According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, ADHD medication does not improve academic performance over the long term. Since all of the popular ADHD drugs come with unpleasant side effects, this news may persuade some parents to hold off on the medications. It’s possible for a young child with ADHD to succeed in a classroom environment. Here are some ADHD coping strategies that worked for me and my siblings, and that have worked for the children of close friends. (My children are currently home-schooled, so we face a different set of issues. But more on that in a different post.)
1. Get Active Before and After School. These days, many schools are cutting back on recess to give more time over to preparation for high stakes tests. You probably won’t be able to force the school to give your ADHD child extra recess. But you can make up for the lack of outside time before and after school.
If it’s safe and your school permits it, have your child walk or bike to school. The exercise will help her focus through the first half of the school day. If she must take a car or bus to school, wake her up early so she can go for a run before breakfast. If you join her, the whole family will get healthier and feel better.
In the evenings, allow for plenty of time outside riding bikes, playing at playgrounds, or practicing sports. You child will sleep better and have better focus the next day. Do not, under any circumstances, take away this active time in order to punish your child for incomplete school work. If he does not get enough exercise on a daily basis, your child’s classroom behavior will deteriorate quickly.
2. Get an Extra Set of Textbooks for the House. If your child has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), demand an extra set of textbooks for your home. That way, a forgotten book won’t mean an incomplete assignment. If the school will not provide extra books, order copies online. You can often find used books at reasonable rates through retailers like Amazon.com.
3. Use the ‘Double Sign-off’ Technique for Homework Assignments. Have the teacher sign off on your child’s written list of assignments at the end of the day. When he completes them, sign the list and send it back with the completed work. Make the sign-offs part of the routine. This double-check will reduce the number of assignments that get forgotten and will increase communication with the classroom teacher.
4. Learn the Rubric for Notebook Checks and Practice. Notebook checks are the bane of any ADHD kid’s existence. We lose things like crazy, our papers get crumpled and out of order, and the checks always seem to come out of the blue and have no rhyme or reason.
As a parent, you need to help your child conquer the notebook check. At the beginning of each term, ask the teacher for a copy of the notebook check guidelines that she’ll be using. Get into the habit of going over the notebook with your child each night.
At first, you’ll have to do most of the work. Walk your child through the process of organizing his notebook at the end of the day. Gradually have her take on more and more of the responsibility. Eventually, she’ll learn how to stay calm and keep an organized notebook. Then you can reduce your home-checks to once a week. By the end of elementary school, you may be able to totally eliminate them.
5. Put the Teacher on Speed Dial. When you’ve got a small child with unmedicated ADHD, you have to spend a lot of time dealing with teachers. Keep lines of communication open at all times. As soon as you have a concern, call or email. While some teachers are very good at dealing with ADHD kids in the classroom, many aren’t. Staying involved will make school more pleasant for your child, and will help her learn to navigate an academic environment.