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One high-schooler with ADHD takes matters into her own hands to manage homework, fight distractions and find the right school.

Highschool lockers help ADHD teens stay more organized
Highschool lockers help ADHD teens stay more organized

Rory Manson is a bright, creative, self-confident 16-year-old. Despite her attention deficit disorder (ADHD), she’s doing well in school, and has hopes of getting into a first-rate college when she graduates.

That’s who Rory is now, anyway. Three years ago, it was a different story: She was struggling to pass her classes in the private school she had attended since fifth grade, painfully aware that she could be doing a lot better. Her family-mom, dad, and three brothers-were supportive but losing patience. Rory’s mother, who also has ADHD, had to issue so many reminders to her daughter that she felt more like Rory’s babysitter than her parent.

How did Rory get from there to here? With the help of Jodi Sleeper-Triplett, a Herndon, Virginia-based ADHD coach. Jodi helped Rory learn the skills she needed to succeed, enabling her to blossom into the young woman she always wanted to be. The whole family is happier now.

Rory: I was diagnosed with ADHD in the fourth grade. I had always been a good student, but my mind would wander in class and I could never remember to bring home my textbooks. I was getting by, but it wasn’t easy.

Geri Jo Manson (Rory’s mom): Homework wasn’t hard for Rory, but getting her to sit down to do it was. The ADHD medication she’s been taking since age nine helped her concentrate, but she still had to struggle. By the seventh grade, Rory was losing ground. She’d do OK in three classes but drop the ball in the other two.

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Rory: In middle school, the workload got harder. I knew I wasn’t living up to my potential. My grades weren’t horrible, but they weren’t great. That’s when I started working with Jodi. We e-mail back and forth and also talk on the phone for 30 minutes, once a week. I tell her what’s going well, and what I could be doing better. Talking out loud to someone about what’s going right encourages me to work harder. When I get a good grade on a test, I e-mail Jodi about it.

Jodi: Like her mom, Rory is a go-getter. She’s full of ideas and really wants to succeed. The problem was that Rory lacked the basic skills needed for success.

At first, our discussions focused on organization, although we also spent a lot of time exploring why it was such a struggle for her to reach her goals. Why did it take her so long to get ready for school each morning? Why did she have so much trouble finishing her homework? The answer was always the same: procrastination.

Rory was getting caught up doing all the things teens want to do — talk on the phone, surf the Internet, and go shopping with friends. I told her that she could continue to do those things, but that we had to set some ground rules. We had to structure her time.

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Rory: I agreed to spend 15 minutes a day cleaning my room, and 15 minutes cleaning out my backpack and organizing things for the next day. Jodi and I also agreed that I would do my homework in the kitchen and put my cell phone in another room until I was finished. That way, I wouldn’t be able to call a friend if I got bored.

Jodi: Distractibility was a problem for Rory at school as well as at home. The moment she felt bored by the material being covered in class, she’d turn to a friend and strike up a conversation. She realized that she needed to separate herself physically from her friends so she wouldn’t do this. When she talks to her friends in between classes, she’s careful to include schoolwork in the conversation. That helps her remember her assignments.

Another way we dealt with her memory problems was to agree that she would devote at least 20 minutes each night to each school subject. If she didn’t have homework in a particular subject, she was to use the time for review. This strategy went a long way toward helping her stay on track academically.

Rory: Coaching helped me learn to ask for help when I need it. I used to be too embarrassed to ask a question because I didn’t want to look stupid. Now I don’t care so much about that. I ask whenever I need to.

Jodi: One of my goals was to change the way Rory was seen by her family members. A child like Rory — bright, articulate, caring, and yet unable to follow through on things — can be frustrating to her parents. Parents tend to turn negative: “She’s not finishing this, she’s not finishing that.” I wanted Rory’s family to stop criticizing her and start viewing her as someone who simply needed help developing basic skills.

Geri Jo: I had always been the one to nag Rory, to tell her to turn off the TV, do her homework, and clean her room. Once Jodi set up a system for Rory, I no longer had to nag her. She knew she had to check in with Jodi, and Rory accepted things from Jodi that she didn’t want to hear from me. That was a blessing for the entire family.

Jodi: One of the things that made Rory’s journey difficult was the fact that her mom has ADHD. Parents with ADHD who have learned to compensate often think, “I have the same thing, and I’m dealing with it, so why can’t you?”

Geri Jo and I set up a separate coaching call so we wouldn’t violate Rory’s confidentiality. We’d talk about what Geri Jo needed to do for Rory — and what she did not need to do. I helped Geri Jo curb her impulse to jump in. I think seeing her mother deal with some of her behaviors helped Rory to see her mother as human, someone with her own frailties.

Geri Jo: The most important change Rory made was to find a new school after tenth grade. She put much thought into this. It was a very grown-up decision — to leave a place that felt warm and fuzzy, but which, academically, wasn’t the best place for her.

Rory: I have nothing negative to say about my old school. The teachers helped me a lot, and I miss my friends. But the workload was unbearable. Each night, I had five hours of homework. I know I’m smart, but my old school made me feel stupid. I’d been there since fifth grade, and wanted to start over.

Jodi: When I heard that Rory wanted to change schools, I was shocked. She was talking about leaving the safety of a small school to attend a school with bigger classes and more distractions. It was a testament to her self-esteem and confidence that she could say, “I’ll take the risk.”

Together, we tried to envision what the new school would be like-how she would handle more kids, new distractions. Would she let less-demanding classes become an excuse for blowing off her schoolwork? Would changing schools make it easier for her to get into college-or harder? She talked to guidance counselors at both schools to make sure she had all the evidence, which is pretty impressive for someone her age.

Geri Jo: Jodi made it possible for Rory to feel that things would be OK, even if everything didn’t go the way she wanted. So far, Rory’s decision seems like a good one. She is less stressed, and we’ve been able to slow down and take back our life together.

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