Are We Giving Our Children ADD?

Are we giving our children ADD? Removing the Stumbling Block

Is it possible? Can we give our children a disorder? No, of course we can’t. And while the definitive cause of Attention Deficit Disorders is unknown, experts will agree that genetics and distinct neurological patterns are at play. Additionally, there is much research as to ways that the environment, genetics, lifestyle choices and other factors can both exacerbate and mitigate the symptoms of Attention Disorder. 

In an article titled, "Attention Must Be Paid! Schools need to teach students to maintain attention, not cater to short-attention spans," author Barry Schwartz makes some interesting and valid points. He states, “Again and again, we are told in this information-overloaded digital age, complex and subtle arguments just won’t hold the reader’s or viewer’s attention.” And further, “By catering to diminished attention, we are making a colossal and unconscionable mistake. The world is a complex and subtle place, and efforts to understand it and improve it must match its complexity and subtlety. We are treating as unalterable a characteristic that can be changed.”

Is Schwartz on to something? While we cannot cause a neurological disorder, can we potentially exacerbate the symptoms of, or even mirror the symptoms of ADD/ADHD in typically functioning students?

It’s a scary thought, actually. 

Schwartz asserts that his focus is on issues of motivation, not the symptoms of ADD/ADHD. Yet he continues, “Maintaining attention is a skill. It has to be trained, and it has to be practiced. If we cater to short attention spans by offering materials that can be managed with short attention spans, the skill will not develop. The “attention muscle” will not be exercised and strengthened. It is as if you complain to a personal trainer about your weak biceps and the trainer tells you not to lift heavy things. Just as we don’t expect people to develop their biceps by lifting two-pound weights, we can’t expect them to develop their attention by reading 140-character tweets, 200-word blog posts, or 300-word newspaper articles.”

While interesting, I do not fully agree. Since the advent of Twitter and those 140-character tweets, I am actually reading more about trends in my field (I found Schwartz’s article, didn’t I?) and I am far more connected to colleagues through what is referred to as a PLN (Personal Learning Network). Further, short blog posts enable me to read more content, more frequently. I can sustain attention, but in my busy life I don’t always want to. 

What do you think? Can we train our “attention muscle”? Do we need to? What are the implications for educating students with disabilities? And how might this affect supplemental religious and faith-based education? 


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Sometimes Inclusion Makes Me Nervous

On Yom Kippur morning an amazing young woman came to our bimah to chant Torah.  She happens to be blind.  And while I eagerly anticipated what I knew would be a stunning aliyah, I found myself really nervous.

closed Torah scroll, sometimes inclusion makes me nervous; Removing the Stumbling Block

Why would I be nervous?  This should have been a moment of immense pride that the inclusive practices we have embraced in our school could carry over into the congregation at large. And it was; yet I found myself hoping that everyone in the congregation would be blown away by this young woman’s abilities, not by what she accomplishes in spite of her blindness. Yes, we are an inclusive congregation, but does this mean that every member of our congregation is themselves fully open and welcoming to all?  

Here was a significant opportunity for the congregation to understand inclusion more fully, yet I was nervous because I didn’t want anyone to think that this young woman is a "poster child” for our inclusive practices.  She wasn’t invited to chant because she is blind, she was chosen because she is an outstanding chanter.  I was nervous that the emotions evoked by her chanting would be disbelief, not awe.  And I was nervous because I wanted every worshiper to know what I know; that this young woman is a gift to our congregation and to the Jewish people. 
hands on an open book of braille; Sometimes Inclusion Makes Me Nervous; Removing the Stumbling Block

So I watched carefully.  I watched people’s reactions when she was walked to the bimah and I saw people notice as she placed her Hebrew Braille on the open scroll.  I observed people's body language as they heard the voice of an angel.  I found myself sighing with relief as I heard low murmurs of positive assent and saw numerous expressions of joy.  And I finally let out the breath I didn't know I was holding when I noticed a grown man weep openly as she finished. 

I think it’s possible that after services her receiving line was longer than the rabbi’s! When I finally found her, I joked that she had become a Yom Kippur rock star.  She chuckled at that idea…and in her typical, unassuming way, shared her relief that she could now go back to studying for secular school!

Yes, we are an inclusive congregation.  Not perfect, but aware and striving to improve. I am so very fortunate to be a part of it.

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