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Special Needs

Sally Castle

Children's decreased attention spans, in general, can be attributed to a faster paced media, but when a child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), maintaining classroom control is even more difficult.

What is ADHD? ADHD occurs before age 7, persists for a minimum of six months, and includes symptoms such as lack of attention and listening skills, fidgeting, and talking excessively. There are basically three kinds of ADHD: hyperactive/inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, and hyperactive combined (inattentive/impulsive).

ADHD begins in early childhood, and the prevalence of ADHD varies, but a conservative estimate is 3 percent of school-aged children have ADHD. There's a ratio of 3 to 1 with more boys than girls being diagnosed with ADHD.

The cause of ADHD is presumed as a neurobiological disorder involving the portions of the brain that control inhibition and focusing attention. There's ongoing research involving genetic factors and chemical imbalances in the brain. ADHD affects the part of the brain that controls "executive functions" such as planning, organization, staying focused, controlling emotional impulses, and memory skills.

What does ADHD look like?
It depends on the kind of ADHD. Inattention has behaviors of failing to pay close attention to details, failing to listen, not completing tasks, being disorganized, resisting work, being forgetful, and losing materials. Impulsivity has behaviors of fidgeting, squirming, and interrupting others. The child will also have difficulty sitting still or taking turns. The third kind involves both sets of behaviors.

What are practical ways to minister to children with ADHD? If you look at the deep sense of failure a child with ADHD experiences, you'll understand that your first ministry is to help the child know God's love and acceptance. Help the child celebrate the unique special abilities that ADHD brings, such as an ability to multitask, high energy for leading games or singing, creativity potential, and more.

Also try the following:
• Maintain a schedule or routine.
• Prepare children ahead of time for transitions from one activity to another.
• Emphasize time limits on various activities.
• Give clear, brief directions.
• Arrange your classroom to enhance attention. Place your children with ADHD toward the front of your classroom to minimize distractions for them.
• Allow for movement and change in posture. Kids don't have to always sit in chairs! Give these children manipulatives to keep their hands busy during storytime.
• Read books or articles about ADHD, such as Practical Ideas That Really Work for Students With ADHD by Kathleen McConnell, Gail Ryser, and Judith Higgins. Or check out
• Be aware of the child's ADHD medication. And, if a child who requires medication is unmedicated regularly, alert your children's ministry director so that he or she can discuss this with the parents.
• Be in close, collaborative communication with parents. Ask them what works best with their child. Convey your joy at having their child in your classroom.

[Q]: We have an older child in our ministry who wets the bed. What should I do for this child at our next overnight event?

[A]: The technical term for nighttime bed-wetting for children over 3 is "nocturnal enuresis," and experts say that only 1 to 2 percent of children with this condition have actual physical disorders.

The first thing to do for a child who wets the bed is to discuss this with the child privately to avoid embarrassing the child. Communicate with the child's parents and assure them that everything will be fine.

Don't serve the child any beverages two hours before bedtime, and avoid beverages with caffeine, which is a natural diuretic, or fruit juices, which are bladder irritants.

Remind the child privately to use the restroom before bedtime. And follow a timed wake-up schedule for the child to use the restroom. Handle any accidents as discreetly as possible.

Sally Castle is associate professor of special education at Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio.

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