O'Hara student presents seminar to teachers about ADD
By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY - If there was one thing Erin Iseman wanted her teachers at Archbishop O'Hara High School to know, it's that children with attention deficit disorder, or ADD, are not stupid and incapable of learning.
Kevin Kelly/Key photo
Erin Iseman, center, speaks with Sharrel Houx, learning specialist at Pembroke Hill School, and Dr. Tarah Kruger, developmental pediatrican at Children's Mercy Hospital, following their Feb. 4 presentation on attention deficit disorder.
Their brains are just wired differently, she told the O'Hara faculty at an in-service training workshop that Iseman presented for her senior project.
Exhibit A: Iseman herself.
A two-sport varsity athlete in cross country and soccer, Iseman is pulling a 3.3 grade point average, and has already been accepted by five universities. But before she gave her presentation, not every teacher was aware that she had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder when she was 5 years old.
It's not that she doesn't learn or is ignoring her teachers, she told the faculty. She can only concentrate on one thing at a time.
"If you have notes on the board when I walk into a class, I won't hear a thing you say until I've got them all written down," Iseman told the teachers.
Imagine her standing in a circle of four or five friends, each one of them talking about a different subject, she said. In order to join in, Iseman said, she had to learn to focus on only one of her friends at a time.
For her project, Iseman brought two experts in ADD to the school. Tarah Kruger, developmental pediatrician at Children's Mercy Hospital, outlined the medical causes of the disorder, while Sharrel Houx, learning specialist at Pembroke Hill School, spoke of strategies teachers can use to help ADD children.
"It's not a disease, it's a disorder," Kruger told the teachers.
Kruger said that advances in diagnostics are making it easier to eliminate other causes of behavioral problems before a diagnosis of ADD is made. But too many physicians and parents are reaching for medications when other problems are causing ADD symptoms.
"What if it's not ADD?" Kruger asked. "What if it's a child who is being abused? You don't treat that with medication."
Houx suggested strategies such as placing children with ADD in the front rows of desks in classrooms and keeping written and verbal instructions simple and complete.
Erin also brought in two experts on Erin Iseman - her parents Teresa and Dan.
They told of how their house is filled with Post-It notes as reminders to their daughter.
Sometimes, the reminders are for simple things - like remembering to turn off the tap after she concentrates on washing her hands, her mother said.
Teresa Iseman said that Erin has improved remarkably with medications that help produce chemicals that her brain is missing to make critical connections. She urged all parents with an ADD child who can be helped by medication to use them.
"I hear parents say, 'My kid is not going on medications,'" Teresa Iseman said. "Well, I'm sorry. But if it's my child, I'm going to go for it. I'm going to do whatever I can for the success of my child."
Erin told the teachers that even students who know they have ADD are reluctant to approach teachers for the classroom help they need because of the social stigma associated with ADD.
"I only approach teachers on a need basis," she said. "If they do approach you, it's because they need help. Plan on repeating things two or three times."
She also said that ADD students are prone to periods of anxiety and depression.
"It's really hard to work through that," Erin said. "I've been able to endure it and deal with it. Now I don't look at it (ADD) as a bad thing, but as a different thing. I just have a different way of learning."
But coping with ADD is physically taxing and mentally frustrating, she said.
"For me, getting through each day is such an accomplishment, but it's taught me to appreciate a broad cross-section of people," Erin said.
Teresa said that sports are extremely important for ADD children to burn off their pent-up frustrations and energies. Even if a child is not a varsity athlete, "there are plenty of recreational programs out there," she said.
Erin told the teachers that every student is different, whether they have ADD or not. ADD students, she said, may excel in one area as they struggle in another. Erin said she struggles in classes such as literature which require reading comprehension skills.
"But I get A's in chemistry," she said. "Go figure that one."
Erin said she appreciates the help she has received at Archbishop O'Hara.
"As a school, you are here to teach," she said. "You need to take that extra step" for each student.
At the end of her presentation, Archbishop O'Hara Principal Walter Bowman hugged Erin.
"Was that a senior project?" he asked the faculty as they gave her an ovation.