High-school junior David Webber has two big passions: writing and the Washington Redskins. Nearly six feet tall, he's athletic, musical (he plays piano and clarinet), has a wry sense of humor, and loves those rare times when he beats his dad at Scrabble.
David is a high-achieving, ambitious student, a far cry from his time in fifth grade, when his grades and love of school took a nosedive and he had debilitating headaches that kept him home for days. Until that point, his father says, David was master of his universe—a cheerful child, happy to go to school.
An observant teacher noticed David's school behavior and talked with his mom and dad. So began the family's journey of discovering—and managing—David's ADD. A doctor diagnosed David with inattentive-type ADD, as well as executive-function deficits. His mother worked to get him a 504 designation in the sixth grade, which entitled David to services and accommodations in the classroom.
Despite the doctor's suggestion that David start taking medication, the Webbers held off. David was already taking migraine medicine, to prevent the headaches. Ginger and Martin didn't want to pile on the meds if there was a chance their son could handle the academic load without them. He couldn't, so they changed their minds.
Educating teachers and administrators about David's condition proved to be challenging as he moved from middle school to high school. Most of them had never heard of executive-function deficits. Some were unwilling to cooperate with the Webbers' requests for extra help for David. Ginger and Martin visited the school often, and followed up visits with e-mails, to get David the accommodations he needed. They insisted on bringing David along when they met with his guidance counselor or 504 team, anticipating that David could take the lead in turning his life around. And he did.
With the help of teachers, tutors, and ADHD coach Jodi Sleeper-Triplett, David is again excited about schoolwork, earning good grades, and willing to ask teachers for help. His ability to advocate for himself makes David's parents confident that he will have a bright future.
David: Midway through the fifth grade, I lost interest in school. My teachers in earlier grades knew that something was up. I didn't participate in class, and my grades went down. I thought it was because fifth grade was harder than fourth.
Ginger: David had increasing stress at school. His teachers made a point of not reminding students about turning in homework assignments or upcoming tests. They were preparing them for the rigors of middle school. Until the fifth grade, David was smart enough to compensate for his disorganization, which, we discovered, was due to his ADD.
Martin: He started losing things, and he didn't know why. He worked hard on a science project and stored his work on a disc—only to lose it. The teacher gave him an extension, but he never found the disc. Because we didn't know what was behind his behavior, we got angry with him.
Ginger: One doctor explained executive-function deficits this way: It's like an orchestra without a conductor. David had all the instruments—he is smart, works hard, and finishes his homework most of the time—but couldn't put them together. He forgot to hand things in or to ask teachers about something he didn't understand.
We were relieved to learn there was an explanation for David's behavior. The diagnosis confirmed what we had suspected. We knew what he could do, and now we knew what was hard for him to do. It took us until the sixth grade to have him identified as a Section 504 student, so he could receive classroom accommodations.
We started him on medication in the seventh grade, when we realized that he couldn't cope with ADD on his own. Now he takes a low dose of Concerta, and Ritalin, in the afternoon, to get through the homework hours. The medication, combined with tutoring, coaching, and working with his teachers, has helped David reduce his organization difficulties and inattentiveness. He has been able to begin monitoring his own behavior, which is an important step toward achieving independence.
Jodi: Ginger and Martin found me through CHADD, when David was in eighth grade. They wanted him to be ready to meet the challenges of high school and to learn to advocate for himself.
Ginger: Before Jodi, Martin and I worked with David every day. We talked with him about assignments, and figured out what he needed to get done each night. We also hired a tutor to help David with math and science, subjects he was weaker in. But he resented our involvement.
Jodi: David was determined to play freshman football, but his parents worried that practice would eat into his homework time. He needed a plan—and a plan to stick with it. My job was to get David to answer to himself, instead of to his parents. In the meantime, he was accountable to me. We set up contracts that broke down large goals into smaller, more achievable ones. He earned rewards as he met those goals.
David: I knew back in fifth grade that I wasn't dumb. The problem was, I wasn't turning in all my assignments. I kept forgetting them or putting them in the wrong places. My interest in school started to wane because I was working hard but not getting good grades. I knew I could earn As and Bs, if I could turn in my work on time. I had trouble motivating myself. You lose your fire for school after you've had a few bad grades.
Jodi did a good job motivating me. She helped me set incremental, attainable goals—like shooting for a good grade on a test or quiz and getting grade sheets from my teachers, so I could track how I was doing. If I succeeded, I got a reward, like extra TV or computer time. Jodi encouraged me to set goals outside of school, as well: doing volunteer work and finding a job.
This article comes from the Winter 2008 issue of ADDitude. To read this issue of ADDitude in full, buy the back issue.