Jesse excitedly bounds through the door. Immediately, he begins to explain to his Sunday School teacher, in a voice several decibels higher than the other children, why he doesn't have his Bible. He laid it on the counter, but he forgot it because he was thinking about a CD he wanted to hear.
"Can I still get the reward for bringing my Bible since I laid it out and if I promise to bring it next Sunday?" As class continues, Jesse's attention frequently jumps from one thing to another. His hands are never still and once his chair overturns. He doesn't appear to be paying attention, yet he knows the answer to every question and blurts them out impulsively.
Jesse has Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity (AD/HD). He is an intelligent, creative, 12-year-old Christian who loves life and his church. Jesse absorbs everything he can. He knows more about the Bible than most adults.
Jesse is my son.
Attention Deficit Disorder is a biochemical imbalance in the brain that may or may not be inherited. These characteristics may be present in people with with AD/HD:
- Easily distracted
- Problems in social interaction
- Difficulty delaying gratification
- Difficulty in staying on task
- Intense emotionally, from silliness to anxiety
It is important not to label a child without professional help. Once diagnosed, what can be done for the child with AD/HD? As a Sunday School teacher, how can you best teach this child and minister to the family?
- Show that you really care. Let your attitude be one of understanding and acceptance. Ask yourself, what kind of difference could I make in this child's life?
- Get to know the child. Meet with the child's parents to learn teaching techniques that work best for their child. Discover the child's likes and dislikes and the types of activities that will set the child off into a whirlwind of movement. Focus on the child's strengths instead of his weaknesses. Reassure the parents that you want to partner with them.
- Make class interesting. Be prepared, be early and excited about what you will be teaching. Be willing to bend, but don't get into negotiations with an AD/HD child. Let your "yes" mean yes and your "no" mean no. Think carefully about your answers before giving them.
- Pray, pray, pray. Pray for wisdom, strength and patience. Pray for the child and the child's family.
Practical Helps for the Classroom
- Structure and routine are important. Be ready for special days/holidays because the AD/HD child will find them harder to handle than most children.
- An additional teacher in the classroom can be a tremendous help in keeping the child focused, calm and on task. Use one-on-one interaction when possible.
- Make eye contact when giving instructions. Keep instructions short and to the point, firm but polite. Have the child repeat important instructions back to you.
- Give assignments in small segments to make it easier to stay on task.
- Allow additional transitional time. Rushing and changing areas are often difficult for the child with AD/HD.
- Don't allow your emotions to escalate with the child's. A calm response on your part will help defuse the situation.
- Protect the child's self-esteem. Eighty percent of the feedback received by a child with AD/HD is negative. Find a way to build self-esteem by saying something positive. Be specific, avoiding phrases like "being nice'' and "doing good.''
Ministering to the Family
Coming to church is often difficult for the family of a child with AD/HD. From getting ready in the morning to attempting to keep the child still in the worship service, it can be a challenge. Wondering how other children and teachers might react may keep families away from church.
The family may have come to your church as a last resort. They may be tired and hurting. Don't add to their pain and frustration by complaining about trivial things. If there is a significant concern, share it in a gentle, loving way. Tell parents that you are genuinely happy to have their child in your class and offer to work with them.
As a parent, I want my child to learn about Jesus in a safe, loving environment. Like other parents, I want my child to be accepted and to feel God's love through others. If a child like Jesse comes to your church on Sunday, will your Sunday School be ready?