In a world where ADHD is everywhere, many of us have accepted a short attention span, distractibility, and restlessness as the new norm. We may worry about younger generations, but the worry is mostly misplaced. Young people are carving the world in their own image. Twenty years from now, I suspect few will be talking about ADHD as a pressing concern. For the time being, however, concern abounds. What should we do about all these kids who require medication to get through the school day? What should we think about kids who can’t tolerate boredom; who need constant stimulation?
The first thing to realize is that attention doesn’t entirely live in your brain. That’s the biggest myth about ADHD. Attention lives in the spaces between us. It is far more social than most of us realize. This is precisely why highly inattentive kids can pay attention in some contexts, but not others. If we want to command the attention and focus of children, we have to strategically manage the social space between us and them. This means managing the tone and tempo of interaction. On an intuitive level, you already know this. Think about the last time you had to listen to a speaker that was tone-deaf, who seemed oblivious to the audience. In my professional development programs for teacher, I emphasize the management of tone and tempo because it is the critical fist step in working with 21st century kids. You have to know how to alter the volume, pitch, and pace of your speech, so you effectively connect with kids. It also helps to be aware of non-verbal communication like body language and physical proximity. These critical layers of communication set the table for learning – and they are the tools of master teachers!. You can be a master of content, but until you address core communication signals, attention will drift.