While reading Tertia and Doula Mel’s blogs over the last while (they’re sisters… in case you didn’t know). Tertia mentioned Mel had a dilemma concerning her son Daniel’s schooling, and asked that we pop over and tell her what we thought. Then Mel posted about her dilemma herself. Mel’s dilemma was whether or not to tell her son’s teachers he’s an ADDer and that he’s medicated. It got me thinking about what Damien and I went through till now- concerning his teachers and his ADHD diagnosis. I thought I’d let you all in on how I handled it over the years- and why… basically expanding on the comments I left on their blogs.
As most of you may know, Damien was diagnosed with ADHD when he was six years old. He has been medicated- first with Ritalin and now with Concerta (also Ritalin but a long acting form) – since he was 12 years old.
AD/HD is a controversial issue on its own, and medication makes it even more contentious a topic of discussion. Every single person you mention it to- parent or no- has an opinion on it.
So how did I deal with Damien’s teachers?
Well, he was diagnosed just before he started grade one. And I was in total denial until he started grade one the second time. I was convinced he was just super smart and his teachers had something against him and didn’t know how to handle him. I took any hint that he may have a problem as an affront to how I raised him and an attack on my being a young single parent.
Once I accepted Damien’s diagnosis as- to use his psychiatrist’s words- a text book ADHDer. More than ten years later I now know there is no such thing… and this is where a lot of the controversy around the disorder stems from.
But that’s another post.
To start with, I had exactly the same dilemma Doula Mel blogged about.
To tell or not to tell, that be the question here bunnies.
And let me just reiterate- I had a hard time telling my own family about Damien’s diagnosis, let alone teachers! I was going to handle this.
To tell his teachers from the beginning that he’s been diagnosed with ADHD means labeling my son. A label that’s far from favourable. To tell means the teachers see him as different slash difficult slash trouble-maker slash labour intensive from day one, so Damien never gets a chance to create his own first impression, or a chance to show what he can do.
On the other hand, not telling them means he gets labeled as naughty slash loud slash fidgety slash disruptive… usually all of them from day one.
And sadly, once the labels are applied, there’s no turning back. No amount of sweet talk, meetings, letters, phone calls or begging can change a teacher’s mind. Usually, in my experience at least, whether you tell the teachers or not the meetings and phone calls steadily increase over the course of the year… in equal proportion to the unfortunate ADHDer’s non-performance in the class.
Once you add to the ADHDer’s daily and weekly routine the extra lessons, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy and various doctors visits their lives get really complicated. And their lives are very different to their classmates!
There are of course pros and cons to telling your ADHDer’s teachers about your child’s diagnosis and treatment.
And I must just say- before anyone goes berserk and accuses me of hating teachers or some such madness- in my eyes teachers are absolute saints and I would never be able to do what they do!
But… and you knew there was a “but” coming didn’t you… there are some teachers, especially when the kidlets hit grade 5 and upwards and have several teachers and are changing classes and such, there are some teachers who do not believe AD/HD exists and refuse to make any concessions in the child’s favour, or to help the kid out in class. Mostly, the “cons” of telling revolve around these teachers. There will always be one or two teachers who believe your child just needs better or more or different discipline. And these same teachers will tell you as much- even if they’ve never met you and have no idea what your home life is about. And of course- this is where I get all indignant because again- I take this a direct assault on how I have raised my son.
Yes, I am touchy. I have never denied it.
And there are those amazing teachers who bend over backwards to help your child out in class. Keeping in contact with you; making sure he writes his homework down; eats his lunch; remembers to pack his stuff and so on. These teachers understand that an ADHDer cannot immediately switch from English to Math between periods simply in the process of changing classes. These teachers understand that having a kooshball or small lump of prestik to fidget with while listening may help them concentrate on what’s being said while they keep their fingers busy… That rewarding an artistic ADHDer with the chance to draw when their work is finished even if its not an art class will very likely motivate the child to finish his work. These teachers are few and far between- and be sure to make sure they know you appreciate it if you are lucky enough to be blessed with a few of them.
The “pros” of telling your child’s teachers your child is an ADHDer are surprisingly many, and sadly it took me years- way to olong- to learn this…
Did you know that South African ADHDers are entitled to concessions at school? That officially diagnosed ADHDers who get a letter from their doctor are entitled to extra time in exams and tests and perhaps even taking oral instead of written tests. It has to be arranged with your school of course- and if you manage to get these concessions in place I suggest you follow up with them regularly to make sure they are indeed following through.
I am one of the few single moms on this planet to have been lucky enough to be able to afford to send Damien to a private school for grade 6, 7, 9 and now 10. Grade 8 was a totally disastrous attempt at a mainstream school. The schools he goes to cater specifically for ADHDers. And for the most part I have not had to explain and talk and negotiate as much to the private school teachers as I did to his mainstream school teachers.
It makes a huge difference in his and my life when he fits in at school, when he’s not the odd one out, the weirdo anymore.
Well, that’s my two cents on whether or not to tell your child’s school and teacher’s that your child is an AD/HDer. I hope someone out there gets a little something from this.