Feature Article - October 2010
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A Welcome Inclusion

Invisible Disabilities Get Hands-On Attention

By Kelli Anderson

Good Training = A Good Plan

When the 8-year-old second baseman began to do the breaststroke instead of paying attention to the play, the coach didn't bat an eye. He'd seen this before. He didn't yell. He didn't scream, and he didn't draw attention to the child's momentary lapse in concentration. He waited to catch the child's eye, and said,

"OK, let's get back to it," and the child, with that simple reminder, got his head back into the game. No harm done.

"Impulsivity happens," said John Willson, director of LD and ADHD service at the wilderness camp called SOAR in Balsam, N.C., a camp that specializes in children with ADHD and other similar social/emotional/learning challenges. "Thinking that yelling or punishing an executive function disorder makes no sense. Why would you consequence that? Would you consequence a low-blood sugar diabetic? What you have to have is a plan."

And a good plan begins with good training.

While a simple list is not a replacement for good training and sound judgment, the following list is an example of just some of the no-nonsense, effective strategies that can help make the recreational experience a positive one for someone with ADHD or similar challenges:

  • Structure: First and foremost, these kids benefit from consistency that eliminates down time.
  • Quality personnel: Patient, well-informed and those experienced with all types of kids bring out the best in those with and without challenges.
  • Simple instructions: Use short, concise, clear instructions and allow lots of practice to master skills. Avoid multi-stepped instructions and long lecture.
  • No medication holidays: Tell parents that kids need to stay on their meds (if they take them) to be able to function for recreation just like they do for school.
  • Redirection: Redirection is critical for success. Impulsivity happens so be prepared to redirect a child's attention using understandable cues, signals, words, etc.
  • Behavior modification plan: Know what behaviors may be troublesome, how to recognize the warning signs and what is most effective at redirecting, motivating and channeling that behavior into something more acceptable.
  • Bad choices are different than impulses: Recognize the difference between impulsive behaviors that are inevitable versus bad choices that should be consequenced.
  • Become an expert: Go to conferences, read, find out what works, and follow the trends.

Some of the world's greatest athletes, like Michael Jordan and Bruce Jenner, are those with invisible disabilities, such as ADHD.

"With the right structure and support," Willson said, "our kids can do incredible things."