Talking About ADHD

A Strong Foundation

How other adults in your child’s life can help her manage the greatest behavior issues and challenges of ADHD.

Adults often make sharp turns from the routine, and it's hard for ADHD kids to deal with
Adults often make sharp turns from the routine, and it's hard for ADHD kids to deal with

Your attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) child’s teacher is checking her backpack at the end of the day to make sure he has the books he needs to do his homework. A progress chart has improved her behavior with friends, and a set routine has made all the difference at home. With these accommodations in place, your child is thriving.

Then a “down time” comes along. The class begins a special project, school closes for vacation, or your family visits a relative. The change in routine causes your child to revert to previous problematic behavior. At this point, family members and teachers seem to “forget” that this child has a disorder, or they may believe that the modifications previously in place have “cured” your son “for good.”

The situation may right itself as soon as your family returns to its regular schedule. But it underscores the fact that it’s vital for the adults in your child’s life to understand that ADHD causes a real difference so that they’ll be equally supportive during rough patches or months of smooth sailing. Their reinforcement can lead to amazing things down the road.

Helping Teachers Provide Consistent Structure for ADHD Students

A teacher who understands that your child may require more time and attention can be the key to a successful school year.

[What Every Teacher Should Know About ADHD: A Poster for School]

I recently saw a patient whose individualized education program (IEP) called for her teacher to sign a daily planner to ensure that she wrote down homework assignments. When she forgot to have the planner signed and forgot to turn in a few homework assignments, the teacher got angry with her. She astutely commented to me, “I think she forgot I have ADHD.”

Sometimes, when modifications are in place, things run so smoothly that everyone forgets that modifications are the reason why things are going well. Teachers may have an easier time remembering accommodations if they begin with a clear understanding as to why each one is necessary.

Communicating regularly with teachers is essential. Be proactive in scheduling meetings to go over what is working and remember to use a positive approach. Let the teacher know that you appreciate the special help and that you support her goals. For example, say, “We appreciate your feedback. If our child does well, we will provide an incentive at home to keep him motivated.”

[Convincing the Teacher]

Getting the Whole Family to Enforce ADHD-Friendly Routines

It’s still common for grandparents not to “believe in” ADHD. I recall one couple who insisted that they wouldn’t need medication for vacation with their grandchild, and then called for an overnight delivery of it the next day. I’ve seen many reluctant relatives become the best advocates for a niece or grandchild. Give your relatives a copy of Driven to Distraction by Ned Hallowell, M.D., or Dr. Larry Silver’s Advice to Parents on ADHD.

Still, continue to remind the relatives whom you will be visiting that you may need to have some “time outs.” Explain strategies that work at home. For example, “We have found that watching a video at home allows Suzie more wiggle room than going to the theater.” More is not better — too many museums, too many meals out, too busy an agenda — can all lead to meltdowns. Ask host relatives not to schedule high-energy activities before bedtime.

The Most Important Routine to Follow Through With?

Most of all, remind yourself and others that we all have strengths. All children are better off if their parents, siblings, relatives, and teachers demonstrate confidence in their abilities. And for a child with ADHD, this is essential to a good start in life.

Everyone around your child is sending him messages. As long as these are based on an understanding of ADHD, they’ll tell your child to find joy in his accomplishments and grow with a strong sense of self.

[ADHD 101 for Teachers: Free Resource Card]