Note: October is Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia/Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) Awareness Month.
A guest blog by Jessica Gordon, a parent of children with learning and attention issues and Regional Manager for Understood at the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
“She is smart, but she just needs to apply herself.”
If you looked back at my report cards in elementary school, every single one would say that. Even after recognizing that I struggled to pay attention, my family assured me that I didn’t have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) because I was able to watch television for long periods of time.
My experience isn’t as unique as I would hope. In fact, according to The State of Learning Disabilities report from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, 78% of parents believe that any child can do well in school if he or she just tries hard enough. And 33% of educators believe that sometimes what people call a learning or attention issue is really just laziness.
For me—and probably for many kids struggling in school—that wasn’t the case. I was applying myself and doing the best I could, but I wasn’t able to focus or pay attention. My teachers were frustrated that I would score in the 90th percentile on standardized tests but fail to turn in spelling tests and math worksheets. Through trial and error, I found strategies to keep myself organized in school. But by the time I went to college, I sought an evaluation and was told that I do, in fact, have ADHD.
Thanks to advances in research and more experts exploring these issues, our understanding of ADHD has grown tremendously over the past few decades. According to Understood.org, girls are not identified with ADHD as often as boys, and they are often identified much later. The signs can look significantly different in girls and boys. For example, girls may not display the behavior challenges that boys do and might, instead, be chatty, disorganized, or emotional. And, much like me, because girls work hard to compensate for their challenges, it can often be overlooked.
Now, as a mother of three girls, nothing is more important to me than knowing my children’s strengths and challenges and advocating for what they need. When my oldest daughter was in second grade, she began to exhibit the same signs I did at that age. Recognizing those familiar signs, I knew I had to take action. I wanted her to have the same understanding of herself it took me decades to develop.
We went through with an evaluation, and my oldest daughter was diagnosed with ADHD—just like me, but much sooner. My middle daughter was also diagnosed when she reached second grade. And my youngest, who struggles with reading and writing as well as attention, is in the process of being evaluated right now.
When I was younger, I became an advocate for myself only after the system failed to recognize my struggles. But I don’t want that to happen to my children. Instead of making assumptions about what their future might look like with learning and attention issues, I make a point to consider their strengths, their interests, and their ideas about themselves. I want to ensure that my children—and all children—are on a path to understanding themselves and harnessing their strengths and talents.
Having ADHD myself and raising three children with ADHD is a unique challenge, and one I think many parents can relate to when learning and attention issues run in the family. But it is true that parents are their child’s best advocate. When your instincts tell you that something is going on under the surface, it’s important to trust that. It’s critical to seek out professionals who will listen and help you support your child in the way you know you need to.
I often wonder how different my life would have been if my parents and teachers had recognized my ADHD earlier and provided the accommodation and supports I needed all those years ago. Fortunately, my children won’t have to wonder about that. And I hope other parents trust their instincts, listen to their children, and follow a path that gets them and their child the supports they need.
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“Children do well
If the can, not if the want to”— Dr Ross Greene. It is through these lenses we must focus now and in the future on the perspective our kids take when living their lives and meeting the expectations placed upon them. Our children deserve to be treated with respect and under the assumption that if “they could do well they would do well”. There aren’t any children who are lazy or naughty for the sake of it. They are children who are being outstripped by the demands being placed on them. As Dr Greene says, “No child wants to fail” and when we enforce unilateral solutions and punitive measures to get a kid to “want to”, and we aren’t including them in the solution, we are assuming they have the skills to accept the imposition of our will and we punish them thinking that this is “instructive and helpful” in some way. BF Skinner said “A person who has been punished is not less inclined to behave in a given way; at best, he learns how to avoid punishment.” Humans are the only species that can build a pause into what they are proposing to do, and then aim their behavior in the direction that is I keeping with their long term welfare and their long term best interests. However their are neurodevelopmental delays that preclude individuals from being able to do this as well as their same aged peers who do not have a neurodevelopmental delay such as we see in ADHD.
So all the years of doing with Plan A, or the “Do it because I said so” plan has failed, and we still exact discipline in this “I would never accept this from a boss as an adult in the work force, but we expect our kids to, everyday, and when they’re in MS and HS from more than 7 bosses every day” method. The answer is, is to understand that not all kids have the skills to do this because childhood development, social and emotional, as well as academic is a huge moving target. We cannot make it go faster either, as school has moved so over my lifetime, to include what we learned in first grade into a half a day of Kindergarten in some cases. Yes schools are and should be responsible for the social and emotional health as they are guardians of their physical health during those magical 6 hours. This means making school a place to experience learning through all of our senses and with all of our intelligences. School discipline shouldn’t be a euphemism for detention, suspension and expulsion. It should be a place for feeling creatures (humans) go to think and not the other way around.
Priority should be to the social and emotional experience first. This makes learning a process and not a result. I’m asking that all staff and policy makers at least know what kids with sometimes invisible neurodevelopmental days such as ADHD, require from their educators and school programs in the educational, recreational, social and emotional domains, that is not being done currently, and to know that just because they made the grade, it doesn’t represent their educational
Wonderful article! I appreciate your story – sharing your own personal challenges! So many parents and adults need to hear this. Your children are blessed to have a parent who recognizes how important awareness and early intervention is for those diagnosed with ADHD. I really appreciate the research by Dr. Amen that reveal how blood flow and activity decrease in parts of the brain that contribute to ADHD. Particularly, it decreases the more those with ADHD try to concentrate, making it even harder to focus and stay on task. My son was diagnosed with ADHD, and a few of my family members were diagnosed later in life. For boys it sure is more obvious to detect because they’re usually quite hyper. My son was jumping off the walls literally 24/7 especially during times he needed to focus (i.e., in school, reading a book, doing homework, learning new things such as tying his shoes, etc.). However, girls are much harder to detect, such as my oldest sister who wasn’t diagnosed until her early 40s. She was never hyper. In fact growing up, I judged her as being quite square and boring. However, my sister struggled tremendously in school, was impulsive and routinely made unwise choices. As an black woman, mental health issues are more stigmatized in my race. I just wish if anything, parents would be more opened to educating themselves on this issue. Thank you for spreading education on this subject and again for sharing your story!