So, the establishment has come to you and said there is something wrong with your child’s behavior. They say that he or she is not meeting the school’s expectations. Maybe he or she doesn’t pay attention well in school. Perhaps they are more active than other children. Or, maybe they are simply more impulsive than their friends. What next? Where do you turn? How should you react? In this post I am going to give you my advice–and hopefully some insight–about how to handle this situation should you find yourself faced with it.
First, I think you need to understand that your child’s teachers have his or her best interests at heart. They want your child to succeed and learn as much as possible. Most likely, your child’s teachers are coming to you with concerns and observations that are important for you to know. Try not to get angry or defensive, because this will not help. I recommend that you listen and evaluate what you are being told, but keep in mind that the teacher’s opinion is just one of many. As you will see from this discussion, input from as many sources as possible is essential. The teachers are simply reporting a pattern of behavior that they are observing in the classroom. Your child’s behavior is complex with many factors that have influence. Many of life’s twists and turns can make a normal child exhibit ADD behavior, including: stress of family problems, an impending big life change such as a move, a medical issue, or a sleep problem, just to mention a few. You know your child best. Give all these factors consideration when trying to evaluate his or her behavior.
If the school establishment believes that your child has ADD or ADHD, it is useful to back up and recall the definition of ADD and ADHD. All of the following criteria must be met to justify the diagnosis:
– A child who is healthy and of schoolage (less than 7 years) who is found to have a shorter attention span than normal and to be more impulsive than his/her peers.
-These impairments need to be seen across many settings such as school, church, camps, etc.
-These impairments must be chronic, which is defined as at least 6 months in duration.
-These impairments must be affecting the child’s ability to learn in a classroom setting.
Without ALL these features, an ADD or ADHD diagnosis is not justified. So ask yourself, does my child fit all these criteria? If so, you need to proceed. If not, maybe watching and waiting is in order.
Assuming that you and the school feel that the above criteria are met, it is time to proceed to the level of professional help. After all, this is your child’s academic success we are talking about. At minimum, standardized measures of attention and other factors should be completed by both parents and teachers, the two most common of which are Conner’s and Vanderbilt scales. Even better is a full psychological assessment by a psychologist including an actual classroom observation. At the same time, your child should also visit a healthcare provider who knows them and your family. During this visit, your child’s doctor will be trying to find things that are known to interfere with learning such as chronic sleep problems, difficulty with mood, family stress such as alcohol abuse or violence, genetic problems, vision or hearing problems, or any other factors that could be affecting learning.
If your child made it to this level of inquiry and met the initial criteria, it’s time to make some decisions and recruit as much help as possible. ADD is considered a disability under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Schools must provide accommodations to help your child if they have an ADD diagnosis. These can be very helpful. More testing time, quiet test areas without distractions, closer supervision by the teacher, and special academic tutoring are a few examples of accommodations that can be made to help your child succeed in school. Take advantage of them. Also make sure that your child’s school sets up a formal behavior program to address troublesome behaviors that get in the way of his or her learning.
My experience and research confirms that the most successful approach to assist a child with ADD is what is called the multimodal approach; that means the combination of school accommodations, behavior management, counseling for the family, and medication for the child. Many families are very leery of the strong medications that are used for children with ADD. It is a big step, but the results can be amazing. Keep an open mind when this subject is discussed. Your child’s doctor needs to do the same and recognize that not all children with ADD either need or can tolerate these medications. If you have access to an integrative pediatrician, I recommend you get their input as well. If your child has a disturbance of mood, is oppositional, or has major learning disabilities, I think a pediatric neurologist or psychiatrist should be in the mix.
Here is an important thought I want you to consider if you have a child with ADD–don’t despair, the news is not all negative. Remember, children with this pattern of behavior have many advantages over their non ADD friends such as high energy, enthusiasm, and sometimes, incredible creativity. Unfortunately, their learning style does not fit well in a traditional classroom. This fact is something that you and your child are going to need to deal with but can overcome. Remember, slow and steady wins the race, always has and always will. School is likely to be more difficult for your child as well as for your family, but success can and will be yours if you persist. I see this everyday. Families where education is valued, learning is made fun, intellectual stimulation is plentiful, hard work is encouraged, and failure is not an option will have success.
I also want you to remember that there is a person inside that child who is struggling to meet the school’s expectations. Despite their academic difficulties, they are most likely very intelligent! They are going to need a lot of encouragement and praise whenever possible. Not fake praise, but the real thing. Make sure you notice and compliment progress, determination, and creativity. Eventually, your child’s impulsiveness and inattentiveness will wane, but we want to be left with a confident and self-assured adult, not someone who feels like a longtime failure. You are your child’s best advocate. Be relentless!
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