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My child has ADHD. Now what? Step 5: Create your support team

As soon as you are able, it is essential to create a support team for your child. Together, you will collaborate to develop and implement a plan to promote your child’s development and ongoing success.

Hopefully you already have a doctor and have met with your child’s teacher; these are the first two key people on your team.  (Be sure to read the previous articles in this series for more detailed information).  However, you and your child may also benefit from other professionals to optimize ongoing success.

When choosing professionals, ensure they have experience working with children with ADHD, especially helping parents manage any emotional and/or behavioural difficulties at home and promoting children’s academic and social success at school. Ask what approaches they take in working with families. Are they willing to be involved with the school? In the home? What can you expect in your work together? How often are sessions and for how long? Can they address the specific concerns and needs you have for your family?

Psychologists

Psychologists are an important part of your team, especially with addressing challenging social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties. They can help develop and implement effective behaviour programs and teach strategies to manage ADHD. Specific areas of focus include controlling emotions and behaviours, learning effective coping strategies, responding appropriately to various situations, and promoting social success. They can also teach parents and teachers how to use reinforcement, antecedent manipulation, and create ADHD friendly environments to maintain children’s success. Psychologists can also help develop strategies for school, such as helping children better focus, improve in-class productivity, manage working memory difficulties, and learn effectively.

Occupational Therapists (OT)

OT’s are often an important part of your team because they can help with life skills important for day-to-day functioning, such as keeping things organized, self-regulation, breaking tasks into manageable steps, and independence with daily tasks. They can also help your child manage fine motor coordination difficulties and sensory sensitivities. Some OT’s help design programs to address children’s stimulation needs throughout the school day (e.g., regular movement breaks and carrying heavy objects) or creating chill zones where children can go to help regulate emotions (e.g., crash mats or calm music).

ADHD Coaches

Coaches collaborate with individuals to develop goals targeting core impairments of ADHD such as time management, organization, and promoting self-confidence. Coaches can help identify where people are now, where they want to go, and how they can get there. Their focus is primarily on daily habits for successful functioning (versus more interpersonal and emotional difficulties that psychologists can help with). Coaching combines practical skill development along with education about ADHD. They support clients through encouragement and feedback to address specific challenges.

As coaches are not all regulated, it is imperative to ask them about their qualifications and experience with ADHD. Also ask about confidentiality and privacy policies.  Further, most coaches work with adults, so it is important to ask them about their experience working with children. If you hire a coach, it is best that they work with you to help you better understand and interact with your child.

Parent Coaches  

Coaches are beneficial to build parent capacity and manage the daily frustrations they may experience. Parent coaching is particularly beneficial for parents who would like additional support learning strategies to boost their child’s success as well as their entire family’s happiness and well-being.

Feel free to contact Caroline if you have any questions

related to this article, or other related issues!

Dr. Caroline Buzanko

caroline@korupsychology.ca

 

ADHD, Now what? Understanding ADHD

Before doing anything else, it is critical to understand what ADHD is and how it affects your child. With knowledge, you can better help your child.

Rather than go through all the complex medical information, my aim is to help you understand the key pieces of ADHD. There is a lot to know, but this will cover the critical information parents and teachers should know.

Three Types

There are three types of ADHD. First, those that are mostly hyperactive (e.g., move constantly, talk nonstop, have trouble sitting at meals). Second, those that have most difficulties with attention (e.g., seem like they don’t listen, are bored easily, have trouble finishing things) and avoiding distraction. And third, those who are both hyperactive and inattentive.

Kids CAN Pay Attention…

…when they are interested. The name “Attention Deficit” confuses many parents because they say that their child can easily spend hours playing video games or doing anything they love.

So yes, the name is misleading because it’s not really an attention deficit. These kids can attend, but perhaps not to the things we want or need them to be paying attention to. That’s where things get difficult.

 

Developmental Delay

ADHD delays the development of the front part of the brain; the area that controls pretty much everything kids are expected to do day in and day out. Remembering rules, thinking about their behaviours, controlling their emotions, remembering where they put their school agenda, thinking about what they want to write, keeping their room clean, listening to the teacher, how to play nice with others, and finding the motivation to do homework.

Kids with ADHD not only have difficulties with these activities; they also often seem much younger than other kids their age. Many parents get frustrated when their younger child can get ready for school on their own; whereas their child with ADHD can’t. Kids with ADHD can also seem socially and emotionally immature. Makes sense; that part of their brain is not working great and they need to work harder to control themselves than other kids their age.

Rest assured: ADHD has nothing to do with bad parenting. And, it has nothing to do with your child being lazy either.

Lifelong

ADHD is considered a lifelong condition: Most kids with ADHD also have ADHD as adults. Hyperactive behaviours tend to diminish with age, but they will likely still have difficulties with attention, organization, and time management (and even impulsivity).

Disorder of Performance

ADHD should be thought of as a disorder of performance. These kids know they shouldn’t yell, kick, or slam the doors. They know they should do their chores and homework before they watch TV. And yes, they do know all the things they need to do to get ready for school in the morning. Knowing what to do is all taken care of in the back part of the brain.

The problem is ADHD affects the front part of the brain; the part of the brain that takes care of the doing. Being able to do what they know they need to do when they need to actually do it is the problem.

Clash of Time Zones

The other thing the front part of the brain does is help keep track of time. Kids with ADHD have a real hard time knowing how long 5 minutes is because they live in the NOW. The only other time they are aware of is NOT NOW.

So, when you tell them they have 5 minutes to finish getting ready before they have to catch the bus, well, that’s NOT NOW, so they keep doing what they are doing. And not what they should be doing. But, when that 5 minutes is up and you yell at your child in exasperation, she gets to it. Because now it’s NOW and time to get ready. Procrastination happens a lot.

Difficulty Controlling Themselves

Kids with ADHD have difficulty controlling their emotions and behaviours over long periods of time. Even if you tell them they get to go to their favourite place in the whole world at the end of the day if they are good, they might have difficulties keeping it together that long.

The problem is that something else often happens in the moment that they think is a really good or funny idea – whether it is the chance to push Billy’s head in the fountain when he is drinking, blurting out the answer or class, or pushing a kid who took the ball he was playing with – that make kids temporarily forget their goal to behave. As soon as they act, it’s too late to take it back.

Kids with ADHD are drawn to immediate impulses and rewards in the NOW, temporarily forgetting about the future reward. This makes it difficult for kids to maintain accountability for their actions on their own; and to learn from their mistakes (which is really frustrating for parents!).

More than just ADHD!

Most kids with ADHD also have underlying difficulties, which you must be aware of. Common related conditions include learning disabilities, social communication difficulties, behavior issues, and difficulties regulating their emotions. Understanding your child’s needs in all areas is critical to ensure he or she gets the appropriate support.

ADHD is AWESOME!!!

Above all, it is important to remember that ADHD is awesome! While it may seem hard in the early years, ADHD is an asset when managed properly and can greatly contribute to your child’s lifelong success. Great energy, great loyalty, great ideas… there’s lots of greatness to come. We just need to allow these kids to shine!

My Child has ADHD, What now? Meeting with Your Child’s School

Once you have received your child’s diagnosis, ensure you have a meeting with your child’s school. Knowledge is power. Letting everyone know your child’s strengths and needs is critical for your child’s success. This article outlines specific ways to help you build relationships with teachers and navigate your child’s school to promote ongoing success over the years.

Know Your Child

Before you can advocate effectively for your child, you must understand ADHD and how it affects your child and her learning, as well as your child’s strengths and challenges. You are the expert for your child, so it is important to know what works and what doesn’t work for your child.

Build Relationships

Building a solid relationship with your child’s teacher is important; research has shown that a strong partnership between home and school promotes children’s long-term academic success. It can be easy to fall into an “Us vs. Them” mentality; however, it is essential you see your relationship with the school/teachers as a partnership. Create bridges and allies, working with them rather than feeling like you’re always fighting against them. Teachers will likely be more open to your ideas.

If you don’t already know your child’s teacher(s) and the school administration, get to do so as soon as possible. Building that relationship can start with small talk, chatting about the weather, sports, pets and hobbies. Casual conversations can help relieve tension and helps create a comfortable foundation to build from. Once set, you can ask how long the teacher has been teaching, as well as about their teaching philosophy and methods. You can then move towards their experiences working with kids with ADHD. What strategies have then found to be effective? Ask for their advice on any tips they have for parents to try. This helps really establish that collaborative spirit. Once the relationship is built and mutual respect is demonstrated, then you can offer strategies that your child can benefit from.

As part of this relationship, it is important to acknowledge that yes, your child is your universe. Teachers understand that, but also have 30+ other children they need to focus on as well. Acknowledging the pressures teachers have to ensure all children are supported is helpful in sustaining a long-term alliance. Ask if there is perhaps things you can do to help the teacher in meeting your child’s needs.

Meeting with the School

Once you have received your child’s diagnosis, it is important to review the diagnosis (and any assessment results) with the school right away.

Preparing for the meeting. As part of your preparation, it is helpful to talk with your child about what is going well at school; what are teachers already doing that help them with learning. Also ask them what would help make school better. Kids can give insight into their difficulties; perhaps the teacher talks too fast or there are too many notes to copy from the board. Perhaps your child does not feel safe asking for help. Incorporate this insight into the information you share.

If you have a report, highlight the key pieces of information you want to discuss with the teacher. The diagnosis and the nature of your child’s difficulties, as well as your child’s strengths. Highlight key strategies that will help motivate and support your child.

Create a list of questions to ask. You will need to find out as much about the school as possible. What are school rules? What is the school’s process in supporting kids with ADHD? What is reasonable to expect in the classroom? What types of supports are available? How can the recommended strategies be incorporated into the class (strategies tend to help all kids and could be easily included as part of the regular routine)? How are problematic behaviours managed?

At the meeting. Be respectful of the teacher’s time. Ensure you are on time. Given there is likely more information than you can cover in one meeting, it is essential you are organized. Talk about the most important information first.

Be sure to come out of the meeting very clear about expectations and next steps. Create an action plan that you and the teacher both agree with. What is the school going to do to help support your child? What are your responsibilities at home to help support your child for school? It is also important to establish a way to keep track of your child’s progress and the effectiveness of implemented strategies. How will you monitor the effectiveness of implemented supports? Establish a timeline and criteria for success. Ensure you know when and how you will get updates on your child’s progress. Schedule a formal check-in to make sure things are on track and adjust as needed.

Respect the time allotted for the meeting. If there are still unresolved items, be sure to ask the best method of contacting teachers and see what is reasonable for follow-up.

When the meeting is finished, be sure to thank everyone for their time.

After the meeting.

Begin the action plan

Get started on the things you agreed to work on at home. It can be helpful to send a follow-up email outlining the action plan with the teacher.

Maintain Regular Contact

Be sure to stay in touch with your child’s teacher to maintain the parent-teacher partnership (and to show your child how important school is across all contexts). You may consider having daily report cards to get regular check-in’s on your child’s progress. Or have regular meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page.

IPP’s

If your child doesn’t already have an Individualized Program Plan (IPP) or Individualized Education Program (IEP), be sure to ask about this for your child. This document includes information about specific goals your child will work on through the year and identifies services and accommodations your child requires in school. As an advocate for your child, it is important you are an active player in creating this document. Watch for a special edition report on how to build an effective IPP.

Be involved

Families are not as involved in the classroom as they once were. With the change of family structure and the increase in busyness in day-to-day lives, we have become a “hot dog” community in which the only thing parents seem to do is help with fundraising efforts. While these activities are important, there is not a lot of opportunity to build relationships within the school. Being as involved as you can be within the classroom and/or school (e.g., volunteering for field trips, parties, home reading programs, and so on) helps teachers know you are involved. And opens up opportunities for increased contact with the teacher and check-in’s to see how your child is doing.

Things to Remember

Teachers do want to hear and appreciate your input about your child; you are the expert on your child’s personality, strengths, and challenges. Bringing your expertise to the table is important to work together to try to find what strategies will best support your child within the context of the classroom.

Stay calm. Sometimes we may feel anxious or frustrated when trying to establish supports for our children. However, remaining calm is critical to ensure the meeting is constructive, but also to promote your alliance with the school.

Finally, schedule a meeting at the start of every school year to establish a relationship with your child’s teachers and to promote ongoing advocacy for your child’s needs each year.

Involve Your Child

Although we focus a lot on what teachers should be doing, there are things we should be doing at home as well. Do things at home as much as possible, such as learning effective strategies that will help promote their learning.

Don’t take complete ownership of things – we are there to support our children, but they need to learn how to be strong advocates for your own learning as well, which will be critical once they are in high school and beyond. Teach them skills they need to be successful long-term. Teach them how to organize. Develop reminder systems so homework is successful brought to and from school. Make a system to track assignments. Have regular study routines. Identify what learning aids will help them. Watch for upcoming editions that will help give you ideas on all these key areas and more.

My Child has ADHD, What now? Tell Your Child

Knowledge is power.

Kids do need to know if they have ADHD – otherwise, they will only internalize things. They might think there is something wrong with them or that they are dumb or bad. They might make up

 their own fantastical stories to make sense of what is happening for them. Use the word ADHD – they will hear it at some point, so it is best if it comes straight from you.

 

I find some experts say to focus on your child’s other strengths, implying that there is something wrong with ADHD. But, ADHD is an asset and has helped many, many, many, MANY people become extremely successful in their field. The problem is that others don’t really understand it very well and don’t know how to set up certain places, like some classrooms, to help the traits of ADHD shine.

I also want to note that I believe ADHD is mislabeled for a couple of different reasons. First, it’s not a disorder at all. It’s an asset. Second, we know kids have no problem paying attention to things they enjoy. They just have difficulty paying attention to things that are not as engaging (so really, it’s up to us to help make it more engaging, but that’s a different topic).

I bring this up because, before you go into any conversation about ADHD with your child, enter it with a positive attitude. ADHD is awesome!

Here are some other things to think about:

  • You must know what ADHD is yourself first before you can explain it to your child.
  • Know that this is not a one-time discussion. Pick a time that your child will be motivated to chat. Start with a short, simple explanation that is age-appropriate. Follow your child’s lead. If there is interest, you can go in-depth. If not, leave it with one short explanation and leave the door open to come ask questions. The discussions will evolve as your child gets older.

What to Say

To start, I like to use Dr. Hallowell’s analogy of the supercharged ADHD brain. It is like the fastest car in the world – much faster than brains of people without ADHD.

Kids with ADHD have so many ideas, things they want to see or say or do and are always checking things out. (Throw in examples here specific to your child).

I literally say to kids, “Congratulations, you have ADHD! That’s awesome because you have an incredible, super-charged brain! It can go really really fast. The problem is we only have bicycle brakes for our super-charged brains – the brakes aren’t powerful enough to slow us down when we need to! Sometimes we might spin out of control when they can’t help slow us down. So it’s really important to help strengthen those brakes.” (This last sentence is a good transition to explain why your child may have extra support people, strategies, medications etc.).

Use specific examples relevant to your child. For instance:

  • When we have a great idea, we might end up yelling out in class (or another example relevant to your child) so we don’t forget it (because our brain will go on to the next idea and won’t be able to remember that first idea). Our brakes don’t kick in to remind us we need to put up our hand first, even though we know we are supposed to, until after we’ve already called out. And then it’s too late and we might get in trouble.
  • There are so many interesting things going on in the world and your brain really likes to soak it all in and watch everything that happens. Which is great, except when the teacher needs to tell you something important. Our brain wants to keep thinking of other things and the brakes aren’t strong enough to help us focus on what we’re supposed to be doing. This medication will help strengthen those brakes to help you pay attention in class when you’re supposed to.
  • Everyone’s brains are different, just like our fingerprints. No brain is very good at keeping information – brains prefer to have ideas. But ADHD makes it even more tricky to remember things, especially things that aren’t very fun to us, like remembering where we put our mitts or remembering to brush our teeth in the morning. That is why we have the morning schedule to help you remember so your brain can keep having ideas.
  • ADHD makes your brain want to fall asleep whenever you’re supposed to do something you don’t want to do or when you’re learning something hard. That is probably why you find it really hard to sit still in your desk – the brain wants to wake itself up! That is why you get to have that cushion to help you rock in your chair a bit to keep your brain awake.

Focus on the good too!!!! Not just the areas they have a hard time with. For example, my daughter has incredible energy. She can go to school all day, go to a friend’s sleepover, stay up late, and still get up early the next morning bounding with energy to play a solid ringette game.

In follow-up conversations, use examples kids bring up themselves or experiences you have yourself (if you have ADHD too). For instance, my daughter came to me once asking why she always “freaks out” over little things. Use these times as a way to get into specifics. Makes it more meaningful. Bring up the positive too! Not just when something negative happens; highlight their great ideas, their innovative problem-solving efforts, and their great burst of energy.

Think about other things that your child might be motivated by in learning more about ADHD. They are not alone – many famous people have ADHD too. Pick people they might look up to. Walt Disney was so full of wonderful ideas and had a dream he was so focused on that he created Disneyland! Research other people with your child and highlight all of their accomplishments and incredible ideas.

If you talk about medications, talk about its importance and how it will help your child. It helps strengthen the brakes so you can listen to the teacher, focus on your math better, think about what you want to say and put up your hand first, think about how to be a good friend, or think about how to make a good choice when you get frustrated.

You can also use an analogy of other medicines. Perhaps a grandparent takes a medication to make their heart stronger. Or perhaps other medicine the child has taken to help get their bodies healthy and strong again.

Kids (especially those with ADHD!) do well with visuals. I love making Venn diagrams and can be used to talk with kids about ADHD. This diagram can always be something they can come back to track their successes too. On the far right side you can put all your child’s strengths. On the far left side are things kids might find tricky. In the middle are things that kids are working on (or would like to).

Involve your child in creating this list and strategies to help them work on the middle section. I recommend making one for yourself too, and even other family members. Everyone has strengths

and things to work on (and chances are pretty good someone else in the family has ADHD too). Making it a family project will help normalize things and reduce the chance children will think there is something wrong with them. Keep track of everyone’s progress regulary.

And of course, no matter what, whether ADHD or not, always focus on how awesome your child is and how much you love him!

My child has ADHD Now What? See Your Doctor

Learning that your child has ADHD can be overwhelming.

Many parents are often at a loss of what to do next. First, be sure you have had a thorough, comprehensive assessment that investigated your child’s learning and attention? If not, it is very difficult to definitively diagnose ADHD because there may be other underlying reasons for your child’s difficulties with attention. Perhaps there is an underlying reading problem, difficulties processing

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