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Getting Help For Your ADD/ADHD Kid

Getting Help For Your ADD/ADHD Kid

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

I have an older-kid question for you that you may or may not have insight into. Of course it pales in comparison to all the interventions you’ve managed with Noah, but it’s weighing heavy on my mind. I have a delightful boy of 7.5. He’s never had any developmental delays and was fairly average in school, until BAM. 2nd grade. Now it’s nonstop emails home, behavior notices, poor progress reports and report cards. Poor attention, lack of focus, doesn’t complete assignments, has terrible handwriting which makes him take way too long to complete written work (or makes him so frustrated that he gives up/refuses to do the work altogether). I’m seeing this at home too. Homework – which is one math worksheet and one “word study” (spelling) task per night, plus 15 minutes reading – often takes around 2 hours. Oh, he also has to do all the unfinished work from the day, usually his writing journal. That alone is probably an hour to eke out 5 sentences. (The teacher knows how long it takes and says “of course we don’t want it to be 2 hours” but doesn’t allow any more time to complete it, so….)

His teacher requested that an OT from the school district observe him back at our first p/t conference in early November. 2 months later I got her report, which basically said he’s “a reluctant writer” with “frozen thoughts” and send home a packet of Handwriting Without Tears worksheets for us to do as homework. We’ve been working on it, but (a) it continues to be frustrating as hell for everyone involved, and (b) I’m seeing no improvement and still getting notes home about it.

I’ve asked both his main teachers, his guidance counselor (who is a good buddy of his in the school), and his pediatrician about ADHD and they all said they didn’t think so because he doesn’t have the hyperactivity or the impulse control or many of the other hallmarks. I’ve been reading about the Inattentive type of ADHD that sounds more like my kid. I’m working through the process of potentially getting that diagnosed with the psychotherapy part of my doctor’s office. The teachers also know that, since they had to fill out one of the questionnaire’s for diagnosis.

Naturally I feel crappy and blame myself because I have to work and he’s in after school care for the first time ever and we have a long commute. We leave home at 7:30 am and get home at 6:30 pm and then it’s all homework battle and then bed. My husband is minimally involved/present (and may become completely uninvolved/unpresent in the near future).

SO, my question, that I’m eventually getting to, is – what happens now in terms of getting services? I have friends whose kids have IEP’s and 504 plans and stuff, but they were universally getting services from the county before Kinder started so they kind of just eased into it. Ideally, I’d like some OT time during school to help with his handwriting and some support during the journal writing time. I’ve raised this question with multiple people at the school and have basically just been told “well, let’s keep an eye on it.” I want ACTION. How do I make that happen?

Also, he’s in an immersion program and although the language isn’t the part he’s having trouble with, maybe that’s too much for him? Should I pull him out of that? That would mean going to our not-great local school. We also have to drive an hour each way to school, so maybe the solution is to move closer so he has more time to play and then work won’t be such a pain? Or should I think about holding him back?

GUIDE ME, AMALAH. YOU’RE MY ONLY HOPE.

-Frustrated

Okay. Let’s hack this up into some baby steps.

First step: Lay off yourself, with the guilt. This is not your fault; you (nor your schedule/commute/educational choices) did not “cause” this. Despite all the stigma out there about ADD/ADHD being some kind of catch-all designer diagnosis for kids who watch too much TV and bad parenting, it is a real disorder that exists in the wiring of the brain. We clearly have a really long way to go in this country in terms of our collective understanding/empathy/treatment of all this mental health stuff (says the mom who still gets “helpful” books from family members about ADHD being a myth and if we’d only try [thing we totally already tried] or [completely bizarre quackery thing], he’d be “cured.”), but rest assured, you did not cause this. 

Second step: Get the evaluation done. A full psychoeducational evaluation will give you a complete look at your son’s strengths and weaknesses, and bluntly assess the educational impact of his attention/focus issues, and hopefully uncover the exact cause of his writing challenges (i.e. motor skill delays vs. too-many-ideas-to-get-on-paper-and-I-can’t-organize-my-thoughts-because-I-have-a-million-of-them-oh-look-SQUIRREL). It will also conclude with the psychologist’s recommendations for educational accommodations and additional interventions/therapies.

(Yes, yes, I’m probably jumping the gun here and assuming that yes, your son does have a form of ADHD. Sure does sound suuuuuuuper familiar, everything you’re describing. It could certainly be a bad teacher/student fit as well, but second grade seems to be The Year that’s the tipping point for ADD kids, when it clearly differentiates itself from “typical little boy wind-up” and becomes a more obvious problem. It’s the year when school and homework get Super Hardcore Real, so kids who were maybe floating a bit under the radar suddenly come to the surface, completely flailing.)

Third step: Take the evaluation to his school and request a formal meeting of some kind. (He’s in a private school? Or special immersion charter-type school? Sorry I’m not 100% clear his current placement.) At a minimum, you’ll want: his teachers, a principal, a school psychologist/guidance counselor and possibly any resource/special ed teacher his school has who typically provides pull-out services like handwriting or tutoring. This is when you will tell them that the “wait and see” portion of the proceedings are over, as you have a diagnosis. It’s time to work as a team to turn things around for your son, before this frustration leads to 1) him falling behind academically, 2) him aiming his anger inwards at himself, which is why many undiagnosed ADD kids get depressed and feel “bad” or “worthless”, or 3) him aiming his anger outwards at peers and teachers, which is why OTHER undiagnosed ADD kids get simply written off as bullies or behavior problems.

Now, I have no idea what kinds of services your son’s school is equipped to provide for him. I think your desires sound perfectly reasonable, but you never know. Most ADD-centric services at public schools are pretty…underwhelming at best. So be prepared. It’s simply not a diagnosis that immediately brings in the Big Guns. (Sample accommodations might include: A graphic organizer for writing assignments, permission to type his writing or allow you to dictate, testing alternatives, a special spot in the classroom where he can take a time out, 30 minutes a month of handwriting help, etc.) If they outsource OT/handwriting help to the district, well…you’ve already seen what they’re willing to offer (nothing), and I can’t promise that an official ADD diagnosis will change that. Even in our wonderful, well-funded public school district, several friends of mine have all tried and failed to secure IEPs or 504 plans based on an ADD/ADHD diagnosis alone, since it wasn’t causing enough of a educational impact, particularly once they started medication.

(Note: No school is allowed to demand that you medicate him, by the way. This is a weird myth I keep hearing in support of “not telling” a school that your child has ADD/ADHD because they’ll “make” you medicate them. No. That remains a personal choice. It’s one that I really encourage you to keep an open mind about, however. The right medicine can really, really help these kids. Our experience has been nothing short of transformative.)

So with that said, you may need to accept the idea that many of your son’s needs will have to met privately, by you. If you’re lucky, you might be able to find some help through your insurance (like private OT, or weekly talk therapy), but you might also have to pay out of pocket for things (homework help, tutoring, etc.) This can be true for any parent, no matter what school they’ve chosen or what district they live in. Even we’ve usually assumed that the services we get from the district represent the bare minimum, and we prefer that our son get a few more pieces of flair, as it were.

But oh, I’ve gotten so far ahead myself here. The evaluation with your doctor’s office should be priority one, right now. Make sure they are doing a very wide, wide range of assessments and be patient. Communicate with the evaluator so they understand that you’ll need a full report with recommendations to take to his school and to base your own private plan off of. (You hint at some marital problems/absent father issues, so that should also be considered when assessing his behavior problems/acting out over homework. He might need someone to talk to about that.)

As for your final questions about changing schools or holding him back…dude, those are Big Decisions and I do not know. I am sure there are pros and cons to both, but it does feel a bit premature to be even bringing them up at this point. Find out if your gut is right about ADD first, and see what your school can do if you push beyond mentioning services in a casual, hypothetical way. Don’t approach anybody looking for a fight (this is a mistake I’ve seen other parents do, going on the blisteringly offensive from the get-go — it really doesn’t help anybody to be combative). Instead, be firm but unfailingly willing to listen, communicate and compromise. Understand that every school and district has its limitations and you will probably want to engage with additional resources elsewhere.

Finally, for the short term, it might help your nightly homework battle to go ahead and read up on ADD/ADHD tips and tricks. Since you’re doing regular Handwriting Without Tears worksheets (holla! we’ve done that! stick with it, they do help!), perhaps his teacher would be okay if he dictates his five sentences to you, or types them on a computer. Give him frequent breaks (ideally before the frustration builds) and let him break assignments down into small little nuggets. If he likes to draw or read comics, buy him a blank journal or comic book pages and let him draw whenever possible — it’ll still help his motor skills and teach him that there is joy to be found in expressing yourself on a page, and eventually he might WANT to accompany his illustrations with some words and a story.

We had a terrible nightly battle over the reading journal this year too — but then he’d happily take a composition book or comic panes to bed with him and doodle and create long, complicated and ultimately beautifully organized stories. The dialogue and plot only existed in his head at first, and after awhile he began writing a few words, then titles, sentences, beginnings, middles and ends. It’s all messy and not perfectly spelled/formed, but it’s spontaneous and enjoyable to him. Which is more than half the battle, in my opinion.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Chayary
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Chayary

I can’t speak to the ADD\ADHD piece, b\c we haven’t gotten a firm diagnosis\services (yet?).  But I have two kids with MAJOR handwriting issues, and we went the private OT route,  it has helped SO much.  Both with the actual help, and in validating for me, the kids,  and the teachers that the writing itself was a REAL issue, not laziness or sloppiness.  And that reduced frustration and anxiety a ton.  FWIW, once the OT evaluation turned up issues, my insurance covered the sessions, with just a small copay.    I have also taken to big-time advocating, b\c it was… Read more »

Chayary
Guest
Chayary

Sorry, hit send too early.
Just wanted to say Good luck!!!  You are doing the RIGHT thing to not Wait and SEE.  Better to give a little support now, then to let things get worse and worse.  When your kid has a sore throat, after a day or so you get a strep test, you don’t just wait and see when there is something that can help.

aadrw
Guest
aadrw

I would start the formal evaluation process at school STAT.  From the day you ask them for an evaluation, they get 15 days to come back to you with a plan.  From they day you sign the plan, that’s another 60 days for them to do the assessments and then come back with the team in an IEP. Now, kiddo may not need a full IEP (which will come out in the initial meeting) and just require some accommodations like Amy mentioned (quiet time, fewer questions, whatever).  But since we’re coming up on the end of March already, 75 days… Read more »

Just me
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Just me

I don’t have any additional advice to dispense with respect to the ADD/ADHD piece. However, one detail really stood out for me in the original letter:
” My husband is minimally involved/present (and may become completely uninvolved/unpresent in the near future).”
I am wondering if the son is picking up on any of the stress of that situation which is causing some of these issues? It may be worthwhile for an appointment with a child psychologist to talk about some of these things?

A thought
Guest
A thought

Another thought – Kids with Irlen syndrome present with some of the symptoms of ADD. My daughter was diagnosed in gr 3 and the lenses were a miracle for her. Suddenly she could read without a huge struggle – words stayed put on the page. She can sit and focus now. Something to think about because as far as I know it is not included in the standard testing. Google Irlen if interested and check out the website for signs & symptoms. Good luck!

Agreeing
Guest
Agreeing

Just wanted to agree with this– the potential divorce jumped out at me too. Maybe unlikely to create specific symptoms, but maybe it’s exaggerated an “underlying” issue, and might get better when the stress of the change is somewhat relieved.

Cary
Guest
Cary

I would not self diagnose so quickly. Get multiple evaluations first. it could be vision, dysgraphia, or a host of other things, that sometimes get lumped into an ADD diagnosis. I think 2nd and 3rd grade are hard for a great deal of kids. Everyone learns differently, and sometimes in our culture we are trying to move so fast that we don’t stop to recognize the individual’s needs. Maybe his brain takes in information better if he can move his body instead of sitting still, or a fidget toy can better help him focus. Let him know it’s all okay,… Read more »

Jessica
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Jessica

Get him tested. There is no downside to getting the tests done. If you’re looking at a divorce I would also try to get him into talk therapy. This kind of academic frustration can really weigh on kids so establishing a relationship with a therapist before any major household changes occur could really help.

What you describe sounds like fairly classic ADD but Cary is right there are dozens of other things that could be contributing to his struggles. Try to keep an open mind but don’t let the school tell you he a “bad kid” or “bad student.”

Jen
Guest
Jen

Okay. I’m a literacy specialist in a 3-5 school. I get so sick hearing stories like this, especially when they seem to come from a teacher’s failure to understand and skillfully adjust her teaching for individual students; here are some thoughts: Your child does not need an IEP, 504, ILP or any other individual education plan to receive ability-appropriate education. Request in writing a meeting with the guidance counselor, principal or vp, teacher, and OT. Bring along samples of his work, the report from the OT, and any other data you have. Request that his teacher do the same. Let… Read more »

aadrw
Guest
aadrw

LOVE this.  Absolutely spot on.

And I would still be pulling the school assessment alarm just to get them moving and accountable.

aibee
Guest

YES. THANK YOU. INTENTIONAL CAPSLOCK. 

kari weberr
Guest
kari weberr

Just had to jump on here and say: Holy Cow I could have written this post. Except add to the stress of all this- I am a teacher. And I teach AT my son’s school. And… I don’t like his teacher. Socially, she and I are good. But I do. Not. Agree. with her teaching style. And unfortunately, it wasn’t until my son was IN her class that I discovered this. However, looking back, I have seen a pattern in school that has led us to also be concerned for completely OTHER reasons than not liking his teacher. He is… Read more »

Kari Weber
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Kari Weber

And embarrasingly: I misspelled my own last name and use an UNGODLY amount of improper punctuation in my comment. Don’t judge. I hate grammar as much as the rest of you! I turn it off after school! LOL!  And my computer is using a TINY font tonight for some reason… cough… hard to read and all that…

Jill
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Jill

I agree with the others that if you think it’s a form of ADD get him evaluated, but honestly I think that that little afterthought of an “oh by the way my husband isn’t really around and yeah maybe we’re getting divorced” is probably causing WAY more of your sons attention problems than you seem to think (admit?).  My thought would be to work on that first (get him counseling, spend more time discussing it with your son, etc) and see if it helps his focus in school any. You said 2nd grade brought out all of his school problems;… Read more »

Lora
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Lora

Have you thought about dyslexia/dysgraphia? Check out bright solutions http://www.dys-add.com/ and see if your son fits the profile. This sounds so much like my daughter at the beginning of gr2 (this yr). She went from being a happy, focused, well-behaved child to unfocused, daydreamer, disconnected, unhappy at school. hours and lots of tears for homework. A lot more is expected in gr 2 than gr 1 and learning differences can come crashing down at that time. We’re going through the home tutoring with my daughter using susan barton’s system. We’ve been doing it for about 6mo and the difference is… Read more »

An Easyworld
Guest

Hi there, I’m a primary school teacher and I just wanted to offer my two cents worth on the homework: Learning should always, in my opinion, a fun and engaging process. It makes me so sad that parents are somehow obligated to drag their kids kicking and screaming through homework battles (usually boring worksheets that are beyond uninspiring), which is basically a fast track to children rejecting the learning process as a chore. If it is becoming counter productive I would explain the long commute, the tiredness and the battles to the teacher and politely tell them that you have… Read more »

Kim
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Kim

Former teacher here, and I will tell you that my school’s attitude toward homework has been disappointing to say the least. I totally agree with you – I was always flexible with homework, especially in the lower grades.  I would tell her you will practice your spelling words and math facts in the car on the way home, and be done with it.  So what if he gets a lower mark on his report card?

Amy Renee
Guest
Amy Renee

I have been going through similar homework battles with my 1st grader, and part of it is that he just can’t do homework when he’s exhausted – he’ll spend more time fighting it than doing it. I know Amalah cautioned not to rush into big changes like pulling him from his current school, but a 1 hour commute each day is a lot. 7:30 – 6:30 is a long day for me, let alone a 7-8 year old, and then homework on top of that – it just seems like too much. In the short term, is there any way… Read more »

Sarah
Guest
Sarah

I would just like to comment on the immersion piece since I am actually an immersion teacher that has taught at both the grade 2 level and the middle school level. Pulling him out of immersion, especially if he doesn’t have issues with the language won’t do anything for the issues you’ve stated above. (Even if language is the issue, they’ll usually also have an issue with English and there’s no benefit in pulling them, but that’s a whole different ballgame.) I often find that Immersion teachers are much more willing and knowledgeable when it comes to differentiating since we… Read more »

Konni
Guest
Konni

I’m sorry I just now saw this, and didn’t read all the notes so this may have been mentioned previously, but this sounds JUST like my daughter in 2nd grade. Yes, ADHD was part of the equation, and dealing with that (combination of medication and CBT) made a difference, but the main culprit was actually her eyes. My daughter had a vision problem known as “Convergence Insufficiency”. She still showed up as 20/20 on a basic vision test, but her eyes did not move together properly for tracking (the way your eyes move side to side as you go across… Read more »