By Carol Bogart
Tags: disability education health parenting
Mike was excited when he started first grade, but sometimes he came home looking sad. His brain was not the same as other children's. He has ADHD -- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Since his disability doesn't show and its symptoms are annoying, he got in lots of trouble. If he wasn't paying attention when the teacher gave out homework, he didn't have any to turn in. Sometimes he blurted things out in class. Fidgety, he resharpened his pencils again and again.
As his mom, I tried to be patient, but it was hard when Mike didn't listen, especially since I have ADHD, too. Science has found the genetic marker for the disorder. A PET scan can watch a brain as it "works." The ADHD brain is clearly "different."
Mike was diagnosed when he was 4. I tried to keep in mind what his doctor told me about making sure he was looking at me when I told him something, and about not telling him too many things at once. But finally, after years of disappointing parent-teacher conferences, I was frustrated -- tired of seeing my bright boy get bad grades because he didn't do his work.
In the 10th grade, he had a big math project to do. I went to Wal-Mart and bought every supply I thought he could possibly need and laid them out on the table. He stalled. Things were the wrong color or the wrong size or ... . The excuses kept on coming.
Finally, I blew up.
"Mike!" I said. "Just get started!!"
He'd never had an assignment like this one before. He was supposed to make a design -- maybe a star -- for his geometry class using string and tacks, and then write down the angles. He didn't want me (or his teacher) to be mad, but he didn't know what to do. Everybody said, "Get started," but how?
Mike hesitated, then, hoping maybe I would understand, softly asked, "What does 'get started' mean?" The anger drained out of me. Tears filled my eyes. I thought of all the times he'd had been yelled at -- at school, at home. I sat down beside him. "Cut your poster board to fit the cork board," I told him kindly. "Then glue it on. Decide where you want to put the points of your star and tap in the nails."
Pretty soon, the project was well underway. Colored string was being woven around the nails, and a star was taking shape against a black construction paper background.
With the ADHD child, or any child who struggles, what I learned was: Take the time to show them a place to "get started" that isn't brand new and scary. Start with something they've done before that guarantees success. It will give them the confidence to tackle something new. And always -- smile at them for trying.
Carol Bogart is a freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.