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7 June 2019 FOCUSED by Alyson Gerber, Scholastic Press, March 2019, 304p., ISBN: 978-1-338-18597-3


“Many more boys get diagnosed with ADHD than girls. But more girls may have the condition than we think -- and their struggle to receive a diagnosis can affect their whole lives.”

-- BBC, “Why is ADHD Missed in Girls” (6/4/19)


Seventh grader Clea Adams is struggling both academically and socially at school. Despite her desire to complete classroom assignments and tests and get her homework done in a timely manner, and despite her good scores on intelligence tests, Clea has been making a real mess of her young academic career. She’s particularly miserable about it because she’s a talented and enthusiastic chess player, but gets temporarily barred from the team for poor grades. She becomes estranged from her best friend after accidentally blurting out private information about his family while trying to defend him. Now, she and her parents are receiving the results of a school evaluation she has undergone.


“‘I know you’re eager for an answer, and you will have one very soon. But what I want to do right now is share what Ms. Curtis and I both observed during your evaluation, as well as some of the challenges that your teachers shared with Ms. Curtis. Then we can talk about the root of those challenges. Does that sound okay to you?’

‘Um, I guess,’ I say, because I don’t want to be rude. But I really wish she’d get it over with and tell us already.

Dr. Gold looks at her notes. ‘We noticed that you struggle to follow directions. You have a hard time listening, and paying close attention to details is difficult. You’re easily distracted during class and at home, and forgetful when it comes to things you’re expected to do every day. It’s hard for you to stay focused. These are all symptoms of inattention,’ she says.

‘At the same time, you also struggle with impulsivity. It can be challenging for you to wait your turn and take your time, which can cause you to fall and run into things. You have a tendency to blurt out what you’re thinking, interrupt conversations, and talk over people.’

‘I still don’t get it,’ I say. ‘Nothing you said is that big of a deal.’

‘I was just thinking that,’ Dad agrees. ‘All those things happen to me.’

‘The difference is Clea experiences these symptoms persistently. They’re enduring and constant for her. And while each one on its own might not seem like a big deal, when you put them together and they’re happening at the same time, they can get in the way and create a lot of problems. They already have.

‘Oh. Okay,’ Dad says. ‘ I can see that.’

Mom nods. ‘Me too.’

‘The official diagnosis is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: predominantly inattentive presentation.’

‘I don’t get what having ADHD means,’ I say. Like, what’s going to happen to me now?’


Most of us have heard of ADHD, and possibly know someone who has been diagnosed with it, but Clea’s story was still a revelation to me. I knew students who behaved like Clea when I was an adolescent and, later, when I volunteered in a middle school classroom. I’m sorry for my negative feelings toward young people who were likely grappling with this condition. These students often engage in disruptive classroom behaviors that can annoy and alienate others. But I now realize that those with ADHD are not being disruptive on purpose.


As we learn in FOCUSED, ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence or work ethic. Clea’s story, told in the first person, shows us how mightily she struggles to avoid distractions and to be successful. It’s painful for her to be told to try harder. She’s been trying and trying and trying!


For any kid, middle school, with its complications of social pressure, bullying, and first relationship issues, can be a minefield to navigate. For a student with a disability like Clea’s, it can be a hundred times worse.


As a result of her diagnosis, Clea is offered organizational help, weekly check-ins, extra time to complete work in class, and she’s prescribed medication. It’s not a quick and easy fix. As we see in FOCUSED, there are plenty of variables at play. It will take the full support of parents and educators for Clea to develop and fine-tune the behaviors and routines that will make her a more successful student--routines that most of us have never needed to learn because we don’t struggle with Clea’s condition.


Over the years, I’ve written about many outstanding books that portray the disability experience in a manner that educates and creates empathy among young readers. Many of these have gone on to be recognized by the ALA’s Schneider Family Award, which honors “an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.” Undoubtedly, FOCUSED will be under consideration by the current members of that award committee.


Richie Partington, MLIS

Richie's Picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com





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