F is for Fidgeting

The kid who squirms in his seat during class.

The teen who jiggles her leg under her desk while writing a test.

The young adult whose post-secondary lecture notes are covered in doodles.

The working adult who clicks pens during meetings.

The stay-at-home mom whose feet twitch constantly while she’s reading a picture book to her preschooler.

It’s annoying to other people. Sometimes it’s annoying to us. It makes people think we’re nervous. It makes them think we want to be doing something else.

It’s fidgeting.

Fidgeting is the common word for the little things people do to help ground themselves and maintain their focus. Neurotypical people don’t do it as often as neurodiverse people do, but they do it all the same. Sometimes our stuff is more obvious than the neurotypical stuff, is all.

It’s all a type of stimming.

“Stimming” is short for “sensory stimulation” and it refers to the things we do to positively impact our sensory systems. You’ll usually see it used in conjunction with autism, because autistic people do it the most, but all people who have developmental disorders stim, and that means ADHDers stim, too.

Stimming can calm us if we’re feeling overwhelmed.

It can help us focus if we’re struggling.

It can keep our bodies in motion so that our ears and eyes can do their jobs better.

Sometimes a stim or fidget is disruptive, and that’s when we have to find other ways to get the same sensory input. It makes no sense to replace pacing with tapping your knee if what you need is the gross motor vestibular input. Rocking on an inflated rubber seat cushion would probably work much better in such an instance.

The important thing to remember is that we often don’t do these things consciously, and if we do make the conscious decision it’s because we recognize how we’re feeling and have realized that doing this particular thing makes us feel better. So finding ways to accommodate fidgeting/stimming is vital to our success.

How do you fidget or stim, and in what situations?

B is for Behaviour

ADHD gets treated like it’s a behaviour problem when it isn’t.

That is, the behaviour can be a problem, but that doesn’t mean it should be addressed using behaviour management techniques like behaviour charts, behaviour contracts, and token systems.

See, the things we do as ADHDers are usually related to one of our particular symptoms. This means that we really don’t have a lot of control over how much we talk to our neighbours in class at school, whether or not we’re on time for work, or how well we keep our rooms clean. It’s not that we don’t care about the rules, it’s that we’re impulsive and act before thinking things through completely, we have no real concept of time (it’s fluid and not concrete at all), and we lack the ability to make and follow plans as quickly and easily as non-ADHDers often do.

So when a teacher at school implements one of those behaviour management charts for the whole class, say the kind with the clothespins that move up and down depending on the student’s behaviour, the kids with ADHD (whether or not they’re diagnosed) are going to either focus so hard on meeting those behavioural expectations that they can’t actually take in any of what they’re supposed to be learning, or they’re going to “act out” and lose points every single day but probably will learn more of the material.

Or when a manager or boss writes up an ADHD employee for being late too often and provides a list of what they need to do to correct the issue without discussing possible solutions with the employee, the ADHDer is probably going to struggle to meet these expectations and end up getting fired even though they’re doing their best.

And when a parent tidies up their child’s room when said child is not at home and throws out things that are important to the child (sometimes without realizing it’s important), it erodes the relationship between the child and parent, and it does nothing to help the child begin to look after the cleaning on their own.

What generally will work better in each of these hypothetical situations?

Well, the teacher might discuss the problem with the student and involve them in figuring out ways to be less of a disruption in class. That might mean fidget toys or a seat at the back of the room with permission to pace, or a seat at the front of the room with regular check-ins during class.

The manager might discuss the importance of timeliness with the employee and offer a couple of suggested helps, such as changing start and end times or setting timers to help get out the door.

And the parent might offer to help the child clean up their room right from the start. If the child is older, they might work together to create a map of the room and determine the step they need to follow to get the room cleaned up, and then make a checklist for regular weekly cleaning that the child can follow.

What is a way you’ve been helped by making adjustments to situations instead of struggling to meet expectations? Have you been hindered by the use of behaviour management techniques? In what way?