Back to School – ADHD Style

It’s about to get real again. Life that is. School is right around the corner and that means my “real” full-time job is about to begin; helping my 12 year old ADHD son through school. Some parents might ask, “What do you mean YOUR job? School is his job,” to which I reply, “You’re right!” School is his job, but helping him navigate through the mazes of “expectations” is my full-time job.

I don’t expect most parents to understand but I KNOW a lot of parents with ADHD kids will get it. The work, the stress, the extra energy that comes with sending our active kids out into the non-active world of public education every morning. The emails from teachers about how he/she “had a rough day,” or “was very distracting during class,” and of course, “didn’t turn in assignments.” The nightly battles of getting homework done, books read, bags packed for the next day. And finally, the melting into bed, feeling like a failure because it was all hard. And you didn’t say the right thing, or react the right way, or keep your calm like you swore yesterday you were going to do.

My son will be going into 7th grade and I think I’ve finally figured it out how to do this schooling thing; I am letting go. I’ve been doing this ugly dance with school since he started Kindergarten. The rewarding, the punishing, the bribing, the stressing. I am ready, finally, to let it go (I am sorry if a certain Disney movie song is now stuck in your head). I’m not letting go of my desire to see my son succeed at all, I am letting go of my expectations.

The expectations I have held on to for the past 7 years that he will some day “get it” and it will all click for him. That school will be more like it is for his younger brother; not always fun, but not demoralizing, stressful and hated. Easy enough. I am letting go of thinking my son will eventually care about school and his grades. He doesn’t and to be honest, I don’t know why he would. School is the place he goes every day, that makes him feel the worst about himself.

He has a condition that makes sitting torture. He’s asked to sit for most of the day, no P.E., no fresh air, no chance to MOVE! He has a condition that makes writing as hard for him as unicycling is for most people. He’s asked to sit and write for whole class periods. He has a condition where his brain is absorbing everything around him; sights, sounds, smells, movements and he’s asked to turn all that off and FOCUS. As he’s struggling to do all of these things, he’s being reminded constantly about how he is different. His friends can sit and take notes. His friends can write that paper. His friends don’t need to move their legs and arms in order to feel calmer. Just him. Because he’s different, not as “easy” as the other kids. And he knows his teachers will email me for the slightest infraction. He knows he is considered a failure here, simply for being himself.

My son has an IEP but it is not the saving grace I had once hoped. We constantly have to remind the teachers of his accommodations and there have been times when they outright say they think he doesn’t need them. He’s just lazy. Plus, his IEP does not allow for outside time, exercise, fresh air and natural light. It does not allow for him to express his knowledge artistically, which is his medium. It does not allow for his imagination to wander or roam and explore. It simply gives him an extra 20 minutes during a test to once again, sit, and try and write the answers.

So this year things will be different – we will be different. He will attend school but we will celebrate his successes instead of focusing on the failures. We will review his doodles in the margins of his notebook, doodles that astound me with their intricacy, their detail and discuss them. We will talk about what he is learning so I know he is getting it and worry less about having it on paper. We will brainstorm new, inventive ways for him to demonstrate his knowledge. iPad movie about photosynthesis anyone? We will read more fun books, learn how to cook, explore outside.

He may never be a straight A student. He may never write an A+ paper. But he will know, without a doubt that he is smart. We will celebrate his kindness, his sense of humor and his ability. Because he IS able. And he will know he is loved and accepted.

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