Every year in music class everyone hoped and wished a talented musician would enter the school. Although promising new students came in all the time, most had never picked up an instrument before. My friend and I were the stars of the orchestra, both having played violin for over 9 years. But we were graduating the following year, and the quality of the orchestra was about to take a nosedive. Finally, in our Junior year, Allen joined the orchestra. He was incredible. When he played, no one spoke. Everyone sat and watched as his fingers and bow flew over the strings with sounds that were almost inhuman. We thought we were savedÃ¢Â?Â¦ but we soon realized that Allen was almost as much a problem as he was a blessing.
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act defines a learning disability is “a disorder of one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations.” These problems may lead to difficulties in paying attention, self-control, and many other problems that may hinder the individual’s ability to socialize or function effectively. It was not long before we realized that Allen had a learning disability: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He could not concentrate on something for more than a minute. He would jump up and run out of the classroom at random times. He disrupted the class, yelled out, and did not listen to the teacher. The teacher even contacted his father in an attempt to do something about this problem. No amount of threats, kindness, or any other approach worked. Yet sometimes when he was playing, he could go on forever. The music he made was amazing, and he concentrated on it, lived it. What do you do with children like Allen? Children – kind and great people – disturb the class of no means of their own, but are so incredibly talented in some area?
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder “is an inability to use skills of attention effectively” (“What is ADHD?”). Many kids who have this disorder seem very active and move a lot. Others do not show hyperactivity, but do not appear to pay attention in class. ADHD is thought to be caused by a weakness in the manner in which the brain uses chemicals, or neurotransmitters (“What isÃ¢Â?Â¦?”). Allen had all these symptoms. But diagnosing a child is only part of the problem. The real question, is what is the best environment to place them into?
Questions have arisen about the problems faced by gifted ADHD students such as Allen. Many times, kids with learning disabilities are placed into “Special Education” classes. However, placing a gifted child into a classroom where he or she is given shorter and simpler tasks may only frustrate him or her further. However, placing them in a classroom with gifted children who do not have ADHD is frustrating to the “normal” children (“Gifted Children with ADHD”). Sometimes, a gifted child with ADHD may go unnoticed. This is due to the fact that a students’ intelligence is often measured by test scores and behavior in the classroom, which at many times are a problem for a child with ADHD to do. Also, some teachers may focus on the disruptive behaviors of a child rather than his talents (“GiftedÃ¢Â?Â¦”).
So should Allen remain in a classroom surrounded by normal children, or should he be pulled out? Should he be placed in a setting with other learning disabled children, or with talented ones? In “Gifted but Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox,” Susan Baum asks “How can a child learn and not learn at the same time?” She stresses a few important points in addressing children like Allen. One important thing to do is “focus attention on the development of the gift” (“Gifted butÃ¢Â?Â¦”). Focusing on the child’s weakness may result in low self-esteem, frustration, lack of motivation, depression, and stress. She urges teachers to instead focus on furthering and developing the child’s talents while offering remedy to the problems. Another important step is to provide a caring environment that welcomes individual differences. This is important so the child does not feel different, “weird,” or left out. The final suggestion Baum makes is to encourage compensating strategies. She stresses that many times, a disorder is fairly permanent. Therefore, while working to help remedy the problem is always important, allowing a child with bad handwriting to use a computer, or one who cannot do math to use a calculator, will help the child do better.
Allen is still in the music class. With my friend and I both going to college, he has become the star of the show. Many times, the teacher simply considers throwing him out, despite his talent. He sometimes proves to just be too much. All his classes are suffering, and he is failing in many of them because of his inability to pay attention. However, as frustrating as it is, the orchestra teacher keeps trying and caring. She keeps in contact with his father, sharing notes on how Allen is doing. When Allen did not show up for class for three days, the teacher called his father and let him know. Allen had been lying to his dad, saying he was going to school but instead staying by the train station with friends. When she got off the phone, I joked, “Are you trying to get him into trouble?” “No,” she replied. “I’m trying to save him.”
Baum, Susan. “Gifted but Learning Disabled: A Puzzling Paradox.” March 1, 1997.
Neihart, Maureen. “Gifted Children with ADHD.” January 12, 2004.
“What is ADHD?” April 16, 2002.