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Warshaw Law Firm, advocating for the educational rights of special needs children, is dedicated to protecting the rights of children with disabilities and children who are the victims of or accused of bullying, and assisting families in crisis through mediation and collaborative divorce.
It’s no secret that kids with ADHD are different — different from their same-age peers; different from society’s definition of “normal;” different from most teachers’ expectations of a successful student. Yet we expect kids to “fall in line” and fit into the crowd. And that expectation is often followed by, “all else be damned,” unfortunately.
As parents of kids who don’t fit the norm, our instinct is to push and shove our kids into the tiny box, even though they don’t fit into it. The same goes for most teachers. Nearly every adult in the life of a child with ADHD tries to push these kids into the box.
This is problematic for kids with ADHD (and/or autism, learning disabilities, and so on). Cue the warning sirens. The intention of well-meaning adults is to help our kids follow rules, meet expectations, be accepted by their peers, and succeed. Those are all admirable intentions, and they usually inspired by genuine caring.
However, good intentions can often go awry, especially when they’re not aligned with reality.
The reality is that your child (or your student) has ADHD — a physiological difference in the brain that leads to developmental delay. Your child is likely behind his or her peers by two or three or four years in many aspects of development, including maturity, self-regulation, and life skills. Think about that for a minute: If your child is 13, you’re actually raising a 10-year-old in many aspects. Teachers: if you’re teaching seventh graders, this student is really on par with fourth or fifth graders in many areas.
These differences require parents and teachers to adjust, not spend more time trying to make the child fit into a box of our own making.
When good intentions aren’t aligned with a child’s capability and reality, the outcome is the opposite of what was intended. Read that a few more times and let it sink in. It’s important to your parenting effectiveness and your child’s success and happiness.
My son — age 14, diagnosed with ADHD, autism, dysgraphia, and anxiety — is often told to “try harder” in school. Consequences — like removing recess or doing extra written work — have been imposed by well-meaning teachers who want to motivate him to get his work done, as they request of all their students. For neurotypical kids, that’s often enough, because their brains are motivated by importance. However, pushing in this way reminds my son how much he’s misunderstood, triggering overwhelming emotions, hijacking his cognitive functioning, and lessening his ability to focus on and complete the work. It might even lead to defiance and giving up, or an emotional outburst. That’s the opposite outcome from what was intended.
If teachers look for the reasons why my son isn’t getting his schoolwork done and address them with strategies and accommodations specific to his capability/reality, he can get the work done and succeed.
Being mindful of the current capabilities and reality of a child with ADHD, being mindful of his or her differences, is very powerful. That awareness also eliminates some frustration for parent, teacher, and child as well.
I challenge you to throw out the box of normalization and build your expectations on who your child is and where his or her capabilities lie today. Then, there’s no need to try to shove our kids into boxes they don’t fit in, and no fallout from it. Hallelujah!