I don’t have ADHD, but it affects me every day. My 8-year-old son, David, was diagnosed with the condition last year. Loving a child with ADHD is demanding, rewarding, frustrating, and often fun. I do everything I can to help him in school. But as I found out, sometimes a little luck can help, too.
It’s not as though I’d never heard of ADHD before David was born. As a public school teacher for 10 years, I taught my share of ADHD students. I remember many of them — their intelligence as well as their quirks.
One little boy who had trouble keeping his hands still during story time twirled a quarter to entertain himself. One day he decided to see what the coin would feel like in his mouth. The next thing I knew he was standing up and screaming, “I swallowed the quarter! Am I going to die?” He ran down the hall to find the school nurse.
I remember his mother’s concern over his impulsiveness, restlessness, and quirkiness. Being only 24 and childless at the time, I saw the boy as sweet and amusing. And while I offered sympathy to the worried mother and modified my teaching methods to try to meet her son’s needs, I wonder now if I did enough — or understood enough?
Older and wiser
Twelve years and three children later, I am older and considerably wiser. I now empathize with that mother because, in some ways, I have become her. David is also impulsive and quirky, intelligent, and prone to worrying. He’s caring and sensitive, funny, and athletic. But he needs assistance in focusing on an assignment. He needs tasks broken down into small pieces, and he needs someone to smooth out life’s rough edges.
I pay attention to the teachers who work with him. He needs one with patience, who can nurture his creative thinking, and, I hope, who can appreciate his latest addiction, Calvin and Hobbes.
I support his teachers because I know that their extra effort helps David, and I also try to support my son, answering his many questions about school: Why doesn’t the story he wrote make sense to the teacher when it makes perfect sense to him? Why doesn’t he remember assignments? Why is it wrong for him to correct the teacher if she makes a mistake?
The call that changed things
I grew accustomed to answering phone calls from frustrated teachers, counselors, and friends. So when one of David’s teachers called me at home last spring, I steeled myself for what she was about to say. Just the day before, I had attended a conference with several of David’s teachers. We were all disappointed that our best efforts hadn’t helped my son as much as we had hoped. As I picked up the phone to talk to yet another teacher, I thought that changing my phone number was looking better every day.
But this call turned out to be different. “Your son is very bright,” said an upbeat Nancy Kapp, his enrichment teacher. “But he needs to work with teachers who understand his way of thinking. I ‘get’ your son, and I’d like to mentor him, if it’s OK with you.”
“It’s more than OK with me,” I remember muttering as relief washed over me. And so began a relationship between David, Kapp, and me. Kapp agreed to work with David, pulling him from class once a week to work on a special writing project that appealed to his interests (comics and creative writing). The project began in second grade and will continue for as long as David and Kapp are willing to be a team.
Advocate and advisor
It’s reassuring to know that Kapp understands David. If the classroom teacher is unsure of how to help my son, Kapp steps in with a solution. When David struggled to write a story for a project, she offered to type his story as he dictated it, organizing the sentences and paragraphs as she went along. David was proud of the finished product.
Kapp also serves as an advisor to David’s father and me. If we have concerns about David’s progress, she offers insights and solutions. When we decided to use a behavior chart to help David complete his work in class, for example, she helped develop the chart and offered to “test it” in her own classroom.
Are we lucky to have found Kapp? Of course. But chances are, you can also find a teacher who will make a difference in your child’s life. As I found out, developing partnerships with teachers can make school an easier experience for everyone.
Before befriending Kapp, David had felt anxious about school. When I would visit him during lunch or recess, his body and face seemed tense. Now he looks forward to the one-on-one time with Kapp and has relaxed a little. Are our problems solved? Not completely. But as David’s favorite comic-strip characters point out, it’s more fun to get through your day with a trusted friend by your side.