by Adela Baker, CACP
My third grader had to take a timed multiplication quiz. He had to complete 100 problems, from 0-12 times tables, in under three minutes. People, I didn’t know if I could do this either. So when I heard that my son had to do it, I panicked. My son has ADHD. In case you don’t realize what this means, let me fill you in. It means that he has an intense dislike for any kind of outside pressure. It means he cannot stay on task unless he has a personal desire to do so. It means he has no sense of time whatsoever. Everything to him is either Now or Not Now. It means that he sometimes has social problems because of impulsivity and emotional outbursts. It means that he cannot sit still for three minutes. He is always dancing, bouncing, tapping, but preferably running. It means that he talks or sings all the time. (Seriously, he cannot even eat without talking. Our weekday breakfast conversation is peppered with “Close your mouth please. Chew. Swallow. Take another bite. Lips closed. Chew.” ) So the idea of a timed test filled me with anxiety.
I took a long deep breath. One of those lung-filling yoga ujjayi breaths that sound like a sea of long rolling waves crashing to the shore. ADHD does not mean that my son is bad at math. In fact, he is pretty good with numbers. He is so fast in his head sometimes that he cannot show his work on paper or explain how he got the answer—another ADHD trait. But no need to show work on the timed multiplication quiz. The thing is, when he first came home with this quiz news, he was not fazed by it at all. It was me who got nervous. So, without any further ado, he got out a pencil and a practice test and asked me to time him. On your mark, get set, go!
9 minutes and 37 seconds later, he exclaimed, “Done!” You should have seen his face when I showed him the time. I tried to be cheerful. I talked about practice. I talked about Michael Jordan. I talked about Beethoven. I talked about Bruno Mars. I talked about anyone famous I could think of who had practiced and practiced and practiced. And then we let it go and moved on to spelling.
Over the course of the week, he practiced every day and his times improved, but he only got to 4 minutes, 16 seconds. On the day of the quiz, we biked to school and reviewed his strategy. He parked his bike in the rack and burst into tears. “I’m not going to make it! I never will!” This time I quoted Henry Ford: “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you are right.” I tried to turn his thinking around, but he was in a funk and there was no time to turn it around.
So I biked back home and thought about it. Later that afternoon, he told me he didn’t pass. He told me who in his class had passed. He was happy for his friends. And he had the insight to tell me that he just needed to practice more and that it was no big deal. There was even a fourth grader who still hadn’t passed.
The next week, we made copies of the practice quiz and he did one after school and one after breakfast. We also talked about running. Because of his race-car ADHD brain, and his inability to sit still, my son runs very fast. He cannot jog or pace himself. He runs in a full-on sprint every time, until he collapses in exhaustion. He also happens to be one of the fastest kids on the field. Since he runs so frequently, he is, in essence, constantly training. “How fast are you?” I asked him. “I am as fast as a cheetah,” he replied. “So you are as fast as a cheetah?” “No, I am faster than a cheetah!” he yelled with a grin. And so we got a few sheets of bright yellow paper and, with red and orange markers, made posters: “YOU ARE FASTER THAN A CHEETAH!” And I drew a cheetah. Then he added, “AND A CHEETO!” and drew a Cheeto. We taped one next to his bed, one to his bathroom cabinet, and one on the wall in front of the toilet at his eye level. Everyone got to stare down the cheetah. And the Cheeto.
This became his mantra. All week, he sprinted like a cheetah: at school, at the park, in the neighborhood, at home. He slipped and crashed a few times around the house, but nothing serious. The next Friday, when he parked his bike at school, he had a new mindset. And he blew that quiz out of the water. You should have seen his face when I picked him up.
This week he has to do 100 division problems in three minutes. No worries. Cheetahs (and Cheetos) are good at math, too.
Adela Baker, CACP, is the founder of Mind Coach NOLA, LLC. and a regular blogger for nola family. Click here to read Adela’s blog “ADHD is not a disability. It is a gift!”