The word “change” and the acronym ADHD just don’t seem to go well together. ADHD children usually don’t or can’t handle transitions or changes in their routines like children who are not ADHD.
Many experts believe ADHD kids, teens and adults have problems in what’s called executive thinking. Executive thought processing occurs in the frontal areas of our brain and is what allows us to interpret what is happening around us and then decide what actions to take; or more importantly, not to take in response to what we perceive.
In ADHD children, these brain areas and the processes they control are not quite mature and as a result, ADHDers many times have problems rapidly assessing and interpreting change. Therefore, they react in the quickest, most basic manner for which humans are “programmed”. They become defensive and ready to “protect” themselves from any perceived threats to their normal routines, security levels and self-esteem. I’m sure all of us are creatures of habit and feel uneasy when our routines are disrupted.
Even kids who are on a year-round school schedule can have a difficult time with school-back to learning transitions-even after as little as three to four weeks’ vacation. Our job as parents, educators and professionals is to help each child reach his or her maximum potential in life and as my teacher colleagues have so often pointed out, “The first few days of class are spent getting kids used to being back in school”.
Unfortunately, children, teens and adults with ADHD and learning disorders may actually require as much as four weeks to get back in a comfortable routine. This lag in adequate classroom learning-social skills learning often leaves the ADHD child struggling as he or she falls further and further behind classmates. All this does is to create frustration, feelings of inadequacy, and builds resistance to effective learning and building strong and lasting new relationships.
How can you help your ADHD child feel less threatened by the summer-back-to-school transition?
1. Continue a regular routine of reading, exploring, and learning throughout the entire summer. Studies have shown that many of us forget our learning habits-the way we read with understanding; the way we remember what we read, see, hear, touch and sense; and our innate drive for curiosity and solving problems-in as little as a two or three week span. It’s sort of like the old say: “Out of sight-out of mind”.
2. About 4 to 5 weeks before school starts, try to get your child back in the routine of getting ready for school. Ask him or her to get their clothing ready for the next day-before they go to bed. Schedule their go-to-bed time a little earlier each week until they are retiring at the “school is back in session time”.
3. Try to speak with your child’s new teacher and develop a sense of what you should expect from him or her and more importantly, what your child can expect. Share thoughts about your child’s behavior and learning challenges as well as his or her strengths and talents. If possible, get a copy of the reading book to be used in the beginning of this school session so you can help your child get used to the book. (Some parents ask for all books in advance!) By all means, coach your child in the habit of reading this book every day for at least 2 weeks before classes start. What may seem trivial to you just might be a big “advantage” for him or her. Just getting the feel of a book will give your ADHD child a slight edge over non-ADHD kids. Being able to read aloud from a text book without stumbling over the words will help with his or her self-esteem and making a good grade right off the bat will add proof that they belong in that grade and were not “just passed-on!”. He or she will not be seen or feel like the “dumb kid”.
4. Take your child shopping! ADHD children do a much better job of remembering to take supplies to school and using them at bot school and home if allowed to pick them out for themselves! I know how embarrassing it was when I had to use a pink covered spiral notebook my parents bought-just because it was on sale and my sister adored the color pink. I hid that thing as much as possible-tried to forget it and hoped someone would steal it-so I could get a blue, yellow or orange one. Don’t embarrass your child and do not wait until two or three days before class starts to take him or her shopping. Doing so will create panic over feeling unprepared and threatened. Plus…if your child helps pick out the supplies, hopefully they will take responsibility for their use and care. You should be sure he or she understands how to use their new supplies and offer tips that you learned in school about how to get the most out of them.
5. Help your child learn to organize those things needed for school each day. Show him or her how to put their supplies and books into a book bag or backpack in such a manner as to avoid making it heavy or cumbersome and teach them to make it a habit to put everything back in its place.
6. About two weeks before school starts, take your child shopping for new clothing. ADHD kids can be distracted by the smallest things, such as large tags in the back of dresses and shirts. Avoid clothing with attached toys, flashing lights or that make sounds. All these things do is cause distraction and provide opportunities to fidget. If you absolutely must buy clothing with distracting attachments, try to remove them or at least get rid of the batteries. Doing so might just keep your child from tugging at them and being accused of fidgeting during class. Letting your children kids help pick out their new school clothes shows you respect their opinion and helps them develop “ownership” in what they wear. Be sure to wash and dry new clothes as some ADHD kids are bothered by the stiffness of new clothing. Keep in mind that kids can be brutal with each other when it comes to criticizing hairstyles and clothing.
7. See if your child’s new teacher will allow you and your ADHDer to “visit” the new classroom for a few minutes during the week before school starts. Doing so will give him or her a sense of ownership in going into a new class and will alleviate a lot of fear about getting lost and what to expect in new surroundings. His or her teacher may want to go ahead and assign them to a front row seat away from the usual distractions: head high windows, frequently opened doors, bulletin boards, and other overly active kids.
In closing, I’d remind you that not all children learn the same way. Some children are primarily visual learners-they can learn just by seeing something or reading it. Others are considered visual-auditory learners. These children learn best by hearing and seeing what they are supposed to learn. Still…others are even more complex in their learning styles-they need to touch-see and hear about a thing before they are able to fully understand and remember it-hands-on-tactile-auditory-visual learners. Do you know your child’s learning style?
Good luck with your ADHDer in the coming school year. I hope all of his or her report cards are loaded with “A’s” and good behavior marks!