You can find a lot of great advice on explaining ADHD to a young child — many parents use the analogy from Dr. Ned Hallowell of having a "racecar brain with worn-down brakes."
But as children grow, their thinking becomes more complex. At the same time, academic and social challenges increase, so simple explanations fall short during middle school.
Preteens need an upgrade in information about ADHD, as well as new study and organization strategies. Revisiting the discussion during the middle years also paves the way for helping your child monitor his own behavior and needs, and start taking on the responsibility for managing the condition.
Here are situations three tweens faced, and how their parents helped them revisit the ADHD discussion.
Joe, a seventh-grader, wanted to be “like everyone else” and began skipping his lunchtime dose of medication. When he came to see me, he explained that he did not want to go to the school nurse when his friends went to recess.
He believed that if he stopped taking his medication, he wouldn’t have ADHD anymore. Together with his parents and doctor, we made a plan to try a week without medication. His teachers provided daily ratings during our experiment.
When I saw him again, Joe told me how much harder it was to finish his schoolwork and pay attention.
After talking with his doctor, he agreed to go back on medication, if he could try a new kind that he could take in the morning and that would last all day. Joe felt in charge of his decision to use whatever helped him to do well at school.
Upgrade the Toolbox
Meg’s mom noticed that her daughter was having a tough time adjusting to middle school. She spoke with Meg, who admitted that she found having to change classes overwhelming, and often forgot to write down all of her assignments.
Her mom suggested that they come up with a solution together. They went to a school-supply store and found an assignment pad that had space allotted for each class.
Using the planner, Meg found it easier to remember to pencil in assignments when she had a distinct, clear-cut section for every subject. If she didn’t have homework in a class, she wrote “nothing,” so she’d know that she hadn’t forgotten to write something down.
Meg was relieved to realize that ADD didn’t spell failure — she needed new tools to be successful.
Ask the Organizer: “How can I help my sixth-grader adjust to school routines? She has trouble managing a locker, remembering assignments, and bringing homework home.” See Coach Sandy’s answer
Practice Responses to Comments
Matt had been diagnosed with ADHD as a young child. Given extra time on tests, he did well at school. Nevertheless, in sixth grade, his classmates started teasing him about this accommodation.
“The kids say that people with ADD are stupid,” he confided to me. In elementary school, children overlook differences, but, in middle school, differences become targets for teasing.
Matt’s mom and I talked, and, that evening, she spoke with her son about the ADHD brain and what it’s capable of. She mentioned some famous and gifted people who have ADHD, including the gold-medal swimmer Michael Phelps.
From then on, whenever Matt was teased by uninformed classmates, he was ready to respond that he had an “excellent, fast-moving brain.” Matt went from feeling alone and different to realizing that he was in the company of some very talented people.
It’s important for parents and other adults in our children's lives to see the need for an information update and let the conversation about ADHD evolve over the years. Talking about ADHD once is not enough! Without a deeper understanding when they face new challenges, kids may give up or see this label as an excuse for their difficulty, not as a reason. It may be tough, but I always remind youngsters that they can experiment with several different plans for success — and talk with the grown-ups in their lives.
This article appears in the Summer issue of ADDitude.
SUBSCRIBE TODAY to ensure you don't miss a single issue.
What tools will you give your ADHD child to help her address the challenges ahead? Share them in the Parenting ADHD Children support group on ADDConnect.