Learning with our Will #thinkdifferently #education #ADHD #inclusion

Learning Life Hacks

Just Will!

He has always has been just Will! He has always had a cheeky grin, a great sense of humour and the gift of the gab. He was an inquisitive toddler, intrigued with all things vehicular. His continual questions, “Why is…?,” “What is…?” had us congratulating ourselves as parents that Will was obviously eager to learn about his world although, admittedly the questions became more than slightly exasperating on long car journeys!

Throughout primary school, Will struggled with the mechanical aspect handwriting, printing slowly and often mixing capital and lowercase letters. He composed and wrote text slowly, often only producing two or three simple sentences using unadventurous vocabulary and found naming and visualizing 2D and 3D shapes almost impossible. As for mathematical word problems, well they might as well have been in Martian!

But hey, none of that mattered did it because Will had his strengths and everyone is different, right.

Will was very sociable and could engage anyone in a conversation, especially one about sport. He seemed to have acquired an amazing knowledge of the world of football and cricket and was able to recall players, teams, games and results with ease. (This alone would have rung alarm bells if I was contemplating a child in my class, (I am a teacher by profession) but this was Will, and no one had ever even hinted that anything might be awry. And besides he excelled at verbal presentations, using a varied and adventurous vocabulary (in contrast to his written work).

So what if he couldn’t ride a bike or tie his shoe-laces.

As Will moved through Secondary school his academic weaknesses became more noticeable but his strengths, particularly his charm and verbal competence, seemed to keep him afloat and no-one seemed overly concerned. Except that at home he was now spending every minute of his down time trying to keep up with his homework.

Having a social life wasn’t an option – there was no time left after schoolwork was done.

His handwriting speed was becoming an issue and even when using a word processing program he worked slowly, he had no idea how to plan or structure his work. Minutes quickly turned into hours for Will and even the simplest homework tasks resulted in evenings of frustration. Our attempts to help him with his homework invariably ended in raised, exasperated voices, slamming doors and angry silences around the dinner table as we failed to understand how Will seemed to be unable to follow our suggestions or how, at 13, he still could not grasp seemingly simple facts like a shape with three sides is a triangle! And why was he still forgetting things we asked him to do as soon as we’d asked him? Was he just being a really obnoxious teenager or was there more to this than we realized?

There was more to it.

Eventually, when Will was 15, we decided to pay for him to be privately tested and we learnt that he had a very poor working memory. Lots of things about the way he functioned suddenly made sense…

…but then there was the guilt.

How, for 15 years, had we not known this? Why had we been so frustrated with him over all those seemingly insignificant things like repeatedly forgetting his sports kit?

But what is working memory?

This link to a TED talk by Peter Doolittle briefly introduces the working memory and its role in an engaging, jargon free way.

TED talk

Will is now 22 and has just been diagnosed with adult ADHD. (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

While he still faces some challenges, understanding his own strengths and weaknesses has really helped him. He now understands that, yes it will always take him longer than most of his peers to complete things but by using strategies to help him overcome his weaknesses,  (I will share these in future posts) he can achieve anything.

Will is now back at college studying for a second diploma…