9 ways to support your child with ADHD without singling them out

"By inadvertently drawing attention to their invisible disability, we make them even more vulnerable."

Follow these simple steps to help your child prepare for their first day of school.

A study published last year in The Journal of Psychiatry and Cognitive Behaviour, and entitled Just Being A Kid, Or An ADHD Kid? A Qualitative Study of How Young People Experience Receiving and Living with a Diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, demonstrated that children with the condition do not respond well to being singled out or seen to be on the receiving end of special treatment in school.

When some of the high school participants spoke about their experiences in the classroom, “they expressed sadness, and a feeling of incompetence. Some of them said that this affected their self-esteem, and made it harder to maintain a positive self-perception.”

How then do we give these kids the additional support they need?

Children can be cruel, and bullies in school often target these children. By inadvertently drawing attention to their invisible disability, we make them even more vulnerable. How then do we give these kids the additional support they need, when school is not a conducive learning environment for them with their poor impulse-control, executive functioning and emotional regulation issues? Added to which, many of them may struggle with other common co-morbidities of ADHD, such as learning difficulties, anxiety, sensory processing disorder and oppositional defiant disorder.

Avoid food fights. A healthy child instinctively knows how much to eat. If he refuses to finish whatever food is on his plate, just let it go. He won't starve.

Image: iStock.

Collaborate with them, by eliciting their ideas and encourage brainstorming. Image: iStock.

According to Lou Brown, ADHD Coach and Advocate, “When identifying strategies to support the student, where possible collaborate with them by eliciting their ideas and encourage brainstorming. Collaborative problem solving helps students with ADHD develop greater self-awareness and improves their planning and problem-solving skills, which over time strengthens their self-regulation capacity.”

But there are also other ways that parents and education professionals can support these children in the classroom without singling them out, as follows:

1. Educate yourself

Understand your child’s condition and their rights at school. There is no such thing as too much information when it comes to receiving feedback.

2. Advocate for your child

Develop a sound relationship with the head teacher, the school counsellor or the Learning Support Teacher at your child’s school. Set up a meeting with their new class teacher at the start of each school year and a progress session at the start of each term. Your rapport and collaboration with their 'support team' at school will be crucial to your child’s success. Above all, make sure that their teacher is empathetic to kids like yours. As Lou Brown says, “Listening with empathy is the most powerful tool we have for supporting students with ADHD.”

Play with your children. Let them choose the activity, and don't worry about rules. Just go with the flow and have fun. That's the name of the game.

Some simple ways to work collaboratively with your child’s class teacher are:

  • Employing the same strategies at home as at school, because continuity is key to kids with ADHD.
  • Asking them to email copies of assignments.
  • Agreeing which learning aids your child has access to in the classroom and at home. The use of timers, stopwatches, recording devices and computers in the classroom may help your child to stay focused.
  • Simplifying tasks for your child - a short list of simple instructions will help them get started on tasks. As Lou advises, “Avoid asking them to copy information from the board. If the student has a low processing speed they will struggle to process information and learn at the same time.” If they struggle with common daily tasks – such as tying up their shoelaces after sport – a step-by-step written or visual set of instructions in their backpack might help them.
  • Agree on a set of signals and rewards for use in the classroom and at home. Lou suggests, “The use of private non-verbal cues such as secret code words to signal a student to stop and self-monitor,” or a card “with a happy face on one side and a hand on the other, which they can use to communicate with them that they require assistance.”
  • Arm yourself with a copy of the teacher’s learning program for each term. That way you can prepare your child for topics ahead of lessons and reinforce learning at home in more practical ways.
Image: iStock.

Help them to identify their own learning style. Image: iStock.

3. The school-to-home diary

This is an invaluable tool to highlight concerns and achievements in the classroom. Additionally, it provides a helpful guide to the mood of your child when they come home each afternoon.

4. Encourage your child to wear a watch

Children with ADHD struggle with time management and to tell the time on analogue clocks. A watch may help keep them on task.

5. Create a safe zone

Make an agreement with your child’s school or teacher about a safe zone at school for your child, or even a mentor that they can seek out in times of distress.

Turn the TV off when you can and turn the conversation on where possible. And remember; loving them is easy, it’s rearing them that’s hard but it does get easier with practise.

6. Encourage movement

Opportunities for your child to move around will benefit both the teacher and child. If possible, walk them to and from school, and get the teacher to select them for jobs in the classroom - i.e. setting up activities and errands. These tasks get them moving and promote opportunities for praise and reward, which helps build self-esteem - often poor in children with ADHD. According to Additude magazine, “Some experts estimate that children with ADHD receive a full 20,000 more negative messages in their lifetimes, on average.”

7. Allow them to take something special with them to school

For moments of stress or overwhelm, a special toy or an encouraging note from a parent in their bag might be all they need to get through the day.

8. Make sure their learning is 'differentiated'

Your child’s learning should be differentiated – i.e. tailored to their distinctive learning abilities. If it isn’t, discuss this with their teacher. While they may be intellectually equal to their peers, your child’s problems with distraction may inhibit their progress. When it comes to homework, allow plenty of time after school for your child to wind down, and don’t worry when it isn’t completed.

"With kids, the days are long, but the years are short." - John Leguizamo

9. Reinforce learning in their individual learning style

Many kids with ADHD are kinaesthetic learners, so use your advanced knowledge of their lesson plans to reinforce learning at home in their learning style. Learning through play, cooking, games, and role-play are perfect ways to do this.

Your relationship is more important than whether they meet the standardised expectations of mainstream education.

Finally, make sure that your child gets enough sleep and avoid comparing their progress to their peers. As Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” Check in regularly with them about how they are feeling, and above all remember that your child is not 'standard', and school is only one stepping-stone to learning.