You may have noticed it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted.
That’s because I concentrated all my energy towards a very special little boy who needs a lot of love right now.
We have a blended family. I have 2 children; my husband has 2 children.
We love each other’s children as if they were our own. We wipe tears, we do homework, we send to rooms, we talk; and we watch our children with their day-to-day struggles and wish we could make it better, just like their “real” mom/dad does. We may each be step-parents to each other’s children, but each of us are there for these kids. They are all treated the same and are all loved the same.
The kiddo I’m writing about is my husband’s youngest child. He is a bright, funny, sweet, adventurous little boy, who is in the 2nd grade. From the first time I met him, I knew he wasn’t like most boys. He was loud, he moved around a lot, he was distracted easily. I have a background in early childhood education, and I knew deep down that he had ADHD.
He would say things like “I just can’t slow my brains down”, “I can’t stop moving”, “I just don’t get it”; even after reading the same homework question 5 times in a row.
This was 2 years ago.
About a year and a half later, his current teacher suggested that he may have ADHD. I watched his dad vehemently deny that claim. But deep down, I knew it was true.
The rest of the evening, I listened to his dad tell me stories of his own childhood, how he was just like his son, and that even today, he still has moments where he “just can’t slow his brain down”. So, knowing how his son must feel, he decided to make an appointment.
When he broke the news to him about getting help for the way he feels at school, this kiddo was excited. Because he understood he had no friends because something made him different. He never got the right answer when he was called upon in class because he was just so excited, he blurted out the first thing that came to mind. He couldn’t read his own handwriting because he was in such a rush to complete the assignment.
You would think that there would be a happy ending here, but unfortunately, the story continues.
The struggle to find an effective medicine for his ADHD is proving to be difficult. But it is even more difficult when the very same teacher who championed for an ADHD diagnoses, seems to have dropped the ball. She may not realize she has, but that’s how we feel.
When your ADHD child is in school, you need to have a detailed report from the teacher, regarding the child’s behavior. A report of “Your child just wouldn’t listen today” is very broad. Why weren’t they listening? What activity were you trying to do? What subject was he working on? How much stimuli was around him at that time? What were you requesting of him?
Those are very important factors that must be included in a behavior report.
This kiddo’s doctor can’t adequately prescribe treatment for a child who “just won’t listen”. If that were the case, most children would be diagnosed with ADHD!
I take this kiddo to his med appointments, and communicate with his doctor, because our kiddo’s “real” parents are at their jobs, making money to support their families. They trust that I am going to communicate with them, the school, the doctor while keeping this child’s best interests in mind. (Which I do, who wouldn’t?)
However, when it comes to his teacher, she refuses to communicate. She refuses to listen to any advice our doctor suggests and refuses to correctly complete the behavior reports. This is her classroom, and gosh golly darn it, she’s going to run it her way, and she knows what’s best. In our opinion, she wants a zombie who will fall asleep from being over-medicated. But we don’t want to lose our boy’s personality, and neither does our doctor!
This kiddo needs help. He can’t do this on his own, and the battle is twice as difficult when there is little support from the school.
Remember, you, as well as his/her’s “real” parents, are the only educational advocates your child has. And believe me, the more you all work together for your child, the more it is going to benefit them. If your child’s school chooses to ignore your voice because you’re merely the step-parent, remind them that under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), that you, as the step-parent, DO have the right to advocate for your child’s education. FERPA defines the term “parent” as “a natural parent, a guardian, or an individual acting as a parent in the absence of a parent or a guardian.”
We have reached out to other teachers for advice and have questioned why our child has not been referred to our school’s special education program. We have had several non-productive conferences with the teacher, and one conference with the principal, which we thought was productive, but unfortunately, had no effect. Our next step is to go to the Superintendent of our school district, to get some answers, insight, or assistance.
In the meantime, I sincerely hope you find a treatment plan that works for your child. Here are a few tips that we use at home, that we have discovered along the way:
Those with ADHD need structure.
They need to know what is coming next because they do not transition well. It’s hard to calm down from an exciting activity and expect to do quiet work.
At home, we have a routine, and we stick to it. The kids come in, they sit down and talk while we go through assignment notebooks, we figure out what their homework is, we then give them their papers, and while we fix dinner they complete their homework. We eat, then we play for a bit, and then we wind down and pick up toys, then we get PJs, take a shower, watch a few cartoons, and we go to bed.
They need encouragement and praise.
Many children with ADHD have low self-esteem, due to the lack of friendships, stemming from their inability to understand that their behavior is taken as disrespectful or hurtful to others. In children with ADHD, the area of the brain that controls impulsive behavior is under-developed for their age.
Every time we see something accomplished, we offer genuine praise. When we see a behavior that could be interpreted as disrespectful or hurtful, we let him know, and why. It’s the only way he’s going to come to understand.
They need social guidance.
Children with ADHD often seek to be the center of attention, mostly because they think that the “cooler” they are, the more friends they will have, they don’t understand the difference between positive and negative attention. In their minds, they think “Hey, all eyes are on me, I’m pretty darn cool!”
We try to explain the type of attention we are giving at that certain moment. If he has just smacked his step-brother to get his Hot Wheel and has been pulled aside for discipline; obviously that’s negative attention. We try to focus on what his feelings are during the discipline process. On the flip side, if he has just read a book to his step-brother, on his own, we praise him, and again, try to focus on what his feelings are at that moment. Positive attention feels good; negative attention feels bad.
They need a reward system in place to help jump-start their motivation.
Some days are better than others. But when they see that the goal IS attainable, and progress has been made, chances are, with a little encouragement, they will find the motivation to complete the task and receive that reward.
At home, we have different days that certain tasks get taken care of (Remember that schedule?) If we can complete a certain number of tasks successfully, we earn a treat or a trip to eat, we get to choose our dinner, etc.
They need instructions to be broken down, step by step.
As our kiddo says his “brain doesn’t slow down”. This leads to forgetting the steps to whatever task he was given. Tasks that require 2 or more steps, need to be broken down into smaller chunks. Once they complete a couple of steps, given them a couple more.
At home, we can’t say “Go pick out your clothes for tomorrow, grab some PJs, come in and take a shower, then come watch some TV.” Inevitably, he ends up in his room playing with the toys he picked up earlier. Actuality, it goes something like this: “Go pick out your clothes for tomorrow and grab some PJs.” 99% of the time, he returns for further instruction. And once he does that, we continue with “Get in the shower, and when you’re done, come join us.”
They need to be brought into reality.
When I say this, what I mean is that before you explain instructions, you need to grab their attention. Begin by stating their name. We follow that with “look at my eyes”, because we know at that moment, we have his attention.
When we have something very important to say or discuss, we always start out by saying his name and asking him to look at our eyes. If I see he’s really struggling, I ask him to take a deep breath and let it out. I then tell him what I need to say and have him repeat it. If it’s a discussion, it goes so much smoother if I start the conversation out that way, and continue with, “Tell me what’s going on with ________________.”
They need to keep moving.
Offer a balance ball to sit on. A tall chair where they can swing their legs. Continuous movement can help stop them from fidgeting with erasers, or picking at the paper they are trying to write spelling words on and help them focus on the task at hand.
It sounds counter-intuitive. But it works. If our kiddo is doing something with his legs, he rarely fidgets with his pencil, or picks at the paper, or taps his fingers.
I sincerely hope these tips help you manage your child’s ADHD. And if you are in the same boat as us, I hear you and I understand your frustrations. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel, we just have to travel a little longer before we get there.