Dear Developmental Doc:
I cannot believe I am so frustrated with my son this early into the school year. J is almost eleven and because he has ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder), he continues to struggle with basics like making sure his homework goes from his desk to his backpack, backpack to his desk at home and then once completed, back in the backpack to be presented to the teacher’s in-box. What is so hard about that? We need guidance NOW!
Much thanks, Mark in Tarzana, CA.
The beginning of the school year often reanimates behaviors that we, as parents, might have hoped would have disappeared over the summer. Executive functioning, which is located in the frontal lobe region of the brain, is responsible for our ability to organize information and execute directions. ADHD is a neurological disorder and the general consensus is that the symptoms that you describe arise due to the inability of the brain to process neurotransmitters that are responsible for supporting attention, reducing distractibility, irritability and impulsivity.
My first question is how aware is your son’s teacher and the administration regarding his condition? Is he on some type of medication (traditional, homeopathic, etc.)? Have you asked for an Individual Education Plan (IEP) where your son could be assessed and perhaps have some of his academic program modified to best support his strengths as well as his challenges? When teachers are made aware of a student’s difficulties, typically there is compassion, as well as renewed direction as the teacher begins to understand the best approach to reach a student, who could be quite bright, but may need specific supports to best channel particular learning styles.
There are a variety of tips that can make a world of difference in assuring that a child knows what is going on in class and consequently feels good about himself and his abilities.
1. Kids with ADHD need more parental supervision than their typically developing peers. Have the teacher e-mail you homework assignments nightly. That way, you can monitor whether or not there is homework and help assure that it will, at the very least, make its way into the backpack for the trip back to school.
2. Ask the teacher for a second set of textbooks to keep at home, so that if one is left at school there are back up materials to make sure that your child is caught up with his class.
3. Because ADHD is a neurological disorder there are often underlying sensory processing disturbances that contribute to a child’s inability to attend and regulate. You may want to consider occupational therapy that take into consideration how a body organizes when confronted with environmental stressors. These can include having your son chew gum (if school policy allows) and/or drink from a water bottle with a sports top. The oral actions (chewing and sucking) can provide proprioceptive input for the body that helps support attention and calming.
4. Many children with ADHD get visually overwhelmed and subsequently distracted. Suggest to your teacher that your child sit close to the board and have the staff create a visual schedule which clearly delineates what is going on in the class at any given moment.
5. If these simple strategies are not providing your child with substantive results, you may want to consider a more coordinated program of support which can include occupational therapy, education support and vision therapy. Your pediatrician or local developmental specialist should be able to provide you with a listing of referrals.
As you gear up for the challenges of this upcoming school year, keep in mind that your son is not intentionally avoiding his responsibilities. By providing the right kind of support for your child, he not only will achieve success in the classroom, but also feel better about himself. Which in the end is the real success.