My ADHD School Struggles: One Year Later

At the beginning of the 2008  school year I got more aggressive on behalf of my Son who struggles with severe ADHD and was having a tough time in school.  At the time he was entering 7th grade and I knew we were running out of time to find successful strategies for him before he heads to the high school.  6th grade was terrible. 7th was stressful but a huge improvement.  So far 8th grade is even better.

What is responsible for the improvements? Finally finding the right ADHD treatment for us, and the change from a 504 to an IEP at school.

With regards to treatment we have been experimenting with medications and dosages for years. We finally found the one that allows him to best focus at school but still allows him to have an appetite and sleep at night.

Despite our struggles in school, all the school would do for my son is qualify him for a 504.  Basically a 504 mandates the removal of potential barriers in the student’s education but, unlike the IEP,  does not provide any special tools or assistance.  In addition to even light amounts of homework taking hours to do after school, Andrew struggled inside the classroom.  After staying up all night doing his homework, he would get nervous and distracted and either forget to pull it out of his backpack for each class, or stuff it in his desk while the other kids were passing forward or dropping on the teacher’s desk.  During timed tests he would drift off.  Classroom distractions prevented him from hearing much of the teacher’s instruction. 6th grade resulted in many D’s, E’s, tears, confrontation, and eventually a mama meltdown at school.

In 7th grade I started off much more firm and prepared, and demanded a meeting and walked in with my list of demands.  I could tell the new team of teachers and support had already drawn their conclusions about me, based on communications with the previous team. Regardless, I was able to convince them that the 504 wasn’t working and the IEP is what we needed.  There was still a lot of struggle at home at homework time and on behalf of the teachers to help him remember to turn things in and stay focused during class, but his grades soared. And the teachers slowly came around and understood that Andrew was facing challenges, not being a slacker.

As the first marking period of 8th grade comes to an end, our biggest struggle seems to be getting him to sit still long enough to do his homework after school, since his medication is wearing off. During school, however, thanks to just a few strategies put in place in the classroom and Andrew’s new found confidence in his abilities and relationships with teachers, he has made improvements beyond my expectations.

Age and maturity has a lot to do with this I am sure. “He will grow out of some of it” is something I have heard a lot over the last five years but had a hard time believing and counting on because we had no control over when or if that would happen.  What we did have control over is working with his doctor to make sure he was taking the right medication and working with the school until we found the strategies that worked for him.

In My Next Life I’ll Give a Shit

In my next life I will do things differently.

In elementary school there was a mean girl.  She was little, cute, had wiry hair and a sharp tongue. She was the center of a noisy group of kids at the lunch table every day. Then there was another girl,  always smiling, sitting with herself or a couple others.  She was chubby.  Then there was me.  As unsocial then as I am now but less tolerant of injustice.  I mostly sat alone because I was grossed out by all the food and whatnot that spit out of kids mouth while they talked with their mouths full.  I can still feel the gag seeing bits of their chewed food land on my bologna and cheese. There were often kids who wanted to sit with me at lunch, and that was fine.  But they knew the rules.  No talking while my sandwich was out.  And they listened to me.  Obeyed,  if you will.

Nobody listens to me today.Not even me! :-)

Back to the elementary school lunch table.  So one day after a long period of observing the mean girl abuse the chubby girl day after day, tampering with her food and calling her fat, I decided I could not sit quietly by and ignore this injustice.  I turned to the mean girl, sandwich in hand, and said, “Hey. I don’t think what you are doing is nice, maybe if you make me understand I will enjoy it too.”  Mean girl was stunned, as was the rest of the table.  Cus I was never talks with food in mouth girl. I continued. “Why do you like to make her feel sad every day?”  When Meanie couldn’t respond I added, “How would you like it if she called you ‘frizz head’?  Cus she has beautiful soft hair and you don’t. Then the whole table might make you cry every day.”

Swear to goodness they became best friends after that.  I did that.  And other things too. That’s just my favorite because it made a huge difference to the girl getting picked on and to our whole lunch table.

Now somewhere between then and now, I changed.  Became complacent. No longer cared about fighting for anybody, anything, or even myself.  Life was good, so what was the point in stirring shit up? Or making people mad?  Instead of being interested in righting wrongs and challenging ideas, I made excuses. “Oh he didn’t mean it that way”, “she really is sweet, she was just having a bad day”, etc.  Somewhere along the way it became important to make everyone around me happy, which is what made me happy, so everyone should have been happy except that some people are morons and you can never make them happy and in so trying you will drive yourself insane.  See what I’m sayin’ :-)

Which made me think.  If I had it to do all over again, I would have made myself a cape after that first big impact I made at the lunch table in elementary school.  I would have worn it with pride during lunch to remind myself to stay sharp and keep close tabs on lunch room and recess injustice.  It would have also surely kept other kids far enough away from me at lunch that I didn’t have to duck their flying moist morsels.

Later, when I became the object of some mean girl attacks, my cape would have kept me strong instead of sending me home in tears.  It also would have likely brought on more attacks, but the point is, I wouldn’t have cared.

You know, maybe I don’t have to wait til my next life now that I think about it.  Why can’t I start right now?

Hey neighbors! You across the street that park your cars in the front yard… this is a SUBDIVISION. You don’t park in your lawn.  If  you want me to get technical, you are supposed to MOW it!

Dish Network. We are THROUGH! You charged me way too much in 1997 to BUY my dishes.  Who does that?  You said it was so my service would move with me from residence to residence.  But they all do and nobody buys the dishes anymore.  You continue to charge me too much for service AND you took all the good high def channels away.  The new batch sucks! You know who else moves their service with you? Direct TV.  Yeah.  DirectTv in Texas, Direct Tv in Florida, Direct TV in New York, wherever I want to go.  So watch yourself, cus I am making some changes. you might want to consider bringing that cool high def travel channel back along with those extreme sports.

School District: Don’t make me put my cape on and come up there.  You brag about your superiority and special programs.  Why has it taken four years under your watch to run some tests and figure out what to do with us?  He experienced more trauma by 9 than you will likely see in a lifetime, yet you label him manipulative and deny him assistance?  That’s not nice. Let me tell you what I think…

Family.  I work from home. That means you are lucky and don’t have to go to daycare. Or pay for daycare. It doesn’t mean that you have a 24 hour maid. Or assistant. Or chef. Or punching bag.  Also, I like to read.  You may not know it because I haven’t done it in five years.  But when you see me hiding in the closet with a book to my nose and my cell phone lighting the way, I do not want to see that funny commercial with Sam & the chicken or watch you test drive the latest skate board couse you made with Tony Hawk.  I’m good.

Hey Friend! That’s called littering.  And I am totally offended by it and plan to give you shit about it from now on.  It’s also illegal. I might turn you in.  And if you continue to spew ignorance out of your mouth about people who are different from you, you don’t get to be my friend, even if we’re family.  Unless you are reading this blog you won’t even realize what’s happening. You’ll simply be history.

That’s just the beginning.  There is nonsense brewing all over the place.  Have you noticed?  What are you doing about it?  Are you fighting for what you believe in or turning the other cheek to keep your own private peace?  It’s not too late to wake up and start giving a shit.  Let’s do it together.

What bugs you?  What beliefs have you ignored or things have you allowed to happen in the name of  keeping the peace? What do you want to do differently?

Preparing My ADHD Son for Success…At School and Beyond

You may recall that at the end of the school year I was pretty frustrated and angry with myself and the school.  Andrew’s needs as a child with severe ADHD were not met.  My meeting with the psychologist is coming up on the 4th and I am happy to report the anger is gone and I am excited to get to work on my Son’s roadmap to success.

Here’s a refresher.

My extremely bright 6th grader, first year middle schooler, received a final grade of an “E” in Social Studies.  He started out poorly in all subjects but raised his grades in all of them throughout the year except in Social Studies, his favorite subject. 

His grades were not at all a reflection of what he had learned in any of the subjects but we chose to celebrate the success of bringing Ds and Es up to As, Bs, and Cs, rather than dwell on the fact that they could have been all As and Bs.  Andrew worked too hard to not have his accomplishments acknowledged. 

The problems

Many folks on Andrew’s team at school did not recognize ADHD for the challenge it is.  They accused me of wanting to coddle him when all I asked for is implementation of strategies recommended by experts and regular communication between me and the teachers.  That is all I have ever requested.  According to experts, I did not demand enough.  According to the teachers, I expected too much. 

Andrew did so poorly in school because he didn’t turn in his work.  I know he did it because we stayed up late doing it together.  Homework kicked our butts this year.  The assignments became more complex with more problems, which is overwhelming to ADHD students.  So we had more complex assignments times more classes.  He cried every night at the impossibility of it all.  And every night when it was done laughed and said, “Well that wasn’t so bad.”  He also didn’t turn in classwork which I do not understand.  If a teacher has a special needs student whose special needs happen to include getting distracted and stuffing his work in his desk rather than passing it forward, is it too much to expect that teacher ask for his work?

Our basic requests this year

  • student planner to be completed each day and initialed by myself and all teachers.
  • completion of homework verified each night by parent and verified receipt by teacher each day.
  • strategic placement in the classroom to avoid distraction and keep close contact with teacher.
  • weekly email from teachers informing of any missing assignments and classwork, giving the opportunity to complete over the weekend.
  • modified/reduced assignments, not for special attention but to accommodate his slower pace so he can stay caught up in class.
  • gentle reminders from teacher when he appears to drift off in class
  • direct eye contact when giving instruction followed by confirming with him that he heard and understands. 
  • consistent use of strategies in the classroom.
  • tests given individually or in small groups.

Can  you all think of anything I am missing?  We are reviewing his 504 on September 4th and setting up some tests for him.  We just have to get it right this year, I am afraid he is slipping through the cracks. 

I found a great resource while researching to prepare for my meeting with the school.  It is called The ADHD Road Map to Success Kit.  If you have a child who suffers from ADHD or even just needs help with organization, check it out here

Lunch Time Challenges

  hot-lunch.jpg         

How can you be sure your kids are getting the proper nutrition throughout the day when you send them off to school?  As they get older no one checks to make sure they’re eating anymore.  They could be flushing their sandwiches down the toilet for fun and giving their pudding to a girl they want to impress.  Nobody cares.  I am so glad for school to start back up and for all the relief that this time of year brings.  But now it’s time to worry about a whole new set of issues.  Eating lunch is a big concern for me.  Why do I get so upset and what am I going to do about it?  I am glad you asked!

My Son is 12 and he weighs 62 lbs.  He’s down from 64 lbs at his last physical. My Daughter is 8 and in the 90th percentile at 78lbs.  There is only an inch difference in height between them, despite the 4 years.

My Daughter loves lunch time.  She has been crazy about it ever since the first day of kindergarten when she kept interrupting the teacher asking if it was lunch time because she was real excited about busting out her new Scooby Doo lunch box.  She buys the lunch and, until I put restrictions on her account, bought many of the “quarter extras” available to her such as cookies, cake, ice cream, Sunny Delight, etc.  At the elementary level there are no long lines to wait and plenty of time to enjoy all her food. 

Middle School, however, is different.  The lines are long and the time is short.  My Son complains that if he waits in line for a hot lunch he barely has time to eat it, much less socialize afterward.  Sometimes he grabs something small like a pretzel out of the snack line but the problem is his ADHD medicine is in full effect around the lunch hour not only keeping him focused but killing his appetite.  He is not hungry so there is just no motivation to eat.  He is too anxious to find an open chess table and a willing opponent.

The answer is simple, right?  Make cold lunches.  I got to a point last year, though, where I thought “if he isn’t eating anyway, it is wasteful to make him lunch”.  Plus I was more rattled last year in general and probably looking for an excuse remove “pack lunches” from my daily routine.  So I filled up his account with money assuming he would eat when he was hungry.  Like that old attitude, “it ain’t gonna kill him to miss a meal.  If he’s hungry he’ll wait it line.” 

Bad Mom.

Obviously it is hurting him because he is losing weight rather than gaining.  So cold lunch it is.  It is also time to customize their lunches.  Maybe I wrong to ever be feeding them matching lunches, considering their difference in age.  But the similarity in their size through me off, I guess.

So how do I ensure that he eats his lunch at school? Realize that I can’t and come up with a plan  for getting in the daily necessities.

Our doctor’s appointment was a great lead into a dialogue about eating in general.  She told him that he is almost 13 years old and he looks like he is 8.  (Yikes! Harsh! We usually AVOID those comments!)  She went on to make it clear to him that he is as small as he is not because he is meant to be but because he chooses to be. 

The Langston Food Summit of 2008 was eye opening and productive.

We identified that he is most hungry first thing in the morning and ravenous at night.  Duh!  He skimps on lunch and his meds are worn off by late afternoon.  He is up all night snacking on the wrong things and tearing up the kitchen.  We came up with a simple and encouraging plan.

  • Have a bigger breakfast but don’t simply overindulge on multiple bowls of sugary cereal.  Add a piece of fruit, boiled egg, and raisin toast. (these are from his suggested foods)
  • Pack a small, simple lunch of things that are fast and easy to eat so that he is more likely to eat while socializing, even though he isn’t hungry.  He said he would love celery sticks and peanut butter, a granola bar, and a Slim Jim or something similar.  Sounds more like a snack than a meal right?  That’s okay.  It is more than he was eating before and it really is just a snack.  Read on.
  • Enjoy a big family dinner.  He is a great eater at dinner time, devouring a big salad and pasta or the like.  We eat early because Hubby gets home at 3 or 4pm which is great because having not had much lunch, my Son is usually famished by this time as meds have worn off a bit.
  • Here’s our secret weapon.  A fourth meal around 7pm.  This is usually the time everyone gets a scoop of ice cream or mini ice cream sandwich if homework is done and attitudes are good.  He will still get that reward of course, but first he will have a can of Chef Boyardee and a cucumber or something similar.   

I love Chef Boyardee and mac & cheese and all those convenient dinner helpers now that I serve them as the side dish to big salads and crunchy veggie main courses.  For better or worse, this combination is satisfying to him so he can stop snacking and I can close the kitchen at 8:30 and be confident it will not be covered in peanut butter, jelly, toast crumbs, with feet marks on the counters, when I get up in the morning.

I came to see that I was worrying too  much about this one meal of the day that I couldn’t control and decided to turn it into a somewhat balanced snack.  I have plenty of time after school to make sure he gets his proper nutritional allowances for the day.

As for my Daughter, I received a call that first day of kindergarten being notified that after a morning filled of interrupting the class asking, “is it time yet?” she suddenly disappeared.  She was found underneath her desk with her lunch spread out like a picnic, enjoying.  Things have never really changed. :-)

I hope I was able to get you thinking about ways to solve your eating challenges at home and lunch time.  I would love to hear more tips from all of you, too.  So if you have any favorite strategies, please share!

Thanks to a la corey  at Flickr for the hot lunch photo!