Parent-Teacher Cooperation

Book Review: Making the System Work for Your Child with ADHD

An expert guide that will help parents learn to manage and monitor their children with ADHD.

by Peter S. Jensen, M.D.
Guilford Press, $17.95
Purchase Making the System Work for Your Child with ADHD

When my son was first diagnosed with ADHD 10 years ago, I felt overwhelmed, panicky, and unsure about what to do next. If I had had this book back then, finding the road to the right treatment and becoming an effective advocate for him would have been less bumpy and circuitous.

A professor of child psychiatry at Columbia University and the father of a son with ADHD, Jensen stresses that ADHD is a chronic condition that is as “difficult to handle as, say, asthma or diabetes.” As such, it requires every parent to become proficient in the two Ms — managing and monitoring. Writes Jensen: “The harsh realities of managing a chronic condition such as ADHD stretch most parents and families well beyond what they would have initially anticipated, as obstacle after obstacle arises to thwart their attempts to ‘fix’ the problem.”

[Quiz: How Well Do You Know Special Ed Law?]

Jensen’s answers for those frustrated parents — and the themes of the book — are “you’re in charge,” “don’t be intimidated,” “everyone works for you,” and “you know your child best.” Inspirational words indeed, but he offers much more than 284 pages of cheerleading. Jensen provides a toolbox of exercises and solutions to help every parent navigate the maze of health care, school, and emotional issues that are part and parcel of ADHD.

You’ll find model dialogues to have with your child’s doctor and teacher, sample letters to write to your child’s school, and short-term and long-term action plans for everything from elevating a child’s self-esteem to helping another cut back on the habit of cursing. In the latter case, Jensen suggests reducing the frequency of the cursing for starters — not eradicating it. Observes Jensen: “Imagine how surprised the parents were to learn that we were setting up a program to reward the child for cursing ‘only’ 15 times per day! Yet, going cold-turkey would have set him up for almost certain failure.”

Drawing its wisdom from discussions with more than 80 parents, the book offers many useful tips and perspectives. One parent passes along advice from his son’s psychologist about helping the child clean up after playtime is over: “I needed to break things down,” says the father. “I’d say, ‘Pick up the blue Legos,’ and when he finished, I’d say, ‘Now pick up the red,’ and so forth. My son can do it in small steps, and it has been a godsend to know that.”

Having wrestled with the health-care system, I found Jensen’s advice about it refreshing and empowering: Yes, he says, it’s okay to question the doctor, and it’s vital to find a go-to person — a clerk or even a receptionist — in the doctor’s office and at the insurance company who is patient enough to answer your questions about medication, symptoms, or an incorrect or duplicate bill.

[Free Handout: What I Wish My Teachers Knew]

Even though I’m 10 years down the ADHD road, I know that I’ll be turning to this reassuring, clearly written, parent-focused book again and again.