by John M. Jaquith, M.Ed.
We should let the experts educate our children. Moreover, the experts on any individual child should be directly involved in the education of that child. The most credible experts on any individual child are that child’s parents.
Learning begins the moment a child’s brain starts receiving stimulation and doesn’t end until it stops receiving stimulation. Because the majority of our children’s early learning experiences take place in their home environment, it stands to reason that their first teachers (their parents or guardians) are best suited to continue as their teachers. Therefore, the ideal educational situation, whenever possible, is that of homeschool.
Does this philosophy also apply to families with individuals who have been labeled with such problems as attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)? The answer is an obvious yes! Unfortunately, there are a great number of parents who lose confidence in teaching their children at home once a label enters the situation. Labels such as ADD or ADHD carry a great deal of mystery with them, and they can be overwhelming to some parents. The good news is that parents are still the experts on their children, and teaching them at home can still be an excellent choice.
What Is ADD and ADHD?
What is ADD and ADHD? Essentially, both of these labels describe symptoms. In fact, a list of symptoms is used to identify such children. A child receives a label based on prolonged occurrences of eight or more, out of a possible fourteen, symptoms before the age of seven. These symptoms have been identified as:
- Often fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat.
- Has difficulty remaining in seat when required to do so.
- Is easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.
- Has difficulty waiting for a turn in games or group situations.
- Often blurts out answers to questions before they have been completed.
- Has difficulty following through on instructions from others.
- Has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activity.
- Often shifts from one uncompleted activity to another.
- Has difficulty playing quietly.
- Often talks excessively.
- Often interrupts or intrudes on others.
- Often doesn’t listen to what is being said.
- Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities at school or at home.
- Often engages in physically dangerous activities without considering the possible consequences.
The label ADD refers to those children who are experiencing attention problems, but who are not hyperactive or impulsive. Such children display a variety of symptoms that can be related to inefficiencies in different areas of their development. Fortunately, developmental problems can be identified, addressed, and often eliminated.
In the development of tactility, there are two common areas where problems can occur. The first one involves the ability of an individual to appropriately process sensations of light touch, pressure, and pain. The second area of tactile development involves proprioception. Proprioception refers to one’s knowledge of where one’s body is in space. If an individual has not completed developing his proprioception, his brain is not likely to know specifically where his body is. Symptoms of low development in this area include bumping into things, fidgeting or squirming around, and, to a degree, engaging in physically dangerous activities without considering the consequences.
To determine if your child has a problem with tactility, ask yourself these questions:
- Does my child exhibit the above-mentioned symptoms?
- Does she have a high threshold for pain (unaware of where she got bruises on her arms and legs after playing outside)?
- Is she inappropriately ticklish (not ticklish at all or so ticklish that she can’t stand to be touched)?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, your child may not have completed all of the developmental levels dealing with tactility. These problems can be corrected by providing specific tactile stimulation to complete all of the levels of tactile development.
Auditory and Visual Processing
Processing (both auditory and visual) is another area often found to be underdeveloped. An individual’s auditory and visual processing affects their short-term memory. If a child has low processing, it may appear that he is not listening to what is being said. The reality is that he is unable to process the information completely. Other symptoms that occur related to short-term memory/low processing include difficulty in following through on instructions from others, in remaining in one’s seat, in getting easily distracted, in waiting for one’s turn in game situations, in sustaining attention or shifting attention from task to task, in playing quietly, and in losing things necessary for task completion. Using a simple technique can identify children with low processing.
To check your child’s auditory and visual processing levels, you will need to administer a digit span test. To test for auditory levels, dictate a sequence of numbers to your child. Say them slowly (about one second apart) and in a monotone. For example say, “6 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 7,” then have your child repeat the numbers back to you in the same order. If she can correctly repeat four numbers in a row, try a sequence of five, then six, and so on. Take note of the sequence length she is able to complete without making a mistake.
To test your child’s visual processing, show him sequences of numbers on flashcards. Use dark solid ink on cards three inches by five inches, showing them to your child for approximately three seconds each. After three seconds, put the card down and have him repeat the numbers he saw on the card in the same order. Begin with a sequence of three or four numbers and increase the sequence size using new numbers and cards. Take note of how long of a sequence he can do correctly.
On both auditory and visual tests, a three-year-old should be able to complete sequences of three numbers; a four-year-old a sequence of four; a five-year-old, five; a six-year-old, six; a seven-year-old, seven; and adults should be able to complete a sequence of seven or more. If your child has low processing skills, you can help increase his skills by practicing the digit spans daily, thus increasing the brain’s ability to process information.
Long-term–memory problems may also be an issue with children who have received a label such as ADD or ADHD. This is related to a concept known as dominance. Almost everyone is either right- or left-handed. In order for the brain to take in information as efficiently as possible, it is helpful to consider if a child is right- or left-eared, -eyed, and -footed.
Gathering Information About Developmental Issues
How can you know which is your child’s dominant eye, ear, or foot? This process involves gathering a great deal of information. Which hand does your child write with? Does she write with this hand all of the time? Which hand does she use to perform other functions with? Which hand does your child use to eat, throw a ball, or brush her teeth? Is she doing all of these activities with the same hand? If so, which one? If your child does all or most activities with a single hand, she probably has established a dominant hand.
The foot can be as easily observed as the hand. Watch your child to see which foot she uses to kick a ball. Observe your child hopping on one foot. Which foot did she use? The foot used most often should be recorded. Also note whether the foot she uses changes consistently. Once you have gathered information about the child’s hand and foot, the eye and ear can be assessed.
We all engage in two types of visual actions, referred to as near-point and far-point activities. When visual activities occur close to us (reading or writing), they are called near-point activities. When visual activities occur at a distance (watching TV or riding in a car), they are called far-point activities. There are several different ways to assess which eye your child is using to take in information for both types of activities.
To analyze visual near-point activities, you will need two note cards. Place a dot (about three-eighths of an inch in diameter) in the center of one note card. On the other card, punch a hole (about the same size as the dot) in the center. Place the card with the hole on top of the card with the dot, and line them up together. Place the cards on a flat surface, and sit your child directly in front of the cards. Instruct your child to lift only the card with the hole up to their face while watching the dot the entire time. Observe which eye he brings the card up to. Try this at several different times, and record the information.
To assess far-point activities, have your child stand across the room from yourself. Point at your child using your index finger, with your arm extended. Instruct your child to point back at you in the same way, so that it looks like his finger is touching yours. Observe which eye the child is using to line up his finger with. Have the child switch hands and repeat the exercise. Which eye is the child using to line up his finger with? Does your child switch between eyes? Record this information along with your previously gathered information on the child’s hand, foot, and near-point visual activities.
Analyzing the Information
Gathering information about your child’s auditory dominance is also a matter of observation. Have your child stand directly in front of a door in your home. Next, have someone on the other side of the door say something softly “through” the door. Encourage your child to “lean in and listen carefully” to what is being said. Observe which ear the child is using to listen at the door. Try this a number of times and record what you see.
Right-Side and Left-Side Dominance
Once you have gathered this information, examine it. Notice which side of the body is used for each activity. Does your child use the left hand, left eye (for near- and far-point), left ear, and left foot? Or does your child use everything on her right side? Is there a mixture (for example, right hand and foot, but left ear and mixed visually)? To use our brains efficiently, we must have an established dominant side. If there is a mixture of some kind, then the brain does not receive, process, store, and utilize information in the most efficient way possible.
Impulsive behavior is another symptom commonly seen in children with the ADD or ADHD label. Traditionally, it has been treated with drugs. Two commonly prescribed drugs are Ritalin and Dexedrine. These drugs are used to affect the chemical makeup of the brain (more specifically, they raise dopamine levels). The objective is to reduce the impulsivity of the children. An alternative to medication is to take a look at what is causing the impulsivity and then eliminate it. Many times food sensitivities are found to be an issue.
Food sensitivities are generally not as obvious as allergies, so they are often referred to as hidden problems. Symptoms of food sensitivities can include, but are not limited to, congestion of the nose and throat (which can be accompanied by headaches and postnasal drip), impulsivity, distractibility, hyperactivity, and a short attention span. Trying an elimination diet might be an avenue for families who suspect food sensitivities in their children. Speaking to someone familiar with food sensitivities is a good place to start. There are some other sources listed at the end of this article that may help.
Addressing the Problem
Addressing problem behavior is often another major area of concern for children who have been given labels such as ADD or ADHD. Establishing a positive environment, implementing a solid daily structure, and providing appropriate feedback are all very important components of a successful behavior plan. Depending on the child, it is sometimes necessary to eliminate certain negative behaviors before it is possible to establish a positive environment.
The key to eliminating behaviors is to establish a consistent plan of action. A consequence to the behavior you are trying to eliminate should be thoughtfully chosen and consistently administered. The consequence should be one that a parent feels will work best for their particular child. Prolonged timeout is one method that has worked well when implemented consistently. Negative-token–economy systems (where a token is lost every time the behavior occurs) have also worked well. In this system, once all of the tokens are gone, the child’s day is over. Another alternative is to positively reinforce a behavior that is opposite and incompatible to the one you are trying to eliminate. For example, a child cannot be doing his chores and be on the floor throwing a temper tantrum at the same time.
Once the negative behaviors have been eliminated, a positive environment needs to be established. A positive environment is one in which four positive statements are given for every one negative. It is interesting for parents to test this out on themselves. For a period of time every day, keep track on a piece of paper how many negative statements you make compared to how many positive statements. Most of us fall short of the optimum positive environment, but you can use this test as a starting point. Continue improving your positive-to-negative ratio until you have succeeded in creating a positive environment (four positive comments for every negative) in your home.
Implementing a daily structure is also important for any expert homeschooling their child. First, establish a routine that you will follow each day or week. Next, go over this schedule with your child so he can expect what the day will hold for him. Your child can be involved in the process of developing the schedule, provided that the overall control of a child’s schedule stays firmly with the parent.
While the identification of labels such as ADD or ADHD is accomplished by looking at a list of symptoms, these symptoms do not constitute the actual problem. It is essential to look at the underlying cause of these symptoms. Once the root causes are identified, they can be addressed and, hopefully, eliminated through specific stimulation. The National Association for Child Development (NACD) is an international organization that assesses the underlying causes to these symptoms. Browse the Web site to learn more about how they empower parents with the knowledge, techniques, and expertise that enables them to assume primary responsibility for their children’s maximum growth and development.
About NACD’s Homeschool & Home Education Programs
The National Association for Child Development (NACD) has conducted over fifty thousand individual evaluations and designed over fifty thousand homeschool programs over the past sixteen years. NACD provides families with individualized programs for children with labels like ADD, ADHD, learning disabled, autistic, mentally disabled, brain injured, Down syndrome, and gifted, serving families who are committed to serving their children in the ways the parents feel are best. To read more about our home education programs, click here.
Robert J. Doman Jr., Guide to Child Management (NACD 1986) – No longer available.
Dr. Doris Rapp, “Is this Your Child?” in Allergies and Your Family, Dr. Doris Rapp, 2757 Elmwood, Kenmore, NY, 14217, 716-875-5578.
Dr. Benjamin Feingold, Why Your Child is Hyperactive, The Feingold Association of the United States, P.O. Box 655, Alexandria, VA, 22306, 703-768-FAUS.