When I taught after school reading as part of a graduate program, I arrived one day to find a ADHD 3rd grade student huddled under my desk, red-eyed from crying.  He clearly didn’t want to talk, so I sat down at a nearby table and organized my lesson.  After a couple of minutes he stuck his head out from under my desk.

    “What’s up?” I asked.

    “I got my card moved from yellow to red,” he replied. “Second red day in a row. Now I have to take a note home to my mom to sign.”

    Red, yellow, green.  A system to let you  know how badly your behavior sucks.  There’s no winning at red, yellow, green. You can make a herculean effort to control your behavior and still spend your life firmly in the yellow. 

    “That’s rough,” I said. “I failed my video lesson. Again.”

    I had to record myself teaching a lesson to a student to send to my advisor, and since this kid was so nice, I asked him to be my guinea pig. It was difficult, and I had to get the words exactly right, and not move around too much.  Any time either of us got twitchy, I’d turn my phone off, and we’d both stand up and move around.  Then we’d sit back down as if neither of us had moved.

     He crawled out from under the desk and sat across from me.

    “Why did you fail?”

    “How would I know? I was wonderful— you were wonderful. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

    And then he said the thing he always said to me whenever I talked about being dyslexic and ADHD which was a lot. I don’t think you should sugarcoat things for kids, I really don’t.

    “What’s wrong with your brain?”  he said.  

     We both laughed. We did this a lot.

    I failed my graduate program.  I don’t know how he did in his.


Yesterday I heard a radio program with Steve Silberman, author of “Neurotribes:  The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity.”  He told a story about being at a conference for people on the Autism spectrum.  All the participants had red, yellow and green badges. Green means you want conversation, red means no conversation or interaction, and yellow, somewhere in between. 

    I thought this was brilliant. It would work for ADHD too.

    I’d like to change red yellow green in elementary school. Give every kindergarten student a set of red, yellow, and green badges. And if you were feeling overwhelmed, or you needed to stop working and move around, or if you just needed to sit under the desk for a while you’d put on the red badge. And later, when you felt like it, you could move your own badge back to yellow, or even green, and your mother wouldn’t have to sign a piece of paper.