A few days ago, I was helping someone take care of a group of kids. We played for a while and then turned on a movie for them.
Kids love movies, right?
Well, most of them do, but some of them aren’t capable of sitting through a whole movie, even if it’s only forty minutes long.
There was one girl amongst our group (yes, I said girl) who could not, I mean COULD NOT, pay attention to the movie. She couldn’t keep her eyes on the screen, couldn’t be quiet, and couldn’t sit still in her chair. In fact, she couldn’t sit in a chair at all. The moment her butt hit the seat, she jumped back up and started walking around again.
And as she walked, she talked… and talked… and talked.
“Where’s that sound coming from? Speakers? What are speakers? Why are they shaped like black squares? Why are they so loud? How do the voices get from here to there? Can I go outside? Where’s my mom?”
It was constant chatter. And the movie wasn’t the only thing she struggled to get through. She also had a hard time getting through activities. When we sang songs, she ran laps around the room (not exaggerating), and while we played with blocks, she tried opening the front door and running outside. And she “had to go potty” thirty-three times in the course of an hour.
Do I sound annoyed? I wasn’t. Not at all. I thought that little girl was the sweetest, funniest person in the room. She was so full of life and she reminded me of my nephew. My nephew who asks questions incessantly, who can’t sit still for more than thirty seconds, and who acts so impulsively we’re scared to take him in crowded public places.
My nephew who has ADHD.
I’m not a doctor, obviously, and I’m in no way capable of diagnosing that little girl with ADHD, but I have spent a lot of time pouring over books about ADHD, talking to a little boy who has ADHD, and blogging about ADHD. If I could make an educated guess, I’d say that little girl has it, too.
When I thought of her that way, it made communicating with her a lot simpler. She responded better to one-step instructions. She could listen a more easily when she was rolling around on the floor or running in circles. She was happier when she was making noise. And I was perfectly fine with all of those things because they made her happy and they weren’t bothering anyone else.
Really, it was the easiest way to keep everyone safe. It was the simplest way to make them all feel loved and valued just as they are.
The hard part (for me) was that one of the other caretakers only saw her as disobedient. She was frustrated that the little girl wouldn’t stay in her seat like all the other kids. She actually asked me several times if I was having “a problem with her” and if the girl needed to be removed. She wanted to step in and take over because she didn’t like that I was letting the girl “disobey.”
And every time the caretaker made another remark about it, my heart broke a little more.
I tried to explain my thoughts as well as I could without sounding like I was trying to be a medical doctor. I said, “She seems to have a lot harder time sitting still and paying attention than the other kids do. I don’t want to encourage her to disobey or give her a free pass, but it seems like she really can’t sit still. And this is kind of a long move for a five-year-old.”
What I was trying to say was that the girl wasn’t being disobedient. Not for what her brain and body were capable of.
And I know what disobedient looks like because I owned a daycare for two years, worked at a special needs camp, and was an AmeriCorps member at an inner-city camp another summer. In those places, there were children who were DISOBEDIENT. Kids who were capable of sitting or listening, but they were in desperate need of attention so they acted up. Kids who, for whatever reason, chose to disobey even though they were capable of doing what was asked of them.
This little girl, though, wasn’t disobeying. Her body was simply not capable of sitting still, listening for more than one command, following through with actions, and staying on task. She could only move and talk and do. That was it.
When the other caretaker kept sternly saying, “Go sit back down. You have to obey,” I wanted to stick up for the little girl. I wanted to advocate for her.
But I didn’t because it’s not my job to undermine another adult who truly feels like they’re doing what’s best. It was hard. I wanted to tell my side of things–or rather, her side of things–and let her run around the room until she was exhausted, but I just couldn’t. The other adult in the room didn’t agree with me.
So I had to let it go.
The hardest part was when the little girl’s parents came to pick her up. I walked over to them to say how much I’d enjoyed having their daughter in our care, to say I hope they’d use us again…
but the other caretaker beat me over there.
She didn’t start by saying, “Hi, how are you?” or “Hey, your daughter is so full of life!” or “Hey, how was your time while you were away?” or “Hi, my name is…”
Instead, the first words that came out of her mouth were, “Your daughter had a hard time obeying today.”
The mother’s face immediately sunk. I knew that face. It’s the same face my sister makes every time someone gives her a negative report about her son because they don’t understand how his brain works. The mother, of course, tried to apologize and address the daughter’s behaviors, but she was also hiding the hurt in her heart.
I wanted to hug her and tell her how loved her daughter was how. I wanted to say, “I know for a fact that God designed your little girl to be exactly as she is!” I wanted to encourage them and make sure they knew they were good parents and that their daughter’s actions had very little to do with how they were raising her.
But I didn’t get the chance to, and I probably never will. There’s no way that family is ever coming back to us for care. There was too much hurt on that mother’s face.
And I don’t blame her. I know as a mother I want my children to be cared for by people who value them just as they are. I want my kids to be disciplined, definitely, but more than that, I want them to be encouraged. I want their hearts to be protected. I want them to feel bigger and stronger and more valued when they walk out the caretaker’s door than they did when they walked in. I never want them to leave feeling defeated.
The other caretaker working with me was not a monster. In fact, she’s one of the sweetest, God-fearing people I’ve ever met. She was raised by fantastic parents and will do a great job of raising her own children.
The only thing missing was that she didn’t see the “difference” in that little girl. She didn’t realize that she was trying to fit a spare peg into a round hole. It wasn’t the caretaker’s fault that she didn’t know those things, but I know people who raise awareness about this issue can make things easier for everyone.
We need more awareness for behavioral disorders. Blogging matters. Conversations matter. News reports matter. Advocating MATTERS.
Not all sets of rules can be applied to all children. We’re all unique and we don’t all fit into the rules placed on “the majority.”
So the next time you get a chance to tell someone about the reality of ADHD, take the opportunity. Stick up for someone you know or love. Advocate for the joy of all of us being unique. Explain the difference between disobeying and incapability.
Help us spread awareness so that kids who need cared for in special ways get the care they need.