Parenting a child or teen with ADD/ADHD (and other conditions that may come with it) is not always easy. We can feel lost, confused, or overwhelmed by stress or exhaustion. Most of us could use some advice and support. Here are eleven tips I hope you find helpful:
1. Learn as much as possible about Attention Deficit Disorder. It’s impossible to have realistic expectations or advocate effectively for your kids unless you know what you’re facing.
2. Have your child tested for both ADHD and learning disabilities because the two commonly go together. People with learning disabilities have average to high intelligence, along with brains that work and learn differently. They often have problems in school because their learning styles are different from the majority of kids in the class. Teachers have to teach to the majority, so LD kids get left behind. They may not have the chance to show off their strengths and talents. It’s important to diagnose a learning difference early on, so you can find help and opportunities for your children before they become frustrated or feel like a failure. Your child can be tested for learning differences privately or by the school psychologist.
3. Once your child has been diagnosed, apply for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or Section 504 accommodations at school. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 were designed to ensure that students with disabilities receive equal access to education and school activities. Eligibility for Section 504 is based on the existence of an identified physical or mental impairment that significantly impacts your child’s learning or behavior. If your child is struggling, talk to the school counselor or psychologist about applying for an IEP or Section 504. Accommodations vary according to the child’s needs and are a tremendous help to “level the playing field.”
4. Ask the school psychologist or testing professional to advocate for your child. When I had my son tested at the Learning and Language Clinic in Seattle, the director accompanied me to a meeting with his teachers. She explained how they could help him learn best. Soon after, they incorporated her suggestions. Long term assignments turned into smaller, achievable chunks; we utilized talking books for long and complicated literature, and he wasn’t graded down for spelling except on final drafts. That meeting improved his whole middle school experience. When he entered high school, the psychologist who qualified him for 504 accommodations was also a wonderful resource and advocate. Ask for help.
5. If medication is recommended for your child, research all the options so you can make an educated decision. As well as traditional medications for ADHD, there are alternative and complementary approaches to explore. Some people experience a reduction in symptoms through naturopathic or homeopathic medicine. Others combine traditional medicine with supplements such as flax seed or cod liver oil. A deficiency of fatty acids has been implicated in ADHD. I started with the natural approach for my son and tried “brain health” fatty acid supplements. After a few years and not much difference, I realized he needed traditional medicine. He was struggling in every area of his life. First he tried Concerta, which helps a lot of people but did nothing for him but make him nauseous. When he was sixteen, he tried Adderall for the first time. He arrived home from work and said, “I can’t believe something legal can make me feel like this. I can concentrate and everything seems so clear. My supervisor even complimented me on what a good job I was doing!” That had never happened before. It’s important to try different approaches as soon as your children are diagnosed. It may take a while to find something that works and they deserve to learn, make friends and experience the joys of childhood.
6. Stay involved and develop a partnership with your child’s teacher. Work with the teacher to create a plan that keeps you aware of your child’s progress at school. Make it clear you want to be notified right away if there are social or academic problems, so you can problem solve before things get out of control. Stand up for your child, educate the school staff about your child’s ADHD, but try not to alienate the teacher. Remember that most teachers have your child’s best interests at heart, but may be uninformed about ADHD and overwhelmed with too many students.
7. Join a support group or online forum with other parents. Finding the opportunity to express your concerns and share your experiences with others who have ADD kids can be invaluable. Group members offer each other perspective, support, resources and good old fashioned advice. When your child is struggling academically and socially, it’s a tremendous relief to meet parents who aren’t talking about their children’s straight A’s or their millions of friends.
8. Use a comprehensive approach. All the experts agree that successfully managing ADD requires a variety of strategies. Don’t stop with just medication and school support. What kind of food does your child eat? If possible, try less sugar and food coloring and more protein and complex carbohydrates. Exercise has been proven to increase focus and discharge anger and hyperactivity. Get your kid on a sports team. If the competition of team sports produces too much stress, there are other options such as dance, martial arts and biking. Therapists, ADD coaches, and tutors may also be helpful.
9. Find balance in your life and your family. Although parenting a child with ADD requires a lot of time and energy, save some of it for yourself, your marriage, and your other children. Keep from burning out by taking time for yourself whenever possible. Something as simple as a walk with a friend can provide you with new energy and fresh perspective. Hire a babysitter and make a date with your spouse at least once a month. And don’t forget that siblings who are doing well also need praise and attention. If the ADD child gets all of your time, resentment can grow like a weed.
10. Don’t blame yourself. Remember that ADD is a no fault disorder, like diabetes or near sightedness. Find some peace in the fact that you love your child and are doing the best you can.
11. Look for the positive. When you’re feeling at the end of your rope, remind yourself of your children’s strengths, talents, and all the good things they offer you and your family. Is your son funny? Is he a good artist? Remind your children of their strengths as well, as often as possible.