My dear friend shared with me how important it was to him that his mother, a now retired kindergarten teacher, never medicated him for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
In fact, she passionately fought to defend her decision against medication throughout his time in school. She did not want to stifle his creative energy just so he could fit into the factory model of his traditional classroom setting.
Today, he is an inspired elementary music teacher who brings out the fun, the giggles, and the creative spirit in his students. For this man, his mother knew best, and he is successful at what he does in large part because of his mother’s support of his energy.
As in this case, there are many arguments for choosing not to medicate a child for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or ADHD. My friend’s mother did not believe that being eccentric and full of energy was a “condition” that demanded “curing.” However, in our high-stakes educational culture, the tendency is toward agreeing that the way to success is through a solid education, and therefore, children need to compete and receive the highest grades to reach success.
Somewhere there is a balance between creative energy and focused drive, the balance that any option should be striving to reach. Of course, medication is an option, but many non-medical options are also available.
Here are some of the more widely accepted, non-medical suggestions that I have learned as a teacher and from my conversations with parents and friends. And because many would argue that all of us have a bit of ADHD when forced to sit in one spot for six hours each day, many of these suggestions are appropriate for most children.
- Use behavior modification techniques. These include strategies like immediately praising appropriate behaviors and ignoring inappropriate ones; creating a consequence/reward system with a sticker chart or daily report cards from school; setting up a homework hour at a consistent time each day; following homework completion with TV time or video games as a reward. Building a relationship with your child based upon reasonable expectations for behaviors and fair and consistent follow though of rewards and consequences is a time tested strategy for helping all children develop good habits and kick bad ones.
- Develop a 504 Plan at school. A 504 plan is a legal document that protects children with disabilities. If a child has a disability that hinders academic achievement, such as ADD/ADHD, certain accommodations can be made to lessen the effects of the disability on the student’s achievement. If your child has a medical diagnosis, this option may be available to you.
- Talk to the teacher! If your child’s impulsively at school is getting him into trouble or limiting his achievement, become a partner with his teacher and work together to help him be successful. Even without the diagnosis of a learning disability, teachers can use certain strategies for all children. In my own classroom, for kids with a lot of energy, I let them get up for water or the bathroom often. We create secret non-verbal signals or cues together so they can tell me when they need a break without drawing attention to themselves. I let them doodle or “daydream” during classroom discussions (My best friend has to doodle during business meetings in order to maintain her own attention to the meeting). I allow them to stand at their desk during work time or work on the floor, dedicate them as my errand-runners, or reward them with time working in another teacher’s classroom, specifically a younger-aged class so they can be seen positively as a leader and role model. Believe it or not, even a heavy book on the lap can help calm impulsive urges and help settle a child’s energy down.
- Homework h--l! Homework can be an excruciating task for both children with ADD/ADHD and their parents. The traditional standard for homework is the “ten-minute rule;” ten-minutes of homework for each year of school beginning in first grade (i.e. 10 minutes in first, 20 in second, etc.). However, this is just a suggested guideline. If homework completion is what causes you the most grief at home, discuss options such as setting a reasonable work time beyond which the child can stop working and turn in just what was completed, or a minimum homework requirement that instills a sense of work ethic but does not lead to frustration.
- Teach self-control and what impulsive or typically ADD/ADHD behaviors look like in your child. Once a child understands her own behaviors in comparison to what is expected, she can learn to control these behaviors. Kids do not want to stand out. If you teach self-awareness, you empower your child to take control.
- Adjust diet. Research is constantly emerging about the impact of diet on behavior. Nutritional changes such as limiting or eliminating food additives, refined sugars, food coloring, gluten, or dairy, as well as increasing supplements such as Omega-3s and fish oil are all options. As with identifying a food allergy, it is important to isolate these nutritional changes to identify what is or isn’t working. Pay close attention to any changes, good or bad, and respond accordingly.
- Involve a tutor to work one-on-one with your child. This person should be knowledgeable about what ADD/ADHD is and have a variety of strategies for helping you and your child learn the way that he learns best. This is often a puzzle, and regular classroom teachers may not have time to specifically identify how to best enhance your child’s learning. The professional tutor should be seeking to know your child specifically and be able to offer you suggestions for helping as well. Tutors can also communicate with classroom teachers and advocate for your child. One-on-one attention should have the combined outcomes of filling in gaps in learning, teaching your child how to manage impulsive behaviors, developing strategies that your child can use at school, and raising your child’s self-esteem, self-confidence, and achievement.
- Consider alternative classroom or schooling options. If the traditional school setting does not afford your child a way to really excel in her own manner, try something new! Unfortunately, financial considerations do limit many parents from accessing such options, however scholarships may be available. Some of these alternatives include Waldorf Schools, Montessori Schools, homeschooling, or GATE magnet schools or classes in your local school district. Also consider schools that cater to the arts if your child is a creative soul. Many high school districts are now offering vocational magnet programs, too, in areas such as graphic design and film. If your child sees immediate benefit in her time spent at school, she will be willing to participate in the less interesting elements of school as well.
- Consistency is crucial for all children. Let the teacher know that you are willing to help develop and maintain a behavior management system that you can use at home and school. One system that works across settings will create the greatest outcome.
- Try a combination of techniques. A one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work for anyone. Find what works best for your child by experimenting with a moderate, yet consistent combination of different options until you see the desired benefit.
- Watch out for scams. As with any “miracle cure," there is usually a profit-margin behind it. The burgeoning world of the Internet has allowed everyone to become an “expert” and to offer a cure. Be a cautious consumer and a strong advocate for your child’s best interests.
- There is nothing wrong with your child! Whatever steps you chose to take, make sure your child does not feel like something is wrong with him or her or that he or she needs to be “fixed.” Remember, the ultimate goal in changing any behaviors is to help your child be successful in life. Any “treatment” should be seen by the child as an attempt to make him or her strong, healthy, and proud of themselves. And don’t forget that sitting for six hours each day is hard for anyone, adult or child. Focus on the setting and stimuli for the behaviors you are concerned with and address those first.
I cannot possibly cover this topic completely in such a limited article, and I certainly do not purport to be an expert in this area. However, I do greatly respect the experiences of my friends, family members, and students in their own dealings with ADD and ADHD. Each experience is valid, and only through sharing our own successes and failures, either as parents or as students, can we really empower others to make the right choices for their children or themselves.
Let’s continue the discussion. Please leave a comment below or visit my blog, www.schoolsurvivalist.com, to keep the conversation going.