I enrolled my beautiful and brilliant young son, Aron, in Montessori preschool when he was three years old. The teacher taught the children sign language and these signs were used as redirect, remind, or ask questions that allowed the teacher to respond to individual student needs without disturbing other children at work. She could be working with a single child at their work mat, but could answer a child’s request to use the toilet without stopping her work with another. The free choice options of activities were interesting to Aron. He thrived there as he learned to work with the many centers that were possible. He and I both looked forward to first grade where he would have the opportunity to dazzle the school system with his brilliance as he began his formal education.
Imagine my surprise when the first grade teacher was concerned that he didn’t pay attention to her and that he was easily distracted. He bothered his neighbors working at their desk. He was often in trouble for not finishing his work. As a parent and educator, I was committed to supporting the teacher, but I also knew my child and wondered how his success led to such struggle. Being an educator gave me an advantage in understanding the complexities of the classroom. I believe this also helped me to make suggestions such as seating options or goal setting with him. After working with the teacher for some time, we determined that it may be best to bring his pediatrician into the conversation to see if there was a physical issue that made him struggle in his school life.
I was introduced to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as we worked between school and doctor. The pediatrician requested weekly reports from the teacher that noted time of day, activity, and unacceptable behaviors to help him look for patterns of behavior. This information helped him look for a solution to Aron’s issues at school. Aron struggled with long periods of inactivity, something that his preschool accommodated by allowing students to finish with one center and select another.
At the recommendation of our pediatrician, we ran a trial of Ritalin and placebo, with only the pediatrician knowing the pattern of the medication provided to Aron. Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a central nervous system stimulant that affects chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control. It is used to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among other conditions in children. I completed the at home behavior reports and his teacher completed the behavior in school reports. It was finally determined that medication would be of help to him in managing his impulsivity, but not without work with a psychologist who would work with Aron, his teacher, and his parent to help learn to manage his behaviors. We proceeded with the medication, meetings with the psychologist, and work with the school counselor.
I learned how to advocate for my son and he began to learn how to advocate for himself by making good choices about where to sit in the classroom during free choice time. Much of the work with the psychologist was focused on developing self-management and recognizing how to identify the behaviors that bothered others in the classroom. Teachers were encouraged to give short-term goals in seat-work which allowed him to start and stop more frequently. He was seated on the edge of the classroom without other students on one side of him. This allowed him some space to kick his legs or swing his arms without disturbing other students. His teacher developed a message book system that she used with all students and this provided daily communication between home and school. My advocacy included meeting with his teacher before the beginning of the new school year and checking in periodically to ask about behavior and focus. I also met the teacher periodically to learn about special projects that I could ask him about and encourage some work at home. He and I would talk about school each day and his ability to make wise choices about behavior. Everyday was a new day and some had bigger struggles than others. Working together with the teacher made it possible to support the most successful experience for him. I made it my business to inform his teachers throughout elementary and middle school regarding ADHD and how best to maximize Aron’s strengths and support him in the school environment.
The most important part of this was the constant and ongoing support required of me. This is not different than what parents go through with children requiring any specialized support in the school system. There are educators who believe your child just needs a good spanking, believe you’ve not taken a responsible approach to parenting, and those who want to do something but don’t know how to differentiate instruction. It draws all of your patience to continue to advocate and educate. Children with ADHD do not have it just to ‘mess up’ a teacher’s classroom; they have it everyday and all day long. They want to follow rules, they want positive recognition, and they want to be successful. They require some reminders, redirection to their strategies for managing their work, and they need teacher and parent patience and encouragement. Although Aron did not struggle with bullying, many children with ADHD are bullied. As I reflect back to why I think he was not bullied, I had something to do with my attention to work with the principal and teacher to sensitize them to the needs of Aron and how to help him be successful. They were able to develop empathy for his struggles and his desire to manage himself and this came across to the other children in his classes as an expectation of empathy for others and helping others succeed.
There were some teachers who were poorly prepared to deal with children with special learning needs or who didn’t believe it was their responsibility. These teachers were more difficult to work with. Meeting with the principal at the end of each year to plan for his successful transition to the next grade and selection of the teachers best able to accommodate his needs was important. It was not always welcomed and I remember hearing, “all of our teachers are good”, but it was not an issue of goodness and more an issue of a willingness to work with me to assure that they were ready to work with him, his self-management strategies, and to not becoming too frustrated with his impulsive behavior. It was important that punishment was not a first response. It’s easy to be frustrated and angry sometimes, but it’s just as important to breathe through it and use your own strategies for managing frustration. It’s also important to work in partnership with your pediatrician and teachers.
As he grew I encouraged him to try new things such as joining a children’s soccer team and T-ball team, a llama 4-H club, learn to play the saxophone in the school band, and join school clubs. He never developed exceptional abilities with any particular area, but the richness of experiences and his interactions with other children and adults outside of school shaped his personality. He enjoyed time with his close friends. Aron struggled with friendships but had a few very good friends who were more accepting of his imperfections and who were willing to encourage positive behavior.
Aron finished high school, graduated from Police Academy, and became a policeman where he was committed to serving the public and helping people. He was always interested in helping people and had a very level-head when dealing with emergency situations. As he grew older, he struggled less with impulsivity, he was patient and tolerant of others. As an officer he was level-headed with people and slow to anger with people he encountered. He understood that they may be living with far bigger issues than the traffic infraction or the drugs he found in their car. He followed procedures.
Later on he decided to complete his Baccalaureate and Master’s degrees in Criminal Justice in order to look at new opportunities in security and policing. He learned to manage his career, his study and his family commitments. He was not successful at his initial efforts with college and needed to mature before he had the capacity to manage his time for study. As he became busier in work and at home, he learned to use the time available to complete college coursework. Being able to identify time to study made it possible for him to control the way he used time to complete his studies. He set goals that were more long term, making the completion of courses and grades toward his degrees possible.
Today, he is married with two young sons and is committed to supporting their strengths and experiences as they grow up. He remains a reserve policeman and has moved into high-tech security. He has chosen an international assignment as an opportunity to gain new experience and give his children the opportunity to learn about a new culture.
As a parent, I remember being very tired all the time. Parenting is really tough duty regardless of your child’s attributes and their unique brand of specialness. I found support in friends, adults I chose as friends, because they would have a positive influence on my children. This helped immensely with difficult times.
Today, there’s nothing more enjoyable than seeing your beautiful and brilliant children become successful. I enjoy watching them engage in their own parenting journey. He is a patient, but firm parent and is an advocate for his children. Having grown up with a mother who is an educator, he is sensitive to the importance of working with the teacher and supporting her when the need arises. He and his wife are active in the lives of the children, co-parent well, and make time for family activities and adventures that build memories and present new learning opportunities.