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And still we can wander

3 min read


“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.”
 — Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

October is ADHD Awareness Month. It’s also autumn and apple-picking time. Warm colors are emerging in many areas.

Quite a few people I know with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are the extra-aware types. They often want to learn everything at once. They start out on a topic, want to associate almost anything at all to it, and are incredibly open to discovery of any kind. Let’s just be aware that the need to return back home to the initial topic might be the need of someone else, not ours.

In general, October is a month of awareness. We start noticing things changing. It is autumn and the sunlight is decreasing, days are getting shorter, and the leaves make less and less sugar. Eventually, the chlorophyll pigments (which give leaves their green color) decrease and the green color in the leaves begins to fade. Eventually, photosynthesis stops, and the veins at the bases of the leaf stems sometimes close, trapping sugars. As the chlorophyll fades, any yellow, orange, or gold pigments that are present in the leaves are revealed. This is a good time for wandering in the hills. Perhaps we shall collect leaves to lay out into a collage, creating patterns. Perhaps we will amble into the stubborn patches of snow clinging to the shaded north faces, resembling clouds. The ADHD mind may take broad, inexplicable, beautiful leaps and create amazing bridges. They can stare at clouds until they become the Alps, at least mine could, and then ski away.

If someone were teaching us about ADHD the way most teachers are taught to teach, they might determine that the above observations are evidence of distraction or hyperactivity. The topic was ADHD, not mountains in autumn, no? Impulsive? For some kids, it appears so, but mainly because our schools allow precious little time and space for kids who digress, however naturally. However naturally, many teachers feel that they are required to teach in straight lines, and to known outcomes, while many of our students with ADHD may never learn well seated still in rows. Most of us know at least one or two teachers who can somehow find spaces for students to make their own choices, who mix up the methodologies and group formations, and who invite their students to use their true voices and eyes — dream-catcher teachers.

ADHD-types are on topic, maybe just not the required topic. They may not care to separate cognition from metacognition, art from science. Take heart, though. In the right environment, even if that means out of doors, they usually will bring it back home to they topic if the teacher really wants them to, or if the teacher insists. However, they might just prefer, while seated in classrooms for days on end, to imagine themselves aboard a tram in Bern.

Stuart Grauer is a teacher, founding head of The Grauer School in Encinitas, Calif., and founder of the Small Schools Coalition. He accredits and consults for schools worldwide. He is the author of “Real Teachers.”