My journey into the world of ADHD began 30 years ago, and I can still remember that “Eureka!” moment.
I was teaching kindergarten at the time. Every year, I’d have one or two kids, usually boys, who were exceptionally squirmy and inattentive but were also bright and creative. These were kids who should have been doing well in school but whose distractibility was making it difficult. They were the kids who’d knock over their classmates running to be first in line. They were the ones who’d yell out in the middle of storytime, “I’ve got to go potty!” They could never find their crayons, and their cubbies looked like the insides of a wind tunnel. They would eat the paste. But they could also come up with really insightful observations and innovative ways of doing things.
On to the moment of enlightenment. It was a faculty in-service, one of those meetings that, at the end of a long day, make you want to gouge out your own eyes. The guest speaker was going to talk about “a neurobehavioral condition recently identified as Attention Deficit Disorder.” Ho-hum. I flopped into a seat, wishing I was home in my recliner. But as he started talking about ADD behaviors, the imaginary lightbulb over my head lit up. It occurred to me that this was exactly what I was observing – kids that had a deficit of attention.
I started reading anything I could find on ADD. Back then, there wasn’t an extensive body of research, and you couldn’t just go online and Google it. But from what I could find, coupled with my own experiences, I became convinced that there were ways a teacher could help these kids. So I decided to try some strategies in my classroom to see if they worked. I was studying for my Masters degree in Education at the time, and I had to do a thesis project. So I decided to put some of the strategies to the test. The results showed that many of them resulted in significant student improvement. I now had some hard data to prove that these strategies made a difference.
As the saying goes, no good deed goes unpunished. My interest in ADD didn’t go unnoticed by the building principal, who saw this as a unique opportunity to weed out all the little “June Bugs” the other teachers didn’t want and give them to me. It was an interesting study in contrasts to compare my class with the class across the hall. While those kids sat attentively with their little legs crossed and their little hands folded, gazing raptly at their teacher, my class resembled a jar of Mexican jumping beans. During fire drills, the other kindergartners would follow the teacher like a flock of little ducklings. For me, it was more like herding sheep on amphetamines. During assemblies, my class was strategically seated near the door so I could discreetly escort wiggly kids into the hall for an “in-house field trip.” But I secretly believed that my little June Bugs were a lot more unique and interesting.
This is how I became the school’s ADHD Whisperer. I didn’t think of ADHD as a learning disability. I saw it more as a learning difference. These kids weren’t disabled; they just had different needs when it came to learning. For them, the traditional classroom is probably the worst possible learning environment. Distractions, overcrowding, long periods of sitting still are just some of the things that are problematic for them . By making certain modifications in learning environment and instructional methods, as well as teaching some cognitive and organizational techniques, teachers can help these kids improve.
So over the years, I had the opportunity to work with lots of students with varying degrees of ADHD. And I have to admit, I learned as much from them as they learned from me. I learned lessons about resilience and tenacity and courage; about looking at the world in fresh, new ways; about multitasking and thinking outside the box; and most of all, about the difference an understanding, empathetic teacher can make in the lives of ADHD kids and their families.
When I finally decided to retire, I didn’t want all I’d learned to retire with me. I’d always loved to write, and people often told me that I should write a book. So I figured that it was finally time to see if I had what it took. I thought of writing a self-help book, but there were lots of those already. So I hit on the idea of incorporating the strategies into a novel about a teacher working with an ADHD student – a kind of a fiction/self-help hybrid. And that’s how Project June Bug was born. It’s the story of a high school teacher who puts her career on the line to help a troubled student. I hope the book will empower parents and teachers by giving them some easily-implemented techniques to help their “June Bugs.” And I hope the story will inspire them to work as a team to help these kids be the best they can be.
Jackie Minniti is a former New Jersey teacher and contributing education writer for the Courier Post. She is currently a columnist for The Island Reporter, a publication that serves the South Gulf Beaches in St. Petersburg, Florida. Jackie lives on nearby Treasure Island with her husband and two rather noisy macaws. Project June Bug is her first novel. You can visit her website at www.jackieminniti.com.