ADHD parenting

ADHD Overhaul? How About Small Tweaks Instead?

His pediatrician was initially uncertain about diagnosing 12-year-old Jack (name has been changed) with ADHD. Although the parental questionnaire seemed to indicate ADHD, the teacher questionnaires were not conclusive. Jack was described by his teachers as well-behaved and attentive in class, even if his handwriting was a bit messy and his assignments were not always complete. It was not until the third appointment when Jack started opening up about his “strategies” for school that the pediatrician became convinced that Jack had the inattentive form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. 

“So, basically, as soon as the classroom discussion starts, I raise my hand and try to answer the first question,” Jack said. “It’s usually an easy question and I know that after I’ve answered once the teacher won’t call on me again, so I can zone out,” 

Jack said he only paid attention to what the teacher was saying about a third of the time, but that he was still able to figure out how to get started on tasks by sitting near friends (or making friends with his seating partners) and then following their lead on assignments. If Jack felt really lost on an assignment, he would think of a question he could ask the teacher that seemed like he wanted more details, but that would really reveal to him what he was supposed to be doing in the first place. 

Jack also described tackling assignments with great effort for the first five to ten minutes before his energy wore off and then submitting the assignments, even if they were incomplete, because he knew his teachers would let him fool around more if the work was already submitted. 

For better or for worse, Jack had developed all kinds of strategies for managing his ADHD. Unfortunately, some of Jack’s strategies accomplished his short term goal of giving his brain a break, but did not help him obtain the success he would have liked to achieve at school. 

Adaptive strategies are a key component for navigating life successfully with ADHD, and every student with ADHD has a whole arsenault of strategies that help them get through the day. However, as was the case for Jack, some of those strategies end up causing more harm than good. It makes sense that parents and teachers often view these unique self-created strategies as problematic. 

However, even when a kid with ADHD is really struggling, they probably do not need a complete overhaul of their strategies. Sometimes they just need to adapt the clever strategies they are currently using to make those strategies more helpful. 

Like all young people, those with ADHD want to do well. They generally want to please the adults in their life, and feel successful, but they will give up if pleasing the adults and being successful feels impossible. When we can help children and adolescents with ADHD see that their strategies are getting them close to where they want to be (completing work without wearing out their brains), we can help them tweak their strategies to achieve greater success. And yes, sometimes we can help students with ADHD develop new strategies as well. 

Jack’s strategy of getting to work really quickly and zipping through assignments was a pretty helpful approach to getting assignments done. However, this approach was strengthened when Jack’s teacher started looking over Jack’s work the moment he handed it in and pointing out what was still missing. Jack would then take his work back to his desk for round two, which usually involved a bit less effort on his part, but helped stretch his capacity and increase his work quality overall. Jack’s parent’s made sure this strategy was included in his Individual Program Plan. 

When a child gets an ADHD diagnosis it can be overwhelming for the parents and the child. But, instead of trying for a complete overhaul, try searching for what is already working and build on that!

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