Dealing with students who have AD/HD
Preparing for the first day of school, whether it be the first day of primary school or a new teacher and classroom, is essential.For parents whose children have been diagnosed with the neurobiological disorder AD/HD, the prospect of the first day of school can be daunting.But making sure that your child is fully prepared can be the best solution to calming those first day jitters — for both you and your child."Children with AD/HD often have a hard time settling down and can find a school setting very difficult to manage," explains Cathy Sousa, chairman of the Learning Disabilities Association of Bermuda (BOLD) and a mother of two children who were diagnosed with AD/HD."Settling down is extremely challenging for kids with AD/HD. Suddenly it appears much more problematic when they start school because of the structure of a school day," she says. The symptoms of AD/HD will be exaggerated because of the structure and demands of school. To sit in a chair all day is not how they learn — they learn by doing and experiencing."Often AD/HD children will appear lazy, rude, badly behaved or as if they just don't listen. Parents are often concerned about having their children be labelled this way if they seek out a diagnosis."People need to understand that AD/HD is a neurobiological disorder and it's not just a bad child," Mrs. Sousa explains. "Parents need to gain as much knowledge as they can about the disorder. The more you understand the better prepared they can be. Awareness is key."AD/HD also doesn't always take the form of hyperactivity, but can also manifest as a lower level of activity and includes not completing assignments, forgetting to bring in work and procrastination.To make sure that your child – whether they have been diagnosed with AD/HD or not – starts off on the right foot with a new teacher, it is important to have good communication with the school.For a teacher receiving a new set of students for the year, it can help them to understand from the very first week what challenges your child might be facing."Don't wait for the school to invite you in for the parent-teacher conference. Usually this is done after the first grading period and you don't want them to start off on the wrong foot," Mrs. Sousa says. "Meeting early in the school year is important. If you can find time to speak with your child's teacher the week before school starts or during the first week that is ideal."Mrs. Sousa recommends that a letter or something outlining any issues or challenges that can be referred back to in your child's file can be a helpful tool for teachers."If a teacher knows this child has difficulties they can begin to work with him from the start. They will remember, 'oh yeah, that parent told me this might be an issue'. Just because you have this diagnosis, not every child is cookie cutter."Finding out the best way to communicate with the teacher for the rest of the school year will also help keep you regularly in touch and can be a big help, she says.As awareness about the challenges for children with AD/HD have grown, Mrs. Sousa says people are now able to pinpoint issues and make accommodations. But she admits that some teachers will find this hard to implement because it looks like they are giving special treatment. Because children with AD/HD often find it difficult to associate cause and effect, punishment doesn't often work well."They (children with AD/HD) don't understand how the punishment is connected. They learn well from constructive feedback that is immediate. Positive encouragement works well for their self-esteem and makes them more willing to cooperate."She suggests that if the student hasn't done their homework that they are made to stay in at lunch and finish it."The problem that they had with finishing their homework the night before is the same problem they will have tomorrow," she explains. "Making them pick up trash doesn't help them associate with what they've done wrong."Where assignments are concerned, many children with AD/HD will find it difficult to complete what is requested of them. They will have all the thoughts in their head but they will find it hard to compute that into something structured, such as an essay.Addressing the challenge of finishing an assignment by allowing them to work within the parameters of what is being requested means they are still able to accomplish the task to the best of their ability."They are still doing the work but it is assisting them in allowing to focus on a smaller project," Mrs. Sousa explains. "Chances are you aren't going to get the assignment completed so instead, specifically address the challenges they have. If they can't finish a 500-word essay allow them to do the best they can. It will encourage them to keep learning and to keep applying themselves."Mrs. Sousa insists that parents have to ensure all of these efforts are also being done in the home. Parents must continuously help to organise their children no matter what their age."The symptoms don't go away. You may think that you tell them enough times to do something but it doesn't work like that," she says.School becomes more and more demanding as they get older, so it is essential to help with their organisational skills. Mrs. Sousa says breaking down instructions, creating lists and charts are all helpful ways of combating disorganisation."Make sure to set out a place to do homework and have a set of supplies at home. Some parents will even purchase two sets of textbooks so that if their child comes home without their English textbook they have one at home. That can get expensive, but the relief from stress is really, really helpful," she says.Children with AD/HD often have a hard time transitioning from assignment to assignment so it is a good idea to have a set time and place for homework and give warnings to help make for a smooth transition, Mrs. Sousa suggests."Check in regularly to see how far they have gotten with their work. Depending on their age, you may have to check on them more often because they are going to get distracted."Mrs. Sousa reiterates that many people who have been diagnosed with AD/HD often go on to be entrepreneurs and very creative and successful people."Maintaining a positive outlook about the child is important," she says. "It's about making sure that we think 'what else can we do to help and keep an open dialogue'. It has to be both ways — as parents you have to maintain a positive outlook about both your child and school. While realising that it is all going to be very challenging."It's about inclusive education — everyone is entitled to be in the classroom."
Dr. Sandy DeSilva, Family Centre psychologist, will be giving a talk on preparing for the first day of school with a child diagnosed with AD/HD on Wednesday, September 1 at 5.45 p.m. at Somersfield Academy.
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