Sunday, February 1, 2004

Teachers can learn lesson in empathy

Alive & well

Debra Kendrick

When Jordan Collins was 2 years old, his mom, Tracy Collins, knew there was something that set him apart from other children. "We were at a birthday party at McDonald's," she recalls, "and all the other kids came when it was time to see the birthday presents. But Jordan - he was just so overwhelmed with excitement, he was jumping off the tables."

It was no surprise to Jordan's mom when psychologists diagnosed him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, and by the time he was 6, she recognized that medication would help him.

Today, at 9, Jordan is still struggling. He plays baseball, basketball, and football, and is a happy, energetic boy. Even with medication, however, it is difficult for him to concentrate, focus on a single topic, stay put in his seat, or wait his turn.

In his small Bethel elementary school, Jordan has had teachers who were not only understanding, but talented in finding ways to harness his energy in productive ways. He has also had teachers, Collins says, "who believe the way to deal with him is to humiliate him when he makes a mistake, ridicule him so the other kids laugh."

Raising a child with any disability is a challenge, but with disorders like ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities, autism and a host of other invisible disabilities, the biggest hurdle can be simply finding empathy in teachers.

"Some kids with ADHD are aggressive or have trouble controlling tempers," Tracy says. "We're so lucky that Jordan isn't like that."

Collins says she recognized her son in a poem printed in this column years ago, and reads it often to remind herself that others understand how an ADHD child's brain works. Sharon O'Connell Disher, a Cincinnati teacher and poet, wrote the poem for her own son upon his high school graduation. Tracy Collins says, "I wish everyone who has to teach my son - or any child with attention deficit - could read that poem." So here it is:

Cloudy But Clearing

I had it ... I put x ... it has to be here.

I did x ... I wrote x ... but oh how I fear,

I lost it or maybe ... the dog took a bite,

And ate up my homework as I slept overnight.

I cleaned x ... I picked up...I moved it around,

I dusted ... I straightened from ceiling to ground.

I shuffled ... I shifted ... I poked and I pulled,

I uncovered dust bombs and dishes with mold.

Try as I might ... try as I may,

I'm trying to be good and do good today.

But everything's jumbled ... everything's mixed,

Everything's moving ... nothing is fixed.

It's difficult dealing

With a brain such as mine

It takes me to places

Then leaves me behind.

I'll catch up ... I'll get there ... I'll finish ... I will.

If only time slowed down and learned to stand still.

Everyone's laughing and poking such fun,

Not with me but at me, I am the one.

Who's wiggling and tapping and not sitting still,

Slipping and sliding and talking until.

The teacher gets flustered, the teacher gets mad,

The kids start to snicker, if only I had

Hands and a body ...a mind that was still,

Maybe I'd fit in, someday I will.

It's difficult dealing

With a brain such as mine

Cloudy but clearing

Someday I will shine.

It may take a month, or maybe a year,

A decade may pass, until I am clear...

On what are my goals, or how do I do,

The everyday things that are easy for you.

But I'll make it, won't fake it, no matter how long.

I'm not giving up, I've got to belong.

Until I get there, and until I'm done,

With my wiggling, jiggling, marathon run.

I have a request ... a small one you see,

For whatever I am, I'll always be me.

All that I am, and all that I do,

Every reflections that bounce back,

to me sent from you.

Patience and caring, a hug and some smiles,

Can carry me far ... per millions of miles.

It's difficult dealing

With a brain such as mine,

With everyone's help.

I know I'll be fine.

Contact Deborah Kendrick by phone: 673-4474; fax: 321-6430; e-mail:

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