ADHD – 6 Points on Being
Your Child’s Advocate
In the Classroom
Meet my oldest son, Davis. He is now 8 years old, and he is one-of-a-kind. I mean that, I don’t know another kid like him, and you know what? That’s a good thing, and it’s also a hard thing. Some of the good things are that he is bright, sweet, tender-hearted, and adventurous. Some of the hard things are that he has trouble making and playing with friends, concentrating in school, and controlling his impulses. I wanted to take a moment to let you get to know him a little, because we have traveled a fairly difficult road with Davis and we have learned a lot about what to do and what not to do to help him. Matt and I aren’t experts, but we have experience. By sharing what we have learned we hope that it in turn, helps you.
When Davis was 15 months old, our pediatrician was concerned that he was developing slower than normal. At that age he made almost no attempt to speak or even communicate except for screams and a small amount of sign language that he learned from Signing Time. He didn’t walk, and almost never crawled. He made no attempt to even stand or reach something he wanted. After I weaned him from nursing he lost weight due to being a picky eater. Basically, he loved to be held and he loved watching T.V. No, T.V. was not the cause of any of his problems, it’s just one of the few things he actually cared about.
So, we began our journey to help him. We did some testing through the state for Downs Syndrome, Autism, hearing impairments, low IQ, Aspergers, as well as any other diagnosable issue a kid that age might face. What we came up with is that he was simply developmentally delayed. There was no specific cause for it. It’s the same as being born with an extroverted or introverted personality. It’s just how he is. The thing about being developmentally delayed is that most kids grow out of it, but can do so at a faster rate with proper therapy. So, therapy is what we did. Mostly it was speaking and understanding language as well as working on fine motor skills. By the time he entered Kindergarten he was cured! It was a miracle! No. By the time he entered kindergarten he had made some substantial improvements, but had a long way to go to catch up to his age group. In that three and a half-year period, from the time he was diagnosed to the time her started kindergarten, he had come from being in the 1% of kids his age to 7% as far as verbal, motor and cognitive skills. Improvement is good, but he still needed a lot of help. Unfortunately, in the great state of Utah, 7% is good enough. All of our rights as far as state funded therapy and help ended.
Well, we weren’t ready to walk away from him and say he was all better. Starting school only opened a whole new door to issues that we had never dealt with like helping him cope in large group situations, being tested on his fine motor skills (as in coloring and writing), and especially controlling outburst and relationships with peers (I know, this is long-winded, but hang on, I’m getting to the advice part). As his parents we were frustrated for him and with him. We were at a loss as to what to do to help him. We went many different avenues, some worked, others didn’t.
Then came Mrs. Beck, and 1st grade. She was the pivotal point in our lives concerning Davis and academics. She was a very seasoned teacher with a heart of gold. She had her frustrations with Davis but it became clear from the start that she was invested as much as Matt and I in his success. We communicated regularly about how to help him, what she was doing to help him, and what we could do. Finally, after a foundation of trust was laid, she suggested we test him for ADHD or other issues that may hinder his ability to overcome his struggles. How could I argue with a woman who sat in a meeting with the school therapist and I and shed tears of frustration and sorrow for my son. It was obvious, she wanted him to succeed as much as we did. So we did the testing. It was eye-opening to say the least. He tested above normal to extremely above normal in every single academic category. The test was administered over several days, in short stints, in a quiet room with no other students and one adult near by. In other words, distraction free. The test was similar to the ones he was given that diagnosed his developmental delay. It covered all the issues that might hinder his success. The diagnosis was clear. He has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Since that time we have continued to work and find ways to help Davis do better and better. But, now that we have a diagnosis that is right for him, we also have tools and knowledge about where to start.
Ok, advice time…
1. Do not rule out any issues your child may have. Believe me, we were sensitive to the judgments others made about Davis and about our parenting. It hurt when people assumed they knew what was “wrong” with him. When he was 3 years old a woman in our church told people she thought he was Autistic. The first day he met his kindergarten teacher she asked if he was ADHD. We were angry, not because there is something wrong with any of those diagnosis’, but because he was judged before anyone even knew him. So many people wanted a pigeon-hole to shove him in. We were not ok with that. Having said that, arguing with the world, and yourself, about what your child DOESN’T have is not doing your child any favors. You might overlook an issue that is real because of pride. We did! I finally looked at my son and thought, “I am failing you. You are still having the same struggles you have had for months or even years. I am angry with you very often. I can see you are frequently frustrated and unhappy.” That’s when Matt and I knew we had to look at every single option out there, because what we were doing wasn’t working. Mrs. Beck helped that process because we trusted her and she genuinely cared about our son, but don’t wait. If your child is having problems that routinely interfere with school, relationships with peers, or family, it’s time to start asking. All of our testing started with a trip to our pediatrician, and he guided the process.
2. Become your child’s teacher’s cheerleader! This is a hard one, especially when you have a teacher you are frustrated with. But it goes back to the old saying “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” Remember the kindergarten teacher who assumed Davis was ADHD after knowing him for 5 minutes? Well, that was a hard year. Even when she was being nice she had a sneer on her face. And you know what, I showered her with compliments. I found the more kind, supportive, and friendly I was to her the more patient she was with Davis and open to the suggestions I made to her. I didn’t make her my enemy, I gave her support and it made it easier for her to return it. I know families who have kids with special needs who go into classrooms and principal offices with their guns blazing and they call it being their child’s advocate. All you do when you attack the people who spend 6 hours a day with you kids is create an “us against them” scenario. The way to succeed in the classroom is to have a collaborative environment that includes parent and teachers. Like it or not, you’re in it together. If you have a critique or request, always start with a compliment. Acknowledge what the teacher is doing to try to help your child. Discuss openly and non-defensivly the issues your child is having. When you are on your teacher’s side, that teacher is more likely to be on your child’s.
3. Volunteer in the classroom. Even if this is something that is out of the ordinary for your teacher, ask anyway. There are many ways to help a teacher out. Grading papers, preparing projects, helping kids who need extra attention. The bottom line is, find a way to be in the classroom helping. Not only does it foster a feeling of gratitude toward you from the teacher, but it gives you a realistic view of how the class is run, what the teacher is like while dealing with the students, and most importantly, what your child is like in class. When you go back time after time you can pinpoint areas that need work and in turn you are more effective when working with your teacher on solutions to issues.
4. Praise your child and use positive reinforcement. We have tried many different systems to reward Davis, but there is one that has stuck year after year. We taped a cute picture to the top of some sticks and then wrote each of Davis’ privileges on them. Then we put all the sticks in a mason jar and placed it in a prominent place in our home. Some of our ideas were “desert”, “play date”, “play iPhone”, “T.V.”, “play video games”, ect; anything that is a fun thing. Then, we used it to issue consequences. If he took too long getting ready for school, he had to pull a stick. If he got a bad report from his teacher that day, he had to pull a stick. Once the stick was out, it could not be put back in. The next day they all went in again and we started over. This plan was marginally effective. One day, I had had enough. I was going to get through to Davis. I showed Davis the jar in the morning and I took all the sticks out. I told him when he wakes up in the morning he has no privileges, he has to earn them. If he gets ready fast, he gets a stick in the jar. If he is kind to everyone, he gets a stick. If he gets a good report from his teacher, he gets a stick. Again, once the stick was in the jar, it could not be taken out. No more pulling sticks. If he didn’t live up to our expectations, he simply didn’t have privileges. I was shocked when a smile spread across his face and he said, “ok, watch this!” He ran off and got completely ready for school without a single nudge from me. He then ran back to the jar and chose which stick he wanted (T.V.) put it in the jar and watched T.V. until it was time for school. EUREKA! Instead of being punished for everything he did wrong he was suddenly getting rewarded for what he was doing right. It completely changed my perspective. Of course all kids need consequences, but try to find ways to praise and reward. It is true for everyone, positive reinforcement is always more effective.
5. Utilize your school’s psychologist/therapist. Most schools have one, and although you usually need a recommendation from the teacher or other adult in the school to set up appointments with them, you don’t have to “qualify”. These professionals are there to help any kid, especially those with social struggles. Davis has visited our school therapist every week since kindergarten, and she is great. Here is a chance to get one more adult helping my child. Another person who is invested in him and his success. It is one more person who is there for him, and the more people that he knows that are on his side, the better.
6. Let your home be a safe place. A soft spot to land. Let your home be the place where your child can be himself. Life for him/her doesn’t have to be difficult all of the time. Being patient and understanding in the home gives you opportunity to let your child know that outside the home certain behavior is not tolerated. Your home should be a safe place to fail. When your child isn’t perfect, you can show them that in your home they always get a second chance. That way your child can put on a happy face for a few hours rather than feeling that they have to be their best 24/7. That way your child knows, no matter what, they are loved.
<3, Sharla & Matt