If you have a student who’s been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you probably notice that they get bored with routine more easily than other kids. In fact, I’m surprised that this dislike of boredom is not written into the diagnostic criteria for these kids. But what I want to talk to you about is the half-glass full approach to this topic. While they get bored more easily, they are also more captivated by things that are new and interesting. This is called novelty-seeking, it’s one of the key components of creative behavior, and research suggests that kids diagnosed with ADHD have more of this than non-ADHD labeled children.
Creativity isn’t given much more than lip service in our culture, but if you think about it, just about everything in civilization had to be cooked up by creative people. This means that creativity is one of the most important things about being human. So the fact that your ADHD-identified student tends in a creative direction means a lot. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been critical of the ADHD diagnosis, because the label only focuses on the negatives and ignores positives like novelty-seeking.
Think about it as energy. Your ADHD-identified student has a lot of energy, and the question is, where’s that energy going to go? Is it going to flow into a lot of inappropriate behavior, restlessness, and fidgeting (although there’s a benefit to fidgeting)? Or is it going to flow into creative behavior? Here are some tips for drawing out the creative side of your ADHD-diagnosed student:
Ask interesting questions (e.g. when the school bell rings, ask him if he knows what kind of bell system they use; when teaching European history, ask him what would have happened if Napoleon defeated the Russians; when teaching math, ask him if he could imagine a world based on negative numbers).
Use project-based learning. The process of coming up with a special project (e.g. investigating the history of skateboarding, polling the school population on the subject of allowing cell phones in classrooms, or learning about the life of a sports hero), can give your student a chance to shine.
Do something new and unexpected. If you’re a teacher, come into class wearing a cowboy hat when about to cover the Westward Expansion in U.S. history, or wear a bushy Einstein wig when teaching about the theory of relativity in science class. One teacher entered his senior year calculus class dressed in as a nobleman and started the class by blowing on a vintage trumpet.
Bring in artifacts. Start off a class by holding up something that you discovered or acquired outside of school (animal bones, a bird’s feather, a family heirloom, a mystery rock, a new high-tech gadget etc.). This helps focus students who are expecting ”the same-old same-old.” Ask students questions about the artifact (where do you think I got it? what animal is this from? what kind of rock is this? how can you find out for sure?).
Put on role plays. The opportunity to be dramatic can unlock the creative juices in your ADHD-diagnosed student(s), and virtually any skill or subject area can be turned into a role play. You can role play math word problems, material from literature or history, science laws, and English vocabulary words or foreign language scenarios.
Activate the imagination. Ask students to close their eyes and visualize something that is relevant to the coursework. This provides scope for the creative dimension of the student’s mind. Suggest that they visualize a science fiction setting when studying the solar system (a journey to Venus), a scene from a novel (Sydney Carton’s final minutes of life from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens), or a concept from social science (have them visualize what the concept of ”democracy” looks like in their mind’s eye).
The important thing to keep in mind is that you need to do something out of the ordinary – something that breaks the routine of the classroom in order to really command the attention of the ADHD-diagnosed student. Perhaps we should blame the media for this – teachers have to compete with the Kardashians and cartoon characters on TV, or the fast-paced action of a video game in order to grab the students’ focus these days. The importance difference is that teachers are ”live,” and infinitely ”interactive,” and where are you going to find a video game that takes a truly keen interest in the creative behavior of its students? Furthermore, by teaching creatively, you may be helping to unlock the innovative side of a student who could contribute something truly creative to society one day.