to believe them. Once I figured out I was pretty decent at art and people were interested in hiring me, I realized I had a skill besides injuring myself.
What’s kind of funny is that I ended up working with power tools to pay my way through art school and still have all my digits.”
Finding Creativity Amid the Chaos
Pennington admits that ADHD hurt his confidence and his belief in his own abilities, but he found success by pursuing art, design, and carpentry. Later a modeling scout approached him and he began a career in print advertising, TV, and endorsements. Pennington was able to leverage his photogenic appearance, charismatic sense of humor, and love for carpentry into his own empire of television shows, magazine publications, home fashion designs, and personal appearances. He also won an Emmy award for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
Today he manufactures his own line of furniture and writes a regular column for Enjoy magazine in addition to his work in television. Ty Pennington is proof that no matter how strong the symptoms of ADHD might be, they can be harnessed into a creative and fulfilling career.
Celebrities with ADHD: Ty Pennington