It’s painful, almost like pulling off fingernails. Each and e-v-e-r-y night, Sunday through Thursday. Doing homework with three different kids, where two of the three have ADHD and they both need an incredible amount of hands-on homework support. Each age group has very different support needs for this disability. The first real thing I had to overcome was the parent’s emotional obstacle of accepting the word “disability” and one of my kid’s name in the same sentence. Ouch.
Yes, ADHD, according to the U.S. government is classified as a disability. ADHD, in fact, is a federally protected disability under the IDEA law. I.D.E.A. is an acronym that stands for the Individuals With Disabilities Act, circa 1990. This law states that students with a disability are to be provided a “free and appropriate education (FAPE) that is tailored to their individual needs.” Children with disabilities are to be afforded the same opportunities in education as those students that are not diagnosed with a disability.
OK, so I have a kid…or two…with ADHD.
The diagnosis happens after we seek out a neuropsychological eval from an independent source from their elementary school. We, as parents start reading books and listening to webinars trying desperately to learn as much as we can about ADHD. We are getting daily, wonderful emails from ADDitude, an online magazine which helps us out quite a bit. I sign us all up for an 8-week sequence of ADHD classes for parents and their child together. After completing the 8-week course with our 9-year-old, my husband and I immediately begin the second 8-week course with our 13-year-old. We attend another evening course series to learn about incorporating supportive home adaptations which can help a teen with ADHD succeed.
So, 24 weeks later, and the added expense of a babysitter during the teen class, we are prepared and ready! We re-enter the rest of the school year in January with our charts, stickers, rewards, and strategies…we were ready!
Nope, we were not ready
My husband and I remain painfully entrenched in homework each night with both ADHD boys. We usually divide and conquer and we desperately try to implement everything we learned at our classes. But the reality is, my 13 year doesn’t magically stop forgetting to go to his locker for the materials necessary for that night’s homework. He comes home missing essential books, notes, etc. When he does successfully complete his homework he usually forgets to write his name on it. Or, even worse, he does his homework and just forgets to turn it in. UGH! How can you forget to turn it in?!?!? Jesus, take the wheel…
Then, there is the 9-year-old. He has a total meltdown each night when asked to sit still next to one of us and do his homework. He dreads reading and math and anything that involves a book. He falls off his seat and rolls around on the floor crying. Yet, we try to remember all that we learned in all the classes and, with an immense amount of practice, it starts to slowly click into place. Slowly, but surely.
Two Years Later…
Things are sooooo much better. Our 14-year-old is remembering to bring home essential homework items about 3/4 of the time. He hands in nearly all of his homework on time and usually with his name on it! We have started a 504 plan at his public school and we have buy-in from most of his teachers and a wonderful new school counselor.
My 9-year-old, who also has a long list of other learning disabilities, has started at an amazingly supportive school for kids just like him. He still struggles with the homework and we still have weekly meltdowns. But we know ways to deal so much better with these meltdowns and they are becoming fewer and farther between as we all learn to succeed with ADHD.
We learned we have to let our kids chill after school. And by “chill” we mean letting our 9-year-old get some MAJOR energy OUT of his system. And the tween has to retreat, aka, chill and just be allowed to relax after all of the stimulation of the day.
We had to recognize that each one of our kids had truly worked so hard all throughout the school day. Our teen to pay attention, use his planner, and stay plugged in. Our nine year old to simply stay in his seat, not to talk impulsively, and not to wiggle all of the time…the list goes on and on. Yet they are doing it, their very hard and essential work! Much thanks to the help of medications that we started them on last fall, which have made the world of difference in their ability to focus. Their ability to succeed. And us as parents really learning about ADHD helped us to meet them exactly where they are at and not where we think they should be.
For our nine-year-old, we seek out sensory activities after school so he can be outside and sing, shout, climb and do anything that is the outlet he needs because then he can sit at a family dinner. Then he can sit at a desk in his room with one of his parents and do his homework. We now often have time to read to him during bedtime instead of emotionally putting him back together. Our teen, too, just needs time alone, to relax and just stop. High school is really hard and social and stimulating.
Finally, considering medications:
What I need to say here is that, first, we put off medicating our kids for years… for OUR own sake, not theirs. What we have discovered is that we put meds off for US, not our kids’ actual needs. WE didn’t want them medicated. We were so scared of that medication frontier. But then we listened to interviews of adult ADHD kids whose parents had waited to medicate and they just really wished that their parents would have tried meds earlier in the journey. These kids came to appreciate and understand that their brain chemistry commonly needed the stimulants to balance out their needs. The meds help to level the field somewhat so that these neuro-atypical kids could chemically be given the chance they needed to succeed.
So, we jumped. We decided to medicate and it was a game changer. It wasn’t that their grades went up or that they became behaviorally able to get through school. Those things happened too. But, it was that our kids finally looked themselves in the mirror and felt SUCCESSFUL. Able to focus. Able to plan and participate fully with the use of their executive functions. Their self-concept swelled with confidence and THEY noticed the difference. They gained confidence and realized that ADHD was a neuro-atypical disability that needed this extra boost neurochemically.
The important point here though is that we didn’t start prescribed ADHD medications before doing a couple of very important tasks:
- immersing ourselves in the research
- taking the classes at our local children’s hospital to learn, alongside them, about their disability
- having multiple appointments with our pediatrician to learn about all of the medication options that are available
- researching the medication options for each child according to their individual age and needs
- having individualized, heart to heart talks with each child about how they feel during school
We tell each one of our kids over and over again that a letter grade does not define them. We will stand beside them and behind them as long as their effort is there. This is the lasting message we hope each one of them holds onto. This is the lesson that hard work imparts. That a sense of self is not judged by anyone other than themselves. Each day, we try the best we can with the gifts we have and tomorrow always starts a new and fresh day.