I recently shared my blog, Train All Teachers About ADHD Challenges, on social media.
I want to address one of the responses my article received since I know that, in one form or another, this person verbalized a concern that many parents and educators have.
The commenter wrote, “If a child won’t, cannot, or has not been trained not to distract the others, then they should be in a contained classroom. Sad, perhaps, but the other 29 students have a right to the best education possible. Someone who hinders that infringes on the rights of 29 other kids and their parents.” The person went on to say, “Lazy and indifferent parents need to take care of their own children and not expect the teacher to do their job for them. A teacher is not a behavioralist. She is to provide instruction.”
This raises the important question – can and should the needs of the few children be met without diminishing the needs of the many? In truth, these are two separate and complex issues.
Can children who fidget and move in the classroom do so in a way as not to distract other students?
Without a proper understanding of WHY people fidget, hyperactive children are often dismissed as selfish and disrespectful. The fact is that children – and adults – who fidget constantly do so either consciously or subconsciously to keep their brains alert. For many people, even those who don’t have ADHD, movement can neurologically help with alertness. With proper tools and support, most children can learn to manage their need for movement and stimulation without distracting those around them. As I discussed in my article, Fidgeting and Movement: Teaching the Art and Value of Fidgeting and Movement to Improve Focus and Reduce Distracting Behaviors, activity helps stimulate the networks of the brain that control attention.
Is it fair to allow children who need to move to stay in a mainstream classroom full of typical learners?
This is a more complex issue to some. The legal answer is that all children are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). This Federal Law mandates that we must teach students in the least restrictive environment (LRE). As much as possible, students should be learning alongside their classmates. Putting students in separate classes is only allowed if it’s necessary to meet their unique needs. FAPE does not discuss the rights of the other students in the classroom, and I realize that is the concern that people such as the post’s writer have raised.
As I share my response to what is “fair,” know that I do so with as much care and concern for the 29 children, their parents, and their teacher as I do for the one child who struggles and may disturb others. So here is my perspective:
- I started this topic by discussing the importance of Teacher Training. As I mentioned in my initial article and further supported here, when teachers are appropriately trained, and students are given the proper tools and support, most children can significantly reduce the time and resources they distract from the teacher and the other students.
- If a student truly cannot learn alongside their classmates, FAPE and special education law does allow and support them being in an environment where they can learn. These children do have alternative classrooms.
- Children are learning all the time by watching the actions of the adults around them. As children witness patience, compassion, and tolerance toward those around them, they also learn to exhibit these behaviors.
- When children receive support such as kindness and help, they learn to be kind and help others.
- People sharing different perspectives and bringing different strengths will enrich a learning environment. Often, people with ADHD are known to be creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. Having their contributions to the learning environment offers opportunities for all involved. People like Director Daniel Kwan, Deputy Cabinet Secretary Daniel Koh, Sir Richard Branson, and Olympian and Mental Health Advocate Michael Phelps each struggled in school and have gone on to great success.
- We all struggle at times. Maybe we didn’t sleep well, perhaps we are having relationship problems, or maybe we have health or financial worries. When those around us embrace us, we also learn to embrace them in their time of need.
- No parent asks to have a child who has complex challenges. These parents need their support, knowledge, and tools to help their children overcome challenges and thrive. To assume they are “lazy or indifferent” is insensitive and incorrect.
Rather than shield the 29 students from someone who makes life more challenging, perhaps we need to give them the tools they will need to deal with their own challenges – by seeing what love and compassion look like.