«Sally Patton UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST ASSOCIATION BOSTON Copyright © 2004 by the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. All rights ...»
Hartmann proposes the hunter/farmer model to address this question. He believes that ADD is a vestigial survival mechanism that has been handed down to us from our hunter/gatherer ancestors. As he explains, ADD... is something that was once an adaptive psychological and physiological mechanism providing our hunter/ gatherer ancestors with an edge over the world in which they lived. Their distractibility was actually a continual scan for danger or opportunity in the world of the forest or jungle, their sense of doom was a hypervigilance that protected them from predators or enemy warriors. Their impulsivity eliminated the problem of indecisiveness which could cause them to miss out on a meal if they were busy doing a task while something edible ran by; their seeking out of sensation and risk facilitated their hunt, leading them into areas where food could be found (along with the other predators also attracted by that food).10 90 Welcoming Children For about six million years, our ancestors were hunters. Then, with the agricultural revolution, farming societies developed and flourished. Farming became a more efficient way to produce food than hunting. Having more food allowed the population to grow and specialize. Those people with the patience to grow crops evolved into farming and eventually industrial societies and tried to eliminate the impulsive, sensation-seeking hunters among them.
Regardless, the hunter/farmer model allows us to look at children with ADD from a different perspective. Instead of telling them that they have a disorder, which suggests that they are damaged in some way and thus lowers their self-esteem, we can tell them that their personality traits are well adapted for some areas but that they may experience difficulties in other areas, which leaves their selfesteem intact. In fact, children with ADD may be more successful and functional in some areas than their peers without ADD. We can nurture these positive aspects of each child’s uniqueness at home, in school, and in our religious education programs.
91 Attention-Deficit Disorder Ministering to Families One of the most controversial issues in the treatment of children with attention-deficit disorder concerns the use of certain medications. As ministers and religious educators, we should not advocate one way or another to treat children with ADD, but we need to be aware of the related issues. The medical community has sponsored limited information about natural alternatives and interventions, so unless parents are proactive in researching all of the possibilities, they may make a decision based on partial information. In providing pastoral care for a family, we can encourage parents to seek out all available information in order to make an informed decision.
In ministering to the family of a child with ADD, be sure to realize that the accuracy of the child’s diagnosis will affect what happens as he or she grows up. For example, children with ADD who are not diagnosed and treated may develop other severe problems, such as depression and anxiety, conditions that can mask the underlying ADD. Children with bipolar disorder are sometimes mistakenly diagnosed as having ADD. Some professionals suggest that boys are being overdiagnosed with ADD because they are usually active and that girls are being underdiagnosed because they are less likely to be disruptive. And research, along with increased awareness, has shown a high incidence of drug and alcohol abuse among people with ADD who have received little support and help.
A friend with ADD said to me, “Once you know what ADD is, then you intuitively know when you see it in someone else.” Many of us who work with children feel we know when we have children with ADD in our religious education programs. In some cases, the parents will tell you, and in others, it is obvious. Either way, we need to be careful in making assumptions when working with overly active, distracted, or disruptive children. The same is true for ministering to the parents of an overactive and/or disruptive child. As noted earlier, many reasons besides ADD can explain why a child is hyperactive or inattentive.
92 Welcoming Children While some people do not agree with Armstrong’s view that ADD is a myth, his ideas about other causes of ADD-type behavior are worth considering. According to Armstrong, One of the biggest difficulties with the ADD myth is that its holy trinity of symptoms—hyperactivity, distractibility, and impulsivity—are sufficiently global as to be likely to result from any of a wide number of potential causes. A child can have trouble paying attention or behaving, for example, because his schoolwork is boring, because his family is going through a crisis, because his way of learning doesn’t match the school’s way of teaching, because he’s allergic to milk, because his temperament doesn’t match that of his parents, or because he’s anxious or depressed.12 Ideas for Teaching The majority of us in Unitarian Universalist religious education have had experience with children whom we believe to have ADD.
Often, these are the children we have the most difficulty serving.
When there is consistently disruptive behavior in a religious education program, it is often from a child who has been diagnosed with ADD. This is the child who makes some volunteer teachers decide never to teach again. This is the child whom other children become angry with and frequently shun.
To be sure, our churches cannot be the place of primary intervention and service delivery for children with ADD. However, we can have a significant impact on the self-esteem of these children by providing a sacred place where they feel protected and free to explore their own potential.
Richard Lavoie was headmaster of a school for boys with attention-deficit disorder and learning disabilities on Cape Cod in Massachusetts and is now director of the Schwab Foundation Learning Center. A wonderfully compassionate, insightful 93 Attention-Deficit Disorder professional who also has ADD, Lavoie provides a wealth of information on how to work with children with this condition. The following overview of his understanding of and approach to working with these children has been compiled from one of his day-long workshops and adapted for religious educators.
Distractibility. People with ADD are constantly looking for stimulation, and if they cannot find it, they will create it. Plan sessions so that there is always some activity in which a child with ADD can participate. It is a misconception that children with ADD have difficulty paying attention to anything. Quite to the contrary, the distractible child with ADD pays attention to everything. Hartmann says that a better way to describe the distractibility of ADD is to use the term scanning. Children with ADD notice everything, such that they are constantly bombarded with stimuli. They hear all the noises going on both inside and outside the room. They notice what the teacher is wearing while she is talking to the class and that her hair is combed differently from last week. They notice the spider crawling across the ceiling and that one of the books has been removed from the shelf by the window. In fact, children with ADD give all these stimuli equal importance. As a result, they are poor at selective attention, a tendency that can lead to impulsivity.
Impulsivity. Children with ADD handle all of life’s problems less effectively than their peers. Specifically, children with ADD do not have sequential thoughts, so they often appear reckless and thoughtless. They are more likely to get into trouble, more likely to get caught, more likely to respond to the wrong stimuli when confronted with their misdeed, and more likely to suffer a stiffer punishment. Unfortunately, what appears to be misbehavior is actually part of their automatic functioning. Most children learn an inhibitor response that says “Think it but don’t say it or do it!” Children with ADD immediately say or do what comes to mind.
94 Welcoming Children Punishing them does nothing but create anxiety because these children do not understand why they are so different and why they behave the way that they do.
Self-Esteem and Success. A major myth associated with children who have ADD or learning disabilities is that they would do better if they only tried harder. The truth is, according to Lavoie, “If they only did better, they’d try harder!” Children need to know what it feels like to succeed before they will want to work more diligently.
Dr. Robert Brooks, who works with highly difficult children, says that they need to develop an “island of competence.” (See the section “Teaching Difficult or Disruptive Children” in the chapter on religious education, pages 38–45.) Children with ADD and learning disabilities rarely get the opportunity to demonstrate competence. In school, they are constantly asked to participate in activities that are difficult for them but are rarely asked to participate in activities that they can do well. Imagine what this does to a child’s self-esteem and willingness to keep trying. In our ministry, we can create opportunities for these children to succeed and to receive positive recognition. In particular, we can achieve this by believing in them and helping them learn to be moral, kind human beings and seekers of truth.
Anxiety. Children with attention-deficit disorder and learning disabilities also have performance inconsistency; in other words, they have good days and bad days. The bad days are usually full of comments and criticisms from everyone around them, including their peers. On these days, the best these children can do is go unnoticed. When they have good days, children with ADD and learning disabilities often feel guilty because they do not understand why they cannot always do so well. Over time, they may feel that no matter how hard they work, they will still fail. The result is intense anxiety. Children with ADD and learning disabilities are usually anxious, not depressed. Depressed people worry so much 95 Attention-Deficit Disorder about the past that the future looks bleak, whereas anxious people worry constantly about what is going to happen. Anxiety can be extraordinarily debilitating, inhibiting the ability to listen, to learn, and to act. For children who are already struggling, being anxious can cause intense stress. A ministry that incorporates meditation techniques and getting in touch with the sacred can be enormously beneficial in helping these children reduce the anxiety and thus the stress in their lives.
The Autism Spectrum To understand autism, or any other human condition, you must observe the individuals, not just the stereotypes. Our most talented teachers agree when they say, “To reach a child with autism, you must first learn the world through the student’s eyes.” —Charles Hart, A Parent’s Guide to Autism The world that is experienced by children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome is very different from that which most of us experience. In order to understand the children within the autism spectrum, imagine moving to a new world. You learned the language, so you think you hear what people are saying to you, only to discover that you do not understand. Imagine trying to figure it out by repeating the words, only to be yelled at for being rude.
Imagine talking about a subject dear to your heart, only to discover that you are boring everyone. You try very hard to understand how to behave in this new world, but people are inconsistent and confusing. There are no set rules in this world. They change from one set of circumstances to the next, so you never know which rules to follow. You like your daily routines. They are comforting and predictable. But in this strange world, someone is always asking you to change.
Sometimes in this world, there is too much noise, too many people talking at once, very bright lights, and confusion 96 97 The Autism Spectrum everywhere. All of this makes you anxious, so you retreat inside your head. You calm yourself by rocking back and forth and turning around in circles. But for some reason, doing these things makes the people in this world frantic and they physically force you to stop. This makes you very angry. Sometimes you hit whatever is closest to release your rage at being intruded upon when you are just coping the best way you know how. You wish the people in this new world could see who you are.
Our ability as a faith community to minister to each child from a place of understanding and support helps children within the autism spectrum. When we can understand their behavior as a way of coping with a strange world, then we can create a welcoming program and minister to their needs.
Description Autism is a neurological disorder that affects brain functioning in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. It is a spectrum disorder, which means that its symptoms and characteristics can present themselves in a wide variety of combinations, from mild to severe. As a result, professionals often disagree about what to call the overall category of this spectrum disorder. In 1994, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) grouped disorders characterized by severe and pervasive impairment in several areas of development under the overall category of pervasive developmental disorder (PDD). But some use the term autistic spectrum or autistic continuum. The term PDD is frequently used to describe children with mild autistic symptoms, and the term autism spectrum is often used to describe the full range of symptoms and characteristics.