By Rabbi Shmuel Reich, AAPC
My eleventh-grade shiur that Tuesday began with promise. Almost everyone had come on time, was following shiur, and was even engaging and asking questions. It was the first day like this in close to a week and I was beginning to feel unusually comfortable and confident. Then, this quick little dream dissipated in an instant — our one latecomer arrived. Eli kicked the door open loudly, announcing his entrance, and then gently floated a paper airplane across the length of the whole room. Soft chuckling ensued, followed by the usual hullabaloo that tends to escort Eli.
“Look who shows up!”
“Hey, Eli! You owe me five bucks!”
“Eli! Did you get me a soda?”
“Eli! Your Jets lost again!”
If I hadn’t known what I’m about to tell you, the following might have gone through my head. (I would obviously not have said it, but may have thought it loudly.)
“Eli! Seriously — what is your problem? Do you not see a productive classroom in session? What are you thinking? Do you lack basic social skills? Go to the menahel’s office, and don’t come back into this room without a note signed by your parents, grandparents, orthodontist, way-too-talkative aunt, older brother, and pet Chihuahua explaining this obnoxious behavior!”
As caring human beings and conscientious mechanchim, we know better than to speak this way, but are at times likely to feel it out of frustration. In this case, however — as well as many just like it — I understood exactly what was going on, which helped me completely (well, mostly) keep my composure. It didn’t make it any less disruptive to class, but it did make it less disruptive to me, which made a world of a difference.
Eli has ADHD. Hyperactivity and erratic attention are the well-known symptoms of ADHD, but there are many more. In a presentation I give, entitled “The Lesser Known Symptoms of ADHD,” I list over fifteen. One of these symptoms is impulsiveness — Acting before thinking. Another is difficulty managing time. Yet another is immaturity. Dr. Russell Barkley, a clinical psychologist and one of the world’s leading experts on ADHD, says that those with ADHD — although often equal to or superior to their peers in athletic ability and intellect—can lag behind their peers in maturity by as much as 30%. This means that a 17-year-old may predictably and frequently act like a 12-year-old.
Armed with this knowledge, let’s revisit my story. Eli came late to class, as he often does, because he struggles with time management. He always thinks he will be on time, but seldom is. He kicked the door open loudly without thinking because his brain is wired to do exactly that: Act without thinking. Although most teens leave their paper planes behind in elementary school, this 16-year-old has the neurological maturity of an 11-year-old. Mystery solved.
Although having the disruptive behavior explained makes it less puzzling, it is obviously still disruptive. Unfortunately, the solution is not as simple as the explanation. How to handle this disruption will need to vary from rebbi to rebbi, classroom to classroom, and talmid to talmid. Two factors, however, will always be necessary — patience and understanding. I hope this illustration can inspire an appreciation of how important they are. Sadly, so many members of our community — and the world at large — who have ADHD have suffered life-changing trauma as a result of their negative experiences in school. Our empathy can literally change lives for the better.
In the long term, self-education and collaborating with parents, therapists, and/or coaches can be helpful in preventing incidents like this from turning into a highly frustrating norm. An ADHD coach or therapist can work with a talmid and/or rebbi to design systems to help individuals like Eli develop more self-awareness, deal with their ADHD-related challenges, and harness their energy and strengths for success. In the meantime, though, let’s remember that our patience itself can make a big difference.
Rabbi Shmuel Reich, AAPC, received his semichah from Harav Betzalel Rudinsky, studied life coaching and CBT at the Refuah Institute, and subsequently pursued a specialty in ADHD coaching at Impact Academy culminating with a certificate in ADHD coaching. He then further advanced his training through Carol Gignoux’s specialized ADHD coach training program. He currently coaches parents of children with ADHD, teens, yeshiva and college students, and adults. He can be reached for workshops or individual coaching at email@example.com or by phone at 646-262-8257.