For Teachers

What I Wish My Son’s Teachers Knew About Him and ADHD

One mother shares what she wishes all teachers knew about the ADHD students in their classroom. Read and share with the educator in your life.

ADHD boy writing on a school chalk board
ADHD boy writing on a school chalk board

To all the teachers reading this, thank you for teaching our children. It is my hope that this will offer insight into the world of a student diagnosed with ADHD.

Dear Teachers,

I wish you knew that my son doesn’t want to misbehave. What seems like misbehavior could be because he is overwhelmed, frustrated or embarrassed. If he is feeling any of these emotions, his brain responds by fighting, fleeing or freezing. It’s a natural stress response. I wish you knew how stressful school is for my child.

I wish you knew that my son doesn’t mean to blurt out. The frontal lobe of his brain, which controls impulsive behavior, is under developed compared to his peers.

I wish you knew that he can’t transition from joking around to getting down to business like you or his classmates can. Transitions are very difficult for him.

I wish you knew that his joke making and comments in class to gain attention are his way of trying desperately to fit in with his peers. He doesn’t get invited to friends’ homes, he doesn’t play on sports teams with his classmates, and he doesn’t receive texts from close buddies. He is probably seen as immature and annoying by many of his peers. No matter how confident he may appear, don’t be fooled. That is his natural defense mechanism kicking in to convince himself that he is cool.

[Free Download: A Letter to Introduce Your Child to the Teacher]

I wish you knew that my son needs encouragement more than other students. He is so used to hearing, “Carlton, be quiet,” “Carlton, you’re not trying hard enough,” that the majority of the time he feels like a failure.

I wish you knew that when you acknowledge him doing something right, whether he shows it or not, it makes his day.

I wish you knew when he says, “I forgot,” nine times out of 10 he really did forget. It isn’t an excuse. His brain doesn’t hold on to things the way your other students’ brains do.

I wish you knew how difficult it is for him to walk into the classroom and get right to work. He has just come from chatting in the hallways with his friends, after sitting still and trying to be quiet for 50 minutes in another class. His brain is like, “No! Not again! I’ve gotta do something fun!”

I wish you knew how long it takes my son to complete homework. What might take a neurotypical student 15 minutes to complete takes my son an hour. When the parents of a student with ADHD ask for a reduced homework load for their child, we aren’t trying to get him out of work. We want him to know the material, but we want our child to feel confident about his ability to complete the work instead of feeling like there is no way he will ever get it finished.

[The ADHD Homework System We Swear By]

I wish you knew that large tasks or projects overwhelm him. The more you can break down projects into small tasks with due dates, the more successful he will be.

I wish you knew that my son is a poor self-observer. Many times he has no idea that he is coming across as disrespectful, or that he is acting or saying something inappropriate. Ask him questions that help him learn to self observe, but please do it in private.

I wish you knew that he doesn’t read social cues well and therefore comes across as selfish or indifferent. The more people I have serving as his “social coach” in a loving and respectful manner, the more likely he is to develop these skills.

I wish you knew that my son doesn’t do well with unstructured class time the way other students do. If there will be unstructured time in your class, talk privately with him before class starts and let him know he will have “quiet study time,” for example, toward the end of class.

I wish you knew that his having ADHD doesn’t embarrass him. He knows it is part of what makes him who he is and his parents choose to highlight the strengths that come with this diagnosis. He also knows that ADHD is not an excuse, it is an explanation.

I wish you knew that getting his full attention, even by saying his name, before you start giving instructions makes the difference between him hearing all or part of what you say.

I wish you knew that, as a parent of a child with ADHD, frequent communication is important. I know that you are going the extra mile for my child when you do this. If he has a problem in class that day, let me know. If you’ve assigned a project, let me know. Any and all communication is appreciated. I really do want to partner with you for my child’s success.

I wish you knew that he will go through cycles of doing well and then cycles of not doing well. He may turn in his homework for two weeks in a row, and then have a week where he struggles. Motivation waxes and wanes for kids with ADHD.

I wish you knew how difficult it is for his brain to focus, especially if he finds the subject boring. The ADHD brain is actually understimulated, meaning it requires more stimulation than the brains of neurotypical students.

I wish you knew that when he draws in class, it doesn’t mean that he isn’t listening. Moving helps his brain stay focused.

I wish you would be more open to offering him different ways to show you that he knows the material. He often has a hard time putting his knowledge into words, but he can express it well in a drawing.

I wish you knew how sensitive my son is. I know that one day he can be a delight to have in class and, the next day, he can be a disruption. The more even keeled you can be with him, the better. When you are frustrated and disappointed with him, he will sense it strongly. He doesn’t want to disappoint you and, when he does, he takes it hard. His inner voice tells him that he is a failure and not good enough.

I wish you knew that his brain cannot filter out everything he sees and hears. He can’t determine what is important and what is not important right away. Everything he sees and hears is of equal importance to his brain. I encourage you to visit understoond.org and watch a video called “Through Your Child’s Eyes.” You will be blown away by what ADHD students live with everyday.

Finally, I wish you knew how grateful I am that you teach my son. Your job is not an easy one, nor is it for the weak of heart. If anyone understands how hard it is, I do. Your compassion and understanding toward my child will be something I will never forget. Neither will my son.

[Setting Realistic Behavior Expectations at School]

9 Related Links

  1. I have some issues with this. I like to do my best to build relationships with my students and their parent/s. Communication is definitely key. In the letter, the majority of the symptoms that the parent is claiming that only her child has is also felt by the other kids in the classroom. The underdeveloped frontal lobe would be something that separates him from the rest but, the frontal lobe doesn’t fully develop until approximately age 25. Real documentation from a doctor would be helpful. To allow parents, to just download this and give it to a teacher is not communicating. This sounds like the parent wants us to give more attention and time to a particular student. Most parents want that. I have ADD and I know many people that have varying degrees of ADD/ADHD. Genuine Communication, open-mindedness, and willingness from all parties involved will help any child. I would need to be able to know the parent and child more than this letter. ADHD kids are not one size fits all and neither should this letter. Maybe I am wrong, but I would still need to know more.

    1. Well to the teacher who has some issues with this article. I am a mother with a child who is now 15 and has struggled with ADHD since the second grade. We have also taken her to the doctor to have her placed on medication which I hate doing it seems to change a personality, her true self but seems to make it easier for the people/teachers she is with during an eight hour day without Our supervision. We can only hope that talking to her and coaching her and repeating to her can help her someday have a more confident atmosphere. We as parents do understand that they are not the only child in the room but when singled out they do feel like they are the only child in the room and can completely lower their self-esteem. Nowadays most children are in classes together intertwined with ones that get it and ones that don’t. For example my child is not like being taken to another class nor has ever liked it and put into a separate classroom. She only wants and strives to succeed with others. Everyone wants to be a part of the group and feel accepted.We as parents we do understand that they are not the only child in the room, But when singled out negatively it is magnified to them and can eventually lower their self-esteem. We can only hope that talking to her and coaching her and repeating to her will help her someday have a more confident atmosphere. And I have to say the mother that you responded to in the article stating that she may want special treatment to her child is untrue. I’m not sure if you have children or not with ADHD or ADD but as a parent I think she is spot on. Each school year that goes by I only pray that I get a teacher who is consoling at some point throughout the day to make a difference in my child’s day. Each day each year has been a struggle for her And a struggle for me and my husband who have become so very protective of her. Out of the 11 years of her being in school that being her starting at the age of three and now going into the 10th grade I have had two teachers who have made the world a difference in her life and in each of her days. Unfortunately nowadays there are more children with ADD or ADHD and I believe that teachers should be completely knowledgeable of what they are up against and treated as such.

    2. I think you’re mistaking the point of the article. (Quite offensively, I might add, too.) It was merely going through all the issues that come up with ADHD experiences. Yes, every child feels sad. But not every child feel overwhelming defeat in their sadness. Yes, every child feels happy. But not every child is bouncing off the walls ecstatic to the point of no calming down without threats of punishment. Yes, every child gets mad. But not every child feels so much uncontrollable rage that they impulsively lash out and punch another child. That’s ADHD.

      Next, I really don’t think YOU, as the teacher, on a personal or professional level, have any rights to any medical documents. Matter of fact, I know you don’t. Ever heard of HIPPA? Nor do YOU, as the teacher, have the right to question the what is going on with someone’s medical conditions. If the parents offer it up, fine. But neither the parents, NOR THE DOCTORS, need your approval to diagnose the child in your class, or any other child that goes under medical studies to advance the knowledge of ADHD.

      This article was just to give you, as a teacher, an idea of what goes on with an ADHD child. Most parents just want you to be aware of symptoms, not as means of avoidance, but an explanation. Families of ADHD children are already suffering. Their asking for a little help, a little compassion. Stop throwing excuses aside with “everyone has some forms of it,” or “it’s all on a sliding scale”. These children hear more negativity than anyone else in the room, and it destroys them!

    3. I feel for this mother who wrote the letter. It described
      Our situation.
      Teachers need to get educated in the area of ADHD.
      I think it should be a requirement for them to pass an
      Exam in thus area before they start their teaching career.
      Some teachers are unaware of the amount of damage they
      Inflict on ADHD kids by their uniformed expectations.
      They can be cruel, selfish and petty towards ADHD kids.
      I think it will take a major class action lawsuit to push
      For changes.

  2. I actually think the letter is pretty accurate for all ADHD children, I am the mother of an ADHD teen and have ADHD myself. What is more – as a teacher who has just completed her postgraduate training here in the UK – we are supposed to differentiate for children with special needs, so she is right to demand special treatment for her kid if he is diagnosed, and the reason why diagnosis is so important. Without it, the teacher can’t make a distinction – with it, that kid is on every lesson plan.

    I am trying to see if I can find or start a group of teachers with ADHD – it is woefully under-diagnosed in the UK (in the state school where I studied there were only 3 diagnoses in a school of 1,700 kids) because I think there is much more that we could be doing to differentiate.

    I also think having been through the process of training – I can report back that I doubt there are many ADHD teachers, although it is actually a good job for us because it is so boundaried, physical and exciting (if you make it so).

    One study in the UK showed that teachers who had a small poster of “Tips for managing Hyperactive and impulsive students” made the biggest difference to treatment of ADHD kids than many other expensive measures. Just having the awareness from the teacher that there was something else going on (ie teacher didn’t take it personally and or take it as a comment on their lack of control of the class) that treatment of ADHD kids was much better.

    With this in mind – why hasn’t anyone done a poster for the classroom? Or have they? As the Mum said, many of us ADHDers kids and adults don’t get embarrassed by our condition (and why should neurodifference be a shameful thing anyway) so they wouldn’t mind having the poster up. There was one up in the staffroom – so such posters do exist.

    As I mentioned, the study showed that even if teachers didn’t read the advice – they still responded more favourably to ADHDers in the class. I gave a copy of this Tips poster to every training teacher in my place of study.

    You are SO much more advanced in the States than here in the UK (perhaps because as Kathleen Nadeau suggests – more intrepid ADHD types founded the US!) so please respond if you have read this far!

    Emma

Leave a Reply