As I walk into Target, I immediately see the gigantic “Back To School” signs and can practically smell all of the #2 pencils. I see kids with their parents going over their school supply list, making sure they got the correct number of notebooks and folders and the right brand of markers. The kids I see look happy and excited about doing their back to school shopping and do you know what? So do their parents, quite understandably. Without realizing it, I am staring at them and smiling too. I can’t help it. Seeing the bright smiling faces of today’s youth excited about going to school makes me happy, but my smile quickly fades when I am brought back to reality by my seven year old letting out a sigh and asking me, “Are we done yet?”
My child has ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and for us, the words “Back to School” creates quite the opposite effect. Instead of excitedly counting down the days until the first day of school and being happy about starting another school year, my child has been crying every day as she sees the X’s on our calendar getting closer and closer to August 18, begging me not to make her go back to school.
My child is very smart, sometimes too smart and I am not just saying that because I am her mother. My child was talking in full sentences before she could walk and she hasn’t stopped since. She says some of the most profound things I have ever heard and she has an incredible way of thinking outside the box. She is one of the most imaginative and creative people I know. Although her teachers have recognized these characteristics about her, they are not going to be measured, graded, or accounted for in school. She isn’t going to get A’s in Creativity or Thoughtfulness, that’s for sure.
On every single report card last year, her teacher commented that my child needed to know her math facts better because she took too long to answer them. Despite spending extra time doing math drills with my child and getting her a math tutor, guess what. At the end of the year, she still wasn’t able to answer the teacher’s precious math facts as quickly as she would have liked. It’s not that she didn’t know the answer. It’s not that she didn’t know how to solve the problem. It’s that kids with ADHD have a difficult time focusing. They were born with these magnificent minds that allow them to think about several things at once. With time, hard work, and patience, they will learn how to manage and organize their thoughts to give their teachers (and as an adult later, their bosses) what they want. I wish I could tell you exactly what type of management that would be, but ADHD affects everyone differently and so the management will be different for everyone. (For example, my husband has ADHD and what worked for him as a child doesn’t work for our daughter.)
What breaks my heart is knowing that my daughter tries her absolute best in school, but because of the way her mind works, she may be regarded by her teachers and classmates as unintelligent, lazy, and even disrespectful. If she is treated like she is stupid, a troublemaker, or a bad kid, she will start believing it and then ultimately begin behaving like it on purpose, because it’s the easier route. I would never describe my child as any of those words, but that is because I understand her mind and behavior. If you’re lucky, your child may get a teacher that actually understands how ADHD affects children and will be willing to make accommodations for your child. If that is the case, consider yourself blessed. For the rest of you, your mamma bear claws will be coming out and you will be fighting every day to get that teacher to understand your amazing child the way you do. You will and always will be your child’s biggest advocate. Never be afraid to speak up and ask for the help your child needs and deserves.
My child goes to a small private school and will be entering the second grade this year. These second graders have been at this school together for two whole years now and have already formed their own little cliques. Over the summer, my daughter wasn’t invited to at least two of her classmates’ birthday parties. My child has one good friend at her school. One. That is no surprise to me though, because my daughter doesn’t have the best social skills. She gets angry and frustrated easily, she has a difficult time waiting her turn, and she is a bit immature for her age. Luckily for her, she is hilarious and a lot of fun to be around when she is in a good mood, so kids tend to gravitate to her at first. However, if my daughter keeps interrupting them to shout something or gets mad at them when they don’t want to play what she wants, these kids leave. They don’t know she has ADHD or what ADHD is. They don’t understand why she acts the way she does and at this age, they are simply too busy being a kid to try to understand. Fortunately, my child’s best friend “gets” her and I absolutely love her for that. For the kids that do stick around, they learn that my daughter is an amazing friend who they can always count on to put a smile on their face and is not afraid at all to stick up for them. They learn that she is definitely BFF worthy.
With a new school-year comes homework, something the parents of children with ADHD dread just as much as the children themselves. By the time my child gets home from school, she is drained. She has just spent seven hours at school trying her best to get her brain to focus in order to please her teachers and fit in with her classmates and now the teacher is requiring her to do math worksheets, language arts worksheets, spelling words, 20 minutes of reading, and review those damn math facts. The material is boring. She’s bored. I’m bored. She’s crying. I feel like crying. In fact, I feel like screaming and ripping my hair out, but instead, I decide to take my own 3-C’s advice to remain calm, cool, and collected. Homework can take us hours to complete and without the right tools, it can be complete torture for us. What I have learned to do to keep my child interested, engaged, and stimulated during homework (and to make it go a hell of a lot faster) is to turn it into a fun game for her. You name it, I’ve probably used it. From moving around Shopkins as math counters to me using a ridiculous Maleficent voice (her request) when quizzing her on her spelling words, if it makes her happy and gets her to do her homework without tears, I’m down. As time goes by though, what has previously worked sometimes doesn’t cut it anymore, so I have to think of new ways to make homework fun. Yes, its time consuming, exhausting, and never-ending, but do you know what? So is parenting. This is what my husband I signed up for seven years ago when we decided to become parents. Our baby being born with ADHD was the hand we were dealt and now we’re just trying our best to play our cards right.
After school is over for the day, I usually see other moms rushing their kids off to soccer practice or a Scouts meeting. My daughter has actually been begging me to let her join the Girl Scouts, but she is already in Choir, a drawing class, and will be joining Drama this year and I am afraid it will be too much for her to handle. Instead of taking my daughter to a Girl Scouts meeting, I am busy taking her to child psychiatrists to discuss her ADHD medication and child psychologists for behavioral therapy sessions. I am busy having her test out sitting on wiggly seats, using rubber bands on chairs, and holding fidget toys to see what is going to help her stay in her seat and focus best. I am busy sending emails to her teacher, asking how she did at school that day. I am busy role playing with her in pretend social situations to help her become a better friend. I am busy reading her books about other children with ADHD, hoping she will relate to the characters and learn from them. I am busy researching all I can about ADHD. I am busy worrying about her. I am busy loving her. In other words, I am busy being her mother.
And that, my dear friends, is what going back to school is like for parents of children with ADHD.