Writing From “Love, Understanding, and Other Best Practices”: ADHD

Meeting Lucas: Leap of Faith 

One can’t judge a book by its cover.  Nor can you judge a child with learning disabilities by first impressions.  Most learning disabilities are subtle, especially those which impact visual or auditory processing like reading, note taking, listening, or writing.   As an Education Advocate, rarely  am I called upon in support of a physically disabled child requiring accommodations for teachers, principals, and staff easily rally around a student who is unfortunately missing a limb, an eye, or requires the assistance of a wheelchair.  But on the other hand, when the disability is less obvious, beyond the surface, parents and their children often face judgment day when the impact of the disability is in question.  For example, ADD/ADHD or any other processing -oriented disability is not easily detected without a formal evaluation.  Often these students are thrown into the  “lacking motivation” heap while support and related services are difficult to acquire.  And it requires love, understanding, and extraordinary faith in support of the challenges and gifts found within our ADD/ADHD children.  Take the story of Lucas for example.

 

A few years ago, I ran into Lucas at the local supermarket after a long spell without seeing one another.   When you live in a small town like I do, especially being a former elementary principal, one takes notice of kids as they grow up through the years.  What caught my attention the most was that standing before me in the frozen food section was a living example of a true role model; a hero.  I heard through the grapevine that Lucas performed two tours of duty in Iraq and returned home uncertain of a third deployment in Iraq, applying for college, or a different path all together.  All I knew was that the young man I was talking to demonstrated an extraordinary level of self-confidence way beyond his peers. 

Years ago, when I first met Lucas, he was a regular in the Principal’s Office.  He was one of those kids who spent endless hours under my supervision for he was always in trouble of some kind; Lucas had ADHD and Dyslexia; a double dose of learning disability.   As a Sixth Grader, he was constantly aggravated by the fact that he could not read at grade level and as he progressed through the school system without support, the challenges of reading increased.  And so did his frustration.  He was a teacher’s nightmare for he was not only intelligent ( hands-on smart; the type of student who required something in his hands at all times  to remain focused) but he was also very confrontational and unwilling to put up with anything which seemed unfair or unjust.  If he didn’t like something or didn’t want to do the activity, he would speak his mind.  So between my office and recess, he was frequently out of the classroom.   And recess was another story in itself.

Since “finding the gifts within ” is at the core of true advocacy, it may have been difficult identifying Lucas’ gifts and blessings within the typical school setting for he was unsuccessful in the regular classroom.   In looking back, it was at recess where we started to discover his true calling.  Unlike others who got into fights for selfish purposes and bully-like tendencies, Lucas was the recess guardian protecting the less fortunate, tormented, and easily picked on students.   From a Principal’s perspective, it was these actions at recess which caught my attention.   It made absolute sense that he would one day join the military and unselfishly serve and protect others through the Marine Reserves.

After Lucas left the elementary program, I was aware of his trials and pitfalls which continued to haunt him throughout Middle School.  As with most ADHD students, school often reflects a “square peg in a round hole” mismatch.   For Lucas, the breadth of his school experience was all about failure for he was  on the path toward truancy and early dropout until one summer when his life truly turned around due to an unforeseeable event. 

After another school year of suspensions and failing classes, it was agreed upon that Lucas was better off staying with his father on family property in another state.  As proposed, he would be able to work off his excess energy with ample acreage all about and forget about school for a while.  No one imagined that his daily swim in the local creek would lead to major life changes.   Apparently, Lucas jumped in head first and hit bottom; fractured his spine.  As a result, he was immediately fitted with a spinal injury device restricting all movement for a minimum of 6 months.  Nevertheless, one of the few movements he was able to perform was a physical maneuver similar to rowing. 

Following extensive therapy, Lucas continued to perform endless hours of rowing.  In fact, it was his passion during recovery. And throughout the healing process, Lucas’s parents explored every avenue imaginable as far as school options.   It was later determined that he would attend a school in Canada with an nationally recognized rowing team as well as a exemplary success rate working with students with learning disabilities.   Due to his alternative high school program, Lucas experienced extraordinary success both academically and socially.  In fact, he earned a spot on the Canadian Junior Olympic Rowing team. 

Today, Lucas is truly a role model ; he is a member of the local fire department serving our community as an  Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).  His gift of service has found a remarkable outlet that back in grade school during recess was a cause of suspension and discipline. In addition, Lucas also mentors local athletes as the head coach of the Junior Rowing Club.  Clearly, he is giving back to a sport which in many ways saved his life. Who would imagine that a tragic diving accident would lead to such an extraordinary life? 

As stated in the beginning, processing disabilities, often associated with  ADD/ADHD, are most difficult to detect for they often are masked and compensated for in other ways.  Or they may be lost in the shuffle within the context of inconvenient impulsive behavior or related disciplinary action. As our children’s advocates, our greatest challenge is to seek and discover the gifts within for they lead us toward a better understanding of our children and their path.   In light of Lucas’ story, one could say it was a leap of faith which lead to his potential.  

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