Updated: Sep 1
I was diagnosed with the inattentive form of ADHD at age 45 after having obtained my Master's Degree in Psychology. It was through the process of supporting one of my children with their ADHD that I began to recognize my own symptoms, but it took me several years to finally get diagnosed. The tipping point was reading through my elementary school report cards. A common refrain from my mother was something to the effect of "You're such a bright girl, I don't know why you don't get better grades." But when I read on my third-grade report card, "Dana is too stubborn to ask for help," I felt totally misunderstood. I wasn't stubborn! I was ashamed. I knew my little mind had been wandering and when it came time to do the work, I had no idea what to do and was afraid to ask for help. The way people responded to my ADHD symptoms made me feel like I had a long list of character flaws, when in reality I was working twice as hard and still falling short.
As I watch my child struggle with aspects of school, and as I support ADHD clients, who carry a great deal of shame from their school experiences, I've realized that increased education and teamwork between the school and family can make a big difference. We all know the common stereotype of a boy with Hyperactive ADHD whose abundant energy and lack of impulse control causes disruption in the classroom, but often girls with ADHD are overlooked because, while they may appear absent-minded, they seem to be getting along okay. It's important for both of these children to have the proper support in the classroom. Instead of being shamed or treated as though their symptoms are character flaws, they need to be met with understanding. If a teacher can recognize the challenges these kids are experiencing and support them with their challenges, these kids may bypass a lot of shame that comes from being neurodivergent.
Kids with ADHD are entitled to receive accommodations in the classroom and it's important to understand what kind of options are available and would benefit your child. If you need guidance in this area, I am happy to schedule a consultation session. The formal meetings with school staff that address these kinds of accommodations are often not conducted at the beginning of the school year and your child may begin to experience struggles before the meeting can take place. As a parent, you can set the stage for the teacher and influence the lens through which they perceive your child's behavior. I've written a sample letter to teachers about ADHD. Parents and caregivers can modify this letter to initiate a conversation with your child's teacher and help them understand your child's specific needs. I hope this helps set your child up for a successful year of school!
Note: Proper nouns and pronouns that will need to be adjusted are italicized. Suggestions to add child-specific information are bold and italicized.
While I would love for you to get to know My Child organically as he/she begins the school year, I recognize that it would be helpful for all involved if I jumpstart the process by sharing some insight into his/her nature. My Child has ADHD you may specify whether it is inattentive, hyperactive, or combined. He/She is currently taking medications to help manage and we have found an equilibrium Be honest about medication use and the child's stability. Even still, I know My Child will require more support than the average student. It is my hope that we can get on the same page and work together to help My Child find strategies to succeed in school.
It is quite possible that you have experience working with ADHD students and are already aware of the nature of the neurological divergence, but, in the event that it could be beneficial, I want to do my part to clarify some background information without going overboard.
ADHD is a neurological condition affecting the part of the brain that manages a person’s executive functions: emotion regulation, attention, processing of information, organization, sequencing, motivation, delayed gratification, impulse control, planning, memory, etc. These skills are necessary to thrive in an academic environment. It is reasonable to expect a student with ADHD will be 3-years behind other students their age in executive functions. Additionally, the part of the brain that filters out superfluous stimuli is less active for people with ADHD. So what appears to be a lack of focus to the outsider, in reality, is actually the result of being pulled in various directions by things that are unimportant to the task-at-hand, and often go unnoticed by others. Here are some common ways students with ADHD will struggle in the classroom:
Trouble starting and/or completing tasks - especially if the tasks are hard or have multiple steps.
Difficulty sitting still for long periods of time
Difficulty prioritizing tasks.
Attention to detail.
Sustaining focus when working independently, especially if the student finds the task uninteresting or challenging.
Forgetting what they just heard or read.
Trouble following directions or a sequence of steps.
Difficulty adjusting when rules or routines change.
Trouble switching focus from one task to another.
Getting overly emotional and fixated on things.
Trouble organizing their thoughts, especially when put on the spot to answer questions.
Trouble keeping track of their belongings and keeping their area clean.
Trouble managing their time.
Difficulty remembering assignments and adhering to planners and other efforts to create organization.
Difficulty tuning out distractions.
Talking out of turn or blurting out random statements in class.
Taking action without thinking of the consequences.
Each of these is a challenge for My Child. His/Her struggle with these issues is not a matter of self-control or trying harder. His/Her brain genuinely operates differently, which makes it harder for him/her to adhere to many classroom norms. What helps when he/she struggles with one of these areas is curiosity and connection, not increased discipline or shaming tactics. If you see he/she is struggling, some good questions to ask are: Is there something distracting him/her? Is he/she feeling overwhelmed? Is he/she anxious about something? Does he/she need help or support?
My Child's struggle with organization and processing often leads him/her to become easily overwhelmed and discouraged. He/she may require extra support and would benefit from having assignments broken down into more manageable chunks and in writing. As much as possible, it is helpful for him/her to have a partner in class who is engaged in the material that can extend some positive peer pressure and can provide support if he/she is struggling. Add anything that you have learned about your child and what supports they could benefit from in the classroom. It’s important for you to know that relational anxiety exacerbates ADHD symptoms. So, if My Child knows that you care about him/her and are on his/her side, he/she will be more engaged in class and will be eager to push through his challenges. If he/she is feeling lost, anxious about something, or feels that you don’t like him/her, he/she is more likely to act out. At times it may seem like he/she doesn’t care or that he/she has a bad attitude, but these are often defense mechanisms. He/she experiences a lot of inner shame and is extremely hard on himself/herself. This posturing is covering a lot of bad feelings. It is my hope that understanding that these behavioral challenges are a sign that My Child is struggling and in need of greater support and connection, may increase your patience with him/her. It will never be the wrong thing to lean in with kindness and curiosity. School is really hard for someone with ADHD.
My Child is list some of the strengths your child has and write a couple of sentences about how they can contribute at school. I am grateful for your work as My Child's teacher and thank you for taking the time to get to know him/her. During the school year, I will focus on supporting My Child in advocating for his/her needs as they arise and will continue to provide support at home. Please feel free to reach out if you notice anything that may benefit from a combined effort at home and school or if you have any questions or concerns.