Sports and Clubs for Children with ADD
It would be natural for parents to believe that sports would be an ideal activity for their children because it would provide them with opportunities to expend excessive energy. However, it's not so simple. It is important to recognize that some children with ADD will never work off their excessive energy. True, there are times when they become tired, but there is also the possibility that their high energy level can be increased by too much stimulation. This overstimulation can lead to more impulsive, distractible and, in some cases, aggressive behavior. There is also the issue of focusing on relevant information. Sports, both individual and group, require a great deal of concentration. The rules of baseball, for example, can be complicated for a child who has a hard time listening and attending, especially on a large field with numerous distractions. In addition to the rules, there is a new vocabulary to contend with. A youngster told one of us during a basketball game, "Just stop talking and shoot!"
Participation in sports must be well thought out and planned. It's a good idea to get children involved in a sport when they are younger, because the rules are simplified and the competition is less severe. Also, during the early years there is much more variability in skill level, so your child will have ample opportunity to learn the basics of a sport. In addition, there is usually far greater opportunity to practice during this age.
Before enrolling in a sport, it is crucial that you speak to the coach. It is helpful to explain the nature of your child's particular attention deficit to the coach, providing examples of the way it might be manifested in this sport. Many parents have done this and have been successful. Initially, some were reluctant because they thought it would predispose the coach to treat their child differently. They soon came to realize that the nature of ADD is such that it would be apparent in a short period of time that their child has a hard time focusing and is often distractible and hyperactive. Rather than have the coach attribute this behavior to other factors, it's good to speak to the coach before any participation begins. You may also want to share some things that you do that are successful in dealing with your child's behavior. It is important to realize that most coaches truly care for children - often volunteering enumerable hours - and are willing to help out when parents provide them with adequate information.
The first experiences with sports should be positive. Start with a sport that is simple to follow and allows for ample practice - for example, soccer before the age of eight. The major components of ADD - distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity - may make it difficult for your child to participate in some sports. Sports are much more than opportunities to "burn off steam." The attention to important rules and regulations may frustrate some children, and increased physical activity may serve to exacerbate the hyperactive behavior.
Sports can provide wonderful experiences for physical activity and social interaction if they are appropriate for the child or adolescent with ADD. Parents need to consider the behaviors their child displays and the demands of a particular sport, and decide if it is a "good fit."
Sports are not the only extracurricular activity that children with ADD can get involved in. There is a wide variety of clubs that can also provide your child with a wealth of experiences. Some clubs are typically associated with schools, such as community-service clubs, science clubs, environment clubs, and math clubs. Usually these clubs are for students who display an interest in these areas, not necessarily a degree of excellence. Other clubs are more community-based, such as 4-H, Cub Scouts, Brownies, Girl Scouts, and Boy Scouts.
The type of club and level of participation cannot be left to chance. When you are deciding upon a particular club, discuss the types of activities the kids typically engage in. Are they of interest to your child? Find out how many children are enrolled in the club. The Cub Scouts may sound like a wonderful notion, but the groups may be too large for your child. Inquire about the rules and regulations of the club. In some clubs the rules are so extensive that they would challenge any child, not to mention a child with ADD. Some clubs spend a lot of time lecturing, while others have greater opportunities for hands-on activities. Once you have narrowed down your choices, have your child attend a meeting on a trial basis in order to see if she enjoys the club. The final deciding factor will be the leader. You should feel comfortable not only with his expertise, but also with the manner in which he treats children. Go with your instincts if you feel good about him. Provide him with adequate information so that he will understand the nature of your child's ADD. Give him a few effective techniques for dealing with your child.
Some clubs are geared specifically for children with special needs. For example, there are Brownie, Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Girl Scout groups that serve students with learning disabilities. The decision to join such an organization should be based on a number of variables, the most prominent being what other disabilities are concomitant with ADD. Generally speaking, most children with ADD can be appropriately accommodated in a club for nondisabled children. For those who cannot, it is fortunate that we have specialized groups.
A word of caution: Sports activities and clubs are appealing to children and adolescents. We've known of some children with ADD who would sign up for every club if given the opportunity. It is up to parents to decide what is an appropriate allocation of time for clubs in their child's schedule. Otherwise, your child may become overloaded and not enjoy the benefits of participating in these activities. When looking at organizations, parents should look for ones that are well structured, relatively small, noncompetitive, and pleasurable.
More on: ADHD
From Keys to Parenting a Child with Attention Deficit Disorders by Barry E. McNamara, Ed.D. & Francine J. McNamara, M.S.W., C.S.W. Copyright © 2000 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by arrangement with Barrons Educational Series, Inc.
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