October 2016 Newsletter
National ADHD Awareness Month:
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By Joyce Blankenship
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant
The month of October is dedicated to raising awareness about Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder—a condition that is more prevalent than you might think. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2012–2014), 10% of U.S. children ages 5 to 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD.
As a special needs consultant, I talk to many parents who are experiencing firsthand the challenges of teaching a child with ADHD. I often hear questions such as “How do I get him to stop looking out the window and pay attention?” or “What can I do to increase her motivation for learning?”
This month’s newsletter features a Q&A with two moms of children with ADHD. We hope their insights and information will be helpful to you as you homeschool your creative, sensitive, and often distractible child.
What is ADHD?
Before we begin, it’s important to know just what ADHD is and how it works.
There are three types of ADHD:
A child with this type of ADHD shows enough symptoms of inattention (or distractibility) but isn’t hyperactive or impulsive. This is what is typically referred to when someone uses the term ADD.
A child with this type of ADHD has symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity but not inattention.
- Combined (most common)
A child with this type of ADHD has symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
According to Martin Kutscher, M.D., author of Kids in the Syndrome Mix, kids with ADHD are fine when they are doing something that interests them. They can usually pay attention to video games forever. However, problems occur when they have to pay attention to something that is less engaging (such as math facts) while at the same time filtering out something that is more intriguing (such as the squirrel on the patio).
Dr. Russell Barkley, a leading specialist, defines ADHD as a deficiency of inhibition, not a deficiency of attention span. Kids with ADHD could be said to be relatively brakeless. Some are unable to put brakes on distractions, therefore becoming inattentive. Some are unable to put brakes on thoughts, therefore becoming impulsive. Some are unable to put brakes on acting upon distractions or thoughts, therefore becoming hyperactive. Therefore, it is the teacher’s job to help these children learn to put brakes on the “distractions” in order to focus their attention on their work.
What Do the Moms Say?
I would like to introduce you to two special friends, members of my homeschool learning co-op, who are currently “in the trenches” homeschooling a child with ADHD. They have graciously agreed to share their experiences and insights with us, in the hopes that they will encourage and inspire any homeschooling parents who are facing similar challenges teaching their children with focus/attention issues.
Sarah* is the mother of three energetic sons ages 13, 11, and 3 and a sweet baby girl, 11 months old. When Sarah’s 11-year-old son Mark was in 2nd grade in school, she found out that he had ADHD. Sarah has homeschooled Mark for the last three years.
Linda* has five active sons, and is homeschooling four of them—ages 12 years down to 4 years old. Her son Tyler is 10 years old, and has been diagnosed with ADHD and Tourette syndrome. Linda describes Tyler as a totally happy, healthy, successful young boy!
What are some things that made you suspect that your child might have
Sarah: His lack of ability to stay focused. Telling him to do something and sensing that he was completely spacing out on me. The fact that he seemed, quite literally, to be jumping off the walls. When his behavior in school became more of an issue—we were on behavior plans.
Linda: I did not have any idea that Tyler might have ADHD until the school contacted me about some of his attention issues and asked if I would like to have him tested. We had already had him tested for several other things—mostly developmental issues, including a strabismus, hearing impairment (which turned out to be attention-related), fine motor skills, and other developmental delays.
Does ADHD affect your child’s ability to make and keep
Sarah: Sadly, it does. He is quite “hyper” and sometimes his insecurity causes him to act out. It’s almost like he chooses the “class clown” role in order to hide his insecurity and help others like him.
Linda: Tyler has never had any trouble making friends. He makes them quite easily, though he currently has challenges maintaining friendships with older boys.
How is homeschooling a child with ADHD different from homeschooling a
child who does not struggle with attention/focusing issues?
Sarah: The amount of redirecting and reminding I have to do . . . I often feel quite overwhelmed and exasperated, because I am still trying to figure out what works.
Linda: Oh, wow. How isn’t it different? I am homeschooling four boys. Helping Tyler to focus is a constant challenge. As soon as he hears or sees anything, his attention deviates. The techniques that I use to help him focus (such as music, bouncing a ball, hand motions, and dance moves) can become a distraction to my kids who don’t struggle with ADHD.
Is there any particular curriculum that has worked well with your
Sarah: I don’t know if they are particular to ADHD or to his personality. He loves things that involve games (such as Equipping Minds), math games online, immediate feedback (Teaching Textbooks). It helps to do things that come more easily to him (areas where he succeeds) along with things that are more challenging. The Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW) writing curriculum works well for him, since it gives him a very specific set of rules to follow.
Linda: CTC Math (online) with its short exercises and videos.
What teaching strategies work best with your child?
Sarah: Sitting with him, spending time with him, reading to him, engaging with him, helping him to create pictures in his mind (an area that he struggles with), listening to books on CD, very clear rules which help him know how to succeed, instilling in him his true value.
Linda: Tyler will engage in anything that is hands-on, where he can participate physically in the lesson. If I use humor, he can pay attention!
What do you do to keep your child focused on the task before
Sarah: We use natural supplements, get regular chiropractic care, diffuse essential oils, do brain exercises, and create opportunities for success—such as baseball, an area where he naturally succeeds and is praised.
Linda: I recently bought Tyler a chewing necklace, which works great because sometimes he will chew it, but other times he takes it off and swings it around. This helps to keep his hands busy. We started doing cross-country running in the fall and track in the spring. If Tyler starts his day with a run, he does a hundred times better than the days when he doesn’t.
What is the greatest challenge in parenting a child with
Sarah: Showing patience and perseverance, focusing on building him up rather than focusing on his failures, not taking his choices personally.
Linda: My biggest challenge has been carefully phrasing the things I need to say to my son. In parenting him, it seems like I am constantly disciplining him. Before I began researching this, I think I was giving him the message that he was in trouble all the time, or that he was a disappointment to me because of his differences. On the plus side, we are blessed to be in a co-op with many families who have kids with all kinds of learning styles—so love, compassion, and patience abound.
What has been the greatest reward in parenting a child with
Sarah: The joy he receives when he succeeds and is praised; his excitement and passion for the things he enjoys; seeing his progress academically when he had been falling behind in school; learning how to truly see him, meet his needs, and help him succeed.
Linda: I am not sure if this has to do with ADHD or not, but Tyler is my most joyful child. He is literally pure joy! Perhaps it is his gift of inattentiveness that allows him to find the joy in every moment rather than to regret the past moments or fret about the future. He is loving, compassionate, tender-hearted, and sensitive, and has a deep desire to do things well.
What advice do you have for parents who are homeschooling their child
Sarah: Even when you feel like you are failing, the advantages your child has with you at home supersede what he would have in a large classroom of children. Follow your gut and the Lord’s leading—you will know when your child needs something different. We take one year at a time. Surround yourself with a community to help meet your child’s needs. We are involved with a co-op—it helps to have other parents also pouring into your kids, sharing the burden, and speaking encouragement and truth when you are feeling at the end of yourself.
Linda: Throw all the rules into a pile. Notice I didn’t say throw them out? Just research, research, research. What works for one child will not necessarily work for yours. Evaluate your child’s needs, try things out. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Ask questions—ask your child what might help him out. I sometimes forget Tyler has a voice about these things and knows what is going on in his head. Get your child talking; maybe you will come up with an idea no one has tried yet! Most of all, be patient. Remember that God is not just refining your child through this; he is using your child to refine you. Don’t give up. Look forward with joyful anticipation to each victory you and your child will have together, no matter how big or small!
Thank you, ladies, for sharing your stories of homeschooling your children. You are an inspiration to us all!
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant
*Names changed for privacy.
Kids in the Syndrome Mix by Martin L. Kutscher, MD
The ADHD Book of Lists: A Practical Guide for Helping Children and Teens with Attention Deficit Disorders by Sandra Rief
How to Get Your Child off the Refrigerator and on to Learning and other books by Carol Barnier
Teaching Teens with ADD, ADHD & Executive Function Deficits by Chris Zeigler Dendy
Homeschooling the Child with ADD or Other Special Needs by Lenore Colacion Hayes
Thinking Organized for Parents and Children by Rhona M. Gordon
The Ritalin-Free Child: Managing Hyperactivity & Attention Deficits without Drugs by Diana Hunter
The Biology of Behavior CD set by Dianne Craft