Last year, my typically developing seven-year-old daughter had about a 1-minute homework attention span and over 30 minutes of homework daily. You do the math.
I tried everything — pleading, yelling, coaxing, creating a consistent routine, using positive behavior reinforcements and a visual timer — to no avail. Staying focused without having someone physically present to re-direct her attention to the work was simply above her ability. The year started and ended with a lot of teeth gnashing from both of us. The question of ADD hung in the air.
This year’s homework now lasts 10 minutes or less. Problem solved, more or less. No more anger and frustration. ADD is still a question mark, but our lives are more peaceful.
I also have a son who has a number of medical, developmental and behavioral special needs, much more complex than, but including, difficulty paying attention. Though it’s not a perfect analogy, it’s hard not to wonder if something similar could happen to him if the world was different.
The more time I spend “fixing” my son’s various medical etiologies, behaviors, and inabilities so that he can productively participate in society, the more I wonder: Are his disabilities themselves really a problem, or is it society who has a disability?
If his school cannot provide an adequate and appropriate education for him — is that his disability or theirs?
If our town’s recreation department cannot come up with a single activity that he could do with other typically developing peers — is that his disability or theirs?
If my community cannot see his value and seek out ways to include him in their restaurants, plays, activities and events — is that his disability or theirs?
If it does not occur to local business owners that they could one day hire him — is that his disability or theirs?
If my country cannot see the justice in creating a safe and welcoming society for him (and everyone like him) that gives him the supports he needs until all of these disabilities are overcome — is that his disability or theirs?
I’m not proposing that we lower the bar for him. But what if we could raise it just a little for everybody else?