A few weeks ago I was at a particularly loud wedding. You
find an open seat right next to one of the orchestra's
speakers and you know the night is bound to end with a
splitting headache if this keeps up.
People want to talk to you. Not outside. Here and now,
alongside the orchestra just as the electric guitarist begins
a solo. They have a lot to say, so you cup your hand to your
ear, scrunch up your face until your eyebrows nearly touch
your chin, tilt your head to the southeast and shout, "What?
You cannot make out a single word. At best you may be able to
discern the topic of discussion, but that would be the case
even if the talker hadn't breathed a word. For the most part
you keep nodding your head and making a spiral gesture with
your fingers, meaning "Let's talk it over later." At the
conclusion of the conversation you say, "We'll talk some
more." If the matter is particularly pressing you can say
something like, "No doubt about it" or, "You're absolutely
Then someone comes over to you and says, "I want to pay you a
compliment." Suddenly there is no orchestra, no electric
guitar, no drums pounding in your ears. Actually the band
plays on, but as far as you're concerned it's miles away. You
hear every single word, even if said in a whisper.
I use this description to relate what a child with Attention
Deficiency and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) experiences.
When we sit in a classroom and listen, various events are
taking place besides the class itself. Chairs move, people
cough, a cement truck passes by outside, an airplane flies
overhead, a fly flits across the room, someone takes out a
pen, someone else is folding a piece of paper, a third person
is talking to a friend, the table behind you is too close.
The one in front, too. Someone passes you a note. One of the
fluorescent lights is flickering slightly. There's a strange-
looking box on the ceiling. What is it? Part of the
electrical system? A hidden camera? The air conditioner is on
too high . . .
The vast majority of people neither see nor hear all these
events taking place. For them, there is a class being taught.
They listen attentively and all else vanishes. The greater
their powers of concentration, the less importance the
surroundings hold for them.
For a child with ADHD, the surroundings are very important.
Not only are they important, but they are also disruptive.
Just like an orchestra playing at full volume. They have
trouble concentrating on one thing and their attention is
scattered, drawn to a myriad of other sights and sounds. To
the observer the child seems to have little desire to learn
and ignores the teacher.
A child with ADHD has to devote much more energy than a
normal child in order to focus on the speaker and to
comprehend what he is saying. "Could it be," you may wonder,
"that this is entirely beyond his ability?"
The answer is also found in the parable at the beginning of
this article. The compliment. Isn't it true that we can hear
one even two feet away from the trombone player? Doesn't it
sound louder than the electric guitar? For suddenly, we
really want to hear. We are able to summon our powers of
hearing despite all of the disturbances.
The same applies to the child with an impaired ability to
listen and focus. The compliment, in this case, is much more
general. I prefer to call it "atmosphere."
The moment the child is surrounded by a "complimentary
atmosphere," a loving place, the image of a caring person who
demands things of him and understands him, he will find
within himself the power to listen, just as we find the power
to listen while under attack by an orchestral onslaught.
This is why a child may be diligent and industrious under one
teacher, but idle and lazy under another. The power of human
By the way, eventually these children develop unusual
abilities in task execution due to a lack of faith in their
ability to sharpen their powers of concentration. To the rest
of us it comes naturally. For them it does not. Some of them
succeed in various, sometimes totally unrelated, fields
because of their acquired ability to concentrate on both the
lesson and the strange-looking box on the ceiling, not to
speak of the cement truck outside. Who among us can do four
things at the same time? Someone "blessed" with a listening
I am describing it in endearing terms in order to demonstrate
to parents and teachers that the child is not to blame, and
to help ensure his ability to function in the future if the
situation is handled properly. For the child it is not easy
to cope and we cannot make light of the obstacles he
When I encounter a child who begins to take a keen interest
in the computer, the printer, the cellphone, the pictures on
the wall, who keeps standing up and sitting down, answers
questions with long replies adding in questions of his own on
other topics that apparently interest him at that moment, who
may pick up objects from my desk and ask questions about
them, who is curious, squirmy and unsettled -- I advise the
parents to look into the possibility that the child has a
listening and attention disorder, which in most cases is
accompanied by hyperactivity.
A few words on hyperactivity: The initial impression a
hyperactive child makes is of an internal impulse that leaves
him unsettled. Sometimes this can manifest itself in infancy.
And this is further proof that there are side benefits to it
The child gets high marks in motor skills. He starts walking
at a young age, he doesn't like to be stuck in a daybed and
climbs out on his own. He climbs all over everything to the
point of endangering himself. He is not the type who sits in
his seat throughout Shabbos meals. In social interactions he
tends to touch others unintentionally, often resulting in
squabbles. These conflicts take place both at home and at
school, at simchas and out in the streets.
Some families are at a loss over how to cope with such a
child, and may heap him with anger and accusations. They are
sure he is acting this way intentionally. He is not.
In some cases the child is impulsive. He answers questions
before they are fully formed, endangers himself through risky
leaps and inadvertently running into the street, bumps into
things while walking and knocks over objects with quick,
Neurologist Prof. Avinoam Shofar, who published a booklet
called "Hayeled im Lakut Hekshev," describes these
three problems -- listening disorder, hyperactivity and
impulsiveness -- as a cake from which every child receives
unequal portions from the Creator.
Some get a large hunk of hyperactivity and just a small slice
of listening disorder, which produces a rambunctious child
with a quick grasp of new concepts. Or the opposite, a calm,
quiet child who has trouble listening and focusing and drifts
in a world of his own most of the time. Still others get all
three: they are highly active, a bit impulsive and have
Hyperactivity and impulsivity disappear as the child matures,
but listening defects remain. Hyperactivity tends to worry
parents more although it is a temporary problem and only
affects the child in terms of technical functioning. The
reason for their concern is simple: although listening
disorder is a more acute problem it, causes no outward
disruption, while hyperactivity is a real nuisance to people
in the child's immediate environment. And the immediate
environment watches out for itself.
On the other hand often expectations of social tolerance
prevent the child from receiving help. Sometimes the child is
the one who suffers the most-- even in cases where society
shows tolerance towards him. He is struggling to overcome
difficulties and nobody does anything to help. Parents should
definitely remain open to the option of focused treatment--
including drug treatment--which does no harm and does not
cause side effects.