Attendance Required

Earlier this week I had to sit still in one place and pay attention for a longer period of time than I’ve had to do in ages. Man, I’d forgotten how utterly difficult that is to do! I had to not just sit, but “sit appropriately” on a hard wooden pew, and stay seated for three hours solid, and also pay attention to what a bunch of people were saying. I was part of a panel of jurors that had been randomly selected to go through voir dire for jury selection. Of the 24 people who showed up, 8 were finally selected to be the jury. However, all of the extra panel members (including myself) had to pay attention to all the voir dire questions to have our own answers ready in case any of us were to replace a dropped juror.

Sitting there all that time made me aware of how frequently I had little shoulder or head tics. And how much I wished I had a “fidget widget” to have something to do with my hands. And how much I jiggled my foot, and repositioned myself. And how much I wanted to sit there and rock from side to side, but feel inhibited to do so in public (even though I probably do rock a bit when I’m not aware).

There were some expected bad parts and unexpected good parts to the experience. The bad part was that I had allowed myself an extra half hour to find my way around an unfamiliar part of town, which was direly important as there was the inevitable “not realising that was my highway exit / street turnoff until I’d just passed it” issues (did that about thrice), which was of course complicated by the inevitable road-construction detours and one-way streets and detours through one-way streets, and roads that abruptly angled to go across the river to the wrong city instead of continuing one block more to where I needed to be. All the meanwhile, I was able to see the building where I needed to end up, but not being able to get there! And then after finding the federal court house, I had to find the parking lot allowed for jurors.

One good part of all that circuitiousness was getting to see some really cool bridges that I want to photograph, especially as my peradventures took me through industrial side streets and underpasses that gave me glimpses to sections of bridges and highway infrastructure that the average highway traveller doesn’t get to see. (No, I wasn’t lost — I knew where I was, I was just having trouble getting from here to there.) The other good part was that through the introductory session for the jury panel, we got to see a general video about what it was like to serve on a jury, and the video was closed-captioned! Also, I noted that the jurors that are selected sit on chairs (rather than pews), so if someone used a wheelchair, they could sit with the other jurors.

But like any other kind of process involving governmental agencies, there was the required hurry-up-and-wait time. So I contemplated the whole issue of Paying Attention, including how we AD/HD people manage to pay attention, and how it often doesn’t seem to others that we are. The latter isn’t such a big deal when you’re sitting in a courtroom and aren’t the focus of the court’s attentions, but somehow it ends up becoming a big deal when you’re a student in a classroom.

Firstly, sometimes the way that AD/HD people take in information (and tuck it away in memory) is different from what other people are expecting. We look like we’re not paying attention because we’re doodling or coloring or staring out the window. But rather, what seems to be a “distraction” is rather a means of focusing the attention.

For example, a person’s doodling, which are visual & kinesthetic activities, keep those channels safely “occupied”, thus allowing the auditory attention to be better focused to the lecture.

Another example is listening to music (perhaps set to repeat) while doing reading or studying — the musics serves as a background input to remove auditory distractions; it sort of “spackles in” irregular sound inputs so the visual read/write inputs can be better focused.

Kinesthetic learners are famous for being perceived as “not paying attention” because the kid is bouncing a ball or fidgeting with a toy or rocking or pacing or any number of things. They appear totally distracted and uninvolved with the subject of instruction, when actually the activity level is required for the material to get filed away. It’s just that the activity does not seem to be directed toward or related to the lesson being taught.

Secondly, how one person (the teacher, aide, parent, social worker etc) perceives another person’s ability to “pay attention” depends greatly upon how the first person defines “pay attention”. If for instance, “pay attention” is defined as “make eye contact” or “respond verbally with phrases about the subject of teaching” or “respond with activity responses about the subject of teaching” (and these are all very common indicators of “paying attention”), and the second person does not do these particular things, then the second person is perceived as “not paying attention”.

Actually, the person may indeed be “paying attention”. We have all experienced adults chatting with each other about grown-up stuff, and children playing elsewhere, and the adults think the children are not paying attention at all, but in fact the children are (despite appearing totally absorbed in their play), and then the adults are shocked at some point to find out that the children had indeed heard the discussion and even understood great amounts of it and can recall it much later on.

Today a student waved a hand at me (in jest) during lunch, as I was “staring off into space”. Actually I wasn’t, I was watching what people were doing, both directly in front of me and peripherally, but my watching wasn’t animated in the way people expect. I wasn’t perceived as “paying attention” even though I was. My foci were on listening and watching, and that’s where my energy was concentrated.

Meanwhile, I need to find something to occupy my hands with during long attentive sitting sessions, like meetings. Maybe I’ll try again to learn to knit, or will pull out some old quilt-piecing projects …

6 Comments

  1. Kristin said,

    11 November 2010 at 21:07

    When I was very little and attending Gymboree, my parents briefly considered the possibility that I might have attention deficits because I “did my own thing” and interacted infrequently with the rest of the group. They dismissed this idea because even though it looked like I was off in my own little world, afterwards I’d sing all the songs the other kids were singing. Clearly, I must have been paying enough attention to them in order to learn the songs, so I must not have some form of ADD! I find it fascinating that it may in fact be a symptom of it.

  2. Mike Stanton said,

    30 August 2007 at 21:54

    Regarding attention, I used to ask children to look at me. Now I ask them if they are listening. If they say “yes” I am happy to let them curl up at their desk, doodle, stareout of the window or whatever helps them to listen in class.

  3. qw88nb88 said,

    30 August 2007 at 21:28

    ange, you might try the substitution in stages, where he still vocalises, but does so at very quiet levels, so as not to bother others. After all, it’s the “bothering others” that is the problem, not the fact that he vocalises to stay focused!

  4. 30 August 2007 at 16:06

    Crochet is highly recommmended. I crochet during church, which allows me to keep my eyes on the preacher and my ears listening to him. Without that, I would feel so bored and restless that church (or an academic lecture, or a TV show, or anything where I had to sit down) would be unbearable.

    ADHD+Autism: Ultra Fidget!

  5. ange said,

    30 August 2007 at 15:04

    I really enjoy reading your posts, because they make me think on so may levels (I’m an analyzer and a ponderer!). Anyhow, the one thing that we are really beginning to understand about my older son (with ‘attention issues’) is that he uses his voice to keep him focused or at least ‘present.’ He chatters, hums, sings, makes animal noises, asks questions etc. constantly. We are learning that it keeps him aware. I used to think he wasn’t hearing answers to his questins or other things directed towards him while he is making noise, but the truth is he can recall the information if he was seeminly not paying attention but not recall the information if he was silent and looking right at the person (Or the book or the board). The constant talking is disruptive in school, so maybe we can help him by teaching him to doodle! ;) We are starting the Stickids program at school (long story short, we meet today after 2 years of battling about teaching and helping my son with self-regulation/sensory methods rather just ‘dealing with’ the after ‘behavior’ and treating him as if he is intentionally trying to be disruptive etc. Your post came at the right time. Thank you.

  6. Rachel said,

    30 August 2007 at 12:35

    “But rather, what seems to be a “distraction” is rather a means of focusing the attention.”

    When I was in primary school, I had a teacher who was frequently angry with me for doodling on my schoolbooks. I wish that I’d had the words to explain to her back then that it HELPED me to focus.


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