The pen dilemma

One thing I’ve noticed about ADHD is that it can sometimes come with a pen-sensitivity. Ok, bear with me. This is not scientifically proven.

Let me explain.

My daughter went through a phase of writing her nightly spelling words inside a cubby house, with multi-coloured gel pens, changing colours for every word, or sometimes every letter. The process took an inordinate amount of time, but she got it done (when I didn’t lose the plot in the process!). Now, years later, I know that she has strengths with her visual memory, but back then it took a whole lot of patience to get those 5 words written!

Since then, I’ve come to understand how people with ADHD can have heightened sensory challenges. In some cases the symptoms are severe enough to earn their own diagnosis. The challenges can be due to hypersensitivity (too sensitive) or hypo-sensitivity (not sensitive enough). This may be observed as a resistance to wearing itchy or scratchy clothing. It could be an intolerance to excess noise, or perhaps seeking out more light stimulation.

It is understandable that in some individuals each of our senses may be over- or under-active, and therefore come to influence our behaviour. Even if you don’t have ADHD, I’m sure you can recall having experienced the feeling of being unable to concentrate in a noisy or crowded environment. If you stop to think about it, you probably exercise some control over the sensory stimuli in your environment on a daily basis – turning the radio on or off, turning heating or cooling up or down, choosing your clothing, and so on.

When it comes to children, they are often more reactive than proactive.

They may not think to turn a radio down, but instead may seem irritated or unable to focus on the task at hand. Depending on their age and self-awareness, children may not be very good at identifying a sensory challenge, and as parents or teachers, all we can observe is the appearance of coping behaviour – avoidance, complaining, outbursts, tantrums, which may or may not be about the sensory issue directly. Which brings me back to pens.

For some individuals, their writing implement may in fact be contributing to a sensory challenge. Some rough paper, or a scratchy pen could be enough to rattle their focus and make a task seem more trouble than it should be.

If this sounds familiar, perhaps you could enlist your child in some experiments – warm and cool, loud and soft, weighted blankets, brightly lit desks. Or take a trip to your local stationery shop to try all the pens….