Updated: Jul 18, 2020
It’s the first day of Bearfoot outdoor OT camp and I am so excited - I have triple checked my supplies bag, could tell you the day’s plan forwards and backwards, remembered to put sunscreen on AND ONLY HAD A COUPLE CUPS OF COFFEE I SWEAR.
The kids have arrived and we’re about to do an icebreaker name game to kick off the week of meeting new people. I start to explain how it works….
“Ok! When it’s your turn...”
“CAN I GO FIRST?”
“...when it’s your turn you…..”
“THIS PLACE IS SO COOL!! YOU CAN SEE SO MUCH OF THE OCEAN!!”
“....when it’s your turn you say your name….”
"OOOOOO, I'VE PLAYED A GAME LIKE THAT BEFORE!
“....you say your name and what you had for breakfast….”
“I HAD OATMEAL FOR BREAKFAST. AND JUICE. AND AN APPLE. AND FRUIT. IT WAS SO YUMMY AND MY DAD CUT THE FRUIT INTO LITTLE SQUARES JUST THE WAY I LIKE IT AND…...”
Does this remind you of any interactions with kids you know? Granted, I know a good number of grownups that have a hard time with their verbal interruptions (Hellloooooo, Aunt Karen!) but I see this the most with the kids I work with. It can be hard for me to stay patient and it’s part of my job, which means that in peer interactions, the interrupters and blurters and word dribblers are going to have a harder time maintaining friendships. Kids tend to disconnect from other kids that never hand over the mic…..or continuously grab the mic from you when you are talking.
So why do some kids interrupt? Here's the science.
Verbal impulsivity is very common in kids with ADHD. With the science hat on, the thalamus area of the brain controls response inhibition and it works kind of like a gate where it is sending signals to allow or stop behaviors. In ADHD, this thalamus gate is essentially broken. From a 2019 ADDitude article about impulsivity: “When the brain detects a red flag, its limbic-hippocampal connections relay a warning from the thalamus to the frontal cortex.”
Mmm hmm, sounds very nice and fancy, Madam Science Talky Article, but WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!
Red flag = an impulse that *might* not be a great idea to act on. For example, jumping off the top of the play structure, licking the person next to you, knocking someone’s water bottle on the ground, blurting out when someone else is talking, or saying that your teacher looks older than they did last year because of all their wrinkles.
Limbic-hippocampal connections = the limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioral and emotional responses (including motivation). The hippocampus is part of the limbic system (along with the amygdala) and helps regulate learning, memory and spatial navigation.
Relay a warning from the thalamus to frontal cortex = Ok, so there’s a red flag like “not a good idea to jump off the play structure!” and when everything is working, that red flag gets detected and sent to the thalamus that then tells the frontal cortex “nope, don’t do it, not a great idea” and the frontal cortex says, “alrighty, big T, since I trust your judgement so much, I won’t.”
In an ADHD brain, the thalamus just lets that red flag roll right into action, without all the thinking parts along the way.
So. The kid that is interrupting ALL.THE.TIME is not trying to be rude or even doing it on purpose but…..it would still be *really* nice if they could improve, right?
Six games and activities to solve the problem
1. Hot/Cold - Have your kid hide something in your yard, living room, house, etc. Then have your kid give you clues ONLY SAYING “hot” and “cold” or variations on that theme. If they start to say something like, “look under the couch” you can remind them of the rules.
2. Hot/Cold with NO WORDS - Same game, but instead your kid can only give you nonverbal clues for hot and cold. I like thumbs up for hot and thumbs down for cold, but decide on simple signals to communicate before you start the game.
3. Twenty Questions - Have your kid think of something and then ask 20 questions to try and figure out what it is. Your kid can ONLY answer with “yes” or “no.” Again, if they start to say, “well, kind of but not really” remind them (playfully) of the rules!
4. Charades - No sounds! No words! Just acting.
5. One Word Story - This game is best with 3+ people. The game is that you go around in a circle and you get to say ONE word to contribute to a story and you have to wait until your turn to give your next word. This game is hard! You have to pay attention to the story as it grows and builds and then be able to add a word that actually makes sense. I like to put some parameters around what’s fair game and what’s not in terms of content so you don’t have to stop halfway through and talk about bathroom humor. I also use Story Cubes to help spark inspiration!
6. Counting Game - You need at least 3 people for this game. The goal of this game is to count to 10, 15, 20 (or more) without saying a number at the same time as someone else. Anyone can start, and you can go in any order, and shouldn’t go in the same order. If you say a number at the same time as someone else, you start over! LEVEL UP VERSION - do this game with your eyes closed!
What are your favorite games and activities to work on verbal impulsivity? Comment below!