A new school year can be a bittersweet experience for an ADHD family. Across the world, in the nights leading up to the first day back at school, anxious parents toss and turn, as they ponder the possibilities for their children in the new school year. Will the new teacher(s) be kind? Will they understand my child's "different" way of interacting with the world? Will they engage my child and make it easier for him / her to learn? Will my child have friends this year? At the end of the first day back, parents wait anxiously in the carpark, or hurry home from work to ask the million dollar question: "How was it?"
I know from experience, that parents play a vital role in the education of children with ADHD. In doing so, they wear several hats – organiser, tutor, mentor, counsellor, confidante, advocate, social co-ordinator, taxi-driver, financer, and friend. They are constantly on the lookout for ways of helping their child to navigate school. Here are some tips from me that might help you settle your child into school this year.
Don’t assume that your child’s new teachers will have received any information from last year's teachers. Give the new teachers some information about your child. This is best done in writing – no more than a page. Remember to include information about your child’s strengths, not just the challenges he or she may experience. The information can then be kept on file and referred to as needed.
Most children have a Magic Teacher - Someone in the school who "gets them". (I have a young client who knocks on the principal's door and sits down with him for a chat when he has a bad day). Suggest to the new teachers that they chat with the Magic Teacher for some suggestions in dealing with your child.
Ask the teachers to communicate through your child’s diary, or via email. That way you can alert teachers to challenges on the home front that could affect your child’s performance at school from time to time. Similarly, the teachers can pass on information about problems encountered, or goals achieved by your child.
Remember to acknowledge the teachers' efforts. Just like parents, teachers need support as well.
Encourage your child to invite a friend over early in the school term. If your child has difficulty socialising, keep the activities short and structured – a visit to the movies, for example, followed by a short play at home – and only invite one friend at a time. It is much easier for children with attentional difficulties to focus on one conversation / social interaction, than to negotiate the over-stimulation of group dynamics.
Homework causes so much conflict in ADHD homes. Medication is usually wearing off, and sometimes children are experiencing a "rebound" effect - restlessnes and irritability at this time. (If so, speak to your doctor about adjusting the dosage.) If your child is in primary school, negotiate with the teachers about a maximum homework period each day. For example, some teachers allow children to stop after 30 mins of work, regardless of how much they have completed. If your child is in high school, have him or her plot their assignments on a wall planner, so that they are always aware of what's due when. Include all activities on the planner so that students can clearly see how much ACTUAL time they have available to complete each assignment. Do not allow your children to play computer games or watch TV before starting homework. Their brains will struggle to leave such high stimulus activities and focus on the unstimulating tasks for school.
If you find yourself in a constant headbutt with your child, get some help. Find a coach, tutor, or psychologist who knows about ADHD. And remember children with ADHD may take longer to get there, but they do get there.
As Thomas Edison said:
"I've not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work"