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Parent stories: my son's strongest advocate

A teacher's mentoring made a difference in the life of a boy with ADHD.

By Kimberly Flyr

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.

Reprinted with permission from ADDitude Magazine. All rights reserved. See for more articles like this one.

Comments from readers

"Thank you for sharing this story. If only all children could be so lucky to find a mentor teacher. Our 14 year old struggles with epilepsy. It feels like his 504 plan is not worth the paper it is written on. The medication he takes impacts his learning, but he is learning. Life is just a little harder. He works so hard, yet continues to get Fs for grades from a couple middle school teachers. It breaks our heart to see how hard he works and how deflated he feels each time an F is placed on his homework or test. What can be done to help teachers understand? We are very worried about how he will transition to high school. "
"thank you so much for your story"
"I am experiencing your same frustration. My son is 13 and in the 8th grade. He is failing every class but on all the standardized tests he does very well. So well that he does not qualify for their excel program. The principles says my Ben's test scores are so good he that Ben should not be failing. But he is so what do I do? He has been diagnosed with ADD. I talk to the counselor and she acts like their is nothing I can do. She suggested having the principle talk with Ben which I said would be fine. However I can't tell how many times my husband and I have talked to him. I know what I think would help him but he doesn't qualify because of his test grades. I am so angry at the school because he is failing but his test scores are good. What kind of sense does that make. Do I tell my son to purposefully do poorly on the test to qualify for this program? But that doesn't address the very real possiblity that he will fail the 8th grade. I'm sorry but I feel like th! e school and I am failing him. He does have responsbility but where does his end and the schools begin?"
"This story is very much like my son. He is six and he started school at the age of four. I have been having a very hard time with his teachers and his learning abilities. If you have information that could help us, then I would really appreciate it. I live in Milwaukee, Wi."
"I have a 10 year old daughter with Tourettes, ADD & OCD. She also has learning disabilities in Math, Reading, & Writing. She is definitely a right-brained child, her artistic ability is fabulous, but that reading, writing, and arithmetic thing is very difficult for her. She has trouble making friends and is beginning to have lowered self-esteem over not being able to have good grades. This is the first year they ahve used the A through F grading system, and she got an F in Math. She had a small meltdown. Any help you can provide would be grateful."
"I think this is a good motivational article for me to read as today is my first day i am going to start mentoring my nephew with ADHD, as I have ADHD myself. I open to sugesstions as we are meeting once a week to study and have fun together. Each session will be about a hour to an hour and a half. I am a sucessful person now, but it was a struggle for me growing up. "