Q: “How Can I Better Communicate with Students and Families of Color?”
It’s wise for educators to weigh racial and cultural considerations before approaching a family about their student’s ADHD-related learning or behavioral struggles. Here are our strategies for helping teachers navigate these sensitivities.
Q: “As a white educator, how can I better communicate and connect with families of color, especially when a student is exhibiting learning and behavioral challenges that I suspect may be due to ADHD, a learning difference, or another undiagnosed condition? I understand that due to systemic racism and historical wrongs, Black families and families from marginalized groups have a lot of reasons not to trust me initially. They’re justified in their concerns that I may be biased.”
Without realizing it, some teachers harbor biases or believe stereotypes about minority students that affect their behavior. It’s wise for educators to weigh racial and cultural considerations before approaching a family about their student’s ADHD-related learning or behavioral struggles. Here are our strategies for helping teachers navigate these sensitivities.
1. Recognize that we all have implicit biases. Acknowledging and examining our biases, and their impact on our teaching practices and interactions with families, is the first step in changing our behavior. Knowledge increases self-efficacy.
2. Learn about the larger structural challenges Black and Brown children and families face, including the systemic racism that affects family income and access to resources.
3. Recognize that culture is about more than race. All Black or Latinx families, for example, are not alike. Family composition, history, and circumstances can make two families from the same ethnic background have vastly different priorities, values, and beliefs.
4. Do not assume you understand families’ circumstances, motivations, or actions.
5. Ask yourself if your actions and reactions to a student reflect empathy, respect, openness, and a genuine desire to learn from different cultures and perspectives.
6. Reach out to a person at the school with whom the student’s family has already established relationship, whether it’s the PTA president or a school counselor, if you need help. Say, “I’m struggling to communicate with this parent and I want them to know that I’m on their side. Here are some things that I have identified — how can we help this parent see that this is not a negative situation and that we can take steps together to help their child?”
7. Do not assume that all students of color receive treatment after being diagnosed with ADHD. Some minority parents experience a stage of disbelief after a diagnosis is made due to mistrust of the medical field.1 Also, stigma prevents some families from seeking treatment.1
8. Certain terms related to race and ethnicity might offend parents and students. Always ask for the correct terminology to use and never assume a student’s racial background.
Connecting with Families of Color: Next Steps
- Free Training: The ADHD Learning Series for Educators
- Read: The Children Left Behind
- Read: How to Talk So Teachers Will Listen — Communication Strategies That Work
The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled ADHD in the African-American Community: Strategies to Improve Care and Treatment >[Video Replay & Podcast #462] with Cheryl Hamilton, Ed.D., which was broadcast on July 13, 2023.
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View Article Sources
1 Glasofer, A., Dingley, C., & Reyes, A. T. (2021). Medication Decision Making Among African American Caregivers of Children With ADHD: A Review of the Literature. Journal of Attention Disorders, 25(12), 1687–1698. https://doi.org/10.1177/1087054720930783