The Symptoms of ADHD in School and the Study of Cats

One of the first symptoms of ADHD that becomes a big  problem at school is the ADHD child's inability to manage their time appropriately.

My son is doing a science project.  He is testing 30 cats to see which of three cat food brands they like the best.  This project is quite ambitious and I am proud of him for choosing a topic that he loves, cats, and for ensuring the validity of his results by choosing a large sample size.

This science project started a few weeks ago.  The plan, according to my son was to collect the data, plot the data, write a results section, discuss the study findings, and then finish their report with a discussion section.  This is a thorough and worthy exercise in the scientific process.  When I asked him about the timeline for this exiting project he said that he had to be finished by mid-March.  It was mid-January; I thought he had plenty of time.  

In the last 10 days he has been diligently writing the introduction of his report.  He has been researching, the history of cat food, cat food ingredients, and cat eating habits, etc.  The first draft of the introduction was due by Friday and he completed it on Wednesday, way ahead of schedule.

Other kids in his class chose project such as measuring the number of un-popped popcorn kernels and observing their classmates for signs of junk food in their box lunches.  The data collection for those studies could probably be done in a day or two.  Surveying 30 cats takes considerably more time which brings me to my current dilemma.

Three days ago his teacher sent an email that the students should have, by now, completed their data collection and that they would be plotting data points next week.  My son had surveyed all of three cats at the time of this email.    When I asked him about the data collection, he nonchalantly told me that he planned to do that over the weekend.  I must admit to having been less than patient (OK, I screamed my head off) when I explained to him that one cannot survey 27 cats eating cat food in the course of one weekend.

I told him that I was emailing his teacher and that if he had to choose another project and write a brand new report then he would.  We told him that his parents were not going to run ourselves ragged,  driving around town for hours, just because he had dropped the ball and failed to prepare.

His teacher emailed us back that he was quite passionate about this cat study and that he should stick with it and should gather as much data as he could over the next few days, even if it was only 7-8 observations.  She felt that being passionate about the scientific question was three quarters of the endeavor, (remind me to add 'Wise Teachers' to the post about what makes Great Schools  So his data collection problem was somewhat resolved but his problem with time awareness is, I think, one that will not be solved as easily.

All Individual with ADHD have problems with time management.  Inattentive ADHD individuals have two time management issues.  They think that they can get from 'A' to 'Z' in far less time than it actually takes (their  hyperactive/Impulsive compadres have this issue as well) and they get distracted and spend endless minutes wandering halfway around the alphabet forgetting that they were headed to 'Z'.  So people with ADHD tend to be an hour late and a dollar short for many of their life events.  

Russell Barkley, who is one of the best known authorities on ADHD, sees time as the 'ultimate ADHD disability'. He feels it is hopeless to try to correct our faulty time management skills as the area of the brain that handles time management, and all our executive functions, is the portion of our brain that is, to put it kindly, otherwise abled.

 I, just like my son, suffer from time management issues but I do not feel that we are THAT hopeless.  I feel that we can be taught to adjust our schedules to compensate for our skewed sense of time and I have done several things in my life to help me stay on time and on schedule.  

I always think that I can accomplish three more things in the 15 minutes before I am due at an appointment.  I have come to recognize when I am doing this and now, purposely, physically force myself to stop these activities and head out the door.  
My clocks are set 10 minutes fast which helps me as well.   

I also now, at my partner’s request, allow 100% more time to get to anything that I have scheduled.   If I think I will be back from the grocery store in 30 minutes. I say that I will be back in one hour.  If I think that it will take us 10 minutes to get to the airport.  We leave 20 minutes before the time we have to be there.  My partner has patiently guided me in this process as it is not something that comes naturally to me.  

In addition to the trying to 'do fifty things in five minute' problem in ADHD, the inattentive subtype has the 'staying with the program' problem as well.   We require constant coaching and mental reminding of what it is we are supposed to be doing.  Visual Timers (12-inch Time Timer ) are helpful as it gives us a sense of the amount of time that has elapsed.

My son now has 13 cat observations collected; it has taken him 4 days.  Just now he told me that he would like to give kitty treats to all his study participants.   A very sweet gesture but no, I told him, I don't think that you can get these treats to them by dinner time...

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