Most of us have experience with children in our Scouting programmes who have one form or another of Attention Deficit Disorder or another challenge that impedes learning ability or leads to inattentiveness and disruptive behaviour. While there are a few Leaders who know how to work with people who have these sorts of problems effectively, they are few and far between. Although nearly every one of us will have occasion to work with children or other adults who are affected by ADD or a learning disability, these topics are either covered inadequately or not at all in our Scout Leader training courses.
Scouting provides a learning environment and leadership-followership training programme that is very attractive to families who have children with ADD. We offer a learning method different to that provided in most schools, where each child is encouraged and helped in developing to the maximum of his or her potential. Believe me when I tell you that there are a lot of therapists out there who know who we are and how Scouting works and who may well recommend that parents place a child in a Scouting or Guiding programme. If you are having difficulties working with a particular child, you may be able to work with the therapist to learn how to set the child up for success.
Many of these very real developmental disorders are "invisible" to others, beyond the behaviour or learning performance difficulties that result from them. Since we cannot see the disorder, there is a temptation to dismiss it as intentional disruptiveness or an unwillingness to learn the skill or task we assign to the Scout.
Of course, on the other side of the coin, some children who have such disorders may, on occasion, "use" their "problem" to get out of doing things they prefer not to do. It can be hard to discern the difference between the actual situation and how it may or may not be used...
That said, the large majority of children with these disorders are above-average in intelligence, and are VERY frustrated by the difficulty in "getting around" the ADD or learning disability to get to where they want to be, which is more often than not where you want them to be in your Scouting programme. Part of the disruptiveness is contributed by the disorder itself, and part is added to the situation by the child's expression of his or her frustration with having to work so hard to do something that seems to come so easily to everyone else.
Every child with ADD or a related disorder is an individual, with a developmental situation that belongs to him or her alone. The uniqueness of the individual manifestation of one of these disorders means that you need to work closely with the parents, and - if possible - with the child's school and any health care professionals involved in his or her care.
A Scout in your Group with ADD can be a real challenge, but need not become the focus of all that is negative around him or her. You need to remember the importance of eye-to-eye contact between yourself and the child, the positive effect that remembering to notice and compliment the successes - large or small - and remaining calm and non-threatening when corrective action is necessary.
Medication is a fact of life for some children with ADD and related disorders. The more acute the need for this medication, the more critical it is that you administer it on time and exactly as directed. While some of the medications may be over-used by some school/health care provider combinations to do a bit of "chemical warehousing", this does not happen all that often today. Most children are quite appreciative of the fact that a bit of medicine, taken on a regular basis, helps them be a part of a "normal" child's social group.
While we could give you pages of advice, we are not going to do that. Instead, please use the links below to learn from and get in touch with people who deal with ADD, ADHD, and other developmental difficulties on a day to day basis. If they don't have the information that can help you, they can certainly point you in the right direction! Talk to them. Learn from them. Use the information to help strengthen your Scout Group. Once you've done all that, come back and teach other Scout Leaders what you've learned. We all need to know more!
The World Wide Web Site for the National Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA) is maintained by Steve Ledingham. He is an ADDA Board Member, and Chairperson for Adult Self-Help Groups. However, the best news from our perspective is not only that he is a Scout Leader, but that he is also the author of a book titled The Scoutmaster's Guide to ADD! You can contact Steve for more information about his book through the ADDA's page set.
Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder