Before I continue, I want to make sure you understand that I am not making light of ADD, ADHD, or any other mental disorder. However, I feel like my exposure to personalities and to mannerisms rubs off on me. I am often doing or saying things that many students I work closely with do.
My wife has told me that she could tell when I am on the phone with a friend from high school, because I talk more “Black” than usual. But it wasn’t just with my words, but my body movements changed. In college, I hung out with some East Coast friends for a couple nights, and couldn’t shake the terminology and colloquialisms common to the DC to Jersey area. After that, I hung out with friends from the ATL, and the rest of the “Dirty South.” I can’t even spell the slang I picked up from them, because I don’t think there is actually a way TO spell them. Did I hang with a West Coast group? Of course, and it made me feel a little more like I was at home.
So what? So I talk like the people I’m around. It’s more than that, at least for me. I study people. I feel that you cannot believe what someone says, and ignore what they do; it all creates context for why they are who they are. If you put that into the setting of the Special Education classroom I work in, I am studying these kids. Sometimes what they say does not match up with what they do, or their reaction may not be the correct magnitude expected, but I have to take all these pieces of information, and somehow find a deeper understanding of who they are. Anyone who walks into my room may see me just watching. I like to just see what they do in any given instance. I study my students.
This does have consequences, however. One is that I have a deeper understanding of the students who come into my room. I am often trying, failing and trying again to figure out what works best for each student, as opposed to having a system and trying to force them all to fit into it. The other is that I sometimes act or sound like my students without knowing it. I have always tried to pick up on the noises that students make, or the “strange” actions that they do, because they all have a purpose, but that purpose may be different from what we use our sounds and actions for. One student made noise to feel the vibrations in his jaw, and sometimes I would catch myself making the same noises subconsciously.
There are days when, after 2 early-morning cups of French Press, I am moving and talking too fast for the 4 kids in my class who have ADHD. How is that possible? Afterwards, I may try to have a conversation with a colleague and I am having 3 thought processes going on while they’re talking and I’m consciously thinking about what to do with my hands so I don’t look like I’m losing it. For many of my students with Autism, I try to create a routine and predictable day, which is wonderfully soothing. on the flip side, if my wife or I try to make a change to our daily or weekly routines, I am sometimes at a loss and have trouble keeping my head on straight.
Now, I know I do not have ADHD, or OCD, or anything else. What I do have, is an empathetic mind (that’s what I’m going to call it). I know I do not have these things, but many of my students do. Their trouble is sometimes made worse when the people who work with them do not understand what it is like for them to make it through a day, a class, or a task. I don’t think I completely understand, but I have a better idea than most. I once told a student, “I saw how hard you were working at looking at Mr. ____ while he was talking to you. I could tell your body wanted to move, but you held it together. Good job.” He was speechless, because no one gives compliments on what they don’t understand.
How can we gain some (or more) empathy for our kids, or other people’s kids we see throughout the day?