Since March, most families have been enjoying the comforts of home. Together. Twenty four hours a day. Seven days a week. There are definite benefits we’ve all enjoyed due to this unexpected hiatus from life as we knew it. But most of us would probably also agree that any semblance of time alone or self care we may have had previously has been derailed.
Now that our ADHDers are “going back to school” – whatever that may look like – does this mean we can get back to some type of self care too?
Ali’s Story: I haven’t been alone or without interruption in five months. My exercise schedule shriveled to nothing and my waist size expanded. Daily meditation times were traded for a third shift in the kitchen as a short order cook. I definitely don’t feel like myself.
The rhythm of my days has not just been interrupted – it has evaporated! I desperately rely on quiet moments to recharge from the drain of the daily push/pull with my ADHDer. I easily absorb his anxiety so my alone time is critical. But since mid-March he’s been my side kick. All day. Every day. Insert stress eating here. I’m relying on school resuming to mean that maybe my routine can resume too.
Nor’s story: Coffee, cake, and work. Doesn’t initially sound like a healthy plan for self-care, does it? Meditation, yoga, and vacation would be better or perhaps date night, facials, and friends.
Coffee is my daytime luxury. Before COVID-19, having someone make me a cup of coffee after I dropped off the kids at school was the height of being pampered. Sitting in the car drinking it ALONE was like heaven on earth. Cake is my nighttime luxury. I’ve told Ali for years that I have a few bites of cake every night but she thought I was being funny. No, not an exaggeration. I have cake slices in the deep freeze and after both children are asleep, it’s my time for a deep calming breath and a few bites of cake.
Work. Now this is ironic, because my work life entails working with the same challenges I have with my own children. The difference is that at work, other parents listen to me and their kids listen to me. I get to be a valuable resource and help people in a way that makes a huge difference. I don’t often feel like that as a mom. So work gives me purpose, satisfaction, and happiness, which is self-care to me.
How has your life changed since the pandemic started? What has that meant for any self care you enjoyed? Are you working towards restoring time for yourself?
Any parent of an ADHD+er knows what it takes to get a worthy school plan finalized. Testing, research, documentation, meetings, negotiations and more meetings – all to ensure a student gets what they need to succeed. After all is said and done, those words – the ones that took so much blood, sweat, and tears to agree upon – are completely meaningless unless there are dedicated people working daily to bring those words to life.
To be honest, I’m sick and tired of plans. We’ve had a “plan” since age three. We’ve had them all with our kids–IEPs, 504s, private school student support plans. Sometimes they help, sometimes they don’t. If we have a good teacher, we don’t need the plan.
Someone told me once, “You have the most complicated child I’ve ever taught who has the least amount of services on their IEP.” That kind of sums it up; if the environment and teacher is right, he thrives. If not, there are no services that can fix that. I think that has a lot to do with the anxiety that accompanies him, like the devil on his shoulder, everywhere he goes. There’s no school accomodation for anxiety.
For us, what I’ve learned is that what’s more important than the plan is the meeting for the plan. In the meeting, I can paint the picture of my children, what each one brings for strengths, gifts, and talents, and share how previous teachers have helped them shine or put their light in a closet. There’s no magic in the plan, but there is love in understanding and empathy. And love, sweet love, is what our complex kids need.
Norrine’s words couldn’t be truer, I’ve also found that good teachers trump any plan. Every time someone takes the time to know and engage my ADHDer, gain his trust and truly encourage him, he thrives and they enjoy having him as a student.
I’ve also found the most valuable tool is meeting the teachers personally. Sitting face to face to share WHO my ADHDer is and WHAT brings out his best is an invaluable opportunity. The reality is, there isn’t a long list of accommodations to follow. Instead, my ADHDer’s biggest need is feeling valued. He’ll know in a heartbeat if you write him off as not worth it. And that will guarantee a sure shut down.
We know the importance and necessity of working with school personnel to build a solid plan. We’ve sat around the table more times than we care to count. What we’ve found to work better than any plan is working with teachers who want to work with our kids. When a teacher uses their unique gifts to bring out a student’s potential – well, that’s the best plan.
What has worked for your ADHDer? How do you make sure it happens? We’d love to know what your experience has been.
For all the mystery that can surround complex ADHD there are some things you can know for sure. One of those is: YOU WILL HAVE TO ADVOCATE FOR YOUR CHILD. Period. This will be true in most every facet of their life and most certainly, and probably painstakingly, IN SCHOOL.
The word advocate means “to add a voice.” Something about this definition swells our hearts – even breaks them open a little. It makes Norrine and I wanna get a megaphone to go with our pom poms.
Advocacy is what parents of kids with special needs do instead of relaxing, having coffee, working out, spending time with friends, and just about every other optional activity in life. You can (sometimes) still work, use the bathroom, and shower just enough to not stink. In brief, it’s endless and exhausting.
Complicating matters is that when you have a child who is deeply complex, they often present as not so complex upon first meeting. Some of their disabilities are invisible and it makes creating understanding, empathy, and an effective plan kind of difficult because the other person doesn’t yet see what you are talking about. It’s hard to be on the same page if you haven’t read the book. And if you think you have, but you really only read the Cliff Notes and you’re trying to tell me about the book, well…that doesn’t work.
As exhausting and alienating as advocacy can be, it’s perhaps my most important job as the parent of a complex ADHDer. As Ali often says, if my child isn’t giving up, I’m not either.
I sat with a young mom last week to celebrate her milestone birthday. The conversation quickly turned to her daughter who’s had quite a rough go of Pre-K and is about to enter kindergarten. She’s working toward a diagnosis but things aren’t clear yet. She talked about her hopes of them giving a good match for a teacher. I looked at her with envy. What I wouldn’t give to get a do over with my ADHD+er. I looked at her with sadness. She has no idea what she’s in for.
I can’t count the school meetings I’ve had. Some were promising. Some gutted me to my core. All were nerve wracking and draining. It squeezes your heart like a sponge to put it all out there, unpack your precious ADHD+er, seemingly selling their precious good points to offset the other. It’s not lost on me why some people hire professional advocates. It’s a short walk from calm and coherent to frustrated and desperate.
Our kids need our voice. They need us to turn the volume up. To keep showing up on their behalf. If it’s a hard job for us in a controlled, professional environment, imagine what they face in the flow of every school day. We know you’re tired exhausted. We know you’re hoping for desperate for a good school year. We’re with you. We’re handing you our megaphone.
Parents of ADHD+ers know that building school relationships is vital to the success of their student. It can be no less than a part time job to create connections in all the places you know support will be needed – from the secretary to the principle. Then the tight rope walk begins between being likable and holding them accountable, informing and oversharing, checking in and prodding.
We’re sure we’re not alone in wondering if there’s some utopia where it’s easier. You know, where ALL the pieces were working together – not just one here and there. We imagine trading the lone ranger routine for working as part of a TEAM.
Ali’s Story: Last year I received an email from my ADHD+er’s tutor offering some new strategies based on her observations. She included his teacher to get her input and signed it “Team (my son’s name).” Team? My heart leapt in my chest. They were collaborating and I wasn’t initiating it! My son was so supported. Was it possible to replicate this in his six other classes? The answer was a hard no, but I’ll take the bright spots where I can find them.
The reality is it takes a lot of work to build a school support team. Some years will be better than others depending on who’s really listening, who really cares and who has the skill set to really know what to do. It takes a lot of finesse and a lot of patience on our parts. It’s frankly – exhausting. I genuinely love and appreciate school personnel and go above and beyond to make sure they know that. But as I sit here at the dawn of year twelve of this tango – I mostly just want them to want what I want without HAVING TO CONTINUALLY CONVINCE THEM. I want to trade the few bright spots for a real team.
Nor’s Story: I am a professional woo-er of school personnel. After my family, no one is more important to me than the teachers and staff at my children’s current school (we’ve been at four so far). I bring presents and flowers and food. I also bring the three inch binder all about my complex ADHDer.
I love school people. And I fear them. And sometimes I end up hating them. But I start out wooing them. I want them to know that I want nothing more than to be a successful team. I freely and openly disclose. I’m real and true and authentic about his needs and mine. I put forth all the effort to get to know them and to help them see my child for who he is.
It’s a delicate balancing act between wooing and advocating. Tomorrow’s post is all about advocacy!
We know the work needed to build a school support system and we know that’s the only way to feel good about a school year. We’re wondering who’s on your school team? What do you do to build it? What works for you in maintaining it? What’s your story?
Going back to school is typified by fresh supplies, morning photo shoots and great anticipation of all that a new school year can offer. It’s hard to negate the promise of a new year. That is, unless the years previous have been less than promising. The potential of a fresh start can be lost on us who’ve not enjoyed many school successes. It can conjure up trepidation and dread for us that armor up each August in anticipation of the heavy lifting that school requires. Yet, even still, it’s truly miraculous how resiliently we’ll cling to the tiniest flicker of possibility. This could be our year to shine.
Ali’s story: So Close and yet So Far.
This morning my youngest will take his high school senior pictures. I’ve done this before, watching from afar, nostalgic and proud. Those aren’t exactly my feelings today as grade twelve kicks off since I know a lot can happen between now and graduation. He’s not flinching though, so I won’t either. But beneath our façades the war wounds remain fresh from more than a decade of an arduous school journey.
I’ve been working on this school year since before the last one ended. That’s just what’s required with a Complex ADHDer. You have to start early to secure the best tutors, meet with admin and work to ensure teachers are well informed of accommodations and diagnoses. It’s a juxtaposition of niceties and hard-ball negations.
I’d like to wipe the slate clean and just enjoy some of the excitement of his last year. I’ll allow myself some of those moments and I desperately want them for my ADHDer too. But the reality is, there’s much work to do for all of us. Our continual support and encouragement will be required as we tackle our student’s lack of motivation and confidence. Advocating can’t stop either and the ADHDer has his work cut out for him too. It’s time to clock in on the job!
I can’t believe we’ve made it to senior year. I want it to be done already, yet I don’t want to wish it away. I just want it to be different – dare I say enjoyable for us all. I’d settle for not being nerve wracked all the time. There have been zero absolutes in this journey except for one: God Himself has carried us through and I KNOW He’s not going to stop now. So my focus will be the finish line, not in apprehension but in full expectation. I BELIEVE.
Nor’s Story: School PTSD anyone?
Looking back, I was so unprepared for what back to school meant as the mom of a complex ADHDer. As a child, school was a refuge for me. I loved being at school. I was chubby and awkward but gifted and earnest and the teachers liked me. As a new mom, I dreamed the same dreams as other moms for my kids: coordinated outfits or cute uniforms, fun backpacks, new friends, and most of all, smiles.
That dream didn’t become reality. My first introduction to school as a parent was when my son went to a Mother’s Day out nursery school at a local church at the age of two, when his sister was six months old. My first school meeting was myself and about eight preschool teachers and administrators. We needed a meeting because of his severe eczema and life-threatening food allergies and the care needed for his conditions. And then there was the, umm, sensitive yet energetic aspects of his personality. They didn’t blink. They gathered up the director of the nursery school, his two teachers, the aftercare staff, and I don’t even remember now who else was there. I just remember sitting in those tiny chairs, so overweight and with a baby in my lap, wearing pajamas and crying with anxiety, but feeling surrounded with love.
That year, he cried and I cried. I often spent thirty minutes to an hour in the hallway, waiting to make sure today was a day he would adjust. I stood in the hallway with the baby and the stroller and bated breath every day for months.
Did anyone else need a meeting for two-year-old nursery school? I’m writing that thinking, no wonder I have PTSD. A meeting with eight people for a two-year-old? Thank you to each and every one of those people who cared for him for the next three years.
And now, the back-to-school meeting and accompanying dread that begins, oh let’s generously say, about two months before the present school year even ends, is de rigueur. Sometimes it still makes me cry. It always makes me anxious and my heart race. These days I don’t dream of happy young children with new backpacks and coordinating lunchboxes. I dream of the year where I can breathe again. I long for the days of third grade. I pray we finish the year in school.
This year, with the pandemic, I’ve done nothing to actually prepare for the year, except watch endless school board meetings and follow the news. My children are not the least bit prepared either. The nice thing is, this time it’s a little easier to breathe because that same pandemic that’s wrought chaos has also brought a deep sense of calm–it will be what it will be.
Tackling school supply lists and clothes shopping is the typical prep for a new school year. But if you’re the parent of a ADHD+er you know that it takes a whole lot more. How have you been prepping for this new school year? Are you doing anything differently because of the pandemic? What’s on your mind?
Back in the day most of us sat in an uncomfortable wooden desk with an etched pencil holder on the far end, facing forward, and followed our teacher’s direction for learning – which didn’t deviate much from school to school. We got what we got and we didn’t throw a fit. Not so today. Now we understand that everyone learns differently. Some learn visually, others are auditory learners and there are those who learn best by doing. These differences are celebrated and incorporated into many school offerenings. Today we can shop around and choose what the best environment is for our ADHDers. But for all of today’s forward thinking – is finding the optimal learning environment really as easy as one stop shopping for a Complex ADHDer?
Nor’s story: The right school is somewhere our ADHDer can learn. Friends, it’s been so long since I thought of school as a place to learn that I’m at a loss for words on this one. I didn’t realize that until I was writing today’s post. School has always been a place where the entirety of my emotional energy gets spent on ensuring my child’s social and emotional needs are getting met.
I honestly don’t know how my child learns best or what type of environment would encourage his giftedness. I’m thankful he reads at a college level and that I don’t have to worry about his basic academic skills. On the other hand, it’s more than a little sad that his brain isn’t turned on during school. I’m realizing that he learns best one on one with an adult. He doesn’t thrive in the classroom or in collaborative learning situations.
What to do with that knowledge about how he learns and choosing the right school? Well, this year he’s starting off with distance learning and a one-on-one tutor to work on math and science. I’m learning that the “right school” might be better thought of as the “right environment for learning.”
Ali’s Story: I was enthralled with the easy going, option-filled environment of a local Montessori. There were lots of fun seating options for a fidgety student and instruction was offered with some extra grace and nurturing. Perfect! Except that’s also the perfect storm for a student with high anxiety and our ADHDer’s anxiety was still undiagnosed. His learning was thwarted because of the lack of structure despite a fun atmosphere that didn’t put him in a box. What we thought would be a great fit just didn’t work. It did help us in diagnosing his anxiety, so we’ll count it a plus.
Fast forward four years to a summer of grade recovery. Our ADHDer’s fun in the sun was traded for Geometry and Chemistry classes working one on one with tutors. We thought it would be pure drudgery but instead it was a great plus! Not only did he make A’s in both classes, but his learning was piqued and his confidence skyrocketed! It turned out to be a fantastic experience thanks to our skilled tutors. We found out he worked incredibly well one on one as long as the tutor was engaging, encouraging and kind. Using a fabulous and skilled tutor throughout the school year became a great addition to our regimen from then on.
It sounds simplistic, but the right school for our ADHDers has to be somewhere they can LEARN. Learning needs the right environment and the right people to take place. Kids have to feel safe, valued and connected to engage and learn. As parents of Complex ADHDers this means we have to be attune to their changing needs and how well the environment they’re in is working with them. It means we have to be flexible to make changes when we see something is not working. Most of all, it means we need to stay connected with our ADHDer so we can know for sure how they’re doing, what they’re feeling and how strong their confidence in the classroom is.
As parents of ADHDers we have all learned that we cannot get through to our kids when they are in crisis. Big emotions, let downs or negative perceptions – whether real or unfounded, are just some of the instances when there is no use trying to reason because they just won’t hear us through the noisy dialogue in their heads. Feeling unsafe ranks at the top of this list and we’ve probably each experienced how it sparks a shut down in our children.
Now, imagine that the very place that calls for trust, openness to learn and a level of comfort in sharing yourself feels risky. Potentially judgy. Sometimes ridiculing or shaming. Criticism in a harsh tone delivered in front of a roomful of peers could make a grown person squirm in their seat. Imagine how a child feels. Now imagine that you’re in this situation day after day for an entire school year. What walls are going up inside? What dreams are fading? How much self esteem can survive? Is learning even able to take place?
Nor’s Story: The right school has to feel safe and be safe. Where I have struggled with this is that I look around and see other people’s kids who feel safe and seem safe and I used to think, my kids will be safe here also. When it comes to safety, I have finally learned that the only two people I need to listen to are myself and my child. Because again, like Ali says, we have really complex kids and there is no magic formula.
I am in shock that there are professionals who still think the solution to school anxiety is using physical force to remove the child from the car or their parent. I’ve never let that happen to my child, but that solution was proposed at both public and private school.
I know now that what makes my child feel safe at school is strong relationships with caring adults who understand him. It’s where I start every teacher conference, every IEP meeting, and every thank you note. When he feels safe, he thrives. Isn’t that what we all want? Why is it so difficult?
Ali’s Story: This has been a major theme throughout the years for my ADHDer. First let me say we have had the privilege to have some talented and giving educators through the years. People who valued my son and cared about him as a person. They brought out his best. But there have also been some very unfortunate experiences with teachers. They brought out his worst – his worst fears, behaviors and coping strategies. These instances have been consistent and severe enough to leave a deep mark. Did you know that it’s actually possible to have PTSD from negative school experiences? Yeah, it’s a thing.
I could make a significant list of scenarios where my ADHDer has been shamed, pointed out, negatively referred to, ridiculed and made to feel he didn’t belong in just the last three years of high school. Even more horrifying is that I rarely know when its happened. I’ll find out through a tutor or counselor or he’ll mention something in passing months after the fact. He’s incredibly smart and creative. Yet he would rather be anywhere but a classroom.
What looks like a safe and nurturing environment for most students could easily be a minefield for a ADHDer. They need more and can create dynamics in the classroom that could push a teacher just far enough to go past safe and nurturing. Once the damage is done it’s there and it becomes part of the framework these ADHDers will use. We’ve learned that the only way to consider a school safe for our complex ADHDers is when we are ALL on the same page. A school can only address needs they’re aware of – that means full disclosure on our part. A place that values taking the time to listen and understand is a good start. Then it’s our job to make sure they want to work with our student and feel equipped to do so.
Norrine and I spend a good portion of time throughout the school year to continually assess if it’s working. We take a lot of time making sure communication is flowing and things are going well. It’s a continual process the whole school year through because we know things can change on a dime. We also know what happens once the line has been crossed and things don’t feel safe for our kids. We’ve learned not to take anything for granted and that it’s worth every bit of effort to make sure that school is a safe zone.
Lofty ideas printed on paper only become reality in the act of doing. It’s people that put action to great ideas and that’s when magic can happen, lives can be changed and possibilities become endless. This is true for any organization, and especially so for schools who help form a child’s view of the world and of themselves.
Nor’s Story: The right school has to have the right people. At preschool, we had the right school and the right people all the way up until Kindergarten. I should have known when we were at orientation and my son was crawling under the desk pretending to be a dog (a common coping strategy of his during the early years) that it was time to bolt. But there were so many lessons I was still learning as his parent. It looked good, we had been happy there for ages three and four, I had waited in line at 5am for one of the few spots available. Kindergarten was clearly wrong from before day one once we were with the teacher, but I didn’t listen to myself and I didn’t listen to him. The book is right–everything I need to know, I learned in that kindergarten. Or, in my case, I should have learned it in kindergarten.
I listened to the teacher when she called to tell me that he was drawing on his shirt and that that was unacceptable. When he got home, there was no marker on his shirt. It was blood from his eczema. It was blood. I was furious but I still didn’t trust myself to do what I should have done. We did stop sending him a lot after that and he sat out the entire fourth quarter. Of kindergarten. My son was terrified to attend kindergarten. Heart broken for the first time. Every time I drive by there, I remember so much love and belongingness up until that year and I wish it could have been the right place for one more year.
Next we went to our neighborhood public school which I didn’t think was the right place but the right people were there and they made it work. There was a magical Assistant Principal and a magical Special Education teacher. Those were three glorious years. And then, changes. The writing on the wall was clear; the magic was being transferred. I did listen to myself that time. I pulled the kids. Heart broken again. We still live eight houses away from that school and my memories of our time there are full of light and joy.
Next we tried a private school which definitely had the right philosophy and had the right people the first year. The progress, the delight, the relationships all made me giddy and carefree. Was THIS where he would finally belong? He thrived. I thrived. I walked around on cloud nine, possibly for the first time since giving birth to him. As a family, we felt like we belonged.
Turned out this was another time when I should have listened to the small, still voice inside me. Because as unbelievably good as the first year was, that’s how unimaginably terrifying and abusive the next year was. Right school, WRONG PEOPLE. I can’t think of another time I have used the word “evil” to describe human beings. Heart shattered into millions of tiny pieces that still stab me from the inside, making me bleed and weep.
We are on school number four. It’s a good school, one of the very best for so many children. But for me, the magic of school is gone. We get up and put on our uniforms. We smile and take treats for the teacher, because we love her. But our hearts will never experience that innocent love for school ever again.
Ali’s story: It was after several really tough years that we decided to join a specialized school community for ADHDers in a neighboring city. Every facet of the school’s offerings took learning differences into account. They anticipated the struggles. Understood the challenges. Knew what ADHD looked like behaviorally and how to handle it. More than anything, each and every staff member put their mission in motion by VALUING their students.
It was very emotional for me to finally be around parents and teachers that understood because it illuminated just how alone we’d been. I was immensely grateful for this chance to exhale. It was life-giving in many ways and I learned so much. It was a great relief for my ADHDer also. While he was self-conscious about being at a specialized school, I could tell that he was also exhaling and his confidence was strengthening.
Pie in the sky mission statements are meaningless unless there are dedicated people doing the work behind the words. We’ve found that without the right people a great mission is just hollow promises. It’s the WHO behind the promises that will tell you everything.
When it comes to finding “the right school for right now” one thing we’ve found to be true is that means the school has the right philosophy and services to meet our complex ADHDers needs. But it doesn’t stop there because when a school works comprehensively to REALLY EDUCATE a student, they don’t just meet their needs – they stretch and grow students to reach their POTENTIAL. This is the difference between students just treading water and thriving! And as parents we know what this looks like in our kids and how the right place can grow our kids exponentially in beautiful ways. We also know when the opposite is happening and how hard it is to unravel the damage.
Ali’s story: I was never a cheerleader in high school because my mother wouldn’t allow it. But that has never stopped me from looking for things to cheer for. As my boys entered school age I was thrilled to have a school mascot, administration and teachers to encourage, cheer for and support to the fullest. I loved the idea of being a part of a community in partnership to grow kids in the best possible ways. Looking back there were absolutely amazing teachers in early elementary who saw my child’s struggles and worked in innovative ways to help him succeed. It was beautiful to see how their love of teaching instinctively enabled them to meet my ADHD+er’s needs. He struggled – but their encouragement, extra help and respect of him as a person grew his confidence and his potential. Then fifth grade happened.
This is a tough story to share. Meds became problematic and a doctor ordered my ADHD+er off of them early that school year. This derailed him in the classroom and he would have giggle fits often and forget to raise his hand. An overfilled classroom. A handful of troublesome boys. An overwhelmed teacher who feared asking admin for help. This was a recipe for the unthinkable. The lack of a school philosophy of respect for students gave an opening for this teacher to take matters to her own hands. And unbeknownst to us as parents until that summer, she was sending our son to a storage area between classrooms for some periods during the day. This went on from January to May. Sometimes his entire desk was moved there. The door was closed and he was shut off from the class. He commonly commented to us that he didn’t like her – but never gave details. Later, he admitted he “thought that’s how punishment was supposed to be.”
Words will never, ever, be able to adequately surmise that experience for us. It will forever haunt me in so many ways I still can’t wrap my head or heart around it. What compounded that hurt was a school principal that negated wrongdoing, spoke in support of the teacher and accused me – the PTA president elect – of starting a firestorm. The lack of any regard for my son, for our family and what is humane was staggering. That year understandably set my ADHDer on a downward trajectory in many ways. Yet, he still opens his heart to teachers who care and he very much wants to be successful at school.
There are plenty of teachers he’s encountered in high school that don’t believe in him. They don’t see past his false bravado and seeming lack of interest. But there have also been others who’ve extended immense kindness and grace. Then there’s the principal. He had a high schooler who needed more. He knows what it’s like to try and get teachers to see past it all and look at the heart of a kid. We may not be in a place where every teacher has the right philosophy or provides services to meet the mark, but when a principal looks you in the eye and says he understands and he will personally stand in the gap – well, we’ll take it and be forever grateful.
Nor’s story: I started this school thing with optimism, I swear I did. As a child, I loved many of my teachers and I loved learning. As someone who helps other people’s kids become more successful learners, I think of myself as a die-hard education advocate. Four schools later, dozens of meetings suffered through, thousands of tears cried and here we are alone with the truth: I have a super complex kid for whom there is NO MAGIC FORMULA for finding the right school.
The right school has to have the right philosophy and services. We tried private preschool, public for K-2, private for grades 3-4, and now are at a charter school. And each time we realized that it wasn’t working any longer, my heart broke. My heart broke like when your first crush dumps you at your locker in seventh grade, like when your boyfriend breaks up with you two days before prom, or when “the one” in college leaves you. And each one of the break-ups left me devastated. Because, you see, I’m an eternal optimist and each time we start over I think, “Maybe THIS is the place where he can stay until graduation” and I invest and I advocate and I dream and I fall a little in love with each new school and new beginning. My heart aches: I want him to belong SOMEWHERE.
School tends to be a probable pitfall for ADHDers. Norrine and I know there are no perfect fits. But we have found that choosing a place that shares the right philosophy for bringing out the best in kids who learn differently can make all the difference. Now we are choosy. We take our time before committing to a school. We welcome change in the name of finding the best fit for right now.
Last year at the very start of school Norrine and I met up after dropping our kids off. We were both thrilled and surprised to find that each of us were uncharacteristically optimistic about the school year for our complex ADHDers. “This could be our year!” we both exclaimed as we shared our laundry lists of all we’d put in place to ensure success. By three o’clock that very same day we were texting each other the gory details of our derailed plans. In just one day our sure successes evaporated. It was utter emotional whiplash.
Let’s just say it turned out to be an incredibly tough year for both of our kids, which meant a white knuckle ride for us moms as well. So much planning and prepping went into that year and we thought we’d left no stone unturned. But the reality is our kids are complex. That makes our situation complex. And the best laid plans are not going to take us to the finish line because there is NOT a magic formula.
Recently, in light of the upcoming school year requiring lots of decisions to be made, Norrine said something profound to me: “We’re looking for the right school for right now. It doesn’t mean it will be forever.” Nearly a dozen school years flashed through my head. Yes – this is absolutely a fitting way to weigh the choices for 2020, but if I’d only heard this sooner to give me a framework for every school year that’s already passed.
I’d never considered school a choice to be weighed in the temporary. Instead, I’d looked at it as a community to belong to – something to get behind and support – a partnership to be made. Also, there was this unwarranted value I put on keeping siblings at the same school back when the ADHD seemed more manageable. I overvalued school communities without truly assessing their ability to address my student’s very specific needs. A nurturing learning environment doesn’t mean it’s nurturing for my ADHDer. A classroom philosophy offering autonomy sounds flexible and accommodating – but it also shuts down my child with anxiety. Many schools offer out of the box attractive options, but it just doesn’t mean it’s a fit for my kid.
There’s also the reality that needs can change like a spinning game show wheel: kids change – puberty happens – meds need tweaking – academic challenges shift and missing social cues with peers can cause all new head-scratching situations. Spin the wheel – needs can drastically change on a dime.
It’s hard to believe we’re just weeks away from my ADHD+er’s senior year. I can’t even recount all the mistakes made in getting him to this point. Some were colossal. Some were smaller, consistent missteps that led to bigger pitfalls. I could lament forever about it all. But instead I’m going to look at all the good in my kid – his amazing strength, bravery and resilience. He never gave up. So I won’t either.
And that’s a good reminder about what works, not just on this journey but on any one. Keep going. Keep trying. Be strong. And always keep an open hand.