September 13-20 is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Week. When I mentioned this to the mother of a child with attention problems, she laughed. “I wish I only had to think about ADHD one week a year,” she said. “For us, it’s a year-round concern. I guess this refers to when it’s uppermost in our minds because of starting school.” I agreed. More than any other time, September is when parents of kids with ADHD establish the accommodations necessary for our children to survive and thrive in school. In truth, however, our efforts continue all year long. A parent of a child with ADHD can help the youngster transition comfortably and successfully into a new school year by asking these four questions:
•What new people or routines will my child encounter this year?
•How can I prepare my child to do well in each setting?
•How can I help the adults in each setting deal effectively with my child?
•What can I do at home to support my child’s educational goals?
In answering these questions, here are some suggestions.
Ten ways to help make school great this year for your ADHD child:
Meet the teacher(s) as early in the school year as possible. Establish yourself as the child’s advocate who has your youngster’s interests at heart and is willing to cooperate for the best academic experience. Mention previous classroom accommodations and techniques that worked. Even if your youngster has an individualized education plan or 504 plan, don’t hesitate to mention the highlights. This helps teachers use effective strategies from day one, even if they haven’t had time yet to sort through documentation.
Exchange email addresses and phone numbers with the teacher, and establish preferred contact times. Whether your contact is daily, weekly, or monthly, it is best to check in regularly, even when things seem to be going well. This allows you to smooth out bumps on the path before they become roadblocks.
Give your child something to boost his confidence such as a popular new item of clothing, encouraging notes from home in his lunch, or a worry stone. For older kids, a motivational bookmark or a special photo may prompt a smile.
Know your school’s processes for getting help for children who are having difficulties in school. Does the teacher or school do academic screening? When the screening process identifies children as having difficulties, who provides the services? Once interventions are in place, how long before the child’s progress is re-checked? What methods are used for monitoring progress?
If your child takes medication for ADHD, notify the teacher and the nurse. Make sure that your child knows when and where to go for his daily dosage. When starting meds or changing doses, be sure to let the school know. Have a clear conversation with your youngster about if and how to explain to others why he takes meds.
If you have after-school childcare, make sure your child knows how to get there and is familiar with the surroundings. Visit the childcare facility with your youngster before his first official day there and let the staff know of ADHD issues and any medications.
Think of ways to form bonds with classmates — parties, trips to a playground, or walking to the bus stop. Make your home inviting to other children. When your youngster socializes at home, you can monitor any ADHD problems and help when needed.
Minimize distractions at home so that you can focus on your child’s adjustment to school. Be pro-active about scheduling physicals, buying school supplies, and getting prescriptions refilled. For the first few weeks of school, cut down on non-academic disruptions like visiting relatives, shopping, major cleaning projects, remodeling, and visits to the vet.
Establish a school-year routine. Make a list of no more than five things that your child must do each day after school, such as reviewing with you what’s in his backpack, doing his homework, and returning his completed homework to the backpack. When kids are prepared, they become confident and free to focus their attention on doing their best.
Make sure that your child gets enough sleep. If she takes stimulant medication, you may need to adjust the timing of the dosage so that she can relax at night. Other helpful bedtime routines may include story time, relaxing music, a foot rub, and special blankets, pillows, or stuffed animals.
If you suspect your child has ADHD, or other learning difficulties, make sure to address it immediately. See #4 above and be proactive.
I’m not making any promises. But if you attend to these ten issues by the end of ADHD Awareness Week, you may enjoy a day, even a season, when ADHD is not front and center on your mind.
Jeanne Gehret is the parent of a child with ADHD and the author of three picture books that comprise The Coping Series, including Eagle Eyes, Houdini’s Gift, and The Don’t-give-up Kid