Mothers are fierce in their love and protection of their offspring. No one can advocate for a child better than his/her mom. So it was today when I went to my daughter's school to advocate for her.
ADHD is a diagnosis that can't be "cured" with a pill. It is complex, it is frustrating, it is misunderstood, it is annoying, and it is ever changing. Students with ADHD learn differently than the ‘typical’ student. Schools want to provide the least restrictive educational environment for students, so most students with ADHD are mainstreamed into regular classes and are provided with learning accommodations to help them succeed.
Here's the problem: many ADHD students get "lost" in class. Typically they don't finish assignments they begin, and then when they do eventually finish assignments (way past the due dates), they don't remember to pass them in for credit. Students with ADHD are easily distracted in class. They also have difficulty memorizing (such as times tables), doing multiple functions/steps (think Algebra equations or learning a foreign language), and being organized (like keeping folders and notebooks up to date). ADHD students have a difficult time focussing on tasks. And all too often, adults blame ADHD students for being lazy, forgetful, and unmotivated.
Because of this, it shouldn't be a surprise to know that ADHD students often have low self-esteem and lack self-confidence, because they "fail" quite often. But just because a student has ADHD doesn’t mean that student is not bright, smart, intelligent, and gifted! In fact, they are – but most public schools are not equipped to help ADHD learners learn in different ways. These students can’t memorize and then take multiple-choice exams and ace them. Instead, they can manipulate information with hands-on activities and present one heck of a video or artistic creation! Learning can happen in so many ways, but schools tend to teach to the ‘typical’ student who is NOT diagnosed with ADHD.
Today at school I sat next to my teenager around a conference table of educators and administrators who presented their findings on the state of my daughter’s learning this academic year and their educational plan for her for next year.
My daughter sat up straight in her chair and had a cold stare and a blank face. I knew immediately that she felt uncomfortable and attacked and was protecting herself by withdrawing. I listened politely to the education experts, interjected my thoughts where appropriate, and waited for my daughter to say something.
She didn’t say a word.
I put my hand on her back to let her know by touch that I’m here, I’m on your side, you are not alone, and I love you no matter what. And I let the adults around the table know that my daughter has amazing talents and a bright future ahead, and when she figures out what she wants to do and where she wants to go, I have no doubt that she’ll get there.
Did I push the school to put into place the accommodations that she needs to do well? Yes, I did, but I am aware that the accommodations alone will not be fruitful unless her teachers engage her, support her, inspire her, and show her respect and understanding. Teachers are not to blame; they need to be better trained to teach ADHD students AND they need to be allowed by the district in which they teach to have the freedom to create assignments that inspire and allow flexibility for all learners to master information and succeed. This is not the case today in our education system.
When my daughter arrived home today from school, she was greeted at the door by our dog Betty who jumped on her as she always does, thrilled to have her home again. And I, too, greeted my daughter with a smile, asking her about her day. And into the house returned my daughter, the one whom I know and adore, the one I fight for.