When my 8-year-old daughter with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is in school, I hate it almost as much as she does. For about 10 months of the year, she is in a classroom designed for students expected to sit down, sit still, and conform, but she was designed to be constantly moving, fidgeting and thinking outside the box.
To be honest, my daughter finds mostly all of the subjects in school boring, so when there is a lesson about fractions for example, she is struggling with all her might to pay attention. Most neurotypical children can tune out the bird singing outside the window or the classmate tapping his pencil on a desk, but for children like my daughter, their brains are wired to try to pay attention to everything. This is a blessing and a curse.
Unless my daughter is very interested in something — and will even hyper-focus on it sometimes — her brain is going to be trying to take in everything: sights, sounds, even smells. The problem with this is instead of getting the whole pizza pie, she’s just getting a slice. For example, during a History lesson, she may have heard the bit about Henry Ford creating the Ford Model T, but missed the part about him being the first to create an assembly line. Because of the parts she missed, she struggles with assignments and tests.
On paper and in comparison to other students, she might appear to be lazy and not very smart, but she’s actually very intelligent. She is a deep thinker and can grasp concepts most neurotypical children cannot. When asked about something she is truly passionate about, she will give you an extremely thoughtful and heartfelt answer. Some of her thoughts and realizations she shares with me blow me away! Unfortunately, these are the types of things not taken into consideration in the classroom. Instead, she’s given boring multiple choice tests about subjects she has absolutely no interest in.
When she comes home from school, homework is a struggle and even feels like a battle at times. Although she has gotten better at trying to get out of doing her homework over the years, it’s still an unpleasant experience for both of us. She struggles with having the executive functioning and organization skills to complete assignments, so I have to sit right next to her to help her get started and keep her on track and on task.
Related: Feeling Invisible as a Woman With ADHD
For writing assignments, her handwriting is not very good. She wants to get through it as quickly as possible and she flat out doesn’t care if her handwriting is messy. Although her handwriting makes me cringe at times and I know she is capable of writing neater, I’ve learned to let it go. Otherwise, there will be a meltdown and tears, which will result in it taking even longer to complete her homework.
When she has a math problem she doesn’t understand, she becomes easily frustrated and angry. I am right there next to her trying to help her with her homework, but she makes it known she doesn’t understand and that she hates math. It takes all of my strength to remain calm and not lose my patience with her. Eventually, she calms down enough to let me help her and she completes her homework. All of it. Every day.
Yes, homework can be harder for children with ADHD and I suppose I could make a request to the teacher to come up with accommodations for her homework like some students have written into their IEPs or 504s. However, this is something I feel very strongly about with my own child. I want and need my daughter to understand certain things in life will always be more difficult for her to achieve, but that doesn’t mean they are not achievable. She is smart, creative, and resourceful and even though she may take a different approach, need an accommodation and extra help, there’s no doubt in my mind she can reach any goal.
Besides the schoolwork, my daughter also struggles socially during the school year. While the other third-graders are gathered in a circle calmly talking about a current movie, my daughter is hopping around pretending she’s a rabbit. I love that kid to death and I for one appreciate her imaginative and creative mind, but I can also see why her peers find her odd. They are not accepting of her, because they do not understand her. As an adult who’s already been through it all before, I know it is their loss, and being liked by the “cool girls” doesn’t matter, but to my little girl, her world gets shattered every time she sees other girls getting handed invitations to birthday parties and not her. Her little heart breaks every time she tries to join a conversation and gets shut down with a sassy “It’s none of your business.” As her mother, it breaks my heart, too, and I’m sick of it.
Fortunately, come mid June, my daughter will be all mine and I plan on spoiling the heck out of her, and rightfully so. She truly deserves a great summer break. She works so hard during the school year to conform as best she can, both academically and socially. Here are some of the things my daughter won’t be doing during summer break:
- My child won’t be reading textbooks. Instead, her summer days will be filled with reading her favorites, like “Captain Underpants” and “Dog Man.” We’ll take weekly trips to the library, where she will be free to choose whatever books she likes and find new favorites.
- My child won’t be learning about subjects she doesn’t care about. Instead, I’m going to let her decide all on her own what she wants to learn about. If she wants to learn how to make slime, that’s cool. If she wants to learn more about how recycling works, that’s cool, too. It’s important to nurture our children’s natural curiosity and help them further their education about subjects they are passionate about.
- My child won’t be left out. Instead, we’ll invite her close friends over for fun playdates. These friends of hers understand and appreciate her for who she is and this makes my heart very happy.
- My child won’t be bored. Instead, her summer days will be filled with all the things she loves: Art projects, science experiments, swimming, roller-skating and trips to the beach and amusement parks. Basically, all the things we don’t have time for during the school year.
Unless you are a parent of a child with ADHD, you will never fully understand what these kids go through during the school year. There are many tears and many fights. There are late nights and sleepless nights. There are many struggles, but there are also many triumphs. As parents, we experience it all with them and it is downright hard and dirty work, but we somehow always manage to get through it every single year. We help our children. We encourage them. We push them to reach their full potential. Every ounce of our energy is used to make sure our children are on the right path.