How do people know you are paying attention?  What do you look like when paying attention?  How do you feel when you pay attention?  All too often, students with ADD and ADHD can’t answer these questions.

In order to really get control of their ability to devote the right amount of attention to a task at the right time, students must understand how their body looks and feels when they pay attention.
The following role playing activity can encourage students’ insights by drawing their attention to the body language that illustrates strong listening.

Have your child play the role of the speaker, reading two or three paragraphs from a book or article.  The parent will take the role of the listener.  As you listen to what your child is reading, talk about the behaviors that show you are listening (see below for a list), and use a digital recorder to record your observations.

Play the recorder for your child and model each behavior again as it is mentioned on the recording.  Draw your child’s attention to each aspect of your behavior that illustrates you are paying attention.
Now it’s time to change roles.  You are the speaker and your child is the listener.  Play the recorder and ask your child to demonstrate the behaviors he hears on the recording.  Practice until your child shows he understands and can model the correct behaviors.

Make a list of attentive behaviors and post in your child’s room to refer to during homework and put a copy in the front of every notebook or binder.

How does attentive behavior look to others?

The following signs of good attention are easy to demonstrate and observe:

  • Eyes focused on the speaker and/or the visual material (such as textbook, board, etc.)
  • Sitting upright, feet on floor, hands on desk or in lap
  • Head level or tilted slightly to one side
  • Response or reaction is “on topic” and appropriate to the context (e.g., taking notes during note taking sessions)
  • Physical activity (hands or body) assists understanding (many students with ADHD use note-taking or doodling to increase attentiveness rather than keeping their hands and body completely still)
How often has your child said, “I don’t like math!” “I just don’t get math!” I can’t learn math!”

Compared to reading, parents are more tolerant of problems in math. But math is very important in children’s lives and future careers. Many of the fastest growing occupations require math through algebra and even calculus.

Math is the most cumulative subject in school. Therefore, if your special needs child falls behind, he is particularly prone to developing “gaps” in knowledge that will haunt him in future years.

Elementary teachers do a poor job of teaching math

Math is the most poorly taught subject in school, particularly in elementary school. Research has proven that elementary teachers are uncomfortable with math—not only with teaching math, but with using mathematical principles in their own lives. In fact, many elementary teachers suffer from math anxiety themselves. Therefore, most elementary teachers are not good influences on the mathematical learning and attitudes of their students.

The combination of a teacher’s poor understanding of mathematical concepts, inadequate knowledge of teaching methods in mathematics, and limited knowledge about modifying teaching approaches to reach learners with atypical learning profiles can create dismal results for special needs children. 

Tip #1

Stress to your children the importance of mathematics in their lives and careers.

Jobs in science and technology require a strong knowledge of math, and play a vital role in the advancements that give us our standard of living. Students who understand mathematics have dramatically more career opportunities than students whose math abilities are weak.

The level of math sophistication is much greater for today’s students

Because the nature of math education has morphed dramatically since most parents went to school, often parents find themselves beginning to struggle with math concepts when their child reaches middle school.

If a special needs child has struggles with math, parents need to face the harsh truth that they may not stand in the ideal position to help their child themselves, particularly when math becomes conceptually difficult. Due to the history in the US of poor math teaching, parents may have limited knowledge of mathematics and may not appreciate the central role math plays in the lives of today’s citizens.

Tip #2

If you are finding that you do not completely understand the work your child is bringing home, you should bow out of the “direct teaching” role. Direct teaching involves explaining concepts and procedures to your child, much as a teacher or tutor would. If you don’t fully understand the math you are teaching your child, you and your child run the risk of ingraining inaccurate beliefs and inefficient habits that can take months to undo.

Math anxiety is rampant in the U.S.

Did you know that at least 66% of adults have strong negative feelings about math! This is largely due to poor teaching adults received in school. These negative feelings are easy to communicate to your child. When children feel negative about a school subject, they unconsciously engage in self-sabotaging behaviors such as tuning out in class, not doing their homework, not asking questions when they don’t understand, and not practicing the concepts and skills enough to make them automatic.

This starts a vicious cycle of failure…as the student “back away” from learning math, he or she begins to fall behind in learning, and this creates even more dislike and avoidance. Eventually, what’s called learned helplessness sets in.

This enemy robs a child of their power. This beast whispers in a child’s ear phrases such as “you’re stupid” “you’ll never learn this stuff” “who are you kidding, you don’t need this” and the ever-present “this is boring”

These self-destructive messages tear at a child’s resolve, limit what he or she can learn, and reduce future educational and career options.

Tip #3

If you have negative feelings about math, make a conscious effort to change these feelings, and encourage your children to feel positively about math. Praise your child’s efforts, especially when the going is tough.

Math has to “make sense” in order for your child to want to learn it

Students respond to a program that puts understanding and enjoyment into math. They benefit from meaningful learning experiences that overcome frustration with “math that just doesn’t make sense.” They learn concepts and computation more quickly from real life situations.

Tip #4

Show children how math is used in their lives.

At stores, have them develop mental arithmetic skills by adding up the cost of a few items, by estimating sales tax, or by figuring out the cost of one can of soda from the price of a six-pack.

Put some fun into math by playing games while riding in the car or standing in line. For “Guess My Secret Identity,” give your child clues such as, “When divided by three, I’m equal to your age,” or “If you add 22 to me, I’m the length of a football field.” Be playful and creative and have your child make up riddles for you to solve.

“Summing in all up”

Special needs kids want to succeed in life and their parents want to do everything possible to help them succeed. If you are among the majority of parents who have negative attitudes toward math, feel your math skills are inadequate, and express your feelings opening to your child, I urge you to make every effort to eliminate these tendencies from your parenting repertoire!

Even if you have, up until now, suffered from the power-robbing demon of math self-doubt, your children can learn math skills and can appreciate the wonderful role math plays in their lives. But they can’t do it without your support and encouragement!