If your child has ADHD you might be thinking of ways to start off 2014 on the right foot. Advocating for your child this year might be all it takes to change a stressful environment into one in which you and your child both feel supported.
I know this first hand. When my daughter was 6, my husband and I learned from her teacher that she was having trouble focusing, struggling to complete her work and losing self-esteem in the process. At the same time, my 4-year-old son was being disciplined at school for not sitting still during morning meetings and for touching everything in sight. My children were formally diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) that same year.
According to a 2011 CDC statistics health survey, 8.4 percent or 5.2 million children ages 3 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States and these figures are rising. For parents who have a child with ADHD, there is a broad spectrum of challenges, since every child is unique in the way ADHD expresses itself. Most children who have been diagnosed with ADHD are intelligent and creative but you would never know this. Often they are relegated to the lowest learning levels. Many children with ADHD learn actively but struggle with material that doesn't interest them because the part of the brain in charge of executive function only turns on when they are excited about something. People without ADHD can convince the switch in their prefrontal cortex (the anterior part of their frontal lobes) to turn on even when the material is slightly boring to them. But not our children, and not most children with ADHD. The switch won't work unless they have something in front of them that stimulates them.
My husband and I read about diets, supplements, active learning techniques, and medication, but we found little information on our children's rights and how to advocate for them once they had stepped off the school bus in the morning. It was only through trial and error, talking with our children's teachers, counselors and para-professionals on a regular basis, that we were able to develop individual plans for each of our children, which unlocked the door to their success.
Remember, you and your child have a say regarding how your child is educated. There are several things you can do. Write a letter about your children to their teachers each year conveying who they are and what they need to be successful. Since teachers are juggling the needs of many students, tell them over and over again how your children learn. Because schools are obligated to evaluate children with physical, emotional and cognitive challenges, demand that your child be evaluated as soon as possible to gain access to resources. Even better, a request that comes directly from a teacher can work magic. Once a child has been tested, an Individualized Education Program (IEP) will be created that obliges teachers by law to follow it. View an ADHD diagnosis as a positive step toward finding the help your child needs. Schedule meetings with teachers in their classrooms to examine your child's work area, including blackboards and desk space. If your school is trying to place your child into a lower learning tier, advocate instead for more resources (extra time on tests, one-on-one work with para-professionals) so your child can be successful at the learning level he or she merits. Finally, teach your children how to advocate for themselves when you aren't there by talking with them about how they learn best.
It is important to note that all parents have the right and the obligation to advocate for their children. It doesn't matter who you are, what neighborhood you live in, how much money you make, or how many degrees or titles you have, your child deserves a fair chance and you and your child have the right to a fair, balanced education with sensitive, caring teachers.
I'll admit this is hard work. I often feel as though I have two full-time jobs. But "unmotivated" is no longer a word associated with my daughter by her teachers, and my son, an all A student once perceived as a troublemaker, recently advocated successfully at school for extra "wiggle time" to recharge his brain. Both children's teachers value and appreciate them and the exhaustion I sense now is one of those happy exhaustions, as though I just ran a marathon and my body can now rest until the next workout.
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