Like cheese and wine, children need time to develop
“One, two, three, four, I think I can make it to one hundred this time, five, six, seven, I hope he’ll notice how hard I am trying to pay attention. Eight, nine, ten, I am sitting on my hands so I won’t fidget, eleven, twelve, thirteen, I have my feet wrapped around my chair legs so I won’t tap my toes. Fourteen, fifteen, sixteen, my mom will be so proud of me today, seven, I miss my dog, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, I’m…….”
Lyndsey, Lyndsey, earth to Lyndsey, can you tell the class how I arrived at this answer for the multiplication problem on the board?” Mr. Brooker’s voice entirely shattered the concentration effort I was so completely focused on. I looked blankly at the blackboard, having no clue that we were even in the midst of a multiplication lesson. Panic, fear, and the crippling grip of being totally inescapably overwhelmed stunted any attempt I would try to make to gain control of the situation I was in. I was doomed! I shutdown, I didn’t respond, I sat their looking dumbfounded and praying to God that everyone in the class would stop looking at me. At that moment all I wanted to do was disappear somewhere far away and cry. Mr. Brooker, as always, like so many of my other teachers, merely shook his head in disappointment and said, “Is there anyone who can explain it to us, perhaps someone who was paying attention?” The sarcasm in his tone cut my young soul in two.
I had told myself to keep my eyes on the teacher, to see if I could do so for one hundred seconds, that way he would surely see that I was truly paying attention. The problem was, I needed to concentrate so completely on the task that I didn’t even comprehend a darn thing Mr. Brooker was teaching. Instruction eluded me again, as it always did. This happened a lot during my schooling it happened a lot outside my schooling in fact the simple truth of the matter is it happened all the time.
This inescapable reality of mine left me bitter with resentment, left me feeling like I was stupid, a failure, left me feeling like I was different and left out from everybody else. Why couldn’t I get it, why couldn’t I understand and focus on what the teachers were teaching the class? How did everyone else do this? How did they manage? How come they were able to control their thoughts and feelings and stay focused? Why wasn’t I just like everybody else? A deep-seeded self-hatred began to take root a hatred that would become a large part of my early foundation, a hatred that would take all the energy I could muster- everything I had in me, to control and attempt to overcome much later in my life. A struggle that for the most part, was a silent struggle and no one around me, even those closest to me, would have any idea of what was truly going on within me. It hurt so much, to be so misunderstood, especially as a small child!
The very thing that troubled my childhood so terribly and still causes me anguish today, has a name and it is a name that causes teachers to roll their eyes when they get their class lists at the beginning of the year, saying things like, “good grief I have to have that child in my class! She can’t focus and he can’t sit still! My class is going to be hell this year because of “that” child!” It causes parents to react in denial at school conferences and make excuses for their child’s behavior and lack of attention, excuses that sometimes keeps their very child from getting the very help he or she needs to succeed in school. No one wants to be different and no parent wants to hear their child is different. It is a thing that is quickly “fixed” with strong medications often before any attempts are made to try and deal with it naturally-tragically this occurs at a young age. This horrible awful thing has a name, its Attention Deficit Disorder and a more extreme version of it is called Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. I have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder Inattentive Type.
During my childhood the whole concept of AD/HD was relatively new and still virtually unheard of by the mainstream. Children like me were not understood and many teachers and parents were continually frustrated by us. I remember spending a great deal of time standing on the wall at recess because I had lost my “playtime” privileges because of bad behavior or my inattentiveness. I don’t even remember many of the malicious things I had done to merit the frequent wall visits all I remember is standing on the wall and watching the other children having fun. I remember an elementary math teacher of mine was so upset with my inattentiveness that she had me go sit in a dark storage room located behind her classroom, just so she didn’t have to deal with me-she even shut the door. Once in middle school I spent an entire month by myself eating my lunch on the stage that faced the cafeteria in front of all my peers while they ate their lunches, talk about being ostracized!
You are probably reading this and thinking that I must have been a hellion when I was a child, but that is not the case. In all actuality I was extremely shy, rarely made eye contact with anyone, and tried my best to not bring any attention to myself. In fact I spent so much time concentrating on not being noticed that I neglected the valuable instruction time. Group work was my favorite thing in the world, as it allowed me to blend in and take a back seat while the other kids did the work. Though I never took part in the oral presentations or the discussions, I was highly artistic and creative along with being a good writer so I was usually the one asked to make the posters and write the report once all the other students put the notes together. I excelled in art and English during my schooling and thoroughly enjoyed those subjects. Art allowed me to escape my reality and writing gave me a silent voice that easily flowed between the lines of my notebooks- a much needed release. I did get good grades in schools but they came at a high price. My parents sent me to tutors and programs like Sylvan Learning so I could get a "double dose" of instruction to make sure I made up for what I missed in school.
AD/HD made my childhood complicated and the complications it caused became the foundation I grew up on. Unfortunately it shaped the person I would become. Fortunately, it shaped the person I am today. I say fortunately because the very thing that drove me so mad throughout my life has also been the very thing that brings purpose and meaning to my life. I loved art before I could walk having grown up with a mother who was landscape and seascape painter in addition to being an educator. The mere act of creating brought a certain comfort to me that helped me cope with my AD/HD.
I continue to love art today because it is my escape from an everyday reality that often leaves me overwhelmed and anxiety ridden. Art allows me the freedom to experience fully, reflect freely, and represent my inner voice and feelings without fear. The act of being creative is incredibly healing and this is something I instantly connected with as a child. I am very shy in person and the truth is that even though I am open in my writing (another creative outlet for me) I probably wouldn’t go out of my way to speak to anyone I don’t really know in person. I find it easier to text and email friends than dealing with face-to-face conversations. I was asked recently why I decided to get a Masters in Art Education and go into teaching. My response was short, simple, and to the point, “It was because I hated school and I wanted to bring enjoyment to those who struggle today, like I once did!” AD/HD is where I found a love of art, a love for animals, and a love for working with children.
I love working with children because they are easy to talk to and so forgiving, not so unlike animals. The healing power of art is what led me to many discoveries about myself and human nature. Art helped me step outside of myself and become more accepting of myself and this is something I so desperately want the children I work with to experience! Art allows us to connect with our state of mind that is intensely conscious of both inner experience and of the prompting of the outer world. The creation of art is not based in fear or wariness of the world but in wonder and awareness of the potential to act and interact with the world.
Art gives us the courage to allow our anxieties to release themselves. Carl Rodgers spent many years studying creativity and during his studies he identified anxiety as a necessary component of the creative process-as the maker takes responsibility for formulating and working through a problem (1961). Anxiety is something I know all too well. Anxiety is often the bane of my existence and complicates my daily activities has been a devastating root of evil in my personal and romantic relationships. It is something I struggle to deal with continually.
Aside from art I found an affinity for animals especially dogs and horses because of my AD/HD. I connected with them instantly as a young child, never worried about what they thought of me, I could be me. Most kids, especially high school kids, wanted to “hang-out” and be “social”, but not me. I found my first job at a local riding stable when I was still in middle school and was working “under the table” usually in trade for riding lessons up through high school. I worked at the barn every morning before school and spent my whole weekend there. Mucking stalls, feeding, and riding and enjoying the quiet solitude I found amongst my equine friends. It was such a therapeutic experience and I became very close with many of the horses that were labeled “difficult” and my bond with them didn’t go unnoticed by the trainers there, who frequently allowed me to work these horses.
While working with these horses and the trainers I was taught many training techniques that I would find myself later modifying to use in my classroom with my own students-the human kind. During graduate school I began training “troubled horses” usually horses I found abused and broken at the local racetracks of MD and VA. Working with these horses also led me to discover that human emotion wasn’t so different from the emotions I found in my horses. I began to notice the signs of abuse and neglect in many of the children I worked with and I instantly felt that there was something I could do to make their lives better. That “something” was and will continue to be art!
Rogers, C.R. (1961) Toward a theory of creativity. In On becoming a person. New York: Houghton Mifflin