The ADD child and School Relevance

ADD Child,Edison
For the child with ADD, school must be relevant or they will not learn.
School relevance seems like it should be something that all teachers of ADD children think about but a stroll into  your average classroom will likely reveal a teacher who is lecturing on and on about something the ADD child could not care less about.

I have been recently reading about Thomas Edison's mother in the book by Scott Teel called Defending and Parenting Children Who Learn Differently: Lessons from Edison's Mother. Many educators now agree that Thomas Edison, the great inventor, probably had ADD. Thomas Edison was a disaster in school and his teachers considered him to be slow or retarded. This assessment infuriated Thomas Edison's mother, Nancy Elliott Edison, and she set out to provide him with the resources and encouragement that he need to learn on his own.

As we well know now, Thomas Edison was amazingly curious. He did poorly in school because it was not relevant to him. I can relate to this problem as I found school to be totally irrelevant as well. The only time that I remember being involved AT ALL in school was in fifth grade when I overheard Sister Mary Bartholomew tell my teacher, Sister Bernard Mary, that the washer in the convent garage was leaking and that water was getting into her bedroom.

I was a shy kid but I had fixed the washer at our house many times. My mother allowed me to tinker away on broken appliances. She figured that if I was able to fix whatever was broken, it would save her a repair bill and if I messed it up even more it did not matter as it was already broken. The permission to explore and the confidence in my ability was essential for my growth as a learner and allowed me to succeed at something which was important given that I was having far less than stellar success at school.

I told Sister Bernard Mary at lunch that if she let me go over to the convent for 30 minutes that I would fix the washer. I am convinced that one of the only reason that I was never held back in grade school was because, from that day forward, when the sisters had an appliance that was not working properly they would ask me to go take a look at it.

The leaking washer was a relevant problem that needed solving and I had no trouble putting all my energy and thinking behind solving the problem. There is a style of teaching known as Problem Based Learning that applies the principals involved in problem solving to teach curriculums that have traditionally been taught in a didactic fashion.

People with ADHD and Inattentive ADHD in particular tend to be divergent or tangential thinkers and learners. This contrasts to convergent thinkers who think and learn in a more linear manner. Tangential thinkers tend to be more creative when it comes to problem solving. Newsweek, this summer, published an article devoted to the importance of teaching creativity in our schools. They cited reports of studies that indicated that overall life success depended far more on creativity than it did on IQ or school success. In other words, the most creative children were the children who turned out to be leaders in their fields.

The Newsweek report reported on a school in Ohio called The National Inventors Hall of Fame School that had recently achieved incredibly high test scores with a population of kids that might be considered 'at risk' by using a problem based learning approach. This video interview with the Media Specialist at the National Inventors Hall of Fame School describes the problem that their school 5th graders got involved with to solve.

All schools should be striving to make the subject matter that they teach relevant but for children with ADHD, a relevant curriculum is essential if they are to achieve success in school.  If your child's school cannot or will not make your child's curriculum relevant, than you as a parent must do what my mother and Thomas Edison's mother did for their children and that is to provide them with the tools and encouragement that they need to learn by solving problems at home.


  1. After reading this post and reading your profile I just wanted to throw out there that I remember reading (somewhere) that there has been some investigation into the matter of boys with ADHD mellowing out with puberty, and some females doing exactly the opposite. I definitely experienced something like this and became more antsy and outgoing as I aged. I am now definitely considered pretty hyperactive, though most likely would fall fairly into the "combined" subtype. I really need to find that article...

    This was a huge challenge in school, where not only is so much REALLY not interesting to a kid with a really busy brain, but it was at puberty that I began to have issues like oh, you know, getting kicked out of the school honors program and failing a reading class despite my college reading level. I knew I knew how to read so I couldn't wrap my brain around why I was even in the class. As for the honors program: I got disorganized and behind and was too embarrassed and disinterested to ask for help getting caught up. Bad combo.

    I suspect there are other women out there who start out inattentive and end up more hyperactive than they began...

  2. Wow!! I would love to read that article. It sounds really interesting. I have had a lot of trouble figuring out how someone that started our totally introverted and sluggish could turn into someone that is decisively extroverted and bouncy.
    Anyway, I am glad I am not alone. Thanks for letting me know about this. I will see if I can find the citation.

  3. :D

    It had to do with a shift in dopamine receptivity...I looked for it in my "articles" folder on my computer but didn't find it...maybe those keywords can help you track it down!

  4. Maybe this study? It does not mention dopamine receptors though.

    J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2010 Mar;51(3):233-41. Epub 2009 Sep 21.
    The influence of sex on the course and psychiatric correlates of ADHD from childhood to adolescence: a longitudinal study.

    It seems that the girls carried symptoms of anxiety and depression into adulthood while the boys did not but that both genders had diminished ADHD symptoms.

  5. Great article, thanks for the info!

  6. Ooh, thanks for pulling that up. I too, went to look for the article I'd been reading and couldn't re-find it...will keep looking. But this one looks very interesting, thanks for posting it. I take medication for anxiety as a grownup, and had horrible anxiety as a child...I've carried it with me into adulthood but age and experience has helped me layer context over my worries in a helpful way ;)

  7. I love the way you said, "age and experience has helped me layer context over my worries in a helpful way." That is SOOOOOOOOO true!!!


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