Before ADHD and After
“I love her,” she said. “And I think I’m her favorite student.”
“Does she have an unfavorite student?” I asked.
“Yes,” said the fourth grader immediately. “Andrew.”
“How do you know he’s your teacher’s least favorite student?” I asked.
“She’s always yelling at him.”
“Why is that?” I asked, curious.
“He makes noises when he’s supposed to be quiet.”
“What kind of noises?”
“I don’t know, “ she said, bored with this line of questioning and preferring to talk about how she was the teacher’s favorite. “He sings, he makes animal noises, he talks to himself. My teacher doesn’t like that.”
“Plus, “ she added, “he sits next to me.”
Some things never change, I thought. Some teachers still think that inattentive or even disruptive kids (usually boys) will be somehow more controlled by assigning them seats next to well-behaved girls. It’s like the joke: “If my child misbehaves,” says a modern mom to the teacher, “just yell at the student next to him. That will be enough to scare my child into better behavior.”
Talking about Andrew made my mind skitter across the years to a boy in one of my sister’s elementary school classes. Kids called him “Richard Oink Johannsen Tick.”
Richard did all the things that Andrew did and more. Richard couldn’t sit still and he couldn’t stay quiet. Silent reading or tests pushed his self-control beyond the limit. In class he stood on one leg, kneeling on his seat with the other as he labored over his work. Softly, under his breath, he sang his own song: “Do you tick tick tick like a clock “ or “Do you oink oink oink like a pig?” The verses were endless. “Do you bark bark bark like a dog?” You get the idea. Of course, he sat next to my sister.
One day during the IOWA tests, Richard hit the wall. After fussing and squirming and muttering to himself as he worked, the steam broke through the escape valve. “Do you tick tick tick like a clock?” he suddenly yelled, and when his shocked classmates looked up, he shouted, “DO YA?”
That was enough for his teacher, who stomped down the aisle and stuck two fat strips of masking tape over Richard’s mouth.
Of course, those were the days before we knew there was such a thing as ADD or ADHD. And those were the days when a teacher could put masking tape over a kid’s mouth (or worse) and not worry that his parent would show up the next day and demand the teacher be fired. I said they were the old days, not the good old days.
Richard moved along through middle and high school, and his outbursts grew less frequent and eventually disappeared. He managed to graduate, but the nickname “Richard Oink” or just “Oink” stuck. Maybe things will work out for Andrew too – that his impulsive behaviors will dissipate, maybe even disappear as he moves through middle school and high school.
I’ve written before about the millions of Richards and Andrews (and some Ambers and Keishas) who take prescription drugs for ADHD or ADD. Last month I wrote about some doctors who prescribe these drugs for kids without any diagnosis but whose parents would like them to do even better in school. College kids talk about taking the same drugs to make them more competitive so they can focus better, stay up later, and perform better on tests.
It’s a tough call in elementary school, and the wrong decision can have long-term effects. Still, I hope Andrew’s teacher can contain her exasperation and find ways for him learn and progress with his classmates. My guess is that now that test results are part of every teacher’s evaluation, the Richards and the Andrews are going to find less, not more teacher tolerance for some of their behaviors and greater insistence that parents consider prescription drugs for their child. It’s more acceptable than sticking tape over a child’s mouth.