ADD and the College Student

ADD and the College Student

ADD and the College Student is a Guide for High School and College Students with Attention Deficit Disorder. Edited by Patricia O. Quinn M.D and made available through Magination Press.

This Book contains practical information from specialists as well those who have "been there" and includes advice and information that will help students with ADD effectively navigate the transition into college life. In addition to an in depth questionnaire to help determine if you have ADD, personal commentaries from college students with ADD, guides to help find ADD-friendly colleges, suggestions for securing the learning accommodations that best highlight your strengths, and detailed description of your legal rights, this book also covers such topics as What is attention deficit disorder, How do you know if you have ADD, The biochemistry of ADD and medication, How ADD affects you, Looking at college programs and what to expect during High School senior year.

For more information on this book and how to order, contact Magination Press at 1-800-374-2721.

Proactive Recognition: A New Spin on Rules

By Howard Glasser

As parents, we are incredibly important in our children's lives through the way we help them sort through experiences. We cannot assume that children can automatically and accurately size up a situation that they view or that they are experiencing. Nor can children consistently discern whether or not an experience or a choice was a success or a failure. Myriad emotions and reactions can short-circuit a child's objective assessment of self or of a situation. Often, a child with a pre-existing pattern of attracting negative responses will be hypercritical of her own experiences and be supersensitive to picking up on their negative aspects, placing her at risk to perceive and register them as failures. For these reasons, your response as a parent becomes crucial to building and maintaining perspective for your child.

As a parent, you are privileged to have a broader perspective and can draw on your own vast experience to help your child make vital distinctions. Parents are essential in directing traffic in regard to their child's inner experience and choices, which are more or less likely to become experiences of success or failure, depending upon how they are viewed. The experience may not wind up in the right bin on its own. It needs sorting. That means help from you.

Parents give closure and meaning to their child's experiences. The way parents choose to give those experiences attention makes all the difference in the world. On what you choose to expend your energy and the way in which you do it gives children important clues as to what is a success and what is a failure and, ultimately, on how to translate life itself. This process is going to occur regardless of whether we become more conscious of exactly what is going on. We might as well use our awareness creatively and advantageously.

If a parent pays attention to undesirable aspects of behavior at any given moment, the child unfortunately gathers a negative impression or a failure message about herself. If you focus on the smart, thoughtful or rule-related choices your child makes, she receives a success message from you about who she is as well as about her positive capabilities. It's almost as if we lend the experience our energy and wisdom. The loan eventually becomes an inheritance.

Parents who hone their intervention skills can create a wealth of successes that would not otherwise exist. The role of success-building has become incredibly more important for every child. To stand up to the pressures of our times, children have to be stronger on the inside than ever before.

Not long ago, we had the privilege of meeting two wonderful families with adolescent girls who had been doing extremely well at both home and school up through early adolescence. Both girls had been sent to private schools to help insulate them from peer pressures. To their parents' dismay, both children wound up involved in serious situations as a result of peer pressure, illustrating the point that there may no longer be any real insulation from dangerous temptations, other than fortifying children to be much stronger and centered from the inside out.

Because both girls had relatively easy temperaments up to that point in their lives, very little parental imposition of rules had been necessary for either of them. The rules were therefore relatively unclear and had been given little parental attention because both children were basically self-motivated. Their parents certainly appreciated their daughters, but there didn't seem to be a high need for them to demonstrate it.

When they realized that their daughters were having problems, these parents wisely made the rules more clear and began to give more and varied recognition, including recognition when specific rules were not being broken. Both children became dramatically stronger and far less vulnerable to peer pressures.

For the difficult child, the stakes are higher and the role of success-building becomes incredibly more important than in these cases.

Now that you are trying a new approach, it is time to re-examine the rules and to reintroduce them to your child in a way that will help her learn better, in a way that truly makes sense and clicks for her, and in a way that she will ultimately respect and in which she will find comfort and safety.

The Old Rules

If you walk into the typical mainstream classroom, what you will most often find are ordinary rules that unfortunately are too unclear for the difficult child. Rules like "Be respectful," "Use good manners," "Follow directions," "Hands and feet to self," among others, are generally marginally effective with the average child. However, they simply do not work with the more challenging child.

And by the way, there are fewer children who fit the description of mild or average temperament than ever before. For every intense child that externalizes or acts out an energized or conflicted inner state, there is another child in the same classroom who is under-functioning in a withdrawn, depressed or under-energized manner.

Somewhere along the line since the time of the Ten Commandments, we've somehow gotten the notion that the rules need to be framed in a positive context. This notion is rampant in mainstream classrooms. Positively framed rules such as "Be responsible" make it much harder for challenging children to function. If the rules are fuzzy, it is extremely hard to have consequences that are clear enough for difficult children.

Positive rules and unclear consequences invite escalating patterns of testing. It is no accident that intense children systematically fall off the educational conveyor belt. "Inclusion," or working with challenging children within the main-stream classroom setting, can be achieved, but not without clarity. With-out clarity "inclusion" is more like "exclusion." How can children focus their energies on successful classroom endeavors when so much of their energy is bound up in useless bouts with confusing limits?

The New Rules

If you sit with groups of challenging children, which we have done on many occasions, and you ask them what kinds of rules are needed, they will invariably reel off a host of rules that are much more clear and more structured than the current conventional rules. They will say rules like "No bad words," "No aggression," "No breaking things," "No whining," "No name calling," "No arguing," etc.

These rules resonate much better for the difficult child. Remember that they cannot live their lives with clarity unless we lend them clarity. Think again about the example we gave earlier concerning video games. So many children can throw themselves into playing these games successfully because the rules are so clear. Please don't take this to mean that we advocate video games. We don't. The last we looked, most of the games were way too inane and way too violent. However, challenging children are often drawn to the simple clarity of how these games are constructed… threads that run through just about every last one. When you're on track-when you're not breaking rules-you score, and when you do break a rule, you get a consequence. The rules are as clear as day.

Usually "No crossing the line" and "No getting hit by the enemy" are the basics. In addition to the rules being clear and concise, what truly helps children reconcile their experience of rules (i.e., helping regulations truly make sense in their ways of thinking) is the feature that recognition follows not breaking the rules.

In video games, that recognition is higher scores and access to higher levels of success. If the higher score and the attraction and excitement of higher levels were not present, the desire to avoid breaking rules would decrease.

Most conventional parenting paradigms have it backwards: the higher payoff goes to occasions when the rules are broken, and the payoff is minimal when the child is just going along in an acceptable yet ordinary fashion.

The Old Switcheroo

When parents switch the menu of payoffs, the remarkable happens. When they verbally provide a larger response when rules are not broken, the child begins to sense a new relation to the rules. The rules are no longer the bad guys. The rules begin to have their merits. In fact, in a strange way, the child begins to perceive the notion that more rules are better, because the more rules they do not break, the more recognition flows into their lives.

If you talk to successful people, you will generally find that they have a fairly positive relationship to rules. Of course, some rules, like those regarding taxes, may truly be annoying. However, most rules are perceived positively because they help organize lives and businesses and help insulate us from haphazard events.

Children with pre-existing patterns of challenging the limits are definitely at risk of exiting childhood and entering adulthood with a negative opinion of rules and with an adversarial relationship with them. For most challenging children, the only times they hear about the rules are when the rules are being broken. At the same time, they are inadvertently and unintentionally rewarded with various payoffs when rules are broken. Numerous kinds of negative excitement such as lectures, reprimands, critical expressions and raised voices are really rewards because these are major payoffs of an adult's energy. They contribute to the difficult young person's emerging from childhood with at best a confusing relationship with the rules.

Our experience is that challenging children, upon entering adult-hood, do not easily leave their old patterns behind. They either take them along or have to struggle with great effort to change them. Have pattern will travel. If an adversarial relationship with the rules has been established, then that pattern is likely to be lived out and acted out for a lifetime. That confusing pattern needs to be changed.

Success Rules

Now is the perfect time to move into a new gear and proactively tune your child to a still higher key of success. This will involve specifically verbalizing recognition when the child has not broken a rule, as well as raising the level of appreciation when the child is showing glimmers of valued and desirable qualities or other positive behaviors. It is time to polish the facets of the gem from several directions. Difficult children typically get "nailed" for their problems, rather than commended for the efforts they have made. "Nailing" your children with appreciation for even small degrees of appropriate effort, choice, attitude or behaviors shifts the dynamic in favor of the rules you set up for your child and family.

Giving your children close attention when they are using self-control gives them a new sense of connection to their capacity for steering clear of problems. Tying the control to specific rules that have not been broken strengthens a child's sense of truly being on track. It strengthens her belief in herself rather than in a belief that the best way to get attention is to break rules. It makes not breaking rules the focal point of the excitement and fireworks. And best of all, now the child is going to truly be able to learn the rules in a receptive manner. Noticing and acknowledging when rules are not being broken shows your child proof positive that you value his ability to use his power in healthy ways.

Instead of waiting for your child to break rules, you are now the ruthless opportunist who proactively fixates your attention, deliberately and determinedly, upon success-oriented steps in the right direction. This means consciously finding moments when nothing in particular seems to be happening and capturing those moments by acknowledging your child for not breaking the rules or pushing the limits in that given instant.

Examples of Proactive Recognition:

"Brandon, I appreciate that you have not used foul language all morning long. Thank you for following the rules."

"Jason, I like that you have not been teasing your sister. Keep up the good work."

"Susie, I notice that you have stayed with your reading and have not gone into my room without permission. Thank you for obeying that rule. I also love that you have not argued or fussed about your homework."

"Marge, I want you to know how much I appreciate that you are not being bossy to your brother or mean to the dog. Keep up the good work."

"Frankie, I like how you are using your power to control your strong feelings. You did not take your frustration out by breaking anything or hitting anybody. Keep up the good work."

It is about seeing the glass as half-full, rather than half-empty. You are seeing and verbalizing the positive steps your child is making in the right direction, even if the behavior is rare, infrequent or short-lived. This attention and affirmation magnifies what is already present, lending proactive (positive) rather than reactive (negative) energy to the healing/ tuning process. It says to your child in ever heightening ways, "You do not have to go to all the trouble of breaking rules to be noticed by me. There's plenty of energy for so many successful aspects of your life." Once in a while a parent will report that, as soon as proactive recognition has been given, a child will turn around and blatantly act out by breaking a rule. Rather than taking this as a sign that the strategy is not working, our experience indicates that just the opposite is happening.

The child likes the attention and hasn't yet formed the backup ability to keep you attuned in positive ways, so reflexively reverts to ways that have worked in the past in an effort to capture your continued contact. It is precisely this kind of attitude and testing that allows you to reaffirm your focus on the positive, not the negative.

As an illustration, at the extreme end of the continuum, we have even had tremendous success with children who have been dangerously fascinated with fires. Many have been through other kinds of fire-starter programs unsuccessfully. What we have seen in these and other hard-core cases is that, when the parents or caretakers begin to express their valuing of self-control when fires or other aggressive behaviors are not happening, the child no longer has to go to that extreme to get the fireworks. He is getting it in a rule-related way. The fear that reminding a child of fire-starting will prompt him to go out and burn something down turns out, in our experience, to be unfounded.

Be a Ruthless Opportunist

If you sense that negative behavior appears to be on the horizon, we suggest you maintain a neutral attitude and creatively utilize the situation as an opportunity for proactive recognition. Proactive recognition is the cement that holds together the rules that you are now using to frame your child's behavior. Its use creates a different magnetic pull and a new message about your belief in your child.

For example:

"I see that you have strong feelings right now and that you are trying very hard to control them. I appreciate your effort."

"It looks like you were thinking about lashing out just now, but you are managing to control yourself. I appreciate that you did not hit your brother.

" Or: "I notice how frustrated you are with your little sister and I really appreciate your effort not to call her names back or to be mean to her. I like how you're following the rules."

Compare these statements to more common (and non-therapeutic) reactions to a child's impending escalation:

"I can tell you're ready to bother your sister! You'd better leave her alone!"

"You better control your anger. If you argue you won't be watching TV for a week."

Unfortunately most of us have used these common and almost reflexive approaches with an acting-out child. Much to our own and the child's disadvantage, this type of intervention sends the child a message inferring his or her inability to exercise self-control. It is more likely to provoke further loss of inhibition or a loss of control. It is, in effect, an inverted message: "I affirm your out-of-control nature and behaviors of the past, and I dare you to continue to use that behavior right now." That is certainly not a message of trust.

Teach Our Children Well

Most parents are already trying to teach their children the rules. However, with an intense child they often wind up on a merry-go-round, caught in the downward spiral of trying to teach the rules on the fly during or just after the breaking of the rule. These are not exactly excellent teaching moments. Receptivity is sure to be poor at these times. Although to do so defies conventional thinking, it is amazingly effective to teach rules when they aren't being broken. You and your child may both find it odd, but the fact is this is exactly the right time to demonstrate to a child that she is indeed within the expected bounds. She is not breaking rules. The child, under these circumstances, is truly psychologically and emotionally receptive.

Parents are only uncomfortable with this approach until they actually try it. Once they get used to it, this method becomes more natural than the old ways.

If I praise a child for not yelling and not arguing, I not only create a few successes but I make a shift toward his believing that the rules are not completely bad and that he indeed is capable of success in this important aspect of life. Most difficult children think the rules stink because the only time that they hear about the rules is when they are breaking them. So they wind up getting a fairly high dose of negative reaction and payoff in the context of a problem behavior and they wind up at least partially habituated to pushing the very limits that they hate. No wonder the life of a difficult child is so confusing. It's not as if they want to break the rules. Nor do their parents want inadvertently to reinforce the negative behaviors by responding to them.

As you can imagine, the situation can become very convoluted, very fast. The way out is to adopt a proactive stance. One way to understand the meaning of proactive is this: If you find out that you have the genetics of a heart problem because it runs in your family, do you really want to wait for your first bypass surgery to do something about it? Or, do you want to look at changing some of your attitudes, stresses and habits of rest, exercise and eating before the problem develops? You get the point.

A Temporary Measure

Even though we are a few short steps away from being in a position strategically to recommend limits and consequences that really work, you might find yourself in a situation where consequences are called for. Challenging children require limits and consequences to help them feel safe and protected from their own feared loss of control. If consequences are required for your child, for now make it one that is somewhat familiar to your child, but not excessive. As a temporary measure, until we take a more formal approach, time-outs or lost privileges can be appropriate consequences, but should be given in a rather matter-of-fact (neutral) and straightforward manner. Do not give the negative behaviors your energy. No lectures, reprimands, pleading, strong voice or threats of a consequence.

Just simply give the consequence as a result of a rule being broken. Much more on this when the timing is perfect. The nonverbal message to your child is this: "Yes, I see you need a consequence now, but I'm not going to let you pull me back into negative reactions when you act out. I will respond to your behavior in a way that maintains control. When the consequence is over, my primary focus will continue to be pointing out your successes and the great steps you are making, rather than your failures or inadequacies." Being neutral when your child is out-of-control or is escalating is difficult, to say the least. However, this is a much more powerful stance in the long run. You maintain control, and your child is unable to control the situation by pulling you back into a frustrated or reactive stance. Stay aware: some children will test their parents' commitment to staying neutral. This is often done as a way of reassuring themselves that the success messages are permanent or as a way of sizing up the status of the old buttons.

The child needs to see that you won't be derailed by the challenges. More often than not, however, the proactive, early interventions serve to de-escalate the child's behavior. The child feels reassured or fortified by acknowledgements of successful behaviors and is reassured when re-minded that he is on track and valued for not breaking rules. A parent's modeling control-by demonstrating control-also becomes a support to the intense child's precarious internal structure. The act of a parent's verbalizing specific recognition and appreciation for unbroken rules increases a child's belief in her own ability to have self-control and make successful choices.

Integrity is a quality that is taught when the going gets rough. Almost anyone can show integrity when things are going well. If a parent loses control when faced with a child's difficult behaviors, the child, in effect, learns that it is okay to lose control under difficult circumstances.

On the other hand, if a parent is able to demonstrate an effective yet neutral response to challenging behaviors, the child not only learns a crucial lesson about self-control, but also learns that there is no longer a "payoff " for negative behaviors.

Proactive Recognition: Critical Points

Proactive Recognition supports your parenting efforts by giving recognition and appreciation specifically to the rules of your house-hold. It reshapes the rules by giving them more definition. It is the basic beginning of a new focus for your child's behavior. It is a critically important way to teach the rules to children who are habituated to the payoffs of response that come with breaking the rules.

Proactive Recognition gives your child vital information on how to act. It also helps him gain confidence in his capacity to use desirable and rule-related behaviors.

Proactive Recognition accelerates and deepens STAND I by pulling your child into a new realm of successes and by counteracting her past adversarial relationship with the rules.

Proactive Recognition is specific to your family and your child's needs. It is derived from your list of rules via your custom-tailored take on what your family needs and what your child needs as filtered through your family values.

Proactive Recognition requires parents to be restrained in their reaction to negative behaviors and give much more animation and magnetism to times when the child is not breaking rules.

Proactive Recognition teaches and reminds the child of rules and good behavior from a non-adversarial stance, which is of particular importance for defiant children who need to know exactly where the line is drawn.

Proactive Recognition gives you many more opportunities than ordinary rules to acknowledge positive behaviors. A rule like "be respectful" requires waiting for an act of respect to occur before being able to offer recognition, whereas a rule like "no disrespect" provides a wide range of honest opportunities to offer appreciation; you need not wait until special behaviors happen to provide the warm regard of success.

Proactive Recognition: Prescription

Use this type of recognition and appreciation throughout the day, especially first thing in the morning and after school. Focus on the times when your child is in control, not out of control.

Begin shaping lists of rules and positive behaviors to support more consistent interventions and as a way of teaching all the rules, not just the ones that are particular problems. You can keep the lists as a private reference point until you are ready to formalize them and present them to your child.

View your child's capacity at this point as "half-full" rather than "half-empty." Regard small steps your child makes in the right direction as the precious seeds of the harvest to come. Point out whatever you notice in this positive, growing direction. Express your appreciation and excitement.

Recognize and appreciate at least 10 or more rule-based successes daily. Be ruthlessly opportunistic in finding the positive choices your child is making, no matter how microscopic. Keep in mind that it always takes effort to refrain from breaking rules. It doesn't just happen. Appreciate the effort and control being used. Just as you, as the parent of a difficult child, are working harder than the average parent, your child is making more effort than the average child to control her extra dose of intensity. (We have worked at psychiatric settings where children and adults were truly acutely out of control. It is not a pretty sight or a heartwarming experience. This is why, in part, we are so appreciative when self-control is being used and why we credit children for the effort. The irony is that, when we do this and are in this way giving children the payoff for their good choices, problem behaviors become negligible.)

Use Proactive Recognition in conjunction with the previous steps. Visit your child, do a Video Moment or two, and then add on recognition for a few rules that have not been broken. You can also weave into the exchange some appreciation for the positive qualities that you want to see grow.

Even if you were to do this 20 times a day, which would be above and beyond our recommendations, and even if you were to elaborate upon these interventions so as to take 30 seconds for each of them, this would not total more than 10 minutes a day to exert a tremendously powerful therapeutic influence in your child's life and a wonderful new pull toward successful behaviors.

Use Proactive Recognition with a calm, neutral attitude during red flag times associated with your child's escalation to misbehavior.

Try to "beat your child to the punch." Notice the early signs of problem behavior and praise and appreciate the self-control being used "be-fore" the rule is actually being broken.

Once a rule is broken, your choices are limited. Until the timing is just right and until we fully develop the consequence strategy, you can give a consequence as cleanly and as neutrally as possible. The alternatives may not be very appealing. Ignoring the problem, or falling prey to inadvertently giving a payoff to the negative behavior by giving warnings, lectures or other unintended reward responses, will ultimately be eliminated by the strategies in step five. Do the best you can for now.

If the opportunity to build the new pattern of success is diminished temporarily, focus on resuming it at the next opportunity. Stay intent. Keep in mind that the true purpose of this intervention is in shifting your child from a pre-existing habit of failures and attachment to negative response to a new habit of excitement and investment in successes.

If your child "crosses the line," calmly and neutrally impart a consequence that you can readily control and monitor.

Now and then, after giving recognition, mention that you might be willing to give "credits" for this kind of effort and self-control. Just say that you've been giving it some thought and you'll let him know what you decide. You might add that it could be a good way of earning extra privileges.

Copyright 2001 Brandi Valentine. All rights reserved. This Newsletter is copyrighted by the authors and/or publisher and is registered with the Library of Congress.

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