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Attention Deficit Disorder and Rewards

Time after time, I hear people talking about rewarding children. Many of them say, ďThat isnít how it is in the real world. Nobody is going to reward them for doing whatís expected of them. How can they learn how to do things by themselves if they are always getting these little rewards?Ē

Is it true that people donít get rewards as adults? Think about that the next time that you cash a paycheck! Thatís a reward. Few people would work forty hours, or more, per week without getting a monetary reward. Adults get rewarded by getting raises and better jobs. We get cars, jewelry, clothing, and vacations for our hard work. These are tangible; we can see and touch them.

Some rewards are intangible. You donít have anything to hold in your hand, but you value something that you get for doing an activity. Writing for BellaOnline is a volunteer activity. Editors donít get paid money. That doesnít mean that we donít get rewards. Editors get training. We have an audience for our writing. We get to help our readers. There are a lot of intangible rewards for doing this job.

What rewards do kids get for going to school and studying? They gain knowledge. Students who study are recognized as good students. Their grades are better than students who donít study. Arenít these rewards? For some students they are; for others, not so much. Some children are not able to look into the future to see how doing well in school will help them. They donít feel rewarded by that wonderful grade card!

The strange thing about rewards is that they depend on who is getting them. If a person thinks something is a reward, then it is for them. When they donít feel that it is a reward, it doesnít matter what you think, it is not a reward. So, if I love Jimi Hendrix, and you are crazy about U2, you wonít feel itís a reinforcing to get a Jimi Hendrix prize package for a reward. I would be thrilled, even if you werenít!

What does all of this have to do with Attention Deficit Disorder? Recent brain research done at the University of Nottingham shows that rewards can help children with ADD attend to a task. The brain has a Default Mode Network (DMN). This network is the natural state for the mind. It controls daydreaming and creativity. Wool-gathering occurs when the brain is in the DMN state. When a person sees something that they need to attend to, the brain switches to an attending mode. Children with ADD have a faulty switching mechanism. Their brains tend to stay in the wandering mode. The brain wonít switch off the DMN. What will help the brain be able to switch? Stimulant medications and rewards seem to do the trick, according to these researchers in the MIDAS (Motivation Inhibition and Development in ADHD Study) group.

The message here is: donít underestimate the power of rewards to help children regulate their attention state. Research has shown when a child with ADD/ADHD knows that a strong reward is waiting for him; the reward (or medication) helps to switch off the region of the brain that controls mind wandering and that allows the child to focus attention.

Based on observations during my years of working with students who have ADD/ADHD, I believe that children who start out with immediate tangible rewards can be taught to shift to delayed tangible rewards. After that step, they can be consciously transitioned to seeing some intangibles as rewarding. Eventually, most of the students can learn to mentally reward themselves. This needs to be directly taught.

As in all things with students, some students transition to intangibles using a faster time frame than others. It takes time, effort, and planning to make the switch from tangibles to intangibles. Berating a child, who is not at the intangible stage, for not focusing attention is like yelling at a blind child for not being able to detect color. Both problems are brain based. They are actual biologically based difficulties. The faulty switch for turning off the DMN is as real as blindness. It is not willful inattention.

Research Resource:
Retrieved May 30, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com¨/releases/2011/01/110105094117.htm

This kit will help a girl, ages 9-12 learn to reward herself to help achieve her goals.

You Can Do It!: A Kit to Help You Do Just about Anything [With Stickers for Rewarding Small Successes and 6 Smart Cards to Keep You Going & Feeling St (American Girl Library)

Boys from about the ages 10-14 enjoy these Percy Jackson books. This inexpensive boxed set would make a great reward.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Paperback Boxed Set (Books 1-3)

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