Ask the Experts

Adjusting to Middle School

“How can I help my sixth-grade daughter with ADHD adjust to middle school? She is having trouble managing a locker, remembering assignments, and bringing homework home.”

Middle school presents an organizational dilemma for a child with ADHD, who is usually for the first time dealing with managing multiple teachers, a locker, and increased homework! Start by making sure her teachers know she is being treated for ADHD and struggles with these areas. Try to enlist their help.

It may be that you daughter is not ready to stop at her locker between every class. Get her a book bag on wheels and let her carry all her books and materials until she grows into using a locker. Ask teachers to send you assignment sheets (email, fax, mail) and provide envelopes. Some schools have homework hot lines, which are great. You may request one set of text books for at home and one to be kept at school to eliminate carrying back and forth.

Find a “study buddy” in your daughter’s classes who has same assignments and can be called at home for reminders. If writing down assignments is the problem, have your daughter record her assignments in a small, hand held “minute minder.” It holds three minutes of tape and costs about $19. Color code her folders to match text books for easy recall and color code assignment book so she just has to write down pages and what to do rather that the subject. Above all, remember that this goes with the territory and stay positive.

Encourage your daughter to keep trying and find ways together to cope with this very real issues. Check with your child to first to find our if they have “study time” during their school day and to find out if she is using it wisely. Talk to your daughter about advocating for her own needs. If she is having trouble comprehending the material in class, it is important that she feel comfortable raising her hand and asking questions.

Many kids with ADHD are kinesthetic learners and need to participate in class to learn. Make sure this is happening and that he feels part of the classroom experience. Maybe sitting up front close to the teacher would help. Be active in communicating with the teacher about your child’s needs.

Homework can be a struggle if your child is not understanding what is going on in class. Ask her teacher if she has “office” hours after school to give special assistance or help. Ask if there are any school programs that assist the kids with homework. Some schools have homework hotlines or online assistance available. Hiring an older child in the neighborhood that has excelled in the subject matter as a tutor may help and they may be much less expensive than a professional tutor. Even if money is tight, there is no better way to spend it than on your child’s educational needs.

The Education Act or IDEA and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 require that the school systems make “free and appropriate public education” available to eligible and qualified children with disabilities. These services must be made available to any child with a qualifying disability when the disability impairs the child’s educational performance. When ADHD is shown to be a chronic (or acute) health problem that is affecting the child’s educational performance, he can qualify for an IEP or Individualized Educational Plan that is specifically designed to meet her unique needs.

I spoke with Dorothy French, founder of Education-A-Must, an non-profit organization providing advocacy services for children with special needs. She says that she has obtained after-school tutoring with the school staff and even tutoring from the Sylvan Learning Center paid for by the school district as part of an IEP, but you have to prove that the child is not meeting his or her goal and is not moving up and making significant gains. It is important that you know your child’s educational rights and a good place to start is with the Learning Disabilities Association of America or (412) 341-1515).

However you proceed in helping your child, remember that the best approach is a team approach. Teachers are there to help children learn and when you work with the school system and are not seen as an adversary, many things can be done to better the situation. Unfortunately this is not always the case and you may have to “get in their face” to make things happen. Getting support and advice from a professional advocate in this case is a very wise and prudent way to go.

Take care and remember that homework can be fun and enjoyable when it is not seen as an insurmountable task, but rather an experience to grow and become enriched by.

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