Things Will Work Out, Mom
Too many challenges? Not enough solutions? Hold on and hang in there. Hard work today pays off tomorrow for kids with attention deficit.
My husband and three of our six children had already been diagnosed with attention deficit when another son’s first-grade teacher chased me down after school one day. She pointed out that Hunter would probably be held back. He couldn’t write legibly or remember his alphabet, much less read. I told her to give it a little more time. We were positive he had attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). We were waiting to see the doctor to confirm it and start him on medication very soon.
One Problem Solved, More to Go
Hunter was evaluated as having ADHD. He started medication, and he was reading at a sixth-grade level by the end of first grade. He still had many academic challenges, though. His ideas were creative, but he couldn’t put them on paper. His writing was illegible. He wrote halfway across the page with his left hand, and switched to his right hand to finish off a line. He worked all math problems in his head and wrote them out on the math sheet, left to right. At one point, his third-grade teacher told me he did his best writing when he wrote the same thing on two sheets of paper with both hands. The thought tied my brain in knots.
Time went on and his writing still needed help. Any time an assignment required writing, we’d both fall apart from anxiety and frustration. It took hours, and, in the end, he might produce a sentence or two. He was nowhere near writing a paragraph. An essay was out of the question.
The Work Will Pay Off
It sounds pretty dismal, doesn’t it? It certainly felt that way. One thing I learned, though, and wish I could instill in every parent with a child who struggles, is: The effort that you put in today will pay off tomorrow. That has been my experience, regardless of which disorder or learning disability we were working with.
With Hunter’s writing, progress was slow. So slow that I doubted the decisions I’d made and the remediations we tried. Rather than letting discouragement get the better of us, we decided to push ahead. We kept trying, kept working. Eventually, it translated into a sentence or two here and there without complaint. We encouraged him to write for his own pleasure, about the things that were important to him. For one assignment at school, he had to create a newspaper. He enjoyed it so much that he started Aro News. Each subject had only one sentence written under it, but the words and ideas were his. He worked on it with little frustration, and passed copies to each family member with pride. The victories were small at first. We looked for them, we found them, and we celebrated them.
It paid off for Hunter. I remember when he stopped me in the middle of the school hallway and demanded that I listen to something he’d just written. I was in awe. As he read me his words, all the remediation we tried over the years, all the frustrations, all the prompting, and tears came back to me.
Whether it’s dealing with learning disabilities or ADHD, anxiety or a mood disorder, we parents wonder and worry if we are making the right choices for our kids.
Now that I’m farther down the parenting road, I realize that I took the right steps. That first-grader who couldn’t remember his alphabet, the second-grader whose writing was illegible, and the third-grader who used both hands at the same time to write classwork was able to write an essay called “Fire” as a high-schooler. Here is an excerpt:
“Fire, an element of nature, can be seen on two spectrums. When controlled, fire is a provider of warmth, light, and comfort. To a weary traveler, fire can signify a warm meal and a comfy bed. Although fire is beautiful, it is also deadly. When uncontrolled, fire becomes a source of fear and despair. He becomes the almighty devourer, consuming and destroying all things within his path. All fire does is hate and kill. He feigns the sense of comfort and the feeling of a warm embrace. He pretends to care, and, once close enough, he strikes out his hand, savoring the sound of every scream, the smell of every burn. He feeds off the pain and suffering that his fiery hatred causes all humanity.”
What Made the Difference?
These days he doesn’t just write sentences well, he writes stories well. What made the difference? Persistent work over time, as well as some unconventional tactics to help him untangle what was in his head.
We started by doing homework on a computer instead of writing out assignments by hand. The more he used the computer, the faster he typed. He still had a hard time organizing thoughts into sentences, but his older siblings unwittingly came to the rescue. They used PowerPoint in their own work, and the software was a huge hit in our house. One day, out of desperation, I told my son to use PowerPoint to write a paragraph he was assigned for homework. He wrote a sentence per slide and did six slides.
It worked. It gave him the structure he needed to get his thoughts out of his head. Pretty soon he wrote several sentences per slide, then a paragraph per slide. The plan was: Write the sentence(s) in PowerPoint, and copy and paste it into a regular document. As time went by, he started writing by hand more and left PowerPoint behind. Once in a while, he will come to me overwhelmed by an assignment in Honors English. I’ll direct him back to PowerPoint.
So, Mom and Dad, don’t get discouraged. Regardless of the obstacles, trust yourself, keep working, and try different approaches until you find what works for your child. Never let your child’s diagnosis create limits in your mind. Think of it as a jumping-off point. It’s not the end, it’s the beginning.