AD/HD

A Child’s Description of AD/HD

This is a page out of Josh’s journal. It’s a concise entry. He was in middle school at the time, and was taking a composition class with our homeschool support group. The assignment was to tell a little about himself. Except for the final four words, his entire description relates to his AD/HD. Even his initial description of himself as a smart kid is immediately followed by “but”… and goes on to describe some of his ongoing struggles. Josh knew he was smart. He also knew that he was easily distracted and had a hard time completing his work. Even this brief journal entry took him a long time to write due to his distractibility and difficulty with paper and pencil tasks. The handwriting and spelling are not great. But look beyond that for a minute and see the hope peeking through. Josh started by acknowledging his awareness that he is smart, despite his many challenges. He mentions the difficulties matter of factly since they are part of his experience, but they do not entirely define him. It encouraged me to see that Josh realized that I was trying to help him, not “fix” him or change him, but truly help him. With that insight Josh could listen to my suggested strategies knowing that I didn’t view him as defective but rather as clearly in need of help. Finally, Josh ended with another positive comment. The exclamation point says a lot. It’s not just that he is in karate classes, but he is enthusiastic about karate. So although at first glance this journal entry might appear discouraging, a closer look at the content reveals a healthy balance. Josh knew he had struggles just as he knew he had strengths. This promotes a healthy view of himself, acknowledging his AD/HD while refusing to be defined by it.
It is so important to build up our children in truth, recognizing and pointing out their gifts and strengths. Kids with AD/HD get corrected and directed a lot. They may be very aware of their differences. Others seem oblivious but still need to develop an accurate perception of who they are. Until our children have achieved a realistic perspective of themselves, we need to take advantage of opportunities to help those with learning challenges see the contributions they make in our lives. We need to direct their attention to all the things they do well, even as we are teaching them and redirecting them in their areas of struggle. This developing sense of identity is what you can see emerging when you read Josh’s journal entry.

Easy Materials You Make Yourself




I like to give my children a lot of different ways to learn. My two kids with AD/HD are strong visual learners, and their sensory processing challenges lead them to seek out hands-on experiences. So, besides offering them fidget items when the lesson doesn’t have manipulatives, I try to find ways that they can see and touch objects as they learn. I also know that my children are externally motivated (not unusual for those who have weak executive functions) and they need frequent reinforcement or reminders to stick with a task. In case I haven’t mentioned it before (though I think maybe I have either here or during my workshops) I am also reluctant to spend a lot of money on things I can make myself. Of course I always think I will go to craft shows and then make whatever has grabbed my fancy once I get back home, but I never seem to do that. But with school materials, I sometimes manage to get inspiration from my recycling bin. The picture above shows a simple set of materials that are readily available and can be used for a number of things. It took me about 15 minutes from start to finish to make it.
First, get a cardboard egg carton. Make sure it’s clean and no eggs have cracked and leaked in it. I spray mine with Clorox Anywhere Spray to kill any germs. (Disclaimer: Melinda cannot be held responsible for any icky things you pick up from your egg carton. I am not a doctor…blah, blah…) My egg carton had a little circle indented on the bottom of each cup, and I cut around them to make the holes in the middle of each cup. If your carton does not include these handy, preformed circles, you can just cut your own. The circles need to be large enough for a clothespin to fit through but small enough to hold the clothespin in place. Leave the lid on the carton so you can store small materials inside and to provide a base for the clothespin to stand on. There are many ways you can use your newly recycled materials, so I’ll just get you started with a few ideas. I’m sure you will be able to come up with more ideas, and I’d love to hear about them.

  • Use the clothespins to practice counting.
  • Practice fine motor skills by having the child place and remove the clothespins
  • Use as reinforcement by putting one clothespin in place for each completed task
  • Use as a motivator by placing clothespins in the carton for each task that needs completed. Remove a clothespin as the work gets done, visually depicting for your child that progress is being made.
  • Paint the clothespins (or use colored popsicle sticks or tongue depressors) to match colors

Making this is easy to make, easy on the budget, and easy on the environment. A winner all around!

Greek Mythology – or is it “miss-ology”?

A few years ago I did a unit on mythology as part of our homeschool curriculum. We learned about Greek mythology as well as mythology that originated in various other parts of the world. Although I found some of the stories to be kind of creepy at times, there’s no question that it held the interest of my children. Still, when you have struggling learners even interesting materials tend to be remembered more in general terms than with specific details. My daughter, Beckie, who has AD/HD also has working memory challenges. Allowing her to draw some of the mythological characters helped her to keep them all straight in her mind. She’s very creative and artistic, so drawing appealed to her and was a good challenge as she attempted to sketch some very unique creatures. Children with learning differences often struggle to generalize information they have learned. Admittedly, there’s not a high need for generalizing information gleaned from Greek mythology so I didn’t worry about it too much. I just wanted my children to have a basic understanding and a frame of reference when mythological characters were mentioned in literature and other media. I also taught my children about foreshadowing in literature, so one day when I was reading aloud to Beckie from a non-mythology book I paused and asked her a question about what was read. She made a good prediction about what might happen later on in the story, and I asked her how she figured that out in hopes that she would respond that she recognized the foreshadowing that had just occurred. Instead, Beckie proudly announced, “I’m Cyclops!” I was baffled for a minute, and sat there in stunned silence trying to figure out where that answer came from. Since she does not have one eye in the middle of her forehead and is actually quite lovely, to describe her as “Cyclops” clearly didn’t fit. I could not recall that Cyclops were known for recognizing foreshadowing, either. As I rolled possibilities around in my head, an idea struck me and I asked Beckie, “Do you maybe mean ‘psychic’?” and she laughed and said that was it. She couldn’t recall the term “foreshadowing”, so pulled up a word that sort of fit. I love my Beckie for not being afraid to give things her best shot. She’s confident and can laugh at herself, even as she boldly attempts to answer questions that she does not have a precise answer for. Let’s hear it for all the children like Beckie who try and try again, and who don’t let mistakes prevent them from offering their answers and making contributions.

Child Discipline

Let me start with a disclaimer. I am not a child expert, nor a parenting expert. The things that I share on this blog are intended to be helpful and the reader has the responsibility to apply what they find useful and ignore the rest. With that said, I want to share with you an experience I had years ago with my AD/HD daughter. Beckie was a very active girl with a lot of energy. With her sensory processing issues, she exhibited low body awareness and regulation was a challenge for her. My exuberant, active, and sensory seeking child had trouble sitting through a meal. She wasn’t a picky eater, so food aversions were not to blame. She just had a need to move around. A lot. And it didn’t matter if we were doing school during the homeschooling day, or if we were having a meal together. That girl had to move. Having been down this path previously with her older brother, I had learned to be more flexible and accommodating. Even so, it’s distracting to have a distractible child and it can be disruptive even when that is not the child’s intent. I honestly don’t believe that Beckie was trying to cause problems, and in fact I don’t think she was even aware of her movements sometimes. I would remind her to sit down, and she would look down at her legs with a surprised expression on her face as if to say, “What? I’m up again? How did that happen?” One night during dinner, my sweet Beckie was having more difficulty than usual sitting still. Her father, Scott, decided it was high time Beckie learn to remain seated during the meal. Beckie would promptly sit down as soon as she was reminded, but Scott was getting tired of having to repeatedly request that she return to her chair. After several reminders, Scott decided to kick it up a notch and be firmer with Beckie. The next time Beckie popped up out of her chair, Scott leaned over the table and pointed an index finger at Beckie. Then he used her full name, which every child knows is a serious warning sign. “Rebecca Michelle, you need to SIT DOWN!” At this point, Beckie became very still as she stared at the finger in front of her face. It was so close to her that she went cross eyed. She then looked up at her Father, eyes still crossed, and with amazement in her voice pronounced “Two Daddies!” Totally missing the point, Beckie happily discovered that crossing her eyes made things look interesting and incredibly she was now seeing double with two Daddies in place of one. I was trying so hard not to laugh that I had to leave the room. My husband wasn’t far behind me. We looked at each other and Scott said, “Well THAT didn’t work!” We continued to work with Beckie on sitting still when it was called for, with the understanding that she needed to mature and eventually would. I was crazy about Beckie, even when her zest for life couldn’t be contained. She grew, and was able to sit still when she needed to. Maturation takes time, and refuses to be rushed. We do what we can to promote and facilitate it, and then we get to practice patience. It’s so important to keep your sense of humor when you are a teacher and/or parent. Your kids will give you a plethora of opportunities to see the humor even in challenging circumstances.

Dressing Up A Sensory Guy

People with sensory issues often have strong clothing preferences. I don’t know if this is generally true, but in my experience most men do not enjoy dressing up. The men I know prefer comfortable clothing. They call their attractive dressier outfits “monkey suits” and yank their ties loose at the first opportunity as if their oxygen has been reduced and they need to gasp for air. Now add together “man who prefers comfortable clothes” with “sensory guy” and you’ll see the issues faced by my son. A few weeks ago we were getting ready to attend a wedding reception. I informed Josh that he would need to dress up for the event. To Josh, “dress nicely” means wearing jeans without holes. Josh doesn’t own a lot of dress clothes for the obvious reasons that he doesn’t typically need them and he doesn’t like to wear them. I asked my husband, Scott, to help Josh find something nice to wear. They are close to the same size, so sometimes they can share clothing in a pinch. This was a pinch, all right. Scott, who like Josh has AD/HD, didn’t spend a lot of time selecting an outfit. He found something that matched and tossed it to Josh to put on. Then Scott was off to do something else. A few minutes later, I found a distressed Josh in my room. He looked truly miserable, although quite handsome. When asked what the problem was, he started describing how uncomfortable his clothes were. The shirt needed to be tucked in, but then wasn’t comfortable. The cuffs around the wrist felt odd, but were tolerable. The shirt material was a little scratchy. I tried to tell Josh that it was necessary to dress up for special occasions and he quickly explained that it wasn’t dressing up that bothered him. It was being dressed up by someone else. His Dad has made the choices for him, and because Dad doesn’t have sensory issues he selected what would work for most men. Josh is the only one who knows how his body feels and responds to clothing, though, so we needed to make some adjustments. A change of pants for a looser fit made tucking in the shirt more comfortable. A belt held things comfortably in place – not too tight, not too loose, but just right. A plain cotton, tagless t-shirt under the dress shirt made Josh much more comfortable. Having the tie a wee bit looser but barely noticeable rounded out the outfit. Josh didn’t own any dress shoes and his feet are bigger than Scott’s, so he wore his nicest boots and it didn’t look too bad. Tomorrow we are going to a wedding, and sensory guy Josh will be dressing himself up again. We bought a pair of dressier shoes (Rockports) that are slip-ons, with a little elastic around the tongue of the shoe for flexibility and comfort. Josh tried on several slip-on style shoes and found that some of the styles bothered him because they did not come up high enough on the back of his heel and he could feel them slipping around. The shoes Josh picked were high enough on his heel and comfortable, so hopefully the sensory guy will be able to relax and enjoy his time at the wedding and reception even though he is in a “monkey suit”.

Sniffing Tennis Balls?

My son, Josh, has a well developed sense of smell. His sensory processing issues are sometimes a strength but more often than not when he was younger they interfered with his ability to function and participate fully in activities. When I homeschooled Josh and his sisters, two out of three of my students had AD/HD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) along with sensory and auditory processing difficulties. Not only did they have more energy than I did, I had to repeat myself a lot and keep their sensory challenges in mind. Leaning over to help Josh with an assignment, I can remember Josh informing me that I had coffee breath. Unwilling to forgo coffee, I instead tried to angle my head so that when I spoke the air flow would be directed away from Josh’s nose. Picture the way a bird cocks its head, and that’s probably about what I looked like as I taught my little fledglings. Although I wasn’t right in his face, his overly sensitive nose could pick up the smell of a peanut butter sandwich from several feet away. As with many of his sensory integration challenges, Josh was both sensory seeking and sensory avoiding at times. When I prepared his meals, Josh always had to sniff the food before eating it. Always. Even if it was his favorite meal, very familiar to him, he smelled it prior to eating as if this time I might have slipped something nasty in his food for unknown reasons. Josh wasn’t a picky eater, but he sure appeared to be a suspicious one. Over time, I was able to get him to sniff more surreptitiously at least when he was a guest in someone’s home or out in public. Josh still occasionally gives an unfamiliar food item a sniff prior to tasting it, but I think that’s o.k. because we all tend to notice the smells of new and previously untried foods. Josh’s tendency to sniff things wasn’t limited to food or drink items. One time Josh was playing with our dog, having him fetch a tennis ball. This is when impulsivity collided with sensory processing and Josh took the tennis ball from the dog’s mouth and gave it a sniff. “Ewww! This smells terrible!” he proclaimed, practically gagging before lifting it to his nose for another whiff. “Ugh! That’s awful! Plus, it’s slimy!” Now his whole system was on red alert since he experienced an aversive smell and an aversive tactile feeling together. I could practically see him shudder. We had to laugh, though, because even after he knew the tennis ball had a bad odor, he went ahead and smelled it again before he could stop himself. When I asked him why, he said something in his brain told him to check again to see if it was as bad as he thought it was. His own second opinion was confirmation enough. Josh still has an acute sense of smell, but over the years has learned to control both his impulsivity and his reactions to smells – even though as his mom I can still tell when he is cringing inside.

The Magic of Tootsie Rolls


My daughter, Beckie, has AD/HD. Now that she’s a teenager, her primary challenges are with the executive functions (EF) like planning, organization, and working memory. She also continues to need more prompts and external rewards than her peers without EF challenges.

Beckie and her sister have been sharing a hair dryer for years. It is important to Beth, the older sister, to have the hair dryer put away after use. Beckie couldn’t care less if the hair dryer gets put away, so there is little internal motivation on her part to do so. Remember, anything that requires extra steps is not popular with our kids or adults with AD/HD. Additionally, they need more frequent rewards than their “neurotypical” peers. This need often extends into adulthood.

The hair dryer wars went on for a while, with hard feelings on both sides. Since the girls were not able to work out their differences and the hostility was escalating, we met as a family to problem solve together. If something didn’t change, the hair dryer wouldn’t be the only thing to blow at our house. At one point in the discussion, Beth told Beckie she just needed to remember to put the hair dryer away. “After all, you are a teenager. It’s not like I’m going to give you a Skittle every time you remember to put it away. You just have to make yourself do it.”

When I heard Beth say that, it was a light bulb moment for me. Having recently attended a conference on Executive Functions, it was fresh in my mind how the presenters shared that many with EF struggles will continue to be externally motivated throughout their lives. Since the EF challenges continue throughout the lifespan, affected individuals also continue to need more encouragement, praise, recognition, and rewards than those without EF struggles. This explains why my husband, who regularly makes the coffee, asks me how it is sometimes before I’ve even taken a sip. My first thought is, “Um, it’s fine. It’s always fine?”

I’ve come to realize that my husband needs that frequent positive reinforcement because making coffee and doing other chores is not intrinsically satisfying to him. He needs to know that his efforts are appreciated. Once I understood that, and realized that my son with AD/HD is the same way, I trained myself to make a point to express thanks for even mundane, everyday things. They need that. I can easily give them that. So when Beth made the comment about Skittles, I realized that Beckie was getting no reward when she remembered to put the hair dryer away. She honestly tried to remember, but since having the hair dryer put away was meaningless to her and she is highly distractible she often forgot. Since it wasn’t important to her in the first place, she experienced no internal satisfaction when she completed the task.

I devised a simple plan to help Beckie be more successful, and hopefully end the hairdryer war or at least reach a truce. Knowing that she loves Tootsie Rolls, I bought a bag of miniature Tootsie Rolls and put them in a small bowl in the bathroom. I told Beckie that every time she remembered to put the hair dryer away, she could have one Tootsie Roll. Beckie thought it was a great idea.

Now some of you are thinking, “Why should a teenager need a treat to do what she is supposed to do? Won’t that just keep her dependent on external rewards?” Good questions. Here’s what I think. By showing Beckie a simple way to motivate and reward herself, she is learning a strategy that she can eventually use on her own. Because her EF difficulties are likely to continue into adulthood, she absolutely needs to figure out ways to reward herself. Would it bother you as much if she were buying the Tootsie Rolls herself and using them as rewards for completing tasks? Probably not, because most of us do this in one form or another. I’m just showing Beckie an example of what she can do to keep herself motivated and on task. In the future, she will know how to do this for herself.

Asking Beckie to try to remember to do a task that was not important to her just didn’t work. She meant to, intended to, sometimes did remember to, but not with adequate consistency. Now, every time she goes into the bathroom, she sees the little bowl of Tootsie Rolls. It is a visual reminder and incentive several times a day, even though she only dries her hair once a day. She is aware that one of those treats will be hers if she remembers to put the hair dryer away. Guess how many times she has forgotten to put it away since the Tootsie Roll plan has been in place? Zero! She has not forgotten to put that hair dryer away a single time, and it has been several weeks since we implemented the plan. Did this teenager benefit by an external reward system? The results would indicate an absolute YES!

The hair dryer war seems to have ended peacefully, and Beckie has had great success while learning a strategy that will serve her throughout her life. She reports that she feels she has met the challenge, although she adds with a grin that once in a while she has forgotten to take a Tootsie Roll reward.

Homeschooling the Challenging Child

This is an interview with Christine Field, author of Homeschooling the Challenging Child. Christine has wisdom and experience that she shares freely to help those who are facing learning and behavioral challenges with their children. Though years may pass between our meetings, it is always wonderful to reconnect with Christine. We were able to grab a few minutes during a recent conference to do this video interview. You can see Christine’s book here: Homeschooling the Challenging Child
I hope that you enjoy the interview, and I encourage you to visit Christine’s web site for more resources at www.homefieldadvantage.org

-Melinda L. Boring

Tickle My Back, Mom!

My youngest child, Beckie, has always been cuddly and affectionate. As a newborn, she quieted as soon as I picked her up and held her cheek next to mine. I thought she recognized my voice, but it was the skin-to skin contact at least as much as my words to her that seemed to calm her. As she grew, I noticed that when others picked her up her little hands immediately started fingering the material of the holder’s clothing. She gently explored the feel of earrings, necklaces, scarves, and even daddy’s whiskers. At age three, I took her with me to a craft show. Knowing how she loved to touch different textures, before we went in to the show I reminded her to look with her eyes and not her hands. She looked both sad and surprised as she protested, “But Mommy, to look IS to touch.” Those were her exact words, and it confirmed that I had a very tactile learner and that I needed to allow her to touch some of the items that caught her interest. I ended up telling her that if she saw something she wanted to feel, she could ask me first and I would find out from the vendor if Beckie could touch the objects to see how they felt in her hand. As she grew older still, I heard the same request every day during our homeschool time when I was reading to the children: “Tickle my back, Mom!” If you are familiar with sensory integration (AKA sensory processing), you know that tickling can be aversive and irritating to some children. In Beckie’s case, she was sensory seeking and had lower registration for tactile input so the tickling was alerting to her. When she is just listening and not actively moving, it is hard for her to focus. Her AD/HD leads her into daydreaming and distractions. She recognized this about herself, and one strategy she found that seemed to help was to have her back tickled. The light touch was enough to help her stay alert and focus on listening to what I was reading. I became adept at one-hand holding or propping a book, depending on the size of the book, and using my other hand to trace lightly over Beckie’s back. I tried using a wooden backscratcher once, but that didn’t have the same effect for Beckie. I tried a backscratcher with metal scratchers, but that was also not acceptable to Beckie. When I became too absorbed by what I was reading or needed a drink of water and would thus cease the tickling, Beckie noticed immediately and either wiggled against me to prompt me back to task or grabbed my hand and placed it where it clearly belonged – on her back again! Sensory input can be calming or alerting, and each individual’s response to input varies. Often, as in Beckie’s case, our children show us over and over what they need and what works for them. Be observant and sensitive to individual differences, and take advantage of the strategies that work.

Adult AD/HD Regulating Alertness

One of the things that always puzzled me when my son Josh was younger was how he tended to be extreme in his degrees of alertness. He was very hyperactive much of the time, but when I managed to get him to sit down at the table or on the couch to do school work he became downright lethargic. He’d go from spinning around like the Looney Tune Tasmanian Devil one minute to propping his head on his hand and looking groggy the next. It’s as if he couldn’t regulate himself to anything in between the two extremes. Now Josh is a young adult, and his AD/HD sister is in her late teens and I see the same issue of regulating attention manifesting in a slightly different way. My AD/HD husband Scott, my son, and my daughter all tend to fall asleep if they are sitting still listening to a lecture. Keep in mind they are not sleep deprived, so I don’t think lack of sleep is what’s causing it. Every single week in church, they are fine during the music portion of the service. They are fully awake during the meet-and-greet time. But once the sermon begins and they are sitting still and quiet, they close their eyes and fade away. At first I thought it only happened at church, but that’s not the case. It happens any time they are required to sit quietly in one spot and just listen. I recently attended a meeting with Scott and Josh to hear a speaker discussing issues that affect adults with AD/HD. In a room with about 20 people, I looked around and saw that only Josh and Scott were in the “I’m not sleeping but my eyes are closed and I LOOK like I’m sleeping” state. So I wonder if this is something many adults with AD/HD struggle with, or if my family’s manifestation is somehow unique. When Josh has a fidget ball with him, he is better able to regulate himself and stay awake and alert. When Scott takes notes, it helps him focus. When Beckie doodles, she attends better to what is being said. Yet if none of these strategies are implemented in time, they drift away and miss many points from the presentation being offered to them. They need to plan to use the strategies prior to finding themselves in an attention-challenging situation, but planning does not come naturally for them. By the time the need for a strategy becomes clear they may already be drifting away.